The Ark of Albany

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Munsell’s Annals of Albany could keep an amateur historian busy until the end of time, running down all the interesting tidbits. For example, without Munsell, we would never have known that Albany once had an ark.

Apparently around 1830 or so, the companies that owned tow boats (probably steam boats by this time – Fulton and Livingston’s Clermont first plied the Hudson’s waters in 1807) that carried goods from the mouth of the Erie Canal to the ports of New York City decided that rather than storing freight with all the nearby warehouses that they didn’t own, they’d store it in something they did own, and they built a jumbo ark right in the Albany basin. This cleverly avoided wharfage fees, because Albany only collected fees in the basin from vessels that navigated the Hudson river. As you might well imagine, the people who owned warehouses on the wharves, where such goods would ordinarily have been stored, didn’t think highly of this new floating storage unit in their midst.

New York City merchants named Hart and Hoyt, to facilitate their business “caused to be constructed and built at an expense of more than $3,000, a float or ark about 120 feet in length and about 42 feet in width, with a covering or roof and convenient openings at the sides for receiving and discharging bales, casks, and merchandize [sic] of every description.” We learn from the “Cases in the Court of Errors” (December 1832) that the ark was moored in a part of the basin where sloops and other boats “never came or had occasion to come in the ordinary course of their business; so that the float, in its then and intended location, did not nor would constitute any obstruction to the free passage or any business transactions of the sloops or other craft or vessels engaged in the commerce of the Hudson river or the canals.” Further, by use of the ark, tow boats could more easily unload and canal boats could receive their cargoes three days sooner than otherwise.

Given that these were New Yorkers, and the owners of the wharves were among Albany’s leading citizens, it’s probably no surprise that the common council passed legislation, on July 25, 1831, that, while not specifically naming the ark, certainly didn’t apply to anything else:

“…the dock master of the city of Albany was required to fix a notice on any vessel, boat or float in the basin, not used in the navigation of the Hudson river or the canals, and the owner of which should not be a resident of said city, requiring its removal in ten days, and in case of its not being so removed, directing the dock master to remove and sell the same, or the materials of which it had been built, at public auction, and to pay the money arising from such sale, after deducting the expense of removal and sale to the chamberlain of the city for the use of the mayor, aldermen and commonalty thereof….”

On August 8, another law was passed, pretty much the same, which required that the ark be removed by August 22. In court, Hart and Hoyt said the ark could not be removed without being destroyed (“except during the period of a very high freshet in the river”), and that it was the intent of the council to destroy it to the irreparable injury of the merchants and “to the great and useless detriment of their business.”

Hart and Hoyt sued unsuccessfully for an injunction. Why the destruction didn’t take place doesn’t seem to have been explained. According to Munsell, in 1833 the council took the issue up again:

The common council determined by a vote of 10 to 8, to allow the Ark to remain in the basin. An effort had been made for some time to remove it as a violation of law and on the 1st July the board resolved that it should be removed, 8 to 7.

The Ark was an immense floating store-house constructed in the basin, between State street and Hamilton street bridges, capable of holding a large number of canal boat cargoes at one time. It was built by the Tow Boat companies to save storage on shore. When there were no river vessels on hand to receive freight from the canal it was deposited in the Ark until the tow boats arrived from below to take it in. The merchants and storers who hired warehouses on the wharves at high rents, complained loudly of this unfair interference with their legitimate business, and insisted on its removal. The defense was that it could not be taken out of the basin, there being at that time no outlet sufficiently large for the purpose. The Ark was finally broken up and taken away piece-meal.

But the Evening Journal reported that on July 25, 1833, a resolution granting permission for the ark passed by a vote of 14 to 5. Munsell’s “finally” must have meant “eventually,” because a treatise on the Albany Basin published in 1836 (author unknown, but published by T.G. Wait) refers to the ark as a continuing thorn in the side of the city, which the author charges as “greatly deficient in the plan and energy of execution” with regard to the Basin, whose various evils we have written of before. Perhaps more importantly, it was a thorn in the side of the owners of piers and docks.

