More Ghost Signs of Liberty Street

Published by:

Since the ghost signs on the back of the R.B. Wing building facing Liberty Street proved so popular, why not take a look at some of the other fine ghost signs that are visible along that stretch of street?

For instance, there’s Meginnis Electric:

We actually don’t know a thing about Meginnis, which apparently served every electrical need, including appliances and fireplace equipment. In 1968, they were included in a directory listing as one of Albany’s businesses that was 70-75 years old, so that puts they just around the turn of the century. When they left business, we don’t know.

The 12, which indicates the door address on Liberty Street (the address on Broadway is 370), is one of several numbers so painted on the backs of these buildings.

12 Liberty Street

 

The Ghost Signs of R.B. Wing

Published by:

The backs of buildings are sometimes as interesting as the fronts, and in Albany’s case, the backs of the row of quite-old buildings along Broadway are absolutely fascinating for their profusion of ghost signs.

Ghost signs are generally hand-painted signs that adorned our commercial buildings in abundance in the 19th and 20th centuries, and are now faded into various states of visibility. As they fade away, they often reveal other signs that were underneath. They have been recognized as an important part of the urban fabric, so much so that there have been efforts to restore various of them to their earlier condition. Sometimes this is done well, sometimes it’s butchery. Mercifully, the ghost signs on the back of the R.B. Wing building have not been risked or ruined.

R.B. Wing was once one of the city’s oldest businesses. It began as a ship’s chandlery, providing basically anything that a ship might need, in 1845. In a waterfront town in the golden age of water transport, being where the Erie Canal met the Hudson River was not a bad business strategy for a chandler. But as time, and shipping, moved on, Wing adapted and moved into all kinds of construction and industrial supplies. That suited it well, and it lasted until 1996.

We’re not entirely sure when Wing moved to its Broadway location; they were at 62 Quay Street in the 1890s, down past South Ferry Street. In 1914, Albany architect Walter Van Guysling created the extremely distinctive facade, featuring a ship and whales that decorated the front of their location at 384 Broadway. It’s lovely. But today we’re talking about the back.

R.B. Wing Ghost SignsLiberty Street is one of the more neglected of Albany’s streets, but it is gifted with the more incredible collection of ghost signs in the city, and the rear of the R.B. Wing building is simply covered with them.

At the top, the name of the firm (the son was Charles, by the way). Below that, various lists of the products that were on offer by R.B. Wing: rope and tackle blocks, oils and grease, rope, cable, chain, hose and tarps, mill supplies, power tools, welders’ hoists, asbestos goods, and machine tools.

 

 

 

RB Wing South SideOn the south side of the roofline, even more goods are listed: ice tools, oils and grease, roofing material, canvas covers, leather belting, asbestos goods, rope & tackle blocks, dynamite, batteries, fuzes and caps (blasting caps, that is), engine supplies, paints and rubber goods.

But tucked in among the ghost signs is something of an Easter egg – one of the signs isn’t a ghost sign at all. It’s for a business that is still a going concern, right at that location: John G. Waite Associates, Architects. They’re the ones who did an adaptive reuse of this building. Somewhere in the restoration process, they very cleverly snuck their firm into the signage, as cleverly as if it had always been there:

JGWA Archt

William Kemp and his 65 Second Street Home

Published by:

Our brief mention of the Troy home of William Kemp got us curious … how did 65 Second Street come to be designed by one of the leading architects of his age, Stanford White? White, of the massively influential firm of McKim, Mead and White, designed the arch in New York’s Washington Square, the second Madison Square Garden, a great number of churches and clubhouses, and many residences of the wealthy of the gilded age, primarily on Long Island.

A 1964 article in the Knickerbocker News tells some of the story of the home, which was then undergoing renovation. It was then owned by former U.S. Representative Dean P. Taylor. Just north of it was (and is) the Hart-Cluett mansion, owned by the Rensselaer County Historical Society and also under renovations at the time. To its south was an apartment building that was scheduled to be razed to make way for the Russell Sage College dorm that stands there now, at the corner of Congress and Second. Taylor had served nine terms, starting in 1943, but left Congress after 1960 owing to poor health. He recovered and went into private practice.

“The building is a showplace, from tile and marble-appointed foyer through the main floor reception room and offices to Mr. Taylor’s suite on the second floor. Mr. White – who left many memorials of his talent in such structures as the original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Arch, Farragut Monument and Tiffany Building in New York City – was induced to design the Troy building as a favor to a family friend.

