The Bicentennial Tablets – Where are they now? Tablet No. 7—First English Church

 

In 1886 the 200th anniversary of Albany becoming a chartered city was celebrated with great fanfare. Memorial plaques (tablets) were placed around the city at historic sites.

Tablet No. 7—First English Church

The “tablet committee” proposed that 7 be located in the walk, near the curb, north-west corner of Chapel and State Streets. It was a bronze tablet, 11×23 inches, set in the top of a granite block 21×33 inches square and 16 inches high above the sidewalk, and would have a slanting top to shed water. It would read:

“Opposite in middle of State street stood the First English Church Erected A. D. 1715—Removed and Rebuilt as St. Peter’s church 1803 on next corner west. Rebuilt 1859.”

There is no longer a northwest corner of Chapel and State, although we suspect Chapel still exists on paper. It is a driveway between the Hilton Hotel and the bank building that holds down the Elm Tree corner. There are notable markers nearby in the center islands, thoughtfully placed so that pedestrians waiting forever for drivers to acknowledge the walk signals have something to read while they wait.

A 1914 report in the Albany Argus notes that while the Bicentennial Report said this tablet was to be set in the northwest corner of Chapel and State streets, it was never placed there, “but a tablet with a more elaborate inscription was placed on the front wall of St. Peter’s church.” This would explain why the tablet at St. Peter’s doesn’t say what the committee said it would. The tablet that was actually cast looks entirely different from the other bicentennial tablets, and includes much more church history.

“In the middle of State, formerly Yonkers Street, one block below, stood the First English Church, built A.D. 1715, upon ground granted by letters patent from King George the First. It bore the name of St. Peter’s Church. The Parish was incorporated A.D. 1769. The Second St. Peter’s Church was built on this Site A.D. 1802, and bore this inscription: Glory be to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever. The present edifice was built A.D. 1859. Upon this spot stood the north east bastion of Fort Frederick.”

The First English Church

Recall that despite the colony having been taken under English rule in 1664, Albany was Dutch, Dutch to the core, and a few English soldiers and government officials didn’t change that. In 1704, Albany was described to Church of England clergy in New York as:

“A large frontier town where most of the people are Dutch, who have from Amsterdam a Dutch minister, one Mr. Lydius, but there are some English families, besides a garrison of Soldiers, who are a considerable congregation. A Church of England minister here will, in all probability do signal service, not only by setting up public worship to the joy and comfort of the English, who impatiently desire a minister, and persuading the Dutch and others to conform, but also instructing the Indians which come in greater numbers thither.” Hooper’s “A History of St. Peter’s Church in the City of Albany,” p. 85, referring to “Doc. Hist. N.Y. Vol. III, p. 117”

It would be 1708 before an English church clergyman, Rev. Thomas Barclay, would be commissioned at the fort, which then contained a garrison of 200 soldiers. Barclay was also named missionary to Native Americans who came to Albany, as well as the enslaved persons (which made up about 450 of Albany’s 4000 people in 1712). Barclay wrote in 1710 that he was catechising “a great many Dutch children, who at my first arrival were altogether ignorant of the English tongue,” as well as preaching at Schenectady’s garrison of 40 soldiers as well as 16 English families and 100 Dutch; there had been no Dutch minister there for five years. In Albany, Lydius, the Dutch minister, died in March 1710, with no replacement for more than a year. The English church services were taking place in a “much decayed” small chapel belonging to the Dutch church.

In 1714, Governor Robert Hunter granted license to Rev. Barclay to collect money for the building of a church “in the centre of the broad street called Yonkers Street, leading from the fort to the waterside, between the end of Pearl Street and the small street that leads to the Lutheran Church.”

It was later decided that a location on the hill nearer the fort would allow more room for church and cemetery. But still, being Albany, the center of the street seemed a perfectly reasonable place to put a church.

Hooper writes that “soon after the patent was received, workmen began to lay out the plot granted in the middle of the street.” This site would lead to a dispute between the province of New York, which granted the patent, and the City of Albany, which determined that “the right of the Crown to convey land without any title from the City ought to be tested.” Work on the foundation had begun in November 1714, and legal battles ensued, with Albany taking legal action against workmen at the site. The issue was ultimately resolved in the church’s favor, and the church opened Nov. 25, 1716.

The Second Church: St. Peter’s

By 1796, according to Hooper, it was recognized that the congregation had outgrown the original church. Now known as St. Peter’s, they already had rights to purchase a lot at Barrack (Chapel), Steuben, Lodge and Pine Streets. The sale/exchange was complicated – church properties were assessed in those days, and there was the matter of wanting the old church’s steeple left standing, for it was from there that the fire bell rang. There were other matters under consideration, such as the potential joining of the Lutherans, who used the same church building, with the English Episcopalians, such that the matter was put off for some years. It would be January 1802 before there was a contract made with Philip Hooker, Elisha Putnam, Garrett W. Van Schaick and Samuel Hill to “erect, build and complete a stone Church on the lot of ground in the first ward of the City of Albany at the intersection of State and Lodge streets.” The church was to be completed by June 15, 1803. A new cornerstone was laid May 7, 1802.