“…shall the pier owners and some ten or twenty dock owners, shall a few of the fat and well-favored of this world, by political influence, be suffered to monopolize all the benefits of navigation for one mile in length, and that too, by an abuse of chartered rights? There appears to be but one thing which interferes with their exclusive claims in the basin, and that is, what is called by some “Noah’s Ark,” which has taken shelter in this consecrated spot, and has excited great indignation among the interested; and the principal objections brought against this harmless creature, is, that she carries too much freight, although she has never made a trip to any foreign port, has never been out of sight of land, yet she annoys her neighbors, not only because of the quantity of freight she carries, but because she stores and freights so much under price, and has incurred the ill will of her near neighbors to that degree, that the corporation have been induced to serve a writ of ejectment on her, ordering her to depart forthwith on pain of death and destruction; and this policy may be considered a fair specimen of the principle of equal rights, and of the true republicanism which prevails in Albany – the few by their political juggling, oppressing and trampling on the rights of the many.”

We have not yet learned exactly when the ark was finally removed from the basin.

Samuel Penny and Rebecca Rhino

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Buried in Munsell’s “Annals of Albany,” in the “Notes from the Newspapers” section, is this tidbit from 1833 on the death of one Samuel T. Penny.

“He was a native of England, had resided in this city about thirty years, and was noted for his biblical knowledge and eccentricities, the latter the effect of partial insanity. He was buried in the cemetery of the First Methodist church.”

Okay. Interesting. Then there’s a footnote, which is somewhat singular, as such extensive footnotes were not common in the Annals:

“Penny married a widow – Rebecca Rhino – (rather a curious conjunction of names), who had considerable property, some of which he soon squandered; in consequence of which and his vagaries besides, she obtained a divorce from him in the state of Vermont, whither she went to reside for a while with that purpose. On her return to Albany she opened quite a large dry good store in the building now No. 585 Broadway, where she transacted an extensive business, while Penny kept a store a few doors above in the same street. Both of their names appear, as merchants, in Fry’s Directory of 1813. She resumed her former name, and many of our oldest citizens will remember Mrs. Rhino’s Cheap Store, and the crowds of customers she attracted thither.

In his latter days Penny became quite poor, and mended umbrellas for a living. He went from house to house collecting them, and was rarely seen except with a bundle of old umbrellas under his arm, striding along the streets and clearing the sidewalks of all the youngsters in his way. With them, Old Penny and Old Umbrellas were synonymous terms.”

The name Rhino seems singular, particularly in old Dutch Albany, but her name appears multiple times. In 1800, she shows up in the federal census (as men were usually the householder listed, she must have been considered the head of household). In her home were one free white male up to 10 years old, another between 16 and 26, two free white females 10 or below, two aged 16 to 26, and one (presumably Rebecca) aged 26 to 45. In the 1817 directory, she is listed at 312 North Market Street (now Broadway), engaged in “merchant commerce.” According to the State Museum, in 1800 and 1801, she paid seven dollars for a grocer’s license (yeah, government regulations are entirely new). They say that she was born in 1766 or later, and suspect that she was a widow in 1799 who married neighbor Samuel T. Penny sometime thereafter. A John Rhino, perhaps her son, shows up as a blacksmith in the 1830 directory.

The Journal of the Senate of the State of New York notes that a petition was submitted on her behalf on Feb. 20, 1816:

“The petition of Rebecca Penny, late Rebecca Rhino, of the city of Albany, praying that she may have the sole right to convey her property, which she has at present or may hereafter accumulate by lawful means; and that she may be known hereafter by the name of Rebecca Rhino, was read and referred to a select committee, consisting of Mr. Jay, Mr. A. Miller and Mr. Palmer.”

Rebecca Rhino is an interesting early example of a woman owning her own property, running her own business, and reclaiming her (original?) name in Albany. We don’t turn up much else on poor, possibly half-insane Samuel Penny. He appears on tax assessments from 1802, with a non-substantial personal estate of $50 (and owing a tax of $0.15). As Munsell noted, he showed up in the 1813 directory at 44 Market Street, also listed as “merchant commerce.” We’re sorry to report that even in the early 19th century, you couldn’t make a living fixing umbrellas.

