Category Archives: Albany

Edward C. Delavan, Temperance Advocate

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Edward C Delavan

We talked a little bit about Edward Delavan and his role in developing the temperance hotel that became Albany’s premiere gathering place for 50 years before it burned spectacularly, but his life deserves a little more examination. As noted before, Edward Cornelius Delavan was born in a place called Franklin in 1793. (One biography says Franklin was in Westchester County, of which I find no proof; another says it was Franklin, PA, which is out in the western part of the state.) His father died when he was relatively young and the family moved to Albany. Delavan apprenticed to a printer, Whiting, Backus and Whiting, from 1802 to 1806. They were the publishers of the Albany Centinel until 1806, when for unknown reasons the Centinel ceased publication and was replaced by a paper with the unlikely name of The Republican Crisis. Possibly during this transition, Delavan left and went to Rev. Samuel Blatchford’s school in Lansingburgh for two years (All this according to American National Biography). After that he clerked in his older brother’s wholesale hardware business, rising to partner and then moving to Birmingham, England in 1815 to become the firm’s import agent.

An effusive tribute to Delavan in Winskill’s The Temperance Movement: And Its Workers, Volume 1 wrote that the Delavans were Huguenots who came over with the others who left France for a home in the new world. It said that Delavan came to Albany in 1802, and that “The first book he read, after the New Testament, was the Life of Benjamin Franklin, which led him to choose the trade of a printer, and he entered the office of the Albany Daily Advertiser, which at that time was published by Whiting, Backus, and Whiting. Here he labored for four years.” [Actually, the Advertiser doesn’t appear to have existed at that time, first being published in 1815, but the Centinel did.]

This biography claims that Delavan was the first American (“other than diplomatist”) to land in Liverpool after the declaration of peace in the War of 1812, and that he spent seven years in Birmingham, where he became intimately acquainted with Washington Irving. In 1822 he returned to America, and established a hardware importing business in Hanover Square in New York City. It is mentioned that the Erie Canal’s opening led to extensive trade, but this story doesn’t recount that he made money in real estate as a result of the canal’s opening. “Having been eminently successful in business, Mr. Delavan retired to Albany,” in about 1827, and moved to Ballston in 1833. Was the hardware business then so lucrative that the average dealer could retire by the age of 34? Not quite.

I’m not sure it’s quite forgivable, even given the spirit of the temperance movement, that The Temperance Movement omits just exactly how Edward Delavan got so rich: he imported wine. Lots and lots of wine. But somewhere along the line he had a change of heart about wine, and told that story that his “attention was directed to the temperance question by the example of a drunken servant, who was reformed by signing the pledge, and became a useful citizen . . . [Delavan] found that out of fifty of his early acquaintances no less than forty-four had been utterly ruined by intemperance.” Delavan became a very vocal advocate of temperance. He led the State Temperance Society for several years, paid to launch the American Temperance Union, and bankrolled extensive printed literature on the subject. His efforts led to New York’s brief flirtation with prohibition in 1855.

Delavan presidential declarationEven among temperance advocates, his zeal was extreme, as he fought against wine (even communion wine) at a time when most advocates were only concerned with hard liquor. He famously accused Albany’s brewers of using diseased water, attracting a libel suit; the facts, however, were on his side. He had or made significant connections on a national level; his “Presidential Declaration” regarding ardent spirits was signed by James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. He spent years collecting the signatures. Some of his correspondence with Lincoln is preserved in the Library of Congress, as are the tracts he was permitted to send to the Union troops imploring them to avoid drink.

“Mr. Delavan printed upwards of one thousand millions of pages of temperance literature ­– more than enough to wrap the whole of our earth in paper.” He carried his mission overseas, even meeting with King Louis Philippe of France. He appears to have devoted his entire life to temperance, until he died on Jan. 15, 1871, at the age of 78. “To the surprise of many, he left nothing to the antiliquor movement and gave his property, valued at $800,000 to $1 million, to his family. Liquorless towns in Wisconsin and Illinois were named in his honor.”

The Delavan House Fire

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Delavan House fire 1894 MNY19598

From the Museum of the City of New York, the aftermath of the 1894 Delavan House fire in Albany.

