1626: The Massacre in Albany’s Lincoln Park

The City of Albany is proposing to put a sewage treatment facility in the upper section of Lincoln Park. It’s needed to address several long standing problems related in part to the Beaver Creek that runs under the Park; other changes will made be to the Park’s landscape. We thought this was an opportunity to tell you about an incident in that area almost 400 years ago that had a major impact on our history and could have changed the fate of our city.

First you have to imagine how the Park looked in the early 1600s. Today we see mostly manicured lawns, pretty shrubbery and trees and gentle rolling hills. When the Dutch first came here it was a wilderness of fierce and awesome beauty. It was a heavily forested, with a deep ravine running much of the length of the Park, a rapid flowing creek (known alternatively as Buttermilk Creek, then the Beaverkill and today, Beaver Creek) and Buttermilk Falls. (The Falls were described in 1828* as a charming spot with a foaming cascade that plunged 30 feet into a deep gorge.)

Fort Orange, the trading outpost of the Dutch West Indies Co., was established on Broadway (near the existing Holiday Inn Express) in 1624. In late summer 1626 the soldiers from the Fort set out on an expedition to the west, following the creek up to the Falls, into the area of the Park known today as the “Ravine” (in the northwest corner of the Park – near Delaware and Park Avenues), about a mile from the Fort.

It was here they were ambushed by a party of Mohawks (part of the Iroquois Confederacy). The group from the Fort included Daniel Van Crieckenbeek (there are several variant spellings), a number of soldiers (2 of whom were Portuguese) and Mahican Indians (Algonquin tribe). (There’s no indication of the number of Mohawks or Mahicans killed.)

The ambush was revenge against the colonists for siding with the Mahicans and helping them attack the Mohawks. Van Criekenbeek’s decision to join with the Mahicans was a departure from the previous neutrality of the Dutch in Fort Orange that had insured good relations with the Iroquois.

A contemporary account says that the Dutch force was met with a “barrage of arrows”. Van Criekenbeek and several men were killed. 3 men escaped; one man was wounded, but survived by swimming to safety. The most horrific reports of the ambush focus on Tymen Bouwenz. He was said to have been roasted alive and then eaten, with the Mohawks carrying some of his limbs back to their camps as symbols of their victory. (Legend has it that he was singled out by the Mohawk for the great courage he demonstrated as a brave warrior during the ambush.) The 4 men killed were buried near where they fell.

Most settlers (there were about 8 families) in the Fort fled to Manhattan fearing further retribution by the Mohawks; about a dozen soldiers remained behind. When reports of the massacre reached Manhattan Peter Minuit, recently appointed Director of the New Netherland Colony, dispatched Peter Barentsen (a sloop captain with experience among the various tribes in the Colony) to the Fort. The Mohawks explained the massacre was retribution for Dutch interference in the inter-tribal dispute and provided beaver skins as a peace offering, Amity was restored between the Dutch and both tribes. However, it would about another 4 years, in 1630, before re-settlement of families would begin. In the absence of the Barentsen’s intervention, the consequences of the massacre might have been quite different, as well as the history of Albany.

Although Buttermilk Falls is long gone and the wilderness tamed over centuries, a small part of the Ravine remains – the area where the massacre occurred in 1626, near the Falls. Despite significant changes in the 19th century and the building of the Park (it was originally called Beaver Park) in the 1890s it is the last area that remains in a natural state (perhaps kismet). The early Park planners were careful to maintain the Ravine in a natural state.** It’s remained un-marked and forgotten, although it’s the last remaining patch of Albany’s earliest history, and the location of an event that could have forever changed the fate of our city. A path has been beaten through rock outcroppings; there’s a dense cluster of trees and tangled vegetation. The rocky walls mark the Creek’s course; there’s a deep, grated culvert through which you can sometimes here the last surviving sounds of the waterfall.

