Adam Blake, hotelier

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Kenmore Hotel

Many know the Kenmore hotel building as one of the handsomest structures on North Pearl Street, and local history afficionados probably associate it with Legs Diamond and the Prohibition-era novels of William Kennedy. Most probably don’t know that the legendary Kenmore, for decades one of Albany’s finest hotels, was built and operated by an African-American named Adam Blake, Jr.

Howell’s “Bi-centennial History of Albany” tells us that Blake was born in Albany April 6, 1830. “He was the richest and best-known business man of his race in this county. Mr. Blake received a Grammar School education. He was a born hotel-keeper. He took to it as a fish takes to water.” His father, also Adam Blake, was probably a slave of the patroon, later a restaurant waiter and was noted as one of the first depositors in the Albany Savings Bank, which opened in 1820. He was also called the Beau Brummel of his day, a noted master of ceremonies for Pinkster, an annual celebration by the African-American community of Albany.

Howell says that Blake Jr. started a restaurant on Beaver Street in 1851, then moved to James Street, and then to the corner of State and Pearl, before taking up the hotel business by becoming proprietor of Congress Hall, a noted hotel across from the old capitol, in Academy Park. That was in 1866, just a year after the Civil War had ended, and Blake ran Congress Hall until it was demolished in 1878 to make open space below the new Capitol. Blake took the proceeds and built the Kenmore Hotel, on the southwest corner of North Pearl and Columbia streets, which opened in November 1878. Blake achieved acclaim not only for his race but for the quality of the lodgings, and the Kenmore quickly and for many decades was known as one of the city’s finest. Seneca Ray Stoddard, whose guides to the Adirondacks were influential in the development of American tourism, listed only the Kenmore for those seeking lodging in Albany, and called it “First class in every particular.”
Blake died early, on September 7, 1881, survived by his wife and four children, and his wife continued to manage the Kenmore for some years.

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Steam Soap

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Steam Soap and Candle.pngAs we’ve mentioned before, once steam became a practical means of operating machinery, it was also the byword for everything modern and efficient (as electricity would be some decades later). We’ve written of steam typography, steam crackers, and now a steam soap and candle works.

Clinton Ten Eyck was one of Albany’s venerable Ten Eyck family, who were among the first settlers. His grandfather was a judge and State Senator who was a member of the convention that ratified the United States Constitution in 1787. His father was County Sheriff. Clinton, it seems, caught the mercantile bug and went into the soap and candle business at the corner of Chapel and Canal streets (Canal is now Sheridan Avenue). When this ad ran in 1886, making such products involved rendering animal fat, and his location on the edge of Sheridan Hollow makes sense — close to the downtown trade, but also close to the West Albany railyard, which at that time was still one of the largest stockyards in the country. Nearby were many meat processors (such as the legendary and long-empty Tobin’s First Prize factory), all of which would have made a ready source of raw materials for his modern steam soap manufacture.

No fancy or expensive wrappers to keep adulteration from showing! Adulterating soap with sand and clay was common at the time, to add weight without adding any cleaning value, at very little cost.

Hollywood on the Hudson

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Ironweed Filming

Sure, there’s been a lot of excitement over films being shot in Albany and Schenectady in the past few years, but were any of those film sets deemed worthy of being preserved on a picture postcard? This one was published in 1987, depicting the filming of “Ironweed,” with the following legend on the obverse:

A Break in the Action
The trolley car stands idly by after the strike scene from William Kennedy’s book ‘Ironweed’ has been completed. Three blocks of working trolley line were laid on Lark street for the trolley scenes. Many area items were borrowed for the filming to lend authenticity to the Ironweed era.

Uncle Sam Station

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Uncle Sam Memorial obverse

The United States Bicentennial was a very big deal, celebration-wise. I don’t know what kind of events were involved with the U.S. Bicentennial Philatelic Fair, but they did have a special postmark for Uncle Sam Station that was applied to this postcard of Uncle Sam’s Grave on April 4, 1976. I wish all my snailmail went out with an Uncle Sam Station postmark.

Uncle Sam's Grave

When the South Mall was called the South Hole

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Albany South Mall 1967.jpg

The shot I posted earlier this week of the Corning Tower under construction was hugely popular. Thanks to Marcia and her dad for another long-lost view, this one of the Empire State Plaza under construction in 1967.

The winding road in foreground is a little confusing, but I think it’s a detour of Madison Avenue. The “Furniture Transport” truck is at the corner of South Swan Street and, I think, Madison. (The building on the corner strongly resembles the building housing Townsend & Company, though it must have had some good renovations.)  Now many of the buildings along Swan and two streets are gone, made into the parking lot at Robinson Square. You can make out the red brick building that now houses El Mariachi, and further up Swan Street, the Wilborn Temple. The brick pile just this side of Wilborn, now a turnaround for the plaza and a small park, was the Normans Kill Dairy processing plant. I think those are milk trucks parked just in front of it.

On the left side of the Plaza site, you can see steel being laid for the Swan Street Building.  You can also see the wall and decking that would split Swan Street and raise the Plaza above the city’s level, making it inaccessible from the neighborhoods. To the right of that, you can see pilings being prepared for the agency buildings. I can’t determine where this picture could have been taken from; it’s a fairly high vantage point. Foreshortening makes it difficult to relate to the Plaza as it stands today.

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Ye Ancient Fire Laws

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Horse-drawn fire engine.png

According to a history of Albany produced for the bicentennial celebration of its chartering as a city, concern about fire was one of the first things taken up by the new government. On October 26, 1686, the Common Council ordered “That ye fyremasters goe about and visite each respective house in ye city to see if their chimneys and fyrehearths be sufficient, and also that care be taken that ye ladders and fyre hooks be upon there places and in repare.” (Conservative talk show hosts please note how government actually worked in your imagined glory days of our founders.)