Remember how at the Delavan House “every possible care and attention have been paid to the means of escape in case of fire”? In the last days of 1894, that wasn’t enough. has a summary that was printed in the Fort Wayne, Indiana News, dated Dec. 31, 1894:

Delvan [sic] House Destroyed and Several Lives Lost in the Flames
Woman Leaps from Window and is Fearfully Mangled –
Falling Wall Buries a Fireman –
Many Are Badly Burned and Otherwise Injured –
Greater Part of the Guests Lose All their Clothing.

Albany, N. Y., Dec. 31. — The candidacy of the several men for speaker of the assembly received a startling baptism of fire here last night, for the Delvan [sic] House, that famous hostelry known from Maine to California, the center of all big state political events for 40 years, was completely destroyed. Fire is not an uncommon visitor, but fire such as this has seldom been seen. It was 8:30 and the political headquarters of both Mr. Fish and Mr. Maltby were filled with politicians and newspaper men. State Factory Inspector Connolly, who had been in the lobby with a number of people, started to go up the elevator. He remarked that he smelled smoke and suggested an investigation. Before it could be begun there were cries of fire from different parts of the house simultaneously.
Delavan house fire 1894 MNY20326The outburst of flames before an alarm could be given to arouse the inmates of the rooms was something appalling. Up the elevator shaft there shot a solid column of flames, up the staircase near this perfect sheet, another column. Fortunately the guest list was not very large, and a majority of those registered were politicians and were down on the second floor. There was rush for the stair in the front and the servants’ stairs in the back, where the flames had not yet reached, and in a few minutes there was a tumbling mass of humanity coming down on these few means of egress. Those on the two upper floors could not avail themselves of the exits, for the flames were rushing along the corridors, and people on the street, who had not yet seen the flames, heard a crash of glass and saw figures come tumbling out the windows.

Within 10 minutes after the first note of an alarm, at least 12 persons were dangling on the insufficient rope fire escapes or hanging on to the window sills.

The department arrived quickly, but it took some time to get ladders up, and in the meantime some of the people had dropped to the street. On the right side of the building there appeared at the window, surrounded by smoke, a man and a woman. The man had hold of the woman trying to persuade here to wait for help, but she broke away and sprang out. She struck a balcony and rebounded to the street. The man waited for a ladder and was taken down in safety. The woman was his wife and she will probably die. In ex-Speaker Malby’s room, which was to the rear of the elevator shaft where the fire first appeared, there was the greatest excitement. About 20 politicians were there, including Congressmen Weaver and Curtis, Senator Kilburn and Mr. Maltby. In getting out Mr. Robbins had his face badly burned.
Delavan House Fire 1894 MNY9607In Mr. Fish’s headquarters there was less hurry because they were near the stairs. All got down safely, but the majority left their baggage. E. A. Manchester of Auburn, postmaster of the assembly, ran toward the baggage-room for his grip, returning he found his way blocked with flames and smoke and rushed back to a window. He smashed it out and slid down the rope fire escape.

Although five stories high, there were no outside fire escapes and the only means left for people in the cut off rooms was to use the rope fire escapes. B. F. Heilman of Brooklyn, was in the third story. He opened his room door as soon as he heard the cry of fire. A burst of flame made him look to the window as the means of escape. In an instant he had but two alternatives – a fiery dearth or a jump. He chose the latter and plunged through the window. When he was picked up from the sidewalk he was found to be badly injured. He will die. His wife who was in the room with him tried the fire escape, but it either broke or else she failed to hold to it, for she too came to the pavement heavily. Her right leg was broken, her left ankle dislocated and she was badly burned about the face and head.

In less than 15 minutes after the fire started the entire structure was wrapped in flames. From the windows of the each of its five stories smoke poured in the volumes and a few minutes later the flames belched forth. In 20 minutes the building resembled a seething crater and it was plain to the thousands of spectators who had gathered that it would be entirely destroyed. Edward Walsh, a reporter, was caught in the hall. Before he could get out he was badly burned and had to be taken to the hospital. Of the 100 or more guests at the hotel not one is known to have saved more than the clothes on their person. The Delavan House was 50 years old and was one of the most famous hotels in the country. The total loss is estimated at $500,000, with an insurance of $300,000. A falling wall buried a fireman, but he was taken out and is not thought to be dangerously hurt. One of the incidents of the fire was the escape of Miss Martin of New York. She was in the fourth story window on the Steuben street side when a ladder was raised. A messenger boy rushed up and broke the window, thus freeing her.

