Category Archives: Troy

William Kemp and his 65 Second Street Home

Published by:

Our brief mention of the Troy home of William Kemp got us curious … how did 65 Second Street come to be designed by one of the leading architects of his age, Stanford White? White, of the massively influential firm of McKim, Mead and White, designed the arch in New York’s Washington Square, the second Madison Square Garden, a great number of churches and clubhouses, and many residences of the wealthy of the gilded age, primarily on Long Island.

A 1964 article in the Knickerbocker News tells some of the story of the home, which was then undergoing renovation. It was then owned by former U.S. Representative Dean P. Taylor. Just north of it was (and is) the Hart-Cluett mansion, owned by the Rensselaer County Historical Society and also under renovations at the time. To its south was an apartment building that was scheduled to be razed to make way for the Russell Sage College dorm that stands there now, at the corner of Congress and Second. Taylor had served nine terms, starting in 1943, but left Congress after 1960 owing to poor health. He recovered and went into private practice.

“The building is a showplace, from tile and marble-appointed foyer through the main floor reception room and offices to Mr. Taylor’s suite on the second floor. Mr. White – who left many memorials of his talent in such structures as the original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Arch, Farragut Monument and Tiffany Building in New York City – was induced to design the Troy building as a favor to a family friend.

According to stories handed down from old-time Troy families, Mr. White stayed in Troy to supervise construction of the building. His trademarks are found in pilasters in the library, elevation of the treads of the stairs as well as the cathedral windows.

Cornices of the structure correspond with photographs of the original Metropolitan Club in New York City, another creation from the White drawing board.

The first and second floors are trimmed ornately in heavy oak paneling. Even the pickets supporting the bannister on the stairway are carved in unusual detail.

The elegance of the building is further manifested in the more than a dozen fireplaces each [of] different design and size, on the two floors. Rooms have been renovated to afford a hearth for the office of each of Mr. Taylor’s seven partners and associates in the firm of Wager, Taylor, Howd & Brearton of which Mr. Taylor is the senior member.

In a first floor section, which originally was a billiard room when 65 Second Street was one of the most fashionable dwellings in downtown Troy, is a tiled mantle with the inscription, ‘Hang care – Care would kill a cat. Therefore, let’s be merry!!’”

65 Second Street, TroyThe building was built for William Kemp, who was, as his obituary in 1908 reported, associated with Troy’s development for more than half a century. He was last known as a banker, president of the National City Bank of Troy, a national bank that had currency issued in its name. Kemp was born in 1829 in a house that later was the site of the Troy Club, at 7-9 First Street. He left school at the age of nine, and became a clerk in a drug store, and then a typesetter with the Troy Post. He clerked in a grocery store, then entered a machine shop and learned the mechanic’s trade. In 1851 he founded the Kemp Brass Foundry in 1851, and later led the Troy Steel and Iron Company. He also worked in chain manufacture as the president of J.B. Carr Company, and was an organizer and director of The Citizens’ Steamboat Company, formed in 1871 and later under the Hudson Navigation Company. He also was involved in street railways, as president of the Troy and Lansingburgh Railway Company and its successor, the Troy City Railway Company. Later he was a director of successor United Traction Company, vice president of The Troy Gas Company, and director of The Boutwell Miling and Grain Company. He was president of the Mutual Savings Bank, and in 1878 became head of Mutual National Bank, which merged with Central National Bank into National City Bank in 1906; he retired in 1907. He didn’t lack for jobs, or wealth, but he was also active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1855-72, and president of the board for 14 years. He was a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary and Emma Willard School for more than a quarter of a century, and was a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1868 to his death. He was a trustee of the Troy Orphan Asylum, and a member of the board of the Marshall Sanitarium, a member of Christ Episcopal Church, a member of the Troy, Ionic, Riverside and East Side Clubs, as well as a Mason and Odd Fellow. He served as paymaster of the Second Regiment, New York Volunteers in the Civil War, and was treasurer of the organization that erected the Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument in Monument Square. For many years, he lived on Fifth Avenue between Federal and Jacob streets, until building 65 Second around 1898.

None of that gives the slightest hint how he might have become acquainted with Stanford White. There was a William Kemp brokerage tangentially involved with the Stanford White scandals, but there doesn’t appear to have been any connection to this William Kemp or his family.

We do know that after the death of Kemp, the home was sold to Charles W. Frear, son of William H. Frear (of Frear’s Cash Bazaar), and then when Frear died it was owned by a Dr. Francis and Mrs. Gladys Fagan. In 1954, they sold it to former District Attorney Earle J. Wiley for about $40,000.

