Frederick Douglass on the Albany of 1847

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The remarkable and legendary Abolitionist was a frequent visitor to Albany. In 1845 he placed his oldest daughter, Rosetta, with 2 Quaker sisters, Abigail and Lydia Mott, who lived on Maiden Lane near Broadway; she lived quite comfortably for about 5 years under their care and tutelage. (They were cousins of Lucretia Mott, the women’s rights activist and abolitionist; they too were politically active and were conductors in Albany’s Underground Railroad.)

In 1847 Douglass wrote a description of Albany to a friend. (In 1845 he had become world famous after publication of his memoir about his life as a slave and flight to freedom in 1838.)

By way of background: at the time he wrote the letter Albany was the 10th largest city in the U.S., with a population of about 50,000. In the period between 1820 and 1850 the population of Albany exploded. Between 1820 and 1830, it doubled, due to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Between 1830 and 1850 the population doubled again.

There were signs of growing pains all over the City that was bursting at the seams in 1847.

The staid Old Dutch village has been overrun by businessman and politicians. Its geography worked for and against it. The Canal had been the catalyst for a manufacturing hub in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The last slaves in New York State had been freed 20 years before; Albany has been the largest slave holding county in the State for at least 100 years previous. There were many free persons of color struggling to get a foothold in the middle class, while simultaneously advancing the cause of Abolition elsewhere in the country and providing a path to freedom in Canada for those poor souls in slave states. Immigrant populations (mostly German and Jewish) had begun pouring into country through the harbors of New York and Boston. Many made their way to Albany, as a gateway to the vast lands of the west; some stayed here. Like any Boomtown, It became a mecca for hucksters, grifters and speculators.

In the fall of 1847 Douglass had traveled to Albany (and Troy) for a series of meetings and speeches. And while Douglass found a few things here to praise — it’s fair to say he came away rather unimpressed by the city of Albany, which at the time was a key center for politics and transportation.

From a letter Douglass wrote to the abolitionist Sydney Gay in October of that year after leaving the city:

“Situated on the banks of the noble Hudson, near the head of navigation, Albany is the grand junction of eastern and western travel. Its people have a restless, unstable, and irresponsible appearance, altogether unfavourable to reform. A flood of immorality and disgusting brutality is poured into the city through the great Erie Canal, and the very cheap travel on the Hudson facilitates the egress of a swarm of loafers and rum-suckers from New York. I have received more of insult, and encountered more of low black-guardism in the streets of this city in one day than I should meet with in Boston during a whole month.”

Douglass touches on the history of slavery in Albany and the city’s apparent inertia in the face of reform.

“Like most other metropolitan towns and cities, Albany is by no means remarkable for either the depth or intensity of its interest in reform. No great cause was ever much indebted to Albany for assistance. Many reasons might be given, accounting for the tardiness of its people in matters of reform in general, and Anti-Slavery reform in particular. I believe that many of its wealthiest and most influential families have either been slaveholders, or are connected with slaveholders by family ties, and it is not too much to presume that they have not been entirely purified and cleansed of the old leaven. Their influence is yet visible on the face of this community.”

“The evil that men do lives after them.” Thirty years ago, and slaves were held, bought and sold, in this same goodly city; and in the darkness of midnight, the panting fugitive, running from steeples and [d]omes, swam the cold waters of the Hudson, and sought a refuge from Albany man-hunters, in the old Bay State. The beautiful Hudson as then to the slaves of this State, what the Ohio is to slaves in Virginia and Kentucky. The foul upas has been cut down for nearly thirty years, and yet its roots of poison and bitterness may be felt in the moral soil of this community, obstructing the plough of reform, and disheartening the humble labourer. Many efforts have been made to awaken the sympathies, quicken the moral sense, and rouse the energies of this community in the Anti-Slavery cause — but to very little purpose. many of the best and ablest advocates of the slave, including George Thompson, of London, have wrought here, but apparently in vain. So hard and so dead are its community considered to be, our lecturers pass through it from year to year without dreaming of the utility of holding a meeting in it; all are disposed to think Slavery may be abolished in the United States without aid of Albany. Like Webster, of New Hampshire, they think this a good place to emigrate from.

Situated on the banks of the noble Hudson, near the head of navigation, Albany is the grand junction of eastern and western travel. Its people have a restless, unstable, and irresponsible appearance, altogether unfavourable to reform. A flood of immorality and disgusting brutality is poured into the city through the great Erie Canal, and the very cheap travel on the Hudson facilitates the egress of a swarm of loafers and rum-suckers from New York. I have received more of insult, and encountered more of low black-guardism in the streets of this city in one day than I should meet with in Boston during a whole month.

Excerpted in part from a February 2, 2016 post in All Over Albany.com

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Albany’s 44th NY and the Battle of Gettysburg

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On July 2, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in its second day. Men from Albany were dug in on a boulder strewn hill, fighting for their lives and for the hill that would come to be known as Little Round Top.