Unclaimed Baggage and Storage

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Unclaimed Baggage and StorageFrom the Times-Union, December 11, 1914, a reminder that the idea of people leaving behind things they’ve put into storage is nothing new, although a century ago they hadn’t figured out how to make it into entertainment. This announces a public auction sale of unclaimed storage and baggage, “and many other articles which have lost their identity” from the New York Central and Delaware and Hudson lines.

Harry Simmons proclaimed itself to be the oldest established and largest auction house in the state, located at 96 State Street,  and 7 and 9 Howard Street. They auctioned off everything from home goods to homes. This would appear to be a particularly interesting sale of unclaimed items left behind in the railroads’ storage, but it raises some really interesting questions, since for most of the items, they knew who owned them and listed the names right here in the notice. So could the owners just come and claim these things, or had they already forfeited them? We don’t know.

So what were people leaving behind in railroad storage just a bit more than a century ago?

Barrels of empty bottles, boxes of bricks, a bag of sand. A bale of waste asbestos fibre, and a bale of shoddy. Four crates of typewriter stands. Boxes of groceries, cases of farina, packages of hominy grits. Ten drums of sweeping compound and a case of embalming fluid (accompanied by “1 Package,” contents unidentified but hopefully innocuous). Cots, mattresses, chairs and bed rails. Gas water heaters, various castings, machined wheels, and hogheads of crockery. Several stoves and bundles of tents.

We can’t determine if M.J. Collins of 180 Franklin Street was ever reunited with a couch, sent by the Standard Publishing and Premium Co. of Scranton, Pa. (perhaps a prize or redeemed trading stamps?). We will go to our grave now knowing if John McGinn of 20 Lark Street ever got back is box of paint from the Waterproof Paint Co. of Watertown, Mass. And the Woodward Co. may never have gotten the use of its “1 Spring” that had been left behind.

Edward Boom, Homeopathic Vet

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Edward Boom, Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeon

For this ad from the 1893 Albany Directory, Hoxsie has no answers, only questions. Such as:

  • Dr. Boom?
  • Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeon?
  • Does “and Dentist” refer to veterinary dentistry, or was he a people dentist as a sideline?
  • His reference was a brewery? (This one actually makes sense, as the breweries had large teams of horses to pull the beer wagons.)

The World’s Fair Excursion and Hotel Association

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World's Fair Excursion and Hotel AssociationIt’s 1893, and you want to visit the Columbian Exposition, the massive World’s Fair being held in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary (plus a year) of Columbus’s stumbling upon what was not quite the Americas (among other things). But how are you to make your travel arrangements? There’s no internet, no 800 phone numbers, not even any AAA guides  for finding lodgings (and, as it turned out, that was something you wanted to be selective about).

Into this void stepped the World’s Fair Excursion and Hotel Association, incorporated sometime early in 1893 with its principal office in Albany. It was to “conduct and manage excursions and to furnish transportation for tourists and their baggage, to furnish hotel and boarding house accommodations, and to do other business which will assist tourists in reaching the World’s Fair.” Directors of the company (and most of the backers) were Willis J. Brewster, Emily E. Brewster, and T. Gordon Lilico of Albany.

Later that year the Saratoga Sentinel reported that Dr. W.J. Brewster would be in Port Henry on June 5, “and parties contemplating a visit to the World’s Fair now, or later, will do well to make their arrangements with him and save money.” The paper also put in a plug for traveler’s checks, only recently developed in their familiar form by the American Express company (another one with Albany roots): “Travelers and parties who contemplate visiting the World’s Fair should procure of the American Express Co. one of their travelers’ check books. They are accepted all over the globe for their face value. Agent Neide will explain its working by calling at his office.”

Doctor Willis J. Brewster was listed in the 1893 directory as “physician and president, World’s Fair Hotel asso.,” with offices at 496 Broadway, and his home at 71 Jefferson St. He was 30 years old at the time; Emily Brewster was his wife, 10 years younger. T. Gordon Lilico was a veterinary surgeon (member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of London), offices 231-237 Lark Street (next to Trinity Church), who boarded at Woodlawn at the corner of Lake Ave.

We don’t learn any more about this new Albany enterprise, so we don’t have a sense of whether it was successful. How the people doctor and the horse doctor came together to make travel arrangements for their fellow Albanians who wanted to visit Chicago, we probably won’t know.