When Money Came From Troy

Published by:

Duncan Crary sent along an interesting little bit regarding the re-opening of a local rare coin shop that will also feature an exhibit of currency that was issued in the Capital Region back when that was a thing. Ferris Coin, which has been around since 1930, is reopening at 199 Wolf Road, and will feature a small exhibit of “Capital Region Currency: A History of Money in America” from Nov. 1 through Nov. 22.

Ferris’s release says that the most notable note (sorry) is this one, a $5 bill issued by the National City Bank of Troy. They point out that one of the signatures, that of the bank’s cashier, is by Rice C. Bull, who was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His diary and letters were edited into a 1977 work, “Soldiering: The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull.” But the other signature is worthy of note too, that of William Kemp.

The National City Bank of Troy, according to an Oct. 23, 1957 article in The Saratogian, was then Troy’s largest national bank, chartered by the U.S. Treasury Department and having begun business on March 1, 1905 at the corner of State and First Streets in Troy. (Multiple sources put the start of the bank at 1905; the bill above is the 1902 series. We don’t know how to reconcile that.) By 1957, it was located at State and Third, and it was opening a branch in the brand new Latham Corners Shopping Center, moving fro a previous location on New Loudon Road. The bank also had locations in Cohoes (where it had taken over the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes), Ticonderoga (merged with the Ticonderoga National Bank) and Port Henry (Citizens National Bank of Port Henry). Its building at State and Third still stands, now a branch of Bank of America, catercorner from Barker Park. Around 1924 the bank bought a building that had been the Arba Read Steamer Co. No. 1 and headquarters of the chief of the Troy Fire Department, as well as the old Second Precinct police station and police court. When the fire and police headquarters were moved to State at 6th, the old building was demolished and the new building erected. The cornerstone was laid in September 1926, with the building officially opening in September 1927. It had “a room set apart and suitably fitted for the use of the women customers of the bank.” In 1930, the United National Bank (northwest corner of State and First) merged with National City. In 1947, the bank acquired a local industrial bank called Troy Prudential Association at 251 Broadway. In 1948, it acquired the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes.

In 1959, National City Bank of Troy merged with the State Bank of Albany, forming one of the largest banks in the state outside of New York City, with 20 banking offices. Once that happened, it went by the State Bank of Albany name.

William Kemp was its first president, 1905-1907. He had previously been Mayor of Troy, from 1873-75. He was also president of the Troy Brass Foundry (2129-2137 6th Avenue), of the J.B. Carr Chain Works, and of the Troy and Lansingburgh street railroad, and vice president of the Troy Gas Co. and the Troy Citizens Line. His banking gig was his last. He retired in January 1907 and died Aug. 14, 1908.

At the time of his death, he owned a home he had built at 65 Second Street. The Troy Record in 1954 reported that it had been designed by Stanford White and built for $85,000 around the turn of the century. Reports were that White was a family friend; a brokerage by the name of William Kemp shows up in the scandals surrounding White, but it wouldn’t appear that this particular William was associated with that firm. The house still stands, tucked in between the Hart-Cluett Mansion and a Sage College dormitory.

So why was the National City Bank issuing national currency? Well, in 1863 the United States Congress established the national banking system, and authorized the Treasury Department to oversee the issuance of national banknotes, charter and regulate national banks and authorize them to issue national currency secured by the purchase of United States bonds. The national banknotes were redeemable at any national bank. The system remained in place until the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve Board, which then began issuance of Federal Reserve notes.

Ferris Coin has posted pictures of the currency that will be on display; you can see it here.

Talleyrand Visits Albany and Troy

Published by:

So, the Marquis and Marquise de la Tour du Pin found themselves in exile in Albany (as one does) in 1794. With what seems like extremely benevolent assistance from General Philip Schuyler and his family, they were set up to buy a farm on property that is now the site of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, on the Troy-Schenectady road and along what is now Delatour Road. The owner of the farm “did not wish to move until after the snow was well packed,” a reminder that travel and moving was much more trouble in the seasons of mud back then. “As we had arranged with the Van Burens, who evidently had had enough of us, for two months only, it was necessary, therefore, to look for another home from the first of September to the first of November.” Hence, their stopover on River Street in what had been a tavern.

“At Troy, we found for a moderate sum, a little wooden house in the midst of a large yard, enclosed by a board fence. Here we established ourselves, and, as it would be necessary for us to purchase some furniture for the farm, we immediately acquired what we wanted.”

While there, they had a most surprising, high-ranking visitor, a central figure in the history of France.

