Woodward & Hill, Albany’s actual oldest business

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Here’s our final Hoxsie entry from the endlessly fascinating Biggert Collection of Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery, courtesy of Columbia University. This receipt from 1884 features a lovely rendition of their building at Broadway and Hamilton, and details the sale of a dozen salt rollers (?) to a George W. Clark of Salisbury, Connecticut; the articles were to travel by railroad to Rhinebeck, thence by “CtW” (Connecticut Western) railroad to Salisbury.

Amasa Parker, in his “Landmarks of Albany County,” informs us that John Woodward became prominent m the business circles of Albany because of his connection with the saddlery and harness business of Woodward & Hill. “This business was founded by Nathaniel Wright in 1819 and consequently is the third oldest established business in the city. In 1860 John Woodward together with Mr. W. W. Hill
bought the business from Mr. Wright and carried it on under the firm name of Woodward & Hill. . .  In 1888 Mr. Hill died and John and [son] Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the ownership of the business. In 1895, after his father’s death. Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the business and now conducts it under the original name of Woodward & Hill.” Well, guess what that means? It means I was wrong. By a lot.

A few months back I undertook to determine the oldest business in Albany, and came to the reasoned conclusion that Lodge’s store, often noted as the oldest store in the city, might also be its oldest business, having been established around 1848. But that was nearly 30 years after Woodward & Hill began selling carriages and saddles, hardware and trimmings. The carriages and saddles are gone, but The Woodward Company still sells hardware (fasteners, to be precise) from its location on Burdick Drive, off Sand Creek Road right near Corporate Woods. Sorry to have been so wrong, and delighted to have found a company that has continued in business here for nearly 193 years.

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Frear’s, before it became Bazaar

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Any sharp-eyed fan of the Collar City will recognize the landmark edifice of Frear’s Cash Bazaar, whose lovely marble facade still graces Third Street  . . . except of course that this billhead shows the just-as-landmarky Cannon Building in Monument Square. Yes, for a long while, Frear’s was not where Frear’s is. This billhead from 1876, again from The Biggert Collection, appears to be for a series of wholesale transactions. Either that, or someone named Tilley or Filley was laying in a substantial supply of “comfortables” (are these comforters? I have no clue). At that time, William H. Frear was a wholesaler and retailer of dry goods, shawls, curtain materials, underwear, and manufacturer of cloaks and suits. The enterprise began in  and was sold to an investment group in 1958; how much longer than that it survived I don’t know.

Just by coincidence, American Troyalty has a recent post about Frear’s as well, and links to the Frear’s 1894 catalog that I haven’t yet had a chance to scavenge from for Hoxsie.

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Where ya gonna get satinet warps?

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From an 1863 Albany directory, an ad for the previously mentioned R.M. Van Sickler & Forby. They dealt in the raw materials of fabric manufacture, and sold oil, belting, warps, spool tapes and the other things that Albany’s busy tailors, upholsterers, etc. would need.

Van Sickler & Forby

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I don’t find much about R.M. Van Sickler & Forby, other than that they were succeeded in the business by G.P. Morse. This lovely cut from the Biggert Collection shows not only Van Sickler & Forby but Albany’s legendary Delevan House, one of the premiere hotels of its day, a temperance hotel that ran from 1845 until it burned in 1894. Van Sickler & Forby were commission merchants in staple dry goods, including cotton and woolen manufacturers’ articles and supplies, and sellers of wool. This receipt from 1864 to Mr. Jacob Settle describes the sale of 15 pounds of wool twine. We’ve already seen a receipt Mr. Settle of Berne here on Hoxsie, when a year later he was looking for something a bit heavier than twine.