Fastest Typesetter in the East (or West)

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George Dawson portrait, from A Collection of Family Records

George Dawson

Was Mr. George Dawson, eventually editor of the Albany Evening Journal, one of the fastest typesetters of his day? Well, the Printer’s Circular seemed to think so. Though he was much much more than that.

In order to understand this, readers will need a little familiarity with the terms. At the time, all type was set one character at a time. There were no keyboards, no machinery. Typesetters (sometimes called compositors) picked individual letters from trays (job cases, the staple of antiques stores for the last 40 years) and arranged them in forms called chases. And because it was direct impression printing, they did it all backward. Therefore, the size of the typeface mattered (technically, though we’re giving up on this distinction, a font is both the typeface and its size) in determining speed for reasons of dexterity. An em was a measure of type equal to its point size (named for the letter ‘M’ which was usually the largest letter). And while we use point sizes today, it was common in the 19th century to use the English names, so that Agate is 5-1/2 point type; Brevier is 8 pt.; Pica is 12 point. (Those old enough to have grown up on typewriters will remember Pica vs. Elite.)

The American Encyclopaedia of Printing reprinted an account from the Circular from February 1870 by a correspondent who had kept a record of newspaper accounts of fast typesetting, in which Dawson’s extreme level of skill was noted:

“There is a long list of compositors who would set 2000 ems an hour, as they claimed, and their friends have asserted. Rapid compositors for an hour, however, do not always possess endurance. Yet there are not wanting instances of extraordinary endurance combined with great speed. For instance, in 1845, John J. Hand, deputy foreman of the American Republican, of New York, undertook, upon a wager, to set up 32,000 ems of solid Minion [7 pt.] in twenty-four hours. He failed by 32 ems only. Mr. Robert Bonner – now the mighty man of the New York Ledger – was employed on the American Republican also, and is said to have set up 25,500 ems in twenty hours and twenty-eight minutes, without a moment’s rest.

Mr. George Dawson, now one of the proprietors of the Albany Evening Journal, was reported in the Rochester papers, where he was an apprentice, to have set up 27,000 ems of solid Brevier [8 pt.] in ten hours. This being so incredible a performance – although published in the newspapers – I inquired of Mr. Dawson (begging pardon of the newspapers that published it), who asserts that it was an honest 22,022 ems, done in a day of something more than ten hours; he thinks thirteen hours. As Mr. Dawson has been ever since – probably about forty years – employed upon newspapers as compositor, foreman, editor, and proprietor, his assertion cannot be gainsaid.”

George Dawson was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1813, and was brought to this country at the age of five. At 11, he was placed in the printing office of the Niagara Gleaner, and moved to Rochester in 1826 where he was employed by the Anti-Masonic Inquirer, edited by Thurlow Weed. He came to Albany with Weed in 1830 and became foreman of the Evening Journal. He went back to Rochester, then to Detroit, back to Rochester, and then returned to Albany in 1846 as associate editor. When Weed retired in 1862, Dawson became senior editor and proprietor, which he remained through 1877. He was also postmaster of Albany from 1861-67. (Most of this from Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1887.)

Howell (in his Bi-Centennial History of Albany) says of Dawson,

“it is said by those who knew him in the printing-office, that he was an accomplished, practical printer – at the case, a rapid and correct compositor; as a foreman, perfect in order and discipline; courteous and amiable in his intercourse with the employees of the office. It was not long before he began contributing to the columns of the Journal, and his contributions bore the impress of a master hand, adding largely to the ability and influence of the paper.”

This, of course, was at a time when newspapers, particularly Albany newspapers, were beyond political. Thurlow Weed was a kingmaker, and the Evening Journal dictated party politics not only in New York but frequently nationally. Dawson, when he went to Detroit, was a founder of the new Whig party, which absorbed elements of the Anti-Masonic Party. When he was enticed back to Albany by Weed, the Journal was still an absolute authority in its politics, as Howell relates:

“It gave the word of command and the lesser organs made haste to regard its behest. The orders which all obeyed, came from the capital. The Journal spoke with authority. It dictated party policies, controlled appointments, and marshaled all the forces of political campaigns. In the management of the Evening Journal, Mr. Dawson shared with his senior the enjoyment of the ‘power behind the throne;’ was thoroughly acquainted with his plans, proved an able lieutenant in his political encounters, and fully indorsed his political and journalistic views.”

