The French Exiles Adopt Very American Ways

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Marquis de la Tour du PinOne of the joys of amateur history is putting something out there and instantly getting a reaction with whole new information that we never knew, or making a connection that we had somehow missed. So yesterday’s entry on the French exile, the Marquis de la Tour du Pin (among other names – proper addresses for nobility are not our long suit) brought reactions that gave us both information we didn’t have, and gave us one of those “oh, duh!” moments.

So first, with thanks to Paula Lemire, we have the realization that the wife of the Marquis, referred to by Weise as the “Marchioness,” wrote an autobiography. And it’s available in English. And it’s on “Journal d’Une Femme de Cinquante Ans,” by la Marquise de la Tour du Pin was edited and translated by Walter Geer as “Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire” in 1920. The whole life of Henriette Lucie Dillon, la Marquise, is here. And, happily, she fills in some more detail of their time in exile from the French Revolution. Unhappily, she makes not a single mention of Troy, when it was their residence in a vacant tavern on River street that brought them to our attention.

The Marquis and Marquise first arrived at Boston in 1794, without “a single letter of introduction.” The owner of the ship they crossed on offered them the use of a farm he owned 18 miles from Boston, but the Marquis wanted to be “as near as possible to Canada, where he would have liked to settle.” From another exile in England came word of an American connection, a Mrs. Church, who made a recommendation to a family residing at Albany. “She was a daughter of General Schuyler who had gained a great reputation during the War of Independence … His eldest daughter had married the head of the Van Rensselaer family which was settled at Albany and possessed a large fortune in the county.” The connection made, they soon received “very pressing letters from General Schuyler in which he urged us to come without delay to Albany, where he assured us we would easily be able to establish ourselves.”

“At Boston I sold everything among the effects which we had brought with us which could bring us in a little money. As the ‘Diane’ had made the voyage without cargo, our baggage, which had cost us nothing to transport, was very considerable. We disposed of more than half of it; clothing, cloth, laces, a piano, music, porcelains – everything which would be superfluous in our little household was converted into money and then into drafts upon persons of responsibility at Albany. After remaining a month at Boston we set out with our two children, Humbert and Séraphine, the first of June, and fifteen days later we arrived at Albany. We traversed the whole state of Massachusetts, of which we admired the fertility and the air of prosperity. But a sad piece of news had made me so melancholy that I did not enjoy anything. Before leaving Boston my husband had heard of the death of my father who perished on the scaffold the thirteenth of April.”

They stayed with General Schuyler briefly, and he arranged for them to live for three months with the Jan Van Buren family, who lived not far from his brother, Col. Schuyler’s farm, and very close by the new village of Troy. They went to live “with Mr. Van Buren to learn American manners, as we had made it a condition of living with this family that they were not to change in any way the customs of the house. It was also arranged that Mrs. Van Buren should employ me in the housework the same as if I were one of her daughters.” Another Frenchman accompanying them, M. de Chambeau, “began an apprenticeship with a carpenter of the little growing city of Troy situated at a quarter of a mile from the Van Buren farm.” When news of the executions of the fathers of the Marquis and M. de Chambeau came:

“As I was a very good seamstress, I fashioned for myself my mourning costume, and my good hostess, having thus learned to appreciate the skill of my needle, found it very pleasant to have a seamstress at her command without cost, when she would have been obliged to pay a dollar a day and board if she had hired one from Albany.”

They were awaiting the arrival of funds from Holland so they could purchase a farm, and their plans in that regard, to do things the American way, tell some of the shameful hidden history of the Albany area:

“General Schuyler and Mr. Van Rensselaer advised my husband to divide his funds into three equal parts: A third for the purchase; a third for the management, the purchase of negroes, horses, cows, agricultural implements and household furniture, and a third part, added to what remained of the 12,000 francs brought by us from Bordeaux, for a reserve fund to meet unexpected circumstances, such as the loss of negroes or cattle and also for living expenses the first year. This arrangement became our rule of conduct.”

New York would not pass its first gradual emancipation law until 1799. At this time, by the evidence of the Marquise, it was simply presumed that if you were going to launch a prosperous farm, you would do so with slaves. By way of comparison, Vermont abolished adult slavery when it broke from New York with its own constitution in 1777, though there were apparently violations of the law. That was 22 years before New York’s first step toward abolition, which didn’t take on the first try.

In September 1794, the Marquis entered negotiations with a farmer “situated on the other side of the river, upon the road from Troy to Schenectady, a distance of two miles in the interior … The house was new, pretty and in very good condition. The land was only partially under cultivation. There were one hundred and fifty acres sown down, as many in woods and pasturage, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre full of vegetables, and finally a handsome orchard sown with red clover and plated with cider apples. They asked us 12,000 francs. General Schuyler did not think the price exorbitant. The property was situated at four miles from Albany, upon a route which they were going to open up to communicate with the city of Schenectady, which was in a thriving situation.”