The current master plan for the upper part of the Park calls for the creation of all sorts of man- made amenities, including improvement of “unusable lands in the ravine by creating the new Reflection and Learning Garden at Lincoln Park”. We’re not quite sure what that means, and clear answer from city officials about the intent for the Ravine has not been forthcoming so far.

Whatever is planned it must include preservation of the Ravine area in which the massacre occurred in a natural state, with appropriate historic maker/signs that tell its history.

Preservation of historic spaces is just as important as preservation of historic buildings. When you know the story of the massacre and walk through the Ravine you feel a visceral connection to our earliest history. It comes alive. As the historian Arthur Schlesinger said, “… history requires atmosphere and context as well as facts”.

The site in the Ravine is an historic battlefield– as much as Gettysburg or Yorktown. It’s part of our Albany history and a cultural resource that requires conservation and a commitment to remembering our past. It’s as important as to our history as the Schuyler Mansion; it’s the earliest evidence of our deep Dutch roots, and the first Dutch settlers in the New World. With a little TLC the Ravine could be maintained its natural state and this small, but critical piece of our history, preserved and marked for future generations. So few remnants of our past remain; this one is a keeper.

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*”The Runaway, Or, The Adventures of Rodney Roverton”, New England Sabbath School Union, 1842

** Indeed, when the Lincoln Park was originally envisioned the idea was to leave the area of the Ravine as a “ramble” (“The Public Parks of the City of Albany”, 1892). We suspect that the intent was to create something similar to the “The Ramble” designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in Central Park in NYC. It’s an area of winding paths a rustic setting, within a natural landscape of rocky outcrops that, although man-made, offers a needed contrast to the rest of the Park.

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Thanks to Paula Lemire and the “Battle of Lincoln Park” in her Albany History Blogspot http://albanynyhistory.blogspot.com for much of the material used for this post.

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A vision of Albany’s future, circa 1914; Get the flux capacitor

In 1912, architect Arnold W. Brunner was asked by James B. McEwan, then Mayor, to prepare studies for the improvement of Albany. The results were collected into a 1914 book entitled “Studies For Albany,” which I found on Google Books.

Much of what Brunner proposed was grandiose beyond belief, while other proposals were more practicable.

Here are some excerpts from that publication, which contains some excellent and rarely-seen photographs of Albany circa 1914.

STATE STREET
Brunner was critical of the eastern end of State, where it met the river, in ‘a tangle of mean streets and wretched buildings.” Although he knew there was a continuing desire to secure a view of the Hudson River, he acknowledged that clearing the area would only provide a view of the railroad yard. He recommended obliterating this view with a plaza that would screen the industrial scenario. This eventually became what we knew as the D&H Building.

Stvdies for Albany

THE STATE STREET PIER
The State Street Pier, containing the Albany Yacht Club building, was deemed isolated and improperly proportioned.. Brunner redesigned the pier, suggesting concrete paving instead of green fields, and discussed the ongoing replacement of the old bridge that connected the Pier with Quay Street.

THE RIVER FRONT
As for the waterfront, Brunner said, “The Albany water front had long been give up to commerce. Railways, steamships, factories and warehouses had siezed it and ruined it. Their activities were carried on in a slipshod manner without order or system, as may be seen in the accompanying photographs. The devastating ugliness of the old water front can no longer be endured.”

Brunner’s new waterfront would be one of “order and completeness.” He suggested elevating the railroad tracks and concealing them from view, a widened Broadway, freight yards screened away from view by walls and covered passages, and a uniform code of architecture, none of which came to pass.

 

CITY ENTRANCE
Brunner thought the Rensselaer Bridge “awkward and aggressively ugly,”’ and a horrible introduction to Albany. “As we cross the bridge from Rensselaer,” he said, “we find the most deplorable state of affairs on reaching the Albany side, and we receive the worst impression of a neglected neighborhood. There is a dangerous grade crossing, bad roads and a complication of tracks, freight cars and unsightly warehouses. Nothing could be more shabby and unpleasant.”

The imposing structure he proposed was loosely based on the grand entranceways to Bordeaux and Barcelona. It would be high enough to hide the trains on the other side. It’s an amazing rendering.

