Category Archives: Albany

Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth

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Died Long Ago - A Giffen AlbanyFrom the Schenectady Cabinet in 1855, this odd little advertisement that we suspect was meant to turn a particular phrase but which lost something in a spelling error: “Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth!” In reference to the dyeing and scouring establishment of Mr. A. Giffen at Albany’s old City Mill on Water Street, we have to assumed it was meant that he “dyed” long ago, and then we could all appreciate the pun instead of being somewhat weirded out.

“Mr. Giffen promises that no pains or expense shall be spared in shis endeavors to please, both in regard to colors and finish. Gent’s Coats, Pants and Vests dyed, scoured and pressed in a manner equal to new goods. Ladies’ Silk, Satin, Velvet, Merino, M deLaine and Bombazine dresses, dyed in every variety of shade.” And so on. A few years after this, in 1861, A. Giffen would still be in business, at 80 Beaver Street.

Lest you think he was the only dyer (or scourer) in Albany, please let us inform you of the miracle of steam scouring, and of the former editor of the Scientific American who came to Albany to die. We mean, dye.


The Old Capitol Power House

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For 105 years, the Sheridan Avenue steam plant has provided steam (and, once, electricity) to the Capitol, the State Education Building and, later on, the rest of the Capitol complex. But that’s the “new” plant, hidden down in the hollow. The original powerhouse for the Capitol was right down Hawk Street. It was tucked in among a number of neighborhood buildings, none of which exist today. Some of the neighborhood was replaced by the newfangled State Education Building, and the replacement of the powerhouse came around the time the SED was completed. Across the street, what is now Lafayette Park was once all residences, bisected by the now lost Lafayette Street.

Capitol Power House, Hawk Street

This view (from the Albany…The Way It Was Flickr page) would be about from the Washington Avenue portico of the Capitol, looking across the avenue to the buildings on Hawk Street that no longer exist. To the far right, behind the light pole, is the old power house; its chimney looms large over the row houses to the left. Given that the complex was powered by coal, we can imagine the surroundings were more than a little sooty.

Capitol Powerhouse Adjacent to State Education BuildingLater, the power house co-existed with the new State Education Building, but its days were numbered. Even before the new building was dedicated in 1912, the State had begun planning for a new power plant down in Sheridan Hollow.

Demolition of the old Capitol Power HouseFrom the Albany Public Library comes this image of the demolition of the old power house. We don’t know if something took its place for a few decades before the Education Building Annex was built.

The Barnet Family: Far From Shoddy

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While we were digging around the “Personal Pages” from a 1919 edition of Textile World, our curiosity was piqued by this note on the generosity of William Barnet, perhaps Rensselaer’s leading shoddy manufacturer. (Hoxsie will always find “shoddy manufacturer” funny, but if you don’t know, shoddy was a cheap fabric made of short-fibered reclaimed wool.) The article says that:

William Barnet, president of William Barnet & Sons, shoddy manufacturers of Rensselaer, N.Y., and a prominent resident of Albany, was one of the first to volunteer the use of his automobile to carry the orphans of Albany to and from Maple-Beach Park [successor to Al-Tro Park], where the annual orphans’ field day will be held. Mr. Barnet is a leading member of the Albany Motor Club, which has undertaken to supply transportation for the orphans.

It would appear that trundling orphans off for a day of fun was actually one of Barnet’s lesser good works; his reputation, and that of his company were anything but shoddy. (Sorry.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, the original factory was founded at Broadway and Westerlo St. in 1898, then moved to Rensselaer in 1905. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1915 and later expanded. “The fumes and smoke which are characteristic of shoddy mills will be entirely absent in the new structure, according to Mr. Barnet, Sr. A device has been installed to draw off all obnoxious odors from the shoddies and carry them through a series of tubes to the outside.” A memorial to William Barnet from the Albany Evening News of Dec. 15, 1932, expressed what appeared to be the common opinion of Barnet:

William Barnet was one of the givers. He gave of money and time and service and sympathy. His long life of four score years was not lived for self but for others. His sense of public responsibility was large. He believed in kind words and good deeds. He had lived in Albany since he was 20 years old and he established the business of William Barnet & Son in Rensselaer. Sometimes it seemed as if business was his avocation and service to the public was his vocation. Under supervision of Herbert Hoover he was chairman of the Belgian Relief campaign. He was a trustee of the fund to build the Salvation Army Home and chairman of the Jewish War Relief campaign. In the war he was supervising chairman of draft boards in this section. He was a leader in several fraternal organizations, a world traveler and one of the foremost philanthropists that Albany has known. His life was an inspiration to all. To know him as a friend was a privilege. His example of active high citizenship will never be forgotten. The city mourns one of its rarest men.

