National Library Week – The Catholic Union Library in the Old Arsenal

Before Albany established a library system in the 1920s, and built the Harmanus Bleecker Library in 1924 on the corner of Washington Ave. and Dove St, as the main branch, the Common Council supported a number of independent libraries. These libraries were then available to the public, as well as members of the various organizations, like the YMCA libraries and John Howe’s independent not for profit library in the South End on South Pearl St.
One of the least remembered, but most used was the Union Free Library. It was housed in the Catholic Union building on Eagle St. and Hudson Ave.
The building previously contained a State Arsenal that opened in 1859, and housed most local military offices throughout the Civil War (although the barracks and training ground were located in an area surrounding Holland and New Scotland Avenues intersection).
94258102_2823389487709295_7250139309452296192_n
By the late 1880s the arsenal had outgrown its usefulness. In 1887 it was sold at auction by New York State. The purchaser was the Roman Catholic Diocese, and the building became the Catholic Union.
94262083_2823389687709275_9001732371258540032_n
The Union was, in essence, a catholic community center, providing space for the various parishes located mostly in the South End. It brought together congregants from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mostly French parish of the Church of the Assumption on Hamilton St., St. Ann’s, St. John’s, the mostly German parishioners of Holy Cross on Philip St., and later the immigrants of St. Anthony’s in Little Italy.
It included lecture rooms, a large hall, kitchens, classrooms, a gymnasium (Al Smith is said to have walked from the Governor’s Mansion, and stripped down to his undershirt to shoot hoops), and a library. By the early 1890s the library held about 3,500 – 4,000 volumes and began to receive city funding.
94504785_2823389504375960_3118458294859988992_n
94482088_2823389774375933_9021843310808924160_n
(By the mid 1930s the privately owned Eagle Movie Theatre was opened on the ground floor in one corner of the Building.)
94253069_2823389551042622_16590475116937216_n
As immigrants of all faiths crowded into the South End the library grew and usage increased. By 1929 the John Howe library was constructed on Schuyler St. as part of the city system, and city funding for the Union Free library ceased. But the library was still accessible local neighbors for many years.
94510949_2823389601042617_6102094345073065984_n
The Catholic Union building was demolished in the mid-1960s for the Empire State Plaza. The end of an era.
94504799_2823389721042605_1785320598168141824_n
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Demise of St. Paul’s; Demolition for the Empire State Plaza

12049374_908428615872068_6262118185718604903_n

Blandina Dudley came from an early Albany Dutch family and married Charles Dudley who eventually became a U.S. Senator from New York State.  When he died, he left her a very wealthy widow, probably one of the richest women in the State in the early 1840s.  She was a woman of great philanthropy. Her greatest achievement was donation of the funds to establish the Dudley Observatory in Albany in 1856, one of the first in the nation.  Her other good works included donation of half of the cost for erecting a new building for the Third Reformed Church on Lancaster Street between Swan and Hawk Streets, to be known as the Dudley Reformed Church.

Since 1837, the church had been at Green and South Ferry Streets, but “frequent floods swept over this section of the city during spring freshets,” and they decided to move to the west, where the filling and grading of the Ruttenkill ravine had recently opened a new and desirable neighborhood.

In May 1861, with construction nearly complete, disaster struck: within two weeks four city banks failed. Funding for the church disappeared, and Third Reformed was forced to abandon the project. They remained on Green Street until 1914, when the congregation moved to 20 Ten Eyck Avenue, where they still worship today.

Third Reformed Church’s tragedy created an opportunity for another city congregation in crisis. St. Paul’s Episcopal was also planning to move up the hill, from its location on South Pearl Street. They had selected a site, hired an architect and obtained funding for a new church, when the same banking crisis destroyed their plans. Because they had already begun negotiations for sale of the old building, the congregation feared that they could become homeless. A year later, they were able to buy the unfinished Dudley Reformed building from the builder, modify it for Episcopal liturgy, and move there by 1864.

St. Paul’s was to worship on Lancaster Avenue for a century, forced to leave when the area was leveled for construction of the South Mall*. The congregation was able to take some of the windows to the new building on Hackett Boulevard, and the New York State Museum rescued the church’s pulpit, but many of the contents of the building were sold at auction.

12063687_908428809205382_6580965740289120306_n

 

12109045_908428745872055_3000883429547083830_n

12109062_908428725872057_4360303017851364919_n

11249403_908428905872039_8173282887700410661_n

 

14805339222_25fdda7cab_b12187808_908540295860900_612266559135548726_n

10109803925_20ec41aff1_b

The congregation’s pleas to spare St. Paul’s “as a spiritual and aesthetic center in the midst of the new State Building” were rejected by planners. But whenever we walk through the Empire State Plaza, we envision the former Dudley Reformed Church building, neatly tucked between Agency Buildings 3 and 4.

  • St. Paul’s was one of  4 churches demolished  to construct the Empire State Plaza; the others were St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church (which re-built on WHitehall Rd.);  the Church of the Assumption) which re-built in Latham and  the First Methodist Church, whose congregation with Trinity Methodist in Albany on Lark St.

By Paul Nance from his blog, Grains Once Scattered