Albany’s Whitehall Palace and Whitehall Road

The origins of Whitehall Rd. are somewhat murky, but it may originally have been a narrow track through the forest used by the Mahican Indians who lived along the Normanskill Creek. Its use as a dirt road for early colonial settlers probably dates back to the early 1700s. We know that about 1750 there was a barracks, stable and drill ground constructed for British troops during the French and Indian War near corner of Delaware Ave. (It’s location in old genealogies is identified as 150 yards west of Delaware Ave., on Whitehall Rd.)

In the late 1750s the site was enlarged by Col. John Bradstreet. Bradstreet was dispatched to Albany as deputy quartermaster for the British forces in North America. It was one of two storage depots – the other was in Halifax Nova Scotia, but Albany was the closest spot to the upstate frontier in the war with the French in Canada. (That’s probably when it acquired the name Whitehall. At that time Whitehall in London was the home of British government offices. The Albany site was often the home of British military government – where British commanders in North American, Lord Loudon and then Lord Amherst, and their officers often stayed while in Albany.

Bradstreet became great friends with General Philip Schuyler. The route from the Schuyler home on South Pearl and State St. and then new Mansion in the Pastures, would have lead down to “Whitehall Rd.” and then west to what is now Delaware Ave. (It became Second Ave. circa 1873.). It was the route used by Bradford and Schuyler used to travel to each other homes. The area west of Delaware Ave, intersection was called the Normanskill Rd. until about 1800.

At some point Bradstreet purchased the property from the Patroon (along with about another 20,000 acres scattered throughout the area) since it was part of the Manor of Rennselaerwyck. Despite his close relationships with American colonists, Bradstreet sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, and departed for New York City, where he died in 1774.

The property passed to John Bradstreet Schuyler (son of Philip Schuyler) in Bradstreet’s will. During the Revolution is was thought to be a hideout for Tories who came down from the Helderberg Mountains. Supposedly, this was the area where the British attackers massed before they invaded the Schuyler Mansion, attempting to kidnap General Philip Schuyler in 1781 (the raid that left the gouge in the Mansion staircase).

In 1789 the Broadstreet house and property were purchased by Leonard Gansevoort. He was from an old, and Albany Dutch aristocratic family and had amassed great wealth. He had a long career in politics and the law, had been a member of the Continental Congress, was the brother of the Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”), and the great uncle of author Herman Melville. Documents indicate that the legal work for the purchase was probably handled by Alexander Hamilton.

After a large fire swept through much of downtown Albany in 1793 destroying the Gansevoort home, they moved to the Whitehall property, Gansevoort enlarged it quite substantially, turning it into a proper mansion, designed for entertaining on a large scale. It was “statement” home meant to impress. It was immense (supposedly (100 ‘ x 70’), with two wings and four verandas on two stories running front and back. The Great Hall gave way to a grand dining room, a family dining room and a library; the other wing held reception rooms and a grand ballroom. Off to the side was the “Dood Kamer”, which, according to Dutch custom, was a room reserved for laying out the dead. The second floor including bedrooms and family sitting rooms. The Whitehall “Palace” as it came to be known was richly paneled with mahogany and other exotic woods. It was filled with imported china, silver, and silk and damask for drapes and upholstery. There were formal and wild gardens, riding trails and extensive farmland in the thousand acres surrounding the property. It was a self-contained compound, with many out buildings and stables. (Think of the historical documentaries about British grand houses – that was the Whitehall Palace. ) And to run the vast Palace, there were, in 1800, 13 people enslaved by Gansevoort.

In 1810 Gansevoort died and the property passed on to his daughter Magdalena, married to Jacob Ten Eyck. She continued her father’s lavish lifestyle for the next 20 or so years. There are stories of streams of carriages of the Albany wealthy making their way over the Bethlehem Turnpike (Delaware Ave.) to glittering events at the Palace. As Magadelena and Jacob grew older they remained in the house, but started to sell off their land. Many of the farmers who purchased the land over the years were German (Kobler, Friebel, Etling, Klapp, Werker and Swarts. If you look carefully you can still see 3 or 4 older residences in the neighborhood that were original farm houses.) By the mid-1830s the street name appeared on maps appears as Whitehall Rd, and extended to the New Scotland Plank Rd.

