The other Troy Armory, and the undetected corpse

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If you think of the old State Armory in Troy, you probably think of the one on the RPI campus, which is now known as the Alumni Sports & Recreation Center. It’s a big old brick pile in a fortress style, somewhat less decorative than some other armories of its day. But it had a much grander predecessor, down on the southeast corner of Ferry and River Streets. I don’t know when it was torn down, though today its location is a ’60s-vintage public housing project and a ramp to the Congress Street Bridge.

This beauty’s cornerstone was laid July 4, 1884 on the former International Hotel property. Arthur Weise reports, “The metallic box placed in the cavity of the corner-stone contained histories of the military companies present, a copy of the act appropriating the money to erect the armory, a lithograph of the building, a history of its site, copies of the city newspapers, and a volume of the History of the city of Troy, 1876, by A.J. Weise . . . . The building was completed and occupied in March, 1886.”

Weise goes on to give the history of the site, once the homestead of Jacob D. Van der Heyden and passed on to his son, Derick, in 1803, who removed the old ferry-house and built a two-story dwelling. Derick moved to the island of Santa Cruz in the West Indies “to recuperate his failing health, but he was not benefited by the change of residence, and died there, February 1, 1818. To transport the body to Troy on a vessel without detection, the corpse was suspended in a hogshead filled with rum. It reached its destination, and was transferred in one of the rooms of the dwelling to a coffin.”

That wouldn’t be the last corpse on the site. A third story was added to the dwelling and it took the name of the National Hotel. “A man and a woman, representing themselves as married, took rooms and board in the house. A week afterward they were found dead in bed with their throats cut. The unknown people explained in a note that extreme poverty had caused them to commit suicide.” Some years later, in 1866, it was renamed the International Hotel, and so it remained until was demolished in 1884 to make room for the new Armory.

The Cohoes Cataract

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I my self this last Summer, saw a Cataract, three Leagues above Albany, in the Province of New York, upon Schenectada River called the Cohoes, which they count much of there; and yet that is not above 40 or 50 Foot perpendicular. From these Falls also there rises a mighty Cloud, which descends like small Rain, that, when the Sun shines, gives a handsome small Rainbow that moves as you move, according to the Angle of Vision. The River at the Cohoes is to 40 or 50 Rods broad, but then it is very shallow Water, for I was told that in a dry Time, the whole River runs in a Channel of not more than fifteen Foot wide.

In my Journey to Albany, 20 Miles to the Eastward of Hudson’s River, near the middle of a long rising Hill, I met with a brisk noisy Brook sufficient to serve a Water-Mill, and having observed nothing of it at the beginning of the Hill, I turned about and followed the Course of the Brook, till at length I found it come to an End, being Absorb’d, and sinking into the Ground, either passing through Subterraneous Passages, or soaked up with the Sand; and tho’ it be common in other Parts of the World for Brooks and even rivers thus to be lost; yet this is the first of the Sort, I have heard of, or met with in this Country.

An Account of the Falls of the River Niagara, taken at Albany, Octob. 10, 1721. From Monsieur Borassaw, a French Native of Canada. By the Honourable Paul Dudley, Esq.; F.R.S.

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Who was who, Albany, 1900

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Someday soon I’ll relate the fascinating story of Dr. William Henry Johnson, a free black man who long ran a highly respected barber salon on Maiden Lane in Albany, from which he made contact with all the leading figures of abolition and the Underground Railroad. He led groundbreaking changes in New York State law, and worked tirelessly for equality for African-Americans. But for today, I just want to share his recitation, under the title “Business Notice,” of some of the leading businesses of the day in Albany in 1900.

