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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.”
If 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.”
The State Education Building, an indispensable and unforgettable part of the Albany streetscape, one of the most distinctive pieces of classical architecture in the country and purportedly the longest Corinthian colonnade, was dedicated precisely one hundred years ago. In the century that has passed, the State Museum that once drew throngs of schoolchildren into the building to lick a salt pillar and marvel at the Cohoes mastodon has moved a few blocks to the south, and the palatial home to the state’s education bureaucracy is largely off limits to the public. But we can and still do appreciate its incredible beauty from outside.
State Education Building (Photo credit: carljohnson)
One hundred years ago, the opening of the State Education Building was a Very Big Deal Indeed. The dedication exercises covered three days, October 15, 16 and 17, 1912. Delegates from educational institutions all over the country, all over the world, came to the ceremonies. There was a dedicatory procession with a very clear pecking order. In addition to perhaps 200 colleges and libraries, there were city and village superintendents, members of local boards of education, district superintendents, and high school principals.
The Chancellor of the University of the State of New York was then Whitelaw Reid, who was elected by the Board of Regents in 1906. Whitelaw Reid was an editor and owner of the New York Tribune, a friend of Horace Greeley, a leader of Liberal Republicans who had such a career that his position as the Chancellor of the state education system isn’t mentioned in Wikipedia and barely touched in his two-volume biography. His biographer seemed to find that his time as Ambassador to France, Ambassador to the Court of St. James, vice presidential nominee (with Benjamin Harrison), and time on the peace commission after the Spanish-American War were of more importance. (When he died, news of his passing was sent to President Taft by King George.) But in fact he had important influence on the education system, being a firm advocate of separating politics from education.
Was there speechifying at this dedication ceremony? Oh my god was there. The transcripts run over 200 pages just of speeches. The congratulatory letters seem perfunctory in comparison. At the end of three days, the venerable Chancellor Reid was still holding forth with breathless prose like “The Board of Regents would feel very meanly of itself and would deserve to be thought meanly of if in this hour of its triumph it did not gratefully welcome to this platform those former officials of the State who have been of service in the earlier struggles that today reach their culmination, and if it did not hold in grateful memory those of them …” Sorry, drifted off while copying it. You get the gist.
Tomorrow: Who was there.
From 1898, an advertisement for John Harrigan’s Sons (whose names, it would appear were Harvey, Daniel and Joseph), undertakers. This lovely building was at the corner of Chapel and Canal streets; Canal is now known as Sheridan Avenue. I can’t tell which corner this was on, but the only surviving building from that era on that corner is the one housing a lobbying firm on the southeast corner. According to Amasa Parker’s “Landmarks of Albany County,” John Harrigan came to Albany from County Limerick in Ireland in 1847, and started this business in 1852. He was county coroner for two terms beginning in 1862. He was originally at 22 Canal Street, then at 21, where he built this building in 1890. “The building comprises seven lots and has a large stable in the rear. The firm has the finest assortment of burial cases always on hand.” What a shame that this lovely building didn’t survive.
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
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.
The 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.