Dawson sold off his interest in 1877, but came back a few years later when he had apparently “got reform” and sounded off against political machines and boss rule. If we believe Howell, Dawson was no demagogue, and did not unduly profit from his position. He was an avid angler who weighed the better fishing in the Rochester area against the opportunity in Albany when he was asked to come back, and indeed wrote a book titled “Pleasures of Angling with Rod and Reel for Trout and Salmon.” He was instrumental in the building of the 1877 Tabernacle Baptist Church at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Ten Broeck Street, which he both contributed to and supervised in its construction. So, by all accounts, George Dawson led an extraordinary 19th century life. But we have a soft spot for the old printing industry, so we hope that Dawson remained proud of his typesetting capabilities until the day he died, in 1883.

Need we say it? Like all good Albanians, he is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Is Printing a Healthy Business?

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While looking for more information on Churchill & Denison, an early pair of Albany photographers who were in partnership during the Civil War era, we ran across this odd little tidbit – not about photographers, but about printers.

The journal “Western Medical Advance and Progress of Pharmacy,” dated December, 1871, reprinted at the top of its second column, front page, a brief item from “Printer’s Circular,” another trade publication for a very different trade. Sadly, it is unaccompanied by the photograph it references, which we can only hope is preserved somewhere:

Is Printing a Healthy Business?–This is the title of a handsome photograph, 12 x 16, issued by Messrs. Churchill & Denison, Albany, N.Y., containing portraits of six well-known printers of Albany, whose appearance is deemed a sufficient answer to the question–Is Printing a Healthy Business? Upon the picture is printed the following table:If the printers of Albany are fairly represented by the “specimen six,” our readers will join us in congratulating them upon their judicious combination of mind and matter; and will doubtless be tempted to ask,

Upon what meat do these our Caesars feed,

That they have grown so great?

And whether Albany beef, or Albany air, deserves the credit of transforming from lean to fat.–Printer’s Circular.

Simply the oddest bit of 19th century fat-shaming we’ve come across. We can’t help but wonder if this was some kind of fascination of Churchill, as one of the photos he is known to have taken was of C. Adams Stevens, which oddly notes on the front that he weighed 221 lbs.

Avery Herrick, we should note, was recognized by the New York Agricultural Society in 1858, winning for best blackberry wine, best raspberry wine, and best tomato wine [we do not want to know]. He was also given honors for his strawberry wine and “Cherry Bounce.”

Rensselaer Churchill, Daguerreotypist

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C. Adams Stevens, by Rensselaer Churchill

C. Adams Stevens, photographed by Rensselaer Churchill

Our post yesterday had us curious about the photographer who may have noted the name of his subject (C. Adams Stevens), his political affiliation, and – and this is what we think least likely – his weight. The source for the photograph noted that on the back was the mark of one Rensselaer E. Churchill, and with a moniker like that, you’d think we could find more about this pioneering photographer.

Rensselaer Emmett Churchill was born about 1820 in a place called Fonda’s Bush in Montgomery County. Today we know it as Broadalbin. How he came down to Albany, and whether his first name was from a family connection or simply in honor of the patroon, we don’t know. It appears that he moved to Albany around the age of 10. He attended Albany Academy, at least in 1835, where he received certificates in proficiency in book-keeping, history of New York, and “Angus’ Exercises.” He married an Albany native named Gertrude Ramsay (the censuses seem to confuse Gertrude and Rachael, mother and daughter). They first appear together in 1855, living in a brick house in the city’s 4th ward, both aged 35. With them are six children ranging from 14 to 2, mother-in-law Ann Ramsay, and a 17-year-old Irish servant named Julia Kelley. At this time, he lists his occupation as “daguerreotyper.”

