Category Archives: Albany

A Tourist’s Guide Through Albany

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Among the delights and pleasures of the worldwide web, Google Books, and public domain is the ability to discover, dissect, and disseminate tomes from yesteryear that were otherwise moldering in the locked “local history” room of the public library, available only to those willing to submit to the suspicions of the collections librarian and able to copy it all out in longhand. Thank you, computer age, for making it easier to connect to the past.

One of those discoveries has been “The Tourist’s Guide Through the Empire State,” edited and published by a Mrs. S.S. Colt in Albany in 1871, and, in the manner of the time, bearing even more title: “Embracing all cities, towns and watering places, by Hudson River and New York Central Route, describing all routes of travel, and places of popular interest and resort along the Hudson River, Lake George, Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, Saratoga, Niagara Falls, etc. etc.” No small feat, but Mrs. Colt is quite up to it. There is way too much about Albany (or, as she titles it, The Capital City) to post in one stroke; there will be more. Enjoy this for openers. (All emphasis is, I assure, original to Mrs. Colt.)

The oldest city in the United States, excepting St. Augustine, is Albany. As such, it claims the reverence, not only of every true-hearted Dutch-man, but of every member of the universal Yankee nation, which has no geographical limit this side of Saturn’s rings. Until within a few years, Albany was, in every sense of the word, an old-fashioned town. The Present is still linked with the Past more inseparably here than in any other city in the State. To write of Albany, and disregard that conservative element which once admitted outsiders to a position in “good society,” under this protest –

“Take, take the Yankees in,
   And end this fuss,
Or be assured, my Lords,
   They’ll take in us!

would be to present but a dry narrative of dates and directory of Public Buildings.

A live description of Albany will not represent it as wholly “a live town,” according to the general American acceptation of that phrase in this present year of 1871.

And yet, with much conservatism, there is also stability and rectitude and the best representatives of the old Dutch aristocracy of long ago, are the most genial and high-toned – in all senses of the word, are among the best Men of To-Day.

A friendship formed in Albany, is a friendship for life.

A business is more slowly established here than in many places which boast of “more enterprise,” but it is for this very reason more surely established. A house reared here is less liable than elsewhere to be swept away by the tides of progress, unless indeed it is built upon North Pearl, where the rush of business is entirely changing the character of this old and stately street. The first glimpse of Albany reminds the European traveler of some of the cities of the old world. Its spires and domes indeed
“Gleam bright
In morning’s light.”

The Delavan House and the Capitol seem to be the two head-centers of the city. The former is under the control of Mr. Charles Leland and is very well managed. The latter, it is sometimes hinted, is under the control of the highest bidder, and is not always well managed for the public good.

Leaving the Delavan House for a stroll over the city we will follow Broadway to State Street.

Broadway was first known as Handelaer, and subsequently as Market street. State street was originally Yonkers. At the intersection of Broadway and State street stood the old Dutch Church which was torn down in 1806.

The Delavan House was not only one of the city’s premiere hotels (in a day when hotels were as much civic meeting places as they were lodgings), it had been founded in 1845 as a temperance house by Edward Delavan, whose prohibitionist sentiments were not entirely out of tune with the times, as New York State briefly enacted prohibition in 1855, part of the Know Nothing movement’s anti-immigrant sentiments. (The law was struck down early in 1856, having had very little effect.) By the time Charles Leland managed the Delavan, politicians meeting there were well able to procure a drink. Or two. Very well-known among travelers, the Delavan was Albany’s landmark hotel until it burned spectacularly on December 30, 1894 (click here for the New York Times account of the fire). The location would soon after be used for the construction of Albany’s new Union Station.

Albany Old Dutch Church.gifThe Old Dutch Church at the corner of Broadway and State streets had been the location of a church since 1656. It was succeeded on that northwest corner by a building called the Marble Column Building, and later the Albany Museum, according to Don Rittner’s “Images of America: Albany.” That building presented a rounded front to the street, as does its 1904 successor, the First Trust Company building, now used by the SUNY Research Foundation.

This article previously appeared at My Non-Urban Life.

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Cluett Pianos

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In 1898, Cluett & Sons was one of the major piano dealers in a town that could fairly have been called “The Piano City.” (Or so I keep trying to convince people.) But in this ad you can see the onward march of technology, as the piano company was also headquarters for “the wonderful Graphophone. The machine that talks, sings and plays.” By itself. Requiring no lessons, no talent.

Librarian Law

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English: New York State Library--Facilities--1...

