James Gardner: The first African American Graduate of the Albany College of Pharmacy

James Gardner was born in 1864 just before the end of the Civil War to William and Elizabeth Gardiner.
His father William was a barber. By the early 1850s he been active  for some time in Albany African equal rights politics, and attended several New York State Colored Conventions.
In the 1850s he was the Vice President of the Albany Vigilance Committee, tasked with financing Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) to help fugitive slaves escape from South.
After the Civil War he was very active in the Republican Party, and a member of the group of men who lobbied the Albany Board of Public Instruction to desegregate Albany Schools. Elizabeth was active in Albany’s African American female charitable organizations – the Female Lundy Society and the Female Lovejoy Society. Mr. Gardiner was trustee of the African Baptist church.
The family lived for several decades on Second St. (first at #49 and then #67) in Arbor Hill in the close knit community bounded by Hall Place, Third St., Lark St. and Livingston Ave.
William Gardiner was fast friends and a business partner of Dr. Thomas Elkins. They were both officers of the Vigilance Committee, and involved in other political and community affairs. Elkins was the only black druggist in Albany in the 1800s, and during James’ childhood Elkins lived with the family. We think that it was the influence of Elkins that led Gardner to attend the Pharmacy College.
Gardner graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1888 when it was co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St. between Lancaster and Jay Streets. He was vice president of his class and won a cash prize of $20 from the Alumni Association for the best graduation thesis on “Percolation”.
Albany College of Pharmacy co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St.
The same year he married Caroline Deyo from Jefferson St.; after their marriage they lived with his parents. His best friend, Robert Douge, served as his best man. In 1890 Douge would be only the second African American graduate of Albany Law School. In the late 1890s the couple moved to Livingston Ave.
After graduation Gardner worked for the drugstore owned by Clement & Rice at the corner of Broadway and Clinton Ave., Huested’s Pharmacy at the corner of State and Eagle Streets, and for Thomas Pennington at his drugstore in Saratoga Springs (he was the only black druggist in the city at the time).*
State St., just below Eagle St.
It appears Gardner also had a love of music, spent some time working for a music store at 46 North Pearl St., and listed himself in several city directories as a music teacher But it’s also quite possible that it was difficult for Gardner to find employment as a druggist because of his race. (Thomas Pennington recounted the serious problems he encountered in Saratoga Springs because of racial prejudice.)
Sadly James died in late 1901 at the age of 37. He was found drowned in the river off New York City. We have been unable to discover the details. Why was he in New York City? How did he drown?
Caroline outlived James by another 18 years; never re-marrying and working at various jobs, including seamstress.
*Thomas Pennington apprenticed with Dr. Elkins in the mid-1850s, and they remained lifelong friends. The presence of Pennington in Albany speaks to the relationships in Albany and the larger world ante-bellum world of African American activism against slavery and for equal rights. Pennington’s father, the Rev. James Pennington was the president of the National Colored Convention in Rochester in 1853, attended by two Albany men – Stephen Myers who ran the Albany UGRR and William Topp, a member of the UGRR and of its Vigilance Committee. Pennington’s association with Elkins again demonstrates the outsize role and political importance of Albany, in both African American politics and the anti-slavery movement in the ante-bellum period.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Baerena Park, forgotten Albany destination


A forgotten day-trip destination was Barena (Baerena) Park, on an island in the Hudson River just south of Coeymans, a mere 12 miles south of Albany. (It was originally Barent’s Island, named after Barent Pietersen Coeymans who held the original patent dating back to the 1600s.)


7John N. Briggs, who operated ice plants along the Hudson and a coal business in Albany (and who later started the Atlantic Light & Power Company, which provided power to Coeymans, Ravena and New Baltimore), developed the island as a picnic area in 1879. In 1891 he renamed Barren (Baeren) Island Baerena Park. The park included docks, a covered dance platform (with a band and or pianist), a Ferris wheel (from 1893), merry-go-round, refreshments, rustic tables and benches for those who brought pic-nic baskets and an observation tower. It was widely touted as one of the most pleasant destinations on the Hudson.