Gettysburg was a defining moment in the lives of the men who fought on both sides, including men from Albany. We estimate that about 8,000 men from the city of Albany and environs served in the Civil War. (Pretty amazing considering the entire population of the City was about 62,000 when the War broke out). Of those, about 4,000 were probably at Gettysburg. (Most of the men from Albany who fought at Gettysburg served in 4 regiments, but there were Albany men scattered throughout the Union Army, taking part in the battle that sprawled over 10 miles – in the infantry, artillery, cavalry and men from Albany County hill towns who were among some of the best sharpshooters in the Army.

We spend a lot of time discussing the Battle of Saratoga and how it changed the outcome of the Revolution. About 90 years later the Battle of Gettysburg was no less fateful in preserving the nation created by the Revolutionary War. Men of the 44th NY Regiment, mustered from Albany in August and September 1861, were in the thick of it on Little Round Top. The fight for that hill is considered by many historians to be the key point in the Union Army’s defensive line that day and perhaps of the entire Battle. The Union Army’s victory at Little Round Top prevented Meade’s Army from being outflanked by General Lee.

The 44th NY Regiment was known by 2 names – “Ellsworth’s Avengers” after Col. Elmer Ellsworth from Mechanicville (who was killed while removing a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Inn of Alexandria, Virginia at the request of Abraham Lincoln) and the “People’s Ellsworth Regiment”. Several of the initial companies of the 44th were recruited from the city of Albany. (About a year later, another company was added, drawn mostly from students at the State Normal School.)

The expenses of the 44th Regiment were borne in large part by the city fathers. There were requirements for enlistment; at least 18 years of age and no older than 30, a minimum of 5’ 8”, single, of good moral character; previous military experience a plus. The men who joined were an eclectic mix – they represented all trades and professions and some were college graduates. My GGG uncles, Charlie and George Zeilman, joined up. Because Charlie had served in the local guard he was immediately promoted to sergeant of Company F, known as the “Albany Company”.

Much has been made about the men from the State Normal School who enlisted with the 44th the following year, so I thought I would tell you about 2 ordinary guys from Albany, since they’re more representative of most of the 44th and rest of the men from Albany who fought for the Union. The Zeilman brothers were the grandsons of a Hessian soldier who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, and a German immigrant who settled in the Mohawk Valley and fought in Tryon County militia. The extended family ended up in the Albany in the late 1700s in what is now Arbor Hill. We know the family had a tradition of public service – some were captains and constables of the watch (what we would call police), others were strong proponents of public education as early as the 1830s and they were all staunch Republicans. For the most part they were tradesmen. Charlie was carpenter and George a paper hanger when they enlisted. Much of the Zeilman extended clan, which included relations by marriage, lived in small area of two blocks on Lumber St. (now Livingston Ave.) between N. Hawk St. and Lark St. So far we’ve found 5 cousins from the area who enlisted in other NYS regiments. There were millions of men who joined the Union army just like them. They were the heart and soul of the Northern forces.

10The 44th recruits were housed in barracks in what that city had planned to be an Industrial school in the general area we call University Heights today, off New Scotland Ave. The barracks were near the Almshouse and far from the urban core.

The 44th NY were “Zouaves”. Their uniform was modeled after Col. Ellsworth’s unit, based on the Zouave Algerian regiment in the French Army – known for their “dash” and bravery. It consisted of a dark blue bolero type jacket, with red piping on the cuffs, dark blue trousers with a red stripe, a red billowy shirt, a dark blue forage cap, and a pair of leather gaiters.

2 (2)And thus began the romantic phase of the War, before anyone could comprehend the brutality and death that was to come. It would be a glorious war. Officers were presented with gifts and feted at teas and receptions. The men and women of Albany drove up Madison Ave. in their carriages to watch drills; the recruits paraded through the streets to the cheers of city residents, accompanied by a regimental band of some of the best musicians in the city who had enlisted. The 44th was presented with a flag by the Mayor’s wife. The commander, Colonel Stryker, turned to the men and asked, “Boys, shall this flag ever fall?” The men responded in unison, “Never”. They left Albany in a great pageant of patriotism- flags waved and the crowd cheered – they were off to whup Johnny Reb in a matter of months and return as heroes.

13The regiment, about 1,100 strong, left in October 1861; it was deployed in Virginia as part of V Corps of the Union Army and saw little action. That changed in late May 1862 at the Battle of Hanover Court House, north of Richmond. Then came the Seven Days’ Battle and the battles of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill. The Second Battle of Bull Run in August followed. By October, 1862 only slightly more than 200 men from the original regiment remained – the rest has been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or were missing. After each battle, their families, like those across the country, frantically searched the action reports in the “Albany Argus” and the “Albany Evening Journal” praying they would not see the words “dead’, “killed in action”, “mortally wounded”.

