The Building of the NYS Capitol in Albany – Labor Day

Recently we were looking at photos of the New York State Capitol in Albany; then we went to look at old photographs during its construction in the late 1800s. We started to think about the men who built it and who they were.

Most discussion of the Capitol focuses on the architecture and design of the building we see today that dominates downtown. It’s an engineering marvel, built through the blood, sweat and toil of thousands of men over decades.

Albany Becomes the Capital of New York State

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Albany became the capital of New York State in 1797. For the first years the Legislature met in the Albany Stadt Huys (City Hall) on Broadway near Hudson Ave. – sharing space with Albany Common Council. The need for new digs led to the construction of a specifically dedicated building. The site selected was the top of State St. hill in an area designated as a public square – after the demolition of Fort Frederick.

1.6The new Capitol was designed by Philip Hooker, an Albany native and the pre-eminent architect of this area at the time. (First Church on N. Pearl near Clinton and the Joseph Henry Memorial Building, originally constructed for Albany Academy remain as an examples of his design.) It was a simple, yet elegant building, almost church-like – four square with a cupola, surrounded by a pretty, tidy park. It was occupied circa 1809.

But as early the 1840s there was a growing sense that the existing building was inadequate. It was cramped and crowded. A new State Hall, across the way on Eagle St. was completed in 1842. (It now houses the NYS Court of Appeals – it’s a gorgeous Greek revival temple.) Other offices were located in the State Hall on the southwest corner of State and Lodge. And there was a perception among NYS officials and many Albany citizens that the existing Capitol was.. just too simple, too modest. It didn’t befit and reflect the growing wealth and importance of New York, first among all states ad Albany (which was at that point the 10the largest city in America. (Honestly, it simply wasn’t sufficiently grand and ostentatious in a Victorian age of extremes.)

The New Capitol

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This sentiment grew, but the Civil War intervened. Once the War was over the NYS Legislature hurried to authorize the construction of a new building in Fall 1865. The area behind the existing building was selected, on land owned by the City. A plan was approved in late 1867 and excavation began in December 1867. We’ve read that hundreds of Irish laborers were immediately sent out to dig in the semi- frozen ground. Brutally hard work, but it meant money for a Christmas.

Then came the acquisition and demolition of surrounding buildings in 1868 After that, 400 men and 200 teams of horses continued the process of removing the excavated earth and debris and dumping down the side of the ravine at Swan and St. and Sheridan Ave. (then Canal St.) The cornerstone was dedicated in 1871 (BTW.. it appears to have been lost to the mists of time.. it was never marked.)

Work progressed.. and sometimes not, depending on the availability of funding. The Panic of 1873 sent most of the country into a deep economic depression that lasted for 8 years. But Albany had one of the biggest public works programs in the nation. Capitol construction was a massive economic engine that kept the city puttering along, although there were hiccups from time to time – money ran out and men were out of work for months at a time. There were fears responsibility for their maintenance would fall on the Superintendent of Albany’s poor.

Labor
Hundreds of men from across the country and Western Europe flocked to the City. (The City’s population grew by almost over 20% from 1870 to 1890.) It became home to stone cutters, stone carvers, masons and brick workers from all over. Men were needed on the railroad to haul limestone from Kingston and Tribes Hill, sandstone from Potsdam, bluestone from Ulster County and materials from Newark. Knoxville and Ohio. On the docks huge shipments of granite.. so much granite…. were unloaded daily – mostly from Maine quarries. As construction progressed and work on the interior started there were exotic woods from South America, onyx from Mexico and marble from Italy.

The work was back breaking and grueling. In the first days of the build, the construction techniques hadn’t changed much from the middle ages. The massive pieces of granite were dressed, hoisted and maneuvered into place using cranes, pulleys, ramps, winches, blocks and tackles, with mostly the human and horse power. (Steam operated equipment was used set the massive foundation stones, but its use didn’t become common until the 1880s – by then most of the heavy lifting was over.) When work was progressing at full speed as many as 1,000 men toiling on any given day. The construction site became a tourist attraction.

