Until the early 19th century, the only way to cross the Hudson at Albany was by batteau, rope ferry or the newly invented horse ferry. But as Howell notes in his “Bi-Centennial History of Albany,” “In 1827 the subject of procuring a steamboat for the South Ferry began to be agitated.” The horse-ferry lobby didn’t take this sitting down, but steam interests won (and, after all, the Hudson was where the steam boat was made famous) and in 1828 the Chancellor Lansing began running between the Albany and Greenbush shores, apparently putting the horse ferryman “One-Armed Bradt” out of a job. (It’s possible that steam boats required two arms to operate, at least at first.).
For reasons lost to history, the North Ferry ran a couple of decades behind the times. Sited where the current Corning Preserve boat launch is and running directly across the river to Bath-on-Hudson, this ferry didn’t even get a rope-scow until about 1800, and the horse-boat didn’t come until 1831 (perhaps having been displaced by the steam ferry down at the South Ferry). The steam ferry didn’t hit the north until 1841, and according to Howell, this was a much more lightly used ferry.
There was a third ferry as well, which ran from Maiden Lane (where the Hudson River Way pedestrian bridge is). It was established in 1842 by the Boston and Albany Railroad, and ferried railroad cars across the river. By then, the ferry interests were already well into a pitched battle against the creation of a bridge across the Hudson, but they were pushing against progress. The opening of the Livingston Avenue Bridge in 1866 was the beginning of the end for the ferry business. The opening of the first Greenbush Bridge in 1882, at the South Ferry site, was the end of the end.
Almost every day of my life, I cross the Hudson River, sometimes several times, sometimes at several points. If I’m feeling devil-may-care, I may throw in a crossing of the Mohawk just for kicks. And if I’m up around Peebles Island, I’m sometimes unsure just what river I’m crossing. Living where we are, we are highly dependent on bridges. But for the first couple hundred years of settlement in these parts, there were no bridges, only ferries.
According to Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” etc., the exclusive rights of ferriage across the Hudson between the original four wards of Albany and the opposite shore of Greenbush were granted to Albany by the Dongan Charter of 1686, and that right was later incorporated into the city charter. The “right of ferry” gave the City of Albany the exclusive rights to establishing, licensing and regulating all ferries on each side of the Hudson River between Albany and Greenbush.
The first ferry across the Hudson at Albany was established in 1642, and may have been the first in the United States. On the Albany side, it was just north of the Beverkill, just about where the Dutch Apple and the USS Slater dock today, and crossed directly to Greenbush on the opposite side of the river. The first ferry boat was described as a “rude scow, propelled by hand by means of poles. This was used for the transportation of teams and wagons, while a simple boat or a batteau was employed in carrying passengers. The first ferry-master was Hendrick Albertsen, who built the first ferry house on the Albany side. When he died around 1648, he was succeeded by Jacob Janse Stall. It does not appear that in the early days Albany received any portion of the fares, nor does it appear to have regulated fares until much later. In 1754, the City began the custom of auctioning off the rights to run the ferry, and set the fares:
- For every person, if single 3 coppers
- For every person, if more than one 2 coppers
- For every head of cattle 9 coppers
- For every hundredweight of beaver or skins, 4 coppers
But even by then the beaver trade was diminished, and a new schedule of ferry rates issued in 1786 focused on livestock, furniture, and barrels of rum, sugar and molasses.
Rope ferries were the only kind used at this point (which came to be the South Ferry) until 1817. The boat used was “an ordinary scow, guided by means of a rope stretched across the river, to which the scow was attached by a rope and pulley, the boat being propelled by hand. About this time what was known as the horse ferry-boat came into use at the South Ferry. This kind of boat was peculiar to America, and of most singular construction. A platform covered a wide, flat boat. Underneath the platform was a large, horizontal, solid wheel, which extended to the side of the boat.” Two horses were harnessed on what was essentially a horse treadmill. This craft, devised by a Mr. Langdon of Whitehall, New York, originally used two horses, but larger craft later used as many as twelve at Albany’s South Ferry.
More on ferries tomorrow.
“Whereas great dangers have arisen, and mischief been done, by the pernicious practice of firing guns, pistols, rockets, squibs, and other fire works on the eve of the last day of December, and the first and second days of January; for prevention whereof for the future . . . .” Therefore it was enacted by the State of New York “that if any person or persons whomsoever, shall fire or discharge any gun, pistol, rocket, squib or other firework, within a quarter of a mile of any building, on the said eve, or days beforementioned, every such person so offending . . . shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of forty shillings with costs of suit, to be levied by distress and sale of the offenders goods and chattles . . . . “
In other words, fire a gun between Dec. 31 and Jan. 2, have one credible witness rat you out, and the man can sell your stuff to raise the fine, in the neighborhood of $200 in 21st century money.
Also, there was something about a “moiety.”
In fact, in a typical act of orneriness, I’m calling it the Maiden Lane Bridge from now on.
Why does every waterfront community have a Maiden Lane? I’d like to know.
“The senior member of this widely-known firm, William S. Earl, in 1848, entered the linen-collar and shirt-bosom manufactury of Jefferson Gardner, at No. 16 King Street, to acquire a knowledge of the business. In 1850, he began making similar goods at No. 51 North Third Street, and, in 1851, as a ‘manufacturer and wholesale dealer in ready-made linen,’ moved to No. 11 King Street. In 1856, he and Edwin D. Blanchard formed a partnership under the name of Earl & Blanchard, linen manufacturers, and occupied a part of the Manufacturers’ Bank Building, at the corner of River and King Streets. On the death of Edwin D. Blanchard, in 1859, the business was discontinued. In 1867, the firm of Earl & Wilson was formed, having its manufactory at No. 5 Union Street; Washington Wilson being the second member of the firm. Gardner Earl, son of William S. Earl, was admitted a partner in 1873, and Arthur R. Wilson, a brother of Washington Wilson, in 1881.
So knowing that it’s still there, I did what I always do and went to Google Street View to check it out. At first I thought, well, it sure looked darker and dingier in the old days. And, I realized, brownstonier. And then I realized that the entire facade is, in fact, different. I’m not sure when the brick was added, or when the lintels were painted, but it gives a strikingly different appearance today than in George Vail’s time.
The ironwork, happily, appears to be original (or at least dates to the undated photo). There’s a picture of the lovely curved interior staircase at the Library of Congress.
More on its history here.