I cover the waterfront

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Waterfront businesses
Albany was always a river city. In 1844, the city itself still didn’t stray too far west of the river, and the movement of people and goods up and down the Hudson, not to mention the vital connection to the Erie Canal, was what made Albany one of the most important cities in the country. In this ad from the Albany City Guide, we have Savage & Benedict, flour and produce merchants, operating from one of the many piers then on the waterfront; the Albany and New York line of steam tow-boats, which could move canal packets and barges down to New York ; and William C. Hall, a ship chandler.

“Chandler” originally meant “candler,” as in one who makes or supplies candles. The general working of fat and grease from that business also applied itself well to nautical endeavors — treated rope, oakum, caulking — and so “chandler” also became the word for a ship’s supplier.

Barnum Blake, Bonnetteer

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Barnum Blake
Or “bonnetter?” Either way. In 1844, Barnum Blake made bonnets, Florence straw and silk and velvet bonnets. He had French and American artificial flowers, ribbons, etc. He was located nearly opposite the new Delavan House hotel and the Eastern and Western railroad depots (for a “union” station was still a long way off). I’m a little confused by his claim to employ “in the business season One Hundred hands.” It’s hard to comprehend an America in which every season was not the business season, but we have to presume that Blake’s audiences knew what he meant. More confusing is the 100 hands – is that 50 two-handed people, or 100 railroad casualties, or something in-between?

Country milliners and merchants were invited to stop in on their way to the big city, which his location across from the train stations and not far from the wharves must have made enticing. In those days, there was very little you could get in New York that you couldn’t get in Albany, good, bad or somewhere in the middle.

Boardman & Gray Pianos

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Boardman and Gray Pianos.png

I wrote extensively about the Albany piano industry just a little over a year ago at All Over Albany. For a time, our nickname could have been The Piano City. Here is an 1844 advertisement from the Albany City Guide from the biggest piano maker, Boardman & Gray. Love the old ad copy:

“The undersigned desire to say to all those who may wish to purchase Piano Fortes, that we are not only determined to sustain the high reputation which has been awarded to our Piano Fortes in years past, but by our united and personal attention to business, to continue making from time to time, such improvements in tone, action and general finish as will warrant the public in continuing their very liberal patronage as heretofore bestowed.”

That’s the kind of copy that presumes two things: an audience that’s educated, and an audience that has a lot of time on its hands. Nearly all advertising was like that then, heavy on the verbiage, subtly hyperbolic, gently pleading.

Except, of course, for Hoxsie.

Cheap Publications

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Pease bookstore.png“Cheap” tends to have a pejorative connotation these days that it did not in 1844, when Erastus H. Pease was happy to let Albanians know that his book store dealt in cheap publications. But he also dealt in classical and school texts, maps and globes, blank books, paper and stationery of all kinds, and drawing materials.

Pease was also the publisher of a number of noted works dealing with history, and a much cleaner version of this lovely cut of his store at 82 State Street can be found adorning a receipt for goods (specifically, “4 cap alphabets”) purchased by the Canal Department in 1845. As the receipt notes, 82 State was three doors below Pearl, on the south side. Probably just about where the bus stop is today.

Col. Elmer Ellsworth

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Elmer E. Ellsworth

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not usually going to be lazy and linky here on Hoxsie, but when ABC News has gone to the effort to put together a nice story about Mechanicville’s Col. Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer to be killed in the Civil War, then why reinvent the wheel? So click away.

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Rural Routes

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Becks Pocket Guide of Troy NY 1935_Page_073.png

Are there still rural routes? In the old days, if I wanted to send a letter to my aunt in West Glenville, I’d address it to her name, R.D. (rural delivery) #3, Amsterdam. The mailman who had that route was just expected to know who lived where – no road name was required. Imagine.

In this 1935 Beck’s Pocket Guide to Troy, they saw fit to publish the complete rural routes, road by road. Useful, I suppose, if you needed to chase down the mailman. And today a couple of them would still make for some nice bicycling routes.

By the way, Superintendent of Mails I.G. Flack sounds like a prank call name.

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It is to weep

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Albany Savings Bank 1940.png

That this gem was replaced by the ’70s-era pile o’ bricks plaza just makes me want to cry. That we lost all our local banks in the frenzy to make everything bigger, more competitive, and just super-duper swell makes me feel even worse. The founders of these institutions that were absolutely central to the creation of our cities would not begin to fathom that we now put our money into banks with roots in New York City, let alone Hong Kong, banks that have no connection or obligation to the cities and businesses that depend on them, and no particular stake in the success of the community.

As good coal as I can buy

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Albany Citizen coal ad 1909.png

Ah, for the bronze age of advertising, when advertisers begged your leave to inform you of something, and then politely stated their case John T.D. Blackburn of 108 North Pearl Street in Albany wanted you to know he wasn’t holding out the good stuff: you would get as good coal as he could buy. And that you would get as good service as could be had. And that you would be doing business with a progressive, up-to-date concern. If someone in the coal business tried to present himself as progressive today, it would have to include carbon capture and sequestration. I suspect when this ad ran in 1909, it simply meant he didn’t whip the hired help or the horses, and that the 12-year-old boys working in the coal yard were given half of every Sunday off, and all day Christmas.

Schenectady Newsies

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910.jpg

101 years ago, there was no TV news. There wasn’t even radio. The only way to get information about the greater world was by newspaper. And newspapers were sold by newsboys on the streets of every city in the country. As child labor went in those days, the newsboy’s lot was fairly cushy.  I’ve previously written about what was going on in the news that day, so follow this link if you want to know.
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One of the Jones Boys

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Moses Jones roofing art

This week I learned that Moses Jones, Practical Slater, was the man who laid the roof on historic St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, which is now owned by the Historic Albany Foundation. HAF puts tremendous efforts into maintaining this gem that anchors Arbor Hill, and which will be central to any return to greatness for that neighborhood. So I wanted to learn just a little bit more about Moses Jones.

In 1860, when St. Joseph’s was built,  Moses M. Jones was 30 years old, living in Schenectady. He was married, had real property valued at $1000 and personal property at $2000. Moses was born in Wales; his 28-year-old wife Catherine was from Pennsylvania. Their children were Morris M, Emma and George. His profession was given as “slater.”

Right next door to Moses? More Jones boys, all slaters. There was Morris M. Jones, 28, and his wife Angeline and son Royal. (Angeline was also from Pennsylvania, and Royal and Morris were born there, suggesting the Jones boys swept through Pennsylvania to pick up some brides on their way to the not-yet-Electric City). There was another Morris M. Jones, 19, and a David M. Jones, 16. In that household was another slater, John M. Drake, 20, who had the courtesy at least to have the proper middle initial if he was going to persist in not being a Jones. They lived in a merchant neighborhood on Yates Street, a street that runs between Union and Liberty just east of Broadway that is now little but parking lots. But in 1860, it was slaters, clergymen, tailors, and a patent rights business. In 1863, Moses registered for the Civil War draft, though his age then was given as 39.

But other than this ad, a single census entry, and a draft registration, I can’t find any evidence of Moses. He doesn’t appear in the 1870 business directory. All the Jones boys seem to disappear, except Royal, who shows up in Tacoma, Washington, in 1892. I’d love to report that he was putting up slate roofs, but he was listed as a cook.

By the way, to go by the surviving records, in 1830 Wales was producing people named Moses Jones by the bushel basket.

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