In 1731, the first fire department was organized, with fire masters appointed by ward, and the first hand engine was bought the following year. In 1740, the first engine house was ordered built; in 1743, Robert Lansingh, Bernardus Hartsen and Michael Bassett were appointed to take charge of the engine in case of fire, for which they were to be paid annually six schepels of wheat.

A new fire engine from London arrived in 1763, the same year that the Common Council purchased forty-eight leather buckets; each alderman and assistant were the keepers of four buckets each, all of which were numbered. Any persons permitting their chimney to become foul with soot so that it should catch fire were to forfeit the sum of forty shillings; a reward of three pounds was offered for discovering a fire, and every householder was to have two leather buckets (brewers, tavern keepers and bakers were to have three) with the initial letters of the owner’s name marked on each bucket. In case of fire or any alarm it was ordained that all persons were to immediately “illuminate and set three or more Candles in their front windows until Day Light unless the fire or alarm was sooner extinguished or quelled.” At a fire, the fire engines and tools were to be under the care and direction of the mayor and recorder, the first two aldermen and the sheriff; “these officials had the ranking, placing and directing of the people to hand the water buckets at the fire.”

(By the way, the ‘y’ in “Ye” was not a ‘y’ as we understand it, but the letter thorn, which had a sound pretty much the same as ‘th’ — so pronounce it “the,” not “ye.”)

Albany Union Station

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Albany Union Station

Once upon a time (and until 1968), passenger trains rolled up the east side of the river and crossed the Maiden Lane Bridge to Albany’s Union Station. “Union” referred to the joining of two or more rail lines, in this case the New York Central and the Delaware and Hudson. (The elaborate headquarters of the D&H, which today stands as the headquarters of the State University of New York, was never a rail station.) This trackside view from early in the 20th century would now be obscured by the Columbia Street Parking Garage, but fortunately Union Station still stands. It served as office space for a succession of banks, but it is now awaiting its next use, which may be as a business incubator for the College of Nanoscale Science. Since the demise of Albany’s First Night celebrations, there haven’t been many opportunities for the public to see the magnificent interior of the building. Let’s hope that changes.

City Halls

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Albany buildings and halls 1905.png

Nowadays, if you want to put on a special event, a lecture or a dance, your choices are limited to the local hotels or perhaps a school auditorium. Back in 1905, the city of Albany was lousy with public gathering places, as evidenced by this list of buildings and halls. Every fraternal order and trade association had its own meeting place with an assembly room. While not every one on this list was open for public speechifying or lantern slide shows of adventures in the Congo, most of them were. Throughout histories of the city, we find endless references to education and entertainment at places like Jermain Hall, Tweddle Hall (which I simply must write about soon), and Centennial Hall. Odd that out of all these buildings, Public Bath No. 2 would be one of the longest survivors.

Mr. Lincoln in the Collar City

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Abraham-Lincoln-1865-400 Alexander Gardner.jpg

One hundred and fifty-one years ago, on his way to inauguration as President of a not-very-United States, Abraham Lincoln made a visit to Troy. Arthur J. Weise recounted the visit in “Troy’s One Hundred Years”:

“One of the memorable incidents of the year was the passage of Abraham Lincoln through the city, on Tuesday morning, February 19th, when going to Washington to be inaugurated president of the United States. In consequence of high water in the river great danger attended the plying of the ferry-boat between Albany and Greenbush, and as there was no other way of crossing the Hudson at that point it was deemed prudent to convey the president elect, his suite, and the delegations escorting him, by a train of six cars to Waterford Junction and thence on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad to Troy. Not less than thirty thousand people were in and around the Union Depot to welcome the eminent statesman. While the train was crossing the bridge between Green Island and the city, a detachment of the Troy City Artillery fired a salute of thirty-four guns. As soon as the cars entered the station, the cheering multitude began struggling to get near the coach in which Mr. Lincoln was seated. It was the last car of the train. A plank was laid from the rear of it to a platform car that was covered with matting and guarded by the Troy Citizens’ Corps. Mr. Lincoln crossed on the plank to the open car, and on it, the Hon. Isaac McConihe, mayor of the city, in a brief address, welcomed him to Troy and tendered him its hospitalities. The president elect, having courteously expressed his thanks for the honor paid him, was then conducted by D. Thomas Vail, vice-president of the Troy Union Railroad Company, to the Hudson River Railroad train; the rear car of which was entered from the one on which the addresses had been made. As the train left the depot, Mr. Lincoln, standing on the platform of the last coach, bowed with uncovered head to the multitude of cheering people.”

And how did the president-elect courteously express his thanks? With the brevity, humility and grace that would come to characterize his public speeches. The Troy Daily Budget reported his remarks as follows:

Mr. Mayor and Fellow Citizens of Troy, New York:—I
am here to thank you for this noble demonstration of the citizens of
Troy, and I accept this flattering reception with feelings of profound
gratefulness. Since having left home, I confess, sir, having seen large
assemblages of the people, but this immense gathering more than exceeds
anything I have ever seen before. Still, fellow citizens, I am not so
vain as to suppose that you have gathered to do me honor as an
individual, but rather as the representative for the fleeting time of
the American people. I have appeared only that you might see me and I
you, and I am not sure but that I have the best of the sight. Again thanking you, fellow citizens, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

The night before, at Albany’s Gaiety Theater, Don Rittner reports that Mr. Lincoln first laid eyes on John Wilkes Booth.