“When the first St. Peter’s was torn down, the bodies of all those buried within the church were carefully removed and re-interred under the tower of the second building. Among them were the remains of the gallant Lord Howe, who fell at Trout Brook, July 6, 1758, in the campaign against the French. A payment of seventeen dollars and a half ($17.50), was made to Adam Todd, the sexton, ‘for raising, removing, and interring, the remains of 35 persons from the interior of the old Church in State Street when demolished to the new Church now building.”

Thanks to contributor Adrian Brisee we have additional evidence that the bodies were, in fact moved, in the form of a record made in a Stevenson/Douw family bible. John Stevenson (1735-1810), a warden of the church who laid the cornerstone, wrote:

“In the beginning of July 1802, the workmen began to take down St. Peter’s Church in this City, and on the 19th instant, I had the bones of my Father and five of my Children, taken up, and put into a new coffin, and interred in the new St. Peter’s Church near the centre of the North Hall, back of the pulpit, and had a silver plate put on it, with this incription, to wit:

‘In this coffin are the bones of my father James Stevenson Esq., who died 2d February 1769, and was buried in the Episcopal St. Peter’s Church, and when it was taken down they were removed to the new Episcopal Church, called St. Peter’s. In this coffin are also the bones of five of my children. Albany 19 July 1802.’

[signed] John Stevenson

A marble slab was to be placed above the pediment of the main entrance.

The Third Church

Construction on the third church, designed by Richard Upjohn of New York City, began in 1859, with demolition completed and the first foundation stone for the new church laid by April 8. In the course of that demolition, they discovered a somewhat mysterious stone, four feet long and one foot thick. “Upon its face cut in are the following letters of an ancient form, A.M.S. and A.N.O. joined together as one letter, bearing date, 1715.” Hooper says there is no record of laying any cornerstone for the first church, and that the stone work of that building was taken by Hooker and Putnam in partial payment. “It seems strange that a relic like that should have been allowed to be built into the foundation, if the authorities of St. Peter’s were aware of its value. It may not have been connected with the church, but a stone from the old fort, as the north-east bastion and other parts of the fort enclosure occupied the site of the present church. The stone does not appear to have been preserved.” In other words, we found a mysterious but potentially important stone, we didn’t know what it was about, and we lost it again.

On June 29th, 1859, with the foundation walls nearly completed, there was a large ceremonial placement of the new cornerstone, along with “a proper lead box to be placed under the stone, and a silver plate with a proper inscription to be deposited in that box, with such documents and other articles as the Committee may deem proper.”

What they deemed proper included “the Bible and Prayer Book, the New York Convention Journal for 1858, photographs of the old church, a list of pew holders, a diagram of the old church, and a silver plate upon which was inscribed a brief record of the laying of the corner stone, the names of those connected with the building of the new church, and a concise history of the parish.” The first service in the new church was held September 16, 1860. While there have been some significant renovations, including the erection of the tower in honor of John Tweddle and interior renovations, the church still stands and functions some 160 years later.

By Carl Johnson, from his blog Hoxsie.org

Albany’s Empire Theater

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The Empire Theatre on State St., above South Pearl St. in the early part of the 20th century.
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It was the biggest and most popular burlesque and vaudeville (but mostly burlesque) theater in Albany, from about 1900 to the early 1920s.
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And it was one of the two theaters where you could see Yiddish Theatre. (The other was Harmanus Bleecker Hall – Albany Public Library is in that location today.) Albany had one of the largest Jewish populations in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some estimates put it between 15% – 20% of the total population of the city.

By 1900 this large immigrant population came from eastern Europe (Poland, Rumania, Czechlosovakia) and Russia. But the immigrants shared a common cultural language – Yiddish. Large Yiddish theatre and opera companies came up to Albany from New York City at least once a month.
The early 20th century burlesque shows included beautiful girls, scantily clad, but mostly, like vaudeville, they were broad farce. (Not strippers.) You could still laugh at the slapstick and admire the beauty and dancing even if your ability to speak English was limited. And if you spoke English, so much the better.
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The Empire hosted huge stars. Before Fannie Brice became a Ziegfield Girl she came to Albany in “The College Girls”  And this is where she met and married her first husband, Frank White, an Albany barber.
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Another favorite was Mollie Williams, one of the most enterprising of all the stars of burlesque. She was one of few Jewish stars of burlesque. By 1912, when she was in her early 30s, she owned her own company, and produced her own shows, touring all of the Northeastern U.S. Even the women in the audience seemed to love her.
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(After the Empire closed Mollie starred at the Capitol Theatre on Chapel St. In 1924 she became an American sweetheart. She included a skit in her act that championed raises for US. Post Office workers. They got the raise and when Mollie came to town they hosted parties in her honor. Mollie’s other dubious claim to fame – a very young vaudevillian, Milton Berle lost his virginity to her.)
The Empire closed in 1922.
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Julie O’Connor
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Before there was Nipper there was Pegasus

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Nipper has been the iconic symbol of Albany since the early 1950s. But long before Nipper there was Pegasus, the flying horse from Greek mythology.