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It’s worth noting that much of the labor was organized. The stonecutters union is one of the oldest in America and it represented about 80% of the workers. But there were also blacksmiths, masons, tool carriers, mechanics, bricklayers, iron workers – and in the later days – tile setters, plumbers and electricians, carpenters and cabinetmakers, stone carvers (it’s said there were over 500 – mostly from Wales, England, Scotland and Italy) when interior work was underway. But it was the members of the stonecutter’s union – mostly Irish – who set the labor agenda.

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Many of the men were single or left their families at home. As wealthy families moved away from the construction site, their large homes became boarding houses – on Washington Ave, across from the site. But there were men crammed into what is now Sheridan Hollow, on streets demolished for the Empire State Plaza and in Martinville – the tenement slum in what is now Lincoln Park. The number of saloons grew exponentially and the police force increased in size to deal with the influx.

But there were men with families – who lived in Arbor Hill, North Albany, Little Italy, and in the South End. Edmund Gibbons, Bishop of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese in the early part of the 20th century, was the son of a mason who moved from Westchester County to Albany. They lived on Lafayette St., a narrow alley, long gone, that ran between Elk St. and Washington Ave, and which housed many of the barns where horses were stabled. Both the public and parochial school systems grew.

State government moved into the Capitol in stages – long before it was completed.

The building was first occupied in 1879; there was a reception for 8,000 given by the “Citizens of Albany’ (we doubt whether any of the men who built it were invited). In 1883, the remaining occupants of the old State Capitol were moved out into the new Capitol and the building was demolished.

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But wait!

The new Capitol, despite 5 architects and 3 building plans, still wasn’t complete. Finally in 1899, then Governor Teddy Roosevelt said, “Enough”.. 32 years and $25 million (about $750,000,000 today) later, making it the most costly State Capitol in the country. (Would you expect anything less from New York.) What other building has a “Million Dollar Staircase”?

The decision to change architects midstream makes it “one of the most architecturally interesting government buildings in the United States”. Italian Renaissance meets Romanesque with a French Renaissance fling; the lavishly decorated dramatic interior is more “Moorish Gothic” – a unique style. The 500 stone carvers had a field day. In some instances they were given free rein – it’s been said you can find images of their friends and family, people they saw on the street, some of children of the wealthiest men in Albany for a fee and even a small image of Satan on the main staircase.

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President Grant’s Funeral Procession in Albany

On August 5 , 1885 thousands of people filed into the new Capitol to view the body of President Ulysses S. Grant lying in state.

Grant died on July 23 at a cottage in Mt. McGregor* in Wilton in Saratoga County. He and his family had removed there in late spring. He was dying of cancer and in desperate financial straits. He went to the cottage (loaned to him by a friend in New York City) to finish writing his memoirs. (They would be a critical and commercial success, securing the future of his wife Julia.)

image052Many of Grant’s closest friends and allies traveled from across the country to Mt. McGregor to attend a private service on the top of the mountain on August 4th. They included the men who would come to be known for winning the Civil War under General Grant – General William Sherman who marched through the South, Albany’s own General Philip Sheridan (that’s his statue in front of the Capitol) and General Winfield Scott Hancock – who stood at Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg and repelled Pickett’s Charge.

After the service the funeral train made its way down the steep mountain on its journey to Albany and New York City. It stopped at Albany at the corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets, just above the D & H railroad depot at 3:40 pm. A procession formed, headed by General Hancock, and made its way to the Capitol. The buildings were draped in black crepe and people wore black armbands.

3 (2)Businesses and factories closed.The crowd was dense. Thousands lined Albany streets in the stifling heat and humidity of an August day as the procession made its way over North Pearl St. ,up State st. over Eagle St opposite the new City Hall, up Washington Ave. and then down State St. to the Capitol General Winfield Hancock, said to have been Grant’s favorite and head of the largest Civil War veterans organization in the country, lead the 4,000 marchers, mounted on a powerful black horse, to a slow and deliberate drum beat through the streets. The procession included a riderless horse, a tradition started at George Washington’s funeral.