According to stories handed down from old-time Troy families, Mr. White stayed in Troy to supervise construction of the building. His trademarks are found in pilasters in the library, elevation of the treads of the stairs as well as the cathedral windows.

Cornices of the structure correspond with photographs of the original Metropolitan Club in New York City, another creation from the White drawing board.

The first and second floors are trimmed ornately in heavy oak paneling. Even the pickets supporting the bannister on the stairway are carved in unusual detail.

The elegance of the building is further manifested in the more than a dozen fireplaces each [of] different design and size, on the two floors. Rooms have been renovated to afford a hearth for the office of each of Mr. Taylor’s seven partners and associates in the firm of Wager, Taylor, Howd & Brearton of which Mr. Taylor is the senior member.

In a first floor section, which originally was a billiard room when 65 Second Street was one of the most fashionable dwellings in downtown Troy, is a tiled mantle with the inscription, ‘Hang care – Care would kill a cat. Therefore, let’s be merry!!’”

65 Second Street, TroyThe building was built for William Kemp, who was, as his obituary in 1908 reported, associated with Troy’s development for more than half a century. He was last known as a banker, president of the National City Bank of Troy, a national bank that had currency issued in its name. Kemp was born in 1829 in a house that later was the site of the Troy Club, at 7-9 First Street. He left school at the age of nine, and became a clerk in a drug store, and then a typesetter with the Troy Post. He clerked in a grocery store, then entered a machine shop and learned the mechanic’s trade. In 1851 he founded the Kemp Brass Foundry in 1851, and later led the Troy Steel and Iron Company. He also worked in chain manufacture as the president of J.B. Carr Company, and was an organizer and director of The Citizens’ Steamboat Company, formed in 1871 and later under the Hudson Navigation Company. He also was involved in street railways, as president of the Troy and Lansingburgh Railway Company and its successor, the Troy City Railway Company. Later he was a director of successor United Traction Company, vice president of The Troy Gas Company, and director of The Boutwell Miling and Grain Company. He was president of the Mutual Savings Bank, and in 1878 became head of Mutual National Bank, which merged with Central National Bank into National City Bank in 1906; he retired in 1907. He didn’t lack for jobs, or wealth, but he was also active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1855-72, and president of the board for 14 years. He was a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary and Emma Willard School for more than a quarter of a century, and was a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1868 to his death. He was a trustee of the Troy Orphan Asylum, and a member of the board of the Marshall Sanitarium, a member of Christ Episcopal Church, a member of the Troy, Ionic, Riverside and East Side Clubs, as well as a Mason and Odd Fellow. He served as paymaster of the Second Regiment, New York Volunteers in the Civil War, and was treasurer of the organization that erected the Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument in Monument Square. For many years, he lived on Fifth Avenue between Federal and Jacob streets, until building 65 Second around 1898.

None of that gives the slightest hint how he might have become acquainted with Stanford White. There was a William Kemp brokerage tangentially involved with the Stanford White scandals, but there doesn’t appear to have been any connection to this William Kemp or his family.

We do know that after the death of Kemp, the home was sold to Charles W. Frear, son of William H. Frear (of Frear’s Cash Bazaar), and then when Frear died it was owned by a Dr. Francis and Mrs. Gladys Fagan. In 1954, they sold it to former District Attorney Earle J. Wiley for about $40,000.

Troytown Shirt Corporation

Published by:

Troytown Shirt Corp 1957Just a quickie today, but this ad from 1957 caught our eye. It’s from a time when there was still enough garment manufacture in the area that a call for women with industrial sewing experience would not have gone unanswered. Yes, this was a time when employment ads were separated into male and female categories, and the males were “men” and the females were “girls” or, if lucky, “ladies.”

Don’t know much about Troytown Shirt Corp., which operated out of Harmony Mills. State records indicate that Troytown was incorporated in 1946, and renamed TTS Shirt Corp. in 1988.

When Money Came From Troy

Published by:

Duncan Crary sent along an interesting little bit regarding the re-opening of a local rare coin shop that will also feature an exhibit of currency that was issued in the Capital Region back when that was a thing. Ferris Coin, which has been around since 1930, is reopening at 199 Wolf Road, and will feature a small exhibit of “Capital Region Currency: A History of Money in America” from Nov. 1 through Nov. 22.