While no longer a farm, the house still stands today – on the land of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, just up from where Watervliet-Shaker Road intersects with … Delatour Road. Delatour. De La Tour. As in the name of the Marquis and Marquise. (That’s the “oh, duh!” moment.)

Next, we’ll have some more details of life on the farm.

French Refugees in 19th Century Troy

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It appears that early on in its history, the then-village of Troy was home to political refugees from France. In his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” Arthur James Weise says that in 1794, Troy became the temporary home of several refugees.

“The most eminent were Frédéric Séraphin, marquis de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, and his lovely wife. The marquis had served with distinction as an officer in the French army, and at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, had loyally devoted himself to save Louis XVI from dethronement. Losing in a single day, in April, 1794, by ordered executions, his father, father-in-law, and uncle, and knowing that his own life was in jeopardy, he escaped arrest by concealing himself for six weeks in the city of Bordeaux. There is secretly succeeded in obtaining passports to America for himself, his children and their nurse. Disguised as peasants they embarked without detection and had a safe passage to the United States. The young and accomplished marchioness was also successful in securing a passport, dressed as a boy, under the name of Charles Lee, whose uncle, it was alleged, had died, leaving him property in the United States.”

Weise reports that the marquis and marchioness arrived separately in New York City, bearing only two trunks of fine towels and letters of introduction to wealthy citizens of Albany. They were referred to Troy as a pleasant and secluded residence and given introduction to Mrs. John Bird, later the wife of Colonel Albert Pawling. According to Weise, they asked her to refrain from introducing them around, and to “shield them as far as practicable from any attentions which as strangers and persons of rank might be shown them by the inhabitants.

They rented a vacant tavern at 140 River Street that was later known as Mechanics’ Hall, apparently the only vacant building in the village that was suited as a residence – it was literally boarded up when they took possession, and “The bar room, used for a parlor and dining-room, was cheaply and scantily furnished.” Weise says that the Marquis was befriended by “the nephew of Comte de Rochambeau,” who had made his home in Troy a temporary refuge. In order to better support his family, the marquis purchased a small farm three miles west of Port Schuyler (Watervliet), and moved from Troy to cultivate it, “assisted by a number of slaves.”

“At the close of the French Revolution, the marquis returned to France with his family. His confiscated property was restored to him and his political ability was again employed in the services of his country. Under the Empire, he was prefect of Amiens and Brussels, counselor to the embassy at the Congress of Vienna, minister plenipotentiary to the court of the Netherlands, and afterward to Sardinia. In 1832, he retired to Lausanne, where he died in 1837, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.”

What little we can find of Frédéric-Séraphin , Marquis of La Tour du Pin , Count of Gouvernet, doesn’t contradict Weise’s account, but doesn’t entirely confirm it, either. A Wikipedia entry (translated from the French because I love the language but can never learn it) confirms many of the basic details, saying that the Marquis was part of the LaFayette expedition “to help the revolted Americans, before returning to France to pursue his military career.” It says he was Minister Plenipotentiary at The Hague in 1792 before emigrating, his father and uncle having been guillotined. But it doesn’t say where he emigrated to, and doesn’t detail his return. Our resource on LaFayette makes no mention of the Marquis, and provides only sketchy information on the other Frenchmen who came over with him and in some instances stayed.

The National Archives has some correspondence between Marquis de La Tour du Pin and Alexander Hamilton. In sourcing it, the Archives says that the Marquis was an aide-de-camp to LaFayette during the revolution, and following the war was named colonel of the Royal-Vaisseaux and served as an aide to his father, who was the Minister of War. In 1794 he emigrated to the United States, “where he bought and operated a farm near Albany. Three or four years later he went to England.”

The Archives also helpfully provides a description of La Tour du Pin’s property that was published in an advertisement in the [Philadelphia] Courrier de la France et des Colonies, March 1, 1796, offering the property for sale:

“A farm newly occupied by the undersigned, situated in Watervleit [sic], five miles north of Albany, and two miles north of Troy; it contains 206 acres. There is a pleasant house with dependencies, in all in very good order; a large orchard full of choice trees, and a good sized vegetable garden where there are also fruit trees and bushes. The farm utensils are also for sale, a complete assortment, with several milk cows and mares that will bear….”

The letter, dated February 21, 1798, seems to indicate that La Tour du Pin was still trying to sell his property. Relying more than we’d like to on Google Translate, the letter notes that he would like to sell his farm “d’Albany,” and notes that the previous kindnesses shown by the family of Madame Hamilton “make me hope that at your request she will still be willing to render the Service to us to sell this small object.” He wrote to Hamilton on the topic again in July 1798, at which point he may have left the United States.

With the beauty of hindsight and the power of editing, we note that the farm of La Tour du Pin was located on what is now called Delatour Road, for what, in the bright light of morning, are blazingly obvious reasons. More to come on that.