In 1883 the Palace burned to the ground; by then it was referred to as the Ten Eyck Mansion.

A smaller house was built at 73 Whitehall Rd., surrounded by an area then known as Ten Eyck Park/Whitehall Park. This area was bounded by what is now Matilda St., Ten Eyck Ave., and Whitehall Rd. In 1909 the building was the Washington Hotel, but has been a residence for the past century.

By 1911 the Whitehall Park Development for “working men” was established on Sard and McDonald Roads, and residential development in the Whitehall Rd. began in earnest and continued steadily for the next 50 years. Within 5 years that area, which had been part of the town of Bethlehem was annexed into the city of Albany. It would not be until the 1960s, after a number of annexations through the decades, that both sides of Whitehall Rd. from Delaware Ave. to New Scotland Ave. would become part of the city.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany and the Seven Years War

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Albany on the Hudson

In 1756 Britain officially declared war on France. The hostilities in North America are generally known as the French and Indian War (since most Native Americans sided with the French).
Before the official declaration there had been major military actions in New York State including an expedition to Crown Point that ended with the Battle of Lake George. With the declaration more British regular troops were sent to the colonies. Many of those ended up in Albany, as did militia men from surrounding states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts since Albany was a “jumping off” point for expeditions north to Canada and west to Niagara held by the French.
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As a result Fort Frederick at the top of State St. hill was re-fortified by the British. Albany became one of the 2 major supply depots (the other was in Halifax, NS). The Army built storehouses, warehouses and powder houses,as well as an armory, a hospital and barracks.
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The occupation of Albany by the British became a constant source of friction. They took city land and billeted soldiers in citizen’s houses. (This is why there is an amendment in the U.S. Constitution against quartering, since it happened not only in Albany , but in Boston and other cities.) Albany’s response seems to have been especially angry, and near riots broke out.
Lord Loudon, who became the second British commander in North America, commissioned an inventory in late 1756 of the householders, and the number of rooms and fireplaces in each residence within the stockade. There were 329 homes. (Two of the houses remain – the Quackenbush House on Broadway and the Van Ostrande-Ratliffe House on Hudson Ave.)
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It’s been estimated that at peak military strength in 1758 British Army regulars and militia men numbered 42,000. Heaven only knows how many funneled through Albany.
Abraham Yates, a member of the Common Council at the time would become head of the Albany Committee on Correspondence in the Revolutionary War (the de facto government). In his journal he complains bitterly about the military presence in the City in the Seven Years War. There is speculation that his experience, as with others, made him especially desirous of throwing off the British yoke of oppression.
In the mid 1750s Albany was mostly a town of Dutch Burghers. So our sleepy little town came alive. Perhaps no other event changed Albany so much, in so many ways. And despite the hostilities with the British command there was money to be made.
There are only few accounts of the time, but it’s clear the War was a boon to merchants and tavern owners. Albany became a boom town, not dissimilar from the gold rush towns of the Old West. The narrow streets were clogged with British regiments, including Scots Highlanders, the guerrilla fighters of Rogers Rangers, Iroquois warriors who sided with the British, and businessman eager to secure military contracts.
Taverns overflowed and drunks spilled into the streets. Dice games became the norm. Charlatans, hucksters, con men and grifters made their way up the River.
Local farmers brought in goods by the wagon load everyday, and the Riverfront was full of ships and barges moving men and supplies (including rum from the British West Indies). The wharves and docks thrummed with activity. Coopers making barrels worked at warp speed, cordwinders (rope makers) were in short supply. Blacksmith forges clanged constantly. Bakeries churned out loaf after loaf, breweries produced prodigious quantities of ale. Industrious Dutch housewives developed side hustles – making cheese, selling eggs, planting larger vegetable gardens.
Along with the soldiers came the women who the British army had hired to cook, and wash and nurse the men. Charlotte Browne was the matron who came to Albany in the early days of the War. Her journal describes a hospital that was little more than “a shed”. When she first arrived the local Dutch women had a low opinion of her, and thought her to be General Braddock’s mistress. (Braddock was the first British commander in the North American theatre of operations.)
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On the hill around the Fort you would see small lean-tos and shanty towns,full of women like Ms. Browne paid by the army, as well as camp followers often married to ordinary soldiers. These women supported themselves (and sometimes their children who traveled with them) as domestic servants for the British officers. It’s quite clear from the writings left by General Braddock that these women were considered to be as much a part of the army, and subject to similar discipline, as the soldiers.
But it was against a back drop of war the scenes on the Albany streets played out. In the early days there must have been much fear as initially British losses mounted; a brutal massacre at Fort William Henry, a loss in Oswego, another at Ticonderoga, and the noose around Albany seemed to tighten. However in 1758 a new British prime minister deployed more troops and the tide turned. The decisive victory was in 1759 in Quebec when British General Wolfe defeated General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.
According to Stefan Bielinski in his Colonial Albany Project Albany said Albany was never the same after the War. Some of the newcomers stayed in the city, and it began to change for the first time in about 140 years. But not a lot. Because that’s not the Albany way, and never has been.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Lodge St. (and what’s the big building on the corner)?

