Category Archives: Albany

Again with the steam

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1862 Schenectady Directory Eureka Steam Mills.png

Oh, steam! Is there nothing you don’t make better? I’m not sure exactly what they actually milled at Eureka Steam Mills, which was at Broadway and Division Streets (possibly where the defunct Adirondack Trailways terminal is), but they were one of a number of dealers in coffee, spices, cream tartar, mustard, &c. in downtown Albany in 1862.

It seems to me that in a time when everything was run by steam, Albany was at its most prosperous. Nowadays, with steam mills and steam crackers impossible to find, times aren’t so good. I’m just saying, maybe it was the steam.

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Where the Erie Canal met the Hudson

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Once, it might have been the most important transportation intersection in the United States: the spot where the Erie Canal opened into the Hudson River. Here, barges carrying grain and hundreds of other products from the Great Lakes region had to be lifted from mule-drawn packet boats the plied the canal and moved onto sailing ships and steam vessels that would carry the goods down to New York harbor. And imported goods that had arrived in New York, or any of its many manufactures of the time, had to be manually loaded onto canal boats for their journey west. In the days before the railroads, and even for decades after rail reached over the Appalachians, the water level route was the commercial lifeblood of our nation.

Erie Canal at Albany marker DSCN8357.JPGAnd we still remember it today, with preserved pieces of the original canal scattered here and there throughout the Capital District, noted by the blue-and-yellow markers. But this particular spot, once the busiest harbor in the state outside of New York City, is now a riverside park with no hint of its industrial past. Now part of the Corning Preserve, the site has a bike path, a boat launch and lots of parking, but only a lonely historical marker gives any indication of its former importance. You have to follow the filled-in canal quite a way up the aptly named Erie Boulevard before you can find the first trace of old canal infrastructure, unmarked and forgotten, a little bit of lock wall right in front of the Huck Finn’s Warehouse.

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The Albany-Rensselaer Bridge

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The Approach to Albany Rensselaer bridge postcard.jpgI don’t have a date for this postcard, which features the first Dunn Memorial Bridge, a lift bridge dedicated August 19, 1933, replacing the Greenbush Bridge. By the opening of the Dunn, Greenbush was a memory, consolidated along with Bath-on-Hudson and East Albany into the City of Rensselaer. This is the approach to the bridge as seen from Rensselaer; at the time it connected directly to Third Avenue, with Broadway crossing underneath the Albany-bound ramp. The ramp is lovely. On the Albany side, the bridge connected to Ferry Street. The site in this view has a long history as bridge ramp, as it still connects traffic to the new Dunn Memorial Bridge, several hundred feet to the north.

The building on the left stood until sometime in the 1990s; when I moved here it was home of the now-defunct Yankee Doodle Bikes. The building on the right, with some changes to its roofline, is still there.

The Albany skyline has changed a bit in the years … at this time the most distinctive elements were the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building and the New York Telephone Building. Because of terrain and interceding buildings, the State Capitol is generally not very visible from the Rensselaer side.

Albany and Rensselaer did not get a second vehicle crossing until 1968, when the Patroon Island Bridge, carrying I-90 across the Hudson River, was opened. This bridge, also seen in this postcard view, blew up real good in 1971.

The first bridge to carry non-rail traffic across the Hudson between Albany and what was then called Greenbush wasn’t built until 1882, some years after the upper (Livingston Avenue) and lower (Maiden Lane) railroad bridges were constructed. Like the bridges that came before it, it was an article of contention, opposed by those who feared it would obstruct navigation and by the ferry owners. Even after the first bridge was built, its successors were also opposed. You can find more about that bridge here.

Anthracite.com, early 20th century edition

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You can order your coal by telephone! Imagine: no more dispatching orphans down to the coal yards, crying for anthracite and striking a less than advantageous bargain with the local collier. No more waiting to learn of the bargain while the orphan is distracted by games of pitch-penny or roving tobacco gangs. You simply pick up the telephonic instrument, scream the complicated three-digit calling number at the girl, and in minutes you’re connected with the main office. Will the wonders of this new century never cease?

Yes, there is an Anthracite.com. They don’t give out their phone number.