A bright red neon Mobilgas Pegasus flew astride the Standard Building at 112 State St. from the late 1920s when the building was constructed until about 1962.The Standard Building was built by the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony), and Pegasus was its logo.

You could see Pegasus from all over downtown. He was glorious. In the dark he seemed to float through the night sky. Children especially loved Pegasus, and it was the first thing they looked for as they approached downtown Albany.

In 1962 he was taken down;  but it happened after Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK, bought the Standard Building and it was no longer the home of Mobilgas. (He owned several State St. properties.)

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Winter Sports – 18th Century Edition; Sledding down State St. Hill

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The best description of winter sports in Albany in the late 1700s comes from “Memoirs of American Lady” by Scotswoman Anne MacVicar Grant. She came to live in North America with her soldier father when she was a young girl. She ended up residing much of the time with Madame Margarita Schuyler (Philip Schuyler was one of her many nephews) on the southeast corner of State and Pearl in the 1760s.

Ice skating and driving horse drawn sleighs* across the Hudson were typical diversions. But in her book she describes sledding down State St. hill as a particular Albany amusement (we assume driven by the topography of the city).

41815839674_d6bd718483_bWe imagine her peering out the window of her home with Mrs. Schuyler as young men “flew” down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

“In winter, the river (the Hudson), frozen to a great depth, formed the principal road through the country, and was the scene of all those amusements of skating, and sledge races, common to the north of Europe. They used, in great parties, to visit their friends at a distance, and having an excellent and hardy breed of horses, flew from place to place, over the snow and ice, in these sledges, with incredible rapidity, stopping a little while at every house they came to, and always well received, whether acquainted with the owners or not. The night never impeded these travellers, for the atmosphere was so pure and serene, and the snow so reflected the moon and star-light, that the nights exceeded the days in beauty.

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14250938597_61e070eee1_bIn town, all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town (today we know it as State St., in the midst of which, stood all the churches and public buildings, sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river: between the buildings was an unpaved carriage-road, the footpath, beside the houses, being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter, this sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquiring firmness from the frost, and became extremely slippery.

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Every boy and youth in town, from eight to eighteen, had a little, low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged after one by the hand. On this, one or two, at most, could sit—and this sloping descent, being made as smooth as a looking-glass, by sliders, sledges, &c., perhaps a hundred at once set out in succession from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge, with the rope in his hand, which drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a little stick, as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so peculiarly delightful in this rapid and smooth descent, I could never discover—though in a more retired place, and on a smaller scale, I have tried the amusement: but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended with the drawback of walking to the top.

An unskillful Phaeton (sledder) was sure to fall. The conveyance was so low, that a fall was attended with little danger, yet with much disgrace, for an universal laugh from all sides, assailed the fallen charioteer. This laugh was from a very full chorus, for the constant and rapid succession of this procession, where everyone had a brother, lover, or kinsman, brought all the young people in town to the porticos, where they used to sit, wrapped in furs, till ten or eleven at night, engrossed by this delectable spectacle.

What magical attraction it could possibly have, I never could find out; but I have known an Albanian, after residing some years in Britain, and becoming a polished, fine gentleman, join the sport, and slide down with the rest. Perhaps, after all our laborious refinements in amusement, being easily pleased is one of the great secrets of happiness, as far as it is attainable in this “frail and feverish being.”

*James Fenimore Cooper describes a particularly fraught and sort of terrifying horse drawn sleigh ride over the Hudson in his novel “Satanstoe” ‘, set in the late 1750s, in which he drew heavily on descriptions of Albany from Mrs. Grant’s “Memoirs”.

The Ten Eyck Hotel – the Grande Dame of State Street

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The original Ten Eyck Hotel, which would come to dominate the skyline of downtown Albany for much of the 20th century, was built in 1899 at corner of State St. and Chapel St.

In the 1890s there were 3 major hotels in Albany. The Kenmore, the Delavan and Stanwix Hall. The Delavan on Broadway (where Lincoln stayed in 1861 on his pre-inaugural journey to Washington D.C.) was destroyed by fire in 1894. Stanwix Hall, on Broadway and Maiden Lane, was looking a tad shabby. It had been built in the 1830s by the uncles of Herman Melville, and while once a grand show place, was showing its age. The Kenmore on N. Pearl, established by Adam Blake (son of a former slave) was doing a thriving business under the new ownership of the Rockwell family.