Ferris’s release says that the most notable note (sorry) is this one, a $5 bill issued by the National City Bank of Troy. They point out that one of the signatures, that of the bank’s cashier, is by Rice C. Bull, who was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His diary and letters were edited into a 1977 work, “Soldiering: The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull.” But the other signature is worthy of note too, that of William Kemp.

The National City Bank of Troy, according to an Oct. 23, 1957 article in The Saratogian, was then Troy’s largest national bank, chartered by the U.S. Treasury Department and having begun business on March 1, 1905 at the corner of State and First Streets in Troy. (Multiple sources put the start of the bank at 1905; the bill above is the 1902 series. We don’t know how to reconcile that.) By 1957, it was located at State and Third, and it was opening a branch in the brand new Latham Corners Shopping Center, moving fro a previous location on New Loudon Road. The bank also had locations in Cohoes (where it had taken over the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes), Ticonderoga (merged with the Ticonderoga National Bank) and Port Henry (Citizens National Bank of Port Henry). Its building at State and Third still stands, now a branch of Bank of America, catercorner from Barker Park. Around 1924 the bank bought a building that had been the Arba Read Steamer Co. No. 1 and headquarters of the chief of the Troy Fire Department, as well as the old Second Precinct police station and police court. When the fire and police headquarters were moved to State at 6th, the old building was demolished and the new building erected. The cornerstone was laid in September 1926, with the building officially opening in September 1927. It had “a room set apart and suitably fitted for the use of the women customers of the bank.” In 1930, the United National Bank (northwest corner of State and First) merged with National City. In 1947, the bank acquired a local industrial bank called Troy Prudential Association at 251 Broadway. In 1948, it acquired the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes.

In 1959, National City Bank of Troy merged with the State Bank of Albany, forming one of the largest banks in the state outside of New York City, with 20 banking offices. Once that happened, it went by the State Bank of Albany name.

William Kemp was its first president, 1905-1907. He had previously been Mayor of Troy, from 1873-75. He was also president of the Troy Brass Foundry (2129-2137 6th Avenue), of the J.B. Carr Chain Works, and of the Troy and Lansingburgh street railroad, and vice president of the Troy Gas Co. and the Troy Citizens Line. His banking gig was his last. He retired in January 1907 and died Aug. 14, 1908.

At the time of his death, he owned a home he had built at 65 Second Street. The Troy Record in 1954 reported that it had been designed by Stanford White and built for $85,000 around the turn of the century. Reports were that White was a family friend; a brokerage by the name of William Kemp shows up in the scandals surrounding White, but it wouldn’t appear that this particular William was associated with that firm. The house still stands, tucked in between the Hart-Cluett Mansion and a Sage College dormitory.

So why was the National City Bank issuing national currency? Well, in 1863 the United States Congress established the national banking system, and authorized the Treasury Department to oversee the issuance of national banknotes, charter and regulate national banks and authorize them to issue national currency secured by the purchase of United States bonds. The national banknotes were redeemable at any national bank. The system remained in place until the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve Board, which then began issuance of Federal Reserve notes.

Ferris Coin has posted pictures of the currency that will be on display; you can see it here.

Sturgeondom

Published by:

Recent entries brought up the question, “what the heck was ‘Sturgeondom’?” An 1869 article in the Albany Morning Express quoted the Troy Whig, saying that “A bright light in the direction of Albany last evening indicates a big fire in Sturgeondom,” but the Express responded that “Our neighbors will be pleased to learn, we know, that Sturgeondom did not suffer seriously by conflagration during Monday night. Excepting under extraordinary circumstances, we do not believe we can have a disastrous fire. Our alarm system is so very perfect, and our department so prompt and efficient, that it is quite impossible that a fire can make headway before it is discovered and extinguished.”

An 1867 article in the Daily Whig, speaking of the organization of a new Troy Cavalry Company, said “The Albanians boast of a troop of cavalry, and we know no reason why this city should be behind Sturgeondom in the military organizations.”

Albany, of course, was so closely associated with the Atlantic sturgeon that the fish was known as “Albany beef,” so the appellation of “Sturgeondom” should not be a surprise. Nevertheless, we hadn’t run across it until recently, and once we started looking for it, it was everywhere.

As early as 1853, the Troy Daily Times printed “correspondence” saying that “Sturgeondom is very dull at present.”

