Category Archives: Albany

The Municipal Telegraph and Stock Company.

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The Municipal Telegraph and Stock Company, 1898. Telegraphs and stocks might make some sense together . . . after all, the early stock tickers were essentially telegraph devices. That this company also dealt in grain and provisions seems a bit odd. Just a few years after this, in 1903, the company would be involved in a case before the State Court of Appeals that makes the nature of its business no clearer, and involves the kinds of exchanges that must make judges just want to beat the witnesses:

Q: Where was 47 James Street at that time?
A: You are asking me something I don’t know much about.
Q: Are there two companies?
A: Yes, the Municipal Telegraph and Stock Company is our company.
Q: What is the other?
A: The Municipal Telegraph Company.

And so it goes.

An exuberance of rodents!

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Beaver lunch

Beaver lunch (Photo credit: carljohnson)

Again, Joel Munsell writing in 1876, this time of the creek known as the Rutten kill (as we’d spell kill today), which ran freely through what is now downtown Albany:

“Going back again a hundred years before the times mentioned as having tried men’s souls, we find ourselves in the neighborhood of the Dutch church. The portion of Handelaer street below State was not yet known as Court street, nor the upper portion as Market street [and therefore, none of it was yet Broadway, as it all is today]. Between State and Beaver was what was called the Great bridge, over the Rutten kil. The Rutten kil had its origin in copious springs on the upper side of Lark street, and as if out of the pond that once stood there, I perceive has arisen the spire of an imposing church edifice. Timbers of great length were sometimes ordered by the common council to span this creek in making repairs to the bridge. It was undoubtedly then a formidable stream, which had been populous with beaver and stocked with fish; no merely a sewer, with an exuberance of rodents!”

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Green(e) Street

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It’s a shame that one of Albany’s oldest streets, Green Street, is barely known today. Other than the LaSerre restaurant, it is primarily a street of parking lots. It wasn’t always so. In fact, it was on Green Street, in the home of Gov. John Tayler, that Alexander Hamilton uttered words that gave rise to his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.

Joel Munsell gave Green Street a thorough going-over in 1876:

John Tayler

John Tayler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As I am now speaking of matters pertaining to the present century, I may, with propriety, mention that Gov. John Tayler lived on the corner of Green street, and that after his death his house was removed and a portion of the lot taken to widen that street, about 1832. Gov. Tayler died in 1829, aged nearly 87. He had filled a large space in the political history of the state, and was the first president of the State Bank, where his portrait may now be seen.

“Green street was early spoken of as the Vodden markt, that is, the Rag market, and later as Cheapside. It was finally named Greene street, in compliment to Gen. Greene of the revolution, and raising a point in orthography it should on that account be written with a final ‘e’. Some of you will remember when it was a narrow street, merely enough to allow the passage of a single vehicle; and the city then being thronged with stage coaches — for at that period travelers were taken to every point of the compass by stage, and there being then three famous taverns, before they came to be called hotels, and Bement’s recess there also — it was often so blocked that passage could be made but one way, and that was usually to the south.

“There was the old Stone tavern, kept by James Colvin, and on the corner of Beaver was Dunn’s coffee house, while on the upper corner of Green and Beaver was the City tavern, kept by Peter Germond, and previously by Hugh Denniston, known in colonial times as the King’s Arms. The ancient sign of this house bore the effigy of King George, and one of the early outbursts of patriotism in the revolution spent its fury in wresting that obnoxious emblem of royalty from its hangings, and it was burnt in State street.

“The mansion of Gov. Tayler, on the lower corner of State and Greene streets, is still dimly remembered, a broad two story house with a hipped roof, the front door divided in the centre into an upper and a lower door, like most of the old doors, the stoop provided with a bench on each side of the door, where he often sat in pensive contemplation after the manner of early times.

“On the opposite corner of Green street, is still standing the store of the renowned William James, the merchant prince of the time, but less imposing in appearance now than when surrounded by one and a half story gable enders, and when five-story edifices were unknown. Mr. James died in 1832. His conspicuous position among the merchants of Albany, and his almost unparalleled prosperity in those days of lesser things, can hardly be appreciated by the younger portion of merchants.”

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Staats House

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Joel Munsell in his “Men And Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago” (1876) described the now-long-gone historic house at the corner of South Pearl and State:

“What is now South Pearl street was only a narrow irregular lane leading to the Lutheran church and its burial ground adjoining on the south, bounded by the open Rutten kil, and all below, beyond the stockades, was called the plain. A gate swung across this lane at State street, and the house that stood on the lower corner is represented to have been elaborately finished compared with most of the houses of the time, being wainscotted and ornamented with tiles and carvings . . . Before Pearl street was opened to its present width, the corner house, removed for that purpose, was long known as Lewis’s tavern. In one of these twin houses Madame Schuyler, the American Lady of Mrs. Grant, resided, during the time her house at the Flats was being rebuilt, and in one of them Gen. Philip Schuyler of the revolution is said to have been born. The committee of safety held its sessions here also. The street was for many years known as Washington street.

“The house now remaining on that corner is regarded as the oldest edifice in the city. There formerly ran across the front of these two houses, under the eaves, in iron letters, the words Anno Domini; and below, over the first story, the figures, also in iron, 1667. When the upper house was taken away, the word ANNO was left on the house still standing, and remains there now conspicuously; and I well remember when the figures were there also; but the owner, who was proud of them for a time, conceived the notion that the great age of his house tended to depreciate its value, and removed them.”