But the Rockwells saw an opening in the market after the Delavan fire. Frederick, the Rockwell son, created a corporation that included James Ten Eyck, from one of Albany’s oldest and wealthiest families.They purchased the old Corning homestead on State St. and set to building the most modern and luxe hotel in heart of downtown Albany. Based on his experience with the Kenmore Frederick knew what guests wanted. Most importantly, it was guaranteed “fire proof” – the destruction of the Delavan – a hotel known around the country, had created enormous fear. (There had been deaths and many seriously injured guests and employees.)

2The “fireproof” Ten Eyck was an immediate success. It was 9 stories and designed to cater to the whims of even the most jaded traveler. The rooms and suites were airy and well-appointed. Want a room for your maid? No problem. Porcelain baths gleamed and towels were plush. There was a large ballroom and many meeting rooms to accommodate the conventions that flocked to the hotel. The lobby was spacious and comfortable, with a barbershop, hair salon, florist, telegraph office, and access to telephones. Scores of bell hops swarmed – ready to run any errand or fulfill the smallest of requests. Carriages transported travelers to and from the train station and Steamboat Square at no charge. The dining room and food was legendary – with specially made china and engraved silver plate with the Ten Eyck logo.

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4Other large hotels were built on State St. over the next 10 years; the Hampton and the Wellington. They enjoyed success, but the Ten Eyck out shown them all. By 1914 it needed to expand, and the owners bought and demolished the Tweddle Building just below the Hotel, at the corner of State and Pearl. Within 3 years a new Ten Eyck Hotel building arose that, at 17 stories, dominated downtown for decades (the older, smaller building became known as the “Annex”). The Ten Eyck had become the sort of “modern” hotel we recognize today (except for the mini-bar). It had a new owner – the United Hotels Company that owned a string of upscale hotels across the country.

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In the late 1920’s the Ten Eyck finally had some real competition with the construction of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel up the street at State and Eagle – opposite the Capitol. (Today it’s been renovated and is the Renaissance – owned by Marriott.) The two competed for the next 45 years, but it was the Ten Eyck that ruled downtown, surviving the Depression and thriving in World War II.

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The Ten Eyck continued to be the destination of choice in Albany for presidents and the rich and famous. Because of its proximity to the Capitol Theater, just around the corner on Chapel St., guests included everyone from the venerable actors Cornelia Otis Skinner and Lionel Barrymore to George M. Cohan to Molly Picon, the Queen of Yiddish Theater. The Ten Eyck was mobbed by Stagedoor Johnnies when Flo Ziegfeld brought the beautiful bevy of girls in his Follies to Albany.

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11.1In the 1950s it became a Sheraton hotel, was renovated and had bit of renewal. Still, the grand dame struggled to compete in the 1960s. The main restaurant, the Grill Room, was given a wacky amoeba shaped bar (so mid-century) and another bar became the “Dolliwog Lounge” (waitresses were the equivalent of Albany’s Playboy bunnies.) But then Sheraton Corp. bought the newly constructed Inn Towne Motel on Broadway. (The building is still there as a Holiday Inn Express – the swimming pool on the roof is long gone.)

 

 

 

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All the hotels in downtown were suffering from competition from new motels on the outskirts of the City and the suburbs – the Americana on Wolf Rd. (now the Desmond), the Thruway Motel on Washington Ave. (demolished for a medical building) and several Howard Johnson Motels (the remains of one on Southern Blvd. still exists). The area adjacent to downtown had been gutted for Empire State Plaza construction, but that was insignificant compared to a dying downtown – commercial and retail development had moved to the suburbs, as was the case in many Northeastern cities. Steamboat travel ended 20 years before and no one traveled by train. (Albany’s Union Station would soon be closed.)

In a last gasp the hotel was purchased by a company from Binghamton and run by the Schine Corp. It was during this era in the late 1960s I stayed in the Ten Eyck for a NYS high school convention. It was shabby, but with room service; swanky to a 16 year old used to summer vacation motor court cabins. I snuck into the cocktail lounge; it seemed so “Mad Men” with a dash of 007-sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The men all looked like Don Draper or Roger Sterling – the women like Betty Draper and Joan Holloway. They were drinking Gimlets, Martinis and Manhattans in a world that would shortly become Woodstock, Boone’s Farm and tie dye.

Nothing could save the hotel. It closed that year in 1968 and remained a rotting hulk for several years until it was demolished, along with Albany Savings Bank (an Albany architectural gem). That block is now home to the some of the bleakest examples of 1970s architecture.. a Citizen’s Bank , the Ten Eyck Plaza Office Building and what it now a Hilton Hotel, about were the original Ten Eyck building would had been (more or less).

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There is one last vestige of the venerable Ten Eyck (other than few pieces of random china or flatware that surface on eBay from time to time) and it’s not in Albany. If you should ever find yourself in Staunton Virginia, stop in the Depot Grille restaurant and you can see the massive 40’ bar from the Ten Eyck Hotel. (Don’t ask us how it ended up in Staunton, we haven’t a clue – but if you know, please tell us.)

