Category Archives: Rensselaer

Tragedies on the Trolleys

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Woeful Accident on Electric RailwayThe Albany and Hudson Railway, which provided trolley service from Hudson to Rensselaer and into Albany, only lasted under that name from 1899 to 1903. In addition to running the trolleys, the company ran a resort called “Electric Park” at Kinderhook Lake. A round-trip ticket from Albany to Electric Park cost forty cents. Extra cars ran on Sundays and holidays to serve the park.

On a late spring Sunday, May 26, 1901, trains were running to and from the park, filled with those who wanted to enjoy the park’s two Ferris wheels, carousel, vaudeville amusements and boating. (The roller coaster wouldn’t be built until 1907.) Train 22 left Rensselaer at 3:17 pm, two minutes late and carrying, after some stops, 83 passengers. Frank Smith of North Chatham was the motorman, and Charles Johnson of Clinton Heights the conductor. Train 19 set out northbound from Kinderhook Lake 3 minutes later, running 20 minutes behind with about 20 passengers. William Nicholas of Rensselaer was the motorman, and Seward Clapper of Nassau the conductor.

Much of the line was single-track, necessitating careful timing and the use of sidings so that cars could pass each other. At a spot known as siding 69, somewhere on the border between East Greenbush and East Schodack, there was a deep bank to the west and a large bluff to the east, creating a bend with no visibility along the tracks. Northbound No. 19 got to siding 69 at 3:30, “on the south side of the bluff and slowing up to give [conductor] Clapper a chance to drop off and turn the switch in the siting just ahead, when, without a moment’s warning the south-bound car [No. 22] dashed around the corner at full speed, and before the motorman could even shut off the power or put on the brakes, the cars collided, knocking each other almost to pieces in the jam of telescoping.”

The Times-Union’s coverage the next day was nothing short of sensationalistic:

 “In the cars were two masses of injured humanity huddled together in conscious and unconscious state. Beneath them trickled their own blood, and in answer to their appeals for help came back, the moans of injured men, the screams of hurt women and the voices of children. For the minute those who had life left in them were too stunned to realize what had happened. Shock and pain gave them patience, as it were. Then began the race of life. Those of the passengers who were not so severely hurt as to be unable to assist began the work of rescue. The task was slow and wearisome. One by one the dead and the injured were extricated from the wreck and sent to places where they could be best cared for under the circumstances until the arrival of the surgeons.

Dr. W.F. Allen, of Rensselaer, was the first to reach the scene. He was followed by Drs. Powell and Griswold, and O’Hare of Nassau; Kern and French, of East Albany, and Garrison and Humphrey, of Rensselaer. The rural district was turned in a moment from quietude to an immense operating room. Where but a few minutes before the blades of grass stood erect and green, the forms of men, women and children were stretched in all their bloody repulsiveness … The saddest carload that ever entered Rensselaer was that which arrived shortly after 6, earing the mangled bodies of Motormen Smith and Nicholas, with the floor of its baggage apartment and every seat filled with wounded, some unconscious and many groaning with pain.”

Four were killed immediately, motormen Smith and Nichols, Miss Annie Mooney of Stuyvesant and Miss Maud Kellogg of Ballston. The next day another passenger died, Daniel Mahoney, a mate on the steamer Dean Richmond. Those who survived suffered every kind of laceration, broken bone, bruise, concussion and other injury imaginable.

Conductor Clapper said he was standing by Nicholas. “the car was slowing down and I was just ready to jump out and run ahead to throw the switch when I heard Nicholas cry, ‘Good god, there she comes, jump, jump!’ I looked and saw No. 22 coming like the wind and right on us. It seemed as though I had no more than thrown the door wide open and jumped before the crash came.” Nicholas wasn’t so lucky. The Times-Union didn’t spare its readers the grisly details of the conditions of the motormen’s bodies.

Even in its first reporting, the Times-Union speculated that motorman Frank Smith was to blame. Under the headline “Was Smith Temporarily Demented?” they reported stories that he was either demented or mentally incapacitated “at the time he took the car from the switch at the high rate of speed at which it was going, when he new that another car was in all probability dashing towards that point in an endeavor to make up time lost. It is said that ever since the sad death of his wife some time ago he has been depressed, and at times was very remorseful and sullen. Possibly one of such mental spells was upon him and caused him to forget the danger which threatened him when he disregarded the rules of the company.” An official investigation also placed the blame on Smith “not stopping at siding No. 69, where he should have met car No. 38 on run No. 19.” But his conductor was also assigned some of the blame, as he “should have been on the lookout to see whether car No. 38 of run No. 19, was on the siding or not.” His mental state was not described. The rules of the railroad were not found to be at fault.

