Category Archives: Albany

City and County Savings Bank

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City and County Savings Bank.png

Once upon a time, banks had a single location. When we didn’t get around much, and lived pretty close to where we worked, that really wasn’t much of an issue. As cities spread, banks were eventually allowed to charter additional branches, each of which I believe required government approval. So we find in 1935 that City and County Savings Bank had branched out, having not only its elegant headquarters at 100 State Street (still standing, still elegant), but also a homey little branch office way out on New Scotland Avenue. That’s still there and still a bank.

City and County started as the Albany City Savings Institution in 1850. It changed its name to City Savings Bank of Albany in 1922. In 1935 it merged with Albany County Savings Bank and became, sensibly enough, City and County Savings Bank. Things stayed stable until its merger in 1981 with Home Savings Bank, at which point the “County” would be forgotten and Home and City Savings Bank was created. 10 years later it was merged with Trustco, the former Schenectady Trust Company. While the downtown Trustco branch is a few doors up from its legacy headquarters, the uptown branch remains a Trustco.

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War stories

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In journalism school, we always referred to tales of ink-stained wretches and newspapers gone by told by our professors as “war stories.” But a teacher of French at the Albany Female Academy in the 1830s had some real war stories to tell: General Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein.

He was a native of Germany who entered the French service and acquired the confidence of Napoleon and had a relationship with Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette. Joel Munsell reports that on the restoration of the Bourbons, he went to South America, “where he found scope for his military skill.” That’s shorthand for a plot to liberate Puerto Rico from Spain, establish it as the Republic of Boricua, and turn a profit. This became known as the Ducoudray Holstein Expedition. The Spanish got wind of it, asked the Dutch government of neutral port Curacao to intercede, and Ducoudray Holstein found himself under arrest in Curacao. Over a series of trials and appeals, he was found guilty of mercenary acts and sailing under false Dutch papers, and sentenced to death. It is said that Lafayette and the government of the United States interceded with the Netherlands on his behalf, and Ducoudray Holstein found himself sailing for a new home in the United States. After a time teaching military tactics, he settled his family in remote upstate New York, where he became a professor of the French, Spanish and German languages and literature at Geneva College in Ontario County.

The General taught there for a number of years and then came to the Albany Female Academy (now known as the Albany Academy for Girls), where he taught French for six years until his death, and (again according to Munsell), “won the esteem of all who knew him.” While in Albany he wrote “The New French Reader, for the use of Universities, Colleges, Academies and Schools,containing original and selected anecdotes, biographical sketches and character portraits of persons distinguished by their genius and their knowledge.” And that was just the title. Luckily, the rest is available to us through Google Books.  He also contributed to a periodical called “The Zodiac.” He died May 23, 1839, at the age of 76, and was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

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At the intersection of science and art

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James Eights.pngA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about all the other Albanies that were named for our Albany. One of the most distant places on the planet was named, not for Albany, but for a prominent Albany native: The Eights Coast of Antarctica was named for prominent scientist and artist James Eights.

His exact year and place of birth are in question, but it’s fair to say he was born around 1798. The son of a physician (and possibly a physician himself; he was often referred to as “Doctor”), Eights was early associated with Amos Eaton‘s exploration and collection of the geology of the Erie Canal, and was on the board of the Albany Lyceum of Natural History, formed in 1823. He showed great skill as a draftsman, contributing detailed drawings of Lyceum specimens. He also helped in the development of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

He moved on to New York City, where he was involved with the Sketch Club, an artists’ gathering, and the New York Lyceum. With the support of Stephen Van Rensselaer (Amos Eaton’s partner in the creation of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Eights was appointed as naturalist on an expedition to explore the South Seas that set out in October, 1829. While this was a time when the continent of Antarctica was still hypothetical, his investigations in the South Shetland Islands turned up the first fossils from that region. In honor of that early exploration, the Eights Coast of Antarctica was named in his honor more than a century later.

His South Seas exploits hardly registered here in Albany, but he is remembered for the paintings he made of Old Albany. Later in his life, around 1850, he made a series of paintings from memory of how Albany looked when he was a boy. These beautiful watercolors are in many instances the only references we have for the long-lost old Dutch city.

A very detailed life of James Eights by Daniel McKinley is available here.

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Edward Willett, hat-maker and poet

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Joel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany, Vol. 10” from 1859 includes items of interest from the newspapers of the years gone by, including this delightful bit of commercial doggerel attached to an item from Nov. 13, 1835:

The hat factory of Edward S. Willett, corner of Green and Basset streets, was burnt. He was the first to commence the manufacture of silk hats in this city. To show that Mr. Willett was not alone a man of fur merely, but also a poet, his advertisement is introduced. As a man of law he can speak for himself.

If e’er a man in earnest sought
To make a hat as workmen ought,
Substantial, and with beauty fraught,
            ‘Tis Willett.

And well may he take pains to please
When hosts of Fashion’s devotees
Are daily swarming like bees,
            At Willett’s.

Hundreds and hundreds who’ve surveyed
The hats in other stores displayed,
Have left them all and come to trade
            At Willett’s.

Ask the genteel where’er you go,
Who made that elegant chapeau?
And ten to one he’ll say, I trow,
            ‘Twas Willett.

