National Library Week – The Catholic Union Library in the Old Arsenal

Before Albany established a library system in the 1920s, and built the Harmanus Bleecker Library in 1924 on the corner of Washington Ave. and Dove St, as the main branch, the Common Council supported a number of independent libraries. These libraries were then available to the public, as well as members of the various organizations, like the YMCA libraries and John Howe’s independent not for profit library in the South End on South Pearl St.
One of the least remembered, but most used was the Union Free Library. It was housed in the Catholic Union building on Eagle St. and Hudson Ave.
The building previously contained a State Arsenal that opened in 1859, and housed most local military offices throughout the Civil War (although the barracks and training ground were located in an area surrounding Holland and New Scotland Avenues intersection).
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By the late 1880s the arsenal had outgrown its usefulness. In 1887 it was sold at auction by New York State. The purchaser was the Roman Catholic Diocese, and the building became the Catholic Union.
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The Union was, in essence, a catholic community center, providing space for the various parishes located mostly in the South End. It brought together congregants from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mostly French parish of the Church of the Assumption on Hamilton St., St. Ann’s, St. John’s, the mostly German parishioners of Holy Cross on Philip St., and later the immigrants of St. Anthony’s in Little Italy.
It included lecture rooms, a large hall, kitchens, classrooms, a gymnasium (Al Smith is said to have walked from the Governor’s Mansion, and stripped down to his undershirt to shoot hoops), and a library. By the early 1890s the library held about 3,500 – 4,000 volumes and began to receive city funding.
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(By the mid 1930s the privately owned Eagle Movie Theatre was opened on the ground floor in one corner of the Building.)
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As immigrants of all faiths crowded into the South End the library grew and usage increased. By 1929 the John Howe library was constructed on Schuyler St. as part of the city system, and city funding for the Union Free library ceased. But the library was still accessible local neighbors for many years.
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The Catholic Union building was demolished in the mid-1960s for the Empire State Plaza. The end of an era.
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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Old Municipal Buildings

On March 22, 1969 the last occupants (Albany Police detective squad) of the old Municipal Building on Eagle St. exit and settle in at their new digs on Morton Ave.

The Municipal Building, completed in 1923, was one of the last buildings demolished to make way for the Empire State Plaza. (I remember having to go there for something when I was teen and it looked like photos I’d seen of areas bombed in World War II.)

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The building on Eagle St. replaced the old Municipal Building on South Pearl St. which was built in the 1870s. It was demolished and the site became the home of the Ritz movie theater, which in turn was demolished in 1964.

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The proximity of the Municipal Building on Eagle St. to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception gave rise to the practice of the APD annual communion mass at the Cathedral and breakfast at the DeWitt Clinton Hotel (the renovated hotel is now the Marriott Renaissance).

FUN FACT: The first regularly operating telephone system in Albany was installed in 1877 by the Chief of Police in the building on South Pearl. It was connected to instruments in Chief’s home, the Mayor’s office and the precinct houses. The Albany police were early adopters; the first police in the world to use telephones. (The installation cost was about $800; annual cost $30.)

Julie O’Connor

The Demise of St. Paul’s; Demolition for the Empire State Plaza

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Blandina Dudley came from an early Albany Dutch family and married Charles Dudley who eventually became a U.S. Senator from New York State.  When he died, he left her a very wealthy widow, probably one of the richest women in the State in the early 1840s.  She was a woman of great philanthropy. Her greatest achievement was donation of the funds to establish the Dudley Observatory in Albany in 1856, one of the first in the nation.  Her other good works included donation of half of the cost for erecting a new building for the Third Reformed Church on Lancaster Street between Swan and Hawk Streets, to be known as the Dudley Reformed Church.

Since 1837, the church had been at Green and South Ferry Streets, but “frequent floods swept over this section of the city during spring freshets,” and they decided to move to the west, where the filling and grading of the Ruttenkill ravine had recently opened a new and desirable neighborhood.

In May 1861, with construction nearly complete, disaster struck: within two weeks four city banks failed. Funding for the church disappeared, and Third Reformed was forced to abandon the project. They remained on Green Street until 1914, when the congregation moved to 20 Ten Eyck Avenue, where they still worship today.

Third Reformed Church’s tragedy created an opportunity for another city congregation in crisis. St. Paul’s Episcopal was also planning to move up the hill, from its location on South Pearl Street. They had selected a site, hired an architect and obtained funding for a new church, when the same banking crisis destroyed their plans. Because they had already begun negotiations for sale of the old building, the congregation feared that they could become homeless. A year later, they were able to buy the unfinished Dudley Reformed building from the builder, modify it for Episcopal liturgy, and move there by 1864.

St. Paul’s was to worship on Lancaster Avenue for a century, forced to leave when the area was leveled for construction of the South Mall*. The congregation was able to take some of the windows to the new building on Hackett Boulevard, and the New York State Museum rescued the church’s pulpit, but many of the contents of the building were sold at auction.

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The congregation’s pleas to spare St. Paul’s “as a spiritual and aesthetic center in the midst of the new State Building” were rejected by planners. But whenever we walk through the Empire State Plaza, we envision the former Dudley Reformed Church building, neatly tucked between Agency Buildings 3 and 4.

  • St. Paul’s was one of  4 churches demolished  to construct the Empire State Plaza; the others were St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church (which re-built on WHitehall Rd.);  the Church of the Assumption) which re-built in Latham and  the First Methodist Church, whose congregation with Trinity Methodist in Albany on Lark St.

By Paul Nance from his blog, Grains Once Scattered

Albany Medical College.. Happy Birthday!

