Albany’s Mount Hope and Ezra Prentice

Nestled in a southern corner of the city of Albany is a small neighborhood called Mount Hope that encompasses the Mount Hope housing complex on a hill and at the base of the Hill, parallel to the River on South Pearl, are the Ezra Prentice Homes, another housing development.

Ezra Prentice – Mogul

Ezra Prentice was born in 1797 in New Hampshire. In the early 1830s Prentice and his brothers came to Albany. Like many Yankees they were drawn to Albany for its business opportunities generated by the new Erie Canal and the burgeoning railroad system. Albany was fast becoming a national hub of commerce and trade.

They made a fast fortune selling wholesale furs. Then the fur trade was sold and Ezra moved on to railroads and banking. He was one of the organizers of the Albany &Susquehanna Railroad, and later served as president of the National Commercial Bank.

Mount Hope

However, one of Prentice’s great interest was agriculture (especially the breeding and improvement of cattle stocks); he was a founding member of the New York State Agricultural Society. In 1834 he bought 103 acres from Solomon Van Rensselaer of Cherry Hill, from his Mount Hope Farm, part of the Cherry Hill estate. The Prentice Mount Hope estate was built on a steep hill, in a heavily wooded area, where it could catch cool breezes and overlook the Hudson.

(At this point Albany’s city limits ended just south of Catherine St.; Mount Hope was Albany’s first “suburb”.)

The area of Mount Hope was a “resort” destination of sorts in the late 1820s and the 1830s. It was in the country, away from city core where there was a population explosion. Summers were hot and filled with smoke and heat from industrial furnaces. (Later the real estate became too valuable and by the 1840s it was a brickyard.)

Initially Prentice built a farmhouse and then his great Mount Hope estate. He lived there with his wife Philena and their eight children. Ezra died in 1876 and Philena passed away 2 years later.

Later generations made their home in New York City, but continued to use Mount Hope as a summer residence. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the mansion had fallen into disrepair and a few rosebushes struggled to survive in its once famous, but now abandoned gardens. Stripped of everything except its fine marble mantles, the mansion was eventually demolished and the land redeveloped for housing.

But what about the creepy rumors?

The Vault?

“The old Prentice Mansion on Mount Hope Drive, in Kenwood, was long the subject of ghostly tales. Most of these concerned the Prentice burial vault, which was somewhere on the estate — no one knew where. The most popular tale was that there were particular times during the month, when the moon could only be discerned faintly behind thick shrouds of cloud, passersby might see in the vicinity of the vault, used as a temporary resting place for some members of the Prentice family, the specters of those people, clad in their cerements, discussing matters of days long past.”

In the forties, the vault was rediscovered by some Albany boys. When the earth was cleared away and the rusting padlock removed, the massive hinged slab covering the entrance was lifted, and the chamber was entered. It was found to be empty. Whether or not this dispelled the ghost stories in not known.” From “Traveler’s Tales – Rumors and Legends of the Albany-Saratoga Region”, Mark MacGregor Steese and Sam McPheeters, 1981

The old vault was left empty on the grounds and, eventually, hidden by weeds and overgrown bushes, until March, 1947 when a group of boys exploring the area stumbled across the crypt.

The lid was raised and they were able to enter the old burial chamber along with a reporter from the Knickerbocker News who took a photo of the boys inside.

(At some point, the remains originally interred in this vault were removed to the Albany Rural Cemetery and reburied in a family plot on the South Ridge. The massive boulder that stands in the center of the plot was hauled to the Cemetery from Mount Hope. )

The Lions?

An interesting story persists about the two stone lions that used to be at the gate. The sculptor who carved them forgot to give them tongues. When the error was called to his attention, his chagrin was so keen he committed suicide. That’s the tale that has survived all these years. Later, it is reported the lions were removed to Williamstown, Mass., to adorn the grounds of Elm Tree, part of the Mount Hope estate of Mr. Prentice’s grandson, Ezra P. Prentice, who married Alta Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller. (The house is now part of Williams College)

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Kenwood and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Albany

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.

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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.

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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.

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4The 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.

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13Most 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.

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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.)