“One of the memorable incidents of the year was the passage of Abraham Lincoln through the city, on Tuesday morning, February 19th, when going to Washington to be inaugurated president of the United States. In consequence of high water in the river great danger attended the plying of the ferry-boat between Albany and Greenbush, and as there was no other way of crossing the Hudson at that point it was deemed prudent to convey the president elect, his suite, and the delegations escorting him, by a train of six cars to Waterford Junction and thence on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad to Troy. Not less than thirty thousand people were in and around the Union Depot to welcome the eminent statesman. While the train was crossing the bridge between Green Island and the city, a detachment of the Troy City Artillery fired a salute of thirty-four guns. As soon as the cars entered the station, the cheering multitude began struggling to get near the coach in which Mr. Lincoln was seated. It was the last car of the train. A plank was laid from the rear of it to a platform car that was covered with matting and guarded by the Troy Citizens’ Corps. Mr. Lincoln crossed on the plank to the open car, and on it, the Hon. Isaac McConihe, mayor of the city, in a brief address, welcomed him to Troy and tendered him its hospitalities. The president elect, having courteously expressed his thanks for the honor paid him, was then conducted by D. Thomas Vail, vice-president of the Troy Union Railroad Company, to the Hudson River Railroad train; the rear car of which was entered from the one on which the addresses had been made. As the train left the depot, Mr. Lincoln, standing on the platform of the last coach, bowed with uncovered head to the multitude of cheering people.”
And how did the president-elect courteously express his thanks? With the brevity, humility and grace that would come to characterize his public speeches. The Troy Daily Budget reported his remarks as follows:
Mr. Mayor and Fellow Citizens of Troy, New York:—I
am here to thank you for this noble demonstration of the citizens of
Troy, and I accept this flattering reception with feelings of profound
gratefulness. Since having left home, I confess, sir, having seen large
assemblages of the people, but this immense gathering more than exceeds
anything I have ever seen before. Still, fellow citizens, I am not so
vain as to suppose that you have gathered to do me honor as an
individual, but rather as the representative for the fleeting time of
the American people. I have appeared only that you might see me and I
you, and I am not sure but that I have the best of the sight. Again thanking you, fellow citizens, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
The night before, at Albany’s Gaiety Theater, Don Rittner reports that Mr. Lincoln first laid eyes on John Wilkes Booth.
In 1870, a Mrs. Catherine Guiton was running a grocery and saloon at 70 Canal Street, which is now Sheridan Avenue. I presume John J. Guiton was her son, who built the business up to the claim of being Albany’s greatest grocers and, in 1907 at least, was located at 144-146 South Pearl Street, in business with Patrick C. Reilly. John and Patrick helped make legal history in 1911 in the all-important butter versus oleo debate.
Seriously, whether oleomargarine could be yellow or not was a raging battle. In “People of New York vs. John J. Guiton and Patrick Reilly,” the State contended that the grocers sold two packages of oleo to state inspectors, “honestly represented, but having a yellow color and that otherwise ‘resembled’ real butter. It was not contended that there was any misrepresentation, but the dairy authorities claimed that the law prohibits the sale, even if the product resembles genuine butter in any way.” This recounting of the case comes from “The National Provisioner,” which with a straight face called itself the “Official Organ of the American Meat Packers’ Association.” (I’d have thought kidneys, perhaps, or liver.) In its exciting coverage of the case, the official organ said, “Here was where the court dealt the butter argument a death blow. Getting at the bottom of the whole controversy at one stroke, Justice Cochrane declared that oleomargarine had as much right to a yellow shade as butter, provided its ingredients were natural, and provided it was sold under its own name.”
A search of the auction sites will turn up the occasional crock or jug from Guiton, declaring “Albany’s Best Grocers’ and Bakers’.” (The apostrophes to indicate plurals are Guiton’s, or Guitons’, not mine.)
Things That Never Will Be Settled
“Engineer” says that among things that never will be settled are the following:
- Whether a long screw driver is better than a short one of the same family.
- Whether water wheels run faster at night than they do in the day-time.
- The best way to harden steel.
- Which side of the belt should run next to the pulley.
- The proper speed of the line shafts.
- The right way to lace belts.
- Whether compression is economical or the reverse.
- The principle of the steam injector.
I’ve always admired a rather grand commercial building at 4 Central Avenue in Albany, but never thought to figure out its original purpose. Then I ran across an 1898 ad that showed it in its relatively new glory as the home of Helmes Brothers Furniture Warerooms. The numbers on the eyebrow indicate that it was built in 1872. Today, 140 years later, it looks pretty much the same, although it has lost the “Helmes Bros.” marking at top. At the time it was built, this building was wildly uptown. In later years Central Avenue would become Albany’s big commercial strip, and then of course from the 1950s on it declined as the population and stores moved to suburbia.
