Who will carry our filth from the streets? Albany’s cartmen

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Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.02.52 PMIn early 19th century Albany, there were no garbage cans – household garbage, food waste, chamberpots, and animal dung were tossed out into the nearest street or alley.  Albany’s Laws and Ordinances of 1800 prescribed a law for cleaning the streets of the city, and regulated the cartmen who carried such waste and everything else too.

Under the ordinance, anyone who should “throw or lay” in any streets or alleys any filth or dirt was subject to a penalty of 37 cents and five mills. Failure to pay would have you thrown in jail until you could pay. Anyone who should deposit “any casks, stone, boards, plank, staves, timber, or any other kind of lumber or merchandize, and permit the same to remain in such street or alley for any time exceeding twelve hours (materials for building or repairing houses or other buildings excepted)” was subject to a fine of six shillings, and four shillings for every additional 24 hours. Materials for building or repairing buildings could be placed in streets or alleys only with permission from two of the aldermen and assistants of the ward in which they were to be placed. Even then, “such permission shall be only given to place such materials between the house or lot of the person applying for such permission and the middle of the street or alley opposite thereto, if there be sufficient room for that purpose between the same.”

It was further ordained “that no person or persons shall, between the fifteenth day of December and the first day of April, place or keep any firewood in any of the streets, lanes or alleys of this city, fronting the house or lot of such person or persons, for a longer time than ten days successively, to be computed from the day that the owner or owners of such firewood shall receive notice for removal of the same from the Mayor, Recorder or any one of the Aldermen, and that no person or persons be allowed within the time aforesaid, so to lay, pile, or place any greater quantity of firewood at one time, than ten loads, in any of the streets, lanes, or alleys as aforesaid, and only in such manner as the Mayor, Recorder or any one of the Aldermen of the ward may permit or direct.”

Anyone was allowed to carry away “and apply to such purpose as he shall think proper” any soil, dirt, dung or rubbish left in the streets or alleys for 48 hours. If such a person was a licensed “carman,” he was entitled to one shilling and sixpence for every load. Sounds like the carman had the right to just pick up anything a resident left lying in the street and charge for its disposal, and the city would enforce the charge. But if any carman neglected or refused to cart away any soil, dirt, dung or rubbish, “or any materials with which any box herein after mentioned may have been constructed,” he would forfeit 75 cents. The boxes were constructed in the streets, along with holes “for depositing manure or any kind of dirt or filth,” which each spring were to be broken down “and filled up and paved wherever such holes shall adjoin a pavement,” the person who owned the house or lot adjoining the box or hole was responsible. Failure to remove a box or fill up a hole was subject to a penalty of 62 cents and five mills, plus expenses. So the streets of Albany weren’t exactly paved with garbage – it was just the base layer.

The carmen, which the law also referred to as cartmen (and which more modernly might have been called carters), were regulated by the city. Any cart to be used to convey loads within the city or to “the colonie” was required to have fellies (the outer rim of a wheel) of a breadth of at least four inches on the exterior circumference, and every cartman or carriage for hire had to pay $1.25 for the annual license. Carts were prescribed to be two feet eight inches wide, and the rungs thereof three feet high.

“No person under age or a slave, shall drive any cart for hire or wages within the said city; and that every carman shall drive his cart personally” unless he had special permission from the Chamberlain. Apparently cartmen could be required to carry anything that was asked of them; refusal when he was not otherwise employed, carried a fine of 75 cents. Showing the importance of river commerce and the ferries, cartmen were essentially required to drop everything in order to carry any grain, hay, provisions, or merchandise from any open boat, canoe, batteau or other open vessel in which it was exposed. The cartman was required to “leave every other employment for the purpose aforesaid.” They were required to carry as much as could conveniently be put in their carts, “and as much as an able bodied horse can conveniently draw.

Anywhere within the city east of Hawk Street, the charges for loading, carting and unloading carried the following rates:

  • For every hogshead of rum, or other spirituous liquors, or molasses exceeding ninety gallons: two shillings and six pence.
  • For every pipe of wine, or other spirituous liquors, two shillings and six pence.
  • For every tierce of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors, exceeding sixty gallons and less than ninety gallons: two shillings.
  • For every cask of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors exceeding forty, and less than sixty gallons, one shilling and four pence.
  • For every cask of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors exceeding thirty, and less than forty gallons, nine-pence.
  • For every hogshead of sugar, two shillings and six pence.
  • For every tierce of do. [ditto, meaning sugar], one shilling and three-pence.
  • For every barrel of sugar, beef, pork, pot or pearl ashes, six-pence.
  • For every barrel of flour, four-pence.
  • For every load of flax-seed, in casks, one shilling and six-pence.
  • For removing of every load of dirt or filth out of any of the streets, east of Hawk-Street, one shilling.
  • For every load of gun-powder, to or from the powder-house, three shillings.
  • For every load to or from any place, to the eastward of Hawk-Street, from or to any place to the eastward thereof, if the distance between each place exceeds half a mile, and is less than a mile, double the rates herein before established.

