Category Archives: Albany

Albany Grease

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Albany Grease Logo.png“The history of Adam Cook’s Sons is the story of the growth of Albany Grease and the tale of Albany Grease is the record of grease lubrication from its infancy up to today.” At least, that was the opinion of an enthusiastic promoter who regularly secured articles extolling the virtues of Albany Grease in the trade papers of the early 20th century, when Albany Grease had already been around for 50 years.

The problem of lubrication in the machine age wasn’t a simple one. Animal greases of the past didn’t do the job, and petroleum lubricants proved too slick and wasteful. As an article in American Marine Engineer put it in 1918, “In fact, so inefficient were the various methods for using oil as a lubricant that the crying need of machine builders was for some device to give effective, efficient and economical lubrication.

“The stumbling block in the oil lubrication problem was the exceedingly great amount of waste attendant with it. The trouble was then, as is the trouble today, nothing more than the inability of keeping a liquid in some sort of a container or vessel so that it would not run off or leak out until it had accomplished its object and until every lubricating atom of it was consumed in service.”

So in stepped Adam Cook, who appears to have been a German immigrant living in Albany. Despite numerous articles praising his genius, just what his amazing breakthrough was is not revealed. Nevertheless, Cook invented a product called Albany Lubricating Compound, which soon came to be known as Albany Grease, and it was widely used throughout industry.

It was only Albany-made for a short time, however. Beginning at a small factory in the city in 1868, within four years demand was so great that a major expansion was called for, and a new location, presumably closer to his customers, was chosen, and a new plant was established at 231 West Street in New York City. There, the business continued to grow and to move to bigger factories, but the name Albany Grease continued.

(If you Google it today, you will find Albany Grease being manufactured by a Chinese firm; whether it has any relation in manufacture to the original, I have no idea.)

The Livingston Avenue Bridge

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This article originally appeared at All Over Albany; somehow I never posted it here at Hoxsie.

The Livingston Avenue Bridge, the graceful and anachronistic swing bridge that carries trains across the Hudson River at Albany and still swings open to let larger ships reach Troy, has been part of the landscape longer than anyone now alive. It is often cited as dating to the Civil War.

Like many local legends, that’s partly almost true.

The earliest bridge across the Hudson was completed in 1804, at Waterford, by Theodore Burr, who also built the first bridge across the Mohawk at Schenectady. Despite being a wooden bridge, span at Waterford remained in service for more than 90 years.

Waterford was, as its name indicates, a good place to cross the river, but the bridge was too far from the population centers of Albany and Troy to satisfy their needs, and soon there arose a call for a bridge across the Hudson at Albany. Legislation was introduced to provide for its construction in 1814, but the booming city of Troy objected vociferously, believing that a bridge at Albany would obstruct navigation to what was still to become the Collar City.

The issue was taken up again and again over the years, and Troy found allies in the growing ferry business. As railroads grew up on both sides of the river, ferrying became big business, and the ferry operators had no desire to be put out of business by a bridge. But industry was booming in both cities, and the need to connect the shores by rail became ever more evident.

After decades of arguing, the Hudson River Bridge Company was finally incorporated in 1856 for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a railroad bridge from Albany to the opposite shore. The bridge was to be set at least 25 feet above the common tide, “so as to allow under it the free passage of canal-boats and barges without masts, with a draw of sufficient width to admit the free passage of the largest vessels navigating the river.” (The “draw” is the bridge section that moves.)

Daniel Edgar SicklesBridge opponents did not give up once the bill was passed. A lawsuit seeking to restrain the company reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And as late as March 8, 1864, a legislative amendment proposing to reduce the width of the draw was taken up in the state Senate, the subject of a speech by long time opponent Major General Daniel E. Sickles. (Sickles served in the state Senate before going to Congress, where he shot Francis Scott Key’s son over a love triangle and invented, with his attorney Edwin Stanton, the temporary insanity defense. That’s him on the right.)

The bridge was finally built and opened on February 22, 1866. It had no particular name (and no need for one, being the only bridge). It spanned 1953 feet, with a draw 257 feet wide — and cost $750,000, a nifty 50 percent overrun from its allocation of a decade earlier. With this connection in place, all passenger trains — the Hudson River, Harlem and Boston lines — departed from the New York Central depot at the foot of Steuben Street.

original livingston ave bridge in harpers weekly

Apparently the bridge caused some offense, as an act passed in 1868 directed the bridge company to build a new bridge and to demolish the previous bridge as soon as possible. If it did not do so, Albany or Troy had the right to do so and bill the company. Something must have changed by 1869, however, as another act authorizing a new bridge was passed. The Upper or North Bridge remained and was joined by another bridge at the foot of Maiden Lane in Albany, which opened December 28, 1871. Less than a year after that, in October 1872, the Union Depot opened. The “new” Union Station that stands on that spot was constructed in 1899.

Eventually the two bridges were given specific assignments: the upper bridge carried freight and foot traffic (at two cents a crossing), and the lower bridge, with its easier access to the Union Station, carried passengers.