It was often used derisively, in the often not-so-good-natured ribbing that occurred between the cities. When the Albany Times reported in 1857 that a concert in one of the Baptist Churches in Troy called for five hundred chorus singers and concluded that “This is doing pretty well for the ‘provincials,’” the Troy Daily Times spat back: “Yes, and though, if such an occurrence should by any possibility transpire in Sturgeondom, the whole town would be in a ferment, and his tailor would have to strap David down, up here the ‘monstrous concert’ is hardly even talked of, and we are not informed that the Trojans regard the ‘big thing’ as anything out of the ordinary course of events. Fact.”

The Collar City wasn’t the only place that spoke thus of Albany, however. The term appears in the Brookyn Daily Eagle, the Saratogian, and the Syracuse Evening Chronicle, which in 1855 featured its Albany correspondent: “As for news, Sturgeondom is hard up. We have wretched water to drink, but Justice Cole and the Landon Jury have given us free access to imported liquors, and the Water Works Company are digging up the pipes to clear out fish skeletons; the owners of these relics of mortality having perished by drinking unwholesome water. These occurrences make up the sum total of our excitements.”

Another article by the same correspondent provided a bit more color on that: “But the crying sin of the Knickerbocker city is the water. It had been a subject of complaint that we were imbibing an infusion of some preparation, no one knew what. It was charged to be the drainings of a piggery which were emptied into Tivoli Lake, where by being attenuated on the homeopathic principle, they acquired an infinite potency. But alack! the water from that pond was the best in the city. The next hypothesis adopted was that the pipes were filled with defunct fish. The Water Works Company at once shut off the water, so that we have no more access to the ‘cup that cheers, but not inebriates.’ So you observe that even Sturgeondom is capable of some excitement even in hot weather.”

Lest one think the name was meant in a positive way, regard this snippet from the Troy Daily Times in 1853, which begins with a quote from the Albany Express:

“Now, friend Francis, that ‘slap’ of yours at sturgeon raises all Sturgeondom to indignation. Sturgeon is one of our ‘household gods.’ We beg to say that we are by no means fin-ical in making this assertion. We regard it as by no manner of means a scaly development of the better human ‘phelinks’ to love and cherish Sturgeon. We ‘go in’ for that noble fish. Call his flesh – yellow as the gold of Ophir and of California – ‘Albany Beef,’ if you choose to do so. We look upon it as simply a ‘fish story’ and ‘whistle it down the wind’ at our leisure. – Albany Express

“Well there, Smith, if you are willing to accept the clumsy, lazy, toothless stupid sturgeon as your model, we give it up! Sturgeon a ‘noble fish.’ ‘Albany beef’ the symbol of ‘progress.’ Why, the fat, indolent sturgeon lives by ‘suction,’ and only ‘flops up’ occasionally just to show that he has a little life. This creature the representation of ‘progress?’ Well have it so, Smith; we think after all, you are not far out of the way. It does pretty well define Albany progress – ‘flip-flop’ and ‘suction.’”

 

The Mutual Boat Club of Albany

Published by:

We’ve been talking quite a bit about the early rowing history of Albany, from just before the Civil War and on into the 19th century as rowing grew in popularity. It would help to understand that rowing was once, indeed, very big sporting news. Major races frequently made the front pages of major newspapers, at a time when baseball hadn’t even been organized yet. The Mutual Boat Club of Albany got a fair amount of ink at the time, particularly in a sports newspaper called Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times – The American Gentleman’s Newspaper.” In 1868, the Spirit noted a contest between the Mutual and the Nassau Boat Club of New York on September 3 of that year. It was rowed near the “Pleasant Valley” course on the Hudson, about eight miles north of New York City; the race of three miles was won by the Albany crew. They had previously raced in Albany on August 31, when “the Nassaus touched on a sand-bar, and her bow oar was obliged to get out of their shell and push her off. The Nassaus claim that this had a great deal to [do] with their losing the race.” The Spirit noted that the Mutuals ranked, “deservedly, as one of the best rowing clubs of the country.” That race was just prior to the fourth annual regatta of the Hudson Amateur Rowing Association, which took place on September 5; the Mutuals rowed there again, along with the Beaverwyck Boat Club. “The oarsmanship of the Beaverwycks attracted special attention from the fact of their being a new club, and the latest one to join the association.”

