Category Archives: Albany

The steam ferry comes to Albany

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Until the early 19th century, the only way to cross the Hudson at Albany was by batteau, rope ferry or the newly invented horse ferry. But as Howell notes in his “Bi-Centennial History of Albany,” “In 1827 the subject of procuring a steamboat for the South Ferry began to be agitated.” The horse-ferry lobby didn’t take this sitting down, but steam interests won (and, after all, the Hudson was where the steam boat was made famous) and in 1828 the Chancellor Lansing began running between the Albany and Greenbush shores, apparently putting the horse ferryman “One-Armed Bradt” out of a job. (It’s possible that steam boats required two arms to operate, at least at first.).

For reasons lost to history, the North Ferry ran a couple of decades behind the times. Sited where the current Corning Preserve boat launch is and running directly across the river to Bath-on-Hudson, this ferry didn’t even get a rope-scow until about 1800, and the horse-boat didn’t come until 1831 (perhaps having been displaced by the steam ferry down at the South Ferry). The steam ferry didn’t hit the north until 1841, and according to Howell, this was a much more lightly used ferry.

There was a third ferry as well, which ran from Maiden Lane (where the Hudson River Way pedestrian bridge is). It was established in 1842 by the Boston and Albany Railroad, and ferried railroad cars across the river. By then, the ferry interests were already well into a pitched battle against the creation of a bridge across the Hudson, but they were pushing against progress. The opening of the Livingston Avenue Bridge in 1866 was the beginning of the end for the ferry business. The opening of the first Greenbush Bridge in 1882, at the South Ferry site, was the end of the end.

One river to cross

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Almost every day of my life, I cross the Hudson River, sometimes several times, sometimes at several points. If I’m feeling devil-may-care, I may throw in a crossing of the Mohawk just for kicks. And if I’m up around Peebles Island, I’m sometimes unsure just what river I’m crossing. Living where we are, we are highly dependent on bridges. But for the first couple hundred years of settlement in these parts, there were no bridges, only ferries.

According to Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” etc., the exclusive rights of ferriage across the Hudson between the original four wards of Albany and the opposite shore of Greenbush were granted to Albany by the Dongan Charter of 1686, and that right was later incorporated into the city charter. The “right of ferry” gave the City of Albany the exclusive rights to establishing, licensing and regulating all ferries on each side of the Hudson River between Albany and Greenbush.

The first ferry across the Hudson at Albany was established in 1642, and may have been the first in the United States. On the Albany side, it was just north of the Beverkill, just about where the Dutch Apple and the USS Slater dock today, and crossed directly to Greenbush on the opposite side of the river. The first ferry boat was described as a “rude scow, propelled by hand by means of poles. This was used for the transportation of teams and wagons, while a simple boat or a batteau was employed in carrying passengers. The first ferry-master was Hendrick Albertsen, who built the first ferry house on the Albany side. When he died around 1648, he was succeeded by Jacob Janse Stall. It does not appear that in the early days Albany received any portion of the fares, nor does it appear to have regulated fares until much later. In 1754, the City began the custom of auctioning off the rights to run the ferry, and set the fares:

  • For every person, if single 3 coppers
  • For every person, if more than one 2 coppers
  • For every head of cattle 9 coppers
  • For every hundredweight of beaver or skins, 4 coppers

But even by then the beaver trade was diminished, and a new schedule of ferry rates issued in 1786 focused on livestock, furniture, and barrels of rum, sugar and molasses.

Rope ferries were the only kind used at this point (which came to be the South Ferry) until 1817. The boat used was “an ordinary scow, guided by means of a rope stretched across the river, to which the scow was attached by a rope and pulley, the boat being propelled by hand. About this time what was known as the horse ferry-boat came into use at the South Ferry. This kind of boat was peculiar to America, and of most singular construction. A platform covered a wide, flat boat. Underneath the platform was a large, horizontal, solid wheel, which extended to the side of the boat.” Two horses were harnessed on what was essentially a horse treadmill. This craft, devised by a Mr. Langdon of Whitehall, New York, originally used two horses, but larger craft later used as many as twelve at Albany’s South Ferry.