John G. Myers’ princely department store on North Pearl street rivals anything of its kind here or elsewhere. Wm. W. Williams & Son’s is the place to find diamonds. A.B. Van Gaasbeek carries a first-class stock of mattings, oil cloth, rugs and carpets. Mrs. Harriet Chapman, 136 South Swan street, has one of the best and well-equipped boarding-houses. G.H. Mayer, 48 North Pearl street, deals in furniture and wall paper of every description. Talmadge, the Tailor, 42 Maiden lane, is first-class in every respect. Marsh & Hoffman, 79 to 83 North Pearl street, carries a fine stock of jewelry and bric-a-brac. Tebbutt & Sons, funeral directors, 84 and 86 North Pearl street. J.R. Nangle, 93 Second street and 67 and 70 Quay street, coal and wood dealer. For fine cigars and tobacco, “Payn’s,” corner Maiden lane and James street. Winchell & Davis, 504 and 506 Broadway, and 25 James street, wholesale wine and liquor merchants. Killip & Marks, 1 to 5 North Pearl street, carry a full line of men’s furnishing goods. The Cigar Smoker’s Headquarters is located at 23 Steuben street. The Thompson Cottage, 61 Hamilton street, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., first-class boarding, Mrs. Eva T. Marshall, proprietress. St. James Café, 6 James street, Peter A. and Fred P. Elliott, proprietors. W.H. Sample, 40 South Pearl street, carries a full line of cutlery. Jas. D. Walsh, plumbing and sanitary engineer, 40 Sheridan avenue. Frank Smith, druggist, Clinton avenue and Lark street. William E. Drislane, North Pearl street, carries a full line of groceries. White & Griffin, tailors, 523 Broadway. John Doyle, 12 James street, plumbing and draining. William Blasie, hot and cold baths, 389 Broadway. George A. Bailey, 112 State street, represents the Equitable Life Assurance Society, of New York. C.G. Craft & Co., clothiers, corner Maiden lane and James street. Henry Russell, the flour merchant, 42 State street. Walker & Gibson, wholesale druggists, 74 and 76 State street. The Ten Eyck is a first-class hotel, located corner Chapel and State streets. The Kenmore, on North Pearl street, affords first-class accommodations. Stanwix hall, corner Broadway and Maiden lane, does a large business. Keeler’s Hotel, corner Broadway and Maiden lane, is one of the finest hotels in the State, complete in every particular. Mr. Douw Fonda, of State street, carries a full line of drugs. G.W. Luther & Sons, anthracite and bituminous coal, 45 Columbia street. Chas. G. Stewart, The Travelers’ Insurance Company, of Hartford, Conn., No. 7 First street, Troy, N.Y. Garry Benson’s Turkish baths are fine, located on State street …

The Albany Business College is a good educational institute. Its methods of education is excellent and commendable. It is a treat to look in to Annesley’s Art Store, on North Pearl street. His accommodating assistants are most courteous gentlemen; none more so than Messrs. David Coleman and A.J. Boylan. The beautiful half-tone illustrations which grace the pages of this little volume is the distinctive work of the Albany Engraving Company, Maiden lane . . .
Captain Slattery’s Arcade Hotel is one of the best in the city. B.W. Wooster’s Sons’ furniture is commended to purchasers. Patrick Maher’s popular smoking and spellbinding emporium attracts general attention. Christopher Keenholtz is a most accomplished guide and lecturer at the State capitol. He will show you and explain everything appertaining to the State capitol without apparent trouble. “Jake” Doyle is a joker, but he does not know it. Gentlemanly Sam Mcalindin is a peach, courteous and accommodating. He has exclusive charge of William H. Keeler’s wine room. Charles Parrott is his first lieutenant. Miss Catherine Riley, principal cashier of that hostelry, is highly esteemed by the patrons of the restaurant. Miss F. Coughlin looks after the cash in the main dining-room. Happy William Stroby is ever present, and has general oversight. Frank Settley has charge of the ladies upstairs ordinary. George Taylor, the veteran, is the general superintendent at night, with Ed. Cooper who looks after the dining-room at night and Miss J. Lyons at the desk. Mr. Keeler is fortunate with the continuous service of his first hotel clerk, Mr. Dexter Brazil. There is no more competent gentleman for that position than he. Mr. Chas. Mann, who has general charge in Mr. keeler’s absence, is a thorough hotel man, and an adept in hotel and business technicalities. Young John Keeler, who is following close in his father’s footsteps, is studying the hotel business, and some day he will be a full-fledged hotel keeper. Bernard Quinn, the “Silver King,” of Maiden lane, is a study and knows all about books and stationery.

It does go on.

For more on William Henry Johnson, look here, here and here.