Son Henry, who was president of the company for many years, worked on the Community Chest, on the board of the Jewish Community Center, and on the boards of Albany Hospital and Temple Beth Emeth. In 1940, he led a campaign against syphilis. “It seems that while he is in Albany, his idea of relaxation is going to meetings or trying to raise funds for his favorite projects.” The newspapers are filled with mentions of good works by Henry Barnet. In 1936, Barnet plant employees were among the first to receive hospitalization insurance (the terms will make you cry, so we’ll save that for tomorrow). No surprise, as Henry Barnet was instrumental in forming the Blue Cross Associated Hospital Service in the Capital District. He died in 1951, at age 71, extremely well-regarded. (Incidentally, he lived at 123 S. Lake Ave., certainly a handsome home but no mansion.)

A civic-minded family, Henry’s son William Barnet 2d lived his whole life in Albany, retired as chairman of the family business, and was involved In a number of philanthropic activities, including the foundation that bears his name and his wife’s. William Barnet III, an Albany Academy graduate, was President and CEO of the family business from 1976-2000, and has been on the boards of some little organizations like Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Fleet Boston. He was also mayor of Spartanburg, SC for a number of years.

William Barnet & Son went south in the 1960s, like most textile companies, moving its headquarters to South Carolina, and then branched out worldwide. While they make polymers and yarns, Hoxsie is happy to see that they still make short cut and staple fibers from post-industrial and post-consumer waste materials, so it’s entirely possible they’re still a leading shoddy manufacturer. We’d like to think so.

The Barnet mill still stands on Forbes Avenue in Rensselaer, now known as the Hilton Center and clearly visible from the Corning Preserve Boat Launch on the Albany side of the river.

True crime, 1914: Armed robbery, carjacking, murder

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While digging up info on Schenectady’s Hygienic Lunch, we ran across this charming tale of armed robbery, carjacking, and the death of a dentist. Here’s the story from the Schenectady Gazette of August 18, 1914:

Cashier Swears Conway Robbed Electric Lunch

George Volk and Hygienic Lunch Man, However, Say Prisoner Is Not the Man – Arrest Made in Albany by Detectives Van Deusen and Rooney on Warrant Sworn Out by James Stathes, Night Cashier – Conway, Police Say, Bears Excellent Reputation

John Conway, 28 years old, a core-maker, was arrested yesterday afternoon by Detectives Van Deusen and Rooney in Albany, charged with being the party who held up and robbed the cashier of the Electric Lunch in State street early Saturday morning. The two officers, accompanied by James Stathes, the night cashier, who was on duty in the lunch room when the robber secured $134.70 from the cash register at the point of a gun, were on their way to Albany in an endeavor to locate the robber. While on the car Stathes suddenly pointed out Conway, who was on the car [streetcar], as the man who did the job.

Both the officers knew Conway, who bears an excellent reputation and who has roomed in Jay street, near the city hall, for the past three years and were loath to believe the cashier. Conway left the car at Pearl street, Albany, and went into Sauter’s dru store. Van Deusen and Rooney, with Stathes, secured a point of vantage and, after again looking minutely at Conway, Stathes declared he was the man.

Conway was therefore placed under arrest and brought to this city, where a charge of robbery, first degree, was lodged against him, Stathes swearing out a warrant. George Volk, the Gazette pressman, whose automobile the robber used to make his get-away, intimidating Volk with his gun, was sent for and he denied that Conway was the man. The cashier in the Hygienic Lunch, which had also been visited by the robber just prior to his doing the job at the Electric Lunch, was also called and he was positive that Conway was not the man.

Stathes, however, insisted that Conway was the man and swore to the information upon which the warrant was issued. Conway was released under bail bond and will have an examination on August 24 at 2 o’clock.