From Van der Heyden Farms to the Village of Troy

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The plat for VanderheydenIf in, say, the 1780s anyone were taking bets on which local community might someday rise to rival Albany’s mercantile power, they would likely have favored Lansingburgh as the capital city’s chief competition. Schenectady was a sleepy community of broommakers and hops growers, though still a gateway to the west for the few who went that way (the terrors of the Revolution had proven a serious dissuasion to continued settlement farther west, and it took some time to recover). Other communities around the region, all huddled on the banks of one river or the other, were even less than that. The only other real seat of prosperity lay several miles up the Hudson in Lansingburgh, often called “New City,” which in 1787 had 500 inhabitants to the Old City’s (Albany’s) 3000. That was before things started expanding down at the Van der Heyden farms.

There were three of them. The northern most was between Division Street and the Piscawen Kill, near current Hoosick Street, not very visible from the River Road; its one-story dwelling, built in 1756 by Jacob I. Van der Heyden, stood on a rise of ground not far north of the Hoosick Road.

The middle farm lay between Grand and Division streets, and had a two-story board building on the east side of the River Road, opposite a ferry “which for many years had been a source of income to the family. Jacob D. Van der Heyden, then enjoying the privilege of ferrying vehicles, animals and people to and from Steene Hoeck, resided in the old house….” Steene Hoeck was a site on the west bank (later West Troy, now Watervliet) known as Rock House. Just a bit further south was the third farm, a one-story brick dwelling built in 1752 by Mattys Van der Heyden. It sat about 1300 feet north of the Poesten Kill.

According to Arthur James Weise, in his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” after the Revolutionary War, migrating New Englanders heading to Lansingburgh and beyond saw how well situated the Van der Heyden places were, particularly with regard to navigation, and pleaded to be able to lease plots of land. Few were successful. Benjamin Thurber of Providence was allowed to rent, not lease, land from Jacob in 1786 for a dwelling and a store on River Street, just south of Hoosick Street. He grew quickly, serving neighborhood farmers. Around the same time, Captain Stephen Ashley of Salisbury, Connecticut, sought to settle near the ferry, but was denied. Taking the same request to Matthias, grandson of the builder of the southern farm, Ashley found a less prosperous landowner more inclined to listen. Captain Ashley got a two year lease on the brick house, fitted it for a public house, and called it the Farmers’ Inn. Then he established a new ferry, which soon came to be known as Ashley’s Ferry. What Jacob thought of this ferrying competition, Weise does not record.

Ashley and a gentleman from Providence named Benjamin Covell realized that Jacob’s middle farm enjoyed a deeper river channel and a steeper, firmer shoreline, and started pressing Jacob to have the western part of his land laid out for the site of a village.

“After considerable reflection, he finally engaged Flores Bancker of Lansingburgh to lay out about sixty-five acres into lots, streets, and alleys. When the map of the plat was completed on May 1st, 1787, the Dutch farmer, in honor of his family, called the site of the projected village, Vanderheyden. As related by an early settler, the place was, ‘with a foresight not always observed, laid out with a view of its ultimately being a place of considerable magnitude; and Philadelphia, with its regular squares and rectangular streets, was selected as its model by the advice of a gentleman, who had made a then rare visit to that celebrated city.’

As seen on the map of Vanderheyden, the village comprised two hundred and eighty-nine lots, mostly fifty feet wide and one hundred and thirty deep, with alleys in the rear of them twenty feet wide; the streets having a width of sixty feet.”

So, important to note: one of the great things about Troy, its alleys, goes back to its very beginning.

Ashley built a new two-story wooden inn at the northeast corner of River and Ferry streets. The southern ferry business having been established. Matthias Van der Heyden put a notice in the May 10, 1788 Lansingburgh Federal Herald.

“The subscriber respectfully informs the public that as the time for which he leased his ferry to Captain S. Ashley hath expired, he proposes to exert himself in expediting the crossing of those who may please to take passage in his boat, which will ever be in readiness directly opposite the house at present occupied by said Ashley. The terms of crossing will be as moderate as can reasonably be expected, and a considerable allowance made to those who contract for the season. He has in contemplation to commence keeping a tavern in a few weeks from the date hereof, when no exertions of his shall be wanting to accommodate those who shall resort the house from which Mr. Ashley will shortly remove.

N.B. Notice for crossing will be given by sounding a conk-shell a few minutes before the boat starts.”

The new town of Vanderheyden was quickly a success. One store after another opened. Asa Crossen, a “taylor and habit-maker” from New London, Connecticut, advertised that he was carrying his business “in all its branches at Messrs. Ashley and Van der Heyden’s ferry.”

Many of these new residents were from somewhere else, particularly New England, and maybe that led to what happened next. Not even two years after Jacob Van der Heyden had agreed to split up his land into a village, the new residents started pressing for a name change.

Changing the name to Troy, 1789“Considering the name Vanderheyden too polysyllabic, Dutch, and strange, the settlers determined to select a shorter and more acceptable designation for the village. On Monday evening, January 5th, 1789, they met at Ashley’s Inn, near the north-east corner of River and Ferry streets, and voted that the action taken by them in the choice of a name should be published in the Albany and Lansingburgh newspapers . . . The summary repudiation of the original name by the settlers was harshly criticised by the members of the Van der Heyden family. Jacob D. Van der Heyden was sorely offended, and for a number of years thereafter continued using the former designation in his conveyances, by writing it, ‘Vanderheyden alias Troy.’”