Life in Albany continued against a back drop of sadness and anxiety. Dry goods stores stocked vast quantities of black crepe and other mourning goods. The Rural Cemetery which had rung the chapel bell for every internment stopped; the bell was now only rung in the morning and in the evening – the incessant din had become unbearable. Stone carvers and monument makers didn’t want for work.

14By now the men of the 44th were battle tested veterans and war weary. It was no longer a glorious war. Uncle Charlie was commissioned a Second Lt. in October 1862 and First Lt. in January 1863. While we’re sure he was a fine soldier, officers who had fallen needed to be replaced. The Regiment served at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the debacle at Chancellorsville. By June, 1863 the 44th was matching north towards Gettysburg, along with thousands of soldiers from the North and South.

4On the afternoon of July 2, after a double time march that lasted over 12 hours, part of the 44th NY, including Company F, with Uncle Charlie and Uncle George, found itself on a strategic hill in the southern part of the battlefield. They were part of Strong Vincent’s brigade, and joined remnants of the 12th NY, and men from Pennsylvania in the center of the line. They were flanked by Michigan and Maine regiments. The fight that ensued is the stuff of legend. Waves of Texas and Alabama soldiers hurled themselves towards the boulder strewn hill; they were pushed back, only to advance again. The furious struggle lasted hours without a break, into the evening. The men from Albany grew weary, tired and thirsty. Fire was thick and relentless from both sides. Gun smoke enveloped the hill like a cloud. At times the Confederates broke through the line and hand to hand fighting pushed them back.

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The Union men on the hill, including Company F, ran low on ammunition – they rifled the cartridge boxes of their dead and wounded. Finally reserve forces from the 140th NY arrived, just as the 44th was being flanked. The famous Col. Paddy O’Rorke, from Rochester, lead his men headlong into the battle,. O’Rorke was killed, but his men pushed through. On the other flank, Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine, ordered his men, now out of ammunition, to fix bayonets and drive into the rebel onslaught.

12The Confederate soldiers retreated. There were 300 men from the 44th on the Little Round Top when the fighting started; when it was over 100 men were dead, wounded or missing – including Uncle Charlie who suffered a chest wound. The entire Brigade suffered 34% casualties, including 26 year old Strong Vincent who was mortally wounded.

Little Round Top was only one of several brutal battles across Gettysburg, The 2nd New Hampshire lost almost half its men in the Peach Orchard; men were mowed down in the Wheatfield and on Cemetery Hill. Over 3 days 160,000 men faced one another in an epic struggle. At the end of the Battle there were over 7,000 men dead, another 35,000 wounded and 10,000 missing. On the morning of the 4th of July 1863, with a third of his Army dead, Lee withdrew to the south. The Southern invasion into the North had been halted, Northern critics of the War were silenced and it became clear to the Confederacy that Lee’s juggernaut could be stopped, and for the first time, the South had to consider it might not prevail.

15The War would continue for almost another 2 years and the men from Albany in the 44th would continue for much of that time. They fought at Rappahannock Station in Fall 1863, In the Spring campaign of 1864 the remnants of the 44th fought in the Battle of the Wilderness – Uncle Charlie was wounded again. The regiment went on to fight at Spotsylvania and Bethesda Church; he returned just in time to join the 44th at the Battle of Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg that lasted most of the summer 1864. Finally, after the Battle of Popular Grove in Fall 1864 what was left of the Regiment limped home and were mustered out in Albany in October 1864. Uncle Charlie was done soldiering, but Uncle George and several other men from the “Albany Company” who had managed to survive 3 years of horror transferred to other regiments, serving until the end of the War.

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About 1500 men served in the 44th NY over the course of 3 years; 750 were killed or severely wounded or went missing.

16aA monument to the 44th NY, one of the largest on the Gettysburg Battlefield, stands on the ridge of Little Round Top where the men from Albany may have turned the tide of the War and saved the Union.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8Of course the monument was designed by Uncle Charlie. After his meritorius service (and I think because he actually managed to survive, he was breveted to Captain after he mustered out of the 44th). The brevet rank was honorary, but he was rewarded by a grateful nation, as were many Union soldiers, through the Federal government patronage system. After the War he became one of the first 5 letter carriers, when mail delivery started in Albany in 1865. By the mid-1880s he was Deputy Postmaster of the City.

 

 

The other Zeilman cousins’ War experience is like many of the millions of men who served in the Union Army – 1 was promoted from corporal to captain, 1 died of disease, 1 deserted (and re-appeared in Albany years after the War was over), 1 was captured and released, and another just served his 4 years as a private – as they say, he was either lucky or kept his head down.