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Middle-aged men wrestled into their old blue wool uniforms and walked somberly in the cortege of their Commander-in Chief. Older men removed their hats and bent their heads as the carriage bearing Grant’s coffin passed. Women wept, including my great great grandmother and her children. Her oldest daughter (my great grandmother) was born in August, 1865 and named Julia, in honor of Grant’s wife. Grant had ended the war and the boys had come home. It’s unlikely there was anyone in the crowd who had not suffered loss from the War, but Grant had ended the killing.

 

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The catafalque of the President was placed in the Senate corridor, surrounded by an honor guard; at 5:00 pm the public viewing began. In the first hour, 7,500 people filed in two by two. Viewing went through the night. It was estimated that over 75,000 mourners had passed through the Capitol by the time doors were shut the next morning.

 

 

 

9The trip down to the other Albany railroad station on Broadway and Steuben began at around 11 am on August 5th, to the sound of blaring trumpets. The carriage carrying the coffin was hitched to 6 black horses and, again, General Hancock lead the procession down State St. The crowds appeared even larger than the previous day. The bells of the churches tolled continuously and the dull booms of cannon from the western part of the city could be heard. At around 12:30 pm, the funeral train started on its journey to New York City where the crowds would be larger than they had been for Lincoln’s funeral train.

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By Julie O’Connor

*Mt. McGregor is a NYS historic site. The cottage is maintained much as it was while the Grant family lived there in the summer of 1885. It’s well worth a visit.

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The Great Capitol Fire of 1911

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On March 29, 1911, the Great Fire destroyed the west wing of the Capitol, wiping out the Assembly Chamber, other offices in that wing, and most importantly, hundreds of thousands of documents in the State Library; the history of New York State and Albany up in flames.

The first fire alarm was pulled at Fire Box 324 at about 3:30am on the corner of Washington Ave, and Hawk St. Within 5 minutes fire crews reached the building but parts were already engulfed. 150 firemen and 10 engines were deployed, as were the Fire Protectives (a fire salvage crew paid by city insurance companies) and almost all city policemen. Then the 10th NY National Guard based out of the Washington Ave armory arrived.

Firemen battled the fire in shifts; just when they thought they had beaten it, smoldering embers in another area would come to life. (Fire apparatus was not removed for another 2 weeks, just in case.) When men on the line started to weaken or were hit with flying shards of marble or granite, others stepped up to fill their spot and give their brothers respite. (In 1911 a great uncle was a tillerman from Hook and Ladder 3 – Clinton and Ontario, and at 6’ 5”, reputedly the most able axe man in the city.) Despite Fire Chief Bridgeford’s determination that the fire was contained by mid-morning, it was another 24 hours or so until it was fully extinguished.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the street; police duty shifted to holding back the crowd. The effect of the fire on the people of Albany was profound. First there was disbelief. That a building that looked like a fortress could have burned so badly was incomprehensible. They’d been told it was “absolutely fireproof”. There were few in the City who didn’t have a connection to the Capitol. It was built with the blood and sweat and backs of hundreds of stone cutters, masons, carpenters and laborers who had come to Albany to build the Capitol and the city had become their home. Hundreds of people worked in the Capitol; it housed most NYS offices.- it was their work “home”. Many of the firemen and police were from the South End and Arbor Hill; for most, when the Capitol was under construction it had been their playground as they dodged construction foremen. The destruction of Albany’s architectural pride devastated the city.

For years people talked about fire and the bravery of the firemen. But one of the stories that was passed down to me was about “saving the library.” Flames and smoke shot through the State Library and its treasures. An heroic effort saved some. The only extant copy of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 in Lincoln’s own hand was saved by Harlan Horner of the State Teacher’s College. Notified shortly after the fire broke out, he dashed to the Capitol, and put as much as he could in a large basket. About 30 basketfuls were saved, including royal charters, Major Andre’s pass from the Revolutionary War, wampum belts from the 1600s, George Washington’s survey equipment and a draft of his farewell address from 1796. But hundreds of thousands of documents were lost, including the papers of Governor Dewitt Clinton and Dutch documents from the earliest days of Rensselaerwyck and New Amsterdam.