As terrible as the accident was, it wasn’t the last fatality on the line. The very next summer, August 4, 1902, a trolley headed from Electric Park to Hudson came to a stop, possibly from losing contact with the third rail. The next car behind it, an extra car to handle the summer crowd, came quickly behind at about 40 mph and slammed into the back of the stalled car. Again, the injuries were horrendous, with two dead at the scene and another dying of her injuries some days later.

The Albany & Hudson & Kinderhook & Greenbush Railway Gas Electric Bridge Company

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Albany & Hudson Railroad #22 at Electric Park Station, Kinderhook, New York. From the Joseph A. Smith railroad photos collection (

Remember when street railways also owned hydropower dams and provided electricity and gas service? Yeah, we never heard of that before, either. But turns out it happened, at least with one local streetcar company.

To get to the formation of the Albany and Hudson Railway and Power Company, which was incorporated in 1899 under the general Railroad Law, one has to do a railroad and electric company version of begats. First, the Citizens’ Electric Light and Power Company of Hudson and the Kinderhook Power and Light Company were merged into the Hudson Light and Power Company. Then, Hudson Light and Power was merged with the Hudson Street Railway Company, forming the Hudson Light & Power & Railroad Company, which was a real boon for local ampersand manufacturers. The Kinderhook and Hudson Railway was then merged into it, and then the HL&P&R and the Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway were merged into the Albany and Hudson. All this took place over the course of a few months in 1899.

So this conglomerate came with a number of assets as well as good intentions. The Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway had been chartered in 1897 to create a railway from Rensselaer to Niverville, but prior to the merger “a comparatively small amount of work had been done in the way of acquiring rights of way and grading the roadbed for an overhead trolley road.” They changed their plans to using a third rail in order to connect with the former Kinderhook and Hudson Railway, and had contracted to enter Albany and connect with its United Traction Company. “With the exception of the final work on the viaduct over the tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River and the Boston and Albany Railroads, near the city of Rensselaer, the entire road is now substantially completed. It is intended to run through cars from the connection with the United Traction Company, in the city of Albany, to the city of Hudson, operating by the overhead trolley in cities and with the third rail in other places.” Interestingly, the Albany and Hudson got a fair amount of its revenue (nearly half, in 1900) from sale of gas, electric light and power. The company’s directors and officers were all from New York City, and the company’s headquarters was 100 Broadway in the Big Apple. “In addition to its railroad properties the Albany and Hudson Railroad Company owns all the lighting plants, both gas and electric, in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer, and also furnishes electric light and power to the villages of Kinderhook, Stuyvesant Falls, Nassau, East Greenbush, Niverville and Valatie.” But even that didn’t last long – the company went into receivership in 1902 and was acquired by the newly formed Albany and Hudson Railroad, not Railway, in early 1903, which was run by a different set of NYC people, also at 100 Broadway.

The Albany and Hudson Railroad Company continued for a few years; then, in 1909, it was reorganized again into the Albany Southern Railroad, which bought the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Co. That was the company that owned the Greenbush Bridge, which we’ve talked about before. It also supplied gas and electricity in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer and electricity in Kinderhook, Nassau, Niverville, Schodack, Stuyvesant, North Chatham, Valatie and other communities along the east side of the Hudson River from Troy south to Hudson. They also supplied electricity to the Chatham Electric Light, Heat & Power Co., and the Wynantskill Hydro Electric Company. The electricity came from a hydro and steam plant at Stuyvesant Falls (4,000 kW in steam turbines, 3450 kW from water wheels). In 1921, the company produced 18.1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 72,183,000 cubic feet of gas; they had 7,386 customers at the end of 1921.

They ran an interurban third-rail electric line from Albany to Hudson, 38 miles, as well as local lines in Hudson. They also moved freight and express in concert with the steam railroads, connecting with the New York Central at Rensselaer and Hudson and with the Boston and Albany at Niverville and Hudson.

We don’t see what they paid for the Greenbush bridge, but in 1919 it was finally sold to the State of New York for $890,000, which was dedicated to improvements in company property. By then the company had offices in Rensselaer, and was still involved in electrical generation and distribution.

A Chatham Courier article says that the Albany Southern ceased operations in 1929. We’re not sure how long the trolleys ran from the Rensselaer side into Albany. But the merging apparently wasn’t done. A Knickerbocker News article from 1957 said the Albany Southern Railroad, Gas & Electric Company merged with the Eastern New York Utilities Company of Rensselaer, “which in turn, joined with the Municipal Gas Company, Albany; Troy Gas Company, Cohoes Light & Power, Adirondack Power & Light Corporation, Schenectady, and the Montgomery Light & Power Corporation, Canajoharie, into the New York Power & Light Corporation. (That, of course, eventually was merged into Niagara Mohawk.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, even after it became Eastern New York Utilities, “everyone continued calling it the Albany Southern.” That article said that New York Power and Light bought the Albany Southern’s rights of way in 1929, taking over the power and light business but abandoning transportation. “Shortly before the trolley cars stopped running the United Transportation Company opened its bus service from Albany to Hudson and some shorter runs.”

