Category Archives: Rensselaer

$10 down and $2 a week

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Hampton Manor Ad 1927 3.jpgAs we mentioned yesterday, in 1927 the suburbs of Albany were starting to boom. Veeder Realty was pushing two new developments, Birchwood Park and Hampton Manor. Birchwood Park was between stops 18 and 19 on the Schenectady Railway Company trolley line to Albany, somewhere in Colonie. As far as we can tell, Birchwood Park is lost to time, though no doubt some of the homes still exist. Hampton Manor, as noted yesterday, was and remains a tidy little development in East Greenbush. Neither place can be accessed by trolley, and Hampton Manor’s direct bus service was cut last year.

Even by 1927 standards, $10 down and $2 a week doesn’t seem like a lot of money for buying a lot.

“The plan enables you to start building without the usual method of first paying up for the lot. A small amount of cash secures the lot and starts the building . . . and the balance is paid same as rent but considerably less than most rents are these days! Act at once. The liberality of the plan may bring a demand that we cannot meet. First come, first served. At least INVESTIGATE!”

Hampton Manor

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Hampton Manor Ad 1927.jpgBy the 1920s, Albany had pretty much filled out to its current extent; the wide open lands of Pine Hills had been built up in the 1890s, and the trolleys made it possible for people to live outside the city and still get to work. The sudden growth of the personal automobile also led expansion into the suburbs, and new housing developments started to spring up. Places like Menands and east Colonie started to grow, and across the river, settlement spread beyond the hamlets that now made up the city of Rensselaer. Up the hill in East Greenbush, Veeder Realty Co. started selling building lots in Hampton Manor. This ad from 1927 promises pure spring water (“think that over, Mr. and Mrs. Albanian!”), a lake stocked with trout, and a new school and church (St. Mary’s) within the gates of the development. There was a fine state road (Columbia Turnpike, now Routes 9 & 20), two trolley stations and the Nassau bus, not to mention a very short drive across the old Greenbush bridge.

“Don’t mind the ‘Detour’ signs. They don’t apply to Hampton Manor.”

Dunn Memorial Bridge

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Dunn Memorial Bridge postcardAlways nice to see a view of the old Dunn Memorial Bridge, named in honor of posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Parker F. Dunn, Morton Avenue’s bravest son. But it’s also nice to see the kinds of messages people used to spend a penny to send:

“Thats a railroad bridge that I go across on     Bob”

Of course, it was never a railroad bridge. He may have been confusing it with the Maiden Lane bridge just to the north, which carried the tracks over the river to Union Station.

In 1971, the old Dunn blew up real good.

Trolley disaster at Greenbush

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Trolley Crash.pngThe 1890 railroad sabotage at Greenbush miraculously took no lives. But a 1901 trolley crash outside Greenbush (which is now part of the city of Rensselaer) was much more serious, killing at least seven people.

It was May 26, 1901, and the trolleys were at the start of their summer runs. In those days, most local trolley companies had amusement parks way out at the ends of their lines; the Albany Fast Line’s destination resort was Electric Park in Kinderhook.

“Electric-cars racing for a switch while running in opposite directions at the rate of forty miles an hour, cost five lives yesterday afternoon by a terrific collision in which over forty prominent people were injured, some fatally, and others seriously.” The five killed immediately included the two motormen; two more died shortly of their fatal injuries. At least 11 others were seriously injured.

“The lobby of the post-office filled with dead and wounded, hysterical women and children looking for relatives and friends, surgeons administering temporary relief, and ambulances racing through the city, taking the wounded to hospitals … The scene of the accident was a point about two miles out of Greenbush, on the line of the Albany and Hudson railway. The point where the cars met on the single track was a sharp curve, and so fast were they both running and so sudden was the collision that the motormen never had time to put the brakes on before South-bound Car No. 22 had gone almost clean through North-bound Car No. 17, and hung on the edge of a high bluff, with its load of shrieking, maimed humanity.”

