Albany – There’s Nothing Permanent Except Change; a Cemetery, a Playground, a Barracks Village and a High School

Cities change; sometimes the change is slow and sometimes rapid.. but they change. They reflect the people who live in them and their changing needs. We think that no other place in Albany demonstrates this type of change as well as one block on Washington Ave. between Partridge St. and North Main Ave.

.The Cemetery

In the early 1800s this area was probably farmland, several miles away from the populated area of the city. But in the late mid-1840s it became a Roman Catholic Cemetery. At that time it was bounded by Washington Ave., Erie St., Lancaster St., and North Main Ave.

The original purchaser was probably St. Mary’s Parish because it’s usually known as Sr. Mary’s Cemetery today, but by the late 1860s and 1870s it was known also known as Cathedral Cemetery and St. Joseph’s Cemetery as well. Although there was a small Roman Catholic lot in the State Street Burial Ground (it would later become Washington Park) dating back to about 1800, as a huge influx of mostly Irish Catholic immigrants poured into Albany it became inadequate. St. Mary’s become the primary Catholic cemetery in the city. In the 1860s, about 20 years after Albany Rural Cemetery (ARC) was founded, the Catholic Diocese created St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, but burials in St. Mary’s Cemetery continued. But the city was expanding at an explosive pace. The population grew rapidly after the Civil War, and the invention of first the electric trolley, and then the automobile made it possible for residential development to expand west from downtown.

By 1910 or so land was at a premium and city officials were working to remove the few private cemeteries in city. A newspaper notice from 1914 says the disinterment of at least 8,000 bodies will be begin in the next week; but that appears to have been delayed. A 1916 article says disinterment is imminent and refers to 2,000 bodies. We may never know number of removals.

The Park

The City of Albany purchased the cemetery land (about 8 acres) around 1920 , and then subsequently property on Lancaster St. (that at the time ran between Partridge St. and North Main Ave, parallel to Washington Ave).

There were lots of idea about what it should be, including a miniature golf course (all the rage at the time). But it was decided it should be a park – St. Mary’s Park and playground; it opened around 1925. In the mid-1930s the park was expanded, and the Erie St. boundary disappeared – extending area to Partridge St. And it so remained a park for about 2 decades.

In 1945 part of the property was transferred to New York State. Prior to World War II the State Teacher’s College had plans to expand its facilities, and construct a gymnasium and other buildings. But those plans were de-railed by the War, and would be de-railed again after the War.

The Barracks Village

Before World War II there was a severe housing shortage in Albany. Post-War the shortage became a full-fledged crisis. Men came back from the War had shared bedrooms as boys; they now had wives and children and nowhere to go. Several generations of families were crammed into small houses and apartments. It was that way across the country. Yet building takes time, so New York State decided it needed to construct temporary housing for veterans across the state.

In Albany it selected the St. Mary’s Park land owned by both the State and city. Old military barracks were trucked in from the western part of the state and converted to housing. A street grid was laid out:, water, sewer, gas and electric lines were run, and concrete sidewalks poured. There was even a village post office and a small playground The village was designed to accommodate 250 families in apartments and 150 single men who would be living in dormitories -attending school on the GI Bill. Newspaper articles of the time report there were 700 applicants.

The first 22 families moved into their new homes in October, 1946.And everything was wonderful until it wasn’t.

The little veteran’s village was meant to be temporary, but NYS authorizing legislation was extended twice. By 1952 it was still occupied, although the buildings were deteriorating and several had to be evacuated. NYS offered it to the City – the city declined because it was building Albany’s first housing project in North Albany. Things got messy; the remaining families were evicted, and in 1954 all traces of the village was razed.

St. Mary’s Park and Playground Again

By 1956 St. Mary’s Park was turned into a playground again. This time it was much expanded, with a large wading pool (it was concrete and knee scrapes were legendary), the addition of tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Off to one corner on North Main Ave. the Naval Reserve Center was built about the same year.

The High School

In 1966 Albany decided to build a new high school in St. Mary’s Park. The area to be used was identified as 27 acres. The existing high schools, Albany High on Western Ave. and Philip Schuyler in the South End, were old, deteriorating, out-of-date and over-crowded. Additionally, they were concerns raised by the NAACP about the lack of facilities and programs (compared to Albany High) in Schuyler High School which had a majority Black student body.