The tragedy played out over a number of days, as at first it was not known how many were in the hotel, how many had escaped, and how many perished. In the first days, it apparently wasn’t even clear whose job it was to figure that out – a bit surprising, given that this was a long way from the first big fire in Albany’s history. Nevertheless, on Jan. 2, 1895, the New York Times reported that:

The search for the bodies of servants and perhaps guests – for now inquiries are being made by friends of persons who were supposed to be in Albany on Sunday – who perished in the fire which destroyed the Delavan House Sunday night will begin to-morrow morning by direction of Mayor Wilson.

Under the city charter it is neither the duty of the police nor the Fire Department to recover bodies in a fire. The duties of the police cease when they have called ambulances for the injured, and the Fire Department has no further office than to extinguish the fire. Yesterday only two streams of water were played on the ruins. To-day there were half a dozen. Fire Chief Higgins informed the Mayor that the department had ben too busy since Sunday to pay much attention to the Delavan House ruins. Mayor Wilson and other city authorities held a consultation to-day and decided to proceed with the search for bodies to-morrow, and to afterward determine the question from which fund to take the money . . .

All the injured in the City Hospital including Mr. Heilman [who had jumped from a fourth story window, along with his wife], are expected to recover. Edwin M. Moore, one of the proprietors of the Delavan, is critically ill with pneumonia as the result of exposure during the fire.

The confusion had gotten bad enough that a local contractor offered to excavate the ruins and search for bodies, saying on Jan. 3 that it was a disgrace the city had let such a long time pass without doing anything to recover the bodies. The property owners said they had hired their own contractor and that work to search for bodies would begin on Jan. 4, five days after the fire. It was noted that 400 tons of coal stored in the cellar were still burning.

On Jan. 8, the Times reported that additional bodies had been found, bringing the total to eight, including “Simon Meyer, a coffee man; another is identified by parts of the clothing as that of Agnes Wilson, a chambermaid.” The paper saw fit to report that “Myers” (as he was spelled in another article), the coffee man of the hotel, was a very sound sleeper. The Times report indicated some question of whether the proprietors had done anything to stop the spread of fire, and that a firehose at the site had suffered from very low pressure. Low water pressure was cited as a factor in other fires, including one at Helmes Manufacturing, that occurred around the same time.

On Jan. 19, the Times reported that Benjamin Heillman, of Brooklyn, succumbed to his injuries. “In jumping from the window, Mr. Heillman struck a balcony and received internal injuries. His wife was badly injured and is disfigured for life.” They were on their bridal tour and had only just arrived at the hotel the night of the fire.

The Delavan House fire provided some serious impetus for improvement in firefighting in Albany. In that same Jan. 19 report, the Times said that “the Fire Commissioners to-night voted to station fifty-four paid firemen in the fire engine houses at $60 a month, each to employ a permanent assistant engineer at $1,500 a year, and erect a new fire engine house for an additional steam fire engine in the vicinity of the big hotels. The present department is made up of “call men,” the alarm being given on church bells. The striking apparatus on these bells is often out of order, causing much confusion when an alarm is being rung.”

There were already paid engineers, drivers and so forth, as described back in 1884, but this appears to have been a big step forward in paying the firefighters themselves. The description of the alarm system doesn’t seem quite right, as we know that Albany put a fire alarm telegraph system in place in 1868 precisely to get away from the reliance on bells. It’s entirely possible that the fire alarm system was interrupted by an 1894 fire at the Central Fire Alarm Station in the City Building at South Pearl and Howard.

The Delavan House, founded 50 years earlier by temperance advocate Edward Delavan, was not rebuilt, but several years later the new Union Station began to rise in its place.

The Delavan House

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Delavan House from Empire StateWe haven’t talked enough about the Delavan House, which was one of Albany’s premiere hotels for nearly 50 years. It was founded by Edward Delavan, who was born in 1793 in Westchester County. After his father died, the family moved up to Albany and Delavan apprenticed to a printer, then clerked in his brother’s hardware store before becoming the store’s buyer abroad in Birmingham, England. He ventured into importing wine, speculated in real estate that happened to be along the path of the Erie Canal, and became fabulously wealthy. Back in Albany, he was converted to the temperance movement, renouncing the very thing that had made him rich, helping to found the New York State Temperance Society and even fighting against sacramental wine. His zeal for reform never waned throughout his life, and he employed the latest technology of steam printing to create and direct mail anti-alcohol pamphlets, including sending them directly to troops in the Civil War. It was written that he printed “upward of one thousand millions of pages of temperance literature.”

