Category Archives: Troy

The Mystery of Ivanhoe Bland

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Happened to be looking through the 1920 Albany City Directory, as one does, and looked up an address where I spent a lot of time over the past couple of decades. I knew that the building currently there had not been there that far back, and that there had been a little neighborhood of brick row houses on Monroe Street back before it turned into some warehouses and factories (and now back into housing again). And at 25 Monroe Street, I noticed the name of one Ivanhoe Bland, dyer and cleaner. It would be hard not to want to know more about someone bearing that moniker.

It seems that Ivanhoe Bland was of African-American descent, of a family that generally only spent a bit of time in the Capital District, but which produced one quite famous person.

The family patriarch was Allen M. Bland, who was born  in South Carolina (likely Charleston), with potential birthdates ranging from 1827 to 1836. He is marked as “mulatto” in the census, and is said to have been one of the first African-American college graduates. He is in fact listed in Oberlin College’s “Catalogue and Record of Colored Students,” 1835-62, and is listed as for the years 1845-48; with his name is the description “(taught in New Jersey many years; useful).” (The first student in the catalogue was James Bradley in 1835.) Beyond that, the life of Allen Bland is a little hard to track with certainty. It is known that he lived in Mannington, NJ in 1850, and Flushing, New York in 1854, but had moved with his family to Troy by 1857. With him there in 1860, when he was listed as 26 years old, were his wife, Lydia Ann Cromwell (24), who was from Delaware; daughters Frances (8) and Mary A. (6); sons James (5) and “Ivenko” (Ivanhoe, aged 3), and a one-year-old child with a name that probably wasn’t Tansant, which is what the census-taker wrote down. Frances, James, Ivanhoe and the youngest were born in New York; Mary was born in Tennessee. the family lived at 54 Albany Street in Troy; that’s now called Broadway. He was listed as the principal of the Third Ward School, noted as “African,” on Seventh Street.

In 1860, Allen is briefly mentioned in a letter, “Our Albany Letter,” published by correspondent “Justice” in a newspaper called The Weekly Anglo-African. Dated April 2, 1860, the letter includes: “Allen M. Bland, Esq., of Troy, paid us a flying visit yesterday.”

He was still in Troy in 1862. It is claimed that after a stop in Philadelphia, he moved to Washington, DC, where Allen Bland was the earliest known African American appointed as an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office, though some researchers have been unable to confirm that claim. He was also said to have attended law school at Howard University, but to have become a tailor near Howard. He is listed as a teacher in Newark, NJ’s city directory in 1863. He is listed as a merchant tailor in the 1865 Washington, DC directory, and in several other years. He is listed in the census for Charleston, SC in 1880, living with mother Frances; he’s a tailor and she’s a seamstress. The rest of his family is not there. He’s listed in the Charleston directory as a tailor in 1882. In the 1893 Washington, DC directory, Lydia is listed as the widow of Allen, living at 1632 R St. NW.

James A. Bland became very famous, known as “the black Stephen Foster” and “The World’s Greatest Minstrel Man,” touring the United States, working as a singer and banjo player in London for 20 years.  He wrote at least 50 songs (and perhaps many, many times more under other names); the best-known of them all was “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” which was the state song of Virginia until 1997. Unfortunately, after minstrel music fell out of favor, James seems to have fallen into obscurity, dying in Philadelphia in 1911; he is buried in Bala Cynwyd.

Of Ivanhoe, who started this inquiry, we know very little. It appears that he was born around 1855. In 1905, he was living at 206 W. 27th St. in Manhattan, working as a tailor; his wife Mary was an at-home dressmaker, and 19-year-old daughter Maud was listed as at school. As noted above, in 1920, Ivanhoe was in the city directory at 25 Monroe, as a dyer and cleaner. In 1925, Ivanhoe and “Mattie” were lodgers in the home of Ralph Vedder at 100 Orange St. in Albany. Ivanhoe was now listed as a cleaner and dyer, and his wife was still a dressmaker. That home was at the corner of Orange and Cross Street, later known as Theater Row, just around the corner from where he had been five years before. But by 1930, Mary was living at 24 S. Swan, with John and Leonora Bland (perhaps her son?), and is listed as the widow of Ivanhoe.