Daguerreotype was the first practical photographic process, and for many years the dominant one. Introduced in 1839, it involved copper plates and mercury vapor, creating an image on a mirror-like surface. Churchill appears to have been an early practitioner, who showed at the exhibits of the New York State Agricultural Society (today, we’d call it the State Fair) in 1850, and was awarded a medal in the “Paintings, Daugerreotypes, &c.” category for his “Daguerreotype specimens, scarcely inferior to those of Mr. Gavit, who received the first premium.” (D.E. Gavit also practiced his craft in Albany.)

Group at the Sanitary Commission Fair, Albany, New York 1864

Group at the Sanitary Commission Fair, Albany, New York 1864. Attributed to Churchill and Denison Studios, from http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=34202

He appears to have moved around a bit, and along the way he had a partner. In 1860, his office or studio is at 80 State Street, and his home at 189 Hudson Ave. Two years later he had moved his office to 82 State and was living at 34 Grand. In 1863, he had partnered up with Daniel Dennison (often spelled Denison), and their business was listed as photography at 522 Broadway. (Their ad for colored daguerreotypes can be seen here.) At some point they moved a door down to 520, and the two remained in business together at least through 1869. One of their attributed works is a well-known photograph of a group of women at the Sanitary Commission Fair held in Albany in 1864; Churchill & Dennison were the official photographers for the fair. (The U.S. Sanitary Commission was established by Mary Aston Livermore in 1863 as a civilian auxiliary organization dedicated to reform and raising funds to improve health conditions in military facilities.)

But in 1870, they had split up, Dennison moving to 13 North Pearl, and Churchill keeping the studio at 520 Broadway. His home was then at 30 Plain Street; by 1878, his home had moved to 144 Hudson. When he died of heart failure on May 25, 1892, his residence was 297 Madison Ave.

One would think a pioneering photographer working in the boomtown that Albany was at the time would have left more of an impression, but we find very little about him. Getty Museum seems to have an image of his, but it’s not available online. A handful of other references tease us, but produce nothing. The newspapers that are available mention his 1850 Agricultural Society participation, and the marriage of his son to a Chicago woman, but that’s it.

Churchill & Denison images regularly turn up on eBay and other auction sources. Their photographs of Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White are featured on Cornell University’s founding page. The photographs of President Lincoln’s funeral procession and catafalque were also likely by the firm.

Thanks to Paula Lemire, you can see Rensselaer Churchill’s headstone from the Albany Rural Cemetery.

This well-known photograph of a model of the Capitol was apparently also taken by Churchill.

Daugerrotype of William Jay by RE Churchill

This Churchill daguerrotype of noted jurist William Jay is in the National Portrait Gallery collection of the Smithsonian.

Hoxsie by Email!

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Hoxsie has a new way to annoy you – the miracle of email!

We get hundreds of potentially legitimate hits per day (and thousands of Russian spambots), but up ’til now the only way you could find out if Hoxsie had anything new to say about anything old was through our RSS feed (which, let’s be honest, is a tad undersubscribed), or by following our Twitter feed or Facebook page.

Well, you can still do both of those things, but you can also live life beyond the constraints of Facebook (and let’s face it, we all need to get beyond Facebook), by signing up to get an email alert whenever a new post is published. That’s as many as five email notifications a week, or as few as none, because consistency is not what we’re about here. But you’ll be notified as soon as we plunk the magic twanger, and have first dibs on finding typographical errors, glaring omissions, and outright falsehoods. What more could you want?

Just add your email to the widget on the right, we’ll confirm that you really want to do this, and you’ll be all set. Since we have not figured out how to make money doing this or anything else, you’ll likely never hear from us about anything other than new Hoxsie posts.

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Col. C. Adams Stevens, the Western Adventurer/Embezzler

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C. Adams Stevens, by Rensselaer Churchill

C. Adams Stevens, photographed by Rensselaer Churchill

The Greenbush Bridge was the third bridge to cross the Hudson River between Albany and Greenbush (first was the Livingston Avenue, then the Maiden Lane), but practice did not make perfect, and this third crossing was not made smoothly. The first company chartered to build the bridge was led by a colorful character going by the name of Colonel C. Adams Stevens, who built up a local company, drew in a number of prominent investors, fought with the Legislature and got caught up in a bit of embezzlement. The bridge had been authorized by the Legislature in 1872, but by the time it came to fruition in 1882, Stevens was no longer involved.