Papers and documents littered the streets and swirled for a 6 mile radius. As it was told to me, somehow the children of Albany got the idea that the papers were all from the Library and were “Albany’s history”. Less than 18 months prior the city had celebrated the 300th anniversary of Hudson’s sail to Albany in 1609; these kids knew their history and were determined to save it. They set about picking up every stray paper they could find to save “Albany history” from the Library for weeks. They scoured streets and parks and some braved roof tops. I was told that, in retrospect, most of what they found and turned into their teachers were actuarial tables, or bill drafts or expense accountings, but every now and then they did find a fragment of history.

Why Albany Can’t Have Nice Things; Lions Have An Albany Hudson-Fulton Celebration Past

The town of Williamstown, Massachusetts is currently restoring some artifacts from a pretty much forgotten celebration of two important events in New York State history.

In the fall of 1909, various activities took place from New York City up to Albany to commemorate Hendrick Hudson’s 1609 trip up the river that would come to bear his name, and also the 1809 steamboat trip on the river by Robert Fulton’s Clermont.
In connection with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, several sculptures were positioned at the top of State Street hill in Albany, on the eastern side of the Capitol building. A statue of Hendrick Hudson stood at a vantage point above the river, with a lion on either side of him. Made of plaster of paris, they were presumably the molds for bronze statues whose whereabouts have been lost to history.

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After the celebrations were over, the Albany statues were moved inside the Capitol, where they were on display with the battle flags and other artifacts from the Civil War. There, they greeted visitors for some 40 years. Then, in 1954, Hudson and his lions, along with statues of Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh were unceremoniously removed. Some renovations were being undertaken in the Capitol, and the State Budget Division found it a convenient excuse to dispose of the five statues.

A contract was given to Daniel A. Lanzetta, who owned a marble works in Albany, for some of the renovation work and it included the removal of five statutes. The pieces were hauled to Lanzetta’s business, located on South Pearl Street, where they were to be destroyed. “We aren’t to bring them back,” said Lanzetta, quoted in the Knickerbocker News on March 31, 1954. “They’re to be destroyed. The state doesn’t want them any more.” Lanzetta did offer to give any of the items away, so long as the takers would bear the cost of their transportation.

During the move from the Capitol, Hudson’s head had become separated from his body, adding to the indignity of the occasion. Newspapers reported, however, that re-attaching the head (which was reported to be sitting in a bird bath at Lanzetta’s) could be easily accomplished. A sixth sculpture, of an Albany soldier who had been killed in World War I, was treated with more honor, and was moved to a different spot in the Capitol.

Some complaints were raised, especially by David Lithgow, who had sculpted the statue of the soldier, who claimed that one of the pieces of artwork had been created by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. (If any of the pieces were the handiwork of French, it must have been either Columbus or Raleigh, since Albany resident, Miriam Clausen, came forward to say that her uncle, Charles Lewis Hinton, had created the Hudson piece — and, one might suspect — also the lions.) Lithgow faulted “ignorant politicians” for the travesty. He asked the Knickerbocker News: “Don’t they know it’s important to keep a link with the past?” The Budget Division said that the State Historian and the State Librarian had indicated they had little knowledge of the statues’ provenances, and had doubted their historical significance. The State Museum claimed they’d not been consulted about the removal of the artwork, but also said they had no use for them.

Though the mayor of the city of Hudson made inquiries about obtaining the decapitated Hudson figure, it is uncertain what became of it, and what happened to the Columbus and Raleigh pieces. As for the lions, despite a plea made by the Albany Lions Club to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, they stayed at Lanzetta’s. There — though spared from immediate destruction — they stood for a decade beneath a canopy, where they were only minimally protected from the ravages of Albany’s winter weather.
Somehow, a man named Albert Bachand became aware of their existence. The lions, he thought, would make impressive decorations for a mobile home park he had built in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Bachand’s park, called The Spruces, was not quite your average trailer park: its features included, for example, an ornamental pool with spouting fountains that made singing noises.
About 1965, Bachand purchased the lions from Lanzetta and had them transported to his park, where, standing atop platforms supported by pillars, they graced the entrance. One lion suffered damage during the move, and Bachand had to use a quarter-ton of cement to effect repairs.