Another story was rumored about the streets last night to the effect that the man, Charles Thompson, who had such a terrific fight in the dental office of Dr. Myers in Troy late Saturday night, both men falling from the window to the pavement, which fall resulted in the death of Dr. Myers and the serious injury of Thompson, was the man who committed the hold-up in this city early Saturday morning.

Word was received by the local police last night to this effect and an effort will be made today to identify Thompson as the man who robbed the Electric Lunch. Officers with Stathes, Volk and others will visit the Troy Hospital, where Thompson is suffering from a fractured skull, and see if he answers the description of the robber.

If it was Thompson, then he had a hell of a day: robbed two lunch joints at gunpoint, stole a car and drove to Troy, where he got into a fight with a dentist that ended in fatal defenestration. Apparently that’s just what happened, and a little more. The Troy Times of August 14, 1914, told more about the death of the dentist:

Dentist’s Tragic Death – Locked in Desperate Struggle With Supposed Burglar Dr. Charles G. Myers Plunges From Roof to Brick Pavement in Yard forty Feet Below – Dies in Hospital – Intruder Survives But Badly Injured – Conceals His Identity.

Dr. Charles G. Myers, dentist, with offices over The Troy Trust Company, died at the Troy Hospital shortly before midnight Saturday night from injuries received in a fall from the roof in the rear of his office on the upper floor of the building while grappling with an intruder, supposedly a burglar intent on stealing gold leaf from the dental offices. The latter, known only as Charles Thompson, a name he gave, was also taken to the hospital, having sustained injuries to his head, face and left arm which at first were supposed to be fatal, but which the physicians later decided were not necessarily so.

Thompson told police here wasn’t there to steal, but was looking for the bathroom, and was just attacked by Dr. Myers. The police didn’t believe him, and probably believed him less when they found out his name was Raymond J. Sampson, who also went by the name of Edward Farley and had come from Elizabeth, New Jersey. In his murder trial the next year, it came out that he had run into an ex-con acquaintance from Elizabeth who was working as a motion-picture operator up in Cohoes, by the name of William Rixon. They met on the afternoon of the Schenectady robberies.

“I said ‘Hello, Ed,’ and he said ‘Hello, Will, what are you doing here?’ I said I lived there. He said, ‘How’s pickings?’ and I said ‘Pretty poor.’ He said, ‘Show me a prominent man or house, and I will go fifty-fifty with you, and you can go home.’ I had a beer and he took a ginger ale. He showed me a roll of money, and said it was Schenectady money. Then he showed me an automatic gun.”

Not suspicious at all. They didn’t get him on murder, but did send him to prison on manslaughter. The Troy Trust Building, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Third Street, was demolished in 1952, replaced by what was then the Manufacturers’ National Bank. And, as far as we know, Conway continued to enjoy an excellent reputation.


Albany: The Ampersand City

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The derelict ampersand factory, used by Damian Van Rensselaer to vex his non-evil half-brother.

The derelict ampersand factory, used by Damian Van Rensselaer to vex his non-evil half-brother.

Hoxsie has often referred to Albany as “The City Without a Nickname.” Other than “The Capital City,” other nicknames that it may have deserved – “The Piano City,” “The Celluloid City,” “Drainage Basin of the Erie Canal” – never quite stuck. But one of its ephemeral nicknames should have stuck, because without its contributions, the modern age of commerce could never have happened. Albany was once the center of manufacture and home of a progressive movement that freed a powerful symbol for use in commerce, and thus should be known as “The Ampersand City.”

In colonial times, the ampersand was considered a luxury item; no one actually needed them, and those who wanted them were prepared to pay dearly. And so for the first couple of centuries, ampersands were imported items. Ampersands were treated very much like windowpanes, which were enumerated and taxed individually, and only the most successful businesses could afford to proclaim themselves as “Gray & Sons” instead of using the more pedestrian “Gray and Sons.” In addition to paying an annual tax to the locality, ampersand holders paid for each use, and the actual physical item – a big wooden “&” for a factory sign, for example – could cost hundreds of dollars at a time when workers made pennies a day. This lasted well into the 1800s, a growing time of commerce in the United States when all kinds of businesses were proclaiming themselves in ways that would have benefited from the ampersand. Those who held the rights to import them kept a stranglehold on supply, and domestic craftsmen who knew how to make them were virtually non-existent, until a plucky Albany businessman made the ampersand an item of mass production.