“One day at the end of September, I was in the yard with a hatchet in my hand, occupied with cutting the bone of a leg of mutton which I was preparing to put on the spit for our dinner. All of a sudden, I heard behind me a loud voice which said in French: ‘On ne peut embrocher un gigot avec plus de majesté.’ Turning quickly, I saw Monsieur de Talleyrand and Monsieur de Beaumetz. Having arrived the evening before at Albany, they had learned from General Schuyler where we were. They came on his part to invite us to dinner and to pass the following day with them at his house. These gentlemen were to remain in the city only two days. An Englishman who was one of their friends was accompanying them and was very impatient to return to New York. However, as Monsieur de Talleyrand was very much amused at the sight of my leg of mutton, I insisted that he should return the following day to eat it with us. He consented.”

The visitor, who said “You can not stick a leg with more majesty,“ was Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Bishop of Autun, one of the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. An emissary to Britain during the Revolution, he was forced to stay there when a warrant for his arrest was issued in December 1792, and then forced to leave Britain in March 1794 under the expulsion order of William Pitt after France declared war on Britain. Like some others of his countrymen, he came to the United States. Interestingly, Talleyrand was the house guest of Aaron Burr in New York City, but it is reported he declined to return the hospitality some years later when Burr was in self-imposed exile, as Burr had in the interim killed Talleyrand’s friend Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

The Marquise left her children in care of their traveling companion and fellow exile Monsieur de Chambeau and “Betsey,” her white servant, and set out for Albany with Talleyrand and Beaumetz to dine with the Schuylers. Apparently the Marquis joined them as well. Arriving there, they found General Philip Schuyler had just received newspapers bearing the latest news from France, which in this case was the events of 9 Thermidor – July 27, 1794 under our calendar.

“Here we found the news of the Revolution of the 9 Thermidor; the death of Robespierre and his followers, the end of the shedding of blood and the just punishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Monsieur de Talleyrand was rejoicing especially that his sister-in-law, Mme. Archambauld de Périgord, had escaped, when, later in the evening, having taken up from the table a paper which he though he had read, he found her name among the terrible list of victims executed the 9 Thermidor, that very morning, during the session in which Robespierre was denounced. The news of her death painfully affected him … Without the news of this cruel event, our evening with General Schuyler would have been more agreeable.”

Talleyrand returned to Troy to enjoy the hospitality of the de la Tours. Having known him her entire life, the Marquise noted that Talleyrand had a paternal and gracious tone that was very charming. “I regretted sincerely to find so many reasons for not holding him in esteem, but I could not avoid forgetting my disagreeable recollections when I had passed an hour in listening to him. As he had no moral value himself, by singular contrast, he had a horror of that which was evil in others. To listen to him without knowing him, you would have believed that he was a worthy man.”

As today pretty much all talk has to turn to Hamilton, apparently do it did then as well. Two days later they spent the day at Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s home, with all the Schuylers. This was Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler, daughter of General Schuyler, who married the patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III, and whose sister Elizabeth was married to Alexander Hamilton.

“Monsieur de Talleyrand had been extremely impressed by the remarkable culture of Mrs. Van Rensselaer, and could not believe that she had not passed years in Europe. She had a very clear understanding of American affairs and the Revolution, of which she had gained a profound and extended knowledge through her brother-in-law, Colonel Hamilton, who was the friend and also the most intimate confidant of Washington. Colonel Hamilton was expected at Albany where he intended to pass some time with his father-in-law, General Schuyler. He had just resigned the position of Secretary of the Treasury, which he had held since the peace. It was to him that the country owed the good order which had been established in this branch of the government of the United States. Monsieur de Talleyrand knew him and had the very highest opinion of him. But he found it very remarkable that a man of his value, and endowed with talents so superior, should leave the Ministry to resume the profession of lawyer, giving as his reason for this decision that the position of Minister did not give him the means of bringing up his family of eight children. Such a pretext seemed to Talleyrand very singular and, so to speak, even a little naïf.

The following morning Talleyrand and company made one final visit to the Troy homestead, and then took a sloop back to New York City. Some time in November the winter snows came, and the river ice, which made it possible to move to the farm in what is now Colonie. With that beginning of transition to the farm life, the Marquise writes casually of an event that she must have previously considered inconceivable, for she notes its extreme singularity but provides no elaboration on what was then a waning practice, but still a legal one in New York:

“At this time we bought a negro, and this purchase, which seemed to be the most simple thing in the world, produced in my case a feeling so new that I shall remember it all my life.”

As before, the source for all this is the Marquise’s memoir, “Journal d’une femme de cinquante ans.” 

The French Exiles Adopt Very American Ways

Published by:

Marquis de la Tour du PinOne of the joys of amateur history is putting something out there and instantly getting a reaction with whole new information that we never knew, or making a connection that we had somehow missed. So yesterday’s entry on the French exile, the Marquis de la Tour du Pin (among other names – proper addresses for nobility are not our long suit) brought reactions that gave us both information we didn’t have, and gave us one of those “oh, duh!” moments.