Of course, it’s well-known that the Albany Southern was also responsible for Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake, one of several amusement parks operated by trolley car systems in the area. The Knick News article said that since 1919 it has just been a campsite.

Tolls Across the Hudson

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Not a cent for tribute 1931For the longest time, it’s been said that the Dunn Memorial Bridge is the southernmost toll-free crossing of the Hudson River (which is saying something, being that it’s 145 miles from Albany to the Battery). But that wasn’t always the case.

Its predecessor, the Greenbush Bridge, was constructed as a private project in 1882 by the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Company, which ended up in the hands of the Albany Southern Railroad, the streetcar line (and more – it also provided electricity and gas); it bought the bridge for $600,000 in 1909. In all those years, there were tolls, and frequently there was agitation against those tolls. That agitation grew as automobile traffic did. In the second decade of the 20th century, there was a move to have the State of New York take over the bridge and remove the tolls, with several legislative proposals. The Columbia Republican (Hudson, NY) lamented in February of 1916:

A traveler may go from San Francisco to Boston over free highways and cross innumerable bridges without paying a cent of toll until he gets to the doorway of the capital of the Empire state, when the Albany Southern Railroad company will hold him up on a free state highway route and demand payment before he can cross the Hudson river. This is the condition described at the hearing on the bill of Assemblyman John G. Malone of Albany which would provide a method for the state to take over the Greenbush and any other bridges which form connecting links on state highway routes.

(Locally, the toll bridges included the Congress Street bridge between Watervliet and Troy.)

The Albany Southern didn’t think much of this proposal, although the company itself didn’t then run trains or trolleys over it (United Traction Company held a contract to run trolleys). There had always been a potential plan to add a full rail crossing on an upper deck of the bridge, which they argues was just about to happen as they were in negotiations with the Rutland railroad to extend its line to Pittsfield. The Albany Southern thought the Delaware and Hudson was behind the bill to prevent the competition. They worried that when the state took over, it might refuse to let the railroad use the bridge, or charge a high rent.

The debate continued into 1917; in March, the president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, J.Y. Read, called the situation a disgrace to the entire state. Calling it the busiest traffic center in the state outside of New York City, Read said that

It has been estimated by competent observers that approximately 300,000 automobiles crossed this bride last year. In addition there were horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians, and every vehicle and pedestrian crossing this bridge was held up by the owners of the bridge and obliged to pay tribute in the form of a toll charge.

The boast of the State of New York is that she has spent millions and millions of dollars for the development of her highway system and that her roads are free to the world, and yet right at the steps of the State Capitol every tourist who crosses the Hudson River is held up by a private corporation and charged for the privilege of traversing the State highways.

The battle, of course, wasn’t just over the Greenbush bridge; the question was whether the State should take over all toll bridges crossing navigable streams and connecting highway lines. Eventually, that was decided, and in 1919 the state bought the bridge for $890,000, and thus ended the discussion of tolls between Albany and Rensselaer.

No, of course that didn’t end it. When it came time to replace the Greenbush bridge with what would be the Dunn Memorial Bridge, there was legislation that would have assessed a charge against both Albany and Rensselaer counties to pay for the bridge, or at least approaches. That prompted the cartoon seen above, which featured in a 1931 ad in the Albany Evening News, signed by Rensselaer luminaries such as the Bayer Company and F.C. Huyck, which proclaimed:

We in Rensselaer do not believe that we ought to be assessed a toll to travel the Albany-Rensselaer Bridge. That, in effect, is what we would be required to do under the Whitney bill providing for a twelve and one-half percent bridge charge against the county. You men in the Legislature – if you pass this highly undesirable and unfair bill – will be taking away a free bridge made so by statute, and substituting therefor a structure for which we will have to pay in order to cross. That is contrary to law, contrary to public policy. The statute specifically provided that when the State bought the Greenbush bridge it should be free forever.

It’s not clear that the powers of Rensselaer had their way. A 1933 article on the opening of the bridge noted that in a “compromise,” the cost to Albany county was eliminated, but the cost to Rensselaer wasn’t mentioned. Neverthless, it wasn’t a toll per se, and traffic was relieved.

The Albany-Greenbush Tunnel

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"There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level."

“There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level.”

Yesterday, in talking about plans to replace the old Greenbush Bridge, we noted the somewhat odd comments of Holland Tunnel designer Fred Williams, who had come to Albany to talk about how you should always think about a tunnel, but lamented that “This isn’t tunnel day.” Well, that wasn’t as random as it sounded – turns out, a tunnel had been seriously considered earlier that same year.