I went into this with the assumption that Ivanhoe is the son of Allen and the brother of James; one of the brief biographies of James mentions his brother Ivanhoe. Confusingly, there is an Ivanhoe Bland buried in Troy’s Mt. Ida cemetery. This Ivanhoe died Jan. 10, 1860, aged 4 years, 7 months and 7 days. Given the timing, it’s certain that this Ivanhoe was the child of Allen and Lydia, who arrived in Troy that year. The census records on the Ivanhoe who survived to adulthood are, unfortunately, imprecise about his age. In Manhattan in 1905, he’s listed as 39 years old, so born about 1866, when Allen and Lydia were already back in DC. In the 1925 census in Albany, he’s listed as 52, which would give a birth year of 1873 or so. If he is the son of Allen and Lydia, and their second son named Ivanhoe (it wasn’t uncommon then to give a child the name of one who predeceased him), why did he come back to the Albany area long after they had moved on?

It gets more confusing. In 1870, “Allan” and “Lilly”  are living in Washington, DC. Their places of birth, South Carolina and Delaware, and their ages seem to make them our Allen and Lydia. Allen is listed as a clerk in the patent office. (By the way, he lists real estate worth $2000 and $100 in personal estate). With them are Mary, 16, born in Pennsylvania, and James, 15, born in New York and going to school. Next in the household is someone listed as “Taxout E,” a 12-year-old male born in New York and also at school. Taxout would appear to be the surname. Below that, appearing to share the same surname under census conventions, are an Ivanhoe, age 9, and Josiah, age 7. All are listed as “mulatto.” Also living in the house is William Fuller, a white male age 30 who was a clerk in the Interior Department.

The “Taxout” surname would appear to just be a mistake; it doesn’t occur anywhere else in the census, ever. This is most likely the same child that a census-taker had as “Tansent” or something similar in Troy in 1860. Ivanhoe, born in New York around 1861, is most likely the second child that the Blands gave that name, the first having died in 1860.

Even that 1861 birthdate doesn’t align well with Albany’s Ivanhoe Bland, who barely appears in the records available to us. Outside of these censuses, we only know one date with certainty. The Albany Evening News listed his death as September 13, 1927. From this, we also learn that he was a member of the Black Elks, the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, founded in Ohio in 1899 when the other Elks would not accept blacks. (The white BPOE fought the IBPOE of W, quite unpleasantly, until 1918, but still didn’t allow black members until 1976.) “Relatives and friends, also the members of Empire State lodge, No. 272, I.B.P.O.E. of W., also the Daughters of Loyal Temple lodge, No. 148, are respectfully invited to attend his funeral Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock at 38 grand street. Remains may be seen Thursday evening.” Even in this notice, we don’t get his age (apparently the style at the time).

I wanted to shed a little light on an obscure life from Monroe Street, but I’m not sure that’s possible.

Troy, 1836: The Salubrious City

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In 1836, J. Disturnell of New York City published “The Traveller’s Guide through the State of New York, Canada, &c.” The title wound on for a while, as was the fashion at the time. In addition to its description of Albany, the guide had a little bit to say about Troy as well.

Troy, 6 miles north of Albany on the east side of the river, is the head of steamboat navigation, although sloops ascend through the State-lock situated at the upper end of Troy to Lansingburgh 3 miles, and Waterford, 4 miles north of Troy. The city of Troy is elegantly laid out on a plain considerably elevated above the Hudson, and contains a population of about 17,000 inhabitants. A large proportion of the trade of the Erie and Champlain canals enters at Troy, this city being conveniently situated near the junction of those important channels of communication. In the city and vicinity are numerous cotton, iron, and other manufactories, besides flouring mills, breweries, &c. The public buildings are the Court House, (one of the handsomest in the U.S., built of stone, in the Grecian style of architecture,) several elegant Churches, a Market-House, four Banks, &c. The Troy Female Seminary is situated on the public square, and is a plain but spacious brick edifice. The principal Hotels in Troy, are the Troy House, Mansion House, National Hotel, City Hotel, Mechanic’s Hall, and Washington Hall. The river is crossed at Troy by convenient Horse Ferry Boats, and from the opposite village of West Troy [Watervliet], on the Erie canal, (which place has arisen within a few years, by the capital and enterprise of the citizens of Troy,) there commences a Macadamised road, the best in the State, which extends to Albany. The communication between Albany and Troy, by stages and steamboats, is half hourly, during the day. Steamboats leave daily for New-York, and stages and canal boats leave almost hourly for the north and west.