The Rattle Watch in Beverwyck and Nepotism – an Albany Civil Service Tradition

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By the 1650s there were enough people in the New Netherlands for there to be public safety concerns and with those came public safety officers. Initially there was the equivalent of neighborhood watch in New Amsterdam (NYC), but that didn’t work out especially well, and so the first Rattle Watch (a group of 8 men) was appointed in 1658. Beverwyck followed in summer 1659; two men, Lambert Van Valkenburgh and Peter Winnie, were appointed on an annual basis and paid in wampum and beaver skins.

The Rattle Watch was established in Beverwyck because the local burghers, who had been assuming the responsibility – on a voluntary basis, wanted out. (There appears to have been a dispute about fire wood they were owed for stepping up, that was never provided.)

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10The Rattle Watch was a combination of police officer, firefighter & hourly time caller who carried the equivalent of a wood New Year’s Eve noisemaker that made a clacking racket.

Here’s the job description of the Rattle Watch from the Fort Orange court records in 1659:

1) First, the said rattle watch shall be held to appear at the burghers’ guard house after the ringing of the nine o’clock bell and together at ten o’clock shall begin making their rounds, giving notice of their presence in all the streets of the village of Beverwyck by sounding their rattle and calling [out the hour], and this every hour of the night, until 4 o’clock in the morning.

2) Secondly, they shall pay especial attention to fire and upon the first sign of smoke, extraordinary light or otherwise warn the people by knocking at their houses. And if they see any likelihood of fire, they shall give warning by rattling and calling, and run to the church, of which they are to have a key, and ring the bell

3) Thirdly, in case they find any thieves breaking into any houses or gardens, they shall to the best of their ability try to prevent it, arrest the thieves and bring them into the fort. And in case they are not strong enough to do so, they are to call the burghers of the vicinity to their aid, who are in duty bound to lend the helping hand, as this is tending to the common welfare.

4) Fourthly, in case of opposition, they are hereby authorized to offer resistance, the honorable commissary and magistrates declaring that they release them from all liability for any accident which may happen or result from such resistance if offered in the rightful performance of their official duties.

There’s a general consensus that Lambert (as we shall call him) was selected because he had some previous military experience working for the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC) – the owners of the New Netherlands colony. He had originally settled in New Amsterdam, but sold his property (factoid – the Empire State Building stands on the land he owned) and migrated to Beverwyck.

The role of the Rattle Watch seems to have evolved over time – with the acquisition of New Netherlands by the English in 1664, growth of population and increasing tensions with the Native American population. But the job stays in the Van Valkenburgh family. In the 1670s, Lambert’s son-in-law, Zacharias Sickles, who’d also been a DWIC soldier and married to Lambert’s daughter Anna – becomes a Rattle Watch.

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In 1686 the Royal Governor, Thomas Dongan, issued a city charter to Albany (it’s the oldest chartered city in the country). The Dongan Charter made some changes to how the government worked and created the position of a High Constable and 7 sub-constables, one for each wards. But the tradition of the Rattle Watch continued.

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In the 1699, another son-in-law of Lambert Van Valkenburgh, John Radcliff. gets the appointment. John had come to Albany to be a soldier at the English fort, and married Lambert’s daughter Rachel. They lived on the “southside” near Beaver and Green. We think that his job transcended the traditional Rattle Watch role and he was more constable-like, with a job description that was more like what we know of the police today. In 1727 we find Rachel a widow, with grown children. But in 1732 the Common Council names Rachel to the position of Rattle Watch. Hmmm.

While women in this role were not unheard of it, her appointment was a rarity. (The Dutch in the New Netherlands granted women more rights on an equal par with men – when the English took over, women were relegated to second class citizens, but in very Dutch Albany, old habits died hard.)

6At the time of her appointment Rachel would have been probably in her 70’s. Because Rachel was my 9th great grandmother sometimes I think about her. Did one or more of her 10 kids do the job for her? Or did she trudge the rutted snowy and icy streets of Albany on cold winter nights in a long cloak, possibly made of beaver, and a wide brim beaver hat over her white cap tied beneath her chin. She would have carried her Rattle and a lantern, patrolling the streets of Albany from 10pm to daylight. The entry in City Record says she was to “Go all night and call hours from ten to 4, time and weather”.

 

 

 

5The route began at the main guard house (the city was still enclosed in a stockade fence at this time) near the south gate, up Brower (Broadway) St., over the Rutten Kill bridge (one of the 3 creeks that ran through Albany – filled in the 1800s) at Col Schuyler’s house, then to Jonker St.(State St.) to the corner where Johannes de Wandelaer lived on the hill near the fort, then to the house of Johannes Roseboom, on the east side of Parel (Pearl) St. north of Rom St. (Maiden Lane) to Gysbert Merselis’ house (northeast corner of Parrel and Rom) to the house of Hendrick Bries, and thence to the Guard House.

For this, she received 5 pounds and 10 shillings,and 5 pounds of candles.