An article from 1870 in the Spirit noted the inauguration of the Albany rowing season on June 6, 1870, by the Mutual Boat Club, on a fine but windy day that made the water “quite lumpy.” The committee in charge consisted of Commodore J.R. Lindsley, J.H. Girvin, and Charles Piepinbrink [sic: Piepenbrinck]. “After the race the Mutuals mutually entertained their hosts of friends at their elegant club-room on Pearl street, where many a race was rowed o’er again.”

On July 27, 1871, there was a three-mile single-scull shell race between William S. Mosely of the Mutual Club and J.H. Girvin, which Girvin won by three seconds, with a time of 24 minutes. It was noted that Mosely was 5 feet, 10-1/2 inches and weighed 150 lbs., rowing a paper shell called the Sylph, 30 feet long and 12 inches wide. Girvin was 5 feet 1 inch, weighed 115 lbs., and rowed a paper shell 28 feet long and 12 inches wide. Those paper boats came from the Waters, Balch Company of Troy.

That same summer, the Mutual and Beaverwyck clubs agreed to row a three-mile double scull race over “the lower course, with a turn,” for a prize of $100. The same article noted that the Beaverwycks had just received a Waters, Balch paper six-oared shell that was 49 feet long and 19-1/2 inches wide. Piepenbrink, captain of the Mutual Boat Club, and J.H. Girvin were also to row a three mile match for $100.

The Albany Morning Express reported a time when the rivalry between the two clubs grew heated, in 1876.

“Rowing men seem to be very much exercised these hot days. Beaverwyck adherents loftily imagine they can clean out all before them as easily as Sitting ‘Bull’ ‘cowed’ Custer’s troops. The Mutuals are doing their utmost to present a god front; the Olympics are talking with their usual boyish enthusiasm, and the Wolvenhooks are in mourning and amazement over the sudden loss of the Wilsons and of Bowers. In a communication which appeared in the Express yesterday morning from a member of the Mutual Boat Club, these words were used, ‘In the recent regatta it seemed apparent to the majority of those who witnessed the four oared race, that had it not been for the washing received by the Mutuals the race would probably have been theirs.’ In reply to this, we are authorized and requested by the Captain of the Beaverwyck Club to say that the Beaverwycks will row the Mutuals over again any pleasant evening within two weeks, and that the Beaverwycks will give the Mutuals a start of half a minute, which enormous advantage the Beaverwycks believe they can overcome before the course is gone over.

‘Several letters have come to hand about rowing clubs and rowing men, but as they are unpleasantly personal we must decline to publish them. One gentleman sends a long communication extolling the Mutuals, but, like a wasp, it has a sting in its tail for concluding his laudatory notice. The writer says: ‘The Beaverwycks, it is currently reported, will give our boys half a minute start in a race. We ought to accept that, for I tell you Mr. Editor, and don’t you forget it, the Mutuals can beat the Beaverwycks every day in the week if they get half a minute start and the Beaverwycks will agree to make the distance to be rowed sufficiently short.’”

The Mutual Boat Club was also in something of a tiff with the Olympic Boat Club, which also wrote to the Express to complain of the Mutual group’s disdain for what they considered junior clubs.

“We learn from a communication addressed to you by one who signs himself ‘J.’ that the ‘Mutual Boat Club is not accustomed nor inclined to win races by means of printer’s ink.’ We were aware before that they were not accustomed to win races by means of printer’s ink, or in fact, by any other means, but to know their inclinations is a source of great pleasure … The fact that we have no handsomely furnished boat house with swimming bath may class us with the junior organizations … A club composed of old and experienced boating gentlemen, as is the M.B.C., should rather encourage a youthful organization like our own, and allow us to row with them, at least every two years.”

In 1879, arguments were still going on between the Olympics and the Mutuals, with the Olympics complaining that the Mutual club hadn’t shown up to arrange races, and calling attention to Captain Piepenbrink’s failure to agree on a referee. We haven’t yet been successful in determining how long the Mutual Boat Club lasted, or where its “elegant” club-room on Pearl Street was.

Sturgeondom’s Pioneer Rowing Club

Published by:

Edgar S. Van Olinda, old time columnist of old times, told us that rowing in Albany began in earnest with a number of clubs around 1857. “Rowing in Albany began with the Pioneer club in 1857, the Knickerbocker club in 1858, along with the Hiawathas and the Excelsiors. That was only the beginning.” He said the first regatta was in 1860.

An 1868 article in the Albany Morning Express supports that contention, quoting an article in the New York Leader that said the Pioneer Club was one of the oldest rowing clubs in the country at the time, having been formed in 1857.