(For pipes, hogsheads, and tierces, see this Wikipedia entry.)

Death by Railroad, 1858

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Accidents on NYS Railroads 1858From the 1858 New York State Engineer and Surveyor’s report on the many railroads operating in the state, we find this interesting tabulation of the human cost of running the rails in that year.

The number of passengers killed for the year was 20; 142 were injured. Railroad employees: 29 killed, 24 injured. Others (presumably those within some proximity of the tracks at the wrong time): 68 killed, 36 injured.

Pretty dry statistics, but have no fear: State Engineer Van Rensselaer Richmond found a way to put that passenger mortality statistic into perspective:

Dividing 373,159,179, the mileage of passengers, by 20, the number of passengers killed, we find that only one passenger was killed for 18,657,959 miles of travel. To travel this distance it would require more than 106 years, moving incessantly at the rate of 20 miles per hour.

So there you have it. As the human lifespan is considerably less than 106 years, and on average we travel at much less than 20 miles per hour (and certainly not incessantly), there’s actually no chance we will ever die by rail. Or, if by chance you were to take that trip, you’d simply need to get off a mile short of 18,657,959 and you’d be fine.

Tragedies on the Trolleys

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Woeful Accident on Electric RailwayThe Albany and Hudson Railway, which provided trolley service from Hudson to Rensselaer and into Albany, only lasted under that name from 1899 to 1903. In addition to running the trolleys, the company ran a resort called “Electric Park” at Kinderhook Lake. A round-trip ticket from Albany to Electric Park cost forty cents. Extra cars ran on Sundays and holidays to serve the park.

On a late spring Sunday, May 26, 1901, trains were running to and from the park, filled with those who wanted to enjoy the park’s two Ferris wheels, carousel, vaudeville amusements and boating. (The roller coaster wouldn’t be built until 1907.) Train 22 left Rensselaer at 3:17 pm, two minutes late and carrying, after some stops, 83 passengers. Frank Smith of North Chatham was the motorman, and Charles Johnson of Clinton Heights the conductor. Train 19 set out northbound from Kinderhook Lake 3 minutes later, running 20 minutes behind with about 20 passengers. William Nicholas of Rensselaer was the motorman, and Seward Clapper of Nassau the conductor.

Much of the line was single-track, necessitating careful timing and the use of sidings so that cars could pass each other. At a spot known as siding 69, somewhere on the border between East Greenbush and East Schodack, there was a deep bank to the west and a large bluff to the east, creating a bend with no visibility along the tracks. Northbound No. 19 got to siding 69 at 3:30, “on the south side of the bluff and slowing up to give [conductor] Clapper a chance to drop off and turn the switch in the siting just ahead, when, without a moment’s warning the south-bound car [No. 22] dashed around the corner at full speed, and before the motorman could even shut off the power or put on the brakes, the cars collided, knocking each other almost to pieces in the jam of telescoping.”

The Times-Union’s coverage the next day was nothing short of sensationalistic:

 “In the cars were two masses of injured humanity huddled together in conscious and unconscious state. Beneath them trickled their own blood, and in answer to their appeals for help came back, the moans of injured men, the screams of hurt women and the voices of children. For the minute those who had life left in them were too stunned to realize what had happened. Shock and pain gave them patience, as it were. Then began the race of life. Those of the passengers who were not so severely hurt as to be unable to assist began the work of rescue. The task was slow and wearisome. One by one the dead and the injured were extricated from the wreck and sent to places where they could be best cared for under the circumstances until the arrival of the surgeons.

Dr. W.F. Allen, of Rensselaer, was the first to reach the scene. He was followed by Drs. Powell and Griswold, and O’Hare of Nassau; Kern and French, of East Albany, and Garrison and Humphrey, of Rensselaer. The rural district was turned in a moment from quietude to an immense operating room. Where but a few minutes before the blades of grass stood erect and green, the forms of men, women and children were stretched in all their bloody repulsiveness … The saddest carload that ever entered Rensselaer was that which arrived shortly after 6, earing the mangled bodies of Motormen Smith and Nicholas, with the floor of its baggage apartment and every seat filled with wounded, some unconscious and many groaning with pain.”