4Baerena Park became immensely popular as a location for Sunday School picnics, church outings, fraternal organization parties, and just about any group excursion. Tug-drawn barges with such names as “Harvest Queen” (conveniently operated by Mr. Briggs), “The Andrew M. Church, and the “Empress” would depart from Albany, Troy, Catskill and Poughkeepsie. Locals would access the park via a steamboat ferry from Coeymans Landing.


The Park began to lose its luster in 1914 after a near riot broke out, as a young man “Fink” without a return ticket tried to board the “Empress”. Other hooligans in his gang then attempted to do the same. According to a report in the “Times Union” a deputy sheriff pulled his revolver and started shooting towards the ground to quell the melee. A member of the excursion group, the Maenner Society (a large German-American singing society), snatched the gun and started shooting at the aggressors, wounding one in the leg. (Apparently this followed a fight earlier during the day between members of the Sheridan Avenue and South End rival gangs.)

World War I put a damper on the Park, but the Baerena limped along – the site of occasional excursions.

A 1930 fire destroyed most of the principal buildings, including the dance pavilion, ladies lounge, and shooting gallery. The park never fully recovered, and some years later it became inaccessible from the river when the Hudson was deepened. It was still reachable by land from the west until around 1968, when the access road was closed.




By Al Quaglieri – from his Albany blog  Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Albany’s Dr. Woodbury and His Soap: “ A Skin You Love to Touch”


While John Woodbury wasn’t born in Albany, it was during the 15 or so years he lived here that he created a product that endured for almost a century and a cosmetic surgery empire.

Woodbury was born in 1851 in New Hampshire into an old New England family. He came to Albany when he was about 23 in 1874 and established himself as Dr. Woodbury – chiropodist (podiatrist) at 70 State St. at the corner of State and N. Pearl (in what was then the Dexter Building).

His first newspaper ads indicate that he’d previously practiced with Nehemiah Kennison in Boston – the father of modern podiatry in the U.S. (“Dr.” Kennison was so well known he was the subject of satire in the “Harvard Lampoon” in the 1870s.) Woodbury’s offices were large – 3 parlors; we assume that he may have had some financing from a member of his mother’s family – a cousin – Charles Tenney – an very wealthy NYC hat manufacturer.

3.1At the same time Dr.Woodbury was practicing podiatry he was selling soap. Lots of soap, and not just any soap, but a facial soap-guaranteed to enhance and beautify – Woodbury Soap. In the Gilded Age, the beauty product and cosmetic market was just taking off. Most soaps had been made from primarily from harsh caustic alkalis – like lye and ash. Dr. Woodbury’s facial soap was special – it was “toilet soap” made with oil and perfumed. It was a small luxury item a shop girl or factory worker could afford. Dr. Waterbury perfected the product and advertised like crazy in newspapers all over the country – becoming the dominant brand in marketplace. He created the “Woodbury” brand that would endure for another 100 years.

2His practice thrived; soap sales thrived. He moved his offices – first to 40 N. Pearl (the Ten Eyck Plaza is there today), and then across the street – to 39 N. Pearl. By 1877 his office were next door at 37 N. Pearl – 6 rooms with 3 separate parlors for ladies. Soap sales boomed and he was now selling a book on dermatology and skin care through the mail.

Financially secure, Woodbury married a young woman, Ada Kelley also from New Hampshire, in 1877, and they lived above the offices. It was the beginning of a perfect domestic and business life. Their future was bright. Sadly, she died the next year at age 22.

It appears that Woodbury threw himself into his businesses after her death, selling more soap and patenting an orthotic device, while living as a boarder on lower Chestnut St. It was during this time Dr. Woodbury expanded his practice to include dermatology. It was quite successful. Recent research* has identified Dr. Woodbury as the one of the pioneers of modern cosmetic surgery – performing everything from brow lifts to nose bobs to face lifts using cocaine anesthetic in his offices in Albany. Who knew? Meanwhile, the soap business grew and the Woodbury name was quickly becoming synonymous with facial soap (in the way we would say “Kleenex” for tissues today).


5.3Woodbury re-married in 1882, to Cora Landon from Sharon Springs and they move back to the rooms at 37 N. Pearl. In 1889, looking for a bigger market, he moved to New York City to concentrate on dermatology (he published his first article on cosmetic surgery procedures in 1892), selling soap and an expanding his brand of personal care products – powders and creams.