Who showed those hats, so rich and rare,
That took the prize
twice at the fair,
Causing the craft to wince and stare?
            ‘Twas Willett.

The Eagle with the hat that won
The prize that dimm’d a certain
Sun,
Displays a taste that’s touch’d by none
            But Willett.

The corner of Green and Bassett, an old, old part of the city, doesn’t retain much of its 1835 look today.

Something you Ought to Read

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Pine Hills.pngAs this ad from The New Albany in 1891 proclaims, there is no better city on this continent to live in, all things considered, than Albany, and if you intend to make it your permanent home, here is Something you Ought to Read.

What follows is a glowing recommendation of the benefits of buying a property in Pine Hills from the Albany Land Improvement and Building Company. And who wouldn’t want to live there at the convergence of two magnificent thoroughfares, where there is pure air, abundant shade, smooth lawns, asphalt pavements, perfect drainage, detached residents, and rapid transit?

“Pine Hills is one of the distinguishing and remarkable features of the NEW ALBANY . . . This is no forced boom, no straw sales, no fictitious valuation.” Strange to say that this wasn’t just sales talk, as Pine Hills has proven to be one of Albany’s enduring neighborhoods, looking and feeling today very much like it did a century ago. Minus the streetcars, of course.

Two things about this ad that you don’t see in advertising much anymore: an admonition to “talk it over with your wife,” and the word “ought.”

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A Day in Albany

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From the “Albany Tourist’s Handy Guide,” by John D. Whish, 1900:

A Day in Albany
For the leisurely traveler, a day or more in Albany offers many pleasures. If a general sight-seer, he can walk about a bit — probably to the best advantage on Broadway, State and Pearl streets — which will give an idea of the city’s business life; continuing with a short stroll across Eagle street, through Academy Park and up Elk street which is the society quarter, going on by St. Agnes school and crossing over to Washington avenue past the Cathedral of All Saints, and thus to the Capitol. It will take an hour or two to see the great building in a general way and a guide is desirable. When the Capitol has been “done,” the walk may be continued over Eagle street to see the Executive mansion and the beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Returning and passing down State street, another hour may be spent in Geological Hall, and before luncheon, if the day be not too warm, a fine birds-eye view of the city may be had from the roof of the hotel Ten Eyck. After luncheon, a ride in a Pine Hills car will show the residence beauties of the city as mentioned in “One Hour.”  A stroll through Washington Park will repay anyone and the King fountain and Burns monument should by all means be seen.

If possessed of literary tastes much time can be spent among the rare books and manuscripts in the State library. If a collector of art, books or curios, proper credentials will open to view treasures nowhere else to be found. In fact, the individual bent can be gratified in Albany to almost any extent imaginable. For the artist there are the studios, the scenery of the near-by mountains and the beauties of the cemeteries. For the collector are offered many things according to his taste. For the engineer there are the electrical power houses of the street railway, the Watervliet arsenal and the great filter system of the city water plant. The literary man can find rare treasures in many a private collection. The scientist may visit the State museum, the observatory or the laboratory and collections of the Medical College.

In other words, to all strangers within her gates the Ancient City of Albany offers congenial surroundings and attractions to each after his kind. Even the poet is not neglected, for one of the many beautiful drives leads directly to the “Vale of Tawasentha,” made famous by Longfellow’s Hiawatha, but better known to the resident populace by the prosaic name of “Normanskill.”

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The Gurney — they love it in Pine Hills!

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Gurney heater.pngIf you live in one of the fine Pine Hills homes built by the Albany Land Improvement and Building Co. somewhere around 1890, when streetcar travel started to make the western reaches of Albany attractive to the middle class, I’d guess there’s a good chance your original boiler and radiator was a Gurney. William J. Caine of 27 Pine Avenue, who just happened to be the superintendent of the company, felt it his duty to inform the Gurney company that after using it two years, he hardly knew how to express himself, “as it combines all the good qualities NECESSARY TO MAKE A FAMILY HAPPY.” A child of fifteen could run it! Central heat, while no longer quite a novelty, was certainly a comfort that the older generation had done without and now valued greatly.

No doubt your boiler was long since scrapped (and an entire battleship made from it, by the looks of it), but there’s a good chance there are still some Gurney radiators up in Pine Hills.

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Pine Hills

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VillaLotsAtPineHills.pngIn 1892, Albany was spreading out, and the Albany Land Improvement and Building Company was enticing Albany’s middle class to live out of the noise and dirt of the city. This ad begins with an auctioneer’s speech: “$840 I’m Offered!. . . and Sold for Eight Hundred and Forty Dollars.”

“If you are an Albanian and read the daily papers, you will at once associate the above with the recent auction sale of villa lots at Pine Hills, whereby so many rent-payers took the only wise course and propose to become home-owners.

Does the subject interest you?
Are you quite satisfied with paying to another what you could keep for yourself?
In a rented house you have neither the pride of possession, the pleasure of adornment, nor the contentment in living, which is possible only in a home of your own.

Study the advantages of a home at Pine Hills. The sooner you decide, the cheaper you can get it. Values increase with each succeeding purchaser. Come into our office and learn all about it.”

So sayeth the Albany Lane Improvement and Building Co., which was conveniently located in the Tweddle Building, successor to Tweddle Hall, right at the Old Elm Tree Corner.

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