Julie O’Connor

Fanny Brice and Albany; Before Nicky

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Fanny Brice (born today in 1891) was first married to a man from Albany, not Nicky Arnstein. He was Frank White, who ran a barber shop at the Kenmore Hotel. Fanny met Frank was she was performing at the Empire Theatre on State St., in “College Girls” in a Columbia “Wheel” traveling burlesque revue in early 1910. He followed her to Springfield, Mass. and they were married there.

In later years she said she married Frank because “My God, he smelled so nice”. By late that year, Fanny was already headlining for Flo Zeigfield in the Follies. Fanny and Frank were divorced in 1913. I have yet to discover what happened with Frank.. although he continued at the barber shop for at least 25 more years.

In addition to the burlesque shows (not really what you might think of as burlesque today.. more like variety shows with lots of girls.. a semi plot and lots of leg), the Empire offered vaudeville shows,and even Yiddish Theater a couple of times a month with a company that traveled to Albany from NYC. The Empire started out as legit theater in the late 1890s.. with stars like Maud Adams and Ethel Barrymore. By about 1905 it found it couldn’t compete as audience taste changed,

The Empire was prime real estate at 100 State St, and was demolished in 1922 for the City Savings Bank.

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The Public Market in Albany

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For most of the 1700s there was one public market location in Albany, on Broadway (known then as Market St.) between Maiden Lane and State St. For most of that century the market was merely a gathering place for vendors and buyers until an actual Market House was built in 1791. But by 1807, as a result of increased traffic and activity on Broadway, the Common Council ordered its removal and established three (3) markets: the North Market (about where the EnCon building is today), the South Market (Broadway between Hamilton St. and Madison Ave.) and the Centre Market near what is now Howard St. and So. Pearl.

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DOver time all but the Centre Market fell out of use and the land of the North and South Markets was sold for other purposes. By the mid-1850s, as Albany grew, the public market was pushed back one block behind So. Pearl to Howard and William Streets and most of the vendors were wholesale sellers, crowding out smaller farmers.

 

As a result, an informal, unsanctioned farmer’s market developed on State St. just below the Capitol. But as construction of the new Capitol advanced during the Gilded Age, this market not only impeded rapidly increasing traffic on State St., but became an embarrassment to the City Fathers. Additionally, it was unregulated and there were complaints about hucksters and unfair dealings with buyers.

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By 1884 a new municipal public market (for primarily farmers) was opened adjacent to the old market between Hudson, Beaver, and Daniel Streets.

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In 1891, the J.B. Lyon Printing Co. constructed a large building at the back of the market and it became known as Lyon Block.

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During the early part of the 20th century, as a result of the influx of immigrants as buyers and vendors (many small truck gardens and farms ringed the City), the public market was thriving, crowded every day and generating revenue for the City.

 

 

In the mid-1930s it was expanded down to Grand St. as part of a Depression public works project. It was about the same time Lyon Co. moved to Menands and mostly discount stores came to occupy the building.

 

By the 1950s the market space was used primarily for parking on week days and was really only busy on Saturdays, generating little revenue, as customs changed and people did most of their shopping in large bright and new shiny supermarkets. In 1962, the market and much around it was targeted as part of the “take area” for the new Empire State Plaza. By 1964 the market and the old Lyon Building were gone. And soon, all traces of a public market in Albany vanished.

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The Keeler Restaurants of Albany

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This is the Keeler’s that many of us still remember fondly, providing fine dining on State Street for 85 years. In 1884, brothers William and John Keeler opened this 56 State Street location at the southwest corner of State and Green Streets. Beloved by generations of Albanians, it was also popular with government officials: regular guests included Governor Alfred E. Smith and state senator (and later New York City mayor) James J. Walker. In O Albany!, William Kennedy provides a star-spangled list of occasional visitors, including Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, Mary Garden, Grover Cleveland and Thomas Edison. 

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The restaurant stayed in the Keeler family until 1955, then went through several owners, and closed without warning in November 1969. It ended its 85 years at that location ignominiously as Keeler’s Steak & Goblet, featuring “All the draft beer you can drink and all the salad you can eat.”

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz12800326_963471140367815_7320563870993922550_nAs famous as it was, the State Street location was not the only Keeler’s in downtown Albany. It was not even the first Keeler’s restaurant. That honor goes to the oyster bar opened by the brothers at 83-87 Green Street in 1864. And in the first third of the 20th century, there were four different Keeler’s locations in downtown Albany:
** Keeler’s Restaurant, 56 State Street

** Keeler’s Hotel and Restaurant, .480-492 Broadway and 76-78 Maiden Lane, southwest corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane. At a May 1912 dinner there, the guests of honor were “Buffalo Bill Cody” and two Lakota Indians who starred in his show, Iron Tail and Lone Bear. Iron Tail is remembered as one of the three models for the so-called Indian Head Nickel.