So first, with thanks to Paula Lemire, we have the realization that the wife of the Marquis, referred to by Weise as the “Marchioness,” wrote an autobiography. And it’s available in English. And it’s on “Journal d’Une Femme de Cinquante Ans,” by la Marquise de la Tour du Pin was edited and translated by Walter Geer as “Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire” in 1920. The whole life of Henriette Lucie Dillon, la Marquise, is here. And, happily, she fills in some more detail of their time in exile from the French Revolution. Unhappily, she makes not a single mention of Troy, when it was their residence in a vacant tavern on River street that brought them to our attention.

The Marquis and Marquise first arrived at Boston in 1794, without “a single letter of introduction.” The owner of the ship they crossed on offered them the use of a farm he owned 18 miles from Boston, but the Marquis wanted to be “as near as possible to Canada, where he would have liked to settle.” From another exile in England came word of an American connection, a Mrs. Church, who made a recommendation to a family residing at Albany. “She was a daughter of General Schuyler who had gained a great reputation during the War of Independence … His eldest daughter had married the head of the Van Rensselaer family which was settled at Albany and possessed a large fortune in the county.” The connection made, they soon received “very pressing letters from General Schuyler in which he urged us to come without delay to Albany, where he assured us we would easily be able to establish ourselves.”

“At Boston I sold everything among the effects which we had brought with us which could bring us in a little money. As the ‘Diane’ had made the voyage without cargo, our baggage, which had cost us nothing to transport, was very considerable. We disposed of more than half of it; clothing, cloth, laces, a piano, music, porcelains – everything which would be superfluous in our little household was converted into money and then into drafts upon persons of responsibility at Albany. After remaining a month at Boston we set out with our two children, Humbert and Séraphine, the first of June, and fifteen days later we arrived at Albany. We traversed the whole state of Massachusetts, of which we admired the fertility and the air of prosperity. But a sad piece of news had made me so melancholy that I did not enjoy anything. Before leaving Boston my husband had heard of the death of my father who perished on the scaffold the thirteenth of April.”

They stayed with General Schuyler briefly, and he arranged for them to live for three months with the Jan Van Buren family, who lived not far from his brother, Col. Schuyler’s farm, and very close by the new village of Troy. They went to live “with Mr. Van Buren to learn American manners, as we had made it a condition of living with this family that they were not to change in any way the customs of the house. It was also arranged that Mrs. Van Buren should employ me in the housework the same as if I were one of her daughters.” Another Frenchman accompanying them, M. de Chambeau, “began an apprenticeship with a carpenter of the little growing city of Troy situated at a quarter of a mile from the Van Buren farm.” When news of the executions of the fathers of the Marquis and M. de Chambeau came:

“As I was a very good seamstress, I fashioned for myself my mourning costume, and my good hostess, having thus learned to appreciate the skill of my needle, found it very pleasant to have a seamstress at her command without cost, when she would have been obliged to pay a dollar a day and board if she had hired one from Albany.”

They were awaiting the arrival of funds from Holland so they could purchase a farm, and their plans in that regard, to do things the American way, tell some of the shameful hidden history of the Albany area:

“General Schuyler and Mr. Van Rensselaer advised my husband to divide his funds into three equal parts: A third for the purchase; a third for the management, the purchase of negroes, horses, cows, agricultural implements and household furniture, and a third part, added to what remained of the 12,000 francs brought by us from Bordeaux, for a reserve fund to meet unexpected circumstances, such as the loss of negroes or cattle and also for living expenses the first year. This arrangement became our rule of conduct.”

New York would not pass its first gradual emancipation law until 1799. At this time, by the evidence of the Marquise, it was simply presumed that if you were going to launch a prosperous farm, you would do so with slaves. By way of comparison, Vermont abolished adult slavery when it broke from New York with its own constitution in 1777, though there were apparently violations of the law. That was 22 years before New York’s first step toward abolition, which didn’t take on the first try.

In September 1794, the Marquis entered negotiations with a farmer “situated on the other side of the river, upon the road from Troy to Schenectady, a distance of two miles in the interior … The house was new, pretty and in very good condition. The land was only partially under cultivation. There were one hundred and fifty acres sown down, as many in woods and pasturage, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre full of vegetables, and finally a handsome orchard sown with red clover and plated with cider apples. They asked us 12,000 francs. General Schuyler did not think the price exorbitant. The property was situated at four miles from Albany, upon a route which they were going to open up to communicate with the city of Schenectady, which was in a thriving situation.”

While no longer a farm, the house still stands today – on the land of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, just up from where Watervliet-Shaker Road intersects with … Delatour Road. Delatour. De La Tour. As in the name of the Marquis and Marquise. (That’s the “oh, duh!” moment.)

Next, we’ll have some more details of life on the farm.