The Great Commoner loved the Ten Eyck

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Mr. William Jennings Bryan, whilst here the other night, said some good things about Albany, all of which we indorse. Our adopted city is all right and up-to-date, notwithstanding the census takers did not fully take the census here. Mr. Bryan spoke in general of our beautiful hotels, especially the Ten Eyck. He ought to have seen our Washington Park, visited the Pine Hills, promenaded on the Northern Boulevard, through the Rural and St. Agnes’ cemeteries, looked at the new City Hospital, entered and viewed the architectural beauty of the interior of the Capitol, witnessed the nightly drills of the Tenth Battalion, seen the Burgesses Corps on the Fourth of July march to the quick music of Gartland’s Band, in company front, on State street, reaching from curb to curb.”
Autobiography of Dr. William Henry Johnson, 1900

Knowlson’s Butter of Cocoa Suppositories

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knowlsons pharmacy.pngIn 1886, Arthur Weise proclaimed that Troy was home to about 37 places where drugs and medicines were sold. Among them, he gushed about the establishment of Alexander M. Knowlson at 350 Broadway. “He possesses one of the most attractive drug, medicine and prescription stores in the city. Spacious, well-lighted, tastefully furnished, it presents those admirable features comporting with the business which he has so long and successfully conducted. His first predecessor, Charles Heimstreet, began it at No. 10 State Street, in January, 1836.” Weise goes on through several ownerships and locations; Knowlson bought the business at 1 First Street in 1864 and moved to Broadway in 1871. “Besides having all the conveniences of a judiciously arranged pharmaceutical establishment, the store contains a large and expensive stock of drugs and medicines. Knowlson’s 4711 cologne, tooth-wash, aromatic dentifrice, glycerine jelly, quinine hair-tonic, and other special toilet preparations sustain the high commendation bestowed upon them. In the prescription department the best and finest drugs are used, and the compounding of them is done only by registered pharmacists. In the manufacture of butter of cocoa suppositories by the cold process, which secures an equal distribution of the medicinal ingredients, Knowlson’s patent suppository machine is used. Being equal in weight and uniform in shape, the Knowlson suppositories are superior to those differently made. The mineral waters of Saratoga can be obtained on draught at the store in the natural condition in which they were taken from the different springs, being hydrostatically drawn from block-tin lined barrels by an automatic apparatus devised by Prof. D.M. Greene of Troy. A.M. Knowlson also has for sale an exceedingly large collection of choice and rare roses and other cut flowers from numerous green houses in the vicinity of Troy and New York City. His command of any number or kind of flowers is almost unlimited, and persons desiring any for weddings, receptions, dinners or other entertainments, can obtain them at short notice by leaving orders at the store or by transmitting them by telephone. Bouquets and floral designs are made by an artist specially employed by him for such work.”

The building is long gone, on the Broadway side of the Uncle Sam Atrium. Several across-the-street neighbors of similar style remain, however.

Albia seems like it should be in a palindrome

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Able was I ere I saw Albia? Albia is a neighborhood of Troy that is a vital little urban fragment, the right mix of homes and shops, a neighborhood that seems to get by. Weise’s 1886 “The City of Troy and its Vicinity” has a listing for Albia:

“Albia, in the fifth ward, is about 2-3/4 miles southeast of the court-house. A map of the village was made in February, 1813, by William McManus. In Spafford’s Gazetteer of the State of New York of 1824, Albia is described as ‘a scattered village of some 40 houses and about 200 inhabitants, 2-1/2 [miles] from the city, in the 5th ward.’ The Albia Cotton Factory was then ‘an extensive and growing establishment, having 1,700 spindles and 30 water power looms in operation, with a bleach.’ Below Albia village was ‘another bleaching establishment,’ where cloths were ‘bleached, dressed, callendered and neatly done up for 6 cents a pound, 1 to 2 cents a yard, on common cotton goods.’ The Pawling Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, the Third Presbyterian Church, and the Troy & Albia Horse Car Company’s depot, are on the north side of Washington Street. The engine house of the Hope Steam Fire Engine Company, No. 7, is on the south side of the street, near the Grist-mill road. Horse cars run to Albia half-hourly in the day-time from the intersection of Congress and River streets.”

Albia’s Hope No. 7 firehouse remains as a community center.

Yes, Virginia, there was a City Hall

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Troy seems to be an anomaly these days, a city without a permanent city hall. For years it was in an atrocious ’70s style concrete abomination, now torn down to make way for riverfront redevelopment. For now it’s in a different atrocious ’70s style concrete abomination, with plans to move it back to Monument Square. There has been much squabbling in the interim. Squabbling about City Hall seems to be a long-standing Troy tradition.

This beautiful structure was once Troy’s City Hall, at the southeast corner of Third and State. It was also the product of much squabbling. The first city hall, authorized in 1869, was to have been a joint venture with the Troy Savings Bank, which would have owned the building jointly with The City-Hall Company of the City of Troy. That project was abandoned when the Savings Bank decided to build a banking house on the northeast corner of Second and State Streets. It’s still there today, of course.