Yep. On Feb. 14, 1928, the Albany Evening News unveiled the first description of a proposed tunnel under the Hudson River between Albany and Rensselaer, proudly announcing “Albany – Rensselaer Project Will Introduce Maj. Hewes’ Spiral Staircase Approach – Nassau Architect to Show Drawings Thursday at Public Discussion of Plan in City Hall.”

The project provides for circular approaches, an engineering concept that may have profound effect on future tunnel construction. Traffic goes into and out of the tunnel by means of a spiral “staircase,” an expedient heretofore unthought of and which resulted from special study of landscape conditions prevailing here and in Rensselaer.
The idea originated with Major James E. Hewes, an engineer and former executive of the Eastern New York Utilities company. He is a member of the Albany-Rensselaer bridge committee, created to determine whether a new structure is needed between the two cities and what form that project should take.

There would be a public discussion of the plan at City Hall, with Nassau architect Herman Kobbe, who was associated with Hewes, to display “a series of water color and pen and ink pictures of the project.” It was confidently expressed that the total project, including land, dredging, the tunnel and ventilating systems would not exceed $5 million.

Location–The Albany terminal would be a few hundred feet north of the Greenbush bridge and would be situated in Riverside park extending from the river to Broadway. In Rensselaer the terminal would be directly in front of the Huyck mills with exit and entrances to Broadway.
These proposed terminals would serve not only to shelter the ramp approaches dipping into the earth but could be utilized for office, manufacturing or state and municipal requirements, according to Major Hewes. Because of the substantial foundations necessary for the ramps, a building of almost any height could be erected over them. The buildings would have an area of 300×300 feet each, providing 90,000 square feet of space to the floor. Major Hewes believes that each building could be made to provide an annual rental return of $200,000.
The Approaches–Entrance and exit of the terminal would be at street level. In order to forestall the danger of high water, with terminals built at the river brink, the street at that point would be elevated a few feet. This would make the top of the ramp at least four feet above the height of the highest water ever recorded here.
The ramps would be thirty-four feet wide of reinforced concrete construction. Two types of ramp construction are named. One provides for a ramp within a ramp. This would permit unobstructed passage for traffic descending to the tunnel, while traffic bound upward would travel the second ramp.
The other type of ramp provides for two distinct approaches, side by side. One for ascending, and the other for descending traffic.

Listen, we’re living in the 21st century. Ramps aren’t entirely a rarity. But in 1928? Not terribly common. They needed explanation.

An automobile entering the Albany terminal at street level would begin the descent to the tube at once. On the downward trip the motorist would make two complete circles before reaching the tunnel level. He would descend a total of 76.8 feet and would actually travel 1,920 feet over a four per cent grade, a trifle less sharp than the grade of the State street hill between James street and Pearl street.
The Tunnel–The tube itself would be 860 feet long. It might contain two roadways, one superimposed above the other with a four foot fill between. The idea here would be to divide east and west bound traffic, or to make both levels two way, and limit trucks and heavy vehicles to one level only. Another plan would provide but one roadway, resting on the bottom of the tunnel.

The article noted that the tunnel would be flat, not sloping like the recently completed Holland Tunnel; the tube would be 50 feet in diameter, steel reinforced concrete built near the site and then lowered into the river onto a dredged bed and joined, then covered so that it would have four feet of stone above it as protection against a boat sinking and coming to rest on top of the tube. Major Hewes was confident the whole thing could be put in place in less than two years, and that at no time would the work interfere with navigation. Maybe so. We never found out.

Time for a new bridge to Greenbush – or maybe not.

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The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

Is anything ever simple around here? No, it is not. So, while it took years to get agreement to build the first bridge between Albany and Greenbush, the only bridge that carried automobiles across the river below Troy, you would think that when it came time to replace it, it would be relatively simple. It was not.

In August of 1927, the Albany Evening News reported on a plan to replace the Greenbush bridge with a new span, reporting that

Albany business and professional men are thoroughly aroused … to the insufficiency of the Greenbush bridge. Many visiting motorists, after once negotiating the structure enroute to Albany, have declared to hotel men they would rather skirt the city than again meet delays incident to crossing the only bridge entering Albany. Merchants declare trucking costs are higher and delay in deliveries across the river frequent, as the result of traffic jams and stoppage of traffic due to passing ships.
“The Greenbush bridge, designed to accommodate leisurely, horse drawn vehicles, resembles nothing much better than a cow path in the light of modern bridge engineering,” [Chamber of Commerce President Westcott] Burlingame said. “Actually the old Greenbush bridge appears to be shrinking As motor traffic increases and the old structure creaks and groans under the pounding of automobiles, trucks, buses and trolleys, all striving to squeeze through two narrow lanes, I really believe the sides contract. Every time I cross the bridge it seems the lane has become smaller and the curbs closer.”

