Author Archives: carljohnson

Something you Ought to Read

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Pine Hills.pngAs this ad from The New Albany in 1891 proclaims, there is no better city on this continent to live in, all things considered, than Albany, and if you intend to make it your permanent home, here is Something you Ought to Read.

What follows is a glowing recommendation of the benefits of buying a property in Pine Hills from the Albany Land Improvement and Building Company. And who wouldn’t want to live there at the convergence of two magnificent thoroughfares, where there is pure air, abundant shade, smooth lawns, asphalt pavements, perfect drainage, detached residents, and rapid transit?

“Pine Hills is one of the distinguishing and remarkable features of the NEW ALBANY . . . This is no forced boom, no straw sales, no fictitious valuation.” Strange to say that this wasn’t just sales talk, as Pine Hills has proven to be one of Albany’s enduring neighborhoods, looking and feeling today very much like it did a century ago. Minus the streetcars, of course.

Two things about this ad that you don’t see in advertising much anymore: an admonition to “talk it over with your wife,” and the word “ought.”

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Cluett, Coon & Co.

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From Scribner’s magazine in 1890, we have this stylish ad for Cluett’s collars and cuffs for gentlemen. Your choice of the Penokee or Natillo collar, not to mention full dress Monarch shirts in flannel, cheviot, and madras.

I sometimes wish shirts still had detachable collars; it’s the first thing to go on a white dress shirt. Why did we give up this marvel of innovation?

 

Cluett, Coon & Co. was one of a number of versions of what would become the famous Cluett, Peabody & Co.

Seneca Ray Stoddard

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Nims and Knight were successors to Merriam, Moore & Co., who published a variety of things including the famous Franklin Globes from the historic (now, not then) Cannon Building in Troy. Among the offerings of Nims and Knight, as advertised in Scribner’s magazine in 1890, were a variety of books depicting the beauties of the Adirondacks through the now-legendary photography of Seneca Ray Stoddard.

No one was more important in both documenting and promoting the 19th-century Adirondack wilderness experience than Stoddard. It’s still my hope that someday, with a little luck, I’ll learn that a face gazing out of one of his photographs belongs to one of my forebears, who were among the very first Adirondack guides.

Several of Stoddard’s books are available on Google Books, including “The Adirondacks.”

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A Day in Albany

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From the “Albany Tourist’s Handy Guide,” by John D. Whish, 1900:

A Day in Albany
For the leisurely traveler, a day or more in Albany offers many pleasures. If a general sight-seer, he can walk about a bit — probably to the best advantage on Broadway, State and Pearl streets — which will give an idea of the city’s business life; continuing with a short stroll across Eagle street, through Academy Park and up Elk street which is the society quarter, going on by St. Agnes school and crossing over to Washington avenue past the Cathedral of All Saints, and thus to the Capitol. It will take an hour or two to see the great building in a general way and a guide is desirable. When the Capitol has been “done,” the walk may be continued over Eagle street to see the Executive mansion and the beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Returning and passing down State street, another hour may be spent in Geological Hall, and before luncheon, if the day be not too warm, a fine birds-eye view of the city may be had from the roof of the hotel Ten Eyck. After luncheon, a ride in a Pine Hills car will show the residence beauties of the city as mentioned in “One Hour.”  A stroll through Washington Park will repay anyone and the King fountain and Burns monument should by all means be seen.

If possessed of literary tastes much time can be spent among the rare books and manuscripts in the State library. If a collector of art, books or curios, proper credentials will open to view treasures nowhere else to be found. In fact, the individual bent can be gratified in Albany to almost any extent imaginable. For the artist there are the studios, the scenery of the near-by mountains and the beauties of the cemeteries. For the collector are offered many things according to his taste. For the engineer there are the electrical power houses of the street railway, the Watervliet arsenal and the great filter system of the city water plant. The literary man can find rare treasures in many a private collection. The scientist may visit the State museum, the observatory or the laboratory and collections of the Medical College.

In other words, to all strangers within her gates the Ancient City of Albany offers congenial surroundings and attractions to each after his kind. Even the poet is not neglected, for one of the many beautiful drives leads directly to the “Vale of Tawasentha,” made famous by Longfellow’s Hiawatha, but better known to the resident populace by the prosaic name of “Normanskill.”

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The Gurney — they love it in Pine Hills!

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Gurney heater.pngIf you live in one of the fine Pine Hills homes built by the Albany Land Improvement and Building Co. somewhere around 1890, when streetcar travel started to make the western reaches of Albany attractive to the middle class, I’d guess there’s a good chance your original boiler and radiator was a Gurney. William J. Caine of 27 Pine Avenue, who just happened to be the superintendent of the company, felt it his duty to inform the Gurney company that after using it two years, he hardly knew how to express himself, “as it combines all the good qualities NECESSARY TO MAKE A FAMILY HAPPY.” A child of fifteen could run it! Central heat, while no longer quite a novelty, was certainly a comfort that the older generation had done without and now valued greatly.

No doubt your boiler was long since scrapped (and an entire battleship made from it, by the looks of it), but there’s a good chance there are still some Gurney radiators up in Pine Hills.

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Pine Hills

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VillaLotsAtPineHills.pngIn 1892, Albany was spreading out, and the Albany Land Improvement and Building Company was enticing Albany’s middle class to live out of the noise and dirt of the city. This ad begins with an auctioneer’s speech: “$840 I’m Offered!. . . and Sold for Eight Hundred and Forty Dollars.”

“If you are an Albanian and read the daily papers, you will at once associate the above with the recent auction sale of villa lots at Pine Hills, whereby so many rent-payers took the only wise course and propose to become home-owners.

Does the subject interest you?
Are you quite satisfied with paying to another what you could keep for yourself?
In a rented house you have neither the pride of possession, the pleasure of adornment, nor the contentment in living, which is possible only in a home of your own.

Study the advantages of a home at Pine Hills. The sooner you decide, the cheaper you can get it. Values increase with each succeeding purchaser. Come into our office and learn all about it.”

So sayeth the Albany Lane Improvement and Building Co., which was conveniently located in the Tweddle Building, successor to Tweddle Hall, right at the Old Elm Tree Corner.

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John Tweddle

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John Tweddle.pngFor someone whose name was once synonymous with Albany’s crossroads, having built Tweddle Hall there, it’s surprising that we no longer remember John Tweddle. And yet, he is responsible for one of the most recognizable features of the downtown skyline.

George Rogers Howell, in his “Bi-Centennial History of Albany,” gushed:

“There are monuments more enduring than marble, which are seen and known of all men, and whose inscriptions are intuitively realized, not read. Such monuments are reared by men who pass busy, useful and blameless lives — lives whose imprint is upon the communities in which they live, and whose influence shall be recognized long after shaft of granite shall have crumbled away to fade from view, no more to mark the resting-place of a man that has lived and died.
Such a monument was built up unconsciously and unostentatiously by the late John Tweddle, whose death was a public bereavement, and whose memory has grown bright through an interval of nearly a decade since he passed from earth to be seen no more of men.”

John Tweddle was born in Temple Sowerby, England, in 1798. At age nine he was orphaned by the death of his father, and became an apprentice to a wheelwright. At 21, he borrowed 20 pounds (“the only borrowed money he handled during his whole life,” Howell says) and made the seven-week passage to America. He set up a wheelwright shop in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He built some capital and bought a brewery, knowing nothing of the craft, and was successful for a time. With failure in West Chester, he came to Albany, then a national center of brewing. In 1847, he rented the malt-house of John Taylor, brewer of Albany Imperial XX Ales. The business grew and he opened another malt-house in Albany and two in New York. Recognizing the need for capital in the capital, Tweddle helped organize the Merchants’ Bank in 1853, and served as its president for the rest of his life. He was involved in a variety of civic organizations, and was president of the St. George’s Society. He built the famous Tweddle Hall, Albany’s greatest gathering place, and after it burned replaced it with the Tweddle Building. 