A week after the renaming, a pseudonymous critic going by the name of “Nestor” published a paragraph in the Lansingburgh paper:

“Yesterday I hear’d that a neighboring village had assumed the name of Troy – for what reason I cannot conceive, as I find not the least resemblance between the old city of that name and this small village. – Some classical critic has perhaps thought fit so to style it, from dissimilitude, as lucus is derived a non lucendo. – Some wag must surely have been playing a trick with the good people of the place, and is now laughing in his sleeve at their ignorance of ancient history. Let them consider what constructions may be put upon their choice, when it is so public known how the letters of said title may be placed, and what they signify. First, Tyro, in Latin, is a novice, a fresh-water sailor, or a fair-weather soldier. Second, Ryot, (according to the old way of spelling,) and surely they are not so famous for kicking up a dust that the letters composing the name of their town designate their character. Lastly, Tory; this alone would be sufficient to induce them to reject what ever bears the least resemblance to so hated a character.”

Unfavorable anagrams notwithstanding, the name stuck, and the village of Troy continued to grow.

For Sale in 1839 Troy: Sultana Raisins and Erasive Balls

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In case you think that in the days before global trade, the Capital District was a wasteland of nothing but Albany beef, beaver pelts and soda crackers, allow this small sampling of advertising from the Troy Daily Whig,1839, to change your mind.

First, an ad from M. Cornwell of 329 River Street. He was offering oranges, lemons, and nuts received that very day. Peanuts, brazil nuts, soft and hard shelled almonds, “greenoble” walnuts, and filberts. He had preserved ginger, sweet chocolate, and cocoa, dried currants, nutmegs and cloves. Ten drums of sultana raisins! Not to mention the Havana segars. Not to mention, “Just rec’d a large and general assortment of Toys, from a Giraffe down to a red Squirrel . . . Also, 30 dozen dressed and undressed Dolls.”

The Apothecary Hall of E. Waters, Jr., was offering Turkey “Rubarb,” more a medicinal article, often a laxative, than a food item. He also sold erasive balls, “for extracting Grease or Oils from Silks, Carpets, Woolens, &c., &c.” And if you needed neither Turkey Rubarb nor erasive balls, perhaps you would care for Odoriferous Compound, “or Persian Sweet Bags – A grateful perfume for scenting clothes drawers, &c., and is an effectual preventative against moths.”

Knox, Whitlock & Rockwell was a dry goods store, run by Jonathan LeGrand Knox, Jonathan Henry Whitlock, and Gould Rockwell. On this occasion, they had a case of the new style mousseline de laine (muslin of wool). They also had pilot cloths (twilled wool with a thick nap) and flushings in blue, black and other colors. Just opened! Also crape camblets, a woven fabric also known as Camelot.

M.J. Lyman and Son, 273 River Street, were offering prime Tampico fustic. Fustic is a species of mulberry, “extensively employed as an ingredient in the dyeing of yellow colors” (according to the Tennessee Pharmacal Gazette, 1874). But they also sold lemon, raspberry and sarsaparilla syrups.

J.W. Churchill was offering fresh fish and lobsters. “Tuesday and Friday Mornings, I shall receive Fresh Fish and Lobsters, by the morning boat, until further notice. Persons wishing to change their diet from meat to fish, will do well to remember the days they can do so.” Churchill wasn’t the only source of fish – L. Mowry of 127 River Street had Connecticut River shad as well as mackerel.

Meanwhile, Dr. Heimstreet’s drug and chemical store had a number of goodies on offer. Preston’s extract of lemon, for example: purified from all bitter qualities, the most convenient concentrated form for all purposes of cooking. He also sold Phinney’s anti-dispeptic “or Family Pills.” And compound fluid extract of sarsaparilla, “the most eligible form in which this valuable medicine can be used.”

That’s just the barest sampling of what was for sale in the Troy shops. There were silver spoons and pearlash, medicinal liquors and twines. Boston rum and compound peach water. Burlaps and dove colored earthen ware. Violin strings and window glass.

African-Americans in Lansingburgh’s History

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Lansingburgh has a long and interesting history – in fact, if you told its founding fathers that the little village that became the city of Troy would rise to be one of the great powers of the industrial age, they may have doubted your sanity. Today we mostly only think of it in relation to its immediate neighbor to the south, but in fact it was long a vibrant community in its own right. And within that community, as in most of our communities, the lives and contributions of African-Americans have frequently been hidden, lost to time. And for such a tiny place, the Lansingburgh Historical Society is doing a tremendous job of highlighting some of those lives, with a set of biographies of African-American residents of Lansingburgh in history. Go there now and learn about the “Colored Temperance Convention,” the Gunn family members who modeled for Norman Rockwell, and the first African-American to serve on a Rensselaer County jury.

