Wow, has it really been two years since I wrote about Albany’s claim to being the Piano City? I guess it has. This ad is from 1858, when Boardman and Gray had been making pianofortes for more than 20 years. The company is long gone, but the factory still stands at the corner of Broadway and North Ferry.
Back in 1844, the Mayor of Albany was Friend Humphrey, a leather merchant whose home in Colonie still exists. The City Council was made up of two aldermen per ward. That much sounds pretty much like government today. But among the city officers were a number of positions that, for better or worse, no longer exist:
- Chamberlain and Deputy Chamberlain — the Chamberlain was essentially the city treasurer.
- Overseer of the Poor — who managed the Alms-House.
- Dock Master — which was hugely important in the city that connected the Hudson to the rest of the country, by way of Erie Canal.
- Captains of the Watch — From a time when citizens formed the night watch.
- Measurers of Wood — when Albany was one of the lumber capitals of the country, there was much wood to be measured.
- Keeper of the Powder-House — the old Powder-House was on the grounds of what is now Washington Park, well away from the houses of the city.
- City Gauger — not sure how this was different from the Inspector of Weights and Measures, unless there was a forgotten fad for enlarging ear piercings in the 1840s.
- Inspector of Bread — it was considered vital that the city’s bakers were selling honest weight.
- Fence Viewer — to keep people honest about their property lines, which apparently was a constant problem.
- Weigher of Hay — No idea why this was a city interest.
Mixed in were some positions we’d still recognize, such as Collectors of Taxes, Constables, Postmaster, and even Alms-House Physician. But let’s face it, we’d all rather be a Measurer of Wood or Weigher of Hay. i bet they even had fancy badges.
The major offices were filled biennially, sent by the Mayor to the Common Council for confirmation at the next regular meeting after their appointment. Except, bewilderingly, the appointments of the Chamberlain and Receiver of Taxes, “which shall be made on the eve of the Fast-Day of St. Michael the Archangel.” Church/state separation notwithstanding, I’d love to know the reason for that.
Amasa Parker, in his “Landmarks of Albany County,” informs us that John Woodward became prominent m the business circles of Albany because of his connection with the saddlery and harness business of Woodward & Hill. “This business was founded by Nathaniel Wright in 1819 and consequently is the third oldest established business in the city. In 1860 John Woodward together with Mr. W. W. Hill
bought the business from Mr. Wright and carried it on under the firm name of Woodward & Hill. . . In 1888 Mr. Hill died and John and [son] Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the ownership of the business. In 1895, after his father’s death. Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the business and now conducts it under the original name of Woodward & Hill.” Well, guess what that means? It means I was wrong. By a lot.
A few months back I undertook to determine the oldest business in Albany, and came to the reasoned conclusion that Lodge’s store, often noted as the oldest store in the city, might also be its oldest business, having been established around 1848. But that was nearly 30 years after Woodward & Hill began selling carriages and saddles, hardware and trimmings. The carriages and saddles are gone, but The Woodward Company still sells hardware (fasteners, to be precise) from its location on Burdick Drive, off Sand Creek Road right near Corporate Woods. Sorry to have been so wrong, and delighted to have found a company that has continued in business here for nearly 193 years.
Palmer, Newton & Company’s Salamander and Albany Fire Brick Works provided the specialized brick needed for stove linings, furnaces, and various manufacturing processes. That they were located on Rathbone St. (now no more than an alley footpath, and appropriately named for any one of a number of the stove-building Rathbones) is no surprise; they would have been adjacent to some of the big stove-makers of Albany.
Bishop’s “A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860” (Volume 2, mind you) speaks well of this enterprise:
To obtain linings that were good conductors of heat, and yet strong enough to bear transportation without fracture, has long been a desideratum of Stove and Range manufacturers, and judging from the extent of their business, we infer that this firm has attained the desired result. They supply not only the foundries of Albany and Troy, but the extensive Range manufacturers of Boston and Providence, and also many dealers in New York, Baltimore, and other places. Among the specialties of this firm’s manufactures, we might mention fire Brick Grates for Thompson’s patent furnace for burning wet tan. This improvement is of immense value to tanners, enabling them to use as fuel the tan which was heretofore an encumbrance to them, and thus save not only the expense of its removal, but of purchasing other fuel.
This billhead from the Biggert Collection dates to 1863 and depicts the factory with that industrial age enthusiasm for smoke-filled skies. The letter’s author is sending bricks for a stove that he acknowledges will not fit, and suggests that perhaps the recipient could cut them down. I’m not sure what tool I would use here in the 21st century to cut down firebrick, but whatever it would be, I’m betting it wasn’t around in the 19th century.