We don’t know how long Rachel had the job, or how long the Rattle Watch continued or whether the job passed to other Van Valkenburgh kin IF the Rattle Watch continued. (She died in the mid-1700s and was buried in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery. )

At least 75 years of the Rattle Watch in one family?? So very Albany.

11There is lasting evidence of the Radcliffe family in Albany. Johannes Radcliffe, grandson of Rachel Van Valkenburgh and John Radcliffe, was the second owner of the Van Ostrand Radcliffe house in Albany, the oldest structure in the city. It was constructed on Hudson St. just outside the city stockade when it was built in the 1720s. As we go farther down her family line, James Eights, the painter of the wonderful watercolors that let us know what Albany looked like in the early 1800s was Rachel’s great great grandson (through her oldest daughter Elizabeth.)

The Rattle Watch gig may explain why generations of my family have cursed the State St. hill climb – it’s genetic.

Thanks to Stefan Bielinski and Colonial Albany Project for some of the material in this post http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/welcome.html .

 

Lincoln and his First Visit to Albany- 1848 – the Political Connections

 

Lincoln’s  first visit to Albany happened in 1848.  It wasn’t  nearly the extravaganza as his  pre-inauguration visit to Albany in 1861 as he made his way to Washington D.C. (most people assume that was Lincoln’s first visit to the city – not so much)  But it was much more important.

In September 1848, while Lincoln was in Congress, he ventured on a series of speaking engagements on behalf of the Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor in and around Boston.

3He was a political nobody, but late in his tour he met William Seward, former NYS governor, who would become U.S. Senator from NY the next year. They both gave speeches on September 22. Seward’s was aggressively anti-slavery (not just anti- Democrat). It was a pivotal meeting that informed Lincoln’s future thinking about the issue of slavery. They shared a hotel room in Worcester and according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, they talked most of the night. (Seward would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State – part of the “Team of Rivals” after he lost the Republican nomination for president to Lincoln in 1860.)

Seward had close ties with Thurlow Weed, editor of the “Albany Evening Journal” (a newspaper with a reach that extended far beyond Albany). Seward impressed upon Lincoln that on his trip back to Springfield, Ill. he had to visit Weed in Albany. (Weed was a political strategist and power broker of nationwide influence.) By 1848 he’d been a fixture in Albany for almost 30 years.

10Since Lincoln would have to stop in Albany on his way home, Lincoln agreed. He and his family (Mary and their two children had accompanied him on his tour) would have made their way from the railroad station in Greenbush across the Hudson by ferry (there was no bridge in 1848) to Maiden Lane. It’s most probable that his family stayed at one of the two main hotels near the ferry landing – the Delavan House or Stanwix Hall. Both were located on Broadway – between State St. and Steuben St. and would have been suitable for children.

 

 

 

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6On his Lincoln’s way to visit Weed, if he looked south on Broadway, past State St., he would have seen the ruins of the Great Fire that had destroyed acres of Albany the previous month.

 

 

 

 

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Lincoln appears to have found Weed in his newspaper office at 67 State St., just above James St. Weed then took him across the street to the State Hall (at the corner of State and Lodge) to meet Millard Fillmore (who was then NYS Comptroller). Fillmore was running as Taylor’s VP candidate, and would become President 2 years later upon Taylor’s death.

The meeting, by all accounts, was brief. But it gave all three men a chance to take each other’s measure. Weed and Fillmore were doing a favor for Seward – meeting a nothing burger Congressman from out west, but from a state that would become critical to the abolition movement. It gave Lincoln, a brilliant political strategist, an opportunity to meet two of the most prominent politicians of New York, a state that might be pivotal in any future endeavors. (Lincoln won NYS in 1860 by 50,000 votes – 7% – and it gave him about 20% of his electoral vote.)

Weed would become one of the founders of the Republican Party in the 1850s and a supporter of Seward in the 1860 election. He became a fixture in Washington and at the Lincoln White House, despite the fact that he and Mary Lincoln detested one another. Lincoln understood he had to stay in Weed’s good graces. (It was Weed and Seward who convinced Lincoln to donate a handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to be raffled at the Albany soldier’s relief bazaar in February 1864. That draft is in the permanent collection of the New York State Museum.)

Fillmore’s presidential policies in the 1850s contributed to the conflagration that became the Civil War. He continued to oppose Lincoln throughout his presidency and be critical of his War policies.

Fun Fillmore Factoid: In 1858, after his presidency, he would marry Caroline Macintosh, wealthy widow, in the parlor of the Schuyler Mansion (purchased by her first husband, a local railroad mogul, in the 1840s) .This was the same parlor in which Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780.