** Keeler’s Hotel Annex, 507-509 Broadway, east side, a few doors north of Maiden Lane

** Keeler’s Restaurant 582-584 Broadway (across from Union Station)

 

Happy Birthday Frederic Remington – NYS Civil Servant

Yes… it’s true. Frederic Remington, legendary Western artist, began his professional artistic career while living in Albany and working as a NYS clerk.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14463115_1098902510158010_1571781977939561995_nHe was born in Canton NY on October 4, 1861; the family then moved to Ogdensburg. After high school he became the first (and only, for the time) student to attend art school at Yale, but his father became ill, and he returned home after a couple of semesters. Upon the death of his father his uncle found him a well-paying job (about $1,200/year) as a clerk for State Government in Albany.

 

 

 

During those years, 1880 -1882, city directories list his address as 142 State St. (1 building down from Eagle), about where the Renaissance Hotel (a/k/a DeWitt Clinton) is located today.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14595687_1098902660157995_716157162025590146_n

In 1881, Fred (as he was called) took a vacation out West with a friend and was smitten. He returned to Albany and worked on sketches from the trip. He submitted one to Harper’s Weekly (allegedly on a piece of wrapping paper) and it was accepted for a February 1882 issue.

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14523198_1098902923491302_6247921815322569543_nUsing a legacy from his father, he cleared out of Albany and by March 1883 Remington purchased a ranch in Peabody Kansas. That didn’t work out so well, but he kept on drawing for Harper’s and within about 5 years became an artist of major repute, both in the U.S. and across the world.

The moral of the story? NEVER underestimate the talents of a NYS civil servant.

 

 

 

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The Old Burying Places – Albany NY

Broadway and Pruyn Street – Broadway and State Street – Beaver Street and South Pearl Street – First Municipal Burial Ground – State Street Burying Grounds – Albany Rural Cemetery

In Albany’s earliest days, the deceased residents of the little Dutch colony on the Hudson were buried in close proximity to Fort Orange. When the Fort’s commander, Daniel Van Kriekenbeek and several of his men were killed in a bloody 1626 conflict between the Mohicans and Mohawks near what is now the northwest corner of Lincoln Park, they were said to have been buried quickly close to where they fell.

Some people were buried near their homes. A list of early Dutch Reformed burials notes that, in 1738, Cornelius Clasen was laid to rest “in his Orchard.” To this day, small, old family burial grounds can be found along roads and on old homesteads in rural Albany county. Later, prominent families like the Van Rensselaers and the Ten Broecks would build private burial vaults on their own estates. The Schuylers established a graveyard at The Flatts, the large family farm just north of Albany.

There are letters referencing the burial of the Patroon, Jeremias Van Rensselaer (died 1674), in the garden of his house where his infant son was already laid to rest. This residence and garden were located just north of the Fort itself.

There was also a small church near Fort Orange actually a converted trading house and not one purpose-built for worship. According to early maps and records, a burying ground existed close to this temporary church. This would have been Albany’s first graveyard, located along what is now Pruyn Street between Liberty Street and Broadway.

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A map of this vicinity drawn up in the early 1800s includes the outline of this first Albany cemetery and notes the location of a “Van Schaick’s Tomb.” There is no further information on whose tomb this was, but it may have been built by the descendents of Goosen Gerritse, the first of the Van Schaick to settle at Fort Orange.

Graves would have been marked with either simple wood slabs or bits of common field stone. At most, the stones would have been crudely carved with a name and a date of death. That is, if the graves were marked at all. Burying the dead was a necessity, lavish memorials were not a priority.

No traces of this burial ground remain. The site is just east of the Albany Bus Terminal and covered by the downtown Holiday Inn Express.

When a permanent Dutch Reformed church was built in 1656 (and rebuilt in 1715) at what is now the intersection of State Street and Broadway, it had a burial ground adjacent to it. An 1886 plaque on the Old Post Office on the east side of Broadway recalls the location of the church and the “Burial Ground around it.” This churchyard would have received burials from the time the church was built until it quickly reached capacity. The church itself contained a vault in which a number of families chose to interred their dead. A list covering burials from 1722 to 1757 lists over thirty individuals who were laid to rest within this church.

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The graves in this early churchyard were sometimes marked with simple tablet-style markers of slate or brown sandstone, but more commonly, slabs of wood (usually pitch pine which was readily available in the area, cheap, and surprisingly durable) identified the occupants of the graves. Carved headstones and marble markers would later become popular for the wealthy. Some of these would feature soul effigies (winged skulls or angel’s heads) or, later, such popular mourning emblems as willow trees, urns, or even miniature monuments as part of their design. One of the oldest surviving headstones now at the Albany Rural Cemetery is a small slice of weathered marble with the name Catylna Bogert and the date 1721 carved in crude, uneven letters.