Knox & Mead

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Knox & Mead, Troy

For some time, this particular shot was our white whale, our holy grail. Not sure why, but we just love, love, love this unassuming little building in Troy, and we’ve never been able to get a picture of it without cars parked in front. And then, right around Christmas, there it was, a nicely unwrapped little gift: the Knox & Mead building at 10 First Street.

It didn’t start as the Knox & Mead building. According to the Rensselaer County Historical Society, the building was built in the summer of 1852, and its first occupant was the Manufacturer’s Bank of Troy. Later, the Central Bank of Troy and the Central National Bank of Troy were at the same address. Knox & Mead moved in in 1906, but that was not their first address.

Knox & Mead was an insurance company that dated back to 1855, starting as Kelly & Knox. In 1888, it was under the management of John H. Knox and Walter F. Mead, then at 253 River Street, the Burdett Building – but not the Burdett Building that is there today, for the original Burdett Building, burned rather completely in February 1896. The company then moved to 10 First Street, “the old Post Office Building,” but there’s nothing but a parking lot today. If the RCHS information is correct, Knox & Mead moved across the street 10 years later, and stayed there for quite a long time, until some time in the 1980s.

Confusingly, although it’s clear they were an insurance company, and apparently only an insurance company, we find them in a 1910 book on “Coal Advertising: A Collection of Selling Phrases, Descriptions and Illustrated Advertisements As Used By Successful Advertisers.” There they are quoted as saying:

Justice rules at our coal yards. She sees that every customer gets just what his money is worth – sometimes more. Only the Best Coal rules here from one day to another, which is equivalent to saying that A1 coal which freely burns, which knows as little of smoke, cinder and ash as any coal produces, is here subject to your order every business day in the year. No one can contradict that statement with any degree of success. Knox & Mead, Troy, N.Y.

That is, to say the least, wildly confusing. Nothing in local directories or anything else supports that quote – but it seems unlikely that the publication could have just accidentally come up with that name. Mysterious.

Of John Knox, we know only a little. He was vice president of the Troy Vocal Society, which performed at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and served on the city’s Centennial Committee. Of Walter Mead, we know nothing.

The building is as beautiful today as when it was new. It houses Tai Ventures, which performed a gorgeous renovation.


The Maiden Lane Bridge

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The Maiden Lane Bridge, from the AlbanyGroupArchive on Flickr.

As noted before, until what is now known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge opened in 1866, Albanians or Greenbushians who wanted to cross the river could either take a ferry or wait for winter. Then the railroad bridge near Livingston Avenue opened … and as long as it was the only bridge, it was just “the bridge.” It didn’t need a designation, such as the North Bridge, until another one was built and added some confusion. That was first just called the “new” bridge, then the South Bridge, and eventually the Maiden Lane Bridge. For nearly a century, this swing bridge was part of the Albany riverscape, but it appeared almost quietly and was taken away with hardly a notice.

In March 1869, the Albany Evening Times wrote about the coming addition:

“The new bridge will soon be commenced, and will be completed this year. When it is completed a new depot will be erected on the grounds bounded by Montgomery, Quackenbush, Water and Columbia streets. The new depot will also accommodate the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, and probably the Delaware and Hudson’s Albany and Susquehanna Road. The bridge will be of iron, and will not only accommodate the railroads but also foot passengers [which the North Bridge did not]. It will cross the river between Maiden lane and Exchange street, and land between the Boston and Hudson River depots. It will cross Maiden lane at Quay street at a sufficient elevation to allow vehicles to pass beneath it. The old bridge, at the north end of the city, will also be raised at Broadway sufficient to allow vehicles to pass under it, and nothing but the passenger trains for the West and East will cross the surface of Broadway at that point. This change will be owing to the excellent management of W.H. Vanderbilt, Esq., and we feel assured it will be duly appreciated by our citizens.”

W.H., by the way, was William Henry “Billy” Vanderbilt, the son of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was the still only a vice president of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad (becoming President in 1877).

Later that same year, the Albany Evening Journal reported that the New York Central Railroad track had been extended from the Northern Railroad at Columbia street to Quay street, “a portion of the old freight houses on Quay street having been torn down for the purpose. The track has been laid along the dock on Quay street from Maiden lane to Columbia street, and it will also be laid from Columbia street to the elevator. The object of this extension is to enable the cars to receive cargoes of coal, iron, etc., directly from the boats. It will also be convenient in bringing materials for the new bridge.”