French Refugees in 19th Century Troy

Published by:

It appears that early on in its history, the then-village of Troy was home to political refugees from France. In his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” Arthur James Weise says that in 1794, Troy became the temporary home of several refugees.

“The most eminent were Frédéric Séraphin, marquis de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, and his lovely wife. The marquis had served with distinction as an officer in the French army, and at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, had loyally devoted himself to save Louis XVI from dethronement. Losing in a single day, in April, 1794, by ordered executions, his father, father-in-law, and uncle, and knowing that his own life was in jeopardy, he escaped arrest by concealing himself for six weeks in the city of Bordeaux. There is secretly succeeded in obtaining passports to America for himself, his children and their nurse. Disguised as peasants they embarked without detection and had a safe passage to the United States. The young and accomplished marchioness was also successful in securing a passport, dressed as a boy, under the name of Charles Lee, whose uncle, it was alleged, had died, leaving him property in the United States.”

Weise reports that the marquis and marchioness arrived separately in New York City, bearing only two trunks of fine towels and letters of introduction to wealthy citizens of Albany. They were referred to Troy as a pleasant and secluded residence and given introduction to Mrs. John Bird, later the wife of Colonel Albert Pawling. According to Weise, they asked her to refrain from introducing them around, and to “shield them as far as practicable from any attentions which as strangers and persons of rank might be shown them by the inhabitants.

They rented a vacant tavern at 140 River Street that was later known as Mechanics’ Hall, apparently the only vacant building in the village that was suited as a residence – it was literally boarded up when they took possession, and “The bar room, used for a parlor and dining-room, was cheaply and scantily furnished.” Weise says that the Marquis was befriended by “the nephew of Comte de Rochambeau,” who had made his home in Troy a temporary refuge. In order to better support his family, the marquis purchased a small farm three miles west of Port Schuyler (Watervliet), and moved from Troy to cultivate it, “assisted by a number of slaves.”

“At the close of the French Revolution, the marquis returned to France with his family. His confiscated property was restored to him and his political ability was again employed in the services of his country. Under the Empire, he was prefect of Amiens and Brussels, counselor to the embassy at the Congress of Vienna, minister plenipotentiary to the court of the Netherlands, and afterward to Sardinia. In 1832, he retired to Lausanne, where he died in 1837, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.”

What little we can find of Frédéric-Séraphin , Marquis of La Tour du Pin , Count of Gouvernet, doesn’t contradict Weise’s account, but doesn’t entirely confirm it, either. A Wikipedia entry (translated from the French because I love the language but can never learn it) confirms many of the basic details, saying that the Marquis was part of the LaFayette expedition “to help the revolted Americans, before returning to France to pursue his military career.” It says he was Minister Plenipotentiary at The Hague in 1792 before emigrating, his father and uncle having been guillotined. But it doesn’t say where he emigrated to, and doesn’t detail his return. Our resource on LaFayette makes no mention of the Marquis, and provides only sketchy information on the other Frenchmen who came over with him and in some instances stayed.

The National Archives has some correspondence between Marquis de La Tour du Pin and Alexander Hamilton. In sourcing it, the Archives says that the Marquis was an aide-de-camp to LaFayette during the revolution, and following the war was named colonel of the Royal-Vaisseaux and served as an aide to his father, who was the Minister of War. In 1794 he emigrated to the United States, “where he bought and operated a farm near Albany. Three or four years later he went to England.”

The Archives also helpfully provides a description of La Tour du Pin’s property that was published in an advertisement in the [Philadelphia] Courrier de la France et des Colonies, March 1, 1796, offering the property for sale:

“A farm newly occupied by the undersigned, situated in Watervleit [sic], five miles north of Albany, and two miles north of Troy; it contains 206 acres. There is a pleasant house with dependencies, in all in very good order; a large orchard full of choice trees, and a good sized vegetable garden where there are also fruit trees and bushes. The farm utensils are also for sale, a complete assortment, with several milk cows and mares that will bear….”

The letter, dated February 21, 1798, seems to indicate that La Tour du Pin was still trying to sell his property. Relying more than we’d like to on Google Translate, the letter notes that he would like to sell his farm “d’Albany,” and notes that the previous kindnesses shown by the family of Madame Hamilton “make me hope that at your request she will still be willing to render the Service to us to sell this small object.” He wrote to Hamilton on the topic again in July 1798, at which point he may have left the United States.

With the beauty of hindsight and the power of editing, we note that the farm of La Tour du Pin was located on what is now called Delatour Road, for what, in the bright light of morning, are blazingly obvious reasons. More to come on that.