More on ferries tomorrow.

New Year’s Eve: no pernicious discharges allowed

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New Year's Eve.pngA gentle and timely reminder from your friends at Hoxsie: Chapter 81 of the Laws of 1785 was passed to restrict your New Year’s Eve celebration options:

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Whereas great dangers have arisen, and mischief been done, by the pernicious practice of firing guns, pistols, rockets, squibs, and other fire works on the eve of the last day of December, and the first and second days of January; for prevention whereof for the future . . . .” Therefore it was enacted by the State of New York “that if any person or persons whomsoever, shall fire or discharge any gun, pistol, rocket, squib or other firework, within a quarter of a mile of any building, on the said eve, or days beforementioned, every such person so offending . . . shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of forty shillings with costs of suit, to be levied by distress and sale of the offenders goods and chattles . . . . “

In other words, fire a gun between Dec. 31 and Jan. 2, have one credible witness rat you out, and the man can sell your stuff to raise the fine, in the neighborhood of $200 in 21st century money.

Also, there was something about a “moiety.”

Danker, the Maiden Lane Florist

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Not many businesses from the 1905 Albany Directory are still around. Danker Florist has been around since 1898. Amazingly, they outlived Maiden Lane, once one of Albany’s most important commercial streets, the gateway to the docks and a hive of commerce for all kinds of goods that came by boat. Now only a short strip of Maiden Lane survives between Pearl and Broadway, best known for being a hive of sandwich shops. The rest of its path was pretty much lost until the pedestrian walkway over I-787 was built. Why that’s not called the Maiden Lane Bridge (instead of “Hudson River Way,” which no one calls it) I’ll never know.

In fact, in a typical act of orneriness, I’m calling it the Maiden Lane Bridge from now on.

Why does every waterfront community have a Maiden Lane? I’d like to know.

Going to the poor house will cost ya extra

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From the 1905 Directory of the cities of Albany and Rensselaer, a detailed description of what were then called “hack fares,” the equivalent of taxi fares today, which applied to hackney coaches, cabs or other carriages for conveying passengers therein..

  • For each passenger for any distance, within the paved streets, not
    exceeding one mile, fifty cents. But no omnibus shall charge or receive
    more than twenty-five cents for the conveyance of each passenger within
    the paved streets, not exceeding one mile.
  • For each passenger for any distance within the paved streets over one mile and not exceeding two miles, seventy-five cents.
  • For each passenger for any distance over two miles, not exceeding three miles, one dollar.
  • For each passenger from any part of the paved streets to the Alms House and back with the privilege of detaining the carriage at said Alms House, two dollars. 
  • For each passenger from any part of the paved streets to the Penitentiary and back, with the privilege of detaining the carriage at said Penitentiary thirty minutes, seventy-five cents.
  • For attending a funeral from any part of the city east of Robin street, to any part of the public burial grounds of the city, for each carriage two dollars.
  • The owner or driver of any hackney coach, cab or other carriage, shall be allowed for every hour the same may be detained, except as aforesaid, for each carriage one dollar for the first hour, and for every additional hour seventy-five cents; or the passenger or passengers may have the privilege of keeping the carriage all day, between the hours of eight in the morning and six in the evening, for eight dollars. Such owner or driver shall also be allowed to charge for one hundred and twenty-eight pounds of baggage at the same rate as for a passenger.

Why a trip to the Alms House cost more than twice as much as a trip to the nearby Penitentiary is simply not explained. The Alms House was an institution that housed those who had no home. A history from 1857 notes: 

“Of the inmates seventy-three are lunatics, thirty-two
males and forty-one females, seventy are paupers, the remaining, three
cases pay from $3.00 to $4.50 per week . . . One half, at least, of the paupers are reduced to their
present position by reason of intemperate habits.”