Delavan HouseIn 1845, he established the Delavan House on Broadway, noted as a temperance hotel (although a number of accounts call into question how strictly temperance was observed in what became one of Albany’s most important gathering places). It took up a good portion of the east side of Broadway between Steuben and Columbia, backing up against Montgomery and very well situated for the railroad trade.

1888’s The Empire State: Its Industries and Trade provided a nice description of the history of the establishment:

Delavan House, T.E. Roessle & Son, Proprietors. – A perfect exponent of the truly American science of hotel keeping is the widely known Delevan [sic] House, Albany, N.Y. In every way the Delavan is a representative hotel, sharing equally with two or three others the reputation of standing at the head of the hotel business in the capital city. In truth it has never been called to compete with other hotels, for since it was opened, it has always had a select, influential and extensive patronage from the best classes of the community. The guests of the Delavan House have the best of accommodations, fare and service; this ably managed and superior hotel renews on its registers year after year the names of numbers of our prominent citizens, senators, assemblymen, tourists, etc., who make it their permanent home when in the city of Albany. The hotel was built by the Delavan estate in 1845, and was opened in 1849 by T. Roessle, who conducted it till 1867, when the Lelands succeeded to the management. In 1882, Messrs. T. Roessle, Son & Co. (grandfather, father and son), became proprietors and continued the business till 1885, when the present firm of T.E. Roessle & Son assumed control. The partners, Messrs. T.E. Roessle and E.O. Roessle, have had great experience, who have made a name and reputation for the Delavan House not only in Albany but throughout the entire country. Mr. T.E. Roessle is also proprietor of the Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George, N.Y., and likewise of the famous Arlington, Washington, D.C. The Delavan is a spacious and substantial five story building, covering the entire block, and contains 400 rooms available for guests. It has latterly been thoroughly renovated. All modern improvements are here, including safety passenger elevator, steam heat, electric lights, annunciators, telegraph office, barber’s shop, billiard rooms, etc. The Delavan is handsomely furnished throughout, while its rooms are the largest and best ventilated in the city. The sanitary arrangements are complete, while every possible care and attention have been paid to the means of escape in case of fire. The culinary department is under the supervision of a distinguished French chef, while everything of the finest quality is to be found in the menu. In fact so complete is everything in the Delavan, that visitors having once stopped here are certain to return when again visiting the city. Mr. E.O. Roessle is one of Albany’s public spirited citizens. He is secretary of the N.Y. Hotel Men’s Association, and is a major on General Parker’s staff, Third Brigade. Guests ever remember with pleasure their delightful stay at the Delavan House, which challenges comparison and criticism with any similar establishment in the United States.

Delavan himself seems not to have been much or long involved in the hotel business, and no wonder, as he was still heavily involved in the temperance movement that brought prohibition to New York for a brief few months starting in 1855. He retired to Schenectady and died there in 1871.

Tomorrow: Those means of escape prove insufficient.

The National University at Albany

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Albany Law School on State Street 1879-1926 albany ny

The Home of Albany Law School from 1879-1926

Yesterday we read the exhortations of Samuel Ruggles, champion of improvement, for the establishment of a National University at Albany. So, what happened with that?

The dream of a national university was as old as the dream of our nation itself.

The idea was first attributed to Samuel Blodget (sometimes Blodgett), who was said to have, in General Washington’s presence in 1775, suggested that the damage done by the militia to the colleges in which they were quartered could be made good:

Well, to make amends for these injuries, I hope after our war we shall erect a noble national university at which the youth of all the world may be proud to receive instructions.

In the establishment of the Federal City, in which Blodget had a hand. Washington clearly intended there be a national university established; although he acknowledged it “may be properly deferred until Congress is comfortably accommodated and the city has so far grown as to be prepared for it, the enterprise must not be forgotten….” A number of members of the Constitutional Convention wanted provision for the university, “in which no preference or distinction should be allowed on account of religion,” to be included in the Constitution. It was omitted, in the end, not because a national university was not desired, but because a number of states felt the provision to be superfluous, and that it was clear the government had the power to create such an institution. (All this detail and vastly more can be found in John W. Hoyt’s “Memorial in Regard to a National University.”) In presidency after presidency, the issue was raised, without action. The issue faded and then, Hoyt says, rose again after 1849, when “something was done toward founding a national university at Albany, New York.”