Early in 1870, the Evening Times reported that the contract for building the substructure of the new bridge had been awarded to Charles E. Newman of Hudson. “The new bridge will be shorter than the present one, and will terminate at the old depot in Maiden lane.” Later in the year, The Evening Times gave a thorough description, reprinted in the Sept. 22, 1870 Troy Daily Whig, of the “second great highway over the Hudson at Albany”:

“The bridge starts from a point at or near the west end of the old Hudson River Railroad passenger house in East Albany. It runs thence in a straight line 1012 feet until it strikes the Pier, at a point about 100 feet north of the State street bridge, thence it curves rather sharply to the north over the Basin, crossing Maiden lane and Quay street diagonally, and passing through the building on the northwest corner of Maiden lane and Quay street, runs into the old Central Railroad yard. The line then runs through what was the Central ticket office, intersecting the main track near the Delavan House.
Across the main channel of the river are four piers, with 185 feet span, and a swing or “draw-bridge,” 272 feet long and 185 feet from the Pier. There are seven spans of 70 feet each across the Basin, which makes the total length from end to end, including the approaches, 1550 feet. The bridge is to be 30 feet above low water mark. Across the main channel the bridge is perfectly level, but after leaving the Pier there is a fall of 2-1/2 feet to get into the yard.
The entire superstructure is to be of iron of the very best quality,. The bridge is to be double tracked and on each side will be a foot bridge six feet wide. The swing-bridge will be constructed in the most approved style, and will be operated by a small steam engine, to be located at the top of the bridge, over the turn-table.
At present two of the piers on the Greenbush side are nearly completed. Work has been commenced on all the others, and masonry on about half of them. There are now 150 men employed, and it is expected the bridge will be entirely completed and ready for use in about sixteen months, or the 1st of January, 1872. When this bridge is done, it is the intention to replace the superstructure of the old or ‘upper bridge’ with iron, which was the design when originally built. This bridge is to be used exclusively for passenger trains, and the old one for freight.
The President of the Bridge Company is Horace F. Clark, Esq., of N,.Y., the son-in-law of Commodore Vanderbilt; and the Vice President, Chester W. Chapin, of Springfield, Mass. The contractors who are doing the work, are for the sub-structure or mason work, Charles E. Newman of Hudson, N.Y., and for the super-structure or iron work, Kellogg, Clarke & Co., of Philadelphia.
The entire cost of the bridge will be $1,000,000, and when completed will rank as one of the wonders of the world.
We are under obligations to Chief Engineer Hilton for information furnished and courtesies extended.”

That last was a reference to Charles Hilton, chief engineer of the Hudson River Bridge Company, who had first surveyed for a bridge across the river fifteen years before in anticipation of creating “the last connecting link to an uninterrupted railroad communication from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” That initial effort was delayed by court actions. But construction finally made progress and, according to Arthur Weise, the first train crossed on Dec. 28, 1871. The Maiden Lane Bridge was open.

The bridge and its pedestrian walkway, which created an important connection for those traveling on foot or by bicycle, operated for nearly a century. But then came the collapse of passenger rail in the United States in general, and in Albany specifically. With the closure of Union Station in 1968, the Maiden Lane Bridge no longer served a particular purpose. Its tracks, and most of the tracks in that area, were a major impediment to the plan to build an interstate highway along the river, and so the bridge’s days were numbered, and the numbers weren’t high.

Was there an outcry over the scrapping of what was once considered a wonder of the world (at least by some in Albany)? Not much. In March 1969, A planning agency called the Hudson River Valley Commission criticized the lack of mass transportation planning in the Capital District at the same time it approved the demolition of the bridge. “Before formally reviewing any further Department of Transportation projects for this area, the commission will request a statement of how the projects relate to mass transportation planning for the Capital District.” In other words, we’ll let you eliminate any hope of Albany ever having passenger rail service again, but don’t let it happen again. A Troy Times Record article from November 26, 1969 noted that the bridge would be demolished within the next 10 days, as part of the contract of the Peter Kiewit Contracting Company’s work constructing portions of the Riverfront Arterial. Demolition was to be completed by the middle of January, 1970. The walkway had already been dismantled, back in September of 1968.

Maiden Lane Bridge Walkway Demolition

The dismantling of the Maiden Lane Bridge’s pedestrian walkway, Knickerbocker News, Sept. 11, 1968.

The Early Docks of Albany

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After Robert Yates, a map of Albany including the details showing docks at Columbia Street (far right), Mark Lane (center), Hudson Street, and Hamilton Street.

Hoxsie can rarely be accused of linear thinking. Having covered the life of the Albany basin (which we did here, here and here.) (plus also here), let’s go back to its beginning. Howell’s 1876 “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” incorporates a paper by General S. V. Talcott, “a distinguished citizen, now venerable in years, who has held many posts of duty with advantage to his native city and State, and credit to himself.” His paper gave the story of the “Docks, Wharves, and Basin of Albany, with many historic events and reminiscences of olden times.”

