Category Archives: Albany

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.

Mix’s Diamonds, Jewelry and Silverware

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“Any watch you want can be found here, with price and guarantee always satisfactory. Diamonds, jewelry and silverware at Mix’s.”

When this ad appeared in 1898, James Cadwell Mix was getting on in years. Kollock’s “State of New York” from 1882 said:

“Many advantages contribute toward making Albany a
great purchasing centre, and to accommodate the trade there are
concentrated a number of enterprising business men who have established
business houses to meet these demands, prominent among them being Mr.
James Mix, who is largely engaged in dealing in fine watches of both
foreign and domestic manufacture, and diamonds. He has a large double
front store, elegantly provided with handsome plate-glass show cases, in
which, and in his windows, are displayed an elegant assort men t of
rare and expensive jewelry and silverplate and gold watches. Mr. Mix is
special agent for the celebrated Saltzman watch, and also for the United
States, Philadelphia. Elgin, Waltham, and New York Watch Companies’
manufacture. Mr. Mix is a native of Albany, and is a gentleman sixty
years of age. He is also bank director of the National Union Bank of
Kinderhook. He succeeded his father in this business, which is nearly
one-half a century in age, being established in 1827. He is doing a very
handsome business of $150,000 a year, which is steadily increasing. Mr.
Mix, by his straightforward, honest dealings with the public, and
cordial and polite manners, has won hosts of friends in Albany.”

Mr. Mix passed on in 1907. The “Beaver Block” was on South Pearl between Norton and Beaver, and so is long gone for a glass office tower. Several of Mr. Mix’s trade cards are on view here.

Sieg Illch, Tailor

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“Sieg Illch, Tailor, No. 130 South Pearl Street. — In a review of the commercial enterprises of Albany it will be observable that some houses possess advantages over others in the same line of business, the result in some cases of longer experience and in others of a greater natural aptitude for the particular trade. This house was established in 1854. Previous to 1887 the firm name was Simon Illch & Son. After that date the son and present proprietor, Mr. Sieg Illch, succeeded to the business, which is one of the oldest established and most reliable tailoring establishments in the city. Mr. Illch’s long experience, and thorough knowledge of what constitutes symmetry and elegance of design in wearing apparel, has given him a proficiency attained by few of his compeers, and the truth of this statement is exemplified in the high reputation which the productions of this house have enjoyed. The work of manufacturing clothing for the patrons of this house, gives employment to from fifteen to twenty skilful hands, and Mr. Illch personally attends to the cutting of all garments. He has unrivalled facilities for carrying on the business and is in a position to guarantee to his patrons a perfect fit in every instance, reliable goods, and workmanship not excelled by that of any other contemporary house in the county.” — The Empire State, Its Industries and Wealth, 1888.

Sieg Illch (“Sieg” was short for Siegmond) was also a director of the Equal Rights Benefit Association of Albany, a life insurance and reserve fund. 130 South Pearl Street would be just south of Madison in the Pastures.

Recollections of Albany, II

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The destruction of Albany’s structural heritage is not a new
topic. William Kent, in addressing the changes that had overcome Albany in the
early decades of the 19th century, lamented the march of modernity.
In 1854, he was complaining:

“The architecture of Holland and ancient Albany was not that
of Virtuvius [sic] or Palladio; but I hope you all regret with me that the sweep of
modern improvement has unnecessarily abolished every vestige of those queer,
but interesting buildings, which marked an epoch in our history, and the
predominance of national characteristics, now submerged, for ever in the
mingling of the people, forming new America. I suppose there is scarcely a
person in this assembly who remembers, as I do, the old Dutch Church at the
foot of State-street. I cannot help regretting this curious structure, although
I admit, that no modern architect could erect so ugly a building, and although
its removal has created, perhaps, the noblest street in an American city. But
why was the old Vanderheyden Palace, with its quaint gables, and elaborate, if
fantastic, ornaments, allowed to disappear? And where were the archaeologists
of Albany, when innovators tore down the harmless old building at Lydius’s
Corner, constructed of bricks rought years and years ago from Holland?

“It is, I know full well, useless to resist or lament change
and innovation. Yet an old inhabitant returning after years of absence, to
Albany, sighs for the departed beauties of its environs. Where is the Patroon’s
Creek, once umbrageous with shade, and intricate with sylvan labyrinth? It is
turned into a conduit! Where is the beautiful cascade, which we, rather
ambitiously, styled the Falls of Tivoli? It has become a water-tank. Where are
the sanded beach and the willowy banks of the river? They have become a
rail-road depot and a canal basin. What has become of the Cataract of the Cohoes,
so secluded, so solitary, so awe-inspiring, where, as Thomas Moore sings,

‘From rise of morn ’till set of sun,
He saw the mighty Mohawk run”?
It is metamorphosed to a woolen factory.'”