There is no place on the banks of the Hudson which presents more of the agreeable and interesting than this beautiful city. Situated at the head of navigation, on one of the noblest rivers, it naturally commands an extensive profitable trade from the north and west, and it possesses facilities for its increase scarcely rivaled by any place in the union. Its population must now amount to at least seventeen thousand, and its annual increase surpasses the most sanguine expectations of those who, but a few years since, beheld it comparatively a desolate place in the midst of a wilderness. Confident of its future growth and importance, they exerted themselves to extend its business and influence, and have lived to see their early efforts, for its prosperity and reputation as a city, crowned with success, and their fondest expectations more than realized in its present rank and standing among sister cities. As a place of residence, either temporary or permanent, it presents many inducements, and in point of locality, salubrity, and beauty, is surpassed by no city in the United States. The enterprize [sic] of its merchants and mechanics is proverbial, and no compliment of ours can add to their well earned and established reputation in their respective departments of business. But it is not in these respects only that the place excites attention, and commends itself to the notice of the public. There are other causes that contribute to its prosperity, and other circumstances that indicate its growing importance. Possessed of extensive water power on the neighbouring streams, which flow into the Hudson in the vicinity of the place, it will naturally increase its mechanical and manufacturing operations in proportion to the increase of its population and business; and the consequent demand for the products of such labour, even to the remotest extremities of the channels of trade leading to the city. The turnpike and McAdam roads to Bennington, and the railroad to Ballston and Saratoga, are completed; these, together with a railroad to Schenectady, and a branch railroad to intersect one from Boston; when finished, the means of communication with this city, from all sections of the country, will be most easy and expeditious.

The Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad leaves Troy at Federal street, by the aid of the bridge which crosses the Hudson river, extending from that street to Green Island. The length of the bridge is 1600 feet. It forms eight arches, exclusive of a capacious draw section. The piers, or abutments, are cut stone from Glen’s Falls, Poughkeepsie, and Amsterdam. The bridge stands 30 feet above high water mark. Its frame, built of timber, is 34 feet wide, and well covered. From the bridge to Waterford, four and a half mile, the railroad crosses three spouts of the Mohawk river upon durable bridges erected upon stone abutments. Passing directly through Waterford the road follows along the margin of the Hudson to Mechanicsville, eight miles. From thence it verges and runs westerly twelve miles to Ballston Spa. The greatest ascent in any one mile on the line of the road is 25 feet. On the first twelve and a half miles, from Troy to Mechanicsville, the average ascent is less than 10 feet per mile. Upon Green Island, which, by the bridge, is connected with the city, a site has been selected and laid out for a large business place. It is called “North Troy.” The capital of the Rensselaer and Saratoga railroad Company is $300,000, and this sum, it is believed, will be nearly sufficient to complete the 24½ miles of the railroad, erect a bridge across the Hudson, and three bridges across as many spouts of the Mohawk.

Mrs. Entwistle, Clairvoyant Physician

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Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 10.02.49 PM.pngIn the Troy directory for 1860, we find this listing for Mrs. Mary Entwistle, Clairvoyant Physician. She lived at 611 River Street, and that is all we want to know about her. Jaded readers will be unsurprised to learn that some clairvoyant physicians were subject to malpractice suits. It would be nice to think we’ve moved past this, but of course we haven’t.

Miss J. Kimmey, Costumer

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MissJKimmey1902directory.pngAn image from the 1902 Albany directory, which included some Troy listings as well. Miss J. Kimmey was a masquerade and theatrical costumer, with thorough knowledge of the business and twenty years experience. She had shops at 342 River and 11 Fourth streets in Troy; presumably the Santa Claus outfits were available in both.

The Justice Bell

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Valley Forge Oct 5 2014 DSC_1110 axSome months ago I promised myself to get all the way over to Valley Forge National Park, a distance of nearly three miles from my current domicile, and finally get a picture of the Justice Bell, which was cast by the Meneely Bell Foundry in Troy (not the other one in West Troy). And so here you have it, presented prominently at the entrance to the Washington Memorial Chapel.
Valley Forge Oct 5 2014 DSC_1104Glad to see one piece of local history collide with a different local history.

Colonel Roosevelt’s “flying trip” to Rensselaer County

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There’s some sort of hubbub about Roosevelts these days, so we may as well recall the time when Colonel Roosevelt, not yet Governor of the Empire State, made what the New York Tribune called “The Colonel’s Flying Trip to the Rensselaer County Fair,” in 1898. At that point flying was entirely metaphorical.

Troy, N.Y., Oct. 14. – Colonel Theodore Roosevelt had a cordial reception to-day on his first visit to the interior of the State since he was nominated for Governor. The report had been sent out from New-York late last night that he would be in Troy to-night, and would make a political address, but this was an error. He had simply accepted an invitation to visit the fair of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society at West Sand Lake. Notwithstanding the circumstance that his visit here was not of a political nature and was unexpected, great interest was manifested in his presence, and the heartiness of the greetings tendered him indicated beyond question his popularity.

Colonel Roosevelt departed from his home at Oyster Bay early this morning, and caught the Empire State Express on the Central Railroad for Albany. He arrived in Albany at 11:11 o’clock, and remained in the city forty-five minutes. During every second of his brief stay in the capital there were cheers, hurrahs, flag-wavings and shouts of enthusiasm in his honor ….

When Colonel Roosevelt was seen the gathering sent up a mighty shout of “Hurrah for our next Governor!” “Hurrah for Roosevelt!” Three cheers for Colonel Roosevelt!” Three cheers were given; another three were called for and came with deafening force; another three cheers brought forth the demand for a tiger, which was given with vigor. Colonel Roosevelt gave a hundred hearty handclasps to those who were presented to him by John Knickerbocker, of the Troy Committee, and Edward B. Cantine, representing the Albanians present. A sturdy policeman made a path for the Colonel, who, flanked by Mr. Knickerbocker and Mr. Cantine, and followed by a cheering crowd, passed through the station yard and the arcade to the trolley-car which was to bear him and the committee to Troy ….

Colonel Roosevelt was told that Governor Black was at the Executive Chamber. “Let’s go up and see the Governor,” he said, and a cab was obtained to drive him to the Capitol … The party was ushered into the Governor’s private room. Governor Black smilingly greeted Colonel Roosevelt, who acknowledged the kindly telegrams of the Governor sent after the Saratoga Convention. Governor Black and Colonel Roosevelt then had five minutes of private conversation, during which the Governor assured the Colonel that all his influence would be exerted for the Colonel’s election ….

Colonel Roosevelt was taken on his arrival here [in Troy] to the Troy Club. In the clubroom an informal reception was held. Many officers and members of the 2d New-York Regiment greeted the Colonel, and the leader of the Rough Riders expressed himself as exceedingly glad to meet the soldiers.

Colonel Roosevelt then departed for West Sand Lake. At Albia the party changed cars, taking a car of the Troy and New-England Railway. Many persons had assembled at Albion. On the journey to West Sand Lake the Colonel conversed with members of the party, and seemed to enjoy the trip ….

The car arrived at the Brookside Park station in West Sand Lake, about 1:15, and as the Colonel alighted Doring’s Band welcomed him with the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Coaches were immediately taken, and the party was conveyed to the fair grounds. Colonel Roosevelt had a cordial reception along the way, and upon reaching the fair grounds the coaches proceeded around the racetrack so that everyone could have an opportunity to see the distinguished guest. Colonel Roosevelt acknowledged the welcome he received, but on account of the lateness of the hour it was imperative that he should not speak, as he was obliged to proceed as quickly as possible to Rensselaer, that he might make sure to catch his train for New-York. He had an important engagement to speak in the metropolis this evening. There were loud cries of “Speech! Speech!” from the crowd, but he was compelled to decline the invitation. His reception everywhere on the fair grounds was cordial, and he evidently enjoyed his visit to the fair.

A few weeks later, Roosevelt defeated Augustus Van Wyck, though not by a whole lot.

What’s up in the publishing world, 1919

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Ran across an edition of “The American Printer” from August, 1919, which featured a series of short blurbs informative of what was going on with printers and publishers in New York State that summer. Among them:

  • The Schenectady Union-Star has changed its mechanical equipment to print an eight column, 12½ em page, instead of a seven column, 13 em page.
  • Fire in the composing room of the Albany Times-Union did several hundred dollars’ damage recently. The blaze started at 5 o’clock in the morning, but was soon under control.
  • George Edward Rines, editor of the “Encyclopedia Americana,” which is printed by the J.B. Lyon Printing Company, of Albany, told at a dinner of the Rotary Club of Albany recently how the big work is printed.
  • Leon M. Burt, of the job department of the Schenectady Union-Star, recently joined the benedicts. The bride was Miss Gertrude Bangs, of Springfield, Mass. Fellow workers presented Burt with a kitchen set.
  • Beginning September 1, the Schenectady Division of The Capital District Typothetae will meet every Monday night. Estimating classes will be formed, under direction of H.C. Alvord, secretary-treasurer of the Capital District Typothetae.
  • The Schenectady newspaper publishers and the International Typographical Union have agreed to a raise for the Schenectady printers amounting to four dollars a week. The scale is now $29 for day work and $32.50 for the night shifts. The contract runs to Dec. 15, 1920.
  • The plant of the Schenectady Gazette Press is being enlarged, and it is expected the job department will be twice its present size when the work is completed. The newspaper composing room is also being enlarged. Fred Frost, chairman of the Schenectady section of the Capital District Typothetae, is superintendent of the job department.
  • Albany printers are watching with interest the development of a Junior Printers’ Association, which was devised by youngsters interested in the “art preservative.” Many of the youngsters have their own small presses, and they plan get-together meetings to learn the game, hoping eventually to land with some of the printshops in Albany or vicinity. Raymond Warshaw is president and John H. Bielman secretary. Both are sons of employing printers in Albany.
  • Several thousand dollars’ damage was done by a fire in the plant of the Budget, which conducts a job printing plant as well as prints a weekly newspaper, at Troy, July 21. The fire damaged the main press, consumed twenty rolls of paper and two barrels of ink, and threatened at one time to spread to other departments of the paper. The Budget was recently purchased by Thomas H. Curry and Albert A. McNaughton, after being controlled for more than a century by the family of Major Charles A. MacArthur.

So, for you young’uns who never slung hot lead across a Ludlow (and, in all honesty, neither did I, at least not in real production), here are a few things you may not know:

  • A “typothetae” was a common name for a master printers’ association.
  • “Estimating” was a critical skill, not only in the days of lead type, but in photo-typesetting as well. When you laid out a page, you didn’t know how long an article was going to be; you had to estimate how long it was going to come out. The only thing that was guaranteed was that you’d be wrong. Now if you’re wrong, you just push a virtual button and change everything; then that was simply impossible.
  • Narrow columns (eight, rather than seven, for the Union-Star) were all the rage into the ’60s and ’70s. It was big news when The New York Times finally abandoned its rigidly gray, intensely vertical format, and, to my mind, even bigger news when The Schenectady Gazette did the same.
  • An em is a printing measure. It’s equal to the height of the type size being used; so if you’re using 8-point type, an em space is 8 points. But when the size isn’t specified, it’s 12 points.
  • A “benedict” was a newly married man who had long been a bachelor, taken from Benedick of “Much Ado About Nothing.” A kitchen set is a perfectly good thing to give a benedict.

An old-time newspaperman

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While perusing old editions of Editor and Publisher, we came across this little reminder that in the old days, there tended to be two kinds of newspapermen: the ones who were lifers at a single publication, and the ones who worked all over the place. Here’s the obituary of one of the latter type who made his career in the tri-cities, John A. Sleicher.

Albany, N.Y., May 5 [1921] – John A. Sleicher died at his home here to-day. He was in his 73rd year. Mr. Sleicher was born in Troy, N.Y. on October 4, 1848, and began his newspaper training on the old Troy Whig, afterward the Record. Later he became city editor of the Troy Whig, then the Press, still later the Times and subsequently a part owner of the Times. He eventually sold his interest in the Times and bought the Schenectady Union.

Having thus had considerable experience on small city daily papers, he became editor and part owner of the Albany Evening Journal. When he came to New York City, it was as editor of the Mail and Express, which position he held until he became supervisor of the City Record. In May, 1905, Mr. Sleicher was made president of the Judge Company, which published Leslie’s Weekly and Judge. He resigned as editor of the Mail and Express to become Supervisor of the City Record under Mayor Strong.

Mr. Sleicher had been ill for some time. When on February 23, last Judge Manton of the federal court appointed a receiver for the Leslie-Judge Company, it was said that the company’s embarrassment was largely due to Mr. Sleicher’s illness.

So here was a journalist who worked for six newspapers in the Capital District, had ownership in three of them, and then went on to run the company that published two of the largest circulation publications of their day. Not many could say that today, though it must be said that it’s amazing that three daily newspapers continue to serve the three cities.

River travel before steam: wind, white-ash breeze, and kedging

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In “The History of the Seventeen Towns of Rensselaer County,” Arthur Weise described river travel before the age of steam. In periods of calm winds, the tides of the river could be, a little bit, the traveller’s friend, but then sometimes they had to resort to kedging:

 

“Anyone taking passage in a sloop or schooner sailing to New York, or from that city to Troy, at this early day, generally expected, if the wind was favorable, to make the voyage in two days at the furthest, but should the wind be variable and continue to blow in the opposite direction to that in which he was going, the journey was often lengthened to several weeks. When there was a head-wind and the tide against the vessel, the sloop would be compelled to lay to. If there was a period of calm weather, she went with the tide six hours and then anchored six hours. Sailing with ‘a white-ash breeze’ was a burlesque phrase to express that the men employed on the vessel were rowing with long white-ash oars, or ‘sweeps,’ as they were called. These sweeps were about 20 feet in length, and when used in connection with the drift of the tide, about 14 miles a day could be made by a sloop in calm weather. Oftentimes the large anchor of the sloop was let go, and a boat sent ahead to a bar, with a line and a small anchor called a kedge. The kedge being dropped on the bar, the large anchor was taken up and the sloop by means of the line attached was towed forward. The operation of moving a vessel in this way was called kedging. It was a very tiresome and slow process, slower, in fact, than the movement of a canal boat. A sloop generally had accommodations for conveying from 10 to 15 passengers, having as high as 14 or 16 berths in a cabin.”

At those kinds of speeds, it’s a wonder everyone in the 18th century wasn’t suffering from sloop-lag.

The Photography Stylings of Zeph Magill

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zephmagillcabinetcard.jpgA couple of weeks back we ran across the photograph of Hugh McCusker, dealer in carpets, who did his carpet-dealing from River Street in Troy. We said at the time we didn’t know much about the photographer, Zeph Magill, other than that he worked out of the Keenan Building. There was also a milliner in the building by the name of Thomas Magill, around about 1886, so it’s possible Zeph was one of the Magill boys.

But I did find another photo by Magill on the site “Who Were They? Lost and Forgotten Photos From the Past.” It’s a shame the name of this lass has been lost.

Magill also took a fairly famous photo, at least if you’re a local history buff, of General Grant’s steel coffin. Annoyingly, it’s one of a very small number of photos that the Library of Congress only makes available as a thumbnail, but other versions do exist.

A number of other cabinet photos by Magill can be found through the miracle of the internet.