From Van der Heyden Farms to the Village of Troy

Published by:

The plat for VanderheydenIf in, say, the 1780s anyone were taking bets on which local community might someday rise to rival Albany’s mercantile power, they would likely have favored Lansingburgh as the capital city’s chief competition. Schenectady was a sleepy community of broommakers and hops growers, though still a gateway to the west for the few who went that way (the terrors of the Revolution had proven a serious dissuasion to continued settlement farther west, and it took some time to recover). Other communities around the region, all huddled on the banks of one river or the other, were even less than that. The only other real seat of prosperity lay several miles up the Hudson in Lansingburgh, often called “New City,” which in 1787 had 500 inhabitants to the Old City’s (Albany’s) 3000. That was before things started expanding down at the Van der Heyden farms.

There were three of them. The northern most was between Division Street and the Piscawen Kill, near current Hoosick Street, not very visible from the River Road; its one-story dwelling, built in 1756 by Jacob I. Van der Heyden, stood on a rise of ground not far north of the Hoosick Road.

The middle farm lay between Grand and Division streets, and had a two-story board building on the east side of the River Road, opposite a ferry “which for many years had been a source of income to the family. Jacob D. Van der Heyden, then enjoying the privilege of ferrying vehicles, animals and people to and from Steene Hoeck, resided in the old house….” Steene Hoeck was a site on the west bank (later West Troy, now Watervliet) known as Rock House. Just a bit further south was the third farm, a one-story brick dwelling built in 1752 by Mattys Van der Heyden. It sat about 1300 feet north of the Poesten Kill.

According to Arthur James Weise, in his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” after the Revolutionary War, migrating New Englanders heading to Lansingburgh and beyond saw how well situated the Van der Heyden places were, particularly with regard to navigation, and pleaded to be able to lease plots of land. Few were successful. Benjamin Thurber of Providence was allowed to rent, not lease, land from Jacob in 1786 for a dwelling and a store on River Street, just south of Hoosick Street. He grew quickly, serving neighborhood farmers. Around the same time, Captain Stephen Ashley of Salisbury, Connecticut, sought to settle near the ferry, but was denied. Taking the same request to Matthias, grandson of the builder of the southern farm, Ashley found a less prosperous landowner more inclined to listen. Captain Ashley got a two year lease on the brick house, fitted it for a public house, and called it the Farmers’ Inn. Then he established a new ferry, which soon came to be known as Ashley’s Ferry. What Jacob thought of this ferrying competition, Weise does not record.

Ashley and a gentleman from Providence named Benjamin Covell realized that Jacob’s middle farm enjoyed a deeper river channel and a steeper, firmer shoreline, and started pressing Jacob to have the western part of his land laid out for the site of a village.

“After considerable reflection, he finally engaged Flores Bancker of Lansingburgh to lay out about sixty-five acres into lots, streets, and alleys. When the map of the plat was completed on May 1st, 1787, the Dutch farmer, in honor of his family, called the site of the projected village, Vanderheyden. As related by an early settler, the place was, ‘with a foresight not always observed, laid out with a view of its ultimately being a place of considerable magnitude; and Philadelphia, with its regular squares and rectangular streets, was selected as its model by the advice of a gentleman, who had made a then rare visit to that celebrated city.’

As seen on the map of Vanderheyden, the village comprised two hundred and eighty-nine lots, mostly fifty feet wide and one hundred and thirty deep, with alleys in the rear of them twenty feet wide; the streets having a width of sixty feet.”

So, important to note: one of the great things about Troy, its alleys, goes back to its very beginning.

Ashley built a new two-story wooden inn at the northeast corner of River and Ferry streets. The southern ferry business having been established. Matthias Van der Heyden put a notice in the May 10, 1788 Lansingburgh Federal Herald.

“The subscriber respectfully informs the public that as the time for which he leased his ferry to Captain S. Ashley hath expired, he proposes to exert himself in expediting the crossing of those who may please to take passage in his boat, which will ever be in readiness directly opposite the house at present occupied by said Ashley. The terms of crossing will be as moderate as can reasonably be expected, and a considerable allowance made to those who contract for the season. He has in contemplation to commence keeping a tavern in a few weeks from the date hereof, when no exertions of his shall be wanting to accommodate those who shall resort the house from which Mr. Ashley will shortly remove.

N.B. Notice for crossing will be given by sounding a conk-shell a few minutes before the boat starts.”

The new town of Vanderheyden was quickly a success. One store after another opened. Asa Crossen, a “taylor and habit-maker” from New London, Connecticut, advertised that he was carrying his business “in all its branches at Messrs. Ashley and Van der Heyden’s ferry.”

Many of these new residents were from somewhere else, particularly New England, and maybe that led to what happened next. Not even two years after Jacob Van der Heyden had agreed to split up his land into a village, the new residents started pressing for a name change.

