The Early Docks of Albany

http://www.albanyinstitute.org/details/items/plan-of-the-city-of-albany-about-1770.html

After Robert Yates, a map of Albany including the details showing docks at Columbia Street (far right), Mark Lane (center), Hudson Street, and Hamilton Street.

Hoxsie can rarely be accused of linear thinking. Having covered the life of the Albany basin (which we did here, here and here.) (plus also here), let’s go back to its beginning. Howell’s 1876 “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” incorporates a paper by General S. V. Talcott, “a distinguished citizen, now venerable in years, who has held many posts of duty with advantage to his native city and State, and credit to himself.” His paper gave the story of the “Docks, Wharves, and Basin of Albany, with many historic events and reminiscences of olden times.”

Talcott’s reminiscences start by recalling a visit by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in 1749, who reported that the Hudson River at Albany was from twelve to twenty feet deep, but there then was no quay built for fear it would be swept away in the spring floods. Instead, “the vessels come pretty near the shore and receive their cargoes from two canoes lashed together.” As early as 1727, the Common Council had started discussing building wharves. By the time of the 1770 survey and map shown above, there were four docks used by cargo ships:

“… one above Columbia street, near where Foxenkill empties in the basin, called the Arsenal Wharf; one at the foot of Mark lane (Exchange street) in the shape of a T, called the Middle Wharf, which was enlarged and extended in 1774 to 90 feet in length and 32 feet in width; another at the foot of Hudson street, of the same shape, but somewhat smaller, called the City Hall Wharf; and one at Kilby lane (now Hamilton street), near where the steamboat landing now is, called Kilby’s Wharf, later known as Hodge’s Dock. All four extended to the channel of the river near its western bank. Division street, which came to the river between the last-named wharves, was then called Bone Alley. The original shore line, as represented on this map, was as far west as Dean street, then called Dock street. Subsequent filling brought out the water line to its present [1876] position on the east side of Quay street. At Quackenbush street the west bank of the river was about 380 feet east of Broadway; at Foxenkill about 200 feet; at Exchange street about 70 feet; at State street about 80 feet east of Dean; at Hudson street about 160 feet; and at Division street about 175 feet east of Broadway.”

The Columbia street dock would be the one furthest right in the 1770 map shown above (from the Albany Institute of History and Art), just above a squiggle that represents the Ruttenkill. The Middle Wharf was said to be at the foot of Mark Lane, which is now just a driveway between the Federal Building and the old Post Office, running from Broadway to the SUNY garage – but this map makes it look much more like it was at Maiden Lane. Another T-shaped dock is shown at the foot of Hudson Avenue, just south of State Street, and the final, southernmost dock is the one at Kilby Lane.

Talcott further says that land on the north side of Hudson street extended by filling into the river, almost 200 feet, and the Ruttenkill (“now known as Beaver street sewer,” had originally emptied into the basin at the northeast corner of Hudson and Quay streets, but was then diverted, crossed Hudson Street at a right angle and then emptied into the river 80 feet south of the street.

A ferry was established near the foot of Kilby’s lane (Hamilton street), “probably before 1767,” as Guysbert Marcelis was granted rights to maintain a ferry that year. In April 1783, the stones of Kilby’s dock were appropriated to complete the City Hall Dock and “the next Northern Dock,” but later that year the appropriation was reconsidered, and Talcott doesn’t tell us what happened to the docks. While Kilby’s dock was in operation, Talcott says there was a landing place for bateaux and small boats “not far from the dwelling of the late Judge Jacob L. Lansing, on the corner of Broadway and Quackenbush streets.” It was at this landing that he says that, just before the Battle of Saratoga, residents of the Colonie had a small fleet of bateaux and were ready to flee:

“While engaged in loading their boats as rapidly as possible, a single horseman was seen approaching from the north, gesticulating and furiously whipping his horse as he drew near. Men, women and children rushed out to hear what news he brought from the armies, expecting of course that the enemy was close behind him. He shouted as he came up and passed along: ‘Bergine is taken! Bergine is taken!!’ So astounded and incredulous were the people as they followed him to the City Hall, on the corner of Broadway and Hudson streets, that they cried: ‘Gy liegen! Gy liegen!!’ (You lie! You lie!!) great was their relief and gladness when the news was confirmed by the dispatch brought by the messenger and read by the Mayor to the assembled crowd. The switch which the messenger had used to urge his horse along, he threw away as he passed the corner of North Lansing street and Broadway. It was picked up by Mrs. Teunis G. Visscher, a daughter of Mr. Christopher Lansing, and planted in front of her father’s house, where she resided at that time. The switch grew to be a sturdy elm, long remembered and pointed out as a monument to commemorate the end of the revolution. It passed from youth to manhood and to old age, lost its beauty and strength, and at last yielded up the remnant of its life to the demands of progress, and was removed to make room for the railroad viaduct across Broadway.”

The title to the riverfront was originally vested in the Mayor and Commonalty of the city, leased to private owners, but was later transferred to purchasers. A dock association formed in 1794, which Talcott took as evidence that, in 1794, there was a dock. The association initially included the proprietors of the dock between the center of Maiden Lane and the north side of State Street. “This was probably the first regular dock, extending from street to street, that was constructed, and the Association was probably formed on its completion.” In 1796, the association was expanded to include “proprietors of the quay south of Bone lane [Division street] and north of Kilby lane [Hamilton street]….”

The Dock Association continued through 1873, with Abraham Bloodgood serving as the first “wharfinger” in 1794, followed by Abraham Eights (1795-1819), Edward Brown (1820-41), John L. Hyatt (1841-70); William Eaton (1870-71) and F.A. Shepard (1871-73).

 

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