On the site today? There wasn’t that much glass in the colony in 1695.

Albany, 1695

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One last map because it’s too great to resist. From Joel Munsell’s “Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago,” this magnificent diagram depicts Albany in 1695. The original was made by Rev. John Miller, chaplain of the English grenadiers. At the top of the map (which is the westernmost point – maps of Albany have long defied the customary north-at-the-top orientation) is Fort Frederick, at the top of what is now State Street, below the modern Capitol. The circles marked ’10’ are stockades, made from broad logs generally 13′ high; ‘7’ marks the blockhouses and ’11’ marks the “City gates 6 in all.”

The streets are familiar to anyone who knows downtown Albany. Pearl Street’s name is unchanged; Jonkers is now State, and Handlers, the mercantile center, became Broadway. Gone from the center of the intersection is the original Dutch church; Akum Norder gives a delightful account of how it was replaced on the same spot without disrupting services.

By 1695 there was a Lutheran Church (number ‘3’), somewhat tucked away from the main street. Its burial place was right beside it, whereas the Dutch burial ground was at the edge of the city.

The “Stadhuis, or City Hall,” was down at the end of Handlers Street, along what is now the Plaza in front of the SUNY Administration Building.

Down at the river’s edge, Number 9, a “Great gun to clear a gulley.” Presumably this gun had a command of the river.

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The Lumber District, then and now

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Another view of Albany’s Lumber District, once one of the busiest in the world, to show what was there in 1895 and what is there today. At the time, the combination of Erie Canal and rail access made this an extremely important lumber handling center, and of course many other industries were settled in this little area as well. Today, some of the streets are the same, but all evidence of the canal and all its wharfs is gone, as is Patroon Lower Island, no longer an island and only remembered because the bridge that carries I-90 above it is called the Patroon Island Bridge. Click to see it larger.

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Albany’s Lumber District, 1857

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Lots of Albany streets look pretty much look the same as they have for centuries. Not the Lumber District. A time traveling lumber worker from 1857, when this map was made, would be amazed to find the streets, canals, quays, and warehouses all gone, with hardly a sign remaining of their ever having been there. The Albany Basin, seen in the lower left, is completely filled in. The Canal Basin, as well. Other than a historic marker, there’s no evidence that the most important water highway in our country’s history, the Erie Canal, was ever even there. Coming from a time when thousands were employed here, he’d be stunned to find the streets streets with names he’d recognize to be largely empty. There are still freight trains running up what is marked as the “Canada Rail Road.” Montgomery Street is broken up and stubbed; Quay Street (closest to the river on the left) remains primarily as a highway access road, and the rest of it is underneath Interstate 787. The waterfront, from the boat launch to the east of Ferry Street downriver to the Corning Preserve, is now recreational, rather than the booming, working waterfront it was back then.

Map Week: Albany Rural Cemetery

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From another 1891 Watson map, the Albany Rural Cemetery. I had no real idea that the lakes had names, though I’m sure it’s featured in all the books. Note that there was no road to the south gate at the time.

Nice to see the estate of Louis Menand, a remarkable character you really should learn more about. In fact, read his entire autobiography.

Below Menand’s place, the fairgrounds of what I presume to be the New York and New England Agricultural and Industrial Society. Or it could be something else.

If you have even the slightest interest in Albany Rural Cemetery, Albany, cemeteries, or anything that happened before you were alive, you have to subscribe to Paula Lemire’s wonderful “Albany Rural Cemetery” blog. And her wonderful “Albany Church Grounds” blog. Seriously.

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C.M. Hawley Book & Job Printers

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The “C.M.” in C.M. Hawley, successor to Taylor & Hawley Book & Job Printers, was “Clara M.”

Parker’s “Landmarks of Albany County” in 1897 said, “Among the numerous printing establishments in Albany it would be hard to find one where prompt service and fair dealing more abound than in that owned by Mrs. C.M. Hawley. This business was originally established in 1871 by L.H. Burdick, for general job and newspaper printing, at No. 51 North Pearl street. Mr. Burdick continued to own and manage the business until 1878, when, having taken James Taylor into partnership, the firm became Burdick & Taylor. The plant was subsequently moved to Martin Hall and later to No. 481 Broadway, where the business was continued until 1893.

“In November, 1890, the partnership was dissolved and Lewis J. Roberts came into the firm, making the firm Taylor & Roberts. Mr. Roberts died after thirteen months, but the firm name continued until 1893, when Charles H. Hawley succeeded to the Roberts interest. Mr. Hawley died in November, 1893, and the interest since has been carried on by Mr. Hawley’s widow, Mrs. Clara M. Hawley. January 21, 1897, Mrs. Hawley bought Mr. Taylor’s interest and has since then been sole owner of the plant, at Nos. 36-38 Beaver street, and secured the services of L.H. Burdick to manage the business for her. Mr. Burdick, being the founder of the business, is of course a most valuable man and will build up the concern to hold its own as among the first of its kind in the city. Mr. Burdick also represents the Pennsylvania Mutual Life Insurance company and for eight years has been secretary of the West End Savings and Loan Association. He is very popular in social and fraternal circles, and is a Knight Templar, Mason, a past grand in the I.O.O.F., and an encampment member.”

Beaver street in the vicinity of Broadway was once a hotbed of printing and publishing activity. Today, sadly, it is primarily a hotbed of parking lots.