Amsterdam is Broom Country

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We’ve already looked at the letterheads of Amsterdam’s Pioneer Broom Company, (also here) but as was usual in the 19th century, there was almost always a rival company, and it was often just a block or two away. Here is a receipt, again from the Biggert Collection, from T. Peck & Co., manufacturers of brooms and brushes, at the corner of Pine and Cedar Streets in the Rug City. It gives us a lovely cut of the factory and what I am sure is the loveliest decorative work involving brooms I’ve ever seen. The receipt, from 1892, was made out to the offices of Durfee of Fall River, Massachusetts, for 25 dozen something; not having experience in the broom business, I can’t figure out the abbreviations.
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Salamander and Albany Fire Brick Works

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Palmer, Newton & Company’s Salamander and Albany Fire Brick Works provided the specialized brick needed for stove linings, furnaces, and various manufacturing processes. That they were located on Rathbone St. (now no more than an alley footpath, and appropriately named for any one of a number of the stove-building Rathbones) is no surprise; they would have been adjacent to some of the big stove-makers of Albany.

Bishop’s “A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860” (Volume 2, mind you) speaks well of this enterprise:

To obtain linings that were good conductors of heat, and yet strong enough to bear transportation without fracture, has long been a desideratum of Stove and Range manufacturers, and judging from the extent of their business, we infer that this firm has attained the desired result. They supply not only the foundries of Albany and Troy, but the extensive Range manufacturers of Boston and Providence, and also many dealers in New York, Baltimore, and other places. Among the specialties of this firm’s manufactures, we might mention fire Brick Grates for Thompson’s patent furnace for burning wet tan. This improvement is of immense value to tanners, enabling them to use as fuel the tan which was heretofore an encumbrance to them, and thus save not only the expense of its removal, but of purchasing other fuel.

This billhead from the Biggert Collection dates to 1863 and depicts the factory with that industrial age enthusiasm for smoke-filled skies. The letter’s author is sending bricks for a stove that he acknowledges will not fit, and suggests that perhaps the recipient could cut them down. I’m not sure what tool I would use here in the 21st century to cut down firebrick, but whatever it would be, I’m betting it wasn’t around in the 19th century.

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S.H. Ransom – again with the stoves

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Somewhere along the line one of the partners in the Rathbone family stove business was S.H. Ransom. John Rathbone and Samuel Ransom were only partnered from 1841 until 1844, when they split into separate firms. Ransom made stoves and hollow ware in their foundry on the south end of Broadway. The business remained until 1881, when it was sold to Clarence Rathbone, who despite his Rathboniness continued the Ransom business name.

This receipt from the Biggert Collection is from December 1863, when a Mr. M.L. Filley bought of S.H. Ransom & Co. one dozen regulator knobs and a D valve. The view here of Albany’s working waterfront is fabulous; click to see it larger.

Rathbone, Sard & Co. – The Acorn Line

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Rathbone Sard and CoThe first Rathbone in the stove business in Albany, Joel, was highly sucessful; his country estate, Kenwood, later became a Catholic convent and girls’ academy. His nephew John also went into the stove business, and with Grange Sard manufactured the Acorn line of stoves and ranges. Not only can you find their advertising ephemera through a quick Google search, you’ll also find some of the stoves are still available. The firm dated back to 1830 with various other names partnering up with a Rathbone. It became Rathbone, Sard & Co. in 1873. Howell, writing in 1885, mentions that the North Ferry Street factory, near the canal, had were five modeling floors, five cupola furnaces, 90 tons of iron melted daily, and 75,000 stoves a year produced.

Grange Sard didn’t do too badly for himself, either, the son of a tailor who quickly became a partner in an established stove business, ultimately becoming its president, and who had his city home, familiar to anyone who was walked State Street near the park, built for him by H.H. Richardson, who usually spent his time on things like the State Capitol and Albany City Hall.

Not entirely clear what was going on in this 1887 correspondence from the Biggert Collection, though it would appear that Mrs. Luke Tower wrote directly to the Rathbone, Sard factory, perhaps trying to get around the local Youngstown, NY distributors of William Ripson and Son.