July is National Ice Cream Month – A Pictorial History of Ice Cream in Albany

Ice cream has been around for ever – even B.C. Thomas Jefferson had his favorite ice cream recipe. Until the mid 1800s ice cream was purely a special, special home made treat. George Washington had a sweet tooth and bought ice cream molds and scoops and dropped $200 – over $5k today – on ice cream one hot summer. (NO false teeth jokes.)

7By the 1850s ice cream saloons started to be a thing in Albany and it was one of the favorite desserts at fancy parties – on every caterers list. In the late 1800s improvements in refrigeration technology made the sale of ice cream in small grocery stores, pharmacies (soda fountains) and candy stores possible. Ice cream cones were supposedly invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Then came 1920 and Prohibition.. people in Albany like those across the country substituted sweets for booze – All Hail the Ice Cream Soda!! (and the Eskimo Pie). The Depression saw a drop in nationwide consumption; innovative marketing solved that problem; Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors, Dixie Cups, Fudgicles and Drumsticks. But the areas surrounding Albany were dairy cow country; ice cream was always a thing. There were dairies in the the West End, Arbor Hill, Menands, the South End, Lark St., North Albany, Elm St. So. Swan and south of the city in New Scotland and Bethlehem. So many cows.

By the 1940s ice cream was the uniquely all-American treat. It was so American that Mussolini banned its sale. During World War II Coca Cola and ice cream fueled the military. General Eisenhower made sure both “cold comforts” were as close to combat troops as possible.

By the late 1940s, the summer drive in the family car to an ice cream stand started to become a thing around Albany and across the country. And then, through the magic of marketing (and Stewarts) ice cream became a not just for summer treat.

Here’s a look at the ice cream stores, factories, dairies and brands in Albany over the years.

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The Ten Eyck Hotel – the Grande Dame of State Street

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The original Ten Eyck Hotel, which would come to dominate the skyline of downtown Albany for much of the 20th century, was built in 1899 at corner of State St. and Chapel St.

In the 1890s there were 3 major hotels in Albany. The Kenmore, the Delavan and Stanwix Hall. The Delavan on Broadway (where Lincoln stayed in 1861 on his pre-inaugural journey to Washington D.C.) was destroyed by fire in 1894. Stanwix Hall, on Broadway and Maiden Lane, was looking a tad shabby. It had been built in the 1830s by the uncles of Herman Melville, and while once a grand show place, was showing its age. The Kenmore on N. Pearl, established by Adam Blake (son of a former slave) was doing a thriving business under the new ownership of the Rockwell family.

But the Rockwells saw an opening in the market after the Delavan fire. Frederick, the Rockwell son, created a corporation that included James Ten Eyck, from one of Albany’s oldest and wealthiest families.They purchased the old Corning homestead on State St. and set to building the most modern and luxe hotel in heart of downtown Albany. Based on his experience with the Kenmore Frederick knew what guests wanted. Most importantly, it was guaranteed “fire proof” – the destruction of the Delavan – a hotel known around the country, had created enormous fear. (There had been deaths and many seriously injured guests and employees.)

2The “fireproof” Ten Eyck was an immediate success. It was 9 stories and designed to cater to the whims of even the most jaded traveler. The rooms and suites were airy and well-appointed. Want a room for your maid? No problem. Porcelain baths gleamed and towels were plush. There was a large ballroom and many meeting rooms to accommodate the conventions that flocked to the hotel. The lobby was spacious and comfortable, with a barbershop, hair salon, florist, telegraph office, and access to telephones. Scores of bell hops swarmed – ready to run any errand or fulfill the smallest of requests. Carriages transported travelers to and from the train station and Steamboat Square at no charge. The dining room and food was legendary – with specially made china and engraved silver plate with the Ten Eyck logo.

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4Other large hotels were built on State St. over the next 10 years; the Hampton and the Wellington. They enjoyed success, but the Ten Eyck out shown them all. By 1914 it needed to expand, and the owners bought and demolished the Tweddle Building just below the Hotel, at the corner of State and Pearl. Within 3 years a new Ten Eyck Hotel building arose that, at 17 stories, dominated downtown for decades (the older, smaller building became known as the “Annex”). The Ten Eyck had become the sort of “modern” hotel we recognize today (except for the mini-bar). It had a new owner – the United Hotels Company that owned a string of upscale hotels across the country.

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In the late 1920’s the Ten Eyck finally had some real competition with the construction of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel up the street at State and Eagle – opposite the Capitol. (Today it’s been renovated and is the Renaissance – owned by Marriott.) The two competed for the next 45 years, but it was the Ten Eyck that ruled downtown, surviving the Depression and thriving in World War II.

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The Ten Eyck continued to be the destination of choice in Albany for presidents and the rich and famous. Because of its proximity to the Capitol Theater, just around the corner on Chapel St., guests included everyone from the venerable actors Cornelia Otis Skinner and Lionel Barrymore to George M. Cohan to Molly Picon, the Queen of Yiddish Theater. The Ten Eyck was mobbed by Stagedoor Johnnies when Flo Ziegfeld brought the beautiful bevy of girls in his Follies to Albany.