Andrew Persé was born to an otherwise unnoticeable Albany family in Sheridan Hollow around 1840. He was early apprenticed as a clerk to Bacon, Stickney & Co., a very prestigious importer of coffee and spices that did such a business it had two stores side by side on Dean Street and another on Exchange. Not only did they have an ampersand in their name, but merchant baron Samuel Bacon held the license for importing ampersands for all of New York and western Massachusetts. Any business, any printer, any signpainter who wished to make use of that single character in place of three, and convey all the prestige that carried, had to make payment to Bacon.

Bacon was a profiteer and influential. A national craze for abbreviation was already under steam when the Civil War came, and the need for brevity in letters to and from the Union soldiers threatened his hegemony over the ampersand symbol as it became possible the owners of these exclusive rights would simply be overrun by popular use. If everyone started using the ampersand, it would be impossible to collect the fees. But Bacon hit on a brilliant and very New York scheme, convincing one of the legislators he owned to get legislation passed that established a tax (which Andrew Persé went off to fight). He was able to get a law through the Legislature that established a postal surcharge for the presumed use of ampersands in correspondence. Nevermind that it was certain that New York’s law would be, and eventually was, found to unconstitutionally intrude on Federal jurisdiction. It stood long enough to make Bacon even more ridiculously wealthy, all based on the legal presumption that each letter-writer would use an ampersand at least once per letter.

Persé, serving in the Army of the Potomac and having worked for Bacon, was particularly galled by this turn of events, and frequently wrote home of his anger, in full longhand without abbreviation as a form of protest to his family. When he got back to Albany, something would be done. He used his spare time thinking about the mechanics, talking to men of practical experience, and working out how to amass the raw materials and machinery needed to modernize ampersand production. He had a vision of turning from the hand-crafted imports (still largely wooden and produced in Holland) to modern, iron-based ampersands crafted with steampower.

It happened that his company lieutenant and fireside chat-mate was Damien Van Rensselaer, evil half-brother of Stephen Van Rensselaer, who had money and a motive, to always serve as a thorn in the side of his half-sibling. DVR saw his opportunity in a stroke of genius: he would bankroll the creation of a modern factory on property he controlled just off the edge of the Lumber District in Albany – but, more importantly, immediately adjacent to the Van Rensselaer Manor.

With the war over, both returned to Albany and began their machinations. Persé hired a pair of Dutch brothers from a long line of ampersand makers to come to Albany, and DVR hired a crew of night masons to throw up a long, low brick factory within the sight line of the family estate. The activity was just far enough from the center of city activities that it wasn’t really noticed until smoke started pouring from its stacks, and it was then too late to be stopped.

Early models from the Persé factory

Early models from the Persé factory

Persé hired a wily salesman who went by the name of “Spats” Gansevoort, who offered the hitherto deprived factories, merchants and associations of Albany unbelievable cut-rate deals on ampersands; if they signed up before production began, they’d cost a tenth of what Bacon charged, and would be warranted to last forever, free of termites and dry rot. Even prosperous companies that already possessed ampersands were interested, and they were all guaranteed their money back if the plant failed to produce.

Flush with capital and orders, Persé’s factory immediately began producing ampersands of all shapes (well, really, just the one shape) and sizes, primarily of iron. Merchants from Troy, Schenectady, and even far-off Amsterdam soon heard of an alternative to Bacon’s extortionate prices, and were wiring orders in to the factory.

Of course, Bacon heard of all this, too, and was livid. He rushed to a local judge to get a cease and desist order, only to find the judge clearly in the pocket of Damian Van Rensselaer and unwilling to help. Racing up the hill to his legislators, he found that even they had become enamored of the idea of not paying for ampersands on the doors of their law practices – and they had some shiny new ones, fresh from what was called the “Andrew Persé And Factory.” Cleverly, Persé didn’t even use the word “ampersand,” just in case his scheme didn’t work and he ended up in hot water. He needn’t have worried.

