Downtown Albany in the Early 1900s; How it Changed

Cities are always re-inventing themselves. Where possible development spreads out, or if not, existing buildings are demolished, new ones rise in their place, or old ones can be re-cycled. Sometimes it happens slowly over time, and sometimes it seems to occur all at once.

With a few exceptions I always thought it mostly happened slowly in Albany. But then I found a partial diary/memoir of my Gram Kate, born in 1901 in Arbor Hill. And as I read it became apparent to me just how much downtown Albany changed in a brief decade – from 1910 to 1920. There was a building explosion – Albany was permanently altered in what must have been a blink of an eye.

In 1909 she stood on the Capitol steps with about 2,500 Albany school children as participant in Hudson Fulton Celebration (celebrating 300 years of New York history). The view in 1909 from the steps when she was 8 changed dramatically by the time she was 19 in 1920. There were other downtown changes, as well.

And curiously a number of those were driven by advances in technology (which we rarely think about).

  • The Albany High School on the corner of Columbia and Eagle was demolished and a new County Courthouse completed by 1915
  • On State St., just opposite the Capitol, the New York Telephone Building towered over all by 1915.
  • There was no statue of General Sheridan in front of the Capitol until it was dedicated in 1916.
  • As she walked down State St. if she looked to her right, she would have seen the new YWCA building on Steuben and Chapel.
  • On the left, on the corner of State and South Pearl, the old Globe Hotel was replaced by the the new Arkay building.By 1916 there were already traffic jams and double parking on State St. The city fathers were wondering if the new “traffic signals” would be cheaper than patrol men directing traffic.
  • If you walked over North Pearl the changes would have been the number of movie theatres. The stores on the corner of Monroe (it was parallel to Orange St.)were demolished for the new Strand movie theatre.
  • The Presbyterian Church opposite Clinton Square (next to what is now McGeary’s) became the Clinton Square theater.
  • Hang a right down Clinton Ave, walking toward Broadway, and she would have found the new Grand movie theater ( where Federal Bldg. is today).
  • When she reached Broadway and took a right walking towards State St., the biggest changes could be seen. Off the the left there was the new Yacht Club and the municipal recreation pier, just behind Union Station.
  • And then there was the Mac Daddy of all development – the D & H Building. In a matter of 4 years about 5 blocks stretching east, down to the River were demolished, and the D& H rose in 2 parts. When completed in 1918 it would dominate the Riverfront, and present a magnificent view from the Capitol steps.
  • Moving south on Broadway there would be the new Hudson Navigation docks and sheds at Steamboat Square, completed in 1918.
  • On her way home, walking up Washington Ave, before crossing the Hawk St. viaduct, Kate could see the re-construction of the Capitol, where it had been damaged in the 1911 fire.
  • Just beyond the Capitol, north to Swan St., everything had been demolished to Swan St, and a new West Capitol Park constructed.
  • Across the way, gleaming granite in the sun, stood the Education Building, dedicated in 1912.

And when she crossed the Viaduct, and made her way over North Swan, she would see the new Arbor Hill Movie theater , where she would get a really good part-time job playing the organ for the silent flicks on weeknights when she was 16. (Although she would be riddled with guilt because it was mainly because the boys were off to War, and wonder how much the fact her father’s barbershop was next door to theater had to do with it.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany: River Breezes and Floating Palaces


In the late 1800s Albany was crowded.. really, really crowded. Imagine the population of Albany today, crammed into about a third of the current land area. Most of the residents lived in the South End. (Development in the Pine Hills was just starting and residential areas were pretty much non-existent in the Delaware, Whitehall and New Scotland neighborhoods.)

Summers were hot and dirty, with few places to escape the heat and crowding. There was Washington Park, created in the 1870s, but construction on Lincoln Park (then called Beaver Park) wasn’t completed until 1898 (and looked nothing like we know today). There were no playgrounds (they were an early 20th century innovation). Small parks and picnic groves existed outside of the city, but in the absence of public trolley lines they were accessible only by horse and carriage.