The subject appears to have been first publicly broached at Albany by Henry J. Raymond, in the State legislature of 1849. Finally, by agreement between leading educators, scholars, scientists, and statesmen, in the year 1851 a preliminary arrangement was made for the organization of a university of the highest type, as the same was then apprehended, and in accordance with the following governing principles:

[1] The concentration of the ablest possible teaching force for each and all the departments of human learning.

[2] The utmost freedom of students to pursue any preferred branch or branches of study.

[3] Support by the State, for a period of two years, of one student from each assembly district, to be chosen by means of open competitive examinations, so conducted by competent examiners as to exclude all considerations but that of real merit; such public support to be had, however, only after at least fifteen departments had been so endowed as to command the best professional talent the country could afford.

The movement awakened so much interest among distinguished educators that conditional engagements are said to have been made with such men as Profs. [Louis] Agassiz, [Benjamin] Peirce, [Arnold] Guyot, [James] Hall, [Ormsby M.] Mitchell, and [James Dwight] Dana.

The result was an act, passed April 17, 1851, incorporating the University of Albany. Forty-eight city residents were named as trustees, empowered to create departments of medicine and law, and others as might be deemed desirable. The law school was organized that month, with Thomas W. Olcott as president of the board of trustees, and the first course of lectures begun in December 1851 by Amos Dean. This, of course, became Albany Law School, which merged into Union University in 1873.

A department of scientific agriculture was established, in which would be lectures on geology, entomology, chemistry and practical agriculture. A course on the connection of science and agriculture was begun in January 1852 by Prof. John F. Norton of Yale College. Prof. James Hall and Dr. Goodly also lectured.

In March 1852 came a further clamor (some of which we read about yesterday) for the establishment of the national university at Albany, with meetings in the Assembly chamber on March 10, 11 and 12 of that year, and much, much speechifying. Out of it all came the Dudley Observatory, which Hoyt described as the third institution inaugurated as part of the proposed national university, though it is less than clear if the agricultural arm was still functioning by the time the observatory sort of opened in 1856. At its inauguration, many spoke of the need to establish a great national university, though by that time none of the speakers seemed to be suggesting that these three-ish institutions in Albany were it, and one went so far as to say that “in order to be national it should be located upon common ground. Under existing circumstances it would be wholly impracticable in New York, or Alabama, or anywhere outside the District of Columbia.” He suggested the states have a role in both governing and paying for the institution.

Eventually, the Dudley Observatory, Albany Law School, and Albany Medical College (which predated the legislative call for such a school) would all become part of the loose federation known as Union University, created in 1873. The State Normal School became the NYS College for Teachers, which in 1962 finally fulfilled the promise of a university in Albany with the creation of the State University of New York at Albany.

Whether the legislation that originally constituted the University of Albany was ever amended or repealed, we have not determined. But it was more real than a national university ever was.

Exists there a more unterrified democrat than a Steam Engine?

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Samuel Bulkley Ruggles

Samuel B. Ruggles, NYS Assemblyman and Canal Commissioner

19th century prose can be tough to get through, and exhortative speeches even more so. But sometimes if you can wade through the effusiveness you can find (perhaps to your dismay) that some things today are very much the same as they were 160 years ago. As an example, we present this impassioned plea of former Assemblyman and Canal Commissioner Samuel B. Ruggles, arguing for the establishment of an institution of higher education in Albany in 1852.

As there never yet was a War that did not end in Peace at last, so the Internal Improvement struggle in this State has found its end, and Peace prevails. In the language of a distinguished personage on another occasion, “the era of good feeling has arrived.” Anti-improvement men have disappeared and cease to exist. We are all improvement men – all determined and desirous, however differing as to the mode or degree, to do all we lawfully can for the physical, and, as I trust it will be found, for the intellectual improvement of the State.

People would put up with a lot in their speechifying back then. They had no DVRs to get home to, no phones to fiddle with. This was it for the evening’s entertainment. He went on:

For, what was the theory in regard to public works? Was it not that they would lessen not only natural but commercial and social inequalities; that they would place the poor by the side of the rich – inferior districts by the side of the superior; the agricultural by the side of the trading communities; and, so far as Nature’s laws would permit, would equalize the condition of all?

Then he compared education to a steam engine. As one does.