Four were killed immediately, motormen Smith and Nichols, Miss Annie Mooney of Stuyvesant and Miss Maud Kellogg of Ballston. The next day another passenger died, Daniel Mahoney, a mate on the steamer Dean Richmond. Those who survived suffered every kind of laceration, broken bone, bruise, concussion and other injury imaginable.

Conductor Clapper said he was standing by Nicholas. “the car was slowing down and I was just ready to jump out and run ahead to throw the switch when I heard Nicholas cry, ‘Good god, there she comes, jump, jump!’ I looked and saw No. 22 coming like the wind and right on us. It seemed as though I had no more than thrown the door wide open and jumped before the crash came.” Nicholas wasn’t so lucky. The Times-Union didn’t spare its readers the grisly details of the conditions of the motormen’s bodies.

Even in its first reporting, the Times-Union speculated that motorman Frank Smith was to blame. Under the headline “Was Smith Temporarily Demented?” they reported stories that he was either demented or mentally incapacitated “at the time he took the car from the switch at the high rate of speed at which it was going, when he new that another car was in all probability dashing towards that point in an endeavor to make up time lost. It is said that ever since the sad death of his wife some time ago he has been depressed, and at times was very remorseful and sullen. Possibly one of such mental spells was upon him and caused him to forget the danger which threatened him when he disregarded the rules of the company.” An official investigation also placed the blame on Smith “not stopping at siding No. 69, where he should have met car No. 38 on run No. 19.” But his conductor was also assigned some of the blame, as he “should have been on the lookout to see whether car No. 38 of run No. 19, was on the siding or not.” His mental state was not described. The rules of the railroad were not found to be at fault.

As terrible as the accident was, it wasn’t the last fatality on the line. The very next summer, August 4, 1902, a trolley headed from Electric Park to Hudson came to a stop, possibly from losing contact with the third rail. The next car behind it, an extra car to handle the summer crowd, came quickly behind at about 40 mph and slammed into the back of the stalled car. Again, the injuries were horrendous, with two dead at the scene and another dying of her injuries some days later.

The Albany & Hudson & Kinderhook & Greenbush Railway Gas Electric Bridge Company

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Albany & Hudson Railroad #22 at Electric Park Station, Kinderhook, New York. From the Joseph A. Smith railroad photos collection (http://www.nyysa.com/code/Collection.php).

Remember when street railways also owned hydropower dams and provided electricity and gas service? Yeah, we never heard of that before, either. But turns out it happened, at least with one local streetcar company.

To get to the formation of the Albany and Hudson Railway and Power Company, which was incorporated in 1899 under the general Railroad Law, one has to do a railroad and electric company version of begats. First, the Citizens’ Electric Light and Power Company of Hudson and the Kinderhook Power and Light Company were merged into the Hudson Light and Power Company. Then, Hudson Light and Power was merged with the Hudson Street Railway Company, forming the Hudson Light & Power & Railroad Company, which was a real boon for local ampersand manufacturers. The Kinderhook and Hudson Railway was then merged into it, and then the HL&P&R and the Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway were merged into the Albany and Hudson. All this took place over the course of a few months in 1899.

So this conglomerate came with a number of assets as well as good intentions. The Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway had been chartered in 1897 to create a railway from Rensselaer to Niverville, but prior to the merger “a comparatively small amount of work had been done in the way of acquiring rights of way and grading the roadbed for an overhead trolley road.” They changed their plans to using a third rail in order to connect with the former Kinderhook and Hudson Railway, and had contracted to enter Albany and connect with its United Traction Company. “With the exception of the final work on the viaduct over the tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River and the Boston and Albany Railroads, near the city of Rensselaer, the entire road is now substantially completed. It is intended to run through cars from the connection with the United Traction Company, in the city of Albany, to the city of Hudson, operating by the overhead trolley in cities and with the third rail in other places.” Interestingly, the Albany and Hudson got a fair amount of its revenue (nearly half, in 1900) from sale of gas, electric light and power. The company’s directors and officers were all from New York City, and the company’s headquarters was 100 Broadway in the Big Apple. “In addition to its railroad properties the Albany and Hudson Railroad Company owns all the lighting plants, both gas and electric, in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer, and also furnishes electric light and power to the villages of Kinderhook, Stuyvesant Falls, Nassau, East Greenbush, Niverville and Valatie.” But even that didn’t last long – the company went into receivership in 1902 and was acquired by the newly formed Albany and Hudson Railroad, not Railway, in early 1903, which was run by a different set of NYC people, also at 100 Broadway.

