The Bicentennial Tablets – Where are they now? Tablet No. 7—First English Church

 

In 1886 the 200th anniversary of Albany becoming a chartered city was celebrated with great fanfare. Memorial plaques (tablets) were placed around the city at historic sites.

Tablet No. 7—First English Church

The “tablet committee” proposed that 7 be located in the walk, near the curb, north-west corner of Chapel and State Streets. It was a bronze tablet, 11×23 inches, set in the top of a granite block 21×33 inches square and 16 inches high above the sidewalk, and would have a slanting top to shed water. It would read:

“Opposite in middle of State street stood the First English Church Erected A. D. 1715—Removed and Rebuilt as St. Peter’s church 1803 on next corner west. Rebuilt 1859.”

There is no longer a northwest corner of Chapel and State, although we suspect Chapel still exists on paper. It is a driveway between the Hilton Hotel and the bank building that holds down the Elm Tree corner. There are notable markers nearby in the center islands, thoughtfully placed so that pedestrians waiting forever for drivers to acknowledge the walk signals have something to read while they wait.

A 1914 report in the Albany Argus notes that while the Bicentennial Report said this tablet was to be set in the northwest corner of Chapel and State streets, it was never placed there, “but a tablet with a more elaborate inscription was placed on the front wall of St. Peter’s church.” This would explain why the tablet at St. Peter’s doesn’t say what the committee said it would. The tablet that was actually cast looks entirely different from the other bicentennial tablets, and includes much more church history.

“In the middle of State, formerly Yonkers Street, one block below, stood the First English Church, built A.D. 1715, upon ground granted by letters patent from King George the First. It bore the name of St. Peter’s Church. The Parish was incorporated A.D. 1769. The Second St. Peter’s Church was built on this Site A.D. 1802, and bore this inscription: Glory be to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever. The present edifice was built A.D. 1859. Upon this spot stood the north east bastion of Fort Frederick.”

The First English Church

Recall that despite the colony having been taken under English rule in 1664, Albany was Dutch, Dutch to the core, and a few English soldiers and government officials didn’t change that. In 1704, Albany was described to Church of England clergy in New York as:

“A large frontier town where most of the people are Dutch, who have from Amsterdam a Dutch minister, one Mr. Lydius, but there are some English families, besides a garrison of Soldiers, who are a considerable congregation. A Church of England minister here will, in all probability do signal service, not only by setting up public worship to the joy and comfort of the English, who impatiently desire a minister, and persuading the Dutch and others to conform, but also instructing the Indians which come in greater numbers thither.” Hooper’s “A History of St. Peter’s Church in the City of Albany,” p. 85, referring to “Doc. Hist. N.Y. Vol. III, p. 117”

It would be 1708 before an English church clergyman, Rev. Thomas Barclay, would be commissioned at the fort, which then contained a garrison of 200 soldiers. Barclay was also named missionary to Native Americans who came to Albany, as well as the enslaved persons (which made up about 450 of Albany’s 4000 people in 1712). Barclay wrote in 1710 that he was catechising “a great many Dutch children, who at my first arrival were altogether ignorant of the English tongue,” as well as preaching at Schenectady’s garrison of 40 soldiers as well as 16 English families and 100 Dutch; there had been no Dutch minister there for five years. In Albany, Lydius, the Dutch minister, died in March 1710, with no replacement for more than a year. The English church services were taking place in a “much decayed” small chapel belonging to the Dutch church.

In 1714, Governor Robert Hunter granted license to Rev. Barclay to collect money for the building of a church “in the centre of the broad street called Yonkers Street, leading from the fort to the waterside, between the end of Pearl Street and the small street that leads to the Lutheran Church.”

It was later decided that a location on the hill nearer the fort would allow more room for church and cemetery. But still, being Albany, the center of the street seemed a perfectly reasonable place to put a church.