Stvdies for Albany

MARKET PLACE
Albany’s market place was an overcrowded mess. Brunner suggested expanding it eastward and installing a slightly elevated covered platform up to which vendors could pull up their trucks, and upon which shoppers could examine and purchase goods while being sheltered from the elements.

Stvdies for Albany

SHERIDAN PARK
This was the name for that steep drop-off property between Dove and Swan, extending from Elk Street almost to Sheridan Avenue. Brunner proposed a walking terrace and esplanade with playgrounds and a vehicle scenic overlook.

SUNKEN GARDEN
This was the name for the three blocks between Lancaster and Chestnut, from Main to Ontario, which eventually became St. Mary’s Park. The recommendation was a sunken garden, with decorative flower beds, a fountain, trees, and pavilions.

Stvdies for Albany

BEAVER PARK
Beaver Park, most of which was an unsanitary mess, would eventually become Lincoln Park. Brunner proposed an ambitious project incorporating an athletic field, a swimming pool, a children’s playground, and some monumental structures. There would be a broad flight of steps leading from the track to the top of the terrace; they would double as a grandstand. A pavilion would contain dressing rooms, baths, etc.

Stvdies for Albany

The swimming pool would have two parts, one for swimmers, and the other a children’s wading pool. “It is intended to secure the appearance of a natural lake with sandy shores and bottom and to provide all the delights of ‘the old swimming hole.’” At the lower end of the park would be a children’s playground, with wading pool, sand piles, slides, swings and a babies’ lawn “in front of a shady pergola for the mothers.”

Stvdies for Albany

A new bandstand was also recommended.

Stvdies for Albany

One of the few remaining old houses on the west end of the property was once the home of Dr James Hall, a noted geologist. It was to be remodeled and used for meetings and bad-weather recreation.

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In time, much of what Brunner suggested for the park came to be.

 

SWINBURNE PARK
Band concerts were popular here at the turn of the century, so a deluxe new bandstand was proposed, large enough to double as an open-air theatre for plays and cultural events.

 

From Al Quaglieri’s  blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Summer Fun and Beating the Heat Albany Style

14As summer draws to a close, we thought we would provide a glimpse of what summer was like in Albany throughout the last part of the 19th century and into the 1960s. Summer fun hasn’t changed a lot- swimming, amusement parks, carnivals, outdoor movies, baseball, camp, day trips, playgrounds, ice cream, race tracks, concerts, fireworks, golf and the lure of air conditioning. Except for croquet. We don’t have croquet any more. Albany needs more croquet.

If you would like to see more fabulous pictures to Albany, please go to our Flickr site AlbanyGroup Archive

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An Albany Gem – Lincoln Park Pool

An Albany Gem – Lincoln Park Pool

Today Lincoln Park Swimming Pool opened for the summer and it’s time to tell you a little of its history.

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Construction began in 1930. When it was completed it was one of the largest municipal pools in country and a model by which all others would be judged. The cost of the pool, the bathhouse and ancillaries was in excess of $100,000, (which would be about $2 million in 2017), a vast sum, especially in the beginning of the Great Depression. But the timing couldn’t have been better, since it provided affordable sports, recreation and entertainment when most people were down and out.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz19402084_1352965868085005_5452514715032936010_oThe pool we have today replaced a “swimming hole” in the upper part of the Park near Delaware Ave. called “Rocky Ledge” , created in the mid-1920s, from a large natural ravine and filled with water. But that proved impractical and dangerous.

 

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It’s been open every summer except for one -1965. That year it didn’t open because of a terrible region wide drought, and the 1 million gallons of water it took to fill couldn’t be spared.

Little has changed over the years. The sand has been replaced by grass and there is no diving off the center dock. It draws fewer people than it once did, but it’s still an oasis in a crowded hot city for young and old, making wonderful memories.

