Improper Diversions, 1800

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Another of the notable laws of Albany in 1800: A law to suppress improper diversions in the streets and lanes. It was ordained

That if any person or persons shall at any time or times hereafter make any noise or disturbance in any of the streets or lanes of the said city, or promote the same, or shall play, act or perform, or shall assist in the performance of any game or improper diversion, to the annoyance of passengers or otherwise, or shall obstruct and interrupt, by assembling in crouds [sic] or circles, for any of the purposes aforesaid, in any of the streets or lanes, each and every person so offending, shall in such case and for every offence forfeit and pay thirty-seven cents and five mills;

Improper DiversionsIf the offender was not above 21 and failed to pay, the parent, master or mistress was to pay the same. If the offender was above 21, and “has not goods or chattels whereof to levy the said forfeitures with costs,” a warrant for his arrest would be issued and he was to be “committed to the common gaol [sic: archaic spelling of “jail”] there to remain for the space of two hours, unless the said forfeitures with costs shall be paid or surrendered, or both as the case may be.”

The law leaves it unclear just what constituted an improper diversion. Gambling? Dice games? Street-corner magic acts? Not a clue, but since they didn’t feel the need to spell it out, we can assume that it was pretty well known what they meant, and that you’d better just knock it off or face two hours in gaol.


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Wharves and WharfageAgain mining the laws of Albany from 1800. Are they interesting, or is Hoxsie just overwhelmed with other work? Doesn’t matter: here we go, with the law for regulating the manner of using the wharves and fixing the rates of wharfage.

Each year, specifically on the second Monday of March, the owners and proprietors of the docks and wharves in Albany were to appoint “some suitable person to be their Dock-master.” It was the job of the dock-master to collect fees from “any vessel, craft, boat or flat, (canoes, two handed batteauxs and three handed batteauxs excepted) which shall come to lie at or within any of the said docks, wharves or slips…” Such fees could be paid by the season or by the day. The seasonal rate was $1.06 for every vessel five tons and under, and 20 additional cents for every ton of “burthen” thereafter. The daily rate was two cents per ton per day for any boat 20 tons or under. Boats between 20 and 40 tons were charged a cent and a half per ton per day. Boats above 40 tons got the discounted rate of one cent and a quarter per ton per day.

No vessel, craft, boat or flat was to lie within the dock, wharf or slip “longer than shall be necessary for the convenient lading or unlading the same.” If your vessel, etc., prevented any other vessel from coming in or going out, you were obliged to pay for every tide that such other vessel was prevented from coming or going, at $2.50 per tide.

Cast or deposit on any of the docks, wharves or slips any ballast, lumber, stone, filth, dirt, or any other thing, and not remove it within the required time, and you would forfeit the sum of $1.25.

You couldn’t just avoid the wharfage fees by anchoring in the river either, though you could get a discount. Any vessel lying at anchor in Hudson’s river “from or to which vessel, craft, boat or flat, any goods or merchandize shall be landed or embarked, on or from any such dock, wharf or slip, shall be liable to pay half the rate of wharfage for every day in which such dock, wharf or slip shall be used for the purpose aforesaid.” Perhaps that was just a way to deal with overcrowded docks.

By the way, “wharfage” is totally a word.

The Ornamental Hair Store

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Ornamental HairHey, Schenectady! Need ornamental hair? You’re in luck. In 1840, John Xavier opened a new ornamental hair store at 92 State Street, three doors west of the post office. Everlasting curls, plain and curled frizetts, puffs, everlasting and curled ringlets . . . he had it all, kept constantly on hand or supplied at the shortest notice.

John Xavier was born in 1821 in Portugal, so when he opened this store he was merely 19. By 1870, he was listed as owning a “Fancy Store” (at 128 State Street in 1884), possessing $20,000 in real estate and a $15,000 personal estate.

Time to Build the Highway, Citizen

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Repair Public HighwaysRemember how residents of the city of Albany in 1800 were required to pave not only their sidewalks, but half their streets? That’s nothing compared to their obligations with regard to the city’s highways.

The laws of 1800 don’t make it clear exactly what was considered a public highway – it was likely at least the King’s Highway (think of Washington Ave. heading west), and possibly the extensions of Broadway north and south. But they do make it clear that most people in the city were responsible for working on the roads.

There was a complicated formula. The Mayor, aldermen and council were commissioners of the highways, and they were charged with forming a list of “all freeholders, housekeepers and other persons exercising any trade, business or labor for themselves or on their own account, or receiving wages for such labor, (Ministers of the gospel excepted).” They were to take an assessment of 1200 days of work for the highways, and “shall affix to the name of each respective person mentioned in such list, the number of days which each person shall be liable to work on the roads, for the said twelve hundred days during the continuance of this law, and the same assess in proportion to the estate and ability of each person.” No one was to be rated at more than twenty days.

The list was to be delivered to the chamberlain, who was, within three days of receiving it, to cause public advertisements to be put up in at least two places in each ward, announcing when and where he would be in attendance to receive payments.

Oh, did you think everyone was actually going to be required to work? Not quite. Anyone on the list could pay two shillings (within the time prescribed in the advertisements) would be exempted from working on the roads, and the moneys received were to be applied to repairing and improving the public highways by contracts or otherwise. The chamberlain, by the way, got 2.5% for his troubles.

So, once it was determined who had paid their way out of work, the list was sent on to overseers appointed by the commission.

