Recently the owners of Bongiorno’s restaurant at 23 Dove St. (on the corner of Spring St.) sold the business. (Don’t panic .. it’s still open -under new ownership; the folks who own the Dove and Deer, just across the street at Dove and State Streets.) A question came up. How old is the building and has there been a restaurant in that location for 130 years as some think? So we decided to do some digging. Like most Albany stories, we uncovered some fascinating stuff.
As far as we can tell 23 Dove St. was built in the early 1850s – which meshes with the age of the Dove & Deer, built in 1854. By the early 1850s Albany was bursting at the seams. In 1840, the population was 34,000 – within a decade in 1850 it was 51,000, and Albany was the 10th largest city in the country. The city pushed rapidly north, west and south from its core. Wagons carrying lumber trundled through the streets from the barges unloaded at the docks, barrels of nails from foundries on the River and bricks made in the huge brick works that ringed what is now Lincoln Park.
The Coley Sisters and Their School
We believe 23 Dove was initially used as a residence, but in 1864 it became the “Misses Coley’s School”. There were 3 Coley sisters who became teachers – Adeline, Jane and Julia – originally from Duanesburg. They were the daughters of Amy and David Coley, who fought in the War of 1812, and granddaughters of Joseph Coley, who came from Westchester County and fought in the American Revolution.
The Coley sisters graduated from the NYS Normal School in 1846, 1850 and 1853 respectively. (The Normal School is now the University at Albany.)
In 1In the early 1860s we find the sisters teaching in public schools ; one is an assistant principal School 7 on Canal St. (now Sheridan Ave.) and another assistant principal in School 5 on North Pearl (north of Clinton Ave.) They’re all living with their widowed mother at 220 State St.
In 1864 the sisters took a risk and made a radical change, opening the Misses Coley School (known as the Coley Cottage School) at 23 Dove St. * (It appears 220 State St was sold to acquire 23 Dove.) The school was quite successful and became a fixture in Albany for the next 40 years or so, forming the minds of several generations of young middle and upper class Albanians who would dominate business, politics and society until the mid 20th century.
The sisters were models of the Protestant ethic and rectitude (piety, charity, hard work, diligence, moderation in all things and good works). They attended the Pearl Street Baptist Church on North Pearl (the Ten Eyck Plaza is there today), until it was demolished and then re-constituted in a new building at 275 State St. as the Emmanuel Baptist Church (where they were Sunday school teachers).
The Coleys were lifelong and very active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, not from a moral sense, but from what they believed was a practical view… alcohol lead to domestic violence and child abuse, and often reduced families to poverty.
Women’s Suffrage Headquarters
But don’t get the wrong idea about the sisters; they were hardly pliable , not meek and mild. They were dedicated women’s suffrage activists when such women’s rights agitation wasn’t at all fashionable. When the NYS Legislature gave women the right to vote in school elections in 1880 Adeline and Jane were among the 2 dozen or so Albany women to cast their ballots, much to the shock of many.
Adeline was a member of the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society (treasurer at one point) in the 1880s, and its successor, the Albany Political Equality Club. The Club’s meetings were held at 23 Dove St. (its headquarters) in the first five years of the 20th century.
The Coleys were also shrewd business women. They acquired property – on Dove St., upper State St. (315 served as a Boarding House for female Normal School students) and Hamilton St., and yet continued to serve as trustees of the Open Door Mission -for destitute genteel women (mostly elderly teachers) and the Teacher’s Relief Society.
Their mother Amy died in 1882 and sadly Jane passed later that year (her cemetery card lists the cause of death of as exhaustion). But Julia and Adeline carried on with the school. Adeline passed away in 1916; Julia died in 1927 at the age of 97. Julia’s estate (including 23 Dove St.,) was left to her great nephew, William Taylor. In 1931 he and his wife opened the Ye Old Coley Cottage Restaurant.
The Princess Pat Tea Room
In 1933 the restaurant was purchased by Charles and Margaret Pepeski, and they changed the name to the Princess Pat Tea Room (and no, we have no idea why).
The Princess Pat operated at 23 Dove until in the early to mid- 1970s. Many of its customers were single women who lived in the neighborhood. It was a step up from a lunch counter/soda fountain for working women and the term “tea room” signaled it was a “safe space” for women – they wouldn’t be harassed with unwanted attention. They included secretaries, teachers, professors, scientists who worked for the State, librarians, etc.. It was the go to place for meetings – for the DAR, the Junior League, and in the 1930s bridge luncheons which were all the rage.
It was a quaint place with ruffled curtains and colonial chairs. When I went with a family member in the 1950s I was told it hadn’t changed much since the 1930s. The menu I recall had a decidedly feminine vibe – welsh rarebit, salmon and chicken croquettes, cottage cheese and fruit plates, Salisbury steak, hot turkey sandwiches, and cream cheese and date nut sandwiches. (It reminded me of Schrafft’s.) The women wore tailored suits and shirtwaist dresses with good costume jewelry, hats and gloves. When I returned the early 1970s as a young adult, it was if time had stood still. The menu was almost the same, although the hats and gloves were gone, some skirts were shorter and there were several daring women in pants suits.
The next act began when the restaurant was acquired by Felix and Rosanna Bongiorno: it opened in 1978. According to a “Times Union” article the Dove & Deer owners plan on making some renovations and naming the new place Rosanna’s. According to the new owners there will be a new menu, but influenced and inspired by Bongiorno’s.
(We told you there’s always an interesting story.. all you have to do is look around the city and do a little digging.)
*Teaching was a most unkind profession in the 19th century. While almost all teachers were women, a female principal was a rarity. In the 1880s the Albany City School board enacted a rule that if a woman teacher married she had to resign. At about the same time the Cohoes Board refused hire one of my 3 great great aunts who were all teachers (very much like the Coleys); her 2 sisters were already employed in the district (that was enough already!) and the third, Amy, would be taking a job from a man who had a family. Amy went to teach in NYC and was part of group of women who tried to form a teacher’s union. (Wouldn’t you?) It’s abundantly clear why the Coley sisters struck out on their own.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor