Munselllogo.pngSome time ago I said "It's not possible to be interested in Albany history and not to owe a debt of gratitude to Joel Munsell." He was a fine printer and one of the most important chroniclers of Albany's early history. Not a native Albanian, Munsell was born in 1808 in Northfield, Massachusetts. At 18, he moved to Troy, as one did in those days, and then came to Albany, working for book dealer John Denio and, while still a clerk, starting up a semi-weekly paper, The Minerva. Then he went to work as a compositor, and started his own printing business in 1834. He bought out Thomas Wait's print shop in 1836 and became established at 58 State Street, later moving up to No. 82.

Munsellbuilding.pngHe quickly ventured into historical printing, and his interest in the printing arts was also shown in his publication of The Typographical Miscellany and A Chronology of Papermaking. Between 1828 and 1870, he printed more than 2300 works. But, possibly most importantly for fans of Albany history, he wrote the ten-volume Annals of Albany, which began as the Albany Annual Register in 1849. It ranges from the earliest days of Albany, the voyage of Henry Hudson, to the minutiae of individual births and deaths and shipping news of the 1850s. It's hard to read it often enough.

Munsell had ten children from two wives. He was active in the Albany Institute, and appears to have kept shop up to his death on June 15, 1880.

A nice little tribute to Munsell, written in 1974 by Henry S. Bannister, is here.

TrumansburghViaductPhoenixvilleBridgeWorks.pngIn a non-regular feature that we will not be calling "Phoenixville Phriday," Hoxsie is going to step away from chronicling historical trivia of its ancestral lands and momentarily turn its attention to the history of its new hometown, Phoenixville, PA.  Phoenixville was a small steel town that also cranked out finished bridges; if you chance to drive across the Troy-Menands Bridge, you're being kept out of the Hudson by one of the company's works. The Manhattan Bridge is probably their grandest work, but hundreds of their graceful structures spanned rivers and ravines all over the place. In 1873, "The Manufacturer and Builder" wrote effusively of The Phoenixville Bridge Works:

One of the most encouraging signs of progress, as well in artistic taste as in ingenious application of scientific principles, are the beautifully illustrated catalogues or albums from prominent manufacturing establishments from time to time issued and distributed among those interested. We have one of these before, published by Clarke, Reeves & Co., of the Phoenix Iron Company, at Phoenixville, office 410 Walnut street, Philadelphia, Pa., which company can concentrate all their resources upon bridge building to such a degree as to turn out one hundred feet of finished iron bridge for each working day of the year.

In these works everything is done upon the premises, and the next to worthless iron ore from the mine is, by a succession of operations, changed into the most elegant structures for conveying passengers and merchandise across rivers and over valleys. It is something marvelous to see a single company which does so much on their premises, from the manufacture of pig-iron to the final machine labor that completes the most elaborate structures ready for erection . . .

Messrs. Clarke, Reeves & Co., who make iron bridge-building a specialty, are prepared to construct any style of wrought-iron bridges according to any specified dimensions and weight, but at the same time call the attention of engineers and railway men to that style of bridge which they have been building for the last five years, which has stood the test of use, with the marked approbation of experts in these matters, and in which the material is judiciously distributed, containing nowhere any of it that does not directly contribute to its strength, a feature which cannot be claimed for the majority of bridges in existence.

[In general, in the late 19th century, there was no such thing as praise too florid. But read on, and see if you can spot the Schenectady connection.]

This special style referred to is that kind of truss which was originally developed in wood by Pratt, and in iron by Whipple, and being proved by experience especially adapted for railroads, it is now more in use here than any other . . .

Messrs. Clarke, Reeves & Co. have built some 70 or 80 railroad bridges, of a total length of nearly 40,000 feet, or over 7 miles, which, notwithstanding being much stronger and more reliable than other styles, were cheaper for reason of their facilities on account of reduplication of parts, and lessening as well the cost of erection as of manufacture.

We give on the opposite page an engraving taken from a photograph of the Trumansburgh [sic - it's Trumansburg, N.Y.] viaduct on the Geneva & Ithaca Railroad. This road runs along the west shore of Cayuga Lake, is about 42 miles long, and connects these two flourishing inland cities, and will eventually become a great coal feeder to central New York and Canada . . . The road crosses several streams flowing into Seneca Lake, over one of which is built this structure, which is 300 feet long, about 40 feet high. It is made of Phoenix posts and rolled beams well braced together, so that trains cross it at full speed without vibration. This firm also furnished the other bridges and viaducts, and have recently finished on the Geneva, Ithaca & Elmira Railroad tow much larger viaducts; one at a place called Deep Gorge, 500 feet long, and 125 feet deep; another over Block House Hollow, 600 feet long, and 80 feet deep. These viaducts cost about $60 per lineal foot, and are altogether the most economical mode of crossing deep hollows with a permanent structure. The rapidity with which they can be constructed is also a matter of great importance to railway companies.

These two viaducts, 1,100 feet long and averaging 100 feet high, were completed and passed trains over in little over three months after the order was given for their construction. They could have been done in two months if the railroad company had been ready for them. All this will give a clear idea of the simplicity, strength, economy, and adaptability of this system for all kinds of localities.

We will say in conclusion that the Phoenixville Iron Works, where these bridges are built, are among the oldest in the United States, being erected in 1790, and passing, in 1827, into the possession of the late Daniel Reeves, who by his energy increased their capacity, till they now employ constantly over 1,500 hands, being now one of the largest manufactures of iron bridges in the country. They ship their bridges to Canada and South America, and are now in negotiation for large orders in British India.

PirieMacDonald.pngWell, we just had to find out a little bit more about Pirie MacDonald, the celebrated photographer of men who was raised in Troy, apprenticed in Hudson, and got his professional start in Albany.  These are the excerpts from a sketch in The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. 31, from October, 1894, which in turn took its information from a Times-Union article, at a time when he was starting to win prizes as a photographer.

"He was born in Chicago, January 27, 1867. Life in the metropolis of the unsalted seas did not attract him, and at an early age he was glad to remove with his parents, Dr. George and Margaret MacDonald, to Troy, N.Y. ... Having shown a marked talent for portraiture, he was sent in 1883 to the studio of Frank Forshew, of Hudson, N.Y., then the most accomplished photographer in that section of the State, acquiring a proficiency in the art which could only be attained through natural aptitude supplemented by determined effort.

"In selecting as he did, in 1889, what is perhaps the most conservative city in the United States in which to go into business for himself,  Mr. MacDonald did not do so without some idea of the time and patience it would require to give him the position he desired; but a firm believer in his art as he interpreted it, fully convince that although Albany might be slow, she would be sure to appreciate merit if time enough were given, and that such appreciation would, in the end, be worth all it cost, he went deliberately and conscientiously to work."

 Apparently his later disdain for portraits of women (he proudly proclaimed late in life that he hadn't "taken one picture of a woman" for 50 or 60 years) was not in play early in his career: "The artist was not long in demonstrating to delighted mothers that he could do anything he wanted to with children, from whom he won poses, and caught expressions with a facility and success that seemed like magic. The ladies too, as one by one they found him out, appreciated the all-conquering deference he appeared to pay their slightest suggestion, and went away satisfied with their pictures and not wholly out of conceit with themselves."

He received a notable early commission in 1892 for photographs of Phelps & Kellogg's "The Albany Rural Cemetery; its Beauties, its Memories," (which is SO here) "which in the originals did him great credit, and which were fairly well reproduced by the gelatin process in one of the handsomest volumes ever printed in Albany."

The preface to that book declared that, "Only twenty-seven years of age, life and the world are still all before him where to choose. It may be that he will elect to remain in Albany many years, for the field of his tilling is ripe with the harvest, it is already yielding - or he may go elsewhere; the great cities are constantly bidding higher and higher for the brightest men in photography, as in everything else; but wherever Pirie MacDonald is located it will not be very far from the head of the profession."

Photographer of Society Belles

As is known, he didn't stay much longer in Albany, and soon left behind women, children and headstones to become a photographer of men. The New Photo Miniature, in 1900, reprinted a write-up of MacDonald by Fra Elbertus, originally published in The Philistine.

"Mr. Pirie MacDonald, formerly of Albany, but now of New York city, is a photographer. He calls himself a Photographic Artist - and he is. He has more medals and gets higher prices than any photographer in America. His prices are as high as a church steeple. Pirie is the only man I ever knew, or heard of, who made a fortune taking photographs. He has his limit in every savings bank in Albany, owns a block of flats, and sports an automobile in the park with a bull-dog sitting beside him.

"Pirie of the Medals does not take everybody's picture - he picks his customers. As you enter his place he sizes you up thru a peep-hole from behind the aras, and if your contenance lacks a trace of the classic, Pirie signals his assistant, and you are informed that Mr. MacDonald is in Europe and will not return for a year and a half.

"Mr. MacDonald's specialty until recently has been Society Belles - tall, lissome beauties, proud and haughty, with a wondrous length of limb; these are the kind he liked best. And so famous is MacDonald that sitters have come to him from Rochester, Potsdam, Chambersburg, Rahway, and all the country round and gladly paid the price of one hundred simoleons for one portrait, done with that wonderful Rembrandtesque effect, & signed by the artist. Often Pirie would send the fair one home to change her dress, but if her hair needed rearranging he always attended to that himself ... Women want to look pretty, and that wasn't what Pirie cared for: he desired chicity-chic, go, biff and éclat. To this end he often had to resort to a scheme to bring the siter out of her affected self-consciousness. 'Look into my eyes,' he would sometimes command; and when all else failed, Pirie would assume wrath, and declare, 'Here you - why in tarnation can't you do as I want you to!' and he would clap one hand on the beauty's head and the other under her chin and give her a few sharp turns to win'ard, and end by administering a sharp slap athwart her glutei maximus, to straighten her spine.

"By this time the woman would be simply furious and speechless with rage. Then she would sit bolt upright, ready to explode, but she was not given time to go off, for Pirie would step back three steps and shout exultantly, 'Splendid! Hold that - hold that!' and then he would rush forward, kiss her on the cheek and back again he would spring, crying, 'Hold that! Hold that!' and the bulb was pressed.

"And when all was over the artist was so penitent, so humble and beseeching in his manner, so profuse in his explanations that it was all in the interest of Art, that all was forgiven; for base ineed is that woman who is not willing to sacrifice her feelings on the altar of Divine Art. And thus did Pirie get that most wonderful 'Salome,' which was the wonder of the Paris Exposition, and was declared by the judges to be the strongest and most effective study in photography ever exhibited. In every line it showed such a fine feminine rage - such pride and smothered passion - that people looked at it in amazement. No one knew that Pirie had tumbled the woman's hair in one fell grab, and had thus aroused her wrath, and then offered her insult by kissing her and so brought that fine look of burning shame and mingled rage to her proud face.

"It's a great picture and will pay you to stop off at Albany the next time you are down that way and go to the State House and see it.

Photographer of Men

"But the Ideal continually recedes, and Pirie having the true instinct of an artist was fired with an ambition to do still better. The opportunity came, and Pirie, looking out thru the peep-hole, beheld a woman, say of twenty-eight, five feet eleven, weight one hundred and sixty. Her beautiful and abundant hair was bleached, and she had the proud and self-reliant look of one who had conquests that lay behind, and others, greater still, within her grasp. Her neat-fitting jacket and tailor-made gown showed off her fine form to advantage. The strong features were pure Greek.

"Pirie almost screamed with delight, and hastily he ordered his assistant to be gone and leave the customer to him. 'Oh! Now we shall have a real Herodias - that Paris picture shall only be a tin-type to this. My! What a splendid tiger she is!'

"That is really all we know about the matter. The attendant improved the opportunity to go out on an errand, and when the neighbors in the law office across the hall heard the commotion and rushed out they caught the swish of skirts and got a glimpse of a tailor-made gown going down the stairway. Pirie was found, panting and helpless, in a corner of the studio, with the black cloth viciously knotted around his neck, and the tripod, camera and sitter's throne on top of him. There was a bad scalp wound extending from one ear to the crown of his head, and it looked as though he had been struck with the lens.

"Pirie never made any statements about the matter, but now his card reads:



"Portraits of Men Only."

Have to wonder if he used the same approach with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.





PirieMcDonald.pngPirie MacDonald may have been the most famous photographer Albany ever produced. He was born in Chicago in 1867, but his parents moved to Troy. In 1883 he apprenticed in Hudson with Frank Forshew for six years,  and then opened a studio in Albany in 1890.

This ad was in the 1894 guide to Albany schools. MacDonald became well-known during his years in Albany, exhibiting in New York City, Paris, and beyond, and eventually moved to New York, where his fame grew, and he photographed many of the leading men of the day, including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, four governors, university presidents, automobile tycoons. He adopted the moniker "Pirie MacDonald, Photographer of Men," and claimed to have photographed 70,000 of them through his career. On his 75th birthday, he said, "For the past 50 or 60 years I've been at this game, I haven't taken one picture of a woman - not even of my wife or my daughter. Why? You just can't make superlative pictures of men and then get yourself into the mood for women. You can't do it, I say."

His photographic collection is held by the New York Historical Society. In an odd feature of his will, all of his negatives were destroyed after his death. Fortunately, the prints that survived were largely contact prints, from large format negatives. The collection also contains a small amount of Albany-related material:

"There is a small selection of letterhead, envelopes, stickers, seals and various forms used in the New York studio, as well as several pieces of original calligraphy and graphic designs for MacDonald's Albany operation. The latter includes drawings by Albany artist Charles Selkirk (1855-1923) for corporate identifications; Selkirk created the Japonisme-inspired logogram used by MacDonald for stickers, and may have also designed his stylish and distinctive letterhead."

It's Mayell's for Rubber!

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HenryMayell.pngHenry Mayell & Son was established sometime in the 1850s, and by 1894 proclaimed itself Albany's headquarters for rubber goods, located at the corner of State and Broadway, its curved building shown here at Douw's Corner. Mayell not only sold rubber goods, but had at least one patent "for use in the making of soling for boots and shoes, or for any purchase in which leather protected over its whole surface by india-rubber covering may be needed in arts or manufactures."

Mayell1891directory.pngAs shown in this ad in 1891, if you wanted rubber boots, shoes, cement, clothing, goods, hose or packing, Henry Mayell and Son was your place. But furniture castors? Apparently beneath him.

Henry Mayell was born in 1824 in New York City. He was living at 161 Hamilton St., in Albany when he died, August 18, 1890 (aged 66 years, 3 months and 6 days) from "fatty degeneration of the heart." He's buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

John Skinner, bookseller.

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JohnSkinner.pngJohn Skinner was an Albany bookseller active around the turn of those other centuries (this is from the 1894 guide to Albany's public schools). Beyond that, all we know is the fact that he wrote up a catalogue of the library of Mr. and Mrs. John V.L Pruyn, that he dealt in books published by Joel Munsell, and that he was, according to Whish's "Albany Tourist's Handy Guide," a fairly serious stamp collector. And that he bought used school-books. He was still selling books in 1927, from 15 Steuben St., and at that time he lived at 453 Western Ave., a house that likely still exists right near the College of St. Rose.

Another interestingly sparse and stylized advertisement for its time.

Albany Teachers' Agency

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AlbanyTeachersAgency.pngWe've been reviewing Albany's numerous schools from 1894. Each of those schools had anywhere from seven to 18 teachers. To fill teaching slots today, we have strict educational requirements, civil service and hiring lists. But before all that, there was the Albany Teachers' Agency, which "provides schools of all grades with competent teachers" and "assists teachers with good records in obtaining situations." One of their ads from 1899 indicated the agency had done placements as far away as Alabama. Its manager, Harlan P. French, was a Vermont native born in 1843, who came to Albany in 1873, and seems to have been engaged in the business for many years before founding the Albany Teachers' Agency in 1890. He died in 1921, aged 77, living at 1090 Madison Avenue and still apparently heading the agency. He also served on the Board of Public Instruction of the City of Albany. He's buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.

Van Gaasbeek Carpets, Rugs & Curtains

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VanGasbeekRugs.pngThis lovely ad from 1894 is for Van Gaasbeek's carpet store on North Pearl Street, opposite the Kenmore Hotel.

Cuyler Reynolds, in the 1911 "Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs," told us this about Alexander Van Gaasbeek:

"Alexander Boyd [Gaasbeek], son of Dr. Jacobus and Helen (Boyd) Van Gaasbeek, was born in Middleburg, New York, April 11, 1816. He was educated in his native town in a private school. At an early age he began what proved to be a long and successful business career. His first work was in a lawyer's office in Middleburg, and for a short period he was engaged in a general store in that town. He then went to Lawyersville, where he was employed as a clerk for Peter Osterhout. He remained in that position for a year, and in 1832 went to Albany and clerked for John Garnsey in the dry goods business for the following two years. He then secured a position with a Mr. Bagley, with whom he remained until 1836, and in that year started in for himself. In connection with Frank Moseley he established a dry goods business under the firm title of Mosley and Van Gaasbeek. This partnership continued four years, when it was dissolved and Mr. Van Gaasbeek continued the business himself for the following nine years. About this time gold was discovered in California. Like many another of his day, he caught the gold fever, sold out his business and started for Panama. He got as far as New York City, where he was induced to associate himself with a man by the name of Reynolds, to start a commission business in Panama. On arriving at the Isthmus, however, he, becoming dissatisfied with his relations with Reynolds, decided to dissolve the partnership. This accomplished, he formed a partnership with Amos Corwin, at that time United States consul to Panama. They carried on a successful business until December, 1850, when he returned to Albany to be married. Mr. Van Gaasbeek after his marriage went back to Panama to continue the business there, but owing to an illness brought on by the climatic conditions of the tropics he was obliged to give up his work and return North. Once more he established himself in Albany, this time going into the carpet business, opening a store on the corner of Broadway and Columbia street. The business growing rapidly, he moved, in the early sixties, to larger quarters on Pearl street, where he acquired the property which he held at his death. He became the leading carpet man in Albany, and continued to conduct a large and successful business until he retired, in 1901, from an active participation in commercial life. Mr. Van Gaasbeek was a member of the First Reformed Church, of Albany, and for many years was one of the most active elders. In politics he was first a Whig and later a Republican, and, though urged many times to hold office, always declined. For nine years he was a volunteer fireman in Albany in the days of the old hand-engine. Though Mr. Van Gaasbeek had attained the ripe old age of more than ninety-four years, he was in possession of all his faculties, attended to all the business connected with a considerable estate personally, and gave no visible signs of the approaching end until shortly before his death, January 15, 1911."

Presumably this Van Gaasbeek was some relation to the W. Van Gaasbeek who produced "the bazaar shirt," acros from the Delavan Hotel.

Last Look at Albany Schools of 1894

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(Part One, which covered Schools One through Eight, is here; Part Two, Schools Nine through 21, is here.) Some time ago, we provided StreetViews of the school sites as they appear today; that's here.

SchoolNo22.pngSo, more of the souvenir guide to Albany's schools as they stood in 1894, with no further insight into why some of the numbers were skipped in the guide. School No. 22, at 292 Second Street, was built by Frederick W. Brown in 1874. It had a stately appearance, and it's sad that it has lasted 140 years (having lost its roofline decoration somewhere along the way) only to sit as a rotting hulk today.
Not at all clear what might have carried the designation of School No. 23 back in 1894; it was one of the structures that was skipped, but today there is a School No. 23 on Whitehall.

SchoolNo24.pngSchool No. 24 was constructed in 1893 by Fuller & Wheeler at Delaware Square, "cor. Delaware Avenue." That'd be Delaware and Dana today, where this structure is long gone and has been replaced by the Boys and Girls Clubs building.