When I was a kid on hot steamy days my grandmother would pack a picnic and take me and my brother on the Whitehall/Morton bus down to the pool at about 4 pm. We would swim and then my grandfather would meet us after work at 5:30 or so, and we would eat and swim some more. Back then, the pool closed at 8pm, and Grandpa would drive us home tired and finally cool enough to sleep that night in a world without air conditioning.

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HAUNTING ALBANY

 

Albany is an old, old city and, with so much history, we’re bound to have a few ghosts, too.

Of course, the NEW YORK STATE CAPITOL is known for its ghosts which include Samuel Abbott, the night watchman who was the sole victim of the 1911 fire and William Morris Hunt, the artist whose ill-fated murals originally graced the Senate Chamber. The Capitol Hauntings Tours are quite popular and are often completely booked.

Diagonal from the Capitol on Washington Avenue, the OLD STATE EDUCATION BUILDING with its stunning colonnade, has a ghost, too. A workman who was accidentally entombed in the foundations during construction is said to haunt its lower levels.

HISTORIC CHERRY HILL in the South End was the site of one of Albany’s most infamous murders and its said that the ghost of John Whipple, shot to death there in 1827, still walks the upstairs rooms. Convicted of Whipple’s murder, Jesse Strang was executed in what was the city’s last public execution. Thousands came to see him hang and its said that his ghost still haunts the former Gallows Hill. Workers building the EMPIRE STATE PLAZA reportedly saw the condemned man wandering near Eagle Street, dressed in the shroud he wore to his death and looking bewildered. Others say he still walks the path to the scaffold through the Plaza’s small courtyard off State Street.

Another haunted former execution site the northwest corner of LAFAYETTE PARK. Years ago, Saint Agnes School stood not far from here and its halls were haunted by a man who swore he was innocent and vowed to haunt the site of his death until his name was cleared. Who he was and what he was condemned for is unknown, but this area of the park is said to have been the site of a gallows.

Just south of Cherry Hill, MOUNT HOPE DRIVE was once the site of the grand Prentice family estate. A gate flanked with lions overlooked South Pearl Street and, just inside the gate, there was a burial vault for the family of Ezra Prentice who died in 1876. In 1898, the remains were removed to Albany Rural Cemetery, but the vault was not demolished and it was said that the spirits of the Prentice family would regularly emerge from the empty crypt to wander the estate.

The TEN BROECK TRIANGLE neighborhood has quiet a few ghostly tales. The heart of the neighborhood, Van Rensselaer Park, was once a colonial-era burial ground. When the old cemetery became an eyesore, the bones and headstones were gathered into a vault which still exists beneath this pretty little park. Just across the street from the park, a certain brownstone built in 1859 is haunted by the phantom of a Dutch soldier in a metal helmet and breastplate dating to the 17th-century. And the nearby Ten Broeck Mansion, built in 1797, has its share of ghost stories, too.

The LINCOLN PARK gully is also haunted by some very old ghosts. Once, a substantial waterfall on the Beaver Creek tumbled between the shale cliffs and, in 1626, this was the site of a small, but very bloody battle when a party of Dutch soldiers and their Mahican allies were ambushed by the Mohawks they were en route to attack. Ghosts of the men killed that summers days (including one who was burned alive) still walk through the gully, though the Beaver Creek has long since been channeled underground as a sewer.

WASHINGTON PARK is said to be haunted by vague gray figures; prior to 1869, the park was a municipal burying ground and its possible a few graves were forgotten when remains and headstones were moved to Albany Rural Cemetery. Likewise, the former ARMORY on New Scotland Avenue stands near the old Alms House cemetery and similar gray figures have been seen there, too.

Speaking of ALBANY RURAL CEMETERY, it has a few ghosts of its own. In 1869, a Troy newspaper reported on one particular phantom which would step out of its vault for a stroll across Consecration Lake and a phantom horse, killed by colliding with a monument, still gallops about the grounds.

Many private homes and old buildings have their own ghosts, former residents who haven’t left yet. If you believe in them, there are many more spirits haunting this old city!