“In 1857 it won the championship of Albany, which it held two years, losing it in a race in which an oar was broken just after turning the stake-boat. Since that time it has not participated in a race as a club, though its members have pulled in every Albany regatta which has taken place. It was literally the ‘pioneer’ club at ‘Sturgeondom;’ and after attending the funeral of all its contemporaries, is still flourishing and prosperous. In 1858 the club built a model floating boathouse. The boats floated into it by a canal, and were stowed on each side; while the dressing room above was ornamented by some 30 pictures, among which was one by George Boughton, representing the ‘Phantom,’ [one of the club’s noted boats] pulled by a skeleton crew on a moonlight [sic] night. In 1861, during a spring freshet, their house broke from its moorings, sailed majestically over the pier, carrying away a pile of staves, and was hopelessly wrecked eight miles down the Hudson. Since then the club have lost two floating houses. [The next time was in 1862] During the war, more than half its members were in the Union army, and one, Major Chas. E. Pruyn, was killed in action.”

The officers of the club included R.V. DeWitt, D.G. Curtiss, Charles W. Lord, W.H. Ten Eyck, R.L. Annesley, and S.W. Rosendale.

Unfortunately, the club went under in July of 1870. “The Pioneer Boat Club, of Albany, once a distinguished and noted rowing organization, has ceased to exist. For several years past, in fact ever since that crack aquatic association, the Mutual Boat Club, of Albany, came into being, the Pioneers have been in the shade, evincing scarcely a spark of life or animation.”

In 1892, the Pioneers held a reunion meeting:

“The surviving resident members of the old Pioneer Boat Club, an association that was organized for exercise and pleasure before the war and continued for several years after, held a meeting Wednesday for the first time in 20 years. Mr. John H. McElroy was elected president, Mr. A.V. DeWitt secretary and General Rufus H. King treasurer. A committee was appointed to make arrangements for a reunion and banquet. After an hour’s pleasant chat, during which many amusing reminiscences were related, the meeting adjourned subject to call of the president. The following gentlemen answered the roll call: R.L. Annesley, G.N. Collier, John D. Capron, D.G. Curtiss, W.W. Crannell, Richard V. DeWitt, John H. Farrell, B.M. Hamilton, William Headlam, Rufus H. King, George Low, A.B. Lathrop, John E. McElroy, John L. Newman, James Newman, S.W. Rosendale, Ed B. Ten Broeck, T.V. Wolcott, S.W. Whitney.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Sturgeondom” was a somewhat commonly used term for Albany that often appeared in the Troy papers in particular.

Peter Kiernan Sr. and Other Oarmen

Published by:

Peter D. Kiernan, Sr.

PETER D. KIERNAN, dean of Albany scullers and only link to an enviable past in local rowing history, as he pushed out from the Albany Yacht club for a pull up the Hudson last Tuesday morning. Note the billiard cue technique with which he delicately manipulates the handles of his locked-in sweeps while he literally sits on top of the world.

Last time we featured a little bit on the old Albany waterfront and the prominence of rowers of various sorts way back when, and touched on the prowess of the Peters Kiernan, Sr. and Jr. After that, we found this Edgar Van Olinda article from 1943 telling us even more about Kiernan Sr. and, perhaps more importantly, the rowing culture history of Albany. It was headlined, “Peter D. Kiernan, Sculler – Last of Famous Local Oarsmen; Awaits Revival.”

If you should happen to be walking down street most any day and see a six-foot ruddy-faced gentleman swinging along with the elasticity of youth, and a kindly greeting for everyone he meets, you can lay a wager that it’s the dean of Albany scullers, Peter D. Kiernan. You don’t get such a pair of shoulders sitting around in an easy chair, your feet encased in the old carpet slippers, listening to your arteries harden. No sir! A physique such as is the heritage of Mr. Kiernan’s means endless hours of light exercise, self-restraint and many discreet absences from the banquet table. Lionel Strongfort would agree with this premise.

Mr. Kiernan is the sole link to the glory that was Albany’s during the latter part of the 19th century; a period of rowing history which redounded to the credit of this old Dutch city. Rowing in Albany began with the Pioneer club in 1857, the Knickerbocker club in 1858, along with the Hiawathas and the Excelsiors. That was only the beginning.