Time’s devouring hand

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Worst metaphor ever. Hands don’t devour. Considering the huge reputation of Thurlow Weed, publisher, kingmaker, party boss, whoever wrote this ad for his publishing firm (in 1905, years after his death in 1888) should have his hand slapped with a pica pole. Devour that.

The Weed-Parsons Printing Co. building still stands, as home of the Albany Center Gallery.

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How do you make a Venetian blind?

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Well, the makers of “Albany” Venetian Blinds may have been blind to the implications of unnecessary quotation marks, but at least they were fairly consistent in calling into question where their blinds were actually made. And this is another delightful example of old-school understatement and the mildest persuasion. “Perhaps you may want some for your windows. We’ll be very glad indeed to tell you all about them.”

Al Smith, standing tall

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Al Smith building

You know how you always hear the Corning Tower is the tallest building between New York City and Montreal? Well, before the 42-story tower at the Empire State Plaza opened in 1966, the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building held that honor. At 34 stories and 388 feet, it was not only fabulously tall, but when it opened in 1928, it was only 9 feet shorter than Montreal’s tallest, the Royal Bank Building that was completed in the same year. (At the time, the tallest building in New York City was the Woolworth Building; if you’d put the Smith Building on top of the Royal Bank, the Woolworth building would still have had seven feet on them.)

Al Smith was born in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1873. The son of working class parents and the product of Catholic school, Al was a newsboy who had to go to work fulltime as a fishmonger to help support his family when his father died. Witty and personable, he fell in with the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, picking up local political jobs and eventually becoming a member of the Assembly, where he became Speaker in 1913. He ran for Governor in 1918, winning four two-year terms (though not consecutively – the Harding landslide of 1920 put Governor Whitman in the Capitol). Starting in 1924, he took a number of stabs at the presidency, but being a “wet” Catholic from Tammany proved too much to overcome. He died in 1944.

The building wasn’t named for Al Smith until 1946, when another famous also-ran-to-be, Governor Dewey, dedicated the building to his predecessor. Prior to that, it was just the State Office Building. You know, the one where all the state offices were. Once upon a time, it had an observation deck on the 31st floor, but that closed in 1976 when the observation deck of the Tower Building (later the Corning Tower) opened.

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Albany: close to everything!

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Where in the United States of America is there a city from
which so many summer resorts can be reached so quickly, easily and cheaply as
from Albany? Did you ever think of it? Saratoga, Lake George, the Adirondacks,
the Catskills, the Helderbergs, Howe’s Cave, Cooperstown, Sharon Springs,
Ballston Spa, Round Lake, Kinderhook, the Berkshire Hills. Yes, and the great
seaside pleasure grounds at Coney Island, Rockaway and the Jersey coast are all
within a few hours of Albany, with perfect means of transportation; and there
is always the beautiful Hudson and beautiful Washington Park.

— The New Albany, 1891

And at that time, you could (in fact, almost had to) get to them all by public transportation.

Who was who, Albany, 1900

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Someday soon I’ll relate the fascinating story of Dr. William Henry Johnson, a free black man who long ran a highly respected barber salon on Maiden Lane in Albany, from which he made contact with all the leading figures of abolition and the Underground Railroad. He led groundbreaking changes in New York State law, and worked tirelessly for equality for African-Americans. But for today, I just want to share his recitation, under the title “Business Notice,” of some of the leading businesses of the day in Albany in 1900.