Somewhere along the line one of the partners in the Rathbone family stove business was S.H. Ransom. John Rathbone and Samuel Ransom were only partnered from 1841 until 1844, when they split into separate firms. Ransom made stoves and hollow ware in their foundry on the south end of Broadway. The business remained until 1881, when it was sold to Clarence Rathbone, who despite his Rathboniness continued the Ransom business name.
This receipt from the Biggert Collection is from December 1863, when a Mr. M.L. Filley bought of S.H. Ransom & Co. one dozen regulator knobs and a D valve. The view here of Albany’s working waterfront is fabulous; click to see it larger.
Grange Sard didn’t do too badly for himself, either, the son of a tailor who quickly became a partner in an established stove business, ultimately becoming its president, and who had his city home, familiar to anyone who was walked State Street near the park, built for him by H.H. Richardson, who usually spent his time on things like the State Capitol and Albany City Hall.
Not entirely clear what was going on in this 1887 correspondence from the Biggert Collection, though it would appear that Mrs. Luke Tower wrote directly to the Rathbone, Sard factory, perhaps trying to get around the local Youngstown, NY distributors of William Ripson and Son.
R.C. Reynolds was once a major furniture store in both Albany and Troy, selling carpets, stoves, upholstery, china, glass, etc. When Mr. I.H. Vrooman of 294 Hamilton St. in Albany picked up 5-1/3 yards of linoleum remnant in 1914, Reynolds had stores at 36-38 N. Pearl Street in Albany and in the landmark McCarthy Building on Monument Square in Troy. One of Don Rittner’s great Arcadia picture books of Albany shows Reynolds in the building that now houses the 74 State Street boutique hotel.
R.C. Reynolds was a citizen of note. he was a director of the Troy Trust Company. He was on the board of the Troy Automobile Club in 1908, when there were 270 auto owners in Troy. He was an honorary vice president of the Mohawk and Hudson Humane Society. He was actively involved in maritime interests, and served on the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association. A local ferryboat, built in 1896 and running from Maiden Lane to Troy, was named for him. That was possibly ironic, as a 1903 Troy fire that started on the steamboat pier burned his building and several others on River Street. He opened his new store in 1904 and 10,000 people attended the grand opening, which was recounted in the American Carpet and Upholstery Journal:
“The store is a five-story structure . . . with a polished
terra-cotta front . . . An interesting feature is an unique Oriental room
finished in Moorish style and richly furnished with Oriental draperies and
furniture. The upholstery section is fitted with the latest display devices,
while in the rug department the track system, which displays eighty rugs at the
same time, is in use. A large space on the north side of the main floor is
devoted to an artistic combination of furnishings in a model five-room
apartment house, consisting of a parlor, reception-room, library, dining-room
and bed-room. The parlor is noticeable for its flowered tapestries and carved mahogany
furniture, the reception-room in gold, the library with its golden oak outfit,
the weathered-oak dining-room suite and the bedroom with heavy brass bed,
complete lace bed set and bird’s-eye maple furniture.”
In 1829, John Pruyn, hardware merchant, gave over his business to Lansing Pruyn, Isaac Vosburgh and Abraham Wilson.
In his 1866 “History of the County of Albany, ” George
Rogers Howell tells us that Isaac W. Vosburgh was born in Albany in 1801 to a
father of old Dutch stock and a Scots mother. He began his business career in
the hardware store of George Humphrey on State Street. “here he applied himself
assiduously to business and familiarized himself with the hardware trade as it
then existed.” The firm of Pruyn, Wilson & Vosburgh was formed, and
continued in business for more than thirty years, doing business at No. 39
Their ad in the 1843 New York State Register advertised them
as importers of hardware, cutlery, steel &c. “Also, constantly on hand,
Ruggles’, Nourse & Mason’s superior Ploughs, of different sizes and
patterns, manufactured at Worcester, Mass. Together with Sub-soil and Side-Hill
Ploughs, Cultivators, Straw-Cutters, and other Farming Utensils.”
Included on this receipt: slates, pencils, brass kettles, thumb latches, fish hooks, and 3 (or 4) kegs of nails. These were sold for the princely sum of $28.09 to Jacob Settle, a merchant of Berne who is well-known and well-regarded in Amasa Parker’s “Landmarks of Albany County”:
Jacob Settle was engaged in mercantile business in Berne from 1812 to 1864, in which he was uncommonly successful. He was prominent in public affairs, held the offices of justice, supervisor, member of assembly, and was for thirty five years postmaster. It was largely through his influence that the plank road was constructed through this town from Schoharie, and connected with the Albany road. He was in every way a public spirited and valuable citizen.
39 State Street would have been about across from Jack’s Oyster House. The building is long gone, likely subsumed by the Museum Building.