James Gheen, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the importance of the crossing:

“North of Peekskill there is no bridge spanning the Hudson river until you strike the Greenbush bridge at Albany. Motorists travel along the river for miles, headed for the bridge. And when they get there perhaps a boat is passing and the draw is open, delaying motor traffic. Or there is the usual congestion of vehicles at several periods in the day. The motorist tarries impatiently. Queer greeting to hold him off as long as possible, he thinks. He wants speedy access to this destination. The Greenbush bridge doesn’t permit that to the visitor from the country east of the Hudson river. The bridge is one of our gateways. I believe in building a new gateway across the Hudson. We need it.”

The News of December 2, 1927 reported that the plan to replace the old bridge with a new bridge was actually opposed by leaders from the other side of the river, in a hearing held by a special committee of the Albany Chamber of Commerce to probe the bridge situation and seek relief from traffic congestion on the bridge.

“A delegation of business men from Rensselaer led the fight to keep the present bridge and received unexpected support from a Castleton delegation, which expressed itself in favor of the present bridge, to be augmented, however, by a new high level bridge at Castleton.
Points made by the proponents of the present bridge are that the structure is still suitable for use and could be made efficient by raising it, using the upper deck as another traffic lane and installing a new bascule type draw.
The Castleton delegation pointed out that while the Greenbush bridge is really a necessity for communication between Albany and Rensselaer, natural advantages pointed to the Castleton site for a new high level bridge.”

A group of Rensselaer businessmen said the existing bridge could be repaired, that the approaches could be widened and ramps erected to provide a traffic lane on the upper part of the bridge (which originally was meant to carry a rail line that never materialized). The state engineer of bridges and crossings, Harvey Schermerhorn called that an impossibility that would cost more than building a new bridge.

Someone by the name of Captain Ulster Davis (perhaps a river captain?) believed that draw openings could be expedited and the old bridge used for years if a bascule lift draw were installed in place of the swing span. “He said he had seen lift draws that could operate in sixteen seconds.” A designer of the Holland Tunnel, Fred Williams, was in attendance, and made a snide response to a colleague, “We’d like to see one of those sixteen second lift draws, wouldn’t we, Davis? We tried to design some that would work that fast but never succeeded.” He proceeded to note that it would be impossible to build a new lift span into the existing bridge, and wouldn’t be able to allow traffic in the meantime. In fact, the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which replaced the Greenbush in 1933, would be a lift bridge.

Reading between the lines, Williams’s presence must have indicated at least some consideration of a tunnel option. Either that or he ran around the country opining about tunnels. “I haven’t much to say today. This isn’t tunnel day. But I do want to say that although a tunnel is always feasible where a river crossing is wanted, it is not always the best thing. Whether a tunnel would serve the best purpose in this case, I can’t say now.” Good thing it wasn’t tunnel day.

“No figures of probable cost for revamping the bridge were presented by those who hope to convince the bridge committee that the Greenbush structure could easily be made adequate. No traffic figures were presented by those aspiring for a new bridge to convince the committee that the Greenbush bridge is a back number, a nuisance to highway traffic and a menace to navigation.”

Eventually, the decision to build a new bridge would be made, but again, there would be controversy. We’ll get into that anon.

The Bayer Factory

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1946 Aerial View of the Bayer complex in Rensselaer, NY

1946 Aerial View of the Bayer and General Aniline complex in Rensselaer, NY. Click for a full view.

Again from the Fairchild Aerial Surveys collection of the New York State Archives. This time, a 1946 view of what is described as the Bayer Aspirin Factory, Riverside Avenue, Rensselaer. But what we’re actually looking at may be a little more complicated than that.

A paper by Leander Ricard, posted at, gives the history of the dye industry in scenic Rensselaer, which went back a long way. When it was written in 1994, there was still some dye-making going on at the site, but its heyday was long past.

According to Ricard, the business started on Hamilton Street in Albany in 1868, when cardboard maker A. Bott branched out into colorants and formed the Albany Aniline and Chemical Company. Dyes, mostly then made from coal tars and other somewhat nastier substances, weren’t entirely compatible with a residential neighborhood, and the plant was moved down to Broadway. Bott bowed out, familiar Albany names like Hendrick and Pruyn moved in, and a connection to German dye-maker Farbenfabriken of Elberfeld was established as the company got into the magenta business, which was raging at the time. A couple of imported chemists, William Loesser and Hermann Preiss, had a falling out with manager Elwood Hendrick and, with the support of Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedrich Bayer and Company, formed the Hudson River Aniline Color works in 1882 on a site across the Hudson River in Greenbush (now Rensselaer).