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This churchyard, however, quickly reached capacity. A second burial ground for the Dutch church was established a few blocks away. This new burial ground, laid out between Beaver Street and Hudson Avenue on the east side of South Pearl Street, also filled quickly. Rather than open a third burial ground, however, officials solved the overcrowding problem by adding layers. Existing headstones were laid flat over their respective graves and several feet of earth were spread over the grounds to allow for a new layer of graves to be dug atop the old. This process was repeated at least one more time meaning that headstones and coffins were now stacked three or even four layers deep. This layering process meant that coffins with steep gabled lids were banned and all new burials had to be in flat-topped coffins to allow for better stacking.

When the Middle or Second Dutch Church was built, it was constructed atop the old burial ground. Most of the old graves were left intact. Again, the headstones were laid flat and yet another layer of earth spread over them. Those graves that lay within the footprint of the new church were exhumed and the remains placed in a vault beneath the new church which was designed by architect Philip Hooker and its corner stone laid in 1806. This building would serve as a church until 1881 when it was replaced by a much larger edifice at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Swan Street.

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Before the Middle Dutch Church rose on the old graveyard, a new burial ground was established just above Eagle Street. Located just south of State Street and the modern-day East Capitol Park, this was a municipal burial ground divided into large lots of the various churches (Dutch Reformed, Saint Peter’s Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian). At the western edge, there was a private burial ground for the Bleecker and Lansing families; in 1789, the City leased the land for a burial ground from Barent Bleecker who had already built a burial vault there.

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Another burial ground was established in 1764 by the Van Rensselaers for the use of residents of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck in the area known as Arbor Hill. Around the same time, David Vanderheyden established a private burying ground with a vault on land at the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Swan Street.

In less than twenty years, this first municipal cemetery also proved insufficient. A second, larger municipal cemetery – commonly known as the State Street Burying Grounds – was laid out at the city’s western edge. The graves from the first municipal cemetery were eventually moved there.

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The Burying Grounds extended from Washington Square (which ran parallel to Willett Street) on the east to Robin Street on the west and from State Street on the north to Hudson Avenue on the south. It was bisected by several streams which would later prove problematic. Like its predecessor, the State Street Burying Grounds were also divided by congregation. The Dutch Reform, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches were again represented, with the addition of sections for Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, and Seceders. There were private family sections, several with vault. There was also a Negro section and a potters field identified on maps as the “Strangers” burial ground. Several sections had public vaults to receive and store bodies when the ground was too frozen to dig new graves.

The Dutch Reformed burials were divided among two large lots. The one on the south side of the Burying Grounds extended along the Hudson Avenue between the present Knox Street pedestrian mall and New Scotland Avenue. The other, on the north side, occupied land along State Street between Sprague Street and Robin Street. The latter is now covered by the Washington Park playground and it’s said that the domines (ministers) of the Dutch churches were once buried on a small hill in this area.

The first burial in the new municipal burial ground was that of twenty-five year old Henry Roseboom who died on April 21, 1790. He was buried in the Dutch Reformed section.

This municipal cemetery served Albany for the first half of the 19th-century, but it was not without problems. The streams which passed through the grounds, including the Dutch Reformed section, would often flood the graves. There are firsthand accounts of new graves being in the Dutch Reformed section in 1835 when the earth was so soggy that straw was dumped into the bottom of the graves to hide the flooding before the coffins were lowered in. There were occasions when the standing water in graves was so deep as to actually submerge the coffins. Run-off from the graves and vaults was also contaminating nearby ponds (including water used by breweries).

When the new Rural Cemetery was opened north of the city in 1844, new burials in the State Street Burying Grounds slowed drastically. Families who could afford to often removed their dead from the old cemetery to inter them in new plots at the Rural Cemetery. Blandina Bleecker Dudley was among those making such a change; she purchased a lot on the new Cemetery’s scenic Middle Ridge, erected a spectacular Gothic brownstone spire, and had the remains of multiple generations of Bleeckers removed from their private vault at the State Street Burying Grounds for reburial in this new plot. The old Bleecker vault was torn down and its materials – bricks, stone trim, ironwork, etc. – were sold for reuse.

With fewer new burials and the removal of many prominent old family graves, the State Street Burying Grounds fell into further disrepair. The fence separating the graveyard from the street was dilapidated. Neighbors often let cows and other livestock wander and graze among the tombstones. Crimes were committed in and around the neglected cemetery. Travelers passing by were robbed, a woman was arrested for being there with a young man “in suspicious circumstances.” A dead baby, either stillborn or the victim of infanticide, was found abandoned in an old public vault. Thieves attempted to steal jewelry from a family vault but were frightened away from a sudden store and a massive fire at a nearby factory. Local gangs of immigrant Irish and German youths would use the graveyard as a place to fight and other young men used it as a place for target practice.