The ampersand business just exploded. Boardman & Gray Pianos, Van Gasbeeck Carpets, Rugs & Curtains, Cotrell & Leonard clothing, Merten’s & Phalen’s – dozens of businesses started freely using the ampersand at Persé’s low, low prices. Bacon brought action in state court, but faced a platoon of lawyers from ampersanded firms who had taken up Persé’s case. Railroads, such as the Albany and Rensselaer and Kinderhook and Hudson Railroad, saw a real opportunity for savings and brevity, and loaned their considerable weight in the battle against Bacon. Desperate, he tried to cut costs, but importing remained more expensive than local manufacture, and his business collapsed.

But so did Persé’s. As he trained more and more workers to make the character, and machining equipment became standardized, some broke off and started their own ampersand factories on the edge of the Lumber District. The Erie Canal spread their wares to the west and south. For safety reasons, railroads had been barred from carrying ampersands, but a new act of the Legislature lifted that restriction and ampersands were carried on board when the transcontinental railroad opened. So was an itinerant ampersand-maker, who soon captured the business of the west. The profit soon went out of the business, as ampersands became more plentiful than water. When the bottom dropped out, Persé seems to have just disappeared.

The old ampersand factory still sits on the edge of the old Van Rensselaer estate. Damian Van Rensselaer continued to use it to vex his relations for some years, renting it for use by a clown college and, somewhat related, a calliope factory. After his death, it passed through a number of hands, but the faded sign on the railroad-track side of the building remains to this day.

The Albany Eagle Air Furnace

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Albany Eagle Air Furnace 1839From an 1839 edition of the Albany Argus, an advertisement from the Albany Eagle Air Furnace and Machine Shop, where William V. Many (formerly of Corning, Norton & Co.) manufactured just about everything that could be made of iron. We won’t try to replicate their emphatic use of capital letters in telling you that they manufactured to order

Iron castings for gearing mills & factories, of every description. Also, malt mills, mashing machines, steam engines, and railroad castings of every description. The collection of patterns of machinery is not equalled in the United States.

The following articles will be kept constantly for sale at the Furnace, and furnished at short notice, viz: potash kettles, single and double bottoms, from 56 to 140 gallons, cauldrons from 1 to 3 barrels, hatters’ and soap boilers’ kettles, bark mills, paper mill and other screws, press plates, oven mouths and furnace doors, hand-pumps , single and double forcing pumps, wagon, cart and post coach boxes, sash weights, 7, 14, 25, 28 30, 50, 56, and 60 lb. weights, forge hammers, sleigh shoes, stoves, hall scrapers, portable furnaces, hawser irons, mandrills for coppersmiths, bookbinders’ and notarial or seal presses.

There was also a extensive assortment of plough patterns “embracing almost every kind in use, and the company offered pig iron, fire brick, coal, amboy sand and clay to “country founders.”

Orders could be addressed to Mr. Many at No. 84 Beaver street, Albany, “or to the care of Messrs. Erastus Corning & Co.”

Albany Eagle Air FurnaceIn this advertisement, it wasn’t mentioned that the Eagle Air Furnace was also known as a temperance furnace. “Not a drop of strong drink of any description is furnished to the men or permitted to be used in the furnace, and but few of the men are in the habit of drinking at all out of the furnace, and these few but very little.” We’ve written about the Eagle Air Furnace before. The Corning connection is interesting, but Erastus Corning appears to have been no more than an agent for William Many. According to Irene Neu’s “Erastus Corning: Merchant and Financier, 1794-1872,” Corning had been employed by the previous owner of the foundry, John Spencer, as early as 1814, and he bought a partnership in Spencer’s company in 1816. Then the firm Corning and Norton was sole owner by 1825, but it was apparently not successful and he sold it to William V. Many, a Corning and Norton employee, and Robert E. Ward, but remained a merchandising agent for the firm.

A Cure for What Ails Strangers and Seamen

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An odd little item from the Albany Argus of July 17, 1832 stood out to us:

Albany Argus July 17 1832 Dr. Cooke Albany Lock HospitalAlbany Lock Dispensary, No. 2 Green, two doors from State street, and No. 2 Store lane, two doors from Green street. Exclusively devoted to the treatment and prevention of a certain class of diseases. DR. COOKE continues to be consulted as usual, at his offices, in all delicate diseases arising from an impure state of the blood, and undertakes to cure positively and effectually, without confinement or hindrance from business, a certain disease, which alone engages his whole attention, in all its stages, on moderate terms. Recent cases he removes in a few days, without the aid of mercury.