There’s been a masonic lodge in the same location in Albany for over 250 years. It’s the oldest organization in the city, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.

On June 28th, 1756, Alexander Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany was laid to rest. According to “The New York Mercury”. “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is the earliest known reference to Freemasonry having existed in some form in Albany. Not until 1758-59 would Freemasonry become more formally organized in Albany.

The development of Albany’s first Masonic Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany during the French & Indian War. This military Lodge would initiate a few men of Albany into their fraternity and when they departed, would leave with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet as a Masonic Lodge. The new Freemasons of Albany were instructed that this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until a warrant was received. The warrant was granted in 1765 by the New York Provincial Grand Master.

One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at Albany was Mr. Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern, which was located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge, which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st, 1765 – Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3) would meet regularly at Cartwright’s tavern, even after he was driven from Albany due to his loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer, and Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies formed even before the beginning of the Revolution, and with this growth, so too came a desire for a more permanent home for the Masonic bodies of Albany.

According to Stefan Bielinksi in “The Colonial Albany Project” in 1766 the City Council granted Dr. Samuel Stringer a deed “for a lott of ground on the Hill near the Fort adjoining the English Burying Ground” on which to erect a lodge building. Subsequent transactions conveyed an adjoining lot. (Stringer would become the physician in charge of the Northern Department during the Revolutionary War.)

The Lodge would be just around the corner from the soldier’s barracks and the hospital in which Stringer would treat Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Saratoga.

In December 1767 a new warrant empowered a second lodge, the “Ineffable Lodge of Perfection” with other Albany men. Several days later the men of both lodges paraded through Albany streets.

By June, 1768, the first building in Albany for exclusive Masonic use was completed, on what would become known as the northwest corner of the Lodge St., and Maiden Lane, and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. (It’s said to have been the first purpose built Lodge building in America.)

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the “Good Patroon” was initiated as Mason in 1776 when he was 22, and would later serve as Grand Master for New York State)

Soon the cross street at Maiden Lane became known as Lodge St. (It appears on a 1794 map of the city.)

Eventually, the first building would be demolished and a larger three-story would structure would replace it.

In time, this structure would also be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building at the corner of Lodge Street and Corning Place (previously Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built 1895-96, it was constructed to accommodate the more than a dozen Masonic organizations that were meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24th, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and open on October 26th, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.

Today the City of Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, and women’s masonic groups, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. Taken together, the Masonic Fraternity, contributes millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and through the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families, and the broader world.

Written by worshipful Michael A. Hernandez, Past Master, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.