1860 REGATTA

The first regatta for both amateur and professional oarsmen was held October 11 and 12, 1860, when the name of Piepenbrink and Young of Albany appear in the records. In 1865, the Mutual Boat club joined the newly organized Hudson Amateur Rowing association, and then things began to happen. This aggregation of champions rowed all over the courses in the eastern portion of the United States and won most of their races.

In 1876, at the National regatta held in Philadelphia, the Beverwyck four was defeated by the Atlantas, but during the following week, covered itself with glory and gained world-wide reputation by defeating in the final heat of the International regatta, the London Rowing club four, considered the best crew in England.

Soon we begin to hear of the Gorman brothers, Bulger and Graves who began to clock up some enviable time in the four and six-oared gigs and during the ‘80s and ‘90s, when rowing was one of the major sports of the Albany area. Many regattas were held on Saratoga lake where the Albany crews were often in competition with the college crews, in the pre-Poughkeepsie era. So much for the subject which would fill many volumes.

The picture shown today was taken last Tuesday morning as Mr. Kiernan shoved off from the Albany Yacht club dock for a spin up the river. The weather was propitious and the surface of the river as calm as a swimming pool. The shell which Mr. Kiernan is using in the photograph is built of cedar with oiled paper decks and weighs about 40 pounds. When Mr. Kiernan gingerly steps into dead center, with the oars feathering on the water, he is literally sitting on top of the world.

LAST OF FAMOUS

He is the last member of that group of non-competitive scullers which rowed on the river simply for the beneficial exercise which it affords; a group which included such experts as Al Quentel, Charlie McElroy, Al Keeler and Peter McManus. Of these well known Albanians it might be said that each was a gentleman and a sculler.

Mr. Kiernan is a splendid example of what moderate exercise can accomplish when used with discretion. While contemporaries of Mr. Kiernan are chasing the elusive dollar during the day, this Albany athlete hies himself down to the yacht club, pretty nearly as soon as the ice is out of the river and takes a spin two or three days each week up the river until the chill winds of Autumn admonish him that it is time to put his shell up in moth balls for the winter. He feels, that after the war, a new generation of oarmen will take up the sport, and he is all prepared to do his bit to bring this Albany activity back to the waterway where it flourished for so many years.

There are so many names dropped in a Van Olinda article that it would be impossible to run them all down, but at least one is worth noting. Charlie Piepenbrink (or PIepenbrinck) ran a boat livery at the foot of State Street, which Van Olinda also recalled:

We remember old Piepenbrinck and his barges which he rented out at 25c per hour. They were built for comfort and not for speed. They were the poor man’s nearest approach to the more affluent sport of shell ownership, and one could get a pretty fair workout in one of them. “Piep” had a floating dock down I the Basin. We were a canoe paddler, and often passed by such intrepid outrigger experts as Leo K. Fox and Alex McKenzie, employes of the National Commercial bank when the sign on the front of that institution: “Banking Hours from 10 to 2” really meant what it said.

In another article, in 1962, Van Olinda wrote that the Mohican Canoe Club had its rooms on the second floor of Piepenbrinck’s floating boat livery, which was formerly the bathhouse of Garry Benson’s swimming school, anchored at the foot of State Street before the D and H headquarters was erected. “The Mohican Club, before and after the early ‘90s, was extremely popular with the young bloods of the city. A few of the members who come to mind were Gen. Robert Shaw Oliver, Fred Mix, Billy Wackerhagen, Edward Rodman Perry, Bill Wheeler, “Pepper” Van Heusen, Billy Martin, Matt VanAlstyne and Seth Wheeler.” He said that every summer Saturday afternoon one might see dozens of canoes heading downstream for Staat’s Landing, where they had a clubhouse.

By the way, Lionel Strongfort was a very famous German promoter of “physical culture” and vegetarianism who offered a mail order course in fitness.

 

Rowing on the River

Published by:

Rowers are one of the great sights on the Albany waterfront, and they’ve been part of the scene for a long time, including some prominent citizens. In 1953, the old Times-Union columnist Edgar S. Van Olinda gave us a recounting of how things had changed along the waterfront.

The old saying: “All’s quiet along the Potomac” might be a very good description of the Hudson River, since the Day Line and the People’s Line steamers, plying between New York and Albany have disappeared from the local scene.

Time was when the Albany Basin and Steamboat Square were busy places. The Albany Yacht Club Pier, with many of the Saratoga Spring’s summer millionaires’ palatial yachts moored nearby was one of this city’s most delightful breathing spots during the warm months.