Mercury was a common treatment for syphilis – but then again, it was a common treatment for everything. The name “Lock Dispensary” is oddly specific but apparently associated with the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (previously widely known as venereal diseases) – such an institution was established in London in the early part of the 19th century, and more in Britain and Ireland.  There was also a New York Lock Dispensary in New York City, which was also apparently devoted to a certain class of diseases. Yes, again, venereal diseases. In 1844, Dr. George Cooke was listed as associated with a Lock Hospital, and Dr. Lacroix with the Lock Dispensary.

Strangers are respectfully apprised that Dr. C. has had thirteen years’ continued experience in this line of his profession, was educated in London, for many years actively employed in H.B.M. foreign medical service, in extensive hospitals, and latterly in connexion with the New-York Lock, and Dr. Evans’ Old Galen’s Head Dispensaries, establishments of celebrity and repute, where his skill was vastly distinguished, inasmuch as to suppress the most obstinate, malignant and doubtful venereal cases, solely with the aid of pure vegetable physical powers, which afford the most certain, expeditious and favourable results ever yet placed at the disposal or in the hands of man, for the effectual prevention and removal of this loathsome class of diseases . . . none need despair of a complete recovery and sound constitution, by applying at his Dispensary, where a medicine is also prepared which will prevent the formation of venereal disease in any shape or form, if used within twenty-four hours, according to direction. Separate offices provided, so that invalids can not be exposed to each other’s observations . . . No dieting required in ordinary cases, and the most honourable secrecy at all times strictly observed.

Dr. Cooke offered his services in “personal attendance” from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. daily, at No. 2 Store Lane. (Store Lane was once known as Nail Street and Church Street, and later became called Norton Street, running east from South Pearl to Green St. In an 1839 notice in the Argus, Dr. Cooke, boasting of the degrees of M.D., D.D., and LL.D., posted:

The unfortunate are respectfully informed that the Albany Lock Hospital, established and modeled after the much celebrated European Lock Hospitals, has many years since been founded at Head Quarters, No. 3 Norton street, Albany, N.Y. To those unacquainted with this institution, it is necessary to mention that it has for its object the cure of all such diseases as syphilis, scrofula, strictures, diseases of the urethra, lumbago, flour albus [sic], impotency, diseases of the womb, seminal weakness of both sexes, nodes, caries of the bones, gonorrhea, gleets, with all venereal complaints in general, etc.

He promised the “most perfect secrecy may be depended on,” and that each patient would be received in a separate apartment, and at no time, unless at the request of the patient, would a third party be permitted to be present.

Perhaps because Albany was very much a port city, Dr. Cooke wasn’t the only one providing such services. In that same issue, V.B. Lockrow, M.D., with offices as 56 Beaver Street, 2 doors above Pearl Street, advertised “No Cure, No Pay!” at his Old Galen’s Lock Dispensary.

Dr. LOCKROW may be confidentially consulted, and particularly upon those diseases of the human frame of a private nature, viz: Syphilis, Gonnorrhea, Glets, Lues Venerea, Impotency, Seminal Weakness, with all the Venereal Complaints in general, etc. etc.

Dr. L., we were assured, has been “regularly educated to the medical profession, and graduated at one of the first Colleges in the United States.” That it should remain nameless is interesting. Nevertheless, he also offered private rooms for his patients and said that post paid communications stating their case and enclosing a reasonable fee for advice and medicine would be met with prompt attention. In addition, he had something Dr. Cooke didn’t have: Old Galen’s Box.

Old Galen’s Box is a neat small portable box, that can be carried in the pocket, containing medicine, and printed directions minutely detailing the symptoms and treatment of gonorrhea, in so plain and simple a manner that no mistake can occur. To strangers and seamen it is of the greatest importance, as they can pursue their journey and continue in their respective avocations, and in the mean time be their own physician, and thus avoid exposure and supercede the necessity of any surgical advice, farther than may be obtained from the concise and brief description of the disease, and its cure contained in the directions The above Box can be sent to any part of the Union, and the medicine contained in it may be relied on, as a positive cure.