In 2011, Hurricane Irene sent the Hoosic River over its banks, and the flooding wreaked terrific damage to most of the mobile homes, forcing the relocation of many residents. Eventually, the town purchased the property via disaster funding. Though the park belongs to history now, the lions — which through the years have become local landmarks — will remain on guard at their stations, restored to their original leonine stateliness.

Author note: it is an unusual coincidence, but Hendrick Hudson’s lions were not the only pair that were relocated from Albany to Williamstown. A pair of stone lions that had graced the Ezra Parmalee Prentice mansion at the south end of Albany also made the trip. They were taken from Prentice’s Mount Hope estate to his Mount Hope Farm, located on Green River Road in Williamstown, probably sometime in the late 1920s or 1930s. In 1962, the Prentice lions, reportedly made of stone rather than plaster, were boxed up and trucked to another Prentice family farm, operated by American Breeders Service near Madison, Wisconsin.

Friends note: Part of the Patroon’s Van Rensselaer Manor made its way to a fraternity house in Williamstown circa 1900.

by David Fiske from the New York History blog http://newyorkhistoryblog.org

An Albany Family Story; a Rise to Fortune from Slave to Hotel Mogul.

2Adam Blake Sr. was born about 1773 in an area south of Albany (possibly New York City) and brought to Albany as a slave by a local merchant Jacob Lansing as a young boy to serve the Van Rensselaer estate. (In the NYS 1790 census, there are 15 slaves listed on the estate.) As an adult, Blake was manager of the household staff at Van Rensselaer Manor, home of the Stephen Van Rensselaer III (the “Last Patroon”). In 1803 he married Sarah Richards in the Dutch Reformed Church (now known as the First Reformed Church) on North Pearl St. (Notably, this was the same church attended by Alexander Hamilton while he was in Albany and there is no doubt their paths crossed.)

The relationship between Van Rensselaer and Blake appears to have been more than slave and master. Blake was a trusted confident, yet Van Rensselaer didn’t free Blake until about 1811 or later, despite the fact that Blake had married a young woman, Sarah Richards, probably another Van Rensselaer slave in 1803. In later years Van Rensselaer confessed deeply regretting his failure to free Blake at an earlier date, but made no explanation.) Nonetheless, when Van Rensselaer died, Adam Blake led his funeral procession.

After becoming a free person of color Blake continued in the employ of Van Rensselaer although his obituary refers to connections with Governor DeWitt Clinton. Blake enjoyed a position of esteem throughout the Albany community, among both White and Afro-Americans citizens; he was, by all accounts, a very elegant (he was called the “Beau Brummel of Albany”, intelligent and charming man.

3He and his family lived in the 100 block of Third St. between Lark and S. Swan, on land that was previously part of Patroon holdings (probably given to him by Van Rensselaer) and owned several adjacent lots (107, 109 and 111). Blake was a major figure in the Afro-American community in Albany, involved in the first African school in Albany in the early 1800s. He was immersed in abolitionist activities; he was one of the notable speakers during the 1827 Albany celebration of the abolition of slavery in New York State and was a key figure in the National Colored Peoples Convention held in Albany in 1840.

Blake’s son, Adam Jr. was adopted – we know nothing of his birth parents or antecedents. He was raised at the Van Rensselaer Manor, where he received his early schooling by the side of the Van Rensselaer children. He would become one of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in the 1800s in Albany of either race. While in his 20’s he worked his way up to the position of head waiter at the famous Delavan House on Broadway. Blake rapidly built his reputation as a restaurant proprietor with the opening of his own restaurant on Beaver and Green Streets in 1851. Over the next 14 years he opened two more establishments, first on James St. and the next on State St., each one more upscale. His restaurants were favorite haunts of the young swells, NYS legislators, and diverse governmentos of all stripes. He catered private parties, assemblies, balls and picnics. Young Blake appears to have been a naturally genial, gracious and discreet host. We have a vision of a man who could cater an elegant reception for Albany’s society women or organize a back room dinner for politicians with equal ease – the “prince of caterers”.