Fathers would take their children down to watch the passing aquatic parade, supplemented by the fascinating locomotives which eased across the bridge, gaining momentum for the journey ahead.

One might see Peter Kiernan, Sr., carrying out his cedar shell for a pull up the river as far as Lagoon Island and back. Peter Kiernan, Sr., is now represented by the second generation of scullers, Peter Kiernan, Jr., who, any of these fine days, may be glimpsed following in the wake of his athletic sire or emulating the example of such former oarsmen as Al Quentel, Al Keeler and Peter J. McManus.

At an earlier date, the scions of the wealthy lumbermen of this city gathered at Garry Benson’s floating swimming pool, later taken over by Charlie Piepenbrink for his boat livery. Mr. Benson afterwards opened up his Turkish bath establishment in State Street, which was aptly named: “The Tub.”

On the bosom of the Hudson were countless fleets of canal boats, bound for Buffalo or New York, loaded with lumber from the North Albany District or coal, hay and grain. Or one might catch a glimpse of members of the Mohican Canoe Club, headed for a rendezvous at Staat’s Island, down the river.

Or members of the old Pequod Club in their flat-bottomed boats with a tarpaulin-covered object in the back, suggesting that the oarsmen had had some sort of communication with Messrs. Quinn and Nolan, George Amsdell, George Hawley, Hedrick Hinkle and Dobler and the rest of the boys who knew their hops and malt proportions.

This particular group reached its zenith on Saturday nights and Sundays where the many social clubs along the west bank of the river made merry over the short weekend, those, that is, who did not attend George Parr’s wonderful clam bakes down at the Abbey.

Yes Sir! Those were the good old days. “All’s quiet” on the Hudson today, giving rise to the question: What does the fellow in the control tower of the Parker F. Dunn Memorial Bridge do with himself all day long? Could be he is an expert on the card game, known as solitaire – or one-handed pinochle.

Today we tend to remember Peter Kiernan Jr. for his affiliation with State Bank of Albany, which became Norstar Bancorp. It was under Kiernan’s leadership that Norstar occupied and renovated Albany’s Union Station, which was renamed Peter D. Kiernan Plaza in his honor in 1989. But before going to the State Bank in 1974, he had managed the Rose & Kiernan insurance agency; Peter Kiernan Sr. had joined the Rose Agency in 1901. Both Kiernans, and Junior’s brother James, were noted rowers. A Van Olinda article from 1943 carries the subtitle “Still Rowing,” and says,

“We met the dean of Albany oarsmen, Peter Kiernan [Sr.], walking down State street Friday morning, with his weather eye cocked to the sky and debating as to the chances for a little trip up the river in his cedar outrigger. Since Al Quentel withdrew his competition, the six-foot Albany insurance man has the waterway all to himself, particularly as there are few oil barges coming down through the Barge canal. Pete doesn’t even have to look backwards to see if any Albany-Troy steamboats are headed his way.” Peter Sr. rowed until he was 80. In 1959, the Kiernan brothers were rowing regularly from Van Wies Point.

The mention of Quinn, Nolan and others is an oddly long nod to several of Albany’s prominent brewers, intimating that the Pequod Club was more of a drinking establishment than a rowing club. In the Knick News, Charlie Mooney informs us that the southern end

“…of the city was very thickly populated by Germans. The U.S. Government had built many dikes which impounded the water behind them into miniature lakes. Perhaps the most popular group of socialites was the Pequod Club was one of a number of young men’s social clubs that existed in Albany’s South End shortly after the turn of the century. It was located at 2 Clinton Street, just around the corner from the old First Police Precinct. A part of what is now Division 2 of the Albany Police Department is on that site [in 1967].”

A 1970 bit by Van Olinda tells us that Pequod Club “families rowed down the river in their homemade boats, their craft filled with nourishing food and the inevitable ‘quarter’ of beer propped up in the bow, refreshments to oil up the palates of the Maennerchor or Entracht singing societies for the proper rendition of the endless verses to ‘Ist das nicht ein garten-haus?’ Monday morning, a fleet of brewery craft, called ‘bum boats,’ would cruise down the river and behind the dykes to pick up the empties which had been rolled down to the dock, returning them for refilling against the following Sunday.”

Van Olinda gave us some more details on Peter Kiernan Sr., and the Hudson River rowing culture, which we’ll share tomorrow.