In 1826, Richard Starr of Albany Type Foundry issued the largest selection of display types yet seen in the United States (according Kelly’s “American Wood Type: 1828-1900”). Shown here are a few samples that would have been in that early catalog. Starr’s selection included Romans in Open, Double and Meridian Shade, in sizes up to 16 points. Outlined Antique and Italic, and Tooled Antique and Italic were available up to 5-line (display) sizes. A 14 line Roman was the largest in the book.
Richard Starr was one of five brothers who worked in type in various cities in the U.S.; his brother Edwin is said to have been the first person in the country to regularly engage in punch-cutting (the creation of a typeface for reproduction) as an occupation. As early entrants to this craft, their type-making ventures frequently went out of business, and they would move on to another town. In 1824, Richard Starr set up in Albany with Obadiah Van Benthuysen, who was the first printer in the country to use steam engines to drive his machines. The letter announcing the specimen book of the Albany Type Foundry claimed that “one of this concern has been engaged in letter-cutting for more than fifteen years, and that he has cut more than one-half of all the letter now cast by all the American Founders.” They offered nonpareil (six point type) at one dollar and twenty cents a pound, brevier (about eight point) at seventy cents a pound, and other sizes at proportionate rates. Van Benthuysen exited the foundry, and firm carried on as Starr, Little & Co. It was located at 8 Liberty Street. The partners split by 1833, and Starr appears to have moved on to New York City by 1840; Little ran a type foundry for a few years longer. Various men who had worked for them set up type foundries across the state.
The typefaces shown here, while certainly not designed to reflect the capital city, were cut and produced here, and can be seen in any number of publications put out by Van Benthuysen, who in addition to a brisk book and broadsheet-publishing business put out various incarnations of the Albany Argus.
In 2001 a David Peat reproduced the entire catalog of a later Albany operation, the Franklin Letter Foundry of A.W. Kinsley, which I’d love to get my hands on.
I’d love to find out what the talents were.
Many of us who grew up in the Capital District in the 1950s and 1960s remember our class field trips to the Norman’s Kill Dairy, right down on the Normans Kill just on the edge of Albany. (The dairy favored the possessive apostrophe; the creek does not.) The school bus had to stop and we walked across the Whipple truss bridge that crossed the kill; the bus was too heavy. And so, knowing where the farm was, I was surprised to run across this ad in a mid-1930s city directory, with delightful mascot Normie saying something that could have stood a little punctuation, and to see an oddly familiar and yet out-of-place address: 120 S. Swan Street. That’s not on the edge of town, that’s right in the middle of it, just a block or two from where I work. Well, then, it turns out that Norman’s Kill Farm Dairy actually had its processing operations right downtown. Where is 120 South Swan? Today you’d recognize it as the mysterious Empire State Plaza turnaround, a legacy of the South Mall Arterial’s planned connection to a highway under Washington Park, which I wrote about last year at All Over Albany.
Having a dairy in the middle of a highway wasn’t really going to work, so as it did with hundreds of other buildings that were in the way of the South Mall (eventually re-monikered as the Empire State Plaza), the State used its powers of eminent domain to take the dairy’s property. The State tried to get the property on the cheap, claiming the plant was obsolete and demolition was imminent. A court did not agree, and granted the dairy $1.16 million for the property in 1966, which was quite a chunk of change. Whether the dairy ever really replaced the sizeable and apparently very profitable operations it had on Swan Street, I don’t know. If you take a look at eBay, you will find Norman’s Kill Farm Dairy milk bottles from time to time.
The Norman for whom the Normans Kill is named, Albert Andriessen Bradt (“Norman” refers to his place of origin, Norway, rather than a name), is my 10th great grandfather.
This is a view of the corner of North Pearl and Columbia streets, sometime in the late 1800s. I presume it’s the northwest corner, across Columbia from the Kenmore. None of these buildings are there today. The building on the corner, which housed Pemberton’s groceries (“Erected 1710. Established 1818”), is the Lansing-Pemberton house. It was built around 1810 by a man named Lansing, then sold to Pemberton. At one time it was occupied by the Widow Visscher. The information card accompanying it in the Library of Congress, written in 1937, says, “It was especially distinguished as the lodging place for Indians who came to Albany for the purpose of trading their furs, too often for rum and worthless ornaments. Here in this building many stirring scenes transpired when the Indians held their powwows and became uproarious under the influence of strong drink. At such times the widow would use her broomstick freely. It was a potent scepter in her hands and never failed to restore order, for the most stalwart Indian who had ever felt its power looked upon it with awe.”
The building, and likely its neighbors, appears to have been demolished in the 1890s. It was made of yellow brick, one and a half stories. The upper half was originally left unfinished and used for the storage of skins and furs. No two rooms were on the same level. The ceilings were not plastered, “but the beams and sleepers were polished and the jambs of the fireplace faced with porcelain, ornamented with Scripture scenes.”
In the photo are 10 or 11 boys, gathered outside Pemberton’s on a winter’s day.