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11.1In the 1950s it became a Sheraton hotel, was renovated and had bit of renewal. Still, the grand dame struggled to compete in the 1960s. The main restaurant, the Grill Room, was given a wacky amoeba shaped bar (so mid-century) and another bar became the “Dolliwog Lounge” (waitresses were the equivalent of Albany’s Playboy bunnies.) But then Sheraton Corp. bought the newly constructed Inn Towne Motel on Broadway. (The building is still there as a Holiday Inn Express – the swimming pool on the roof is long gone.)

 

 

 

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All the hotels in downtown were suffering from competition from new motels on the outskirts of the City and the suburbs – the Americana on Wolf Rd. (now the Desmond), the Thruway Motel on Washington Ave. (demolished for a medical building) and several Howard Johnson Motels (the remains of one on Southern Blvd. still exists). The area adjacent to downtown had been gutted for Empire State Plaza construction, but that was insignificant compared to a dying downtown – commercial and retail development had moved to the suburbs, as was the case in many Northeastern cities. Steamboat travel ended 20 years before and no one traveled by train. (Albany’s Union Station would soon be closed.)

In a last gasp the hotel was purchased by a company from Binghamton and run by the Schine Corp. It was during this era in the late 1960s I stayed in the Ten Eyck for a NYS high school convention. It was shabby, but with room service; swanky to a 16 year old used to summer vacation motor court cabins. I snuck into the cocktail lounge; it seemed so “Mad Men” with a dash of 007-sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The men all looked like Don Draper or Roger Sterling – the women like Betty Draper and Joan Holloway. They were drinking Gimlets, Martinis and Manhattans in a world that would shortly become Woodstock, Boone’s Farm and tie dye.

Nothing could save the hotel. It closed that year in 1968 and remained a rotting hulk for several years until it was demolished, along with Albany Savings Bank (an Albany architectural gem). That block is now home to the some of the bleakest examples of 1970s architecture.. a Citizen’s Bank , the Ten Eyck Plaza Office Building and what it now a Hilton Hotel, about were the original Ten Eyck building would had been (more or less).

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There is one last vestige of the venerable Ten Eyck (other than few pieces of random china or flatware that surface on eBay from time to time) and it’s not in Albany. If you should ever find yourself in Staunton Virginia, stop in the Depot Grille restaurant and you can see the massive 40’ bar from the Ten Eyck Hotel. (Don’t ask us how it ended up in Staunton, we haven’t a clue – but if you know, please tell us.)

Julie O’Connor

President Grant’s Funeral Procession in Albany

On August 5 , 1885 thousands of people filed into the new Capitol to view the body of President Ulysses S. Grant lying in state.

Grant died on July 23 at a cottage in Mt. McGregor* in Wilton in Saratoga County. He and his family had removed there in late spring. He was dying of cancer and in desperate financial straits. He went to the cottage (loaned to him by a friend in New York City) to finish writing his memoirs. (They would be a critical and commercial success, securing the future of his wife Julia.)

image052Many of Grant’s closest friends and allies traveled from across the country to Mt. McGregor to attend a private service on the top of the mountain on August 4th. They included the men who would come to be known for winning the Civil War under General Grant – General William Sherman who marched through the South, Albany’s own General Philip Sheridan (that’s his statue in front of the Capitol) and General Winfield Scott Hancock – who stood at Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg and repelled Pickett’s Charge.

After the service the funeral train made its way down the steep mountain on its journey to Albany and New York City. It stopped at Albany at the corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets, just above the D & H railroad depot at 3:40 pm. A procession formed, headed by General Hancock, and made its way to the Capitol. The buildings were draped in black crepe and people wore black armbands.

3 (2)Businesses and factories closed.The crowd was dense. Thousands lined Albany streets in the stifling heat and humidity of an August day as the procession made its way over North Pearl St. ,up State st. over Eagle St opposite the new City Hall, up Washington Ave. and then down State St. to the Capitol General Winfield Hancock, said to have been Grant’s favorite and head of the largest Civil War veterans organization in the country, lead the 4,000 marchers, mounted on a powerful black horse, to a slow and deliberate drum beat through the streets. The procession included a riderless horse, a tradition started at George Washington’s funeral.

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Middle-aged men wrestled into their old blue wool uniforms and walked somberly in the cortege of their Commander-in Chief. Older men removed their hats and bent their heads as the carriage bearing Grant’s coffin passed. Women wept, including my great great grandmother and her children. Her oldest daughter (my great grandmother) was born in August, 1865 and named Julia, in honor of Grant’s wife. Grant had ended the war and the boys had come home. It’s unlikely there was anyone in the crowd who had not suffered loss from the War, but Grant had ended the killing.