He was also a prominent member and warden of St. Peter’s Church on State Street, just a block from his famous Tweddle Hall. When John Tweddle died in 1875, his widow and son made substantial bequests to the church to erect a tower and chimes in his honor. The tower was a prominent addition to St. Peter’s Church, and remains one of the most distinctive architectural features of downtown Albany, with its French Gothic character, its three gargoyles, and its chimes. The bells were made by Meneely and Kimberly of West Troy. Each bell is inscribed.

Howell eulogized: “He had lived a good, pure and useful life — a life which had made his fellow-men better for his existence . . . .”

St. Peter's Episcopal Church on State Street i...

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on State Street in downtown Albany as photographed on 10 January 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Tweddle Hall, on the Elm Tree Corner

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Tweddle Hall.pngPublisher Joel Munsell in his “Annals of Albany” gives us the story of the building that followed the Websters’ printing concern at the Old Elm Tree Corner, the northwest corner of State and Pearl streets in Albany:

Here the Albany Gazette and the Daily Advertiser were printed most of the time in which they existed; and for about half a century Charley Webster, the White House, the Elm Tree, the Albany Gazette, and Webster’s Spelling Book, formed a very prosperous and renowned family group. In 1823, George Webster, twin brother of Charles R., and a partner in the concern, died; the latter died in 1834. In 1836 the premises were sold to foreclose a mortgage, and purchased by Alonso Crittenton. In 1855 Joseph Clark purchased the entire property, and in 1857 it came into the hands of the late John Tweddle. The old structures were demolished in 1859, and the present elegant structure known as “Tweddle Hall,” erected, the late William Gray doing the brown stone work. A number of persons tried to prevail upon Mr. Tweddle to cut down the old elm, which stood on the corner, but he peremptorily declined.

Tweddle Hall was constructed by John Tweddle, a very prosperous malt merchant supplying Albany’s very important breweries. He also organized and was president of the Merchants Bank for 22 years. The hall was an answer to a tremendous need for a public hall in the capital city, for public lectures, exhibitions, entertainments, and meetings. It opened in 1860, and for 21 years was the center of Albany’s civic life, a fitting use for the city’s most prominent intersection. Tweddle Hall was regularly filled with musical performances, temperance rallies, political meetings and conventions, relief fund events, and the leading speakers of the day, including Charles Dickens.

From the New York Times we have this description of the building:

Tweddle Hall, which stood on the north-west corner of State and North Pearl streets, in the centre of the business portion of the city, was a fine, four-story free-stone building, with a frontage of 88 feet on State-street and 116 on North Pearl-street. The lower stories were devoted to stores and offices, above which was a fine hall, 100 by 75 feet, which had one gallery and was capable of seating 1,000 people. . . The original cost was $100,000, and the property is now assessed at $230,000.

 
On January 16, 1883, a boy opening up the music store on the ground floor of the hall discovered a fire. The New York Times reported: “The flames spread quickly to the second floor, and, darting up the back stairs, reached the stage of the large hall on the upper floors. The scenery and stage fixtures burned fiercely, and the fire was drawn to all parts of the structure by the draughts caused by the large halls and numerous wooden stair-cases which traverse the building in every direction on the second floor.”  The hall was a total loss, and with it were lost its tenants, an art store, a music store, a boot and shoe dealer, a gentlemen’s furnishing store, a druggist, a merchant tailor, a crockery store, the Albany County Bank, two lawyers’ offices, and insurance agent’s, and a commercial agent. Two days after the fire, the north wall fell, crushing the adjoining house, which had previously been the home of Erastus Corning (the mayor, but not that mayor).

Tomorrow: the Tweddle Building, and the life of John Tweddle.

The image of Tweddle Hall is from the New York Public Library.

Mertens & Phalen

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I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Mertens & Phalen, but to judge by this ad from 1892, they were once a sizeable manufacturer of clothing in the Collar City. You can still find a number of trade cards and even some sheet music advertising the firm on eBay, but all other traces of the only genuine manufacturer of best made, perfect fitting, reliable clothing in Troy or Albany are gone. Where the building stood at River, Grand and Fourth in Troy is now a parking lot across from the Franklin Plaza.