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On January 11, 1830, Dr. Alden March first proposed a medical college and a permanent hospital in Albany. He was then Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, Vermont Academy of Medicine. He earned his medical degree at Brown University in 1820 and came to Albany in 1821 and started a small medical school in the former first building of Albany Female Academy. A member of the Albany County Medical Society, he held the office of president in 1832 and 1833.

When Albany Medical College was realized in 1838, it was the fifth in New York State and the nineteenth in the Colonies and U.S. It was preceded in New York by Medical Faculty of King’s College (1767), Medical School of Fairfield Academy (1809), Auburn Medical School (1824), and Medical Institution of Geneva College (1834).

Prominent among the founders were Dr. Alden March, his associate, Dr. James Armsby, Erastus Corning, other leading Albany men, and the City (which granted five years free use of the Albany Lancaster School building) and State Legislature. T. Romeyn Beck was prominent in the selection of the college’s valuable library.

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For almost 100 years, 1838 to 1928, the Medical College was housed in the old Lancaster School Building (designed by Philip Hooker), on the corner of Lancaster and Eagle Streets. In 1928, the College moved to New Scotland Ave, adjacent to Albany Hospital.


As far as we can tell, the building on Eagle was demolished in the early 1930s, and nothing was ever built in that area. (Anyone know anything more.. give me a shout.). That swath of Eagle St. was bulldozed for the Empire State Plaza c 1964. And where the College was located are 2 huge heating /cooling air valves for Plaza.

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(Thanks to John McClintock for the excellent history of the College’s founding.)

What was there? Madison and So. Swan – Oh how Albany has changed!

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1. Madison Ave. Second Reformed Church, built 1881- destroyed by fire 1931* Prior to that, vacant land, when Madison Ave.was known as Lydius St.

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2. The first Central Market (Price Chopper) supermarket in the city of Albany. Built 1941. Demolished c 1963 for Empire State Plaza

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3. Empire State Plaza 1970 Agency Building #1

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* One of the oldest artifacts in Albany, a weather vane that dates back to 1656 on the First Dutch Church, survived the fire and is now atop First Church on N. Pearl St.

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HAUNTING ALBANY

Albany is an old, old city and, with so much history, we’re bound to have a few ghosts, too.

Of course, the NEW YORK STATE CAPITOL is known for its ghosts which include Samuel Abbott, the night watchman who was the sole victim of the 1911 fire and William Morris Hunt, the artist whose ill-fated murals originally graced the Senate Chamber. The Capitol Hauntings Tours are quite popular and are often completely booked.

Diagonal from the Capitol on Washington Avenue, the OLD STATE EDUCATION BUILDING with its stunning colonnade, has a ghost, too. A workman who was accidentally entombed in the foundations during construction is said to haunt its lower levels.

HISTORIC CHERRY HILL in the South End was the site of one of Albany’s most infamous murders and its said that the ghost of John Whipple, shot to death there in 1827, still walks the upstairs rooms. Convicted of Whipple’s murder, Jesse Strang was executed in what was the city’s last public execution. Thousands came to see him hang and its said that his ghost still haunts the former Gallows Hill. Workers building the EMPIRE STATE PLAZA reportedly saw the condemned man wandering near Eagle Street, dressed in the shroud he wore to his death and looking bewildered. Others say he still walks the path to the scaffold through the Plaza’s small courtyard off State Street.

Another haunted former execution site the northwest corner of LAFAYETTE PARK. Years ago, Saint Agnes School stood not far from here and its halls were haunted by a man who swore he was innocent and vowed to haunt the site of his death until his name was cleared. Who he was and what he was condemned for is unknown, but this area of the park is said to have been the site of a gallows.

Just south of Cherry Hill, MOUNT HOPE DRIVE was once the site of the grand Prentice family estate. A gate flanked with lions overlooked South Pearl Street and, just inside the gate, there was a burial vault for the family of Ezra Prentice who died in 1876. In 1898, the remains were removed to Albany Rural Cemetery, but the vault was not demolished and it was said that the spirits of the Prentice family would regularly emerge from the empty crypt to wander the estate.

The TEN BROECK TRIANGLE neighborhood has quiet a few ghostly tales. The heart of the neighborhood, Van Rensselaer Park, was once a colonial-era burial ground. When the old cemetery became an eyesore, the bones and headstones were gathered into a vault which still exists beneath this pretty little park. Just across the street from the park, a certain brownstone built in 1859 is haunted by the phantom of a Dutch soldier in a metal helmet and breastplate dating to the 17th-century. And the nearby Ten Broeck Mansion, built in 1797, has its share of ghost stories, too.

The LINCOLN PARK gully is also haunted by some very old ghosts. Once, a substantial waterfall on the Beaver Creek tumbled between the shale cliffs and, in 1626, this was the site of a small, but very bloody battle when a party of Dutch soldiers and their Mahican allies were ambushed by the Mohawks they were en route to attack. Ghosts of the men killed that summers days (including one who was burned alive) still walk through the gully, though the Beaver Creek has long since been channeled underground as a sewer.

WASHINGTON PARK is said to be haunted by vague gray figures; prior to 1869, the park was a municipal burying ground and its possible a few graves were forgotten when remains and headstones were moved to Albany Rural Cemetery. Likewise, the former ARMORY on New Scotland Avenue stands near the old Alms House cemetery and similar gray figures have been seen there, too.

Speaking of ALBANY RURAL CEMETERY, it has a few ghosts of its own. In 1869, a Troy newspaper reported on one particular phantom which would step out of its vault for a stroll across Consecration Lake and a phantom horse, killed by colliding with a monument, still gallops about the grounds.

Many private homes and old buildings have their own ghosts, former residents who haven’t left yet. If you believe in them, there are many more spirits haunting this old city!

Paula Lemire