The closest we can find to a biography of C. Adams Stevens is this brief paragraph from the New York Herald of March 11, 1875, written when he was in the midst of a Legislative investigation:

“Who Is Colonel Stevens? The gentleman has had a somewhat eventful history. He is now about sixty years of age, tall and commanding in appearance, cultured and dignified in manner. He was born in New Jersey, and, while quite young, came to Albany and studied law. In 1850 he went “West” and started the LaCrosse Democrat, which afterward was purchased from him by Mr. “Brick” Pomeroy. During the war he was a colonel in a Western regiment, and, having been taken prisoner, remained in the hands of the rebels for some nine months. Confined in the same cell with him was a nephew of President Grant. The Colonel is also said to have been intimately connected on several occasions with General Fremont in business speculations.”

Stevens was acting president of the Albany and Greenbush Bridge Company when he was brought before the Assembly in 1875. At this remove the whole affair is hard to sort out, but it appears the Committee on Commerce and Navigation was investigating the bridge company. It may well be that the politicians who were somehow upset with the bridge company were engaged in river steamboat and towing enterprises that were opposed to the construction of a bridge. Stevens didn’t take it very well, calling the Committee “a set of frauds and thieves,” and saying he would not submit his books for examination “unless he were allowed a special Police force to keep them from being stolen by the subcommittee.” He then rolled up his sleeves and goaded the legislators to “come on,” that he was ready for them. Apparently at the time the Assembly had the power to jail those whom they found in contempt, and indeed jail was threatened against “Mr.” (not Colonel) Stevens, but he was released on a voice vote.

Shortly after, it may have become clear why Stevens didn’t want the Assembly looking at his books, as the Times headline read: “A Western Adventurer’s Career – Col. C. Adams Stevens, Who is Charged with Embezzling $200,000 of the Albany Bridge Company’s Bonds.” Here’s how The New York Times told the tale of Colonel C. Adams Stevens, datelined July 26, 1876:

“Col. C. Adams Stevens, a Western adventurer, but a man of remarkable shrewdness, is exciting a good deal of attention here on account of an examination now pending, in which the Colonel is charged with embezzling $200,000 worth of bonds of the Albany and Greenbush Bridge Company. Four years ago Col. Stevens came to this city, engaged a fine building on State street, fitted it up in luxurious style, and making the ground floor an office after the style of a banking-house, had printed on the windows in letters of gold “Office of the Boston, Albany and Hoosac Tunnel Railroad Company.” Then the Colonel began operations. He called about him several of our citizens, who possessed both money and influence, explained to them that the railroad was about to be built with money furnished by Brown Brothers & Co., of New-York; that the road would shorten the distance between Albany and Boston thirty or more miles; would make a direct connection, whereby coal could be brought from the fields of Pennsylvania and sent to the North and the East, and would in various ways help Albany to an incalculable degree. He wanted no money to assist in building the road – not a dollar. That was already provided for. But a bridge was needed across the Hudson to serve as the connecting link. He proposed to purchase the South Ferry from the City of Albany and build a new and substantial bridge.”

The Colonel talked a good game. The Boston, Albany and Hoosac Tunnel Railroad Company had been around since 1850, and it’s not clear how Stevens got hold of it; it is not clear it was ever related to the actual Hoosac Tunnel, which had originally been started by the Troy and Greenfield Railroad, but was finally completed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Offers were made for the purchase of several blocks in Albany on which to erect a “grand depot.” The City aldermen were apparently willing to sell the South Ferry property for “a mere song.” The company was formed with the legendary Dr. John Swinburne (then health officer of the Port of New York) as president, and Albany City Bank’s J.H. Pratt as treasurer. Stevens was the vice president and, in 1873 and 1874 at least, acting superintendent. Capital stock of several hundred thousand dollars was raised, “of which Col. Stevens secured unto himself a trifle over half.”

Offices were at 128 State Street, just a few doors uphill from the State Geological and Agricultural Hall, above Lodge St. An 1873 filing with the State Engineer and Surveyor listed the company as having $260,000 in capital stock, of which $31,000 was subscribed, and $3100 was paid in. The company claimed $718 in engineering costs, and $957.94 for office expenses, agents and clerks. The officers of the company were nearly all from Albany and Greenbush.

