The Governor’s Mansion in Albany

It was built in the 1850s by Thomas Olcott, one of the wealthiest men in Albany, on what was the edge of the residential part of city at that time.
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In 1875 it was leased to new Governor Samuel Tilden and then purchased by NYS to serve as the official Governor’s residence. (Before that Governors simply lived in their own houses or leased properties during their term.)
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The Mansion has been renovated many times over the years. Teddy Roosevelt needed to accommodate his large family.
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TR’s Children in Mansion Portico
TR’s  cousin Franklin Roosevelt added a swimming pool.
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FDR and family, and Admiral Byrd
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Eleanor Roosevelt walking the family dog
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FDR’s wheel chair on display at Mansion today
During Governor Lehman’s administration, following FDR, Mrs. Lehman did a bit of sprucing up (Eleanor Roosevelt was NOT an interior decorating sort.)
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Governor Lehman and Gov. (soon to be President) Roosevelt
Governor Dewey and wife eat soybeans for the war effort.
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In 1961 a fire ripped through the Mansion while Rockefeller was governor, and it was completely re-done.
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Governor Rockefeller at a holiday staff party  circa  1970. 36 mansion
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Great Capitol Fire of 1911


On March 29, 1911, the Great Fire destroyed the west wing of the Capitol, wiping out the Assembly Chamber, other offices in that wing, and most importantly, hundreds of thousands of documents in the State Library; the history of New York State and Albany up in flames.

The first fire alarm was pulled at Fire Box 324 at about 3:30am on the corner of Washington Ave, and Hawk St. Within 5 minutes fire crews reached the building but parts were already engulfed. 150 firemen and 10 engines were deployed, as were the Fire Protectives (a fire salvage crew paid by city insurance companies) and almost all city policemen. Then the 10th NY National Guard based out of the Washington Ave armory arrived.

Firemen battled the fire in shifts; just when they thought they had beaten it, smoldering embers in another area would come to life. (Fire apparatus was not removed for another 2 weeks, just in case.) When men on the line started to weaken or were hit with flying shards of marble or granite, others stepped up to fill their spot and give their brothers respite. (In 1911 a great uncle was a tillerman from Hook and Ladder 3 – Clinton and Ontario, and at 6’ 5”, reputedly the most able axe man in the city.) Despite Fire Chief Bridgeford’s determination that the fire was contained by mid-morning, it was another 24 hours or so until it was fully extinguished.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the street; police duty shifted to holding back the crowd. The effect of the fire on the people of Albany was profound. First there was disbelief. That a building that looked like a fortress could have burned so badly was incomprehensible. They’d been told it was “absolutely fireproof”. There were few in the City who didn’t have a connection to the Capitol. It was built with the blood and sweat and backs of hundreds of stone cutters, masons, carpenters and laborers who had come to Albany to build the Capitol and the city had become their home. Hundreds of people worked in the Capitol; it housed most NYS offices.- it was their work “home”. Many of the firemen and police were from the South End and Arbor Hill; for most, when the Capitol was under construction it had been their playground as they dodged construction foremen. The destruction of Albany’s architectural pride devastated the city.

For years people talked about fire and the bravery of the firemen. But one of the stories that was passed down to me was about “saving the library.” Flames and smoke shot through the State Library and its treasures. An heroic effort saved some. The only extant copy of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 in Lincoln’s own hand was saved by Harlan Horner of the State Teacher’s College. Notified shortly after the fire broke out, he dashed to the Capitol, and put as much as he could in a large basket. About 30 basketfuls were saved, including royal charters, Major Andre’s pass from the Revolutionary War, wampum belts from the 1600s, George Washington’s survey equipment and a draft of his farewell address from 1796. But hundreds of thousands of documents were lost, including the papers of Governor Dewitt Clinton and Dutch documents from the earliest days of Rensselaerwyck and New Amsterdam.