“Such overseer or overseers of the highways shall from time to time warn such and so many persons, not less than thirty, whose names shall be contained in such list to be delivered to such overseer or overseers by the said chamberlain as may be necessary from time to time to make and repair such roads or parts of roads as the said Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty shall . . . designate and for that purpose direct, and shall employ such persons as shall from time to time appear to work in consequence of such warning, until each person so rated . . . shall have worked the whole number of days at which he or she shall have been so rated as aforesaid; and that the said overseer or overseers shall from day to day (Sundays excepted) continue to employ, weather permitting, so many of the said persons as shall be necessary to work on such road, until the whole shall be completed, or until all the persons so rated shall have worked out the number of days at which they shall be so rated as last aforesaid, in the manner herein after mentioned.”

In fairness, you could send someone in your place – “some able bodied man to be by him or her employed for the said purpose.” Failing to appear (or send an able bodied man), ready to work and with such proper tools as the overseer shall have directed, would cost 62 cents and five mills. You should also have expected to work at least an eight hour day.

In addition to having to show up, you could also be required to provide a wagon and two horses with an able-bodied man, or a cart and a horse with an able-bodied man, to be used to move materials needed to repair the highways; providing a wagon with two horses and a man reduced your assessment by four days, and providing a cart, horse and man reduced it by three days. If you had a wagon or cart and a “horse proper for drawing the same” and refused to furnish them, you would forfeit 75 cents.

We don’t know how long this arrangement existed, but it wasn’t unusual, as we have seen similar arrangements in other towns.

A Remarkable Winter

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From Joel Munsell’s Annals of Albany, a reminder that another winter was pretty mild, a mere 214 years ago:

A meteorological table was kept for the month of January, 1802, and published in the Gazette, by which it appears that the lowest range of the thermometer was 10°, and the highest 55½° above zero. The winter was so remarkably mild as to have more the appearance of April, the river was navigable 17 days, so that vessels passed from Albany to New York, and at no time was the ice strong enough for any team to pass on it, and not more than 1¼ inches of snow fell within two miles of the city during the months of December and January.

Streets and Lanes, Gutters and Kennels

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Paving ActPaving of city streets is a big deal these days. Or lack of paving. Or, in poor Troy’s case, paving and then having the fresh pavement collapse into a sinkhole. But it has always been a big deal. Going back to the laws of Albany from 1800, we find an entire law “to regulate the paving and keeping in repair the streets and lanes in the city of Albany,” under which all streets and lanes were to be “paved agreeable” to the following regulations.

The foot-path or walk on each side of a street or lane was to be the breadth of one-fifth part of the street or lane, but no more than twelve feet, “laid or paved with bricks, pebble or other good and sufficient stone.”

Don’t let it be said the Dutch didn’t understand drainage. The middle and remaining part of every street or lane

shall be and remain a cartway or passage for carriages; and shall have a gutter or kennel on each side thereof, and next adjoining the foot-path or walk, and shall be paved with sufficient paving stones, and arched as follows, that is to say: For every eighteen inches such cartway shall measure, from the gutter or kennel to the middle of the street, the arch or rounding of such street or lane, shall be raised one inch, to commence at the respective gutters or kennels. Provided always, That if any street or lane so to be paved, the sides whereof shall not exactly range, the superintendant of such pavement, shall lay out the gutters or outside of the foot-paths, as nearly in a strait line as the street or lane will admit of; that the ascent and descent of every street and lane shall be regulated by such superintendant, and by him reported to the common council for approbation.

There were restrictions on things that stuck out into the street – no canopy, awning, shed, porch, portico, cellar door, platform, stoop or step was to extend more than one tenth of the breadth of the street (or lane), but no more than eight feet from the house or lot.

Driving a horse, cart or other wheeled carriage on a foot-path was forbidden and carried a penalty of fifty cents. If any cartman or other person broke down or injured the walk, they were answerable in damages to the owner or occupant of the house or lot, who in turn was bound to keep the same in repair. It was also not lawful

for any person to lead, drive or ride any horse, or to wheel or drag any wheel or hand barrow along, or to saw or lay any fire-wood, or other thing, on any of the foot-paths or walks aforesaid, whereby the same may be lumbered, or foot-passengers incumbered or endangered, under the penalty of fifty cents for every offence.

Today, we complain that the sidewalks are our responsibility. In 1800, it went out to the middle of the street. Every inhabitant of the city in possession of any house, building or lot fronting any street or lane, “shall at his or her own proper charge and expence, or at the expence of the person whose tenant he or she is, well and sufficiently keep and maintain in good repair, and level, pitch and pave so much of the same street or lane as shall be between such house or lot and the middle of the street or lane opposite thereto …”

Leather Bags and Gunpowder

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An important note from the laws of Albany as they were set forth in 1800, and proof that city officials were as safety-conscious as they are today: the law set some very strict standards for the transport of gunpowder through the city. Well, perhaps “strict” is an overstatement:

And be it further Ordained, That after, and whenever, leather-bags shall be provided by the store-keeper of the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty, no barrel or other cask with gun-powder shall be carried through any part of the said city but such as shall be covered with leather-bags; and that any person carrying any barrel or other cask of gun-powder, in, or through any part of the said city, without having the same covered as aforesaid, shall forfeit for every barrel or cask so carried as aforesaid, sixty-two cents and five mills.

Albany wasn’t the only city to require this, and was a good thirty years ahead of New York City in requiring leather bags for gunpowder casks. The Big Apple’s law (actually passed by the State Legislature) at least mentioned that the purpose was to “prevent any such gunpowder from being spilled or scattered,” which seems entirely reasonable. New York City didn’t fine offenders, but provided that any gunpowder carried in any other manner through the streets “shall be forfeited to the fire department of the said city.” It may have been best to stay in the fire department’s good graces.

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.