Author Archives: carljohnson

Uncle Sam Station

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Uncle Sam Memorial obverse

The United States Bicentennial was a very big deal, celebration-wise. I don’t know what kind of events were involved with the U.S. Bicentennial Philatelic Fair, but they did have a special postmark for Uncle Sam Station that was applied to this postcard of Uncle Sam’s Grave on April 4, 1976. I wish all my snailmail went out with an Uncle Sam Station postmark.

Uncle Sam's Grave

When the South Mall was called the South Hole

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Albany South Mall 1967.jpg

The shot I posted earlier this week of the Corning Tower under construction was hugely popular. Thanks to Marcia and her dad for another long-lost view, this one of the Empire State Plaza under construction in 1967.

The winding road in foreground is a little confusing, but I think it’s a detour of Madison Avenue. The “Furniture Transport” truck is at the corner of South Swan Street and, I think, Madison. (The building on the corner strongly resembles the building housing Townsend & Company, though it must have had some good renovations.)  Now many of the buildings along Swan and two streets are gone, made into the parking lot at Robinson Square. You can make out the red brick building that now houses El Mariachi, and further up Swan Street, the Wilborn Temple. The brick pile just this side of Wilborn, now a turnaround for the plaza and a small park, was the Normans Kill Dairy processing plant. I think those are milk trucks parked just in front of it.

On the left side of the Plaza site, you can see steel being laid for the Swan Street Building.  You can also see the wall and decking that would split Swan Street and raise the Plaza above the city’s level, making it inaccessible from the neighborhoods. To the right of that, you can see pilings being prepared for the agency buildings. I can’t determine where this picture could have been taken from; it’s a fairly high vantage point. Foreshortening makes it difficult to relate to the Plaza as it stands today.

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Ye Ancient Fire Laws

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According to a history of Albany produced for the bicentennial celebration of its chartering as a city, concern about fire was one of the first things taken up by the new government. On October 26, 1686, the Common Council ordered “That ye fyremasters goe about and visite each respective house in ye city to see if their chimneys and fyrehearths be sufficient, and also that care be taken that ye ladders and fyre hooks be upon there places and in repare.” (Conservative talk show hosts please note how government actually worked in your imagined glory days of our founders.)

In 1731, the first fire department was organized, with fire masters appointed by ward, and the first hand engine was bought the following year. In 1740, the first engine house was ordered built; in 1743, Robert Lansingh, Bernardus Hartsen and Michael Bassett were appointed to take charge of the engine in case of fire, for which they were to be paid annually six schepels of wheat.

A new fire engine from London arrived in 1763, the same year that the Common Council purchased forty-eight leather buckets; each alderman and assistant were the keepers of four buckets each, all of which were numbered. Any persons permitting their chimney to become foul with soot so that it should catch fire were to forfeit the sum of forty shillings; a reward of three pounds was offered for discovering a fire, and every householder was to have two leather buckets (brewers, tavern keepers and bakers were to have three) with the initial letters of the owner’s name marked on each bucket. In case of fire or any alarm it was ordained that all persons were to immediately “illuminate and set three or more Candles in their front windows until Day Light unless the fire or alarm was sooner extinguished or quelled.” At a fire, the fire engines and tools were to be under the care and direction of the mayor and recorder, the first two aldermen and the sheriff; “these officials had the ranking, placing and directing of the people to hand the water buckets at the fire.”

(By the way, the ‘y’ in “Ye” was not a ‘y’ as we understand it, but the letter thorn, which had a sound pretty much the same as ‘th’ — so pronounce it “the,” not “ye.”)

Albany Union Station

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Albany Union Station

Once upon a time (and until 1968), passenger trains rolled up the east side of the river and crossed the Maiden Lane Bridge to Albany’s Union Station. “Union” referred to the joining of two or more rail lines, in this case the New York Central and the Delaware and Hudson. (The elaborate headquarters of the D&H, which today stands as the headquarters of the State University of New York, was never a rail station.) This trackside view from early in the 20th century would now be obscured by the Columbia Street Parking Garage, but fortunately Union Station still stands. It served as office space for a succession of banks, but it is now awaiting its next use, which may be as a business incubator for the College of Nanoscale Science. Since the demise of Albany’s First Night celebrations, there haven’t been many opportunities for the public to see the magnificent interior of the building. Let’s hope that changes.

City Halls

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Nowadays, if you want to put on a special event, a lecture or a dance, your choices are limited to the local hotels or perhaps a school auditorium. Back in 1905, the city of Albany was lousy with public gathering places, as evidenced by this list of buildings and halls. Every fraternal order and trade association had its own meeting place with an assembly room. While not every one on this list was open for public speechifying or lantern slide shows of adventures in the Congo, most of them were. Throughout histories of the city, we find endless references to education and entertainment at places like Jermain Hall, Tweddle Hall (which I simply must write about soon), and Centennial Hall. Odd that out of all these buildings, Public Bath No. 2 would be one of the longest survivors.

Mr. Lincoln in the Collar City

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One hundred and fifty-one years ago, on his way to inauguration as President of a not-very-United States, Abraham Lincoln made a visit to Troy. Arthur J. Weise recounted the visit in “Troy’s One Hundred Years”:

“One of the memorable incidents of the year was the passage of Abraham Lincoln through the city, on Tuesday morning, February 19th, when going to Washington to be inaugurated president of the United States. In consequence of high water in the river great danger attended the plying of the ferry-boat between Albany and Greenbush, and as there was no other way of crossing the Hudson at that point it was deemed prudent to convey the president elect, his suite, and the delegations escorting him, by a train of six cars to Waterford Junction and thence on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad to Troy. Not less than thirty thousand people were in and around the Union Depot to welcome the eminent statesman. While the train was crossing the bridge between Green Island and the city, a detachment of the Troy City Artillery fired a salute of thirty-four guns. As soon as the cars entered the station, the cheering multitude began struggling to get near the coach in which Mr. Lincoln was seated. It was the last car of the train. A plank was laid from the rear of it to a platform car that was covered with matting and guarded by the Troy Citizens’ Corps. Mr. Lincoln crossed on the plank to the open car, and on it, the Hon. Isaac McConihe, mayor of the city, in a brief address, welcomed him to Troy and tendered him its hospitalities. The president elect, having courteously expressed his thanks for the honor paid him, was then conducted by D. Thomas Vail, vice-president of the Troy Union Railroad Company, to the Hudson River Railroad train; the rear car of which was entered from the one on which the addresses had been made. As the train left the depot, Mr. Lincoln, standing on the platform of the last coach, bowed with uncovered head to the multitude of cheering people.”

And how did the president-elect courteously express his thanks? With the brevity, humility and grace that would come to characterize his public speeches. The Troy Daily Budget reported his remarks as follows:

Mr. Mayor and Fellow Citizens of Troy, New York:—I
am here to thank you for this noble demonstration of the citizens of
Troy, and I accept this flattering reception with feelings of profound
gratefulness. Since having left home, I confess, sir, having seen large
assemblages of the people, but this immense gathering more than exceeds
anything I have ever seen before. Still, fellow citizens, I am not so
vain as to suppose that you have gathered to do me honor as an
individual, but rather as the representative for the fleeting time of
the American people. I have appeared only that you might see me and I
you, and I am not sure but that I have the best of the sight. Again thanking you, fellow citizens, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

The night before, at Albany’s Gaiety Theater, Don Rittner reports that Mr. Lincoln first laid eyes on John Wilkes Booth.

Albany’s Best Grocers’ and Bakers’

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In 1898, J.J. Guiton & Co. wanted to assure us that when we saw that label on a bottle, it was not poison. They also claimed to be Albany’s greatest grocers.

In 1870, a Mrs. Catherine Guiton was running a grocery and saloon at 70 Canal Street, which is now Sheridan Avenue. I presume John J. Guiton was her son, who built the business up to the claim of being Albany’s greatest grocers  and, in 1907 at least, was located at  144-146 South Pearl Street, in business with Patrick C. Reilly. John and Patrick helped make legal history in 1911 in the all-important butter versus oleo debate.

Seriously, whether oleomargarine could be yellow or not was a raging battle. In “People of New York vs. John J. Guiton and Patrick Reilly,” the State contended that the grocers sold two packages of oleo to state inspectors, “honestly represented, but having a yellow color and that otherwise ‘resembled’ real butter. It was not contended that there was any misrepresentation, but the dairy authorities claimed that the law prohibits the sale, even if the product resembles genuine butter in any way.” This recounting of the case comes from “The National Provisioner,” which with a straight face called itself the “Official Organ of the American Meat Packers’ Association.” (I’d have thought kidneys, perhaps, or liver.) In its exciting coverage of the case, the official organ said, “Here was where the court dealt the butter argument a death blow. Getting at the bottom of the whole controversy at one stroke, Justice Cochrane declared that oleomargarine had as much right to a yellow shade as butter, provided its ingredients were natural, and provided it was sold under its own name.”

A search of the auction sites will turn up the occasional crock or jug from Guiton, declaring “Albany’s Best Grocers’ and Bakers’.” (The apostrophes to indicate plurals are Guiton’s, or Guitons’, not mine.)

American Seal Paint

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american seal paint.pngWilliam Connors established a paint factory in 1878 at Hill and Ida streets, close to the Poestenkill in Troy. Eventually called the Troy Paint and Color Works, the firm manufactured American Seal brand paint in “any desired shade or color.”

In 1889, “Carpentry & Building” magazine noted that “We have received from William Connors, 171 Hill street, Troy, N.Y., a circular, sample cards and other advertising matter relating to the American Seal Ready Mixed Paints. One of these relates to family colors for inside and outside work; another to floor paints, and a third to wall paints. A larger circular relates to regular house paints for inside and outside work. The colors shown are brilliant and are prepared and put up in a very attractive form.”

On January 1, 1889, the factory moved up to 677-679 River Street, “on the Hydraulic Canal.” According to the Rensselaer County Historical Society, “The company changed ownership several times over more than a century and has operated under several different names. The Connors Company built a building at 669 River Street in Troy in 1898. In 1971 the company was acquired by Monsey Products, and it moved from its long-time home on River Street to facilities in Waterford in 1979.”

There is, perhaps, a vestige of the American Seal brand name left on a decorating business in the north end of Troy.

An image search for “American Seal Paint Troy” will turn up some illustrations, posters and calendars linking the company’s product with Troy’s nationally known symbol, Uncle Sam.

Connors Paint Building

Photo by Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway of the Connors Paint building at 669 River Street in Troy.

In 2016, the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway posted that the Connors paint building has been recommended by the New York State Board for Historic Preservation for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Things that never will be settled

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1898’s “Illustrated History of the State Federation of Labor” is far more than its title implies, and it carries much more than the stirring stories of the formation of the Brotherhood of Bookbinders or the strikes of the Stove Mounters Union. In a section titled “Miscellaneous Laws,” it offers the turn of that other century’s equivalent of things that make you go hmmmn:

Things That Never Will Be Settled
“Engineer” says that among things that never will be settled are the following:

  • Whether a long screw driver is better than a short one of the same family.
  • Whether water wheels run faster at night than they do in the day-time.
  • The best way to harden steel.
  • Which side of the belt should run next to the pulley.
  • The proper speed of the line shafts.
  • The right way to lace belts.
  • Whether compression is economical or the reverse.
  • The principle of the steam injector.