[Galen was the most celebrated physician of the Roman Empire; he had no particular connection to STD treatment, but at the time his name was connected to all manner of things medical.]

Paula Lemire’s “Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves” Facebook page had this to say about old Dr. Cooke who, like all good Albanians, lies in eternal repose in the Albany Rural Cemetery:

Born in England on February, 8, 1787, George Cooke came to New York in 1830 and relocated to Albany not long after. He variously identified himself as a lawyer, a doctor, a professor, and (as stated on his headstone), a general.

A purveyor of medical elixirs of his own formulation (such as a “Pectoral Essence of Boneset For Coughs, Colds, Etc.”), he was quite a self-promoter, placing scores of ads, articles, and letters in the local newspapers over the course of his career. The walls of his office at 3 Norton Street were, according to the Albany Evening Times, covered with “degrees and diplomas without number.”

As Albany’s oldest consulting physician, he was quite successful; he was able to leave a generous bequest to purchase 1,000 books for the library of the Albany Young Men’s Association and commissioned a marble medallion of himself by Erastus Dow Palmer to be placed in the Association’s rooms.

Cooke died on January 12, 1873 at the age of 84. His obituary in the Albany Evening Times referred to him as “an old and eccentric citizen” of the city who “rapidly acquiring wealth and possessing himself of a fine wardrobe…was seen everyday walking on Broadway attired in knee britches, silk stockings, shoes with gold buckles, his hair white and flowing, the observed of all observers.”

General George Cooke was buried in Lot 241, Section 95 on the North Ridge of the Rural Cemetery five on May 19, 1873. His interment record notes, “Monument on lot has sculpted likeness resembling Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

And thanks to Paul Nance for providing this synopsis of the Oxford English Dictionary’s etymology of a lock hospital:

Lock, in the sense of a hospital, dates from the 14th century, when it referred to an isolation hospital in Southwark, constructed to keep lepers out of the city. The meaning extended to wards for the treatment of venereal diseases in the 18th century.

Improper Diversions, 1800

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Another of the notable laws of Albany in 1800: A law to suppress improper diversions in the streets and lanes. It was ordained

That if any person or persons shall at any time or times hereafter make any noise or disturbance in any of the streets or lanes of the said city, or promote the same, or shall play, act or perform, or shall assist in the performance of any game or improper diversion, to the annoyance of passengers or otherwise, or shall obstruct and interrupt, by assembling in crouds [sic] or circles, for any of the purposes aforesaid, in any of the streets or lanes, each and every person so offending, shall in such case and for every offence forfeit and pay thirty-seven cents and five mills;

Improper DiversionsIf the offender was not above 21 and failed to pay, the parent, master or mistress was to pay the same. If the offender was above 21, and “has not goods or chattels whereof to levy the said forfeitures with costs,” a warrant for his arrest would be issued and he was to be “committed to the common gaol [sic: archaic spelling of “jail”] there to remain for the space of two hours, unless the said forfeitures with costs shall be paid or surrendered, or both as the case may be.”

The law leaves it unclear just what constituted an improper diversion. Gambling? Dice games? Street-corner magic acts? Not a clue, but since they didn’t feel the need to spell it out, we can assume that it was pretty well known what they meant, and that you’d better just knock it off or face two hours in gaol.


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Wharves and WharfageAgain mining the laws of Albany from 1800. Are they interesting, or is Hoxsie just overwhelmed with other work? Doesn’t matter: here we go, with the law for regulating the manner of using the wharves and fixing the rates of wharfage.

Each year, specifically on the second Monday of March, the owners and proprietors of the docks and wharves in Albany were to appoint “some suitable person to be their Dock-master.” It was the job of the dock-master to collect fees from “any vessel, craft, boat or flat, (canoes, two handed batteauxs and three handed batteauxs excepted) which shall come to lie at or within any of the said docks, wharves or slips…” Such fees could be paid by the season or by the day. The seasonal rate was $1.06 for every vessel five tons and under, and 20 additional cents for every ton of “burthen” thereafter. The daily rate was two cents per ton per day for any boat 20 tons or under. Boats between 20 and 40 tons were charged a cent and a half per ton per day. Boats above 40 tons got the discounted rate of one cent and a quarter per ton per day.