Kent’s lost Albany was, in fact, lost to the Albany that
many are now trying to preserve, hoping to have learned from the past, but
faced with the same utter disregard for our own heritage.

“All those things are doubtless useful, necessary perhaps,
certainly utilitarian and money-making, but it is a relief to the old Albanian
to gaze on the bolder features of your landscape, and at least recognize landmarks,
which defy the puny encroachments of man. He is sincerely grateful, that you
cannot shut out the Green Mountains; that you cannot level the Helderberghs;
that you cannot essentially alter the majestic sweep of your matchless river;
and that no engineer can dig down the everlasting Catskills.”

So who was William Kent? He was born in Albany in 1892, graduated from Union College and studied law and practised in New York City. He was
appointed justice of the Supreme Court of New York by Governor Seward
and served until 1846, when he resigned to accept the Royall
professorship of law in Harvard college. He resigned in 1847 owing to his father’s ill health, and
returned to New York City. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society and a member of the council of the University of the City of
New York. He died at Fishkill Landing, N.Y., Jan. 14, 1861.

Recollections of Albany, I

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On a February evening in 1854, a gentleman by the name of
William Kent stood before the Young Men’s Association of Albany and delivered
his recollections of Albany, which he had left 30 years before, and to which he
returned, in his estimation, a stranger. 
As he described it, “Albany, in the first decade of the present [that
is, the 19th] century, was a quiet and quaint little town, which, in
the intervals of the sittings of the legislature, when an unwonted bustle was
introduced among us, Washington irving would have loved to describe . . .

“It was then an isolated town. Schenectady lay a day’s
journey distant, over the sandhills. Greenbush, a little hamlet, was visited
with difficulty, and rarely visited at all; while Bath, our nearest neighbor, was
a mystery to us all, and remains to me a mystery still.” So bashing of what would
become the city of Rensselaer is nothing new. “We knew that a road led through
it to Sand Lake, which we heard of as one hears of Lake Tchad or Lake Baikal,
in Africa and Asia, and I confess my notions of its locality are scarcely more
precise now. “

At the age of seven or eight, he went on an excursion to
Bath, “determined to see, close at hand, the storehouse and buildings, which I
had gazed at so often from the right bank of the river; and I well remember
finding, when I reached the centre of that commercial emporium, as I have too
often since found in life, that distance had lent the enchantment. “

Back to Albany, where the “dominant characteristics of
architecture, manners, and even language, were those of Holland. Emigrants had
indeed come among us; and the Yankees, of course, were not absent. I myself came
from that nomadic and interloping race . . . But the high places in our city
were conceded to, and incontestably held by the Dutch. They were the lauded
aristocracy. Their villas overhung our hilltops.” Speaking of the descendant of
the Patroon, van Rensselaer, Kent said, “He was the last survivor of expiring
feudality; and never did its representative better entitle himself to affection
and respect by an unassuming deportment, unobtrusive charity, the discreet
exercise of the influence of his station, and all the virtues of domestic life.”

We’ll have more from Mr. Kent tomorrow.

4 Hisgen Brothers

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1898 CFL History Hisgen Brothers Axle Grease.pngI don’t know much about 4 Hisgen Brothers, other than there were at least four of them, and they manufactured axle grease right here in Albany. This ad from 1898 represents that their axle grease was the best in the world for wagons, buggies, and all kinds of journals. That usage of journal (“the part of a rotating shaft, axle, roll, or spindle that turns in a bearing”) has fallen by the wayside.

Eliot’s “Biographical History of Massachusetts” says that when Thomas L. Hisgen, born in Petersburg, Indiana, was 16, “the family removed to Albany, New York, where four of the boys took places in clothing stores, while their father, who was something of a chemist, invented and manufactured an excellent axle grease.”

Thomas L. Hisgen became president of the business, and also tried to become president of the United States (with a stab at the Massachusetts governorship along the way). He fought Standard Oil, which tried to take over Hisgen Brothers (with an offer of $600,000), or put them out of business, or both, and his platform in 1907 in Massachusetts and in 1908 as an independence candidate for the presidency both involved excoriating the power of Standard Oil and the Rockefellers in deciding elections. Hisgen Brothers had expanded beyond simple grease into the oil business, and had decamped to Springfield, Massachusetts.