But this is Albany and things sometimes move like molasses in January. Finally the first pilings for the new high school for sunk, but they had rusted out by 1970 (O Albany).

After a new start, a multi-million dollar cost over-run, and charges of corruption and graft among contractors and politicians the new Albany High School opened in January, 1974, amid rumors it was haunted.

The Haunted High School ?

Well, Albany High IS built on an old cemetery. And almost every time something new was built on the site remains from the old cemetery were found. During the first transformation to a playground newspapers reported that remains of 2 individuals were found; at least one body was found when the Barracks Village was built; another when the site returned to a playground in the 1950s, and in 1972 during high school construction workers found the remains of two individuals from the cemetery. Who knows what lies beneath?

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

North Albany during World War II

During World War II cities, towns and villages put up “honor rolls ” for those who were serving.

But sometimes it fell to just regular people. In Charlie and Joe’s Barbershop on Broadway in North Albany there was a home grown “wall of honor”.

North Albany was known as Little Limerick. It was a close knit, tight community of mostly working-class Irish families who settled in the area in the mid to late 1800s to work in the breweries, lumber yards and factories in the area. It was a world unto itself- part of Albany, but it had its own identity

By World War II many families were 6th generation proud Americans, who had succeeded and thrived, and overcome the discrimination, prejudice and abject poverty they first experienced in America.

We don’t know who put up the first photo, but it took off. Everyone came into the barbershop, and brought a photo of their son, daughter, brother, sister, father, uncle, niece or nephew in service to display.

Best “honor roll” ever.

We’ve also included a photo of members of the American Legion Post in North Albany in the 1970s. It includes men whose photos were on the bulletin board.

Thanks to Thomas Duclos, retired Assistant Curator of the New York Military Museum and David Barrows, both from North Albany.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Wallenberg Park; when is a dog park not just a dog park?

When it’s Albany’s Raoul Wallenberg Park – a memorial to 3 men who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.

You’ve passed by – you may have thought what a pretty green and leafy oasis in downtown. But it’s much more.

It’s Raoul Wallenberg Park
The Park was dedicated in in October 1984. It’s located at 119 North Pearl St., and sits between Orange St., Broadway, Clinton Ave, and North Peal, just across from the Palace and O’Brien Building. It commemorates Raoul Wallenberg and 2 other men who were instrumental in saving thousands of Eastern European Jews in the Holocaust in World War II.

We have no idea if there is an Albany connection to Wallenberg, and the collective memory appears to be long gone. But we are glad it’s here. It has become part of Albany’s history and the history of the world, that will never forget and always remember acts of heroism and courage in face of evil.

Raoul Wallenberg
Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat. With the support of the World Jewish Congress and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg to Budapest in July 1944 to help protect the 200,000 Jews who remained in the city. From October 15, when the Arrow Cross seized power, to the liberation of the capital three months later, Wallenberg saved Jews through a variety of means — by issuing thousands of protective documents, by establishing the International Ghetto of protected houses, and by securing their release from deportation trains, death march convoys, and labor service brigades — all at significant risk to himself. (The Arrow Cross was the far right nationalist Hungarian Party that collaborated with the Nazis, and specifically with Adolf Eichmann in the murder of Hungarian Jews.)

Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet agents in January, 1945, and disappeared without a trace. In 2000 the Russian prosecutor’s office issued a formal statement acknowledging that Wallenberg was held in a Soviet prison as a “socially dangerous” person for two and a half years before he died.

For his actions on behalf of Hungarian Jewry, Yad Vashem* awarded Wallenberg the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1963, and the United States granted him honorary citizenship in 1981.

The Wallenberg memorial plaque in the park reads:

“In honor of Roaul Wallenberg, Swedish Diplomat and Righteous Gentile, who saved thousands of Jewish men, women and children from destruction in the Nazis’ Final Solution. Appointed by the U.S Refugee Board and acting under the auspices of the Swedish Government, his personal heroism and lack of regard for his own safety, stand as reminders of what all mankind should do when oppression occurs. His courage and compassion are lessons for all generations.” “Wherever he is, his humanity burns like a torch.”