Talcott’s reminiscences start by recalling a visit by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in 1749, who reported that the Hudson River at Albany was from twelve to twenty feet deep, but there then was no quay built for fear it would be swept away in the spring floods. Instead, “the vessels come pretty near the shore and receive their cargoes from two canoes lashed together.” As early as 1727, the Common Council had started discussing building wharves. By the time of the 1770 survey and map shown above, there were four docks used by cargo ships:

“… one above Columbia street, near where Foxenkill empties in the basin, called the Arsenal Wharf; one at the foot of Mark lane (Exchange street) in the shape of a T, called the Middle Wharf, which was enlarged and extended in 1774 to 90 feet in length and 32 feet in width; another at the foot of Hudson street, of the same shape, but somewhat smaller, called the City Hall Wharf; and one at Kilby lane (now Hamilton street), near where the steamboat landing now is, called Kilby’s Wharf, later known as Hodge’s Dock. All four extended to the channel of the river near its western bank. Division street, which came to the river between the last-named wharves, was then called Bone Alley. The original shore line, as represented on this map, was as far west as Dean street, then called Dock street. Subsequent filling brought out the water line to its present [1876] position on the east side of Quay street. At Quackenbush street the west bank of the river was about 380 feet east of Broadway; at Foxenkill about 200 feet; at Exchange street about 70 feet; at State street about 80 feet east of Dean; at Hudson street about 160 feet; and at Division street about 175 feet east of Broadway.”

The Columbia street dock would be the one furthest right in the 1770 map shown above (from the Albany Institute of History and Art), just above a squiggle that represents the Ruttenkill. The Middle Wharf was said to be at the foot of Mark Lane, which is now just a driveway between the Federal Building and the old Post Office, running from Broadway to the SUNY garage – but this map makes it look much more like it was at Maiden Lane. Another T-shaped dock is shown at the foot of Hudson Avenue, just south of State Street, and the final, southernmost dock is the one at Kilby Lane.

Talcott further says that land on the north side of Hudson street extended by filling into the river, almost 200 feet, and the Ruttenkill (“now known as Beaver street sewer,” had originally emptied into the basin at the northeast corner of Hudson and Quay streets, but was then diverted, crossed Hudson Street at a right angle and then emptied into the river 80 feet south of the street.

A ferry was established near the foot of Kilby’s lane (Hamilton street), “probably before 1767,” as Guysbert Marcelis was granted rights to maintain a ferry that year. In April 1783, the stones of Kilby’s dock were appropriated to complete the City Hall Dock and “the next Northern Dock,” but later that year the appropriation was reconsidered, and Talcott doesn’t tell us what happened to the docks. While Kilby’s dock was in operation, Talcott says there was a landing place for bateaux and small boats “not far from the dwelling of the late Judge Jacob L. Lansing, on the corner of Broadway and Quackenbush streets.” It was at this landing that he says that, just before the Battle of Saratoga, residents of the Colonie had a small fleet of bateaux and were ready to flee:

“While engaged in loading their boats as rapidly as possible, a single horseman was seen approaching from the north, gesticulating and furiously whipping his horse as he drew near. Men, women and children rushed out to hear what news he brought from the armies, expecting of course that the enemy was close behind him. He shouted as he came up and passed along: ‘Bergine is taken! Bergine is taken!!’ So astounded and incredulous were the people as they followed him to the City Hall, on the corner of Broadway and Hudson streets, that they cried: ‘Gy liegen! Gy liegen!!’ (You lie! You lie!!) great was their relief and gladness when the news was confirmed by the dispatch brought by the messenger and read by the Mayor to the assembled crowd. The switch which the messenger had used to urge his horse along, he threw away as he passed the corner of North Lansing street and Broadway. It was picked up by Mrs. Teunis G. Visscher, a daughter of Mr. Christopher Lansing, and planted in front of her father’s house, where she resided at that time. The switch grew to be a sturdy elm, long remembered and pointed out as a monument to commemorate the end of the revolution. It passed from youth to manhood and to old age, lost its beauty and strength, and at last yielded up the remnant of its life to the demands of progress, and was removed to make room for the railroad viaduct across Broadway.”

The title to the riverfront was originally vested in the Mayor and Commonalty of the city, leased to private owners, but was later transferred to purchasers. A dock association formed in 1794, which Talcott took as evidence that, in 1794, there was a dock. The association initially included the proprietors of the dock between the center of Maiden Lane and the north side of State Street. “This was probably the first regular dock, extending from street to street, that was constructed, and the Association was probably formed on its completion.” In 1796, the association was expanded to include “proprietors of the quay south of Bone lane [Division street] and north of Kilby lane [Hamilton street]….”

The Dock Association continued through 1873, with Abraham Bloodgood serving as the first “wharfinger” in 1794, followed by Abraham Eights (1795-1819), Edward Brown (1820-41), John L. Hyatt (1841-70); William Eaton (1870-71) and F.A. Shepard (1871-73).


New Look for Albany’s Riverfront

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Men at Work

MEN AT WORK – Trucks carrying earth to fill in the old yacht basin have worn themselves a clear road from the mainland to the Albany Yacht Club island, as seen in this view from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad building. In foreground are the Maiden Lane railroad bridge and part of the Yacht Club Bridge soon to be torn down.

One last look at the old Albany waterfront. On July 3, 1955, the Times-Union touted a new look for the riverfront, with an article sub-headlined “Highway Job Alters Area.”