A call was made on the stock, and suddenly the Boston, Albany and Hoosac Tunnel Railroad Company vanished. Col. Stevens made another call on the stock and the Albany gentry forfeited their investments instead and quit the company. Col. Stevens created a new Board, which authorized a new bond issue of $200,000, and paid the Colonel $15,000, with a “snug installment” in advance, for doing it. Mysteriously, the Colonel disappeared. The police found him some time later at the Astor House in New York City, “where he was living in fine style.” He charged his accusers of trying to defraud him, and said that “Without me the $200,000 worth of bonds are not worth fifty cents, and you know it.” In fact, the Times questioned whether he could be held for grand larceny, as the bonds “are not supposed to be worth $25.”

A report of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad Company included an appendix from 1874, with civil engineer George S. Morison reporting on his search for routes from the Hoosac Tunnel to the Hudson River or a connection to the New York Central and Albany & Susquehanna railroads. He said that Col. Stevens’ company had begun a survey of a route to Petersburgh. Morison and Stevens drove over the northern part of Rensselaer County looking at routes. In fact, he called a route the Stevens Route, which followed the course of the Hoosick River as far as Petersburgh Junction, “thereby passing around the first two ranges of parallel hills, and leaving the valley so far north that the gaps in the third range have become comparatively low.” It would have passed through a Potter Hill Tunnel, which was never built.

On Feb. 24, 1877, the Albany Evening Journal tried to catch its readers up with the events:

“Our readers will remember the arrest, in New York, some months since of C. Adams Stevens, at the instance of certain of the directors of the Albany and Greenbush Bridge Company, his arraignment before Justice Clute, and his subsequent discharge on information as to where $200,000 of the bonds of said company were deposited. The bonds were recovered by one of our detectives, and delivered to Justice Clute. There were then replevined by the officers of the Bridge Company, and were passed over to James Kiernan, at that time Under Sheriff. He deposited them for safe keeping in the Albany County Bank, where they remained until yesterday.

Sometime since, upon proceedings instituted at the instigation of the Bridge Company, Worthington Frothingham, Esq., was appointed Receiver of the effects of said C. Adams Stevens, and on the 9th of the present month he disposed of them at public auction, at the City Hall, for the sum of $365, his interest in the Bridge Company stock selling for $309. The report of the Receiver was filed Thursday, whereupon Judge Van Alstyne issued an order to Sheriff Kiernan, directing him to deliver to William Smith, of the Bridge Company, purchaser of Stevens’ interest in said company, the bonds aforesaid, and yesterday morning the order was obeyed, and the delivery made.”

In 1881, the Albany Times reported that an original issue of bonds, negotiated by C. Adams Stevens with the Fidelity Insurance, Trust and Safe Deposit company of Philadelphia, had been scuttled by the legislative investigation, and the bonds were never issued. It said that in 1880 “like negotiations were had with the Farmers’ Loan & Trust company, of New York, to secure $600,000 in bonds to be issued. The bonds were not issued, and today releases from the companies named to the Greenbush bridge company from the obligation, were filed in the county clerk’s office. This frees the bridge company from all financial impediments.”

In 1904, the ghost of the old railroad was raised again, in an article in the Ithaca Daily News on Dec. 6. In its “Around the State” section, the News reported that “There are good prospects of another important electric line being constructed between Albany and the east through Rensselaer county, and under an old charter granted over 31 years ago to the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Albany Railroad company ….” But other than naming Stevens and the other former officers of the company, no further information was forthcoming.

More than this of Col. C. Adams Stevens, we have not learned. We don’t find him other than in Albany, before or after the scandal. We don’t find him listed among Union officers.

The portrait above was posted at Cowan’s Auctions, as a 3.25 x 5 inch mounted albumen photograph marked as “C. Adams Stevens / 225 lbs. Democrat.” The only information Cowan’s provided was the same as what was in the Times, but we’re sure it’s the same Stevens because the photograph has a back mark of photographer Rensselaer Churchill of Albany.