Very largely just now

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It sounds a little bit like immigrant English, but the Cotrell and Leonard families had been in Albany for some time when this ad ran in 1891 advertising that “We are selling hats and mackintoshes very largely just now.” For those who don’t know, a mackintosh is a rubberized waterproof raincoat.

“The man in the mack / said we gotta go back / you know he didn’t even give us a chance.”

Christ, you know it ain’t easy.

Want to know more about Cotrell & Leonard — such as how they basically created the academic gown system in the United States? Check it out at All Over Albany.

Brandy, dentistry, photography

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All of these fine establishments, offering the best in brandies, dentistry, and photography, were located in busy downtown Albany, though this ad is from the Schenectady directory from 1862.

I particularly like the offer of “Natural and life like-artificial dentures inserted on reasonable terms.” Removal, however, would be something else entirely. Caveat emptor!

Treadwell Seal Skins

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The importance of the fur trade to the very existence of Albany cannot be overstated. Although Killian van Rensselaer tried to promote agriculture and tobacco-planting, and the Dutch East India Company tried to maintain strict control over the fur trade, it was river transport and an abundance of beaver within two hundred miles or so that made Albany a critical trading post. But that was beaver.

George C. Treadwell’s establishment made “furs, sacques, gloves, caps, robes,” etc. from beaver, otter, and, seemingly less likely given our inland location, fur seal. George’s son, George H., said that “my father dressed and dyed a few seal-skins in 1832, and each year there-after, and in 1864 this became a lucrative item of our business.” In 1892, Treadwell was paying his workers from $1.25 to $2 a day, about the average wage for workers in the clothing industry at that time

Howell’s Bi-Centennial History of Albany had this (and more) to say about George C. Treadwell and the seal skin industry:

About sixty years ago, Denison Williams dressed and dyed seal-skins. He
was succeeded by Packer, Prentice & Co., whose manufactures in 1831
reached the value of $500,000. John Bryan, James Chase, Robert
Cheesebrough and John S. Smith were also engaged in this business.
Twenty thousand fur seals per year were dressed, which were made into
caps. When these caps went out of fashion the trade waned. In 1858 it
revived, since which time seal-skin sacques have been manufactured.

The firm of George C. Treadwell & Co., manufacturers and dealers in furs, from its small beginnings in 1832, when it was established by George C. Treadwell, late
deceased, has grown until it now ranks with the leading fur
establishments of the country. They manufacture and deal in all kinds of
fine furs, sacques, boas, caps, gloves, robes, etc. The present fine
process by which fur seal, otter and
beaver are dyed and dressed, is the result of Mr Treadwell’s industry
and skill. Their premises are 60 by 30 feet, fourstories high, brick.
The first floor is used for displaying goods, the others for manufacturing and storing. The successor of Mr. Treadwell is his son, George H. Treadwell. The house has a branch store at No. 676 Broadway, New York City, under the supervision of Henry Treadwell. In 1844, Mr. Treadwell, Sr.,
had acquired the reputation of being one of the best cap manufacturers
in the United States, and as especially excelling in dressing and
coloring furs.

There are now, and long have been, extensive
dealers in every variety of hats, caps and furs, and fur goods, in this
city who are referred to under the head of the Beaver and Fur Trade, and
Trade and Commerce.

George H. was noted for arguing for conservation of seals in order to preserve the industry.

John Ferris Brushes

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From 1940, an ad for John Ferris Jr., manufacturer of brushes since 1833. He was one of what seems to have been simply hundreds of businesses on Broadway at the time. It’s hard to imagine how different it must have been. It’s still a very busy place, but it’s all office work. No one’s making mops or brooms. Of course, no city as big as Albany could possibly have gotten by with just one brush factory, so this isn’t the first time I’ve written about a brush factory.

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The D&H Building (no, not that one)

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Everyone knows (and if you don’t, you should) that the massive, beautiful SUNY Administration building sprawled across the plaza along Broadway at State Street was, when built in 1915 by Marcus Reynolds, the headquarters of the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) railroad. (With a little bit of Evening Journal headquarters thrown in.) But fewer than twenty years before that, the D&H occupied far less capacious quarters at the corner of North Pearl Street and Steuben Place. The building still stands, right across from the Steuben Athletic Club.

In 1891, Brandow Publishing’s “The New Albany” gushed about the new D&H building. “Comparisons may be odious, but people will make them for all that, and the policy of the D.&H. stands in striking contrast with at least one other road which enters this city, and enriches itself at our expense. . . Whenever opportunity offered, its officers have come forward cheerfully and willingly to assist in a substantial manner any enterprise likely to benefit the city of Albany.” It’s unlikely that little poke at the New York Central caused Cornelius Vanderbilt to spit out his caviar in anger, but there’s no question the D.&H. ultimately left a bigger legacy in the capital city.

“One of the most striking instances of its enterprise and public spirit . . . is shown in the erection of a building for the general offices of the company . . . directly opposite the elegant structure of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and on one of the most conspicuous and commanding sites in the city.” The railroad had its sights set on Broadway, near the steamboat landing, but could not make it work, and the YMCA found itself needing to sell this property in order to start the Harmanus Bleecker Library.

“Such a building would be a credit to and attract favorable attention in any city in the state. Its erection is warranted at this time by the fact that the present quarters of the company, on Maiden Lane, are entirely inadequate, their business having increased four-fold within the past decade, and bidding fair to increase as much more before the close of the century. The ever growing popularity of the summer resorts to which this road is the only route, the development of the Dominion of Canada, and its inevitable closer connections with the commercial interests of the United States; the sure and steady demand for the great coal product of Pennsylvania – these are factors which denote, with absolute certainty, the successful future of the D.&H.”

The writer predicted that the new building would stand “forever as a monument to the enterprise and progressive spirit of a great railroad corporation.” No question those words would apply, but not to this nearly forgotten building along Pearl Street. Just so, it wasn’t long before those same factors of success would render this handsome pile wholly inadequate, and the D.&H. would turn again to the site on Broadway they had originally fancied, resulting in one of Albany’s most distinctive landmarks.

Purity at the Capitol

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You’ll be shocked to learn that in the 1890s, there was scandal about the legislature. The water supply, however, was above reproach, thanks to the efforts of the Albany Steam Trap Company. “Every drop used there now for drinking purposes is as pure as if it trickled from ‘The icicle which hangs on Dian’s temple.'”