Papers and documents littered the streets and swirled for a 6 mile radius. As it was told to me, somehow the children of Albany got the idea that the papers were all from the Library and were “Albany’s history”. Less than 18 months prior the city had celebrated the 300th anniversary of Hudson’s sail to Albany in 1609; these kids knew their history and were determined to save it. They set about picking up every stray paper they could find to save “Albany history” from the Library for weeks. They scoured streets and parks and some braved roof tops. I was told that, in retrospect, most of what they found and turned into their teachers were actuarial tables, or bill drafts or expense accountings, but every now and then they did find a fragment of history.

Copyright 2021 Julie OConnor

The Great Fire of 1848.. or why there aren’t more historic buildings in Albany

$3,000,000 Property Lost!!
Fire, though a good servant, is indeed a fearful master! And fearfully did this mad element rage yesterday! Our city is desolate! The ruin is appalling! The spirit sinks and the heart sickens, in contemplating such frightful losses – such side-spread ruin. Painful, most painful, is the task of gathering up the afflicting details.
Most of the commercial portion of the city, with fifteen or twenty densely populated squares, is a black and smouldering (sic) ruin. From Herkimer st., where the Fire broke out, to Columbia st., where it was arrested, in distance, is MORE THAN HALF A MILE And all that work of destruction was accomplishes in FIVE HOURS There could, therefore, have been little time to snatch property from the rapacious flames.
Amid all this suffering, there is much cause for gratitude. When the conflagration was at its height – when more than half the city was threatened, and when no human arm could save, a kind Providence interposed! The wind suddenly changed from South to N West, and this change brought with it abundant and continued rain. Fires that had extended to several buildings in the vicinity of the burnt district, were providentially extinguished by the rain.
The great loss, superadded to the large sums swallowed up during the winter and spring. By kindred calamities, has impaired the fortunes or wealthy people, unpoverished hundreds of the middling class, and utterly ruined hundreds of poor hard working families.
This fire ran over portions of the city that had been laid waste by recent conflagrations, and upon which new buildings had just been finished. The Columbian Hotel and Fort Orange are again demolished. Mr. S. F Shepard, who had erected new buildings and resumed business, is again burnt out. We are happy to learn, however, that he saved about $2,000 worth of goods.
The Steam Boats ISAAC NEWTON and RIP VAN WINKLE were both on fire, but both got off into the river and preserved.
Eleven Tow Boats, between forty and sixty Canal Boats, one small Steam Boat, one Schooner and two floats, were destroyed.
This disastrous fire originated in the Stable of Mr. Callaghan, which adjoins that of Mr. Johnson. It is not known how it originated.
The ruins cover an area of 200 acres, every foot of which was densely covered with buildings.
There were more buildings upon it than upon any other equal space in the city. Four fifths of the buildings burned were brick – most of them large and substantial; and many of them three or four stones in height.
Until 5 o’clock, it was feared that the flames could not be checked south of State street; but about this hour the wind changed to the north, and gave new hope to those ready to despair.
But while this change of wind was of great service in the heart of the town, it proved expensive to the property on and south of Lydius street, between Dalhus and Broadway and Lydius and Herkimer All the property within these boundaries was destroyed after the wind changed. No fears of its destruction were entertained previously.
There have been several lives lost. Mr. JOHNSON, wife, daughter, and grand-child, who lived next to the Columbian, were horribly burned. The child and Mr. J. are dead: others are not expected to recover. We have rumors of other deaths, but cannot trace them.
