Category Archives: Uncategorized

George Washington Slept Here

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John Glen HouseIn fact, he did. This historic marker from Schenectady’s Stockade tells you just where, too: the northeast bedroom, on the second floor. The “History of the County of Schenectady, N.Y.” tells us that:

“The ‘Father of Our Country’ visited Schenectady at three different times. The first occasion was soon after the revolutionary war, in the interest of the defence of the frontier. He was the guest of John Glen, who was then quartermaster of the department. The second occasion was by invitation of the citizens of Schenectady. He, in company with Gen. Philip Schuyler, rode in a carriage from Albany, on June 30, 1782. He was received with great honor by the civil and military authorities, and a public dinner given him at a hotel then situated on the south corner of State and Water streets, one of the houses spared in the great fire of 1690. It was kept at the time by Robert Clinch, formerly a drum-major under Gen. Braddock, and well known to Gen. Washington. The principal citizens of the place dined with him . . . .”

“The third visit was in 1786, when Washington made a tour with Gov. George Clinton, Gen. Hand, and many other officers as far west as Fort Stanwix. In passing through Schenectady, he stopped at the same hotel as on his former visit.”

Humble beginnings

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Erastus Corning.png

Albany’s first Erastus Corning was only mayor for four years, not the 40-odd years his namesake great grandson would serve. He could be forgiven, one supposes, since he was busy founding and running the Albany State Bank, The Rensselaer Iron Works, the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, some other banks and insurance companies, and, eventually, the New York Central Railroad. He was also a Regent of the University, a State Senator, a United States Congressman, a land speculator (Corning, New York, was among the lands he speculated in), and probably a whole lot more.

Erastus Corning, Mayor of Albany.

Erastus Corning, Mayor of Albany. Photograph by Matthew Brady (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But he started out in the hardware business. In this listing from the American Advertising Directory for 1831, Erastus Corning & Co. is listed at 389 S. Market Street as manufacturers of “Cut Nails, Hoop and Band Iron, Spike and Nail Rods, Horse Shoe Shapes, &c.; Dealers in Hardware, Saddlery, Cutlery, Dutch Bolting Cloths, Mill Irons, Bar Iron, Steel, &c.” South Market Street was the stretch of what is now Broadway below State, running through The Pastures.

I’m not sure of the relation of nearby merchant Edward Corning. There is a thorough Corning family genealogy here.

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North River Engine & Boiler Works

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In 1858, steam was king. In order to make steam, you needed a boiler. To make something move with steam, you needed an engine. John Punshon’s North River Engine and Boiler Works made engines and boilers at 16 and 17 Quay Street, which is one of the streets that sort of still exists but is mostly just part of the I-787 ramp system now.

H.W. Churchill, Engraver

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H.W. Churchill Wood Engraver.png

From the 1858 Albany City Directory, an interesting advertisement for H.W. Churchill, Wood Engraver. And stove engraver. Creator of views of buildings, animals, fowls (perhaps the original Hoxsie?), and this thing, which appears to be some kind of dog with a beard.

Churchill also published a “Guide through the Albany Rural Cemetery,” apparently.

Help Save Bannerman’s Castle

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2009 Bannerman Castle hudson riverHoxsie takes a rare step outside the Albany area, but only
because he was asked. There’s an effort afoot to get funding to preserve
Bannerman’s Castle, one of the most-recognized and least-understood landmarks
of the entire Hudson River. If you’ve ever taken the extremely scenic Amtrak
ride along the river and wondered why there’s a castle in the river, the answer
goes back to Francis Bannerman.

According to the highly specific genealogical volume “Scots
and Scots’ Descendants,” the Bannerman family were a proud clan that claimed
their surname from Bannockburn, “where an ancestor rescued the clan pennant,
whereupon Bruce cut off the streamer from the Royal ensign and conferred upon
him the honour of ‘bannerman.'” The eldest son in each generation was named
Frank, making things very simple (or impossible) for future researchers.
Francis V brought him family to the United States in 1854, settling in
Brooklyn. Francis VI left school at 10, when his father went to the Civil War
in 1861. In addition to working in a law office and selling newspapers, young
Frank dragged the river with a grapple for bits of chain and rope which he sold
to junk dealers. His father returned from war disabled, and became a dealer in
his son’s collected materials, and this business grew into a ship chandlery.

In 1872, Francis VI started a new business, buying up at
auction useful weapons and war materiel that were being auctioned for their
scrap value. He started sending out an illustrated catalog for collectors, and
also started converting rifles into fowling pieces for frontiersmen and Quaker
guns for boys’ brigades and military schools. His business grew with stores in
New York City, where he fitted out many regiments for the Spanish-American War.
At the conclusion of that bit of military theater, he bought up more than 90
percent of the captured war material and a little island in the Hudson
Highlands called Pollopel’s Island. (Spell it how you like.) The name was
changed to Bannerman’s Island, and here he erected arsenals “patterned after
the Scottish baronial castles.” The island became his summer home, and he
directed the creation of an incredible castle, reportedly seeing to every

In 1905, he bought 501 Broadway from the trustees of the
Metropolitan Museum, who “greatly reduced the price in recognition o fhis
maintenance of a Free Public War Museum.” There were seven stories of museum
and salesroom, containing weapons both ancient and modern. His terms were cash:
“Even the Standard Oil Company in purchasing had to send check with order.”

Bannerman became an acknowledged expert on weapons as well
as perhaps the world’s largest dealer in them; the author of his biographical sketch
wanted it known that Bannerman “has consistently refused to sell to
revolutionists, or to minors or irresponsible persons.” He was also called “a
great lover of boys,” which had a distinctly different ring in a more innocent
age, or at least one in which the boys were heavily armed.

Until recently, the name “Bannermans Island
Arsenal” could be clearly seen along the eastern wall, but significant portions
of the structure have collapsed in recent years.  You can help support the stabilization and
restoration of this incredible historic structure by voting in the Chase
Community Giving process,
or on Facebook.

If you’re not familiar with it, there’s a pool of pictures
of Bannerman’s Castle on Flickr.


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Road Street

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Road Street.pngJust a quick side note, since our story on the proposed Sheridan Park made mention of the oddly named “Road Street” in Albany. Road Street is, for most of its length, nothing more than a footpath on the map, but one with a history that Paula LeMire dug up a couple of years back.  I hardly ever give it a thought, even though I go by it from time to time, forgetting that it’s a real street. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a bike path, and a fairly forbidding one at that, given that the state of that part of the city is enough to have made it the answer to a Jeopardy question, “What is blight?” But where cyclists fear to tread, Google Street View does not — apparently one of Google’s vehicles found its way down Road Street. There are still some fairly commonly used stretches of road that Street View has missed, but some intrepid driver must have been armed with a map that insisted that this was, indeed a street, and by gosh, he (or she) was going to go down it.

At least Road Street is, as one would expect, a street. There is also a Street Road, which is not a road but a hamlet outside of Ticonderoga.

Oh, you wanted more park?

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Arnold Brunner, in proposing a vast series of improvements to the city of Albany nearly a century ago, took a good look at what had been a wasted hillside leading down to Sheridan Hollow and proposed a grand promontory. “The peculiarity of Sheridan Park, which extends from Dove to Swan Streets and from Elk Street to 100 feet from Sheridan Avenue, is that it is nearly 100 feet higher at Elk and Dove Streets than at Road Street. It is also a perfect illustration of the axiom that the property of least value for buildings may be the most valuable for parks, as it was acquired because the land was considered to be too steep for building and part of it had begun to slide.” And so he proposed a grand plan for Sheridan Park. Then, having looked at his improvements to Sheridan Park, he apparently thought his vision could be even grander. “It is strongly recommended that the city acquire the property between the present park boundary and Sheridan Avenue and also that the park be extended as shown on the map . . . Sheridan Park will be large enough for some time, but in the future its extension will be necessary as it is in the center of a thickly populated district. This can be realized by standing on the Hawk Street viaduct and noting the spread of the city toward the north.” Ahh, the Hawk Street Viaduct . . . how I wish it were still there today.

“At the foot of Eagle Street there can be an overlook with a composition of sculpture and architecture to close fittingly the vista of this important street, which should be considered as a parkway connecting Sheridan Park with Capitol Park.” Okay, that didn’t happen either. Eagle Street unceremoniously ends, and the only vista there now is a view of the new Sheridan Hollow parking garage.

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Whatever happened to Sheridan Park?

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Sunken Garden wasn’t the only vision of Arnold Brunner that didn’t come to fruition. He also presented a plan for Sheridan Park that would almost certainly have transformed Sheridan Hollow. When he drew up these plans in 1914, there was already a Sheridan Park. It’s still there today, a nearly forgotten slab of concrete alongside part of Dove Street and the oddly named Road Street. A hundred years ago, the entire hillside up to Elk Street was considered part of Sheridan Park, and Brunner had a grand plan for the land bounded by Elk Street on the south, Sheridan Avenue on the north, and Dove and South Swan Streets on the ends:

“There is to be a wide terrace with two walks and a central grass plot 10 feet below Elk Street with which it is connected by steps and ramps. The central portion of the terrace is extended and provides a fine esplanade and also an excellent site for a future monument. Beyond this the ground slopes steeply to the line of Spruce Street where there is a walk shaded by two rows of trees on the other side of which are to be playgrounds for boys and girls.” What his plan makes clear is that he intended separate playgrounds, one for boys and one for girls, with yet a third playground for small children in between the two.

“Elk Street is widened to provide an overlook so that vehicles stopping to permit their occupants to enjoy the view will not interfere with the through traffic on the street.” As someone who travels up that section of Elk Street every day, I can assure no one is stopping to enjoy the view today.

View from Terrace, Sheridan Park.png

Oh, god, just imagine. “Some parks are enclosed by heavy foliage so as to shut out the surroundings that might be incongruous and mar their beauty. Others are intended to look out from and in this case, as the view from Sheridan is unusually attractive, the park is designed so as to afford every opportunity for its enjoyment . . . The site for a monument on the terrace should make a strong appeal to the public and there is another site for a memorial of a different character found at the termination of Swan Street. It has been suggested that a public or semi-public building be placed at the end of Dove Street and this is an admirable location for one, as it not only centers on Dove Street but another facade faces the long terrace on a lower level, thus providing a fine opportunity for a charming piece of architecture.”

Yeah, didn’t happen.

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The controversy over saving limbs

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Amputation saw, with bow frame, similar in des...

Amputation saw, with bow frame, similar in design to a hack saw. Has fancy wing nut holding blade in place and scalloping to the furthest pointing side of the frame and smooth ebony handle. Made by Lesueur. Typical of eigthteenth century amputation saw designs. Very similar style of saw to that in the anonymous painting of the Male Operating Theatre of St Thomas’ Hospital circa 1776. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to arguing against the routine amputation of limbs — which, in his day, was practiced with alarming regularity — Albany’s Dr. John Swinburne fought the medical establishment on the subject of “resection” “extension” of broken limbs. For major fractures of the arm and leg, it was established practice to apply a splint and let the fracture heal in place, almost no matter what angle the bone had come to, or to amputate. This resulted in people with shortened and crooked limbs who were hobbled for the remainder of the lives by a simple broken bone. Dr. Swinburne adopted and proselytized for a new technique, known as resection, extension and counter-extension, by which the bone was set back in place as it should have been, the bone and muscles allowed to heal in their natural position. He had ample opportunity to practice his method on the battlefields of the Civil War, where bullet frequently shattered bone, and where amputation was applied like Band-aids. The results were nothing short of phenomenal. One would think the medical community would have been anxious to adopt a technique that not only didn’t kill the patient (as amputation did with, again, alarming regularity), but allowed him to go through life without the nickname “Gimpy.” Dr. Swinburne’s papers on the subject, and his instruction of others in the technique, brought vehement opposition.

The “Medical and Surgical Reporter” in 1862 praised Dr. Swinburne’s technique:

“We have seen limbs that were badly wounded, in which amputation seemed almost unavoidable, but which were saved in spit of all the disadvantageous circumstances that followed their dressing. A few days ago we met one man belong to a New-York regiment, who had the upper portion of the humerus shattered by a minie-ball. How few surgeons on the battle-field would have thought of any thing but amputation in this case! Yet exsection of the humerus was performed [by Dr. Swinburne], several inches of bone removed, and dressing applied; and the man passed through all the ordeals mentioned above, and now has an arm that is useful for many purposes. He does not even ask his discharge from the army, but intends going home on a short furlough, and then entering the cavalry service, where he says he can manage his horse with the injured arm, and wield a sword with the sound one. How much better that than amputation at the shoulder-joint!”

His advances brought highly critical correspondence his way, which is well-chronicled in “A Typical American.” Their tone, particularly with regard to his practice of doing away with splints and allowing the muscle to support the bone, made it seem as if he had angered the splint lobby, as doctor after doctor wrote to assert that his results were impossible or dangerous. One wrote of Swinburne, “His honest efforts to prove the opposite state of things only shows how skilfully he can ride his ‘hobby.’ . . . Dr. Swinburne must pardon me when I give it as my conviction that he is indeed a bold surgeon to advocate a plan of treatment which is so universally acknowledged to result in non-union. In reference to the good results obtained by this practice as applied to this bone, I can only express my astonishment.” The letter was signed “Splints.”

But others did support him, and the numbers showed why. Dr. W. Van Steinburgh of the 55th New York Volunteers adopted Swinburne’s method on the battlefield. He reported that of 21 cases of compound fractures he treated with Swinburne’s method, 19 recovered with tolerably useful limbs. Of twelve amputations he performed, ten died; of thirteen “excisions of the shaft, all but one resulted fatally.”

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On this day in world history

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Since we’ve been talking about Albany publisher and author Joel Munsell all week, let’s touch on a non-Albany volume he put out in 1858, “The Every Day Book of History and Chronology.” It’s a massive, day-by-day collection of what happened in history on each day of the year. And by “in history,” I mean obscure history that almost no one today would have the least idea ever occurred, let alone remember when it happened.

So what happened on August 8 in history? Well, the Spanish Armada was driven to the shores of Ireland and hacked up. Henry VIII got hitched. And a celebrated dancer and pantomimist died.

  • Year 70. Capture of Jerusalem by Titus, the 8th
    day of the month Gorpieus, (Elul) upon his daughter’s birthday.
  • 1419. Peter D’Ailly, a French ecclesiastic, died. He was of
    an obscure family, and rose by his merit to the office of cardinal.
  • 1503. Alexander VI (Roderick
    pope, died. He was of infamous notoriety before his elevation to
    the pontificate, and is supposed to have been poisoned by a draught which he
    had prepared for some of his guests.
  • 1540. Nuptials of Henry VIII and Catharine Howard, his fifth
    spouse. By “a notable appearance of honor, cleanness and maidenly behavior,”
    she won the heart of old Harry, whose marriage with Anne of Cleves was annulled
    the 9th of July previous.
  • 1588. Edwin Sandys, archbishop of York, died. He assisted in
    the translation of what is called the Bishop’s
    and was one of the nine divines appointed by Elizabeth to dispute
    with nine catholics before the parliament.
  • 1588. The English fleet under lord Howard attacked the
    Spanish armada. The engagement began at 4 o’clock in the morning and continued
    till 6 at night, and resulted in a total defeat of the armada. The Spanish
    admiral, apprehending the entire destruction of his fleet, resolved to sail
    northwards and make the circuit of the British isles. When he had rounded the
    Orkneys, the fleet was dispersed by a storm; horses, mules and baggage were
    thrown overboard to lighten the ships, some of which were wrecked, some sunk in
    the North sea, others wrecked on the coast of Scotland, and more than thirty
    were driven by another storm upon the coast of Ireland, where many of the crews
    were barbarously murdered. The duke of Medina finally reached Santardu with
    sixty-five sail in a shattered condition, out of 150 sail of noble vessels
    which entered the British channel, many of them of the largest class.
  • 1641. Though Sabbath, both houses of the English parliament
    sat to prevent the king from going to Scotland.
  • 1776. Force of the northern American army, under Washington,
    10,514 fit for duty, 3,668 sick, 2,946 on command, 97 on furlough – total,
    17,225. The small pox was committing great ravages at this time, 5,500 having
    died of it since April; inoculation being prohibited in general orders.
  • 1778. Fort Boonesborough invested by 450 Canadians and
    Indians. The fort was garrisoned by 50 men, who defended it with great spirit
    against every stratagem till the 20th, when the siege was abandoned,
    and its capture never again attempted.
  • 1780. The combined fleets of France and Spain captured five
    East Indiamen and fifty merchant ships bound for the West Indies.
  • 1792. John Leake, an English physician, died; founder of the
    Westminster lying-in hospital, and an esteemed author.
  • 1794. The entrenchments of Pellingen, a series of redoubts
    raised by the Austrians in the most advantageous situations, in order to cover
    Treves, were carried by the French.
  • 1804. Robert MacFarlane, a Scottish miscellaneous writer,
    died. He translated Ossian into Latin.
  • 1805. Richard Worsley, governor of the isle of Wight, died.
    During a tour in Europe he made a fine collection of statues and antiques, of
    which he published a description.
  • 1808. John Broome, lieutenant-governor of the state of New
    York, died, and was buried in the Presbyterian church yard in Wall street, in
    the city of New York.
  • 1811. British under admiral Stopford took Batavia and a
    great part of the island of Java.
  • 1812. The United States troops under general Hull evacuated
    Canada and entered Detroit.
  • 1814. First meeting of the British and American
    commissioners at Ghent, to treat for peace.
  • 1816. The meetings of freemasons and other secret societies
    prohibited by the king of Naples under penalty of banish, fine and
  • 1827. George Canning, an eminent English statesman, died. He
    was of humble origin, but rose to the premiership by his great talents, and
    sustained himself against a powerful opposition.
  • 1828. Frederic Bouterwek, a German litterateur, died; author
    of Geschichte der neuen Poesie und
    containing separate critical histories of the belles-lettres
    of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England and Germany, from the revival of
    letters to the close of the 18th century, 12 vols.
  • 1836. Frederick Carl Ludwig Sickler died at Heldburghausen;
    an eminent archaeologist, and author of various learned works on archaeology,
    antiquities and philology.
  • 1838. The Chilian squadron of 32 vessels landed 5000 men at
    Aneon, and demanded two millions of dollars, which not being granted, they
    advanced and took Callao and Lima, after an action in which 2000 were killed.
    Gomarra was proclaimed president, and Orbegozo fled to the mountains. (See July
  • 1840. Charles Ottfried Muller, of Gottingen, died at Athens,
    from an illness brought on by fatigue and exposure in copying inscriptions, and
    making excavations at Delphi. The object of his investigation was connected
    with a great work on which he was engaged, upon the general history of Greece.
    He was buried on the summit of a little hill above the academy. (July 31.)
  • 1851. Samuel Emerson, an eminent physician, died at Kennebunk,
    Me., aged 87.
  • 1853. A strike at Stockport, England, for an advance of ten
    percent in wages, ceased, 20,000 workmen resumed their labors, having
    accomplished their object.
  • 1856. Mrs. Matthews (madame Vestris), long a celebrated
    dancer and pantomimist, died in England, aged 50. Her maiden name was Lucia
    Elizabeth Bartolozzi; she married Armand Vestris in 1813, and it was under this
    name that she was well known in Europe and America. She married Matthews in