By the end of the Civil War, burials had all but ceased and there were public calls to remove the State Street Burying Grounds completely. In 1868, an inventory was made of the remaining graves there. It is a long, but incomplete list; the names and dates were collected from the surviving headstones, but many graves were unmarked. The Strangers and Negro section, for example, yield very few names compared to estimated number of burials in each. In the Dutch Reformed section, many older headstones were missing, broken, or simply unreadable.

As plans moved forward to clear the Burying Grounds, thousands of graves were exhumed so the land could be cleared to Washington Park. About 4,000 remains were removed (not, as is commonly reported, 40,000). The Dutch Reformed section alone cost the City of Albany $3,369.00 to exhume, not including the cost of new coffins and transportation to their new resting place. The remains were placed in new pine boxes and carried by wagons to Albany Rural Cemetery where a section had been set aside specifically to receive these transferred burials. This section, Number 49 on the Rural Cemetery map, is known as the Church Grounds. As with the old State Street Burying Grounds, it was divided into lots by church with the Dutch Reformed section being designated Lot 1, Section 49. The Dutch Reformed lot is the largest in the Church Grounds and includes some of its oldest stones and remains.

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While they were now safe from desecration and development, the graves in the Church Ground would suffer from neglect. While arrangements were made for reburial, there were no real plans made for upkeep of these graves in a cemetery where maintenance of individual plots was generally the responsibility of the families which owned them. Early historians of the Cemetery such as Edward Fitzgerald and Henry P. Phelps gave little attention to the Church Grounds in their books. By World War II, the Church Grounds were in disarray. Headstones which had originally been laid flat in rows were stacked in haphazard piles and deep weeds covered the field. A small crew of laborers were brought in by the Cemetery superintendent to clear the section of overgrowth and arrange the headstones in rows in their respective sections. At this time, masonry blocks were placed under the upper edges of the stones to create an incline and allow rain to run off. This has, unfortunately, down little to prevent serious erosion of the carved inscriptions and decorative elements. The tall marble shaft of General Peter Gansevoort, the defender of Fort Stanwix and grandfather of Herman Melville, was discovered among the jumble of old stones. He was originally buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds; now his headstone stands in the Gansevoort family plot on the Cemetery’s Middle Ridge.

During the mid-to-late 19th century, as new buildings replaced older ones in downtown Albany and the infrastructure expanded to meet the increasing demands of the population, the sites of its former churchyards sometimes yielded up the forgotten dead. In 1851, as workers dug a trench near State and Broadway, they broke through the long buried foundation of the 1715 church. On the north side, two ancient coffins containing bones were found. Below a house standing on what had been the northeast corner of the Beaver Street burial ground, more old coffins were discovered. In November 1882, construction work at the Beaver Street site revealed coffins of long-dead members of the Vanderheyden and Quackenbush familes. Two headstones dated from the 1770s were also revealed, along with a small iron canon. Still more bones, coffin pieces, and tombstones were found below Beaver Street by Italian immigrant laborers in August 1888. These included the headstone of Jeremiah Field and the now-lost headstone of Albany’s second mayor, Johannes Abeel. Some of the coffins originally held the remains of Albany’s elite; they were made of expensive imported cedar wood as opposed to the cheaper, common local pine. These were removed from the site in a barrel. A newspaper report at the time noted that the four skeletons discovered “had sound teeth.”

When such remains were discovered, it was the general practice to place them in the vault beneath the Middle Dutch Church on Beaver Street. When that church was replaced by the Madison Avenue Reformed Church in 1881, that newer church also included a vault beneath its bell tower in which the historic remains and tombstones were placed.

Among the dozen or so headstones known to have been kept at the Madison Avenue Reformed Church were the 1721 Catylna Bogert stone with its primitive carved inscription, the headstone of Jeremiah Field, the ornate sandstone marker of Elyse Gansevoort Winne with its winged skull and carved vines, and the large stone of Captain Peter Winne. The Winne stone is a large rectangular slab which may have stood on a set of stone legs like a table, similar to the original marker of Colonel Philip Schuyler (1687-1741).

The Madison Avenue Reformed Church was devastated by a fire in 1931. Parts of the structure survived with a Central Market grocery store being built atop the sturdy stone foundations by 1943. In the aftermath of the fire, the old Dutch headstones and remains were removed from the tower crypt and placed in the Church Grounds at Albany Rural Cemetery alongside the graves and headstones from the State Street Burying Grounds.

The discovery of graves at the Beaver Street burial ground site continued into the late 20th century. When the KeyCorp parking garage was built between Hudson Avenue and Beaver Street in 1986, the excavation dug deep into earth where old graves were still stacked three deep. Archaeologist uncovered human bones and coffins, including gabled lids. Only those graves in areas where the garage supports were erected were exhumed. It is not known just how many graves remain at the site, but they were left in place and construction of the parking facility proceeded above the resting place of some of Albany’s earliest residents. Those exhumed were examined and documented by archaeologists and other professionals from the New York State Museum. These remains then joined those of their friends and relatives in the Church Grounds.

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