Hooper writes that “soon after the patent was received, workmen began to lay out the plot granted in the middle of the street.” This site would lead to a dispute between the province of New York, which granted the patent, and the City of Albany, which determined that “the right of the Crown to convey land without any title from the City ought to be tested.” Work on the foundation had begun in November 1714, and legal battles ensued, with Albany taking legal action against workmen at the site. The issue was ultimately resolved in the church’s favor, and the church opened Nov. 25, 1716.

The Second Church: St. Peter’s

By 1796, according to Hooper, it was recognized that the congregation had outgrown the original church. Now known as St. Peter’s, they already had rights to purchase a lot at Barrack (Chapel), Steuben, Lodge and Pine Streets. The sale/exchange was complicated – church properties were assessed in those days, and there was the matter of wanting the old church’s steeple left standing, for it was from there that the fire bell rang. There were other matters under consideration, such as the potential joining of the Lutherans, who used the same church building, with the English Episcopalians, such that the matter was put off for some years. It would be January 1802 before there was a contract made with Philip Hooker, Elisha Putnam, Garrett W. Van Schaick and Samuel Hill to “erect, build and complete a stone Church on the lot of ground in the first ward of the City of Albany at the intersection of State and Lodge streets.” The church was to be completed by June 15, 1803. A new cornerstone was laid May 7, 1802.

“When the first St. Peter’s was torn down, the bodies of all those buried within the church were carefully removed and re-interred under the tower of the second building. Among them were the remains of the gallant Lord Howe, who fell at Trout Brook, July 6, 1758, in the campaign against the French. A payment of seventeen dollars and a half ($17.50), was made to Adam Todd, the sexton, ‘for raising, removing, and interring, the remains of 35 persons from the interior of the old Church in State Street when demolished to the new Church now building.”

Thanks to contributor Adrian Brisee we have additional evidence that the bodies were, in fact moved, in the form of a record made in a Stevenson/Douw family bible. John Stevenson (1735-1810), a warden of the church who laid the cornerstone, wrote:

“In the beginning of July 1802, the workmen began to take down St. Peter’s Church in this City, and on the 19th instant, I had the bones of my Father and five of my Children, taken up, and put into a new coffin, and interred in the new St. Peter’s Church near the centre of the North Hall, back of the pulpit, and had a silver plate put on it, with this incription, to wit:

‘In this coffin are the bones of my father James Stevenson Esq., who died 2d February 1769, and was buried in the Episcopal St. Peter’s Church, and when it was taken down they were removed to the new Episcopal Church, called St. Peter’s. In this coffin are also the bones of five of my children. Albany 19 July 1802.’

[signed] John Stevenson

A marble slab was to be placed above the pediment of the main entrance.

The Third Church

Construction on the third church, designed by Richard Upjohn of New York City, began in 1859, with demolition completed and the first foundation stone for the new church laid by April 8. In the course of that demolition, they discovered a somewhat mysterious stone, four feet long and one foot thick. “Upon its face cut in are the following letters of an ancient form, A.M.S. and A.N.O. joined together as one letter, bearing date, 1715.” Hooper says there is no record of laying any cornerstone for the first church, and that the stone work of that building was taken by Hooker and Putnam in partial payment. “It seems strange that a relic like that should have been allowed to be built into the foundation, if the authorities of St. Peter’s were aware of its value. It may not have been connected with the church, but a stone from the old fort, as the north-east bastion and other parts of the fort enclosure occupied the site of the present church. The stone does not appear to have been preserved.” In other words, we found a mysterious but potentially important stone, we didn’t know what it was about, and we lost it again.

On June 29th, 1859, with the foundation walls nearly completed, there was a large ceremonial placement of the new cornerstone, along with “a proper lead box to be placed under the stone, and a silver plate with a proper inscription to be deposited in that box, with such documents and other articles as the Committee may deem proper.”

What they deemed proper included “the Bible and Prayer Book, the New York Convention Journal for 1858, photographs of the old church, a list of pew holders, a diagram of the old church, and a silver plate upon which was inscribed a brief record of the laying of the corner stone, the names of those connected with the building of the new church, and a concise history of the parish.” The first service in the new church was held September 16, 1860. While there have been some significant renovations, including the erection of the tower in honor of John Tweddle and interior renovations, the church still stands and functions some 160 years later.