The Albany and Hudson Railroad Company continued for a few years; then, in 1909, it was reorganized again into the Albany Southern Railroad, which bought the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Co. That was the company that owned the Greenbush Bridge, which we’ve talked about before. It also supplied gas and electricity in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer and electricity in Kinderhook, Nassau, Niverville, Schodack, Stuyvesant, North Chatham, Valatie and other communities along the east side of the Hudson River from Troy south to Hudson. They also supplied electricity to the Chatham Electric Light, Heat & Power Co., and the Wynantskill Hydro Electric Company. The electricity came from a hydro and steam plant at Stuyvesant Falls (4,000 kW in steam turbines, 3450 kW from water wheels). In 1921, the company produced 18.1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 72,183,000 cubic feet of gas; they had 7,386 customers at the end of 1921.

They ran an interurban third-rail electric line from Albany to Hudson, 38 miles, as well as local lines in Hudson. They also moved freight and express in concert with the steam railroads, connecting with the New York Central at Rensselaer and Hudson and with the Boston and Albany at Niverville and Hudson.

We don’t see what they paid for the Greenbush bridge, but in 1919 it was finally sold to the State of New York for $890,000, which was dedicated to improvements in company property. By then the company had offices in Rensselaer, and was still involved in electrical generation and distribution.

A Chatham Courier article says that the Albany Southern ceased operations in 1929. We’re not sure how long the trolleys ran from the Rensselaer side into Albany. But the merging apparently wasn’t done. A Knickerbocker News article from 1957 said the Albany Southern Railroad, Gas & Electric Company merged with the Eastern New York Utilities Company of Rensselaer, “which in turn, joined with the Municipal Gas Company, Albany; Troy Gas Company, Cohoes Light & Power, Adirondack Power & Light Corporation, Schenectady, and the Montgomery Light & Power Corporation, Canajoharie, into the New York Power & Light Corporation. (That, of course, eventually was merged into Niagara Mohawk.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, even after it became Eastern New York Utilities, “everyone continued calling it the Albany Southern.” That article said that New York Power and Light bought the Albany Southern’s rights of way in 1929, taking over the power and light business but abandoning transportation. “Shortly before the trolley cars stopped running the United Transportation Company opened its bus service from Albany to Hudson and some shorter runs.”

Of course, it’s well-known that the Albany Southern was also responsible for Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake, one of several amusement parks operated by trolley car systems in the area. The Knick News article said that since 1919 it has just been a campsite.

Tolls Across the Hudson

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Not a cent for tribute 1931For the longest time, it’s been said that the Dunn Memorial Bridge is the southernmost toll-free crossing of the Hudson River (which is saying something, being that it’s 145 miles from Albany to the Battery). But that wasn’t always the case.

Its predecessor, the Greenbush Bridge, was constructed as a private project in 1882 by the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Company, which ended up in the hands of the Albany Southern Railroad, the streetcar line (and more – it also provided electricity and gas); it bought the bridge for $600,000 in 1909. In all those years, there were tolls, and frequently there was agitation against those tolls. That agitation grew as automobile traffic did. In the second decade of the 20th century, there was a move to have the State of New York take over the bridge and remove the tolls, with several legislative proposals. The Columbia Republican (Hudson, NY) lamented in February of 1916:

A traveler may go from San Francisco to Boston over free highways and cross innumerable bridges without paying a cent of toll until he gets to the doorway of the capital of the Empire state, when the Albany Southern Railroad company will hold him up on a free state highway route and demand payment before he can cross the Hudson river. This is the condition described at the hearing on the bill of Assemblyman John G. Malone of Albany which would provide a method for the state to take over the Greenbush and any other bridges which form connecting links on state highway routes.

(Locally, the toll bridges included the Congress Street bridge between Watervliet and Troy.)

The Albany Southern didn’t think much of this proposal, although the company itself didn’t then run trains or trolleys over it (United Traction Company held a contract to run trolleys). There had always been a potential plan to add a full rail crossing on an upper deck of the bridge, which they argues was just about to happen as they were in negotiations with the Rutland railroad to extend its line to Pittsfield. The Albany Southern thought the Delaware and Hudson was behind the bill to prevent the competition. They worried that when the state took over, it might refuse to let the railroad use the bridge, or charge a high rent.

The debate continued into 1917; in March, the president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, J.Y. Read, called the situation a disgrace to the entire state. Calling it the busiest traffic center in the state outside of New York City, Read said that

It has been estimated by competent observers that approximately 300,000 automobiles crossed this bride last year. In addition there were horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians, and every vehicle and pedestrian crossing this bridge was held up by the owners of the bridge and obliged to pay tribute in the form of a toll charge.