Hudson River Aniline made fuchsine (magenta dye) and water blues. In agreement with Bayer, the line expanded to alkali and cotton (acid) blues, then continued to grow. The plant burned in 1895 but was quickly rebuilt. In the first part of the 20th century, the plant expanded greatly, and in 1905 new buildings were dedicated to the manufacture of aspirin, for which Bayer today is most famous. In 1910, the name of the company was changed to Farbenfabriken of Elberfeld Co. and then in 1913, perhaps out of fear that their sign would collapse under the weight of all the letters, the company name was changed to The Bayer Co.  When the United States entered The Great War in 1917, the company was seized as alien property and sold to a patent medicine outfit called Sterling Products, which wanted the pharmaceuticals. (Which got them involved in some early patent trolling involving another Albany company, which we’ve written about before.) The dyestuff part of the plant was sold to Cleveland’s Grasselli Chemical Company, under whose banner colorants were produced until 1928. The facility eventually landed under the name of General Aniline and Film Corp., better known as GAF, and in 1978 was bought by BASF, “Badische Anilin & Sodafabrik,” another German outfit.  The history of the many buildings at the site, some of which can be seen in this view, can be found in this report by Hartgen Archaeological Associates. A brief listing of the buildings is also available here.

Remaining buildings AMRIUnfortunately, there isn’t such a detailed history of the pharmaceutical buildings at the site. They are the ones that are front and center and the ones that survive today. (Others from the dye works were torn down over time, most recently to accommodate a new electric generation plant.) Sterling Winthrop continued to operate there (as well as up the hill, where their research laboratories are now part of the SUNY Albany East Campus), manufacturing aspirin and who knows what else. They owned the Bayer Aspirin name for decades; Bayer didn’t get it back until 1994, when short-term Sterling owner Eastman Kodak sold its pharmaceutical business after only six years. The research business, which Kodak valued, was in the process of being moved out of Rensselaer to Upper Providence Township, PA, when Kodak jettisoned the whole business line. The prescription side went to Sanofi, and the over-the-counter business went to SmithKline Beecham, which sold the Bayer brand back to Bayer. (Thanks to a detailed history of Sterling posted here.)

This 1989 article from the Schenectady Gazette tells the tale of the impending loss of 1,210 jobs at the East Greenbush / Rensselaer facilities, leaving 135-150 jobs in what was called Sterling Organics Manufacturing. In the Hartgen document, those buildings are primarily considered off the map, listed as “Organichem,” which today is Albany Molecular Research Inc., AMRI, an active pharmaceutical concern.

General Aniline Works water tower

General Aniline Works water tower. At least we assume it was water. Who knows.

Building 41 BASF Rensselaer

This is Building 41 of the dye works, an oddly church-like building whose date of construction we don’t find.

Sterling Organics buildings

The Sterling Organics buildings to the left still stand today, home of Albany Molecular Research Inc.

In 1946 this was still under construction. Today it's a hulking eyesore.

In 1946 this was still under construction. Today it’s a hulking eyesore.

Hulking building along turnpike

Not sure what role this building played, whether it was for the dyes or the drugs.

As we said, an eyesore today.

As we said, an eyesore today.


Bayer and General Aniline from the southeast

Bayer and General Aniline from the southeast

And, one last view, this time from the southeast. The road running diagonally is the Columbia Turnpike, Routes 9 & 20. At the upper end of the photo, you can see that the road turns instead of leading to the ramp for the Dunn – because then the Dunn Memorial Bridge came squarely up Third Avenue instead of having a ramp that snaked over to the turnpike. In 1946, the turnpike was lined with an even more ragtag assemblage of buildings than it is today, which is saying something. The baseball diamond and athletic fields are still there.

There’s a pair of deep cuts into the Port of Albany, across the river, just south of the Bab-O factory, that are no longer there, but the railroad siding just beyond them is still there. Much of the rest of that landscape has been changed by I-787.

Railroads on both sides of the river

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NY Central Rail Depot Albany 1876

Location of the New York Central Rail Depot in Albany in 1876

Amtrak knows you have choices in rail travel and appreciates … oh, wait, no you don’t. If you want to travel by rail in this country in 2015, other than commuter rail, you’ve got precisely one option. In 1863 Albany, things were very different.

Remember that the Livingston Avenue Bridge, the first bridge across the Hudson at Albany, didn’t open until 1866. Before that, travelers had to get to one side of the river or the other, by ferry, to get to the railroad of their choice. (Alternatively, they could ride up to Troy and cross the river there.) But choices there were. Some of these specialized in freight, of course.