Fortunately for the sensitive readers of the age, the newspaper accounts were reserved and tasteful:

“Fully 120 men, women, and children formed a struggling pyramid, mixed with bloody detached portions of human bodies and the wreckage of the cars … The few women and children who had escaped injury and death were hysterical, and added their cries to the shrieks of the dying and mutilated. Men with broken arms and bones, dislocated joints, and bloody heads and faces, tried to assist others who were more helpless. Help had been summoned from East Greenburg [sic] and vicinity, and in a little time the bruised mass of humanity, with the mutilated dead for a gruesome and silent company, were loaded on extra cars and taken to 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.

Rensselaer, Rail Town

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Livingston Avenue Bridge

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

Today, Rensselaer is probably best known for being the home of the Albany Amtrak station. Since 1968, passengers have been unable to disembark on the capital city’s side of the river, but Rensselaer’s rail history goes way, way back, and once upon a time the rail yards were a massive employer here. Unfortunately I had to miss a recent talk by Ernie Mann, local rail historian, at the East Greenbush Community Library, which went along with his exhibit of artifacts. His Arcadia book “Railroads of Rensselaer” is highly recommended for fans of Rensselaer or rail.

The Rensselaer City Historian undertook a great railroad project last summer, transcribing and posting the diary of Walter Miller, a Rensselaer resident who worked the yards in the mid-1800s. Follow this link and scroll down to the Walter Miller diary link. His diary is a series of short entries describing the conditions that affected his job, which for a time at least was tending the upper bridge crossing (the Livingston Avenue Bridge). It also tells the tale of wrecks, fires, deaths and the time when “cold and high winds and blew the roof of the house of Doct. Wilson’s.” Highly worth reading.

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Bath-on-the-Hudson (on, not in)

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Arthur Weise has one of the few descriptions I’ve found of the former village of Bath-on-the-Hudson:

“Bath-on-the-Hudson, the first station on the Troy and Greenbush Railroad, three miles south of the city [of Troy]. It derived its name from several mineral springs, discovered about the close of the last century, near the village. John Maude, an English traveller, in June, 1800, visited the place; which he described as a ‘town lately laid out by the patroon,’ and having ‘about thirty houses,’ ‘The medicinal springs and baths, at one time so much vaunted, are now shut up and neglected; yet, as a watering place, it was to have rivaled Ballstown, and, as a trading place, Lansingburgh and Troy.’ The manor-house, north of the village, was built about the year 1839, by William P. Van Rensselaer. The village was incorporated May 5, 1874.”

Weise wrote that in 1888. The City of Rensselaer was incorporated in 1897, absorbing Bath, Greenbush, and East Albany. Rensselaer’s website describes the boundaries of the old Village of Bath-on-the-Hudson as “Hudson River (west); Washington Avenue and peripheral street (north);
Quackenderry Creek gorge (east); Catherine Street vicinity (south).”

Airway Motors

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Airway Motors Broadway & Fourth Rensselaer 1940.png

I don’t remember ever hearing of Airway Motors, and a search turns up very little, but in 1940 at least they were a going concern right in the heart of Rensselaer, just a short hop from the Dunn Bridge. The space where they were located was likely obliterated by the new Dunn Bridge ramp in the late 1960s. A Chrysler-Plymouth dealer that apparently also dabbled in house trailers, they advertised in the Altamont Enterprise in the mid-1950s, which seems strange given the distance.

Mmmm . . . steam crackers . . .

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Greenbush Steam Cracker 1894.png

As I’ve said before, if you wanted to show that your product was the height of modernity in the 19th century, it had to be made by steam. Witness Fred Carr & Son’s Greenbush Steam Cracker and Biscuit Manufactory. It had previously been J. Whiting’s cracker factory, at Second Avenue and Washington in what is now Rensselaer. These weren’t your old-fashioned crackers, baked with coal or perhaps boiling vats of offal – these were STEAM crackers! An impressive variety, too – oyster crackers, milk biscuits, ginger snaps, graham crackers, soda wafers, saltines and more.

Frederick Carr’s home at 15 Second Ave., Rensselaer, still stands.

Imagine how ticked off Fred Carr and son must have been when Shredded Wheat started touting its electric baking process, using the power of Niagara Falls. Hey, steam was good enough for you people all these years, it should be good enough now!

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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.