As a side note, there were some who argued that Albany, not Troy, suffered from the construction of the bridges. In prior times, freight crossing the river had to be offloaded on one side or the other, ferried across, and loaded again onto another train. This required massive amounts of manpower, which became unnecessary once trains could cross the river. The ferries, too, suffered, but did not disappear completely for some decades. It was the 1882 opening of the Greenbush bridge (at the now-ironically-named Ferry Street), the first bridge to allow regular vehicular traffic across the Hudson, that sounded the death knell for the ferry business.

livingston avenue bridge down the tracks

Many articles on the Upper Bridge, which eventually came to be known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge for the adjacent street that then ran all the way to the waterfront, claim that the bridge dates to the Civil War, but that the superstructure is from 1901. A letter in The Bridgemen’s Magazine in July, 1902, indicated that

the A.B. [American Bridge] Co. are making fine progress with the Livingston avenue bridge across the Hudson. The last through span has been riveted up and there remains but seven girder spans to go in on this contract, besides the draw, which will be placed in position after the close of navigation.

It is not clear if the limestone piers from the original bridge were maintained, or perhaps reduced in number; through filling, the river is now considerably less wide and the bridge appears to have only eight or nine piers. But the current piers look so much like those illustrated in Harper’s Weekly (above) as to raise the likelihood that the piers are original.

The last bridge to be built was the first bridge to go. The Greenbush bridge was replaced, I believe, by a later Greenbush bridge, which was replaced by the original Dunn Memorial, which was replaced by the current skyway that still goes by the name Dunn Memorial. The Maiden Lane passenger rail bridge was demolished very shortly after passenger service was removed to the Rensselaer side of the river.

And although its days may be numbered, the 145-year-old — or perhaps 110-year-old — Livingston Avenue Bridge still carries passengers across the river and swings open to let the big boats through.

There is an active and important effort to restore the pedestrian walkway that would give us a much-needed alternative for walkers, runners and cyclists to cross the Hudson without having to climb the daunting, awful Dunn Memorial. Check out the effort here.

livingston avenue bridge long


Livingston Ave Bridge photos: Bennett V. Campbell
bridge illustration: Harper’s Weekly via Wikipedia
Sickles photo: National Photographic Art Gallery via Wikipedia

Albany, Troy, and the bridge

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In 1841, the residents of Albany were still hoping for a bridge, and the residents of Troy were still hoping they wouldn’t get it. Troy and Waterford had the only bridges across the Hudson at the time, which were considered a tremendous commercial advantage. In addition, it was certain that a bridge at Albany would impede the travel of ships up the Hudson, and kill commerce at Troy. (Before steam became the primary means of locomotion, sailing ships plied the river, and getting a sailing ship through the small opening of a lift or swing bridge is no easy task.) So it was that the American Masonic Register, published here in Albany, lamented the narrow-mindedness of our neighbors to the north:

The question of a Bridge at Albany, as we expected, is now agitating their minds . . . In fact every effort is making by them to prevent the construction of the bridge . . . The idea that a Bridge at Albany will injure Troy they know to be untrue; unless it be that they count upon the travel which is forced that way at certain seasons of the year, owing to the impossibility of Ferrying at Albany . . . One of the resolutions passed at a meeting of theirs, plainly shows a selfish spirit, and proves that it is the particular interest of Troy they seek to advance, to the prejudice of Albany. The resolution says, “On the ground of public convenience, Troy already having a bridge across the Hudson River by means of a rail road from Greenbush connecting with the Schenectady road, will when the great Eastern rail road is completed, offer every facility to travellers.” The citizens of Albany have loaned the credit of their city for the construction of the West Stockbridge rail road. Troy by defeating the bridge and connecting with the road is determined to enjoy the benefit of our enterprise. Is it right – is it just?

Between the concerns of Troy and the powerful ferry lobby (snicker not!), it would be another 25 years before Albany finally got a bridge across the river, the now-historic Livingston Avenue Bridge.

Home of H.O. Wilkins

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Wilkin's_home,_241_State_St._of_Albany,_N.Y,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views corrected.jpgFrom the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, we have the home of one H.O. Wilkins. Undated like so many others, this lovely looking structure was at 241 State Street in Albany, probably just about where the Alfred E. Smith building currently imposes its bulk. More about Mr. Wilkins, or why his home rated a stereoscopic view, I have been unable to ascertain.

(This version is highly corrected from the version posted by the collection.)

How Albany used to celebrate New Year’s Day

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The manner in which the inhabitants of the town [of Albany] celebrate New Year’s Day:

I had travelled far enough in the day to hope for a quiet sleep, but, at four in the morning, I was awakened by a musquet fired close to my windows: I listened, but heard not the smallest noise, or motion in the street, which made me imagine it was some musquet discharged of itself without causing any accident. I again attempted to go to sleep, but a quarter of an hour after a fresh musquet or pistol shot interrupted my repose; this was followed by several others; so that I had no longer any doubt that it was some rejoicing, or feast, like our village christenings. The hour indeed struck me as unusual, but at length a number of voices mingled with musquetry, crying out, new year, reminded me that we were at the first of January, and I concluded that it was thus the Americans celebrate that event.