One thing worth noting, though – in certain circles there is frequent carping that the train station should never have left Albany and been moved to Rensselaer. The reality is that trains were leaving from Rensselaer, in far greater numbers than they left from Albany, long before the fondly remembered Union Station was even built.

On the Albany side, the rail options were:
Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Nearly complete in 1863, it ran from Albany to Binghamton. The office was at 73 State Street. Ezra Prentice was the President; today his name is mostly remembered with a Albany Housing Authority complex on the south end, but he held a number of political posts in the 19th century, including President of the New York State Agricultural Society. Would you like to read some poems written about the Albany and Susquehanna? Of course you would. It was absorbed into the Delaware and Hudson in 1945.

Albany and Vermont Railroad The Albany and Vermont was a successor to the Albany, Vermont, and Canada, which was a successor to The Albany Northern Railroad Company. Its board included Erastus Corning and Lansing Pruyn. It ran from Albany through Cohoes to Waterford and then to Eagle Bridge in Washington County. It’s not clear that it ever actually reached the Green Mountain State; an 1880 article on its sale to interests in Troy noted that it ended at Eagle Bridge. It was leased and actually operated by the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad company, and trains left from the New York Central depot which, as noted on the map, was on Montgomery Street, east of Broadway, just north of Maiden Lane. (Montgomery Street still exists, but only as alleys/sidewalks behind the buildings facing Broadway.)  Its president was Thomas W. Lockwood.

Albany and West Troy Horse Railroad This one was led by A.A. Dunlop, President and Treasurer, and Peter Hogan, Secretary and Engineer. West Troy at the time was what is now Watervliet (and Watervliet at the time was what is now the town of Colonie). When construction of this road was awarded in 1862, it was announced that it would run from the South Ferry in Albany, up Broadway, thence on the Troy road to the north of the village of West Troy. It was double-tracked most of its distance.

New York Central Railroad The big kahuna. Its general offices were in the Exchange Building, and the location of the depot is shown on the map above. An 1879 map of the NY Central and Hudson River Railroad can be found here, but it’s a bit confusing as it shows the line passing through East Albany, not Albany; that would seem to only reflect the Hudson River Railroad’s route.

The rest of these railroads, even the ones with “Albany” in their names, departed from a depot in East Albany, which was a part of what later became Rensselaer:

Albany and West Stockbridge Railroad Dating to 1836, this one left from Greenbush, went south through Schodack Depot on a path of tracks that I believe still exists, through Niverville to Chatham and then turned west toward Massachusetts. In 1863 it was listed as leased and operated by the Albany and Boston Railroad, and its directors were some of the grand Albany names: Thomas W. Olcott, John V.L. Pruyn, Chester W. Chapin, Volkert P. Douw, and others.

Harlem Railroad This one had an office in Maiden lane at the corner of Dean street, but trains left from the depot in East Albany. It proceeded on the Albany and West Stockbridge tracks to Chatham Four Corners, and then continued south to New York City.

Housatonic Railroad This one also left from the depot in East Albany. How it connected with the Albany and Boston and the Albany and West Stockbridge is for better minds for minutiae than mine, and it ended … well, somewhere in Connecticut. You go figure it out.

Hudson River Railroad This railroad also had an office at Maiden and Dean, but left from East Albany and traveled south to New York City. Smith Briggs was its general agent, and Robert G. Cruttenden its ticket agent. In 1863, it was just about to come under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and it would be merged with the New York Central in 1869.

Troy and Greenbush Railroad This ran from East Albany / Greenbush north to Troy, and would become a part of the Hudson River Railroad.

The Proposed River Bridge

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Proposed Greenbush Bridge.pngYesterday we had an artist’s rendering from 1886 of the then-new Albany Greenbush bridge. It looks like it was built pretty much according to this plan, which was laid out in the charter of the Albany Greenbush Bridge Company, which gave these specifications:

Wrought Iron Bridge.

The company contemplates erecting a bridge of wrought iron for the accommodation of carriages and foot passengers, and over the carriage-way a railroad track. The bridge will be 844 feet long, a 400 feet draw in the center, and a 222 feet span at each end. The following extract from the specifications will show the ease with which the draw is to be managed.


The first draw span will be 400 feet long over all, and will be located between the two fixed spans, and will be built on a turntable 36 feet diameter from center to center of drum. The bridge across the Mississippi at Louisiana, Mo., has a draw 444 feet, and has been worked successfully for four years past. This will be of same pattern.

Draw – How Worked.

The draw span will be worked by two steam engines, connected at right angles with suitable machinery to swing draw span wide open in the space of one minute’s time, and close it in the same space of time, and suitable hand gearing to operate draw span in case the engines are disabled.


The fixed spans will be two in number, each 222 feet long from center to center of end pins.

Height of Spans.

