The Convent of the Sacred Heart, Kenwood, on the southern border of the city has been purchased by a developer and is undergoing substantial renovation to become Kenwood Commons – “a serene island of tranquility and luxury in the heart of New York’s vibrant Capital District is being transformed into a very special community centered around art, culture and wellness offering the highest level of luxury housing, recreation and hospitality.”
So we thought it was time to tell you its history and show you some pictures so you can get better sense of its significance in our city.
Kenwood was initially constructed between 1842 -1845 as a summer home for Jared Rathbone and his family. (Rathbone owned a large stove manufacturing company in Albany, was one of the wealthiest men in the City and had been mayor from 1838-1841.) The house was built in the midst of about 75 landscaped acres and named after Rathbone’s ancestral lands in northwest Scotland. The site for Kenwood was selected to take advantage of views of the Hudson and the Catskill mountains to the south. It was an extravagant summer “cottage”, of th type built by many men of similar wealth across the country at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The builders were a Mr. Smith who did the carpentry work and David Orr, the mason. Orr would go on to be one of the richest men in the city, with vast real estate holdings, including a “mansion” on Philip St. The house design was called a “Pointed Villa” – a romantic unrestrained Tudor Gothic style.
In 1845 Rathbone died suddenly and in 1848 his widow Pauline married Assemblyman Ira Harris, a widower. The families blended; the Rathbones moved from their Elk St. home to the Harris house at 28 Eagle St., on the other side of Capitol and Academy Parks. Kenwood was put on the market in the 1850s by Rathbone’s son Joel. It was purchased by the Roman Catholic order of nuns, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
The Sisters first came to Albany in 1852, opening a house and school on North Pearl Street. By 1855, a larger house was purchased; in 1859 the Society bought Kenwood. The Order established the Female Academy of the Sacred Heart on the site. The school was successful and construction on a new school began in 1866. The first wing of the building, extending from the northeast side of the Rathbone house toward the north, was completed in 1867. In 1868, a noviate wing was completed using parts from the dismantled Rathbone house.
The construction of the existing chapel was completed in 1870. It too is in a generally Gothic style and incorporated materials from an earlier structure.
(In the 1870s Albany annexed a portion of Kenwood (including the first mile of the turnpike, the toll-gate, and the Rathbone estate).
Here are some images of the school and the convent in the latter part of the 1800s.
Most of the original outbuildings survived well into the 20th century, including a gardener’s cottage, gatekeeper’s lodge, smokehouse and carriage barn. Other outbuildings were razed in the 1980s.
In 1975 Kenwood Academy merged with St. Agnes Girls School (an Episcopal institution dating back to the 1870s on Elk St. in Albany) to form the co-educational Doane Stuart School. The campus was occupied by Sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart and staff and students of Doane Stuart until 2009 when the School relocated to a new campus in Rensselaer, New York. The Kenwood sale was completed in August, 2017.
(Much of the narrative was prepared by Walter Wheeler, architectural historian at Hartgen Archeological Associate for the Historic Albany Foundation in 2012.)