In the 1990s two additional plaques were added to the Park, commemorating 2 other men who risked their lives to save Jews in Eastern Europe.

Chiune Sugihara
Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat, fluent in Russuan, posted to Kovno Lithuania in 1939. Initially he helped members of the Polish underground by issuing them Japanese transit visas. But soon he started helping Jewish refugees by issuing 10 day transit visas, for those who had visas to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies. Sugihara was transferred and served the rest of the war in Prague and Bucharest. Near the end of the war he was arrested, with other diplomats, by the Soviets. After several years he was allowed to return to Japan. Shortly before his death in 1986, Yad Vashem, declared Sugihara “Righteous Among the Nations”

His plaque reads “ In memory of Chiune Sugihara, a righteous citizen of the world” “Japanese Counsel to Lithuania in 1940 whose humanitarian actions saved thousands from the Holocaust.”

Jan Zwartendendijk
Zwartendijk was a Dutch businessman who worked for Philips Electric. In May 1939, he became Philips’ director of Lithuanian operations. In June 1940, during the turmoil resulting from the German invasion of the Netherlands and the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Zwartendijk became acting Dutch consul in Kovno, Lithuania. With the support of a Dutch Ambassador in Riga, the Lithuanian capital, he issued permits to Jewish refugees for them to enter Dutch colonial possessions in the West Indies. The permits were essentially useless because they failed to mention that admission was the prerogative of the colonial governors, who rarely allowed it. BUT they helped refugees flee from Lithuania, and with the help of Chiune Sugihara the Jews of Lithuania could escape certain death.

The Soviets ended Zwarentendijk’s operation in summer 1940, and he returned to German- occupied Holland.

For his efforts on behalf of the refugees in Kaunas, Zwartendijk was posthumously honored, in 1997, as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.

His plaque reads, “In memory of Jan Zwartenduk an angel of mercy” “Dutch Counsel in Lithuania in 1940 whose courageous action saved 2,500 Jews for the Holocaust and protected the spiritual heritage of Judaism. May his memory serve as an inspiration for future generations. “

In 2017 part of the Wallenberg Park was turned into a dog park – but the memorials remain, and should never be forgotten for the men they honor, and the world’s need to oppose oppression wherever it is found.

*Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem

The biographies are excepted from material from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Raoul Wallenberg Plaza, Washington D.C.

Thanks to Friends of Albany History bloggers Paula Lemire and Carl Johnson for their assistance and great photographs.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany: From Potato Chips to Pea Soup and a World War

We receive lots of Albany history questions. A recent inquiry was fascinating. A gentleman from an historical group from the village of Elst, Holland asked if we knew anything about the A.A. Walter Co. in Albany. It seems someone in the village found an old 5 lb. can of dehydrated pea soup, from the World War II era, manufactured by A.A. Walter.

Oh boy, do we!

A.A. Walter Company

A.A. Walter was one of the first commercial potato chip manufacturers. Alexander and Alfred Walter were brothers from Fairhaven, Vt. who wanted to cash in on the potato chip craze at the beginning of the 20th century. They perfected what they thought was the best potato chip ever and moved their business to Albany.

In 1902 the brothers opened the Blue Ribbon Potato Chip factory at 4 Liberty St., one the first in the world. The factory had an endless source of potatoes from surrounding farms and a large supply of labor (mostly women) who lived in the South End in the early 1900s. Because Albany was a railroad hub they could ship all over the Northeast. Within several years the company re-located to a larger home at 51 -53 Liberty St.

It was so successful, that in 1925 the company moved yet again to 13 South Lansing St., and opened the first factory in the world devoted exclusively to potato chip manufacture.

Fast forward to World War II. The Walter Co. secured government contracts to produce potato chips for the troops and to stock cafeterias and canteens in manufacturing plants across the country. The factory ran two and sometimes three shifts a day. At one point, it produced 7 million pounds of Blue Ribbon Potato Chips in 9 months. It made dehydrated potatoes and, apparently pea soup, for the troops.*

Why Elst Holland?