R.C. Reynolds Furniture

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R.C. Reynolds was once a major furniture store in both Albany and Troy, selling carpets, stoves, upholstery, china, glass, etc. When Mr. I.H. Vrooman of 294 Hamilton St. in Albany picked up 5-1/3 yards of linoleum remnant in 1914, Reynolds had stores at 36-38 N. Pearl Street in Albany and in the landmark McCarthy Building on Monument Square in Troy. One of Don Rittner’s great Arcadia picture books of Albany shows Reynolds in the building that now houses the 74 State Street boutique hotel.

R.C. Reynolds was a citizen of note. he was a director of the Troy Trust Company. He was on the board of the Troy Automobile Club in 1908, when there were 270 auto owners in Troy. He was an honorary vice president of the Mohawk and Hudson Humane Society. He was actively involved in maritime interests, and served on the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association. A local ferryboat, built in 1896 and running from Maiden Lane to Troy, was named for him. That was possibly ironic, as a 1903 Troy fire that started on the steamboat pier burned his building and several others on River Street. He opened his new store in 1904 and 10,000 people attended the grand opening, which was recounted in the American Carpet and Upholstery Journal:

“The store is a five-story structure . . . with a polished
terra-cotta front . . . An interesting feature is an unique Oriental room
finished in Moorish style and richly furnished with Oriental draperies and
furniture. The upholstery section is fitted with the latest display devices,
while in the rug department the track system, which displays eighty rugs at the
same time, is in use. A large space on the north side of the main floor is
devoted to an artistic combination of furnishings in a model five-room
apartment house, consisting of a parlor, reception-room, library, dining-room
and bed-room. The parlor is noticeable for its flowered tapestries and carved mahogany
furniture, the reception-room in gold, the library with its golden oak outfit,
the weathered-oak dining-room suite and the bedroom with heavy brass bed,
complete lace bed set and bird’s-eye maple furniture.”

Pruyn, Vosburgh & Co.

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Another wonderful billhead from The Biggert Collection, this one from 1855 showing the venerable establishment of Pruyn, Vosburgh & Co., No. 39 State Street, importers of hardware.

In 1829, John Pruyn, hardware merchant, gave over his business to Lansing Pruyn, Isaac Vosburgh and Abraham Wilson.

In his 1866 “History of the County of Albany, ” George
Rogers Howell tells us that Isaac W. Vosburgh was born in Albany in 1801 to a
father of old Dutch stock and a Scots mother. He began his business career in
the hardware store of George Humphrey on State Street. “here he applied himself
assiduously to business and familiarized himself with the hardware trade as it
then existed.” The firm of Pruyn, Wilson & Vosburgh was formed, and
continued in business for more than thirty years, doing business at No. 39
State Street.

Their ad in the 1843 New York State Register advertised them
as importers of hardware, cutlery, steel &c. “Also, constantly on hand,
Ruggles’, Nourse & Mason’s superior Ploughs, of different sizes and
patterns, manufactured at Worcester, Mass. Together with Sub-soil and Side-Hill
Ploughs, Cultivators, Straw-Cutters, and other Farming Utensils.”

Included on this receipt: slates, pencils, brass kettles, thumb latches, fish hooks, and 3 (or 4) kegs of nails. These were sold for the princely sum of $28.09 to Jacob Settle, a merchant of Berne who is well-known and well-regarded in Amasa Parker’s “Landmarks of Albany County”:

Jacob Settle was engaged in mercantile business in Berne from 1812 to 1864, in which he was uncommonly successful. He was prominent in public affairs, held the offices of justice, supervisor, member of assembly, and was for thirty five years postmaster. It was largely through his influence that the plank road was constructed through this town from Schoharie, and connected with the Albany road. He was in every way a public spirited and valuable citizen.

39 State Street would have been about across from Jack’s Oyster House. The building is long gone, likely subsumed by the Museum Building.