The boast of the State of New York is that she has spent millions and millions of dollars for the development of her highway system and that her roads are free to the world, and yet right at the steps of the State Capitol every tourist who crosses the Hudson River is held up by a private corporation and charged for the privilege of traversing the State highways.

The battle, of course, wasn’t just over the Greenbush bridge; the question was whether the State should take over all toll bridges crossing navigable streams and connecting highway lines. Eventually, that was decided, and in 1919 the state bought the bridge for $890,000, and thus ended the discussion of tolls between Albany and Rensselaer.

No, of course that didn’t end it. When it came time to replace the Greenbush bridge with what would be the Dunn Memorial Bridge, there was legislation that would have assessed a charge against both Albany and Rensselaer counties to pay for the bridge, or at least approaches. That prompted the cartoon seen above, which featured in a 1931 ad in the Albany Evening News, signed by Rensselaer luminaries such as the Bayer Company and F.C. Huyck, which proclaimed:

We in Rensselaer do not believe that we ought to be assessed a toll to travel the Albany-Rensselaer Bridge. That, in effect, is what we would be required to do under the Whitney bill providing for a twelve and one-half percent bridge charge against the county. You men in the Legislature – if you pass this highly undesirable and unfair bill – will be taking away a free bridge made so by statute, and substituting therefor a structure for which we will have to pay in order to cross. That is contrary to law, contrary to public policy. The statute specifically provided that when the State bought the Greenbush bridge it should be free forever.

It’s not clear that the powers of Rensselaer had their way. A 1933 article on the opening of the bridge noted that in a “compromise,” the cost to Albany county was eliminated, but the cost to Rensselaer wasn’t mentioned. Neverthless, it wasn’t a toll per se, and traffic was relieved.

And he shall be deemed the ferry-man

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We’ve been talking lately about the bridges, but they weren’t always there. A city by the river, in the days before bridges, very much relied on ferries for transportation. From the earliest days, Greenbush was an important adjunct to what became Albany, and the vast farmlands beyond Greenbush relied on ferries to access the important trading town. Ferry service between Albany and Greenbush was regulated under the laws of Albany, as published in 1800, which ordained that “every person who shall obtain a lease of the said ferry and be in the actual enjoyment thereof, shall be deemed the ferry-man.” Brilliant. The ferry-man was required to provide a bond to the city worth double the rent to be paid on the ferry, ferry house, and lot.

And be it further Ordained, That from and after the passing of this Law, the rates of ferriage across the Hudson’s river, between the limits of the city of Albany and Green-Bush, shall be as follows : that is to say,
1. For every person from the first day of November till the first day of May, two pence; and the remainder of the year one penny : Provided, that a sucking child and every other article not herein after rated, which a person holds and supports under his or her arms, shall be exempted from the payment of ferriage.
2. For every man and horse, or ox or cow, six pence.
3. For every hog, calf, sheep or lamb, one penny.
4. For every wagon and two horses or oxen, together with its loading, if the same remains in the wagon, and does not exceed, if of grain twenty bushels, and if of boards the number of forty, and if of plank the number of twenty-five, one shilling; and for every bushel more one penny, and for every board more a half penny, and for every plank more one penny.
5. For every team, cart or wagon with four horses or oxen, with or without its loading, two shillings; and for every additional ox or horse, six pence.
6. For every coach, coachee, chariot or phaeton, two shillings.
7. For every chair, chaise or sulkey and horse, one shilling.
8. For every chest or trunk, four pence.
9. For every full barrel, three pence.
10. For every pail of butter, one penny.
11. For every firkin or tub of butter, two pence.
12. For every bushel of grain, one penny.
13. For every hundred weight of unwrought metal, three pence; and in that proportion for a greater or less quantity.
14. For every hundred weight of beaver or other skins, four pence; and in like proportion for a greater or less quantity.
15. For every saddle if not on a horse, one penny.
16. For every dozen pair of boots or shoes, one penny; and in like proportion for a greater or less quantity.
17. For the stage carriage playing between the city of Albany and the city of New-York, and all other public stages, their drivers, horses, passengers and baggage, two shillings and six pence.

For all ferriage from one hour after sunset until day break, except for the New York stage carriage, rates were allowed to be doubled. The stage was to be given preference to “every other person, carriages or articles whatever, immediately upon their arrival at the said ferry, whether by night or by day; and that if the ferry-man shall neglect or refuse to convey the same across the said ferry without delay, he shall forfeit the sum of twenty shillings for every such neglect or refusal.”