Though this manner of proclaiming it was not, I must own, very pleasing to me, there was nothing for it but patience; but at the end of half an hour, I heard a confused noise of upwards of a hundred persons, chiefly children, or young people, assembled under my windows, and I very soon had farther indiction of their proximity, for they fired several musquet shot, knocked rudely at the door, and threw stones against my windows. Cold and indolence still kept me in bed, but Mr. Lynch got up, and came into my chamber to tell me that these people certainly meant to do me honour, and get some money from me. I desired him to step down, and give them two Louis; he found them already masters of the house, and drinking my landlord’s rum.

In a quarter of an hour, they went off to visit other streets, and continued their noise till day-light. On rising, I learnt from my landlord, that it was the custom of the country for the young folks, the servants, and even the negroes, to go from tavern to tavern, and to other houses, to wish a good new year, and ask for drink, so that there was no particular compliment to me in this affair . . . .

In the morning . . . I met nothing but drunken people in the streets, but what astonished me the most was to see them not only walk, but run upon the ice without falling, or making a false step, whilst it was with the utmost difficulty I kept upon my legs.

Travels in North-America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782, by the Marquis de Chastellux

No pernicious discharges tonight!

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New Year's Eve.png

As an annual public service, Hoxsie would once again like to remind you: no pernicious discharges!
Chapter 81 of the Laws of 1785 was passed to restrict your New Year’s Eve celebration options:

“Whereas great dangers have arisen, and mischief been done, by the pernicious practice of firing guns, pistols, rockets, squibs, and other fire works on the eve of the last day of December, and the first and second days of January; for prevention whereof for the future . . . .” Therefore it was enacted by the State of New York “that if any person or persons whomsoever, shall fire or discharge any gun, pistol, rocket, squib or other firework, within a quarter of a mile of any building, on the said eve, or days beforementioned, every such person so offending . . . shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of forty shillings with costs of suit, to be levied by distress and sale of the offenders goods and chattles . . . . ” In other words, fire a gun between Saturday and Monday, have one credible witness rat you out, and the man can sell your stuff to raise the fine, in the neighborhood of $200 in 21st century money.

Also, there was something about a “moiety.”

On the other hand, 2012 should leave on a rocket. Happy New Year to all.

Babbitt & Co.

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1909 Babbitt Albany.pngIn 1909, Albany’s Babbitt & Co. advertised correct dress for women:

In wearing our garments ladies can feel assured of being cleverly and properly dressed. We give our patrons the very best garments the world produces and at the lowest possible prices.
We have a most complete line of Street Costumes in Panne Velvets, Chiffon Broadcloths and fancy mixtures in long and short coat effects, also fancy Etons.
Our line of gowns for evening wear is a very choice one – some in all-over lace, net, voiles, radiums and crepe-de-chene.
Coats and evening wraps fit for all functions. Fur-lined Coats for day or evening wear, also Fur Coats for Automobiling and driving.
We also show  a large assortment of very smart waists, in fancy and plain silks, lace, Cluny and Baby Irish and all-over lace.
A choice line of high-grade fur sets – Ermine, Lynx, Mink, Persian Lamb, Beaver and Squirrel.
Separate Skirts, Coats, Silk Petticoats and Rain Coats in great variety.

What Albany owed, 1883

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Albany Bonded Debt 1883.pngIn 1883, the City of Albany reported that it had $3,191,000 in bonded debt. This covered a variety of purposes. There was $3,000 for the relief of drafted men in 1864. There was $150,000 for the purchase of the Congress Hall block, which was torn down to make room for the new State Capitol. There was $115,000 for the new post office site, and $20,000 for the high school, and more for the improvement of Western Avenue and South Pearl Street. There was more than a million dollars in “water debt,” presumably to pay for Albany’s water supply system. And, right around the same as water debt and all other debt, there were bonds to pay for Washington Park, totaling $1,048,000.

Most of this money was borrowed at six or seven percent.

Merry Christmas!

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Pease Christmas Card 1.jpgWhat would Hoxsie like for Christmas? Perhaps the first commercial Christmas card in the U.S. Printed right here in Albany, of course. Learn about it from All Over Albany.

Then read about how the legendary poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was first published right here in Troy.

Schenectady H.S. Barney 1904 ChristmasThen think about what it would have been like to have done your Christmas shopping at H.S. Barney, Schenectady’s greatest store, back in 1904.

Then go get some figgy pudding. Merry Christmas!

There’s something you don’t see every day

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New State Capitol under constructionA stereoscopic view of a very unfinished New York State Capitol building. I’m sure I could date this with some accuracy, but for now let’s say it’s somewhere between 1870 and 1880. I don’t recall if the design of Thomas Fuller, the first architect, extended to the second floor, or if that was the work of the next architect, Leopold Eidlitz, who took over after Fuller had very little to show for eight years of work. This is one of the parts of the Capitol that resembles its model.