By Carl Johnson, from his blog Hoxsie.org

Albany’s Native American Child – Sophie High Dog

The child who was known as Sophie High Dog or Wacheka Albanya was Sioux born in South Dakota around 1890. Little information is known about her early childhood or family, but she was brought to Albany at the age of five as an orphan. It was later claimed that she had been abandoned by her parents and that an uncle took no interest in raising her.

Wacheka was initially sent to the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Carlisle school’s purpose was to assimilate Native American children in white society and its history is one of abuse and tragedy. Wacheka, however, came to the attention of the Albany Indian Association and was termed “too delicate” for a boarding school where hundreds of children died of disease and harsh treatment. The Association, which was founded in 1883 to aid in solving the so-called “Indian problem” through education, had the child brought to Albany and placed her in St. Christina’s Home. St. Christina’s, which operated under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, was located in Saratoga Springs and served as a summer home for the Child’s Hospital.

Described as a “bright and earnest” child, she soon became a favorite of caretakers who referred to her in the sentimental language of the era, as a “sweet flower out of rough forest soil.” The letters she wrote to her guardians in Albany were regularly featured in the local newspapers and, every Christmas, collections were solicited to fill a box of gifts for “the little Indian orphan.” It was reported that she hoped to become a teacher and, eventually, returned to the South Dakota as an educator.

Meanwhile, the delicate health that had first won the sympathy of her guardians worsened. Her body was weakened by measles and tuberculosis and she passed away on February 13, 1900. Four days later, William C. Doane, the popular Episcopal Bishop of Albany, presided over her funeral at the Cathedral of All Saints. Her little coffin was placed in the receiving vault of the Rural Cemetery until burial arrangements could be made that summer. She was buried in a little plot paid for by the Association and a marble headstone was paid for by donations, many which came from children.

A bell, cast by the famed Meneely foundry, was sent to the All Saints Episcopal Church on the Rosebud Reservation as a memorial to the little girl.

Her headstone, which has toppled in recent years, is located in Lot 156, Section 26.

By Paula Lemire, Historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery from the Cemetery’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/albanyruralcemetery

The Church of the Holy Innocents

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Holy Innocents Church (Episcopal), on the corner of North Pearl and Colonie St., was built in 1849 by the prolific English architect Frank Wills. It was built in a style called Gothic Revival”. (By way of comparison, Notre Dame was built in the original Gothic style.)

Wills (who wrote the definitive text “Ancient Ecclesiastical Architecture” in 1850) built a number of churches and chapels across the United States. They all draw on the elements of the great English Gothic cathedrals – Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. Holy Innocents is unique because it included a seperate “Lady Chapel” (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) adjacent to the main church building. Because it was surrounded by the a small garden, it had and has the feel of an English country parish church.

Holy Innocents was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 (We believe it’s the second oldest extant church building in Albany – the oldest would be St Mary’s on Pine St.)

But it’s fallen on hard times over the past 20 years while vacant. In 2015, while it was owned by Hope House, a residential recovery program founded by Fr. Howard Hubbard (before he became the Albany Catholic Diocese Bishop) part of the church collapsed. In late 2016 the church was acquired by a local developer. Based on recent asessments and photos it appear to continue to deteriorate since that acquisition. As a result it was placed on the 2019 Historic Albany Foundation “Dirty Dozen” list of Albany’s most endangered historic structures. There are fears it will simply end up as one more Albany demolition.

Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

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Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

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Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

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Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

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Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

(My grandmother’s family were Holy Innocents parishioners from 1870 to the early 1940s, so the old pics you see are from my personal collection. We love those altar boys. Grandma is the tall girl in front of church entrance and the somewhat goofy, albeit almost always cheerful, young man in the surplice is Grandpa, who was the organist at Holy Innocents from the early 1920s to early 1940s. That’s where they met – at Holy Innocents – and there’s a whole wacky courtship story I will save for another time.)

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Easter Sunday Holy Innocents

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Mae Kiernan & Catherine Vail – Holy Innocents c. 1918

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

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]