The ferry-man was required to keep at least two boats and scows in good order and repair, to be constantly employed and worked, “wind and weather permitting, by able bodied men, at least, in the boats and scows from day-break to one hour after sun-set, in such manner as that one of the said two boats and scows, so employed as aforesaid, may as nearly as may be, constantly depart rom the two opposite shores of the river at the same time.” There was a five dollar fine for failing to run the boats and scows thusly; there was also a five dollar fine if he should be found to overcharge. No other boats or canoes were permitted to convey for hire or reward any person, carriage, horse, or other article across the river anywhere between the north and south boundaries of Albany. There was also a posting requirement:

And be it further Ordained, That the ferryman shall paste up on a board in some place on the east side of the road, and to the eastward of and opposite the ferry-house, a printed copy of this law, and shall from time to time, during the term for which he shall hold the said ferry, and during the times hereby limited for ferrying as aforesaid, keep the said copy fixed up as aforesaid.

 

 

The Albany-Greenbush Tunnel

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"There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level."

“There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level.”

Yesterday, in talking about plans to replace the old Greenbush Bridge, we noted the somewhat odd comments of Holland Tunnel designer Fred Williams, who had come to Albany to talk about how you should always think about a tunnel, but lamented that “This isn’t tunnel day.” Well, that wasn’t as random as it sounded – turns out, a tunnel had been seriously considered earlier that same year.

Yep. On Feb. 14, 1928, the Albany Evening News unveiled the first description of a proposed tunnel under the Hudson River between Albany and Rensselaer, proudly announcing “Albany – Rensselaer Project Will Introduce Maj. Hewes’ Spiral Staircase Approach – Nassau Architect to Show Drawings Thursday at Public Discussion of Plan in City Hall.”

The project provides for circular approaches, an engineering concept that may have profound effect on future tunnel construction. Traffic goes into and out of the tunnel by means of a spiral “staircase,” an expedient heretofore unthought of and which resulted from special study of landscape conditions prevailing here and in Rensselaer.
The idea originated with Major James E. Hewes, an engineer and former executive of the Eastern New York Utilities company. He is a member of the Albany-Rensselaer bridge committee, created to determine whether a new structure is needed between the two cities and what form that project should take.

There would be a public discussion of the plan at City Hall, with Nassau architect Herman Kobbe, who was associated with Hewes, to display “a series of water color and pen and ink pictures of the project.” It was confidently expressed that the total project, including land, dredging, the tunnel and ventilating systems would not exceed $5 million.

Location–The Albany terminal would be a few hundred feet north of the Greenbush bridge and would be situated in Riverside park extending from the river to Broadway. In Rensselaer the terminal would be directly in front of the Huyck mills with exit and entrances to Broadway.
These proposed terminals would serve not only to shelter the ramp approaches dipping into the earth but could be utilized for office, manufacturing or state and municipal requirements, according to Major Hewes. Because of the substantial foundations necessary for the ramps, a building of almost any height could be erected over them. The buildings would have an area of 300×300 feet each, providing 90,000 square feet of space to the floor. Major Hewes believes that each building could be made to provide an annual rental return of $200,000.
The Approaches–Entrance and exit of the terminal would be at street level. In order to forestall the danger of high water, with terminals built at the river brink, the street at that point would be elevated a few feet. This would make the top of the ramp at least four feet above the height of the highest water ever recorded here.
The ramps would be thirty-four feet wide of reinforced concrete construction. Two types of ramp construction are named. One provides for a ramp within a ramp. This would permit unobstructed passage for traffic descending to the tunnel, while traffic bound upward would travel the second ramp.
The other type of ramp provides for two distinct approaches, side by side. One for ascending, and the other for descending traffic.

Listen, we’re living in the 21st century. Ramps aren’t entirely a rarity. But in 1928? Not terribly common. They needed explanation.

An automobile entering the Albany terminal at street level would begin the descent to the tube at once. On the downward trip the motorist would make two complete circles before reaching the tunnel level. He would descend a total of 76.8 feet and would actually travel 1,920 feet over a four per cent grade, a trifle less sharp than the grade of the State street hill between James street and Pearl street.
The Tunnel–The tube itself would be 860 feet long. It might contain two roadways, one superimposed above the other with a four foot fill between. The idea here would be to divide east and west bound traffic, or to make both levels two way, and limit trucks and heavy vehicles to one level only. Another plan would provide but one roadway, resting on the bottom of the tunnel.

The article noted that the tunnel would be flat, not sloping like the recently completed Holland Tunnel; the tube would be 50 feet in diameter, steel reinforced concrete built near the site and then lowered into the river onto a dredged bed and joined, then covered so that it would have four feet of stone above it as protection against a boat sinking and coming to rest on top of the tube. Major Hewes was confident the whole thing could be put in place in less than two years, and that at no time would the work interfere with navigation. Maybe so. We never found out.