John G. Myers’ princely department store on North Pearl street rivals anything of its kind here or elsewhere. Wm. W. Williams & Son’s is the place to find diamonds. A.B. Van Gaasbeek carries a first-class stock of mattings, oil cloth, rugs and carpets. Mrs. Harriet Chapman, 136 South Swan street, has one of the best and well-equipped boarding-houses. G.H. Mayer, 48 North Pearl street, deals in furniture and wall paper of every description. Talmadge, the Tailor, 42 Maiden lane, is first-class in every respect. Marsh & Hoffman, 79 to 83 North Pearl street, carries a fine stock of jewelry and bric-a-brac. Tebbutt & Sons, funeral directors, 84 and 86 North Pearl street. J.R. Nangle, 93 Second street and 67 and 70 Quay street, coal and wood dealer. For fine cigars and tobacco, “Payn’s,” corner Maiden lane and James street. Winchell & Davis, 504 and 506 Broadway, and 25 James street, wholesale wine and liquor merchants. Killip & Marks, 1 to 5 North Pearl street, carry a full line of men’s furnishing goods. The Cigar Smoker’s Headquarters is located at 23 Steuben street. The Thompson Cottage, 61 Hamilton street, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., first-class boarding, Mrs. Eva T. Marshall, proprietress. St. James Café, 6 James street, Peter A. and Fred P. Elliott, proprietors. W.H. Sample, 40 South Pearl street, carries a full line of cutlery. Jas. D. Walsh, plumbing and sanitary engineer, 40 Sheridan avenue. Frank Smith, druggist, Clinton avenue and Lark street. William E. Drislane, North Pearl street, carries a full line of groceries. White & Griffin, tailors, 523 Broadway. John Doyle, 12 James street, plumbing and draining. William Blasie, hot and cold baths, 389 Broadway. George A. Bailey, 112 State street, represents the Equitable Life Assurance Society, of New York. C.G. Craft & Co., clothiers, corner Maiden lane and James street. Henry Russell, the flour merchant, 42 State street. Walker & Gibson, wholesale druggists, 74 and 76 State street. The Ten Eyck is a first-class hotel, located corner Chapel and State streets. The Kenmore, on North Pearl street, affords first-class accommodations. Stanwix hall, corner Broadway and Maiden lane, does a large business. Keeler’s Hotel, corner Broadway and Maiden lane, is one of the finest hotels in the State, complete in every particular. Mr. Douw Fonda, of State street, carries a full line of drugs. G.W. Luther & Sons, anthracite and bituminous coal, 45 Columbia street. Chas. G. Stewart, The Travelers’ Insurance Company, of Hartford, Conn., No. 7 First street, Troy, N.Y. Garry Benson’s Turkish baths are fine, located on State street …

The Albany Business College is a good educational institute. Its methods of education is excellent and commendable. It is a treat to look in to Annesley’s Art Store, on North Pearl street. His accommodating assistants are most courteous gentlemen; none more so than Messrs. David Coleman and A.J. Boylan. The beautiful half-tone illustrations which grace the pages of this little volume is the distinctive work of the Albany Engraving Company, Maiden lane . . .
Captain Slattery’s Arcade Hotel is one of the best in the city. B.W. Wooster’s Sons’ furniture is commended to purchasers. Patrick Maher’s popular smoking and spellbinding emporium attracts general attention. Christopher Keenholtz is a most accomplished guide and lecturer at the State capitol. He will show you and explain everything appertaining to the State capitol without apparent trouble. “Jake” Doyle is a joker, but he does not know it. Gentlemanly Sam Mcalindin is a peach, courteous and accommodating. He has exclusive charge of William H. Keeler’s wine room. Charles Parrott is his first lieutenant. Miss Catherine Riley, principal cashier of that hostelry, is highly esteemed by the patrons of the restaurant. Miss F. Coughlin looks after the cash in the main dining-room. Happy William Stroby is ever present, and has general oversight. Frank Settley has charge of the ladies upstairs ordinary. George Taylor, the veteran, is the general superintendent at night, with Ed. Cooper who looks after the dining-room at night and Miss J. Lyons at the desk. Mr. Keeler is fortunate with the continuous service of his first hotel clerk, Mr. Dexter Brazil. There is no more competent gentleman for that position than he. Mr. Chas. Mann, who has general charge in Mr. keeler’s absence, is a thorough hotel man, and an adept in hotel and business technicalities. Young John Keeler, who is following close in his father’s footsteps, is studying the hotel business, and some day he will be a full-fledged hotel keeper. Bernard Quinn, the “Silver King,” of Maiden lane, is a study and knows all about books and stationery.

It does go on.

For more on William Henry Johnson, look here, here and here.