In April, 1779, a number of Albany inhabitants petitioned for the creation of a seminary under the protection, direction and care of the aldermen, who agreed and recruited George Merchant of Philadelphia to be the first principal. The academy opened November 16, 1779, in a house known as Vanderheyden Palace, near the southwest corner of North Pearl Street and Maiden Lane. In 1789, a writer looked back: “Seven or eight years ago a competent English teacher was scarcely to be found. Now we have an academy, which flourished under the direction of Mr. Merchant, a gentleman who has always given such proof of his abilities as to render encomium entirely superfluous.”
Another school was founded in 1812, known as the Lancasterian School because it followed the educational principles of England’s Joseph Lancaster. In 1817 the school of 400 pupils moved into a new building at Lancaster and Eagle Streets, built by order of the Common Council. It cost $23,918.93, could accommodate 450 students and “a large infant school,” and provided a residence for the principal. The Lancasterian school lasted until 1834; in 1839 the building became the first home of Albany Medical College.