That’s a story related to one of the most famous and infamous operations of the War War II. Elst is located just north of Albany’s sister city Nijmegen and south of Arnhem, site of the “bridge too far” over the Rhine. It was called “Operation Market Garden”.

Operation Market Garden ( the 75th anniversary was last month – about the time we received the question)

Operation Market Garden was a British campaign, designed by Field Marshal Montgomery, planned for September 1944, to drop Allied airborne troops in Arnhem (slightly northwest of Elst in Holland), crossing the Rhine and driving into the Ruhr Valley. The plan called for securing a sixty mile long corridor for ground troops to relieve the British paratroopers in Arnhem. American airborne troops were tasked to capture the bridges at Eindhoven, and Nijmegen. The troops then were to rush up this corridor, but spent most of their time defending it from German attacks along the entire length.

The British airborne that dropped into Arnhem thought they were dropping into an area defended by second rate troops, in reality they dropped into first rate German panzers and infantry. There was a battle between British units and Germans near and in the village of Elst, but the Allies had to fall back to Nijmegen. The British were overrun in Arnhem, and the new Allied front line was advanced to Nijmegen. Operation Market Garden was considered a failure even though the front line was advanced sixty miles or so. The route from Nijmegen to Arnhem , which passed by Elst, was called the “Hell Highway”.

It’s not possible to determine if the can of soup arrived in Elst during Operation Market Garden (probably not) or in February 1945 when a huge Allied drive of 500,00 men amassed in the area for a push into Germany, or when the area near Arnhem was liberated several months later. There was a terrible famine in Holland in 1944 and 1945 and the food shortage continued for a number of years after the War**, so it could have arrived as part of American war surplus in those years.

Whenever it arrived, it’s one of those odd artifacts that tells an interesting story about Albany and the world we live in; the stuff of history – local and global.

*In 1950 Alexander Walter’s son closed the factory, sold the company name and established another business, “Walter Foods”. He became the fish and chip king of Albany for just over20 years until the early 1970s.

**A cousin’s husband, living as teenager in Leiden, Holland during the War, told of the extreme famine, and eating tulip bulbs in desperation.

Thanks to Thomas Duclos, retired Associate Curator of the NYS Military Museum for his help. describing Operation Market Garden.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Own Curmudgeon – the Decorated Veteran who Hated War – Sgt. Andy Rooney

He was born in 1919, raised on Partidge St., ( the downtown UAlbany campus is there today),  attended Boy’s Academy , went to Colgate and was drafted in 1942.

When his unit was shipped to England he started submitting articles to the “Stars and Stripes” – the military newspaper. Soon he was assigned to the Army’s press corps. Over the the course of his service he reported on the break-out from St. Lo during the Normandy invasion, covered the liberation of Paris, flew with B-17 bomber crews over Germany, and was one of the first journalists to report the liberation of the concentration camps first hand.

Afte the War Andy and his wife Margaret Howard (a local girl) returned to Albany where he spent 2 years on local radio, and then began his broadcasting career in NYC. He spent over 3 decades on “60 Minutes”. On any Sunday you could love his commentary and be outraged the next. His views were sometimes out of step with times. In 1990 he was suspended for 3 months for perceived racist and homophobic comments. Yet he’d been jailed while in basic training for sitting in the back of a segregated bus with Black patrons in the 1940s.

He spent his summers at the family camp at Rensselaerville in the Hilltowns for many years. When his TV schedule slowed, he spent more time in the area. You could find him often in bookstore in Delaware Plaza (We were the twice a week regulars in the early 2000s.)

Andy died in 2011.

Andy was a self-avowed pacifist. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal for his heroic and meritorious service in World War II, yet wanted Veteran’s Day to be called, “No More War Day”.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Tulip Fest History 101: How did it start and when?


It sounds pretty straight forward. In summer 1948 the Albany Common Council enacted an ordinance establishing a tulip celebration in the City and the first Tulip Festival was held in May 1949. But the back story is way more than that and its origin lies in the horrors of World War II.