“The shoreline of the city has been drastically streamlined in the Maiden Lane region, and you almost wouldn’t recognize the spot that used to be one of old Albany’s favorite Sunday afternoon strolls.
Any day now, the wreckers’ crowbars will go to work on the trim and graceful masonry bridge that spans the perhaps 250 feet from the shore to the old Albany Yacht Club building, and another familiar city landmark will vanish.
Already the scene looks unfamiliar to the oldtimer. The Hudson River still slaps at the bottom steps of the landing stage in the inlet, but no pleasure craft bob leisurely in the once-crowded backwater.
Most of the inlet has been filled in, and a good broad jumper could probably leap across the comparative trickle of water that still remains.”

The work was the beginning of the riverfront arterial, two lanes of concrete each 24 feet wide, separated by a grassy center mall, expected to relieve congestion on Broadway and North Pearl St. Once complete the only landmark remaining on the riverfront would be the former Albany Yacht Club building, then in use as a Naval Reserve center. The Naval Reserve would be there for another year, while waiting for a new center at Washington and North Main to open.

“As for the Albany Yacht Club itself, its members are not looking backward to any great extent. The old spot saw many happy times, and there’s a possibility the Club may request one of the stones from the old bridge as a souvenir to be displayed at its new locations.”

Steamboat Square

STEAMBOAT SQUARE – The old ticket office and waiting room of the Albany Night Boat, in the right background, seem strangely incongruous in their high and dry setting, with the obvious signs of construction work for the new arterial highway littering the foreground.

The Yacht Club Bridge

ONE WILL REMAIN – The old Yacht Club bridge, at right, will soon be demolished to make way for the new arterial highway, which will pass under the Maiden Lane railroad bridge. In this view from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad building, clearance appears limited, but the fill in the inlet is now 10 feet higher than it will be when the highway is surfaced

A Human Body Turned to Stone

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A Human Body Turned to Stone 1893Albany has a history of digging up bodies and moving them around (as any old city does). Sometimes, that resulted in some surprises. In 1893, a transfer from one cemetery to another resulted in finding “A Human Body Turned to Stone,” although stone isn’t quite as good as another description. Albany had a Soap Lady.

“Cases of putrefaction of human bodies are so rare that when one is accidentally brought to light it becomes a matter of curiosity and interest. Such a case has just been discovered in this city.”

Mrs. Charles Hagen (nee Miss Crinnen, no first name given) had been a resident of Albany but died in Newark, New Jersey in February 1892. Her body was brought to Albany for burial in St. Mary’s cemetery, then far out Washington Avenue, roughly where the high school and Army Reserve Center are today. According to the Albany Morning Express (May 12, 1893), “Of late many bodies buried in St. Mary’s cemetery have been taken up by relatives and reburied in St. Agnes’ cemetery. Among those was that of Mrs. Hagen, whose family is well known in this city.” Also buried in the plot was her husband’s father, buried in 1864 or 1865. In digging them out,

“On reaching the top of the rough box they were surprised at finding it in a far better state of preservation than they could have expected after it had been buried more than a year. The box, which to the workmen appeared unusually heavy, was hoisted from the grave. The rough box was not in the least decayed, and looked no worse than it might if it had been merely exposed to the rain and sun for a week or two. The relatives were notified of the peculiar fact of the preservation of the box, and they became anxious to see the body. They consulted with Superintendent Gibbons, of St. Mary’s cemetery, and had the covers of the rough box and casket unscrewed. What they saw surprised them not a little. There had been scarcely any change in the appearance of the body. The f ace looked almost as it did when the casket was first consigned to earth. An examination of the body revealed the reason for its remarkable preservation. It was as hard as stone to the touch; in fact it was what is commonly called “petrified,” although it is claimed that the process of true petrifaction never takes place in human bodies, but that the tissues are transformed into a substance that is called adipocere, which is about the consistency of hardened putty.”

This is a thing. A rare thing, but a thing nevertheless. The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia prominently features “The Soap Lady,” a woman whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875; a fatty substance, adipocere, encases her remains. “Adipocere formation is not common, but it may form in alkaline, warm, airless environments, such as the one in which the Soap Lady was buried.” The Soap Lady is now believed to have died in her late 20s; Mrs. Hagen was only 24 when she died. Her body, along with her father-in-law’s, were reburied in St. Agnes Cemetery. “A number of persons who had heard of the case gathered at St. Agnes’ cemetery on Sunday in hope of seeing the body, but were disappointed.”

According to the Troy Irish Genealogy Society webpage on St. Mary’s, disinterments from St. Mary’s began around 1875 and weren’t complete until 1917. After that, the land was known as St. Mary’s Park, used as a temporary housing site following World War II, and eventually became the site of Albany High School.

Unfortunately, we can’t reconcile Mrs. Hagen’s birth and death dates with any of the currently recorded reinterments from St. Mary’s or the current interments at St. Agnes, so the particulars of her life, including her first name, escape us.