English: New York State Library–Facilities–1880-1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York State Legislature is somewhat famous for
setting forth laws regarding its own conduct that are sometimes a bit more
yielding than laws applied to the rest of the public. But no one is above the
law of the librarian. The 1855 “Catalogue of the New York State Library,”
published by Charles Van Benthuysen, laid down the laws and regulations
relative to the library, then located in the Capitol in Albany. The trustees,
in setting regulations, found it necessary to set forth special rules for the
members of the Legislature who wished to borrow its volumes. At the time, only
members of the Legislature, selected members of the judiciary, and certain
department heads were allowed to remove books from the Library: “any member of
the Senate or Assembly, during the session of the Legislature or of the Senate
only, is permitted, under the restrictions, forfeitures and penalties
hereinafter mentioned, to take to his boarding-house or private room any book
belonging to the Library, except such as are herein determined to be necessary
always to be kept in the library as books of reference.

So, what happened when those books didn’t come back from the
boarding-houses and private rooms?

“13. Three days before the day fixed for the adjournment of
any session of the Legislature, or of the Senate only, the Librarian shall
address a note to each members of the Legislature or of the Senate, as the case
may be, having any book belonging to the Library, requesting the return thereof
within twenty-four hours.

“14. After the expiration of the said twenty-four hours, the
Librarian shall immediately make out a list of the members of each house who
have omitted to return any books belonging to the Library, specifying the
volumes retained by each; and a list of those against whom any charges for any
injury to or loss of books exist, stating the amount of them; which list shall
be alphabetically arranged according to the names of the respective members,
and shall be certified to be correct. To the President of the Senate, the
Librarian shall forthwith deliver the list relating to that body; and the list
containing the names of the members of the Assembly, he shall forthwith deliver
to the Speaker; and upon each list shall be written a copy of the section of
the Revised Statutes in regard to this matter above set forth.

“15. Twenty days before the opening of any annual session of
the Legislature, the Librarian shall report in writing to the trustees the
title of every book, map, chart, print, engraving, or other article missing
from the Library since the catalogue of the previous years was made out, or, if
no such catalogue has been made, then since the date of the said Librarian’s
last annual report to the trustees; together with the name or names of the
persons who appear, from the entries of the Librarian, to have borrowed or
detained the same, to the end that such list may be submitted to the
Legislature by the Trustees.

“16. All penalties imposed under any of these rules may be
remitted by the Library Committee, either wholly, or on such terms as they may
deem proper. “

What level of public shaming was imposed on members of the Legislature for overdue library books is, sadly, not recorded.

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The Second Dutch Church

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Second Dutch Church.pngThe natural progression of the Dutch Church in Albany, as we think of it today, was from the old church at the foot of State Street to the building on North Pearl known as First Church in Albany. But there was a second Dutch Reformed congregation as Albany grew, and it built this edifice on Beaver Street, probably near the corner of Green, in 1806. The site was adjacent to the old cemetery on Beaver Street, which continued in use until the Albany Rural Cemetery was opened in 1841. At that time many of the graves were moved to the new cemetery, and the land was redeveloped. But even that early, there was a somewhat casual attitude toward the final resting places of our ancestors, as Joel Munsell noted in a news item he reprinted from 1836 in the “Annals of Albany:”

“In digging to make improvements in the north area of the Second Dutch church on Beaver street, a number of grave stones were thrown out, among which were the two following, the first being that of the second mayor of the city. . . .”

The inscriptions, if not the stones themselves (“thrown out”!!) were preserved:

“Here lies the body of John Abeel who departed this life ye 28 day of Jan’y, 1711, and in the 44 year of his age.
Dient begin van wel te leven
Uyt den Hemel was gegeven
Gingh der weer den Hemel waert
Storf maer verliet de aert.”

“Here lies the body of Jeremiah Field, deceased Oct. 16, 1762, aged 32 years.”

It was used as a church until 1881, after which it was remodeled (and perhaps joined to another building) to form a large building for the James B. Lyons printing company.

Whatever happened to Sunken Garden?

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Sunken Garden plan.pngBack in 1914, Arnold Brunner’s “Studies for Albany” presented an ambitious plan for a park that would be called “Sunken Garden.” Brunner wrote that the three blocks between Lancaster and Chestnut streets, from Main Avenue to Ontario, had been acquired by the city of Albany; “The rectangular form of this piece of land seems to dictate a formal treatment.” And you couldn’t get more formal than the “Study for Pavilion at end of Sunken Garden” proposed by Brunner, shown here.

The “Municipal Journal and Engineer” revealed that this “sunken garden” was made possible through the construction of a major municipal sewer, the longest concrete sewer ever constructed in Albany at the time, over 3,000 feet long. The sewer eliminated an open creek that passed through the land, which had “for years carried away practically all of the sewage of the Pine Hills district.” The article also noted that “The lowest portions of the tract probably will be converted into a dumping grounds and later trees set out under the direction of the superintended of parks. This will give the trees an opportunity to grow and the city an opportunity to fill in all ravines.”

