Category Archives: Albany

Not enough galvanized iron cornice these days

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In fact, to say there’s not enough galvanized iron cornice these days is a sad understatement. While I’ve seen some lovely, graceful buildings with nice decorative elements put up in other cities (look at all the handsome new construction in Washington, D.C. over the past decade and change), here we settle for the quickest, cheapest, ugliest, least decorative econoboxes available. Not that I’m bitter. But Albany is a beautiful city of graceful historical buildings, and J.W. Osborn and Bradley Martin had to have at least a small hand in that. If you know where to look, there’s still a fair amount of galvanized iron cornice, window caps, &c. around for the viewing, 140 years later. That they were selling these items from James Street, right off of State in the heart of downtown, rather than the distant lumber district, suggests they were appealing to the upper class of citizens who appreciated the makings of a fine home. Where would you go for galvanized iron cornice today? Not Google, that’s for sure – all references are to that past.

Yeah, I’m just gonna wait until they invent foam

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No doubt that H.R. Watson used the finest curled hair, husk &c. (and if you have already covered hair and husk, just what could that “&c.” be?) in their mattresses, and no doubt that “spring under” was a major innovation, even though today it seems logical that you wouldn’t want the springs on top of the mattress. (Unless of course you really wanted to be separated from the curled hair.) And honestly, I don’t know how “live” I want my geese feathers to be. But maybe it’s best that Watson had some French lace curtains on hand to fancy up the place.

Plain Street, which once ran west from South Pearl between Hudson and Hamilton, is no more, destroyed by the South Mall Arterial.

Finally, drugs and art supplies in one place!

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In 1870, John Humphrey, perhaps feeling he had an insufficient number of J’s in his name for the changing times, sold out his entire stock of drugs, medicines, paints, oils, glass, druggists’ sundries and fancy goods to one John J. St. John. The establishment continued at 39 Washington Avenue, which I presume was across the street from the new Capitol.

Where to get your tassels

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McEntee, Dunham & Co. imported both French and American paper hangings, and manufactured and dealt in window shades, shade fixtures, and picture cords and tassels. If you know anything about Victorian decorating, you know that someone who could corner the tassel market would live like a king. in 1870, McEntee’s shop was on Green Street, just four doors in from State Street. You’d need to count the doors because you couldn’t see in through the windows, what with the window shades and all.


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Kids, prepare for a shock. It used to be that when you needed a copy of something, you couldn’t just pop it in a Xerox machine. Before the advent of xerography in the 1960s, there actually was no way (short of full-scale printing methods or photographic duplication) to make a copy of an existing document.

However, if you were creating a document with the intention of making multiple copies of it, you had a few options other than letterpress. Mimeograph made high-quality, black-ink documents created by typing on a stencil; ditto machines, which anyone my age remembers well from school quizzes, had both distinctive purple ink and a delightful smell from the duplicating fluid.

In Albany in 1940, there were a number of full-service mimeographing firms. They also provided addressing services, which required that every address be typed onto an individual stencil, which was framed in cardboard and then run through a machine called an Addressograph. There were also mimeos and dittos in thousands of offices.

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Hartshorn’s Shade Rollers

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Okay, so Hartshorn’s shade rollers weren’t made in the Capital District, but how often do you see ads for interior decorating, or window treatments, or anything, that tout that they are in use at many public buildings, including (shouting now) THE NEW CAPITOL AT ALBANY? Not often. Not often enough.

Apparently there’s still quite a market for Hartshorn shade rollers, and their ads only got better.

Weeber Bicycles

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Weeber Cycle Works 1907.pngChristian Weeber was an inventor and tinkerer who built a variety of things in his Albany shop in the early part of the last century: handbuilt automobiles, some of the earliest automobile mufflers, gasoline-powered electric generators, a type of railroad rail. And with his brother Emil, he made and sold bicycles. Weeber had a variety of locations for all his ventures, which were going on at the same time: 170-172 Central Ave., 47-53 Bradford Street, 250 Sherman Street.
Unfortunately, this jack of all trades is forgotten today.

Hate Albany? Blame it on the Dutch.

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In Dr. Morse’s American Geography published in 1789, he says, “Albany is said to be an unsociable place … To form a just idea of the manners and customs of the inhabitants, we must confine ourselves to the Dutch, who being much the most numerous, give the tone to the manners of the place.”

in 1795, the Duke de la Rochefoucault-Liancourt visited Albany, and gave his views of the inhabitants as follows: “I was by no means displeased at leaving Albany. The Albanians, to speak generally … are the most disagreeable beings, I have hitherto met with in the United States.”

In 1800 Gorham A. Worth writes, “Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch – Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch.”

(Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Volume 10: “Real Burial Place of Lord Howe” 1911)

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When you need bar belt dressing

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We’ve seen ads where the advertiser begs leave to inform you of the availability of his humble product. That may be good enough for the other guys, but Stephenson Bar Belt Dressing didn’t go in for that namby-pamby stuff. Every mill suppliers should carry it. There’s something wrong with him if he doesn’t. And if he won’t give you a free sample,  just let Stephenson know, and they’ll send around a couple of the boys to convince him. Oh, he’ll carry it, all right.

The cure may be worse than the disease

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Surgery Eye and Ear.pngOr not, because look at that disease. I’ve posted this image from an 1860-something Albany directory before over on My Non-Urban Life, but it deserves a second look. I don’t know what’s wrong with
the eye on the right, but I’ll say this: I don’t want it. Also, whatever
the surgical cure would have been in the time of the Civil War, I don’t
want that, either. Catarrh (excessive buildup or discharge of mucus in the nose or throat) was practically a blessing compared to the other ailments that Dr. Liston treated in his offices on Grand Street. I’m not saying he wasn’t a good doctor, I’m just saying there may have been a reason he had the largest selection of artificial eyes in the country.

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