6In NYC in 1897 he opened the Dermatological Institute. In 1899 he runs into legal problems – New York State sues Woodbury for advertising a medical practice while not being a licensed physician. Woodbury wins and expands his business. By now Woodbury soap is an entrenched national brand – sold by druggists all over the country. He sells the iconic soap (his face is on the wrapper) to the Andrew Jergens Co. in 1901 (Woodbury retains 10% royalty) and uses the money to maintain the expansion of the Dermatological Institute in 4 cities – double chins begone!


But soon there is more legal wrangling over the use of the name “Woodbury” between the Dr. and the Jergens Co. (Woodbury was now selling “Woodbury’s New Skin Soap.) There was malpractice litigation. And again, in 1908, Woodbury was sued for practicing medicine without a license- this time he lost. (The argument that the Institute was a corporation and not an individual failed to prevail, and set NYS precedent about the corporate practice of medicine.) The Institute went into bankruptcy.


Finally in 1909 Dr. John Woodbury commits suicide at an hotel in Coney Island.

8But the soap he created and refined in Albany is his legacy. The named remains, but Jergens takes his picture off the wrapper and launches a major magazine campaign targeted explicitly to women. In 1911 Jergens strikes gold; it hires J. Walter Thompson, one of the pioneering ad agencies. A Thompson employee, Helen Lansdowne Resor, the first female copywriter in the country (Yay!) comes up with the slogan, “A Skin you love to touch”. Sex sells and sales of Woodbury soap skyrocket.

The marketing campaign continues until the 1930s when Jergens breaks another barrier (Dr. Woodbury, I think, would have approved.) Jergens pairs the tag “Filtered Sunshine” with totally tasteful semi-nude photos of women (by the world renowned photographer Edward Steichen) in a national advertising campaign.


But over the next 40 or so years competition appears, the advertising loses its spark, and Woodbury came to be viewed as an “old fashioned” brand (did your Grandma use? Mine did.) Despite spiffy new graphic packaging, sales flag. Finally, when Jergens is acquired by another company in 1970, the Woodbury brand slowly disappears.


But next time you’re downtown, and walk by the southeast corner of N. Pearl and Pine St., think about the fact that this was location of what was probably the first nose job performed in the U.S. in 1887!  Another Albany first. There really needs to be an historic marker.

*”The 19th Century Origins of Facial Cosmetic
Surgery and John H. Woodbury”, Keith Denkler, MD, Plastic Surgery, Larkspur, CA, UCSF Medical Center and Rosalind F. Hudson, MD, “Aesthetic Surgery Journal”
2015, Vol 35(7) 878-889

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Hello Central! Albany Calling; Beginning of the Telephone.

1Alexander Graham Bell obtained his original telephone patent today in 1876. The first telephone in the area was installed in early 1877 in the house Charles Sewall (manager of the local Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Co.) in Bath-on Hudson (about North Greenbush today) with a line strung from his office on Broadway in Albany. In June, 1877 Sewall invited Gardiner Hubbard, a principal in the Bell Telephone Co., to demonstrate the telephone in Albany (a month later, Alexander would marry Gardiner’s daughter). During the demonstration, a 2 mile wire was run between a business office on Broadway and a telegraph office in the Lumber District in North Albany.


The results of the demonstration were so impressive that by late 1877 there were 63 hand telephones and 21 box telephones in Albany (about 10% of all the phones in the country at that time). But none were interconnected through an exchange; they could only be used “point to point”. The first private phones in Albany were installed for Clarence Rathbone in the office of the Rathbone Stove Works on Broadway, the stove factory in North Albany and his home on Elk St. According to Thomas Watson (yup, that Watson) Albany had the first police telephone system in the world. In October, 1877 telephones were installed in the office of Chief of Police and his home and linked to the 5 police precincts and the Mayor’s Office. The cost was about $800, with an annual cost of about $30.