SchoolNo25.pngThe last of the numbered schools in Albany in 1894 was School No. 25, another work of Walter Dickson from 1878. The guide says it stood at the corner of Morton and Swan; if it did, Swan must have been realigned, perhaps when Lincoln Park was constructed in 1901, for today the corner is a touch west of here, but the building is still in use and looks to be in good condition.

AlbanyHighSchool.pngWe'd be remiss if we didn't include this view of Albany's incredibly beautiful first high school. By 1913, it was replaced by the "new" high school on Lake, which was considered overcrowded within nine years. This edifice, which stood across Eagle from Academy Park, was replaced by the State Court of Appeals, which is also quite lovely.

OfficeofSuperintendent.pngWithin the High School, the Office of the Superintendent of Schools, who in 1894 was Charles W. Cole, A.M., Ph.D.

AssemblyHallSchoolNo24.pngHere's a view of the Assembly Hall in School No. 24, the one at Delaware Square.

KindergartenSchoolNo1.pngAnd one last view, the Kindergarten in School No. 1. The building still stands, but I wonder if any of the rooms survive as they were originally.

More Schools of Albany, 1894

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(Part One, which covered Schools One through Eight, is here.)

SchoolNo10.pngSo we were working our way through "The Public Schools of Albany, N.Y.," a souvenir volume from 1894. For reasons known only to the compilers, a few of the schools that existed at the time are entirely skipped over, including School No. 9, whose building at 333 Sheridan Avenue still stands today. School No. 10, only four years old when this guide was compiled, is pictured here. It stood at the corner of Central Avenue and Ferry Street, which we can now take for N. Lake. Another work of Fuller & Wheeler, it's one of the handful of buildings still serving its original purpose as a school, now home to Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls.

SchoolNo11.pngSchool No. 11 was another Ogden & Wright work, at 409 Madison Avenue. Dating to 1873, it still stands today as a condominium. It was ventilated by gravity, which is about the same as being ventilated by luck.

SchoolNo12.pngSchool No. 12 was recently converted into lovely apartments, but it wasn't the School No. 12 shown here. This older structure, built by Wollett & Ogden in 1858, had been replaced by 1922. This is itself quite lovely.

SchoolNo13.pngWe previously noted that in 1922, there was no School No. 13, and put it down to superstition. But it turns out there once was a School No. 13, another quite nice edifice that dated to 1799 at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence Street. The guide notes that it was originally a state arsenal, remodeled into a school building in 1859, which seems like the oldest building in the inventory in 1894.

SchoolNo14.pngSchool No. 14, 70 Trinity Place, was a bit different from School No. 14, 69 Trinity Place. The odd-numbered School 14, of course, still stands as the Schuyler Apartments. Was 70 Trinity directly across the street? This was the work of William Ellis (remodeled by A. Fleischman) in 1861. (Walter Dickson, who built School No. 3 in 1887, served an apprenticeship in the practice of Ellis.)

SchoolNo15.pngSchool No. 15, another work by Ogden and Wright, was built in 1871 at the corner of Herkimer and Franklin streets, deep in The Pastures. In 1960, it was to be abandoned for school purposes, replaced by the new school on South Pearl that is now Giffen Memorial Elementary. At the time, it was planned to house the Albany County Welfare Department. It survived until it was destroyed by fire in 1979, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

SchoolNo17.pngIn 1922, there was a School No. 16, at 41 N. Allen St., which is still a school today. Given there was a 15 and a 17 in 1894, it stands to reason there was a School 16 then, too. But this guide makes no mention of it.
School 17, however, it mentions. Built in 1878 by Charles B. Nichols, it still stands today at Second Avenue and Stephen Street, sadly neglected.

SchoolNo20.png18 and 19? Also not mentioned. Here's School No. 20, built in 1880 at the corner of North Pearl and North Second Streets. At some point it was replaced by a newer structure that still stands in use as a school, the North Albany Academy.

SchoolNo21.pngSchool No. 21 at 666 Clinton Avenue dated to 1875, the work of architect Frederick W. Brown. Imposing but plain, today it is merely a vacant lot.

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