 

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The catafalque of the President was placed in the Senate corridor, surrounded by an honor guard; at 5:00 pm the public viewing began. In the first hour, 7,500 people filed in two by two. Viewing went through the night. It was estimated that over 75,000 mourners had passed through the Capitol by the time doors were shut the next morning.

 

 

 

9The trip down to the other Albany railroad station on Broadway and Steuben began at around 11 am on August 5th, to the sound of blaring trumpets. The carriage carrying the coffin was hitched to 6 black horses and, again, General Hancock lead the procession down State St. The crowds appeared even larger than the previous day. The bells of the churches tolled continuously and the dull booms of cannon from the western part of the city could be heard. At around 12:30 pm, the funeral train started on its journey to New York City where the crowds would be larger than they had been for Lincoln’s funeral train.

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By Julie O’Connor

*Mt. McGregor is a NYS historic site. The cottage is maintained much as it was while the Grant family lived there in the summer of 1885. It’s well worth a visit.

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Cuyler Reynolds and the Albany Rural Cemetery – He Got No Respect

Visitors who stop into the Albany Rural Cemetery Office for genealogical research often comment on the detailed burial index cards which are not unlike an old-fashioned library card catalog. A cache of old documents tell an interesting tale of the card file’s possible origin.

Cuyler Reynolds, brother of architect Marcus T. Reynolds, is best remembered as the Albany City Historian (which is noted on the black stone slab covering his grave in Section 17).

Cuyler was the first curator of the Albany Institute of History & Art after the older Albany Institute and Albany Historical & Art Society merged. He served as its curator from 1899 to 1909 and it was during his tenure that the museum’s famous pair of mummies was acquired.

In 1908, just after his work on the New York exhibits at the Jamestown Exposition, Cuyler Reynolds wrote a letter to attorney Marcus T. Hun (the Hun and Reynolds families were related – Marcus’ mother was the former Lydia Reynolds). The cover letter has not been located yet, but the typed statement that he enclosed reads:

“In February 1907, I addressed the Trustees of the Albany Rural Cemetery, meeting in upper room of the Mechanics & Farmers’ Bank, Dudley Olcott presiding, advocating the introduction of a card system for the records.

I submitted a tentative form of card which I had printed at my own expense.

The matter was considered to radical to be adopted at that time, and I then was appointed director of the N.Y.S. Historical Exposition at the Jamestown Exposition, where I spent the summer and fall of 1907.”

At the bottom of the typed statement, written boldly above his signature, Cuyler Reynolds wrote, “The idea was mine.”

The implication of this statement is that, after rejecting Reynolds’ proposal for a new way of filing burial records, the 1907 board adopted a strikingly similar card system in his absence. It appears that Reynold was seeking credit for the design and compensation of some sort.

37200829_1597095057065774_6681363576491343872_nMarcus T. Hun’s reply seems somewhat uninterested in taking up the cause:

“As to the Cemetery Association the matter seems to rest with you and Mr. Burns, and possibly if you wish to get closer to the trustees, with Mr. Dudley Olcott.

I hope you will be be able to make some arrangement that will be satisfactory to you, as it seems to me that it would be to the advantage of the Cemetery to have you clear up these defects in the old records.”

Marcus T. Hun would later serve as president of the Albany Cemetery Association until his death in 1920.

This is where the paper trail ends for now. Did Cuyler ever resolve the issue and receive any credit for his design which is indeed strikingly similar to the file system in use now? The answer might lie in the long missing Trustee minutes which have not been seen since they were misplaced during one of the many mergers and moves of local banks, including the old Mechanics & Farmers.

Cuyler Reynolds, “widely known as a collector and historian, and official historian of the city of Albany” (and likely designer of the Rural Cemetery’s card system) died on May 24, 1934. He was buried in the large Dexter-Reynolds family plot in Lot 1, Section 17. More of his story will be told another time. Marcus T. Hun is also buried in the same lot.

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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

The Dudley Observatory

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The first Dudley Observatory was dedicated atop a ridge in Arbor Hill in 1856. in the area now known as Dudley Heights. Funding was donated by Blandina Bleecker Dudley, widow of a wealthy Albany banker.

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By the 1890s, there was need to to move the Observatory to an area with less light pollution (from the growing Arbor Hill area) and vibrations from the nearby NYCRR trains running through Tivoli Hollow. A plot of land was acquired on the corner of New Scotland and South Lake Avenue, and a new Observatory was constructed, near the County Alms House, in 1893.

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By the mid 1960s the Observatory was on the move again. The land upon which it stood was acquired by NYS for an inpatient mental health hospital and the Observatory moved to a warehouse on Fuller Rd. in 1967. The vacant Observatory building was seriously damaged by fire in 1970, demolished and Capital District Psychiatric Center (CDPC) was constructed on the old site c 1972.

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