More in the series – The Bicentennial Tablets from 1886 – where are they now?Bicentennial Tablet No. 8 – St. Mary’s Church

Continuing with the eighth in our series covering the tablets that were placed around the city of Albany (and a little beyond) in honor of the bicentennial of the city’s charter, in 1886. This one commemorated the first Catholic church in the city, which came pretty late in the city’s development.

Tablet No. 8—Old St. Mary’s Bronze tablet, 16×22 inches, inserted in wall of present edifice of that name on Pine Street.

Inscription: “Site of Old St. Mary’s Built A. D. 1797. The First Catholic Parish Church in Albany and second in the State. The entrance directly under this Tablet. A Second Building on this Same Spot, Facing on Chapel Street, was the Original Cathedral of this Diocese.”

Martin Joseph Becker’s A History of Catholic Life in the Diocese of Albany, 1609-1864 notes that the first Catholic Mass in New York was Nov. 14, 1655, at Indian Hill, two miles south of what is now Manlius, at what became a mission to the Iroquois. But in the Hudson Valley, Catholics were few — with the notable exception of Thomas Dongan, Catholic governor of New York from 1683-1688, in the time when James II, who had converted to Catholicism, ruled England.

Then, under William and Mary, tolerance of Catholics was no longer official policy, and “Jesuits, priests and popish missionaries” were outlawed in 1700. That situation continued in the colonies until the Revolution, so the only noted Catholics were random immigrants in the Mohawk Valley, and the Iroquois at Akwesasne. After the revolution, New York’s constitution of 1777 allowed all religions, and the ban on priests was eventually lifted in 1784.

In 1796, the Albany Gazette noted the success of a subscription for “erecting a Roman Catholic chapel in this city. It bespeaks the tolerant and liberal disposition of the country, to find out citizens of every persuasion emulous in assisting their Roman Catholic brethren with the means of building here a temple to the God of heaven, in which they can worship according to the dictates of their own consciences. The corporation [city] unanimously resolved to present them with a piece of ground for the site of their church.”

The cornerstone was laid by merchant Thomas Berry Sept. 13, 1797 at a site on what was then called Barrack St, now Chapel St.

Munsell, in his Annals of Albany Vol. 4, includes an article from the Albany Gazette of Sept. 10, 1798, proclaiming, “It is with the most heartfelt satisfaction that we can inform our brethren of the Roman Catholic faith, that their church in this city is so near completed as to be under roof, glazed and floored (fire proof). That it is a neat building, and will be an ornament to the city, and a lasting blessing to all who are members in communion of that church.” ”There were a number of indications that the building, which was built of brick and “fifty feet square,” was completed without being finished, precisely. In Feb. 1807″.

“Notice was given that a sermon would be preached in the Roman Catholic church, on Sunday morning, Feb. 22, by the Rev. Mr. Hurley, for the purpose of raising a collection to assist in finishing the inside of said church.”

It was this first church that was visited by the Marquis De Lafayette on his visits to Albany during his later tour of the United States; it has been repeatedly asserted that he heard mass in the church (from Rev. John Lewis Savage) in June 1825.

It wasn’t terribly long before that church was insufficient for its purpose, and it was replaced with a new church on the same site. The cornerstone for the second St. Mary’s, designed by Philip Hooker, was laid Oct. 13, 1829, and the church opened for services on August 29, 1830. Also constructed of brick, it reportedly cost $31,000. (During construction, the congregation held services in the Lancaster School, the Philip Hooker-designed building on Eagle Street, which would later be the first home of the Albany Medical College.)

In 1847, St. Mary’s became the Cathedral parish for the new Albany Diocese, but only for a short time, as the cornerstone of the Cathedral on Eagle Street was laid July 2, 1848, and the building dedicated Nov. 21, 1852.

The current St. Mary’s Church

Despite that and the development of other Catholic churches, it was decided that a new St. Mary’s was needed, and a cornerstone for a new church was laid August 11, 1867, and the new church dedicated March 14, 1869. (This one faced Lodge Street, instead of Chapel.)

A major, four-year renovation was completed in 1894, overhauling the interior and adding the tower with its iconic “Angel of Judgment” statue. At this time St. Mary’s became the first church building in Albany to have electric lights; they were very proud of having eight different circuits that allowed them to light any section of the church individually.

The third St. Mary’s still stands today. Since then, we presume additional lighting has been installed. Coming late as they did, the Catholics did not have a chance to fill downtown Albany with burials (unlike some other churches). They did have a section at the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park), and in 1867 established their own cemetery, St. Agnes in Menands.

By Carl Johnson, from his blog,  Hoxsie.org

Albany’s Lodge St. (and what’s the big building on the corner)?

There’s been a masonic lodge in the same location in Albany for over 250 years. It’s the oldest organization in the city, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.

On June 28th, 1756, Alexander Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany was laid to rest. According to “The New York Mercury”. “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is the earliest known reference to Freemasonry having existed in some form in Albany. Not until 1758-59 would Freemasonry become more formally organized in Albany.

The development of Albany’s first Masonic Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany during the French & Indian War. This military Lodge would initiate a few men of Albany into their fraternity and when they departed, would leave with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet as a Masonic Lodge. The new Freemasons of Albany were instructed that this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until a warrant was received. The warrant was granted in 1765 by the New York Provincial Grand Master.

One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at Albany was Mr. Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern, which was located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge, which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st, 1765 – Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3) would meet regularly at Cartwright’s tavern, even after he was driven from Albany due to his loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer, and Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies formed even before the beginning of the Revolution, and with this growth, so too came a desire for a more permanent home for the Masonic bodies of Albany.

According to Stefan Bielinksi in “The Colonial Albany Project” in 1766 the City Council granted Dr. Samuel Stringer a deed “for a lott of ground on the Hill near the Fort adjoining the English Burying Ground” on which to erect a lodge building. Subsequent transactions conveyed an adjoining lot. (Stringer would become the physician in charge of the Northern Department during the Revolutionary War.)

The Lodge would be just around the corner from the soldier’s barracks and the hospital in which Stringer would treat Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Saratoga.

In December 1767 a new warrant empowered a second lodge, the “Ineffable Lodge of Perfection” with other Albany men. Several days later the men of both lodges paraded through Albany streets.

By June, 1768, the first building in Albany for exclusive Masonic use was completed, on what would become known as the northwest corner of the Lodge St., and Maiden Lane, and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. (It’s said to have been the first purpose built Lodge building in America.)

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the “Good Patroon” was initiated as Mason in 1776 when he was 22, and would later serve as Grand Master for New York State)

Soon the cross street at Maiden Lane became known as Lodge St. (It appears on a 1794 map of the city.)

Eventually, the first building would be demolished and a larger three-story would structure would replace it.

In time, this structure would also be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building at the corner of Lodge Street and Corning Place (previously Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built 1895-96, it was constructed to accommodate the more than a dozen Masonic organizations that were meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24th, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and open on October 26th, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.

Today the City of Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, and women’s masonic groups, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. Taken together, the Masonic Fraternity, contributes millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and through the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families, and the broader world.

Written by worshipful Michael A. Hernandez, Past Master, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.