The steam engine, concentrating within itself the strength of hundreds of animals and thousands of men, furnishes a single power by which we traverse earth and ocean. It does more. It breaks down and obliterates, not only commercial, but social distinctions; for, does it not place in the same vessel, and seat side by side in the same vehicle, the high and the low – the lofty and the humble – the lender and the borrower – Dives and Lazarus? Does there, can there, exist in nature or art, a truer, an honester, a more unterrified democrat, than a Steam Engine? From the moment Steam entered the world, aristocracy was doomed, and the final enfranchisement of society from artificial distinctions, absolutely and most effectually secured. And what is the whole magnificent series and chain of railways, spreading throughout our land and binding every part in harmony and union, but one vast democratic machine for equalizing the condition of the people?

Which was true as far as it went. Unfortunately, old Ruggles didn’t foresee the gasoline engine, which would get the aristocracy back into their own carriages well away from those pesky borrowers, and consign the low to public transit while the high curse its very existence. But we digress.

But here, just at this very point, we suddenly encounter a school of political philosophers, not very numerous – for God be praised, the race is nearly extinct – whose great delight it is to proclaim aloud that “the world is governed too much” and that government has no right to do more than “protect every man in his life, liberty and property, AND THERE TO STOP.” They, therefore, hold broadly and boldly, not only that it is not wise, but that it is not lawful for a State to educate its people – that it has no right to found public schools, build public works, endow public charities, guard the public health, or in fact to exercise any one of the beneficent functions, which have so much exalted the character and promoted the happiness of our people –but that all these objects, no matter how large or how important – no matter what amount of concentrated means or power they may require – may be safely left to the liberality of individuals.

Oh, well, thank goodness that breed of philosopher is extinct. Ruggles points out that if only to protect property ample and extended education would be necessary. He called that whole doctrine mischievous, cruel and destructive, “the diseased offspring of feeble heads and cankered hearts.” No less true today.

Why could we, the people of this great State of New-York … merely to gratify a dreary and barren political abstraction, depopulate our ten thousand school houses, and all our seats of learning, – turn out into the field and forest our eight hundred thousand children – empty into the streets all our orphans, all our aged, all our helpless – cast forth into outer darkness all our sick, all our insane, and fill our whole land with lamentation and wailing? Would we, could we, in the face of all our swelling commerce, dry up all our noble channels of intercourse, tear up all our railways, root out all our aqueducts, and throw down all the monuments of energy and perseverance, which have made our favored commonwealth the admiration of the civilized world? If it were for a moment possible that a State like ours … could consent to be thus vilely mutilated, thus shorn of all its manhood and all its creative energy – that cold blooded theorists could thus be permitted, like unclean birds, to pick off all its flesh and features, leaving only the naked skeleton of a State behind, – better were it blotted out forever ….

Ruggles was on to something. But what was he on about?

Not being in any sense a man of science myself, and knowing little else than my duty to hold it in the highest respect, it is with unaffected diffidence that I venture to speak on such a subject and in the presence of men like those around me … The question, then, for an intelligent community like ours, willing, at least, to benefit its material condition is this – Shall science, so exalting and yet so useful – so sublime, yet so humble, be monopolized by the learned few who chance to be the first to seize it, or shall it belong to all the people and be distributed in the largest and most liberal measure among all alike? We think they can give but one answer. We think they will claim, as they may lawfully claim, the same inherent, primary, fundamental right to knowledge, which they claim to liberty itself; and will take due care that nothing shall stand in the way of their acquiring this, their greatest treasure.

Ruggles was speaking (we needn’t add, passionately) on behalf of the creation of the University of Albany. This was in 1852. This proposed university was also described as the National University (more on that here). The State Normal School had been established in 1844, but its focus was on the preparation of teachers; it was not an institution of general knowledge as such. Ruggles and others were arguing for something much broader in scope. Unfortunately, the University of Albany came to naught. Albany had another chance when Leland Stanford, born in Watervliet, married to a well-to-do Lathrop, was seeking to create an institution of higher learning in honor of his deceased son. If stories are to be believed, a little touch of greed on the part of the Rural Cemetery Association scotched that deal. It wouldn’t be until 1962 that the NYS College for Teachers, successor to the Normal School, would be transformed into the State University of New York at Albany.

It’s sad that today, the types of voices Ruggles thought to soon be extinct are actually predominant.