The Firemen did as well as they could; but it seemed impotent to attempt any thing against the fury of the flames; no human power could stay them. Our neighbors from Greenbush, West Troy and Troy, came to the assistance of our Firemen, and did efficient service.
At 1 o’clock, A. M., the wooden buildings on fire in Union st. looked threatening, and the alarm was sounded. At this moment, the Cohoes Engine Co came into the city, having left their village at 9 o’clock – dragging their engine all the way by hand. They at once proceeded to the place of the alarm, and by their timely aid, the fire was checked.
When it was ascertained that the engines were unable to cope with the flames, it was determined to blow up some buildings in Hudson-street and Broadway. Capt. Stone, of the Ordinance Department and now stationed at the Arsenal, volunteered his services, and three buildings were blown up, and the flames thus kept on the south side of Hudson-st.
Not more than four or five buildings are left standing between Herkimer and Hamilton and Union sts. and the River. The desolation is complete. Mr. Akin’s buildings, south of Herkimer-st and near Dalius-st., are badly scorched; but nothing was burned south of that line.
We have endeavored to gather the names of all the principal sufferers, and where it was possible, the amount lost. In the former we have been successful; in the latter, not. It is quite out of the question, generally, to get at figures.
Losses on the Pier.
The buildings on the Pier, from the Hamilton street bridge to the cut at Maiden Lane, which were all constructed of wood, were entirely destroyed. We give the occupants and losses as far as could be ascertained, commencing at the cut.
Carpenter’s shop, Loss not ascertained
Wm Coughtry’s grocery store, Do
Albany and Canal Line, No loss
Oswego Line, L. S Littlejohn, No loss
VanDerwater & Co, No loss
Evans’ Transportation Line, Trifling loss
Clinton Line – Wm. Monteath, No loss.
Utica Line, Small loss.
H. F. Meech & Co, Small loss
Geo. E. Gay, Do.
(illegible) Jacobs, Total loss.
L. G. Chase, No loss.
E. S. Prosser, Do
C. W. Godard & Co, Loss $2000; no insurance
Climac, John McCardel, Total loss; no insurance
Swiftsure Line office and People’s Lane.
Porter House,
Geo. Kreuder, boarding house, Total loss, not known.
Peter Van Bramer, oyster house.
Wm. Radcliff, cooper. Loss now known
A. L. Lawrence, grocery store; Insured
Lay & Craft, produce dealers, Insured $5,000, which will cover loss.
A. P. Vandenburgh, produce dealers, Insured – loss $1,000.
Allen & Read, produce dealers, insured $1000, loss small.
E. A. Benedict, produce dealer; loss trifling.
O. G. Terry, do; fully insured.
Read & Rawls, do; ins $4,000 in Lexington Co, Ky; $3,000 in N. Western Co., Oswego, $3,000 in Fireman’s Co, Albany; fully insured.
B. P. Jones, do; partially insured.
E. A. Durant & Co, do; loss $10,000; insured $6,000 in Howard Ins. Co. N Y
Wing, Chipman & Co, do; insured $500, fully covered
Mr. Crantz, boarding house; loss not known.
Western Hotel, kept by Jesiah L. Dow; loss $6,000, insured $2,000
The building below the bridge, occupied by the Troy and People’s line, was also destroyed; loss now known.
In the Basin.
Schr. Cotun, Barnstable; total loss.
Schr. Elize Matilda, slightly damaged.
Two boats belonging to Swiftsure line, Walace, Eli Hart, A. Marvin, Western, Superior, and the large float. 100 tons merchandise burnt. Loss on boats $60,000.
T. James loss – barge Rough and Ready and the lake boat Josephine.
Hudson River Line; large Float. Loss $3000.
Eagle line: boats Lockpot and Barber. Loss $12,000
Canal Boats – Mazeppa, Chamberlain & Olmstead Loss 300; ins. Henry Williams 1 bt loss 1000; insured. T. P. Waters 2; 2000; no insur W. H. Clarke & Co., 4; no ins. Clinton line 2, H. T. Meech 2, laden. E. S. Prosser 1.
The small towing steamer Wm. Seymour.
The Hamilton street bridge was also destroyed.
In Columbia street, the Washington Market was burned to the ground; and two, two story brick buildings north of it, belonging to C. A. Ten Eyck, were gutted – nothing but the walls remain standing.
Albany Evening Journal, Albany, NY 18 Aug 1848



Julie O’Connor