Time for a new bridge to Greenbush – or maybe not.

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The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

Is anything ever simple around here? No, it is not. So, while it took years to get agreement to build the first bridge between Albany and Greenbush, the only bridge that carried automobiles across the river below Troy, you would think that when it came time to replace it, it would be relatively simple. It was not.

In August of 1927, the Albany Evening News reported on a plan to replace the Greenbush bridge with a new span, reporting that

Albany business and professional men are thoroughly aroused … to the insufficiency of the Greenbush bridge. Many visiting motorists, after once negotiating the structure enroute to Albany, have declared to hotel men they would rather skirt the city than again meet delays incident to crossing the only bridge entering Albany. Merchants declare trucking costs are higher and delay in deliveries across the river frequent, as the result of traffic jams and stoppage of traffic due to passing ships.
“The Greenbush bridge, designed to accommodate leisurely, horse drawn vehicles, resembles nothing much better than a cow path in the light of modern bridge engineering,” [Chamber of Commerce President Westcott] Burlingame said. “Actually the old Greenbush bridge appears to be shrinking As motor traffic increases and the old structure creaks and groans under the pounding of automobiles, trucks, buses and trolleys, all striving to squeeze through two narrow lanes, I really believe the sides contract. Every time I cross the bridge it seems the lane has become smaller and the curbs closer.”

James Gheen, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the importance of the crossing:

“North of Peekskill there is no bridge spanning the Hudson river until you strike the Greenbush bridge at Albany. Motorists travel along the river for miles, headed for the bridge. And when they get there perhaps a boat is passing and the draw is open, delaying motor traffic. Or there is the usual congestion of vehicles at several periods in the day. The motorist tarries impatiently. Queer greeting to hold him off as long as possible, he thinks. He wants speedy access to this destination. The Greenbush bridge doesn’t permit that to the visitor from the country east of the Hudson river. The bridge is one of our gateways. I believe in building a new gateway across the Hudson. We need it.”

The News of December 2, 1927 reported that the plan to replace the old bridge with a new bridge was actually opposed by leaders from the other side of the river, in a hearing held by a special committee of the Albany Chamber of Commerce to probe the bridge situation and seek relief from traffic congestion on the bridge.

“A delegation of business men from Rensselaer led the fight to keep the present bridge and received unexpected support from a Castleton delegation, which expressed itself in favor of the present bridge, to be augmented, however, by a new high level bridge at Castleton.
Points made by the proponents of the present bridge are that the structure is still suitable for use and could be made efficient by raising it, using the upper deck as another traffic lane and installing a new bascule type draw.
The Castleton delegation pointed out that while the Greenbush bridge is really a necessity for communication between Albany and Rensselaer, natural advantages pointed to the Castleton site for a new high level bridge.”

A group of Rensselaer businessmen said the existing bridge could be repaired, that the approaches could be widened and ramps erected to provide a traffic lane on the upper part of the bridge (which originally was meant to carry a rail line that never materialized). The state engineer of bridges and crossings, Harvey Schermerhorn called that an impossibility that would cost more than building a new bridge.

Someone by the name of Captain Ulster Davis (perhaps a river captain?) believed that draw openings could be expedited and the old bridge used for years if a bascule lift draw were installed in place of the swing span. “He said he had seen lift draws that could operate in sixteen seconds.” A designer of the Holland Tunnel, Fred Williams, was in attendance, and made a snide response to a colleague, “We’d like to see one of those sixteen second lift draws, wouldn’t we, Davis? We tried to design some that would work that fast but never succeeded.” He proceeded to note that it would be impossible to build a new lift span into the existing bridge, and wouldn’t be able to allow traffic in the meantime. In fact, the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which replaced the Greenbush in 1933, would be a lift bridge.

Reading between the lines, Williams’s presence must have indicated at least some consideration of a tunnel option. Either that or he ran around the country opining about tunnels. “I haven’t much to say today. This isn’t tunnel day. But I do want to say that although a tunnel is always feasible where a river crossing is wanted, it is not always the best thing. Whether a tunnel would serve the best purpose in this case, I can’t say now.” Good thing it wasn’t tunnel day.

“No figures of probable cost for revamping the bridge were presented by those who hope to convince the bridge committee that the Greenbush structure could easily be made adequate. No traffic figures were presented by those aspiring for a new bridge to convince the committee that the Greenbush bridge is a back number, a nuisance to highway traffic and a menace to navigation.”

Eventually, the decision to build a new bridge would be made, but again, there would be controversy. We’ll get into that anon.

From Hearses to Ambulances: Albany Motor Renting Corp.