It started after D-Day in 1944 in Normandy. In September, 1944 the Allies launched Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands to try to capture several bridges in the center of Holland near Nijmegen. General James Gavin (82nd Airborne) was in charge of the parachute jump near Nijmegen. The Operation was not as successful as expected. (Cornelius Ryan’s book, “A Bridge Too Far” describes the mission in detail). Albany men were in the thick of it, but fighting alongside their liberators were the people of Nijmegen. There were many Allied and civilian casualties. Nijmegen (the oldest city in Holland) had already endured years of Allied bombings; the fighting that September finished the job. Military action continued in the area for another 2 months.
On the first anniversary of the battle in September 1945 General Gavin returned to Nijmegen. Conditions were dire.

3The city had been pretty much destroyed in battle of the previous year and the people who had been systematically starved during the Nazi occupation were still starving although the War was over. But they were lovingly tending the graves of their saviors, the Allied soldiers killed the year before.

2It was shortly thereafter, in October 1945, Mayor Erastus Corning received the following cablegram, sent by Sgt. Robert Higgins, (Tremont St.) on behalf of General Gavin.

“The 82nd Airborne Division was cited for gallantry by the people of Nijmegen, who expressed desire to be adopted by the people of Albany. Maj. Gen. Gavin, C.O. is in sympathy with this request and has expressed desire to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion. I am a native son of Albany.”

From what we can tell, General Gavin decided the courageous people of Nijmegen needed help and Albany was going to provide it. Why Albany? Was it just random? Nijmegen’s most famous native son was Brant Van Slichtenhorst who had lived in Beverwyck (Albany) in the 1640s when he was director of the holdings of the colony of Rensselaerwyck. (Today Nijmegen’s most famous native son is Eddie Van Halen.) Other explanations have been offered: it was Albany G.I.’s who asked Gavin, it was the legend of Mayor Corning’s brief, but apparently distinguished wartime career. Whatever. Gavin picked Albany and Albany it would be.

There was then a letter from General Gavin to the Mayor, in which he described the bravery of the people of Nijmegen and said there was no people more deserving of assistance from Albany.

We couldn’t say no.4


6So Albany adopted Nijmegen and she became our sister city. We sent the people who had nothing what we had, despite the fact we were still under rationing. We sent clothes and food and everyday items we took for granted, like chess sets, books and hammers and shovels. The first donations were collected and shipped in late 1945 and continued throughout 1946, with HUGE campaign in April, 1947.



5 (2)Delegations from Nijmegen (and General Gavin) visited Albany and the citizens of Albany visited Nijmegen. Every attempt was made to link the people of Nijmegen and Albany. We re-immersed ourselves in our Dutch culture along the way.




7And the people of Nijmegen who had nothing, learning of a tulip famine in the US, sent us what they had: 21,000 tulip bulbs. As the Dutch envoy said, “Although you receive only a tulip bulb for your generous gifts, because my people have no more to give, this flower comes right out of their hearts and its beauty expresses their deep gratitude.”

But the horrendous conditions in Njimegen continued and its people were still going hungry. By early 1947 most food rationing in the U.S. had ended and Albany launched one last major campaign in April. The honorary chair was General Gavin. The people of Albany gave; we literally sent a boatload.




8In the process of helping the people of Nijmegen we re-connected with our Dutch roots and fell under the spell of the tulip. The City established a Tulip Committee. Spring displays citywide rivaled their pre-War glory. In spring 1948 we asked the Queen Wilhelmina of Holland to designate variety of tulip to be Albany’s official flower. She choose the “Orange Wonder”, a Mendel strain of tulip first cultivated in 1934. (It’s now also known as the “The Tulip of Albany”.)



20400339595_5f7a225086_bThe upshot of this “Tulip Mania” was a suggestion by the City Editor of the Knickerbocker News, Charlie Mooney, that Albany establish a Tulip Festival. We were off and running. The first tulip festival was envisioned as merely displays of tulips. By the time the first Tulip Festival was held in 1949 we established the traditions we know have now, more or less. There was the election of a Tulip Queen (and a Tulip King and Tulip Princess and Prince- the latter members of tulip royalty fell by the wayside in the early 1950s), festivities in Washington Park and a re-connection with our Dutch roots.



Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor