Author Archives: carljohnson

The Wide Awake Quick Step

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The Wide Awake Quick StepWell, here’s another piece of all-Albany sheet music that we just had to share. It’s 1860’s The Wide Awake Quick Step!

A brief history of early American and Civil War music reports that “The ‘Wide Awakes’ were an early Republican political group that supported the election of Abraham Lincoln for president in 1860. The Wide-Awakes were Unionists that wanted to show that they were alert and ever vigilant in defense of the Federal government in Washington.”

The music was composed by Max Mayo, who apparently was also an Albanian but about whom we can’t find much. In fact, the only mention we find of Max Mayo is not a favorable one – in an edition of the New-York Musical Review and Gazette, a correspondence from Albany dated January 5th mentions him as having accompanied two operatic concerts given by Miss Lucy Escott (also given as Eastcott): “All the accompaniments were played too heavily by Mr. Max Mayo, a common but very unnecessary fault, which ought to be remedied.”

Published by A and D.R. Andrews of 85 State Street, the Tweddle Hall Music Store. A. Andrews is likely Alfred, who was an organist who lived at 21 Lancaster; D.R. may have been Daniel Andrews, a compositor who boarded at 253 Hamilton.

Apparently the music was performed by Schreiber’s Albany Cornet Band – Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” identifies Schreiber as Stephen Schreiber, and says the band “for several years did a large business. It disbanded in 1869.” Schreiber and the band were headquartered at 83 Green Street, in a building called Washington Hall. They are found playing all over the place.

The piece was dedicated to J. Owen Moore, “Comp. A Central Club.” In 1861, J. Owen Moore lived at 70 Philip St.; in 1863, he was listed as a Captain, 3rd Regiment, living at 28 Dallius (now Madison). In 1869, he was listed as an undertaker, with a factory at 117 S. Pearl, an office at 32 N. Pearl, and a house at 74 Hudson.

The lithography was by Harry Pease, who boarded at 777 Broadway, along with three other Pease men, Richard, Richard Jr., and Earl. Richard was the founder of the Pease agricultural implements concerns and, along with Harry, Pease’s Temple of Fancy, where they created the first printed Christmas card in America.

Feeling energetic? You can find the whole work here. Hoxsie’s hoping someone will record these pieces for us.

My Cane Bottom Chair

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Our endless search for all things Albany and Troy recently turned up this bit of sheet music from 1856 (courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries and University Museums). Published in 1856 by the music publisher J.H. Hidley of 544 Broadway in Albany, “My Cane Bottom Chair” was composed by Elliott C. Howe, M.D. (author of “Minnie Moore” and “Proud Katy Lane”!) and dedicated Miss Caroline B. Kelsey of Troy, N.Y., who may forever after have wondered if every eligible young doctor she met developed a disturbing fetish for the chairs in which she had sat:



But of all the cheap treasures that garnish my nest,
There’s one that I love and cherish the best;
For the finest of couches that’s padded with hair,
I never would change thee, my Cane bottom’d Chair.

Tis a bandy-legg’d, high-shoulder’d worm-eaten seat,
With a creaking old back, And twisted old feet;
But since the fair morning when Fanny sat there
I bless thee, and love thee, old Cane bottom’d Chair.

Oh, it does go on:

If chairs have but feeling in holding such charms,
A thrill must have pass’d through your wither’d old arms;
I look’d and I long’d, and I wished in despair,–
I wish’d myuself turn’d to a Cane bottom’d Chair.

It was but a moment she sat in that place;
She’d a scarf on her neck, and a smile on her face –
A smile on her face, and a rose in her hair,
And she sat there and bloom’d in my Cane bottom’d Chair.

Want to play the whole song? It’s here.

So who composed this deathless music? Elliot C. Howe was born in Jamaica, Vermont in 1828, and came to New York early in life, getting his education in the academies of Troy and Lansingburgh. His friend Charles H. Peck said in a biographical sketch (published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club) that Howe had an early love of natural science, forcing on geology, zoology and botany, but that “music also received a share of his attention and pharmacy had attractions for him.” He studied medicine in New York City, and also wrote for the New York Tribune under Horace Greeley. He received his M.D. and came back to Troy for three years, serving as leader of the choir of the Fifth Avenue Methodist Church. He then taught music, physiology and botany at Charlotteville seminary (Schoharie County) until the seminary building burned down, and then taught music, botany and German in Fort Edward. “Here he became acquainted with Miss Emily Z. Sloan who was also a teacher in the institute and who afterward became his wife.” He became an avid mycologist, which is how Peck came to know him. After seven years, Howe renewed the practice of medicine in New Baltimore, but then moved on to Yonkers for thirteen years before returning to Lansingburgh as his health failed; he died in 1899. Peck wrote:

“He was the author of several pieces of musical composition, among which are ‘Minnie Moore,’ his favorite; ‘The old Arm Chair,’ ‘His pleasant Grave,’ ‘The dying Drummer Boy’ and ‘The Wanderer’s Dream,’ a piece which was played by the musicians of both armies during the Civil War.” He also wrote extensively on mycology, botany and more. His name was, Peck notes, “fittingly commemorated by two fungi, Stropharia Howeana Pk. And Hypoxylon Howeanum Pk.” Three of Howe’s fungus discoveries were named for Peck.

Peck didn’t give us much to go on by way of years, but we’re going to go on an assumption that Howe wrote this during his first return to Troy; once he was married it would be unlikely he’d dedicate such a thing to a single young woman. Miss Caroline Kelsey was a resident of Troy; in 1850, she was 24 years old and living with her mother, Hannah Kelsey. Hannah was a milliner; Caroline was a music teacher. They lived at 19 Fifth Street in 1857, and 13 Sixth in 1859.  It’s not hard to imagine a little romance between the choir leader and the music teacher, though at this remove it may be hard to imagine her being flattered by his paean to a chair on which she once sat.

This sheet music was a thoroughly Albany affair. The lithograph was by Hoffman, Knickerbocker and Company, from an engraving by A. Tolle. The firm of Abraham Hoffman and Charles Knickerbocker, lithographers and engravers, was located at 518 Broadway, across the street from Hidley on the block of Broadway between Maiden Lane and Steuben St. Augustus Tolle was a printer and lithographer in the firm of Adler and Tolle at 26 Beaver Street.

We found some very random notes that indicate that John H. Hidley became a Steinway dealer in 1857, and ads from 1862 and 1863 show his continued association with Steinway, which lasted at least until 1865. We don’t get a strong sense of when Hidley’s business began and ended, though his music in the Library of Congress collection ranges from 1855 to 1865, and the store was still listed in the 1870 directory. A building marked as owned by J.H. Hidley is still on the 1876 Hopkins map, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Steuben, catercorner from the Delavan House.

Modern Medicine Comes to Albany

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Oct. 6 1943 first use of penicillinIt seems almost impossible to imagine a world without antibiotics, but in fact penicillin is practically brand new, compared to some of the things we ramble on about here. On Oct. 6, 1943, its use was absolutely newsworthy, as the Times-Union reported on the recovery of a Chatham hairdresser:

“Mrs. Florence Keniry, 28, Chatham beauty parlor operator, rallied slightly in Memorial hospital yesterday under the treatment of penicillin, which is being used to combat a blood stream infection. It was the first use of the rare drug in Albany since it was compounded on an extensive basis and her physician, Dr. Sidney Kimelblot, Castleton, said it was too early to determine its final results in the case.”

Not only was the drug new (discovered in 1928, but first used to treat infections in 1942), it was rare. If the Wikipedia article is to be believed (and it’s pretty well-sourced), the first patient, treated in March 1942 for streptococcal septicemia, used up half the supply. By June of that year there was enough for 10 patients. But it was seen as having an important use in treating troops in the war, and plans were developed for mass production in 1943.  Those plans were not yet in full operation when Mrs. Keniry fell ill with pneumonia, and her doctor had to apply to a Dr. Chester Kieffer at Evans Memorial Hospital in Boston, who was in charge of allocation of penicillin for civilian use. It would not become available to the general public until March, 1945. Sadly, Mrs. Keniry died of her infection despite the penicillin.

A month later, Albany dentist Paul I. Addison would also be in the news as the second Albany patient to receive penicillin, for a chronic bone infection resulting from a football injury. The newspaper reported that Albany Hospital had been designated as an institution for the study of penicillin because of its research facilities. Treatment of Addison’s chronic bone infection, which had not yielded to repeated operations and sulfa drugs, was of interest to the Army, which was dealing with such issues on the battlefield. And it’s appropriate that some of that research was done in Albany, given that it was home to Dr. Swinburne, Champion of the Limbs.


Even more signs from around Albany

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Starting with the Mack truck dealership on Broadway. Not sure of the medium here – could it be terra cotta? A lovely representation of the Mack Truck logo.
To the right side of the above, "Sales." Unfortunately, we don't have the image on the other side, but to no one's surprise, it says "Service."
K.W. Savory was a local lunch place on James Street. It closed early in the new century, but the sign is still marvelous.
Back up on Broadway, we've always been unreasonably pleased that the Adam Ross Cut Stone sign is cut in stone.
Saul Equipment is long gone. Was this on the side of 48 Hudson, Albany's oldest building? We know Saul's was there at some point, but we aren't sure where this sign was.
Okay, not a sign, per se. But there aren't many of these old newspaper boxes left. This was spotted in 2009 somewhere down on Route 32, so it may well be gone.
Again outside the city, up in Menands, but we have always loved the portal of Williams Press.
Before automobiles took over, street signs didn't need to be legible at 30 MPH. They tended to be on the corners of buildings, like this one at Lexington and Willett, when the corners were marked at all. There must still be some others around Center Square.
For years we wondered who John Emery was, but before we got around to identifying this Pearl Street business, All Over Albany did it for us. He was a shoe magnate.

The Albany signs just keep on coming

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It’s Thanksgiving week. We’ve been terribly busy. There is no time for research. There is, however, time to post pictures of even more of the landmark signs that form our view of Albany. While some of the ones we’ve featured in the last couple of days live on, some have also disappeared, giving way to rehabs and progress.

For starters, the John
Eagan Blacksmith sign on the back of what is now McGreevy Prolab, seen from the Liberty Street side. This is in the same row as the R.B. Wing and Meginnis Electric faded signs, making it the greatest row of ghost signs in Albany.
The old Bond Clothes signs on lower State Street -- one over the other.
The old Reliable Brands sign on Beaver Street, in the shadow of the Knickerbocker Arena. This building and the one adjacent appear to have been beautifully rehabbed since this picture was taken years ago; tragically, they didn't choose to keep the sign..
It looks like this old sign for Webster paper, on top of an old warehouse tucked between Tivoli and Manor streets just below Broadway, has been painted over in the rehab of the warehouse. Progress.
Technically not a faded sign and not in Albany, but the old sign on the Two Guys department store in Menands left an impression that has lasted longer than the store did.
And this one, from the Port of Albany, is less a sign than a label, but the very thought of that much molasses conjures images of the Molasses Flood of 1919.

Even More Ghost Signs of Albany

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Having looked at the ghost signs of R.B. Wing and Meginnis Electric on Liberty Street, we thought we’d present some of the other familiar ghost signs from around Albany. Some are painted, some are not. In one case, the business is still going, so technically its advertisement isn’t a ghost, but let’s not be pedantic.

These signs weren't really ghost signs for all that long, as these things go. For the many years that the old DeWitt Clinton hotel was a residence hotel, it still housed some active businesses, including the chic Jean Paul Coiffures and the perhaps less chic H&R Block tax prep offices.
At some point, Jean Paul moved to Stuyvesant Plaza. And, more recently, the DeWitt Clinton became the Renaissance, and in the course of renovations the remnants of these signs were, of course, removed.
Okay, this isn't really a faded sign as we normally think of it. It's more of a set of glue lines that once held the sign.
Its Sherrys for smart fashions 2A more traditional ghost sign, as we think of them -- faded, hand-painted, for a business long gone. This one, on North Pearl near Maiden Lane, proclaims "It's Sherry's for Smart Fashions." Sherry's was a women's fashions retailer.

Sherry's in its heyday.
You'll like the Times UnionOn the other side of the street, an understated ghost sign with an understated message: "You'll Like The Times Union." Not "love," not "adore," but "like." Hey, it's better than "tolerate." Since this picture was taken, the sign has been "restored." Hoxsie doesn't "like" the "restoration."
Pump Station vicinity Albany 2008 003 bwThis old building, once next to the Pump Station but recently deceased, was bedecked with a series of painted signs for Wilson's certified eggs, smoked ham, and some other things we can't quite make out.
Wilsons certified poultry eggsWe really don't know anything about the Wilson businesses.
This set of faded signs defies our attempts to decode. It's at North Pearl and Sheridan, and there are at least two layers of signs revealed here.
Skyline faded sign 2Even fiddling with the contrast doesn't make it much clearer, but if you know what it says, please leave a comment.

John Mulligan was good enough to hep us to the identify of our unidentified ghost sign shown above, the one at North Pearl and Sheridan – it’s for Harry Simmons furniture. Harry Simmons claimed to inspire earthquake-proof confidence in his furniture; the front of his building has certainly stood the test of time.

More Ghost Signs of Liberty Street

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Since the ghost signs on the back of the R.B. Wing building facing Liberty Street proved so popular, why not take a look at some of the other fine ghost signs that are visible along that stretch of street?

For instance, there’s Meginnis Electric:

We actually don’t know a thing about Meginnis, which apparently served every electrical need, including appliances and fireplace equipment. In 1968, they were included in a directory listing as one of Albany’s businesses that was 70-75 years old, so that puts they just around the turn of the century. When they left business, we don’t know.

The 12, which indicates the door address on Liberty Street (the address on Broadway is 370), is one of several numbers so painted on the backs of these buildings.

12 Liberty Street


The Ghost Signs of R.B. Wing

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The backs of buildings are sometimes as interesting as the fronts, and in Albany’s case, the backs of the row of quite-old buildings along Broadway are absolutely fascinating for their profusion of ghost signs.

Ghost signs are generally hand-painted signs that adorned our commercial buildings in abundance in the 19th and 20th centuries, and are now faded into various states of visibility. As they fade away, they often reveal other signs that were underneath. They have been recognized as an important part of the urban fabric, so much so that there have been efforts to restore various of them to their earlier condition. Sometimes this is done well, sometimes it’s butchery. Mercifully, the ghost signs on the back of the R.B. Wing building have not been risked or ruined.

R.B. Wing was once one of the city’s oldest businesses. It began as a ship’s chandlery, providing basically anything that a ship might need, in 1845. In a waterfront town in the golden age of water transport, being where the Erie Canal met the Hudson River was not a bad business strategy for a chandler. But as time, and shipping, moved on, Wing adapted and moved into all kinds of construction and industrial supplies. That suited it well, and it lasted until 1996.

We’re not entirely sure when Wing moved to its Broadway location; they were at 62 Quay Street in the 1890s, down past South Ferry Street. In 1914, Albany architect Walter Van Guysling created the extremely distinctive facade, featuring a ship and whales that decorated the front of their location at 384 Broadway. It’s lovely. But today we’re talking about the back.

R.B. Wing Ghost SignsLiberty Street is one of the more neglected of Albany’s streets, but it is gifted with the more incredible collection of ghost signs in the city, and the rear of the R.B. Wing building is simply covered with them.

At the top, the name of the firm (the son was Charles, by the way). Below that, various lists of the products that were on offer by R.B. Wing: rope and tackle blocks, oils and grease, rope, cable, chain, hose and tarps, mill supplies, power tools, welders’ hoists, asbestos goods, and machine tools.




RB Wing South SideOn the south side of the roofline, even more goods are listed: ice tools, oils and grease, roofing material, canvas covers, leather belting, asbestos goods, rope & tackle blocks, dynamite, batteries, fuzes and caps (blasting caps, that is), engine supplies, paints and rubber goods.

But tucked in among the ghost signs is something of an Easter egg – one of the signs isn’t a ghost sign at all. It’s for a business that is still a going concern, right at that location: John G. Waite Associates, Architects. They’re the ones who did an adaptive reuse of this building. Somewhere in the restoration process, they very cleverly snuck their firm into the signage, as cleverly as if it had always been there:

JGWA Archt

William Kemp and his 65 Second Street Home

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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.

Troytown Shirt Corporation

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Troytown Shirt Corp 1957Just a quickie today, but this ad from 1957 caught our eye. It’s from a time when there was still enough garment manufacture in the area that a call for women with industrial sewing experience would not have gone unanswered. Yes, this was a time when employment ads were separated into male and female categories, and the males were “men” and the females were “girls” or, if lucky, “ladies.”

Don’t know much about Troytown Shirt Corp., which operated out of Harmony Mills. State records indicate that Troytown was incorporated in 1946, and renamed TTS Shirt Corp. in 1988.