A Hisgen family website says the factory was located at 443 South Pearl Street. Who’s Who from 1915 had this to say about Thomas Louis Hisgen:  He began the manufacture of axle grease in 1889 with his father and brothers, and erected a “complete, modern factory, now said to be the largest of the kind in the world; refusing an offer to sell out to the Standard Oil Co., a fight which still continues, was precipitated, resulting in the HIsgen Brothers going also into the kerosene oil business as competitors of the Standard Oil Co. in N.E. and central N.Y.” Somewhere along the way, the company moved its headquarters to Springfield, Massachusetts. Who’s Who notes that he ran for state auditor of Massachusetts in 1906, for governor of that state in 1907, and for President (on the National Independent Party line) in 1908. He then became president of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, a vigorous anti-Standard Oil association.

In pleasant juxtaposition to the State House

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Education statueIn 1912, the journal “Educational Foundations” carried this account of the dedication of New York’s grand new State Education Building:

“Without Scandal”
We dedicate a building which has been carried to an admirable and complete fruition, without scandal, and within the first appropriation that was provided for it.” These words were uttered by Dr. A.S. Draper, New York State Commissioner of Education in his dedicatory address at the time of the dedication of the new State Education Building at Albany, October 16th. The Empire State has won new honor for itself in this accomplishment. Distinguished men gathered to celebrate the event and to take part in the ceremonies presided over by the Hon. Whitelaw Reid.

It is a magnificent building. Magnificent in architectural design and construction. Magnificent in the kind and quality of its material. Magnificent, too, in its symbolism, for there on the hill at Albany in pleasant juxtaposition to the State House is the realized ideal of a great and enlightened commonwealth – a gorgeous temple of learning erected by the people in token of their devotion to the cause of popular education. Supremely magnificent is the history of its erection and the record of its financial management. The Commissioner had good reason for his pride, and it is to be devoutly hoped that the auspicious dedication may be a prophecy of an uninterrupted history of honor an dusefulness, to the everlasting glory of the great State whose capital city is thus signalized.

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So, what’d all this cost?

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Chancellor Whitelaw Reid, at the State Education Building’s dedication ceremonies in 1912, said,

“We are proud that the great structure comes to us absolutely free. There is no debt on it. They issued no bonds for it and anticipated no income. The people of New York have equipped their Board of Regents and Department of Education with these new and greatly enlarged facilities for conducting the business with which they have charged us, close on the heels of our misfortune; and they paid for it as they went along, out of the current revenues of the State. They paid for it completely. For once the cost of a public building of the first class has been kept within the estimates and within the appropriations. This is said to be an era of big prices, and especially the expense of building is said to be far higher than formerly, but this building has cost barely one-fifth of the one opposite. In round numbers, our Education Building has cost the State five millions of dollars, as against the twenty-five millions for the State Capitol.”

The “misfortune” he referred to was the loss of the State Library in the State Capitol fire the year before. He went on to assess the relative importance of education to the state, as measured by spending:

“I have already acknowledged the munificent support we have lately received from the State in our special emergency. But I wonder how generally it is realized by our citizens or even by this audience that the people of this State regularly spend more, and more freely, for their schools than for any other object; three times as much, in fact, as for all other branches of government combined – legislative, judicial, penal, reformatory, charitable, curative, agricultural, defensive, and all the rest. In round numbers the State appropriates eight and one-half millions for its schools – a million more than for any other object … The amounts raised for the same purpose by special local taxation in every school district in the State, swell that sum till the grand total rises to the magnificent figure of seventy-seven millions. If the Empire State is called to deal imperially with any subject coming under its care, it certainly should be with the training of the rising generation.”

They all came to Albany

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Education Dedication Building.pngIf you were an academic, from pretty much anywhere, Albany was apparently the place to be one hundred years ago as the State Education Building was dedicated. Across the three days, there were six formal sessions, a major reception, open house at the Governor’s Mansion, attended by representatives from 120 higher education institutions throughout the country, and 10 from abroad. There was an academic procession filled with caps and gowns (appropriate, given that modern academic dress was invented right here in Albany). In fact, the invitation booklet noted that “The academic cap and gown will be welcomed at any time.” Rentals were available.

The domestic institutions represented included Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and every college you’ve heard of in New York, as well as far-flung institutions like the University of Texas, the University of Missouri, University of New Mexico. There was also the intriguingly named Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York. From abroad, Oxford, Edinburgh, the University of Cuzco and the Syrian Protestant College saw fit to send representatives to this grand ribbon-cutting.

In sending out the invitations, the Department sent an interesting caution: “The auditorium space will doubtless be inadequate for dedication week. That proper reservations may be made, kindly indicate in your acceptance the particular exercises which you will attend.”

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