Changing the name to Troy, 1789“Considering the name Vanderheyden too polysyllabic, Dutch, and strange, the settlers determined to select a shorter and more acceptable designation for the village. On Monday evening, January 5th, 1789, they met at Ashley’s Inn, near the north-east corner of River and Ferry streets, and voted that the action taken by them in the choice of a name should be published in the Albany and Lansingburgh newspapers . . . The summary repudiation of the original name by the settlers was harshly criticised by the members of the Van der Heyden family. Jacob D. Van der Heyden was sorely offended, and for a number of years thereafter continued using the former designation in his conveyances, by writing it, ‘Vanderheyden alias Troy.’”

A week after the renaming, a pseudonymous critic going by the name of “Nestor” published a paragraph in the Lansingburgh paper:

“Yesterday I hear’d that a neighboring village had assumed the name of Troy – for what reason I cannot conceive, as I find not the least resemblance between the old city of that name and this small village. – Some classical critic has perhaps thought fit so to style it, from dissimilitude, as lucus is derived a non lucendo. – Some wag must surely have been playing a trick with the good people of the place, and is now laughing in his sleeve at their ignorance of ancient history. Let them consider what constructions may be put upon their choice, when it is so public known how the letters of said title may be placed, and what they signify. First, Tyro, in Latin, is a novice, a fresh-water sailor, or a fair-weather soldier. Second, Ryot, (according to the old way of spelling,) and surely they are not so famous for kicking up a dust that the letters composing the name of their town designate their character. Lastly, Tory; this alone would be sufficient to induce them to reject what ever bears the least resemblance to so hated a character.”

Unfavorable anagrams notwithstanding, the name stuck, and the village of Troy continued to grow.

For Sale in 1839 Troy: Sultana Raisins and Erasive Balls

Published by:

In case you think that in the days before global trade, the Capital District was a wasteland of nothing but Albany beef, beaver pelts and soda crackers, allow this small sampling of advertising from the Troy Daily Whig,1839, to change your mind.

First, an ad from M. Cornwell of 329 River Street. He was offering oranges, lemons, and nuts received that very day. Peanuts, brazil nuts, soft and hard shelled almonds, “greenoble” walnuts, and filberts. He had preserved ginger, sweet chocolate, and cocoa, dried currants, nutmegs and cloves. Ten drums of sultana raisins! Not to mention the Havana segars. Not to mention, “Just rec’d a large and general assortment of Toys, from a Giraffe down to a red Squirrel . . . Also, 30 dozen dressed and undressed Dolls.”

The Apothecary Hall of E. Waters, Jr., was offering Turkey “Rubarb,” more a medicinal article, often a laxative, than a food item. He also sold erasive balls, “for extracting Grease or Oils from Silks, Carpets, Woolens, &c., &c.” And if you needed neither Turkey Rubarb nor erasive balls, perhaps you would care for Odoriferous Compound, “or Persian Sweet Bags – A grateful perfume for scenting clothes drawers, &c., and is an effectual preventative against moths.”

Knox, Whitlock & Rockwell was a dry goods store, run by Jonathan LeGrand Knox, Jonathan Henry Whitlock, and Gould Rockwell. On this occasion, they had a case of the new style mousseline de laine (muslin of wool). They also had pilot cloths (twilled wool with a thick nap) and flushings in blue, black and other colors. Just opened! Also crape camblets, a woven fabric also known as Camelot.

M.J. Lyman and Son, 273 River Street, were offering prime Tampico fustic. Fustic is a species of mulberry, “extensively employed as an ingredient in the dyeing of yellow colors” (according to the Tennessee Pharmacal Gazette, 1874). But they also sold lemon, raspberry and sarsaparilla syrups.

J.W. Churchill was offering fresh fish and lobsters. “Tuesday and Friday Mornings, I shall receive Fresh Fish and Lobsters, by the morning boat, until further notice. Persons wishing to change their diet from meat to fish, will do well to remember the days they can do so.” Churchill wasn’t the only source of fish – L. Mowry of 127 River Street had Connecticut River shad as well as mackerel.

Meanwhile, Dr. Heimstreet’s drug and chemical store had a number of goodies on offer. Preston’s extract of lemon, for example: purified from all bitter qualities, the most convenient concentrated form for all purposes of cooking. He also sold Phinney’s anti-dispeptic “or Family Pills.” And compound fluid extract of sarsaparilla, “the most eligible form in which this valuable medicine can be used.”

That’s just the barest sampling of what was for sale in the Troy shops. There were silver spoons and pearlash, medicinal liquors and twines. Boston rum and compound peach water. Burlaps and dove colored earthen ware. Violin strings and window glass.