No vessel, craft, boat or flat was to lie within the dock, wharf or slip “longer than shall be necessary for the convenient lading or unlading the same.” If your vessel, etc., prevented any other vessel from coming in or going out, you were obliged to pay for every tide that such other vessel was prevented from coming or going, at $2.50 per tide.

Cast or deposit on any of the docks, wharves or slips any ballast, lumber, stone, filth, dirt, or any other thing, and not remove it within the required time, and you would forfeit the sum of $1.25.

You couldn’t just avoid the wharfage fees by anchoring in the river either, though you could get a discount. Any vessel lying at anchor in Hudson’s river “from or to which vessel, craft, boat or flat, any goods or merchandize shall be landed or embarked, on or from any such dock, wharf or slip, shall be liable to pay half the rate of wharfage for every day in which such dock, wharf or slip shall be used for the purpose aforesaid.” Perhaps that was just a way to deal with overcrowded docks.

By the way, “wharfage” is totally a word.

Time to Build the Highway, Citizen

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Repair Public HighwaysRemember how residents of the city of Albany in 1800 were required to pave not only their sidewalks, but half their streets? That’s nothing compared to their obligations with regard to the city’s highways.

The laws of 1800 don’t make it clear exactly what was considered a public highway – it was likely at least the King’s Highway (think of Washington Ave. heading west), and possibly the extensions of Broadway north and south. But they do make it clear that most people in the city were responsible for working on the roads.

There was a complicated formula. The Mayor, aldermen and council were commissioners of the highways, and they were charged with forming a list of “all freeholders, housekeepers and other persons exercising any trade, business or labor for themselves or on their own account, or receiving wages for such labor, (Ministers of the gospel excepted).” They were to take an assessment of 1200 days of work for the highways, and “shall affix to the name of each respective person mentioned in such list, the number of days which each person shall be liable to work on the roads, for the said twelve hundred days during the continuance of this law, and the same assess in proportion to the estate and ability of each person.” No one was to be rated at more than twenty days.

The list was to be delivered to the chamberlain, who was, within three days of receiving it, to cause public advertisements to be put up in at least two places in each ward, announcing when and where he would be in attendance to receive payments.

Oh, did you think everyone was actually going to be required to work? Not quite. Anyone on the list could pay two shillings (within the time prescribed in the advertisements) would be exempted from working on the roads, and the moneys received were to be applied to repairing and improving the public highways by contracts or otherwise. The chamberlain, by the way, got 2.5% for his troubles.

So, once it was determined who had paid their way out of work, the list was sent on to overseers appointed by the commission.

“Such overseer or overseers of the highways shall from time to time warn such and so many persons, not less than thirty, whose names shall be contained in such list to be delivered to such overseer or overseers by the said chamberlain as may be necessary from time to time to make and repair such roads or parts of roads as the said Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty shall . . . designate and for that purpose direct, and shall employ such persons as shall from time to time appear to work in consequence of such warning, until each person so rated . . . shall have worked the whole number of days at which he or she shall have been so rated as aforesaid; and that the said overseer or overseers shall from day to day (Sundays excepted) continue to employ, weather permitting, so many of the said persons as shall be necessary to work on such road, until the whole shall be completed, or until all the persons so rated shall have worked out the number of days at which they shall be so rated as last aforesaid, in the manner herein after mentioned.”

In fairness, you could send someone in your place – “some able bodied man to be by him or her employed for the said purpose.” Failing to appear (or send an able bodied man), ready to work and with such proper tools as the overseer shall have directed, would cost 62 cents and five mills. You should also have expected to work at least an eight hour day.

In addition to having to show up, you could also be required to provide a wagon and two horses with an able-bodied man, or a cart and a horse with an able-bodied man, to be used to move materials needed to repair the highways; providing a wagon with two horses and a man reduced your assessment by four days, and providing a cart, horse and man reduced it by three days. If you had a wagon or cart and a “horse proper for drawing the same” and refused to furnish them, you would forfeit 75 cents.

We don’t know how long this arrangement existed, but it wasn’t unusual, as we have seen similar arrangements in other towns.