5One of the few options was a boat ride on the Hudson where people could escape to the upper decks and feel any breeze that was coming off the River and the mountains of the Hudson Valley.



1.1By the 1880s the Hudson River Navigation Co. dominated Hudson River passenger traffic between New York city and Albany and stops in between. One of these stops was Kingston Point. After a delightful 4 hour boat ride down the Hudson to the Point passengers could spend several hours walking in shaded groves and picnicking, and then return to Albany.



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7By all reports it was a glorious trip. In the late 1800s the Hudson River steamers were floating palaces, accessible to anyone who could pay  $1.00 (sometimes there were special excursion rates of 75 or 50 cents and there were group discounts.)



21If you didn’t want to lounge on the top of the ship you could move to a below deck with open windows and watch the scenery from a comfy wicker chair. Some of the Day Line ships had as many as 14 parlors or salons; there was always a ladies parlor. Carved wood paneling ran throughout the ships and fine art adorned the walls; the carpets were deep and the furniture plush. Professor Holding’s Orchestra played continuously.










6If you wanted to impress your girl you could pay an additional $2.00 and eat in the dining room with crisp white linen tablecloths and silver-plate. In 1900 you might have your choice of chicken croquettes, broiled blue fish or prime rib with peach pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert. But if you were traveling with your family, a Sunday school or any other group there was a refreshment stand where you could purchase an ice cream, lemonade or root beer. Out of sight, away from the eyes of the “drys” men could find a saloon for a beer or a whisky and a smoking parlor.

The embarkation point for the boats was Quay St. at Hamilton, Steamboat Square, within walking distance of most of the South End and some trolley lines ran from other parts of the City.


The Kingston Point trip increased in popularity in the 1890s. By 1896 the Navigation Co. invested money in a new dock and station with large waiting rooms and a second floor with open air piazzas.


12The next year an enterprising shipping and railroad magnate from Kingston, Samuel Croykendall, created Kingston Point Park on 12 acres west of the River. The Park had a magnificent landscape with shade trees and winding brick paths that caught the breezes off the River. The admission cost was nominal; most revenue came from the concessions. There were a variety of rustic houses, benches and tables scattered around the grounds. It was a cool oasis where families could have picnics, listen to a concert at the bandstand and take a rowboat out on a man made lagoon. The Park included a casino, large theater, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, dance pavilion, penny arcade, shooting gallery, photography gallery and a small sandy beach. It was entirely family oriented. No alcohol was sold or permitted on the premises.










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 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz$_573 The Kingston Point Park trip quickly gained popularity and the Navigation Co. increased the number of excursions; boats ran daily. The Oriental Hotel was built on a small bluff overlooking the Park. Families could stay for brief vacation out of hot Albany and the men of the family could find a bar with a place for a drink while their families explored the Park on their day trips.

done 19Park attendance climbed; in 1903 average daily attendance reached about 3,000 in the hot summer months; just prior to World War I peak attendance was about 8,000/day. Most of attendees came from the Albany boats, although the Park was gaining favor with the residents of New York City and its northern environs.    The Navigation Co. built the Day Line Ticket Office on Broadway in 1907 (currently housing the Hudson Harbor Restaurant) and new larger docks and a waiting room in Steamboat Square in 1918. Both remained accessible to the people of the South End and other residents of the Albany as the City expanded with more trolley lines.


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Over time the Park changed; a baseball field was added, there was a fireworks display some nights, the dance pavilion was destroyed by fire.

15.1After the 1909 Hudson Fulton celebration the replica Robert Fulton “Clermont” ship was placed in the lagoon. In the mid-1920s the Park was purchased by the Navigation Co. (it purchased other parks in Indian Point and Bear Mountain at about the same time).


34By the 1930s, it had lost part of its former glory, but still remained an Albany destination.




Trips stopped with World War II and the last regularly scheduled trips by Day Line stopped in 1948.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor