The Banks of Albany

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As I’ve ranted before, banks were once truly the backbone of the community, and every growing city was proud of its lending institutions. They regularly reported their assets and how much they had invested in the community. In 1844, the busy city of Albany had eight banks, all conveniently located in pretty much the same place, down at the end of State Street.

If you know any Albany history, the names of some of those bank presidents should look very familiar. The Ten Eycks and Olcotts were among the oldest families in Albany. Railroad tycoon Erastus Corning did more than a little banking (and mayoring, though not as much as as his great grandson did). And we have Rufus King to thank for the Moses Fountain in Washington Park.

Albany Medical College

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Albany Medical College.pngThe Albany Medical College was chartered Feb. 16, 1839; “the charter empowers the trustees to confer the degree of doctor of medicine on the recommendation of the faculty, and three of the curators. The college edifice which is of brick, three stories high, 120 feet front by 50 feet deep, belongs with its grounds, to the city of Albany, and has been leased to the trustees of the college for twenty years at the nominal rent of $1 per year. It is very eligibly located in Eagle street, a short distance from the capitol.”

The hospital’s “fitting up” was defrayed by voluntary contributions from the citizens of Albany. Then the Legislature appropriated $15,000 to improve the building, museum, and library — “the museum and apparatus are now as complete and extensive as in any other institution in the United States.”

And if in 1844 you were interested in visiting the medical college’s museum, you were in luck: “Strangers are admitted to the museum on application to the Janitor.”

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Albany Female Academy

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Albany Female Academy

Another of the gems that is no longer there, the Albany Female Academy was on North Pearl Street. According to Wilson’s Albany City Guide, “This beautiful and classic edifice was erected for the purposes of a Female Academy in the year 1834, and is one of the greatest ornaments of our city . . . It is beautifully located in North Pearl, the most pleasant street in the city. The Academy was founded in the year 1814, being 30 years ago, so that a majority of our ladies received their education at this institution.”

Originally known as the Union School when founded on Montgomery Street, just north of Columbia, in 1814, its subscribers agreed to pay Ebenezer Foot 24 dollars for each scholar. It grew to 70 students in just two years, and  became the Albany Female Academy in 1821.

There’s an excellent history of the Albany Female Academy, including its connection to the Dudleys, the Olcotts of Ten Broeck Mansion, and other 19th century Albany luminaries. And, oh yes, that other Albany Academy, too — just click here.

The first tuition-free public alternative, Albany High School, didn’t open until 1866.

By the way, if you had family or friends in the Albany Female Academy’s class of 1867, you might want to check out this eBayer’s collection of class portraits.

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Pease’s Leviathan Variety Store

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Peases Leviathan Variety StoreThe copy in Wilson’s Albany City Guide of 1844 says:

“For richness and extensive variety of novelties, combining the Beautiful, the Useful and the Ornamental, this establishment excels any in town. Mr. P. has many fancy articles which are surpassingly rich; exceeding anything in elegance, that we have ever thought, dreamed or read of. All the powers of the Parisian artist seem to have been brought into requisition to cater for the establishment. Ladies rich portable writing desks, gentlemen and ladies toilet cases, gentlemens’ walking sticks with an umbrella folded inside, so as to answer for the purpose of a walking stick and umbrella, and every variety of walking canes. The ladies will find every thing pertaining to their toilets, with rich bead purses, workbags, &c. To the rich Berlin iron goods we would cite their special notice. His perfumeries exceed any assortment in the city, having over 100 varieties of different extracts. The Odd Fellows will find every variety of the different emblematic devices used at their lodges, with tassels, fringes, stars, bullions, &c. A rich assortment of French Jewelry and steel ornaments. Gentlemen will find every variety of soaps, &c. for their toilets, such as dressing combs, brushes, tooth brushes, curling tongs, tweezers, &c.; toilet mirrors in great variety. His assortment never has been so rich and desirable as at the present time, and the facilities he is able at all times to command, enable him to put them to his customers at much less than former prices, at wholesale and retail.

“Mr. Pease also executes Wood Engraving in a superior style; specimens may be seen all over this city, as well as some in this work.”

Indeed, Pease was a hell of a wood cutter, and he is widely acknowledged as having produced the first machine printed Christmas cards in the U.S., sometime around 1850.

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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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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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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