African-Americans in Lansingburgh’s History

Published by:

Lansingburgh has a long and interesting history – in fact, if you told its founding fathers that the little village that became the city of Troy would rise to be one of the great powers of the industrial age, they may have doubted your sanity. Today we mostly only think of it in relation to its immediate neighbor to the south, but in fact it was long a vibrant community in its own right. And within that community, as in most of our communities, the lives and contributions of African-Americans have frequently been hidden, lost to time. And for such a tiny place, the Lansingburgh Historical Society is doing a tremendous job of highlighting some of those lives, with a set of biographies of African-American residents of Lansingburgh in history. Go there now and learn about the “Colored Temperance Convention,” the Gunn family members who modeled for Norman Rockwell, and the first African-American to serve on a Rensselaer County jury.

Knox & Mead

Published by:

Knox & Mead, Troy

For some time, this particular shot was our white whale, our holy grail. Not sure why, but we just love, love, love this unassuming little building in Troy, and we’ve never been able to get a picture of it without cars parked in front. And then, right around Christmas, there it was, a nicely unwrapped little gift: the Knox & Mead building at 10 First Street.

It didn’t start as the Knox & Mead building. According to the Rensselaer County Historical Society, the building was built in the summer of 1852, and its first occupant was the Manufacturer’s Bank of Troy. Later, the Central Bank of Troy and the Central National Bank of Troy were at the same address. Knox & Mead moved in in 1906, but that was not their first address.

Knox & Mead was an insurance company that dated back to 1855, starting as Kelly & Knox. In 1888, it was under the management of John H. Knox and Walter F. Mead, then at 253 River Street, the Burdett Building – but not the Burdett Building that is there today, for the original Burdett Building, burned rather completely in February 1896. The company then moved to 10 First Street, “the old Post Office Building,” but there’s nothing but a parking lot today. If the RCHS information is correct, Knox & Mead moved across the street 10 years later, and stayed there for quite a long time, until some time in the 1980s.

Confusingly, although it’s clear they were an insurance company, and apparently only an insurance company, we find them in a 1910 book on “Coal Advertising: A Collection of Selling Phrases, Descriptions and Illustrated Advertisements As Used By Successful Advertisers.” There they are quoted as saying:

Justice rules at our coal yards. She sees that every customer gets just what his money is worth – sometimes more. Only the Best Coal rules here from one day to another, which is equivalent to saying that A1 coal which freely burns, which knows as little of smoke, cinder and ash as any coal produces, is here subject to your order every business day in the year. No one can contradict that statement with any degree of success. Knox & Mead, Troy, N.Y.

That is, to say the least, wildly confusing. Nothing in local directories or anything else supports that quote – but it seems unlikely that the publication could have just accidentally come up with that name. Mysterious.

Of John Knox, we know only a little. He was vice president of the Troy Vocal Society, which performed at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and served on the city’s Centennial Committee. Of Walter Mead, we know nothing.

The building is as beautiful today as when it was new. It houses Tai Ventures, which performed a gorgeous renovation.


This Is Not A Collar, But Still

Published by:

Cluett, Peabody display card

Did you know Benjamin Franklin founded a free library? Okay, you probably did. Did you know that library still exists, as The Library Company of Philadelphia? And did you further know that the online collections of The Library Company of Philadelphia include some items of interest to Capital District history nerds? Well, now you do.

This, for instance, which is a trade card and point-of-sale cutout from about 1900, promoting the legendary Cluett, Peabody & Co., one of the several makers of collars who made Troy the Collar City. That they chose to advertise collars with a display of a cuff might be a little confusing, but yes, cuffs were made of detachable cellulloid in those days as well. Want to advertise collars? Show a little cuff.

Cluett, Peabody was the largest, and the longest-lasting of all the collar companies. As with many Troy companies, they went through many forms and names. They started as Maullin & Blanchard, in 1851, at 310 River Street. According to Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County,” George B. Cluett had been in charge of the manufacturing department when he was admitted to partnership in 1861, and the company became Maullin & Cluett in 1862. Joseph Maullin died the following year, and George Cluett, J.W.A. Cluett and Charles J. Saxe formed George B. Cluett, Bro. & Co., with a factory at 390 River Street.  Saxe left in 1866 and another Cluett, Robert, rose to partner. In 1874 R.S. Norton’s name was added to the firm, and they moved to 74 and 76 Federal Street, where they would remain until destroyed by fire on March 20, 1880. “Before the fire was extinguished a new location was found at 556 Fulton street.” In 1891, Geo. B. Cluett, Bros., & Co merged with Coon & Co., another prominent collar maker, to form Cluett, Coon & Co., which brought along Frederick F. Peabody. In 1899, the company became Cluett, Peabody & Co., and after 48 years of pretty much perpetual name changes, decided to settle down and focus on collars and cuffs.

By the way, the detachable collar was invented by a Troy woman, Hannah Montague.