Albany from the Riverfront, 1911

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Albany Riverfront at foot of State Street Jan 1 1911

The NYS Archives dates this incredible photo of the Albany riverfront to 1911. The view is from the Albany Yacht Club pier, looking across the footbridge that crossed the basin to the very foot of State Street.

Very notable are the ends of the buildings advertising three of Albany’s local beers, making that important first impression for those arriving by river and seeking refreshment. To the south, above the Hinckel sign, we can also see a painted sign for the Empire Burlesque and Vaudeville, which was up on State Street. There’s also a sign for the Mansion Hotel, $5 per week, $1 a day. J Stephens and Sons Fruit

The building below was the home of J. Stephens & Sons, Wholesale Fruits, “Albany’s Modern Fruit House.”

Stoneman and sons

In the block between State and Hudson, we can see the businesses of Quay Street, back when there were businesses on Quay Street. For that matter, back when people knew Quay Street; today’s it just part of the highway ramp system. We can see a business by the name of Murray’s, Stoneman & Sons ship’s chandlers, and an advertisement for T. Sonnenfeld & Sons, processors of hides, skins, wool, tallow, &c.

We can also see signs for the Hampton Hotel (“fireproof”) and for once-huge grocery suppliers Bacon & Stickney. We can see trolleys turning at State and Broadway. And we can see this dude:

Dude and anchor

It wouldn’t be too long before a whole lot of this changed – many of the buildings in the center would be taken to build Marcus T. Reynolds’s resplendent headquarters of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad beginning in 1912.

For those who can’t quite place this in relation to modern times, State Street took a bit of a bend at Broadway and continued along to the river alongside the federal building. A bridge connected it to the wharf. There was another bridge further north.
Wharfs 1876

The State Education Building Under Construction

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State Education Building construction 1-1-1912

State Education Building under construction, Jan. 1, 1912

From the NYS Archives, a rare view of the iconic State Education Building under construction. The Archives dates this as Jan. 1, 1912, but a number of other photos in the archive carry January 1 dates, so I think it’s a default date rather than an actual one. But if this was taken in 1912, it would still mean the entire colonnade was constructed in the last months before the dedication of the building in October of that year. It’s also notable that there are still buildings, including the old antiques shop, on the east side of Hawk Street, which today is Lafayette Park. That row of buildings stood until about 1928.

A Mastodon Unearthed

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Old Albany NY Cohoes mastodon 1920s NYS Museum

In 1866, the Harmony Company of Cohoes set about building its Mill No. 3, a new cotton factory on the east side of Mohawk Street across from their first building. While the foundation was being excavated, the skeleton of a mastodon was discovered, “an event which awakened great interest here, and caused Cohoes to be for some time quite prominently before the public,” as Arthur Masten put it in his 1877 The History of Cohoes, New York….

At the north end of the building it was found that the layer of rock was thin and rested upon a large bed of peat, with a view to the removal of this, a small section was excavated to a depth of about sixty feet, and in so doing numerous relics of earlier ages were exhumed. The first discoveries, made in the middle of September [1866], were decayed stumps and limbs of trees which lay imbedded in the rich loam; a week later, near the bottom of the bed, the jaw-bone of the mastodon was unearthed.

Masten then quoted from the Sept. 29 issue of the wonderfully named Cohoes Cataract, the long-gone newspaper of the Spindle City:

Assuredly there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy! Those who, during the present generation, have trod the earth of Cohoes have never taken into their wildest imaginings the strange things that were concealed beneath the surface. But the late excavations made by the Harmony Co., have brought to light the fact that a huge mastodon once dwelt where our village now stands, in an age that has been followed by the mightiest convulsions and upheavals. Fifty feet below the surface the jaw of this monster has been found, and has created in our village such a sensation as few events ever excited … The jaw is somewhat decayed and flaky but the teeth are in excellent preservation; the length of each jaw bone is thirty-two inches; the breadth across the jaw at the broadest point twenty inches and the extreme depth about twelve inches. On one side is a single tooth four inches in length and two and a half in width, and on the other two teeth one of which is six and a half inches long, the other four, and each uniform in width and shape with its neighbor opposite. The holes or cavities for the dental nerves are from an inch to an inch and a half in diameter….

More was found over the weeks: the skull, tusk, leg-bones, ribs and “enough other bones of the animal to make the skeleton nearly complete were found, most of them in a pot-hole distant some sixty feet from the one in which the jaw bone was buried,” Masten wrote.