Sunken Garden plan 2.pngBrunner at once presented a grand vision, and acknowledged it was unlikely to come to fruition:  “The design is perhaps unnecessarily ambitious and ornate . . . but the scheme may be much simplified and the main characteristics still be retained. As the cost of maintenance of flowers, paths and streets in a city is considerable, some of the details and sub-divisions may be omitted and an expression of a Sunken Garden secured by the sloping sides and lawns at a level lower than the streets.”

Sunken Garden (or Gardens) was referred to in numerous documents in the early part of the 20th century. So where did it go?

Well, it’s there. Kinda. Google Maps refers to part of it as “St. Mary’s Park,” reflecting its previous ownership by the Albany Catholic Diocese. It appears from satellite as a series of soccer, football, and baseball fields, with a few tennis courts thrown in, behind Albany High School.

Mayor Swinburne

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John Swinburne.jpgJohn Swinburne, for whom Albany’s Swinburne Park and New York Harbor’s Swinburne Island are named,  led a life of medical accomplishment — a founder of Albany Hospital as well as of his own private dispensary, a professor at Albany Medical College, a noted expert in what would become forensics, chief medical officer of the Port of New York, and savior of countless limbs of American and French soldiers. He was greatly esteemed here in Albany — so greatly that they implored him to run for mayor of their ancient city in 1882. As his usually breathless biographer put it:

“…the people of the city of Albany, groaning under the oppressive taxation and the misrule of a corrupt and heartless ring, saw in the great surgeon the patriotic and fearless citizen, who had in every instance proved his devotion to the masses in his aims for good government in professional and political administration, — the man to lead the hosts against the heartless and intrenched enemy. In 1882 they tendered him, as the only man able to lead them to victory, the nomination for mayor of the city of Albany. He had no taste for politics; but, on the persistent pleading of the people that he would be their leader out of the dark land of political corruption in which they were held, he accepted for their sake, in the interest of good government, and entered into the contest with a zeal that won for him the title of ‘The Fighting Doctor’ . . .”

And it does go on. He ran on the Republican line (there once were Republicans in Albany). The election was hotly contested and apparently there was some (or a lot) of fraud involved. Michael Nolan, the Irishman who had presided over City Hall since 1878 (including, quite literally, its burning), claimed another victory, but few believed it. The New York Times wrote:

“There is a great deal of excitement here over the result, or the pretended result, of the municipal election held yesterday, and the end is not yet. The Albany ring papers this morning proclaimed the re-election of Mayor Nolan by a small majority, thinking, doubtless, that such an announcement of the result of the vote would be acquiesced in, as it has been before, when Nolan was ‘counted in’ instead of being elected. But the people of Albany do not propose to submit to the fraud so quietly this time. The better citizens of both parties have come to the conclusion that it is about time to test the question of whether or not it is possible to have a fair election in Albany.”

Swinburne’s camp charged Nolan with fraudulent and criminal practices, including illegal voting, bribery, ballot-box stuffing, obstructing lawful voters, false canvassing, and falsely certifying results. The legal battle would take 14 months before Dr. Swinburne was declared elected in June 1883. He lost the next election in 1884 to fraud as well, but perhaps the fight had gone out of him, or perhaps he was satisfied with going to Congress, as he did later that year. There, too, he faced an opposition willing to do anything to keep him from office, and he was defeated in 1886, again in a contest widely believed to be fraudulent. By then, Swinburne had had enough of politics, and declined to run again when his opponent died after only six months in office.

Dr. Swinburne returned to Albany and private practice. He died from stomach cancer shortly before he would have turned 69. The New York Times, describing the condition of his body, said, without apparent irony, “The skull was remarkably thick.”

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Swinburne: champion of the limbs

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His biographer (perhaps Joseph McKelvey — the book is unclear) barely sketched the early life of Dr. John Swinburne, once Albany’s foremost surgeon. Fatherless and supporting his family at 12, Swinburne nevertheless managed to get an education from local public schools in Lewis County, and then managed to attend the Fairfield Academy, one of the earliest medical schools in the country, in the somewhat remote community of Fairfield in Herkimer County.

“Like the other eminent names which grace our history, starting to work out their destinies from the tailor and shoemaker’s shop, from the tanyard and wood-chopping, and ending with the presidency and vice-presidency, this man, from sleeping on the floor and living on seventy-five cents a week while a student, who has attained the highest pinnacle in his profession, is an eminently typical American.”