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6In 1865 Blake secured the lease for the Congress Hall Hotel, adjacent to the Old Capitol on the corner of Park St and Washington Ave. This was a fabled landmark (Lafayette stayed the night during his 1824 Albany visit), but fallen on hard times. . He acquired 3 adjacent buildings (Gregory’s Row) combined them with the Hotel, and spent a large sum furnishing it in a sumptuous fashion, The Hall was a lucrative concession – its location was favored by legislators and other politicians for lodgings, meals, receptions and meetings.

In 1878 the Hall needed to be demolished for the new Capitol building; Blake received $190,000 compensation from New York State. He used the money to open a large hotel on N. Pearl St. that remains today. The hotel was built for Blake by the son of the late Dr. James McNaughton (former president of the Albany Medical Society) on land they owned; it was named the Kenmore after the small village in Scotland in which McNaughton was born. The hotel was designed by the Ogden and Wright, leading Albany architects, and no expense was spared

7Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, while the Kenmore was under construction, Blake took over the management of the Averill Park Hotel across the river for the summer of 1879.

 

 

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McNaughton’s willingness to build the Kenmore for Blake to his specifications speaks volumes about the general estimation of his business acumen and confidence in potential for its success. While he benefited greatly from his father’s connections and those of the Patroon, he clearly had natural and innate ability.

9The Kenmore Hotel opened in 1880. It was Adam Blake’s dream- a marvel of modern technology and comfort; it was called “the most elegant structure on the finest street in Albany”. It was wildly successful, not only for its convenience, but for its level of service. It included hot and cold running water (and new-fangled water closets), an elevator, telephones and, of course a fine and palatial dining room.

 

 

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Throughout his life Adam Jr. moved easily among both the Afro –American and white communities, and was as widely respected as his father had been. He apprenticed a number of young Afro-American men who went on to manage major hotels throughout the New York State, including the Clarendon Hotel in Saratoga Springs; Leonard Jerome and family were guests (daughter Jenny would marry Lord Randolph Churchill and give birth to Winston.) While James Matthews (the first Afro=American judge elected in the U.S.) was in Albany Law school, Blake employed him as a bookkeeper in the Congress Hotel. He used his community standing to advance Afro-American causes whenever possible. In the early 1870s he hosted and promoted an appearance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choral group that toured to raise funds for one of the first Afro-American college in Tennessee. Several years later he worked diligently in the fight to desegregate Albany’s public schools.

He was known as a generous man “who never turned away a stranger or neighbor in need”. In 1881 beautiful stained glass memorial window was dedicated in the Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hamilton St (the oldest Afro-American church in Albany, established in 1828). Adam Jr.’s activities in the Abolitionist movement are not documented as are his father’s, but the Blake family houses on Third St. we’re situated directly behind that of Stephen Myers on Livingston Ave., leading figure in Albany’s Underground Railroad, and at one point Blake lived at 198 Lumber St. (now Livingston), 2 doors away from the Myers’ house at 194 Lumber. It is improbable to think that neither father nor son was not involved in the Railroad. Upon the dedication of the church window, Dr. William Johnson delivered a speech commemorating Blake, in which he said:

“He loved liberty and abhorred slavery. He believed in the equality of all, in the manhood of all and in the common brotherhood of all. He was identified with Frederick Douglass, Stephen Myers, Drs., Smith and Pennington and their compatriots, in untiring efforts tending to the overthrow of slavery…. he took active part in state and national councils of the oppressed and served in honorable official capacity in the Equal Rights League of the state….”