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1920 Albany Directory Funerals by Automobile

In case you were wondering when funerals by automobile became possible in the “Capitol” District – it would appear that the answer is 1920, which is when the Albany Motor Renting Corporation was formed (president: Spero Loscaris) and this ad appeared in the Albany City Directory. Its 56 South Ferry Street location, where they also sold Socony gasoline, is now merely a parking lot; 46 State Street is an older, not terribly noticeable building that currently houses Cook’s Cafe.  They apparently succeeded a company named Allen & Arnink Auto Renting Company. Presumably, hearses weren’t all they rented, as they also show up in county records as having provided auto service for the Board of Elections in 1920, and even in Albany, the dead voters don’t require transportation.

albany motor garage - hearses and limousines 1920s lancaster st albany nyThe company also later owned a large garage that still stands on Lancaster Street, and rented hearses, limousines, and regular old cars. In 1953, the company branched out considerably, focusing less on the dead and more on the not-quite dead by getting into the ambulance business:

Ambulance service calls from the Albany Police Department will be handled by Albany Motor Renting Corporation from its garage at 166-168 Lancaster St., on a per-call basis, Mayor Corning said today.

The firm which rents hearses and drive-yourself cars asked the city for the opportunity to provide the service, and informed the Mayor, after a meeting of its directors yesterday that one ambulance would be ready for service tomorrow. A second ambulance will be added soon, the Mayor said he was informed.

Two-way police radios will be used in the ambulances. The service is strictly a private one, the Mayor said. The city pays for emergency calls at the rate of $15 a call. Welfare case calls are paid by the Albany County Welfare Department. There is no contract between the city and Albany Motor Renting Corporation.

In 1969 they were still renting out of the Lancaster Street garage. As late as 1973, Rensselaer contracted with the company to provide ambulance service.

Geology is Destiny

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General John Burgoyne, by Joshua Reynolds (Frick Museum)

Our views of history are, to be certain, shaped by our perspectives. Whatever background we come from, whatever origin stories we tell about ourselves and our families inform our understanding of the events the past. And to an extent, even our training and careers can inform what we learn, and create interesting perspectives to share.

The Geological History of New York State (New York State Museum Bulletin 168, 1913) presents an interestingly extreme example of this: a geologist’s view of the battles of Saratoga. This was written by a Rudolf Ruedemann, who noted that anyone who studies the region with an interest in history and geology could not fail to be impressed by the close relationship between the two:

Burgoyne had two routes to reach the Hudson river and thereby Albany, his objective point: namely, first, the deep depression extending from Whitehall to Fort Edward and caused largely by the downfaulting of the Ordovicic rocks at the eastern base of the Adirondacks and, second, the fault basin of Lake George. He selected the former and entered the swamp region of Wood creek, following this creek with its immature swampy drainage up toward the Hudson. Here it was extremely easy to impede his progress by cutting trees and throwing them across the road, an opportunity of which the Americans made the fullest use. Burgoyne wasted months of valuable time and his best energy and provisions in these swamps of glacial origin. When he finally reached the Hudson he followed it on the east side until he found the place where at Thomson the river falls over a ridge of harder Normanskill shale below which a bridge could be easily built. After crossing he was again forced to the river bank by the only road available, while deep ravines cut into the thick clays of Lake Albany made excellent opportunity for a defensive position for the American army. Such a position was selected at Bemis Heights.

On the other side of the river towers Willard mountain, an erosion remnant due to the hardness of the grits and cherts of Normanskill age that compose the syncline. From this bold mountain every movement of the British army could be easily seen by the patriot Willard and signaled to General Gates.

After his defeat, Burgoyne retreated leisurely and sullenly up the river. Hessian officers advised him to leave his cannon and baggage behind and save the army by a forced retreat by way of Lake George, but the obstinate though brave general decided to return by the crossing at Thomson, allowing by his slow and undecided action the Americans to overtake him and, in using the peculiarly favorable topography of the locality, which is due to its remarkable geology, to prepare a trap for him. The most important feature of this topography is that just above the Thomson crossing a volcanic rock, known as the Northumberland volcanic plug, juts out prominently toward the river, so that it has complete command of the crossing and at the same time prevents an army from passing under it at the west bank of the river. This important strategic point was occupied by Colonel Stark. It, and Fellows’s batteries which could be advantageously placed on the bluffs of Albany clay on the opposite bank of the river, were, with Morgan’s sharpshooters in the woods to the west of the army, the principal means of forcing Burgoyne to surrender. Thus we see that the peculiar combination of a ford over a shale ridge, a volcanic rock close by and bluffs of clay aided greatly in bringing about the decisive victory of Saratoga.