Mayor Edward Murphy, Jr., in his first message to the common council in 1875, said “If there is any public building our citizens need, it is a city-hall.” There was then a movement afoot to purchase the Athenaeum Building for the purpose, which Mayor Murphy opposed. He preferred the site of a former burial ground at Third and State then held by the Vanderheyden family. “the land was originally donated to the city for a burial-ground, but as it is now no longer used for that purpose, it seems to me to be a most eligible location for the erection of a suitable public building to be known as a city-hall.” The common council went the other way, ordering a special committee to buy the Athenaeum Building on First Street, in which the city already had offices. The mayor vetoed the $60,000 purchase. The council seems to have acquiesced, for shortly after, on May 21, 1875, an act was passed authorizing $120,000 for a new city hall. The Third Street Burial Ground was selected in June, and architectural plans adopted in July. The remains of 208 persons were removed to Oakwood and other cemeteries at the expense of the city during the summer, and the cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1875. The building was completed and occupied in October, 1876.

Arthur Weise relates the details: “The edifice is 150 feet long and 83 wide, built of Philadelphia pressed brick, with sand-stone and iron trimmings. The common council chamber, on the second story and north end of the building, is 60 feet long and 40 wide. The public hall, on the same story, at the south end of the building, has a gallery, and will contain 1,100 people. The total cost of the city hall, including its site and furniture, was $119,761.61. The clock was placed in the tower, August 1885.”  The clock represented an additional expense of $1,300. Made by the Howard Watch and Clock Company of New York, it began running August 21, 1885. “The east and west dials are 8 feet in diameter; the north and south, 6 feet. The dials are illuminated at night; an automatic attachment turning the gas on and off at set hours.”

City Hall burned down in 1938. For the next three decades or more, Troy continued to exist without a real city hall, sharing space with the police and fire departments on Sixth Avenue. The old site became Barker Park. Other sites were proposed and abandoned. In the early 1970s, when Troy had a city manager, a new building was constructed at the west end of Monument Square, right along the river. That was torn down this year. City government is currently housed in a similar concrete and brick abomination, the former Verizon telephone building, which is supposed to be a temporary solution.

Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar

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Frear's in the Cannon Building

William H. Frear, at Cannon Place, has the personal distinction of possessing and conducting a larger retail dry-goods business than any merchant in a city of the United States of the same population as that of Troy. The patronage of “Frear’s Troy Bazaar” is not wholly local, for its fame attracts customers from all the cities, villages and rural districts of Eastern and Northern New York, Vermont, and Western Massachusetts. The people daily thronging the spacious salesrooms of the well-regulated establishment are not the only evidence of the magnitude of its business. More than twelve thousand letters and packages are received and transmitted monthly through the post-office. Four, and sometimes eight, wagons are engaged in delivering goods to purchasers in the city and its vicinity. From two hundred and fifty to three hundred persons are employed in the different departments of the large store. The annual cash sales of the retail departments exceed $1,000,000. The main salesroom, on the first floor, has a frontage of 100 feet on Washington Square, and a depth of 119 feet. The part extending to the Second Street entrances has a width of 44 feet and a depth of 130 feet. On the second floor are the cloak, shawl and suit departments, the upholstery department, and the kitchen furnishing department. On the Second Street third floor is the counting room. In the basement are the goods-receiving, the carpet, and the wholesale departments. In February, 1859, William H. Frear came to Troy, and, on March 1, entered as a salesman the dry-goods store of John Flagg, at No. 12 Fulton Street. On February 11, 1865, he and Sylvanus Haverly formed the partnership of Haverly & Frear. On March 9, that year, they opened a dry-goods store at No. 322 River Street. By articles of agreement drawn on January 29, 1868, John Flagg became a copartner on March 16, 1868; the firm taking the name of Flagg, Haverly, & Frear. On April 9, that year, the firm occupied the store-rooms Nos. 3 and 4 Cannon Place, vacated by Decker & Rice. On January 2, 1869, Sylvanus Haverly withdrew, and the firm-name was changed to that of Flagg & Frear. On the expiration of the partnership of Flagg & Frear, on March 1, 1874, William H. Frear came into possession of the business. In 1875, ’76, ’80, and ’84, he enlarged the establishment by renting and refitting adjoining rooms, so that at present he occupies Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Cannon Place, and Nos. 13 and 15 Second Street.
     — “The City of Troy and Its Vicinity,” Arthur James Weise, 1886. 

Of course, Frear’s later moved from the still-standing Cannon Building up to Third and Fulton, where its palatial home with the magnificent iron staircase still stands.