Some firsts we don’t talk about much

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Albany Perforated Roll Paper 1907.png
Jessica Pasko at All Over Albany wrote last year about how Albany is the home of rolled, perforated toilet paper. She didn’t, however, investigate whether our hometown was also the pioneer in toilet paper holders, but it seems likely. Now you’ve got a roll where you used to have a pile of papers; it couldn’t have taken long to realize that toilet paper wanted to be hung up. A year’s worth of toilet paper and a nickel-plated holder for only a dollar may have seemed a tremendous deal in 1907, but then again, the Sears catalog was free. Apparently, if you didn’t live east of South Dakota, you’d better hope you got the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s catalogs, because the Albany Perforated Wrapping Company’s offer was not for you.

38 Colonie Street, by the way, is currently as dead-end as a dead-end can be.

Bedsteads

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1862 Schenectady Directory Albany Bedstead Factory.png

You don’t hear the word “bedstead” much anymore, which could be why Albany is so shamefully bereft of bedstead factories. Not so in 1862.

But when you Google “bedstead,” one of the top entries is from the Albany Institute of History and Art, which features a magnificent example that belonged to Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

No doubt this factory on the edge of the lumber district produced slightly more modest bedsteads. Rufus Viele was president of the Albany Mechanics Institute, and of the YMCA. He lost ten bedsteads, a crib and a cradle in the fire at New York City’s Crystal Palace in 1858, where he was among the many exhibitors at the Fair of the American Institute.

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Daguerrotype or Ambrotype? So hard to choose…

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1862 Schenectady Directory  SJ Thompson.png

In 1862, S.J.Thompson & Co. was making photographs, daguerreotypes, and ambrotypes at 478 Broadway, in a now-lost building somewhere on the north side between State Street and Maiden Lane. Daguerrotype was the first commercial photographic process. Ambrotype was a positive image on glass, using a collodion solution (and such collodion, it is said, played a role in the invention of celluloid here in Albany). And by the time this was published in 1862, there were a number of other photographic processes known to the public.

The variety of fonts in this ad is typical of the time, when a printer (most likely Joel Munsell’s steam press) showed its prosperity by the number of fonts it could afford to keep, and advertised for its business by showing them off in its publications.

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The Pencil Lead Wars of 1862

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1862 Schenectady Directory Cozzens & Lay stove polish.png

I could put in a phenomenal amount of effort to explain what was going on in the northern New York graphite mines, what sort of a stranglehold Joseph Dixon & Co. was holding over its competitors, and how he who controlled pencil leads held the fate of a free press in his hands. Or I could just explain that graphite from the Ticonderoga area was a key element of stove polish as well as pencil leads, and that Cozzens & Lay of Water Street in Albany really didn’t like Joseph Dixon. Perhaps having created the first wood and graphite pencil made him snooty (whereas stove polishing would make one sooty). Despite setting their prices to suit the times, we all know the “Dixon Ticonderoga” pencil, and their competitor only leads us to imagine a lot of 5th graders snickering when the Cozzens & Lay pencils were handed out.

By the way, the Dixon website seems to think the average American dolt can’t pronounce “Ticonderoga,” and therefore they provide elaborate instruction.

All Hoxsie, all the time

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George Hoxsie Albany Ward 4 1870.pngWhile I’m on this here Hoxsie kick, I might as well mention a little bit more about George Hoxsie, the Albanian with the audacity to think that his name alone was enough to sell mineral water (or perhaps sarsparilla) (or perhaps something else) to Schenectadians. In 1870, shortly after the rooster crowed, George Hoxsie was living in Albany’s Fourth Ward, listing himself as a mineral water manufacturer with real property worth $6000 and $500 in non-real property. For those days, that was a lot, but not nearly as much as his neighbor Abraham Koonz, the carpet merchant, who claimed $80,000 in real property. Wife Jane and mother Anelope (yes, one ‘t’ short of an antelope) lived with him, as did daughter-in-law Libbie (Elizabeth) and grandson Bismark. Yes, Bismark Hoxsie. Throughout the 1860s, George showed up on federal tax rolls, such as in 1862 when he was charged $5.62 in tax on $520 worth of root beer (apparently the soft drink tax is nothing new). George was also the Overseer of the Poor, a politically appointed city position that may have included the oversight of the Alms House. George may have seen better opportunities in the political world than in bottling, for in 1880 he was listed in the census as a foreman at the New Capitol.

And what happened to little Bismark? He won the prize for best speaker in his class at the 20th commencement exercises of Albany High School in June, 1888. He became an osteopath, married a woman named Huldah Van Doren (yes, she became Huldah Hoxsie), and moved to Bound Brook, New Jersey.