2In May 1878 the American District Telephone Co. installed the first telephone exchange in Albany (and the 4th in the nation – the first three were in New Haven, Meriden, Ct., and Lowell Mass.). It was located on the 2nd floor of the Van Huesen & Charles Building at 468 Broadway (demolished in the 1970s) just up from State St. The exchange opened with about 75 subscribers; mostly doctors, manufacturers and merchants. By later that year, there were 358 subscribers in Albany, Troy, Watervliet and Cohoes. (Oh, those early adopters!)

The first telephone connections were primitive and the first operators were young teenage boys. When a caller reached the exchange, a young man would answer and yell the name of the person being called to another boy to make the connection. If lines weren’t open and/or the boys weren’t paying attention it could take up 10 minutes to link up the call. And because the first Albany telephone company was operated by a telegraph messenger service, many of the phone calls were requests for assistance – ranging from a bottle of whiskey to a barber for a sick man. (Some form of the messenger service continued until the beginning of the World War I). In 1880, over 1,000 calls per day were handled through the Albany exchanges.

6 By 1882, the American District Telephone had been acquired twice over and was owned by the Hudson River Telephone Co., a Bell Telephone subsidiary. In addition to the Broadway exchange there were exchanges on So. Pearl at the corner of Hamilton and 68 Washington Ave (now Lafayette Park). In 1883 Hudson River expanded into western part of Albany; it built a new exchange on the corner of Quail St. and Hudson Ave. That building remains today and is the home the Hudson River Coffee House. This new exchange was more efficient and could handle a larger number of calls.

The Hudson River building contained the first telephone switchboard as we know it. It was soon staffed by young women operators who were courteous, attentive, didn’t swear and didn’t play pranks. The female operators worked 10 hours/day, 7 day per week. After a year, they earned $25.month – real money in those days. The work was demanding, but not nearly as tough as other work available to unskilled single women – in factories or as store clerks. And it was respectable. The Troy-Telegram of 1883 instructed its reporters to remove their hats when talking to a female telephone operator. They were called “Hello Girls”, the “Voices with a Smile” and even “Call Girls”.*



11bIn 1891 the Hudson River Co. constructed a larger main exchange building at the corner of Maiden Lane (now Corning Place) and Chapel St.; the exchange on Broadway was decommissioned and as the Quail St. exchange. By the early 1900s it was enlarged; the number of phone subscribers had grown to about 5,000. That building was demolished in the early 1970s for a hotel/parking garage combo.


At the same time the Hudson River Telephone Co, was developing, there were a couple of other phone companies in Albany operating at the same time, but they disappeared through mergers and acquisitions. The Home Standard Telephone Co. came on the scene in the 1880s; it was acquired by the Albany Home Telephone Co. Over the long haul, American Home couldn’t compete with Hudson River and its Bell/NY Telephone affiliation, but it did construct an iconic building in 1901 that survives today, home of the City Beer Hall, at the corner of Howard and Lodge.

By 1912 it too was acquired by Bell/NY Telephone. (The aggressive acquisition and market denomination strategy was crafted by Theodore Vail, first cousin of Alfred Vail, a key figure in the invention of the telegraph.)

17 In 1914 a new Bell/NY Telephone building was constructed on State St. above Eagle. At 11 stories, it was the tallest building in the city, and dominated Capitol Hill and downtown. The new building allowed consolidation of all telephone exchange services for Albany and administrative services for surrounding counties. (By 1915 there were about 18,000 subscribers in Albany and adjacent counties.) It’s now known as the Verizon Building, the company most recently formed as a result of the breakup of the Bell telephone monopoly in the early 1980s.

The Albany Connection.. literally

Bell’s telephone built upon the work of Albany’s Joseph Henry “Father of Modern Electricity” who became the first Secretary of the Smithsonian. Henry was also instrumental in encouraging Bell to perfect the telephone and to experiment with electricity as a means facilitating the transmission of the human voice.

Bell never forgot Henry’s contribution; he installed a telephone in Henry’s house in 1878 shortly before Henry’s death. Bell then arranged free telephone service for Henry’s widow, Harriet, and her daughters. Several years later, he intervened when the phone was removed from service. Writing the president of American Bell Telephone Company, as it was now named, Bell explained why he strongly urged restoration of service: “This telephone was placed in position there and no charge was made therefore in recognition of the efforts and services of Professor Henry in the early history of the instrument and who did a great deal to encourage the invention.”

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