The height of fixed spans will be 34 feet and 9 inches from center of bottom chord to center of top chord.


This draw is within a few feet of the same length as that of the bridge chartered by Congress and constructed over the Mississippi river at Louisiana, No., and it must be taken into consideration that the Mississippi river at that point has a current of six miles per hour, while there is no perceptible current in the Hudson river. As to obstructing the navigation of the Hudson by this contemplated bridge, those who pretend to believe it do so because they are opposed to any bridge. They know it will not in the least impair the commercial interests of the city of Albany.

The first Greenbush Bridge

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Greenbush Bridge.pngIt wasn’t until after years of bickering that a bridge across the Hudson River between Albany and Greenbush (now Rensselaer) was established. The Albany and Greenbush Bridge Company was chartered by the Legislature in 1872, and immediately hit roadblocks. The merchants of Troy were dead set against a bridge, viewing it as an intentional barrier to navigation that would stop ships at Albany, to the capital city’s mercantile advantage. They’d made the same arguments against the first bridge (now the Livingston Avenue Bridge) and the Maiden Lane bridge, both built in the years after the Civil War. The ferry lobby wasn’t too keen on it, either; having lost the fight against the railroad bridges some twenty years earlier (and with it, a lucrative business moving rail cars across the river), the ferry operators realized that a crossing that would accommodate people and horses would probably be the end of the business.

Somehow the public interest prevailed, and on Jan. 24, 1882 the first Greenbush Bridge opened. We haven’t previously stumbled across any images of that first bridge after it was built, so we’re thrilled to find this lovely engraving from an 1886 Albany Bicentennial commemorative history. The bridge was a swing bridge, similar to the Livingston Avenue Bridge.

On the Albany side, you can see the mouth of the Island Creek, a northern extension of the Normanskill (dammed or bridged, it is not clear). The land between it and the Hudson is Westerlo Island, owned by the Van Rensselaer Land Co. The railroad running just north of the creek is the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company Rail Road; the West Shore Rail Road connected just outside this picture. On the Greenbush side, the tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road are heading toward the Maiden Lane Bridge, and the Boston and Albany is heading on up north.

According to an article in the Albany Evening News on the occasion of the opening of the new Dunn Memorial Bridge, the Greenbush bridge opened on Jan. 24, 1882, and was designed for both highway and railroad use, but the upper portion for railroad tracks had never been completed.

It was built on speculation by Jose N. Navarro, builder of the first elevated road in New York City. Navarro had an idea he could unload the span on one of the railroads, but his principal prospect, the New York, New Haven and Hartford failed to grasp “the opportunity” and Navarro’s completed project slipped into the hands of New York bankers.

Subsequently the bridge company, headed by A. Bleecker Banks, a former mayor of Albany, operated the span as a toll bridge for the bankers. Years later the bridge was sold to the old Albany Southern Railway and by that company to the state of New York in 1919. It was then made a free bridge.

The Roof Garden

There was one odd feature to the Albany-Greenbush bridge, at least for a brief time. According to a column in the Times-Union back in 1928,

Some thirty or more years ago a roof garden was maintained on the Albany and Greenbush bridge. It was in existence for one season and then discontinued. The garden was located on a platform erected high on the draw of the bridge which draw is one of the longest in the country. There music and light refreshments were to be had and the garden proved a most popular place, especially during the very warm weather. The  high location with the Hudson river flowing beneath and the draw opening and closing at intervals during the evening, made the time spent there most delightful and refreshing.

The roof garden was spacious and was prettily decorated with varied colored lanterns which not only provided light for the garden, but constituted a picturesque sight high in air over the middle of the river. At the time there were seats along the side walks of the bridge and people came in large numbers to enjoy the cool air both on the walks of the bridge and in the roof garden.

Of this roof garden, we find not another mention anywhere.

Numbered Days

Dunn and Greenbush Bridges 1935 12496204_10205490170200218_4807056653523422962_o

The new Dunn Memorial Bridge (with its draw lifted), and the old Greenbush bridge, 1935.

The Greenbush Bridge stood until it was replaced by the new Dunn Memorial Bridge, which opened in 1933. The old bridge was intended to be demolished within 90 days of the opening of the Dunn, but dating on this photograph seems to indicate it lasted some time longer than that.

R.V. Pasco, stove maker

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RV Pasco.pngHaven’t been able to learn much about R.V. Pasco, whose 1863 ad appears here. He was one of many stove makers and dealers in the area at a time when the Capital District was the stove capital of the country. His was one of the few businesses in Greenbush (now Rensselaer) that advertised in the Albany directory, but this was at a time when the railroading business in Greenbush was starting to boom and perhaps residents on the eastern side of the river were numerous enough, and cold enough to need their own stove maker.