The bones were kept for some time at the office of the Harmony Mills, where they were visited by hundreds of persons, among whom were Profs. [O.C.] Marsh of Yale college, [James] Hall of Albany and a number of other scientific men. They were also placed on exhibition in Troy, at the county fair and in Harmony Hall … Several offers were received by the Harmony Co. from public institutions for the purchase of the remains, and it was thought at one time that they would be sold and the proceeds given to the Union Sunday School. It was finally decided, however, to present them to the state. The legislature voted an appropriation of $2,000 for completing the search for the bones, and mounting the skeleton, and passed a joint resolution tendering thanks to Mr. Wild and the Harmony Co. for their generosity. In the following year the skeleton was placed in position in the State Cabinet of Natural History, at Albany.

The Cohoes Mastodon was first displayed at the State Museum and Geological Hall in 1867. It moved with the museum to the State Education Building in 1915, but when the museum moved once again to the Cultural Education Center at the Empire State Plaza in 1976, the mastodon was removed from public view. It made a triumphant return to the entry hall of the “new” museum in 1998, but it was soon found conditions there weren’t optimal for 11,000-year-old bones, and it was put into a back hall of the museum where it is displayed today. There’s a great time-lapse video of the mastodon being assembled on the State Museum’s mastodon page.

The Erie Canal in Albany and Watervliet, 1834

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1834 Erie Canal Survey Albany lock copy

From the NYS Archives, a detailed survey of the Erie Canal from 1834. These are beautiful maps of ink, wash and charcoal. Click on them to see them in simple but glorious detail. This first one shows the beginning of the Erie Canal, and with the alignment of Lawrence Street we can see now that the lock was almost precisely at the southern end of today’s boat launch. (The historical marker for the canal is significantly closer to the Livingston Avenue Bridge; that and some other diagrams from the time could lead one to think the lock was nearer to Colonie Street. Clearly it wasn’t.) At this point, the canal had been open 11 years, but there is no sign of what would become the lumber district. There are only a few buildings in this part of the city at all, though a number are lined right up against the basin. Up at the corner of Lawrence and North Market (which wasn’t Broadway yet) is the State Arsenal that was built in 1799 and converted to School No. 13 in 1859. The lands above are all part of the Van Rensselaer estate.

Detail of Lock Basin

There is some beautiful detail here, including the positioning of the lock, the location of the weigh lock, and the angle out of the basin into the canal itself. Later the weighlock would be moved up and parallel to the entry to the canal, as shown in this map of the Lumber District.

1834 Erie Canal Watervliet

Further up the canal, the map gets a little confused, at least in terms of what it is mapping. It calls this stretch of Watervliet (the name of the town we now know as Colonie) by the name of “Washington. Formerly Gibbonsville.” But Phillip Schuyler named this area Washington in 1793; it was after it was purchased by James Gibbons that it became known as Gibbonsville. It was Gibbons who sold 12 acres of land to the United States for what was first known as the Arsenal at Gibbonsville. (Also confusingly, the left side of the map is properly read as the top of the right side.) All of this, of course, is now Watervliet the city (not Watervliet the town, which doesn’t exist anymore).

1834 Erie Canal West Troy Green Island

Still more northward, West Troy and Green Island. All the street names have changed. Union Street was just about where Watervliet’s 23rd Street is today and, interestingly, the basin there had a connection to the river. Later that pier in the river ran under the Congress Street Bridge (which connected to Genesee Street) and formed what was called the Lower Basin; above that was the State Basin, which was part of the south branch of the Mohawk River.


A neighborhood gone: The Brewery, 1951

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Schaefer Brewery 06-12-1951

We were originally going to just skip over this aerial of the Schaefer Brewery from 1951 (from the New York State Archives) because Hoxsie is a temperance site and others are far more interested in Albany’s brewing history. But then we zoomed in and, holy cats! is there a lot here. Dead center of the shot, sandwiched between North Ferry on the left and North Lawrence on the right, just a block east of Broadway is the mammoth complex that was once Quinn & Nolan’s Beverwyck Brewery, now better remembered for the short time it spent as the Schaefer Brewery. (It was Beverwyck from 1878 to 1950, and Schaefer for a scant 22 years after that. Seems unjust to remember it as Schaefer.)

Most of the brewery is gone today; a few of the more modern buildings in this shot, beyond the railroad tracks, still stand. But more than that, nearly everything else in this picture is also gone. Incredible.

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