His biographer, who while Swinburne was still alive put out “A Typical American, or, Incidents in the Life of Dr. John Swinburne of Albany, the Eminent Patriot, Surgeon, and Philanthropist,” was more than a little impressed with his subject:

“Brave as a Wellington, yet tender as a woman; eminent as a surgeon and physician, yet plain as a man; polished and learned as a gentleman, yet humble as a peasant;  a hater of fraud, chicanery, and dishonesty, yet jealous of no man; constantly moving about among the people, looking only to their interests, sacrificing time and money to make the condition of the masses better; supplying with a liberal hand the wants of the poor, caring for their sick and unfortunate; fighting error and corruption wherever he finds them, either in his profession or in government; and sacrificing all personal comfort for the good of others, — is the man to whom we would lead public thought, knowing that the American people love the brave and humane, and only require to be reminded, to awaken to the according of deserved honors.”

Much of his work, on Civil War or Parisian battlefields, or among the poor who came to his Albany dispensary, was focused on proving that amputation was often unnecessary, that there could be other treatment for wounded limbs. He was running somewhat against the tide on this question. Swinburne wrote:

“On my return to this city in 1871, after an absence of seven years, I was warmly welcomed by the profession; and sought to show the great advance that could be made in surgery by the use of conservative modes. . . in other words, having long known that it was but rarely needful to cut off an injured limb, that the maimed member could almost always be saved; and feeling that to despoil, deform, or to perpetuate deformity in any patient, however poor, of a limb which could by reasonable means be saved, was wrong, and not in accord with the object of our profession, — I undertook to prove, on a scale large enough to obtain conclusive results, that this harm could be avoided. I can only say my efforts have been misunderstood . . . My work has not been done in the dark, and I leave it to the verdict that time may bestow.”

I think time came down on the side of keeping the limbs.
 

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Who put the Swinburne in Swinburne Park?

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John Swinburne.jpgWhish’s 1917 “Albany Guide Book” notes that Swinburne Park “commemorates Albany’s greatest surgeon.” A century later, the name Swinburne is all but forgotten, but he lived a most memorable life. An 1888 biography was titled “A Typical American,” while making it clear that he was anything but — it calls him an eminent patriot, surgeon and philanthropist, “The Fighting Doctor,” and “one of Nature’s noblemen.”

John Swinburne was born in Lewis County in 1820; his father died when he was but 12. Despite having to work to support his mother and sisters, Swinburne was educated in local public schools and attended Albany Medical College, where he was first in his class (1846) and was appointed “demonstrator” in anatomy after graduation. He even started a private anatomy school, but soon entered private practice.  When the Civil War came he was made a commander in the New York National Guard, and as chief medical officer was put in charge of the sick at the Albany recruiting depot. He offered his services to Gen. McClellan as a volunteer battlefield surgeon, and was soon sent to Savage’s Station. When the Army of the Potomac retreated from that post on June 29, 1862, Swinburne was one of the few surgeons who remained behind to care for the sick and wounded, and he was noted for treating Union and Confederate soldiers alike. It was a month before all the wounded were removed to other hospitals, and Swinburne applied to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson for permission to visit the wounded Federal prisoners. Jackson’s pass made it clear that Swinburne was not to be treated as a prisoner of war.

Returning to New York in 1864, he was made health officer of the Port of New York and immediately put to the task of establishing an effective quarantine facility, which he placed on islands, one of which, Swinburne Island, bears his name to this day. (It is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.)

He retired from the Port and went to France, just in time for the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. With the support of the American expatriate community, he created the first ambulance corps in Paris to tend to the wounded, and for his efforts he was decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and with the Red Cross of Geneva.

Swinburne returned to Albany, where he re-established his private practice and, in 1876, became Professor of Fractures and Clinical Surgery at
Albany Medical College, and became one of the first to provide
forensic testimony at trials involving medical evidence. He also found time to be elected Mayor (1880) and then to Congress (1884). While doing that he established the Swinburne Dispensary, which provided free medical services to as many as 10,000 patients a year.

His anonymous biographer wrote: “His quiet benevolence, yet bold aggressiveness in fighting error and corruption in high places, both in professional and official stations, has given his life a charm unequaled in the past, and has won for him the admiration of the masses of the people.” He died here in Albany on March 28, 1889. Like any good Albanian, he is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.

The Tweddle Hall Dollar Store

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There can be no doubt that in 1870, a “dollar store” had a different meaning than it does today. The Tweddle Hall Dollar Store of Albany, located in the landmark building long gone from the corner of State and Pearl, was proud of its white metal show cases, its “immence” stock of beautiful and desirable articles, and, perhaps not least, its polite and attentive young ladies.

Albany Iron Railing Works

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Some of the grand old homes and buildings around Albany still have lovely ornamental rails and fences, and there’s a good chance many of them were made by Simeon Cunliff, Jr., of No. 20 Quay Street. In this ad from 1858, we have another great example of the rather humble proclamations of advertising of that era: “Respectfully calls the attention of all interested in the purchase of Ornamental Iron Railings, to his New and Elegant Patterns, Having superior facilities he flatters himself that in this branch of business he is surpassed by none.”