Unfortunately, Blake died an untimely death in 1881 at the age of 51. He didn’t really get to revel in his success. At the time of his death his private fortune was estimated in excess of $100,000, an astonishing sum for anyone, let alone the son of a slave. For the next seven years the Hotel was managed by his widow, Catherine, who was equally good at business, accumulating real estate all over the Albany, including 2 row houses on Spring St. near Lark St. that stand today When the lease on the Kenmore Hotel expired in 1887, Catherine left the hotel business, selling the furnishing and the Hotel’s goodwill for a tidy sum to the new owners. While the Blakes were involved with the Kenmore, they lived on Columbia St., but when Mrs. Blake gave up the Kenmore, she moved to First St to an elegant townhouse (that also remains today), between S. Hawk St. and S. Swan St., taking her place among the other wealthy families of Albany, just above the Ten Broeck Triangle.

Thanks to Paula Lemire https://www.facebook.com/ARCbeyondthegraves/ and her contributions to the research on the lives of both Adam Sr. and Jr.

Lincoln’s Funeral Train in Albany: 1865

 

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On April 25, 1865 President Lincoln’s funeral train stopped in Albany on its way to his home in Springfield, Illinois.

It had been 11 days since his assassination, the night of April 14th and 10 days since his death on the morning of April 15th. The people of Albany heard the news of his shooting and then his death in short staccato, continuous bursts from the telegraph lines across the City (oddly like Tweets of today.)
Flags were lowered to half-mast.

Businesses and public and private buildings were draped in black mourning. Dry good stores quickly sold out of black and white fabric. Small memorials and shrines were erected in store windows and parks. On April 19th, the day of President Lincoln’s funeral in Washington D.C., Albany mourned as well. Businesses closed at noon; churches held special services.

cIt was also on the 19th that the decision was announced by Secretary of War Stanton that Lincoln’s remains would be conveyed via Funeral Train to Springfield, with stops in major cities. President Johnson, in a proclamation, said, “our country has become one great house of mourning.” Previous Presidents had died in office (William Henry Harrison and Taylor); one had been the object of an attempted, but unsuccessful assassination (Jackson). The shock and sadness, following 4 years of brutal and bloody war, was too much to bear. The funeral train would unite the country, or at least the Union, at a pivotal moment.

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eOver the next 6 days the mourning continued. Church services and prayer for some. On Saturday Rabbi Schlesinger conducted a funeral, rather than the regular Shabbat services at the “Hebrew Church” Anshe Emeth on South Pearl St. Others remained glued to telegraph offices following the hunt for the assassin and his accomplices. Meanwhile thousands of people poured into Albany waiting to pay their respects; the population almost tripled to just under 180,000. People slept 2 and 3 to a bed in hotels and private homes. Additional steamboats and trains were scheduled.

fThe Funeral train arrived on the opposite bank of the Hudson on April 25, 1865 at 11 pm; the coffin and its escort was ferried across the River.

 

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1Streets were cleared of vehicles; crowds started gathering at early evening. By all accounts there was no jostling for place; the mourners were somber and mostly silent, except for audible weeping as the torch lit procession accompanied the hearse bearing Lincoln’s body up State St., while church bells tolled and minute guns were fired continuously.  The hearse stopped in front of the old City Hall before until it reached the Old Capitol.

9332482212_a2c1be84a2_bAt the Capitol the coffin was removed from the hearse and carried into the Assembly Parlor. Public viewing of the open casket began at 6 a.m*. the next morning. Thousands filed through the Washington Ave. door, passed the bier to pay their respects and out the south door on the State. St. side of the building.

hAt precisely 2 p.m. the lengthy funeral procession started. It left the Capitol, proceeded up State St. to Dove, thence to Washington, back to State via Eagle and then to Broadway to the New York Central Depot. Church bells tolled throughout the procession and guns were fired on the minute throughout.. Every civic, community, religious, government and military organization from Albany and the surrounding area was represented. A somber throng of thousands lined the streets.

 

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With military exactness Lincoln would have appreciated his coffin was loaded into the railroad car, and at precisely 4 p.m. it rolled on the New York Central Line on its way to the next stop in Buffalo.

*Shortly before the public viewing began, about 400 miles away, John Wilkes Booth was cornered by Federal troops at a farm in Virginia; he was pronounced dead at 7:30 a.m., as visitors streamed past the President’s body in the Capitol Although word of his death and capture started to spread through the crowds in Albany, there were no cheers or demonstrations throughout the day.

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!