The Hawk Street Viaduct

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The Viaduct was a long (almost 1,000 ft) cantilevered bridge that ran from Clinton Ave. to Elk St., opposite the Capitol across Sheridan Hollow. It connected Arbor Hill with Downtown and the area that is now the Empire State Plaza and Center Square, without having to walk down Clinton Ave. to N. Pearl St.

It opened in spring 1890 and was demolished in 1970. By then, it needed enormous repair, which would have been at great cost, and the newly constructed arterial highways eliminated the perceived need for the Viaduct. There was a discussion of building another bridge from Clinton to Swan in the late 1960s, but that never happened.

It was a curious structure, since the bottom of part of the bridge wasn’t far from the roof tops on Sheridan Ave. (In 1890, that was Canal St.- the name changed c. 1900).

I always thought it was narrow (19 ft.) and I was raised on stories (from a Gram who grew up in Arbor Hill) of the perils of walking across the Viaduct in the early 1900s, when it was not uncommon for both automobiles and horse drawn wagons and carriages to share the bridge with pedestrians on the sidewalks of the bridge. Apparently the car motors and speed (and horns) would make the horses shy and buck.. and you hung on to the railing, out of the way, clinging for dear life or tried to outrun the horse. The Arbor Hill kids were, of course, forbidden to walk across the Viaduct by themselves, and of course, they did. Dangerous Viaduct crossings became the stuff of childhood legend.

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Child’s Hospital

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Child’s Hospital in 1884. The tall building in the background is St. Agnes’ School. The separate building to the right, and the rear of the main building are parts of St. Margaret’s Home.

Do you remember the fine old building that stood on the northwest corner of Elk and Hawk Streets from 1890 until 1960? If so, you probably also remember that you (or a sibling) were there to have tonsils removed. For Albany children in the first half of the twentieth century, Child’s Hospital was the place for tonsillectomy. In 1950, Child’s set a tonsil-pulling record: 102 pairs in a single month.

The hospital’s name requires some explanation. You might reasonably think it was called Child’s because most of its clients were children, but that is not the case. Nor was it named for a wealthy Mr. or Mrs. Child who endowed it. No, Child’s Hospital was named for the order of Episcopal nuns who ran it from 1874 until 1949: the Sisterhood of the Holy Child Jesus.

The Sisterhood, founded in Albany’s Cathedral of All Saints in 1873, also ran St. Agnes School and St. Margaret’s Home for Babies. All of these institutions were located on the north side of Elk Street, between Hawk and Swan. When it was founded, Child’s Hospital was the only hospital for children between New York, Montreal, Boston and Buffalo. While it was affiliated with the Episcopal diocese, Child’s services were offered without regard to religious affiliation, and many services were offered free of charge. In addition to routine patients, Child’s Hospital also served children who needed long-term care for chronic conditions.

The Sisters’ trio of institutions on the corner of Elk and Hawk began to break up in the 1930s. In 1932, with several of the buildings threatening to slide down into Sheridan Hollow, the diocese offered to sell all three buildings to the State. The State declined that offer, but St. Agnes’ School moved to Loudonville that same year, and St. Margaret’s Home moved to the former Alms House site south of New Scotland Avenue in 1936. The hospital, however, remained on Elk Street until 1959, when the Episcopal diocese again offered to sell the property to the State to build a much-needed parking lot. The State accepted this offered, and the diocese chose to move the hospital near to St. Margaret’s, creating the new Good Samaritan Center off of Hackett Boulevard.

Child’s Hospital closed its Elk Street building in summer 1959, and the building was demolished in August 1960. The new Child’s Hospital, on Hackett Boulevard, received its first patient on October 23, 1961.

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Child’s Hospital, from a watercolor by Edwin W. Becker. The section to the left was the Sisters’ residence. [image courtesy Pruyn Collection, Albany Public Library]