Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's fun to stay at the....


Yes, I'll admit it, The Village People are one of my guilty pleasures. Their July concert was the most fun I've had at Alive @ Five in a long time.

And I'll admit that I only recently realized this gorgeous building on Pearl Street was the original location of Albany's Y.M.C.A.. I've passed it many, many times, but always knew of it as the now-defunct Steuben Club and now the home of the new Pearl Street Pub.

The building was built in the 1880s and designed by the architectural firm of Fuller & Wheeler. The turret on the southeast corner was topped with a conical roof, now lost. The side entrance on Steuben Place is especially handsome with its imposing Romanesque sandstone arch.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Angels On High

The Angel Gabriel atop the 175 ft. spire of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church is one of the most recognizable features of the downtown Albany skyline.

Not only is the Angel quite a lovely site from any angle, it's also a working weather-vane.

St. Mary's is one of the area's oldest churches having been founded in 1797, but its history goes back to a 17th-century Dutch barn that previously occupied the lot at the corner of present day Lodge and Chapel Streets. When St. Isaac Jogues escaped from his first captivity among the Mohawks, it was at that barn (Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary, was killed by Mohawks a few years later).

This beautiful building is not the original St. Mary's, but the third. The first was built in 1797 and its original cornerstone is preserved in the current sacristy. The second church was built in 1808 by Albany's leading architect Philip Hooker and its original corner stone is preserved in the current sacristy. When that building and the Marquis de Lafayette attended Mass there during his visit to Albany. The current building was erected under the supervision of Father Clarence Walworth.

History of St. Mary's

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bicentennial plaques

In 1886, as a part of Albany's bicentennial celebrations, almost fifty small plaques were installed at sites of historic significance around the city.

Unfortunately, over the years, many of those plaques have vanished. Some may have been stolen, others simply lost when moved to make way for new buildings or repairs.

This one, affixed to the Old Post Office at the corner of Broadway and State Street is one of the surviving plaques and one of my favorites because any reference to a burial ground or cemetery will get my attention.

One missing plaque that I would love to locate is the plaque that was placed at Arch and South Pearl Streets to mark the location of the underground Beaverkill. I've made two trips to the intersection, hoping to find it, but I assume it was moved and misplaced when the streets were repaved.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter In The Beaverkill Ravine

For the past several months, I've been blogging about the gully in Lincoln Park and the underground Beaverkill which can be glimpsed through a grating within the gully. I'm not quite sure why this spot fascinates me so, but it simply does.

So, of course, when I passed the gully on the way to Walgreens recently, I just had to venture inside and see how it looks in the winter. I didn't go too far into the ravine this time, only because I wasn't wearing boots and the snow looked rather damp towards the middle. But I could still hear the rushing of water from the Beaverkill tumbling through the culverts under that mundane-looking metal grate...and, as always, there was a subtle haunting feeling to the place.

Click below for my posts about the Beaverkill...I will be writing more soon. And, despite the cold, Sunday's peek inside probably won't be the last this winter.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Cheer

I tend to be fairly tradition in my Christmas tastes, but I have to admit that the annual Santa Speedo Sprint has quickly become one of my favorite holiday events.

Held on Lark Street (of course), the Sprint is a charity event and just crazy fun with costumes ranging from hilarious pun intended...racy.

Check out their official site.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Going Nowhere

I've passed by this little alley with its drab brick arch and increasingly rickety wooden staircase almost every day of my life. And, while I've always been one of those "Oooh, I wonder where that leads" types, I've never had to wonder about this small passage.

It goes absolutely nowhere. The stairs ends with nothing...just an opening in mid-air. Wisely, the owners of the property blocked that opening with some wooden bars because it would only be a matter of time before some adventurous kid or fuddled drunk seeking shelter tumbled through.

The stairs are a part of the brick building to the left, a handsome 1880s school now converted to apartments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A One-Dimensional Neighborhood

When I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I recall a bit of a mania for painting murals on the sides of buildings and otherwise unadorned walls. Most of the murals are vague memories for me, with the exception of the one closest to my house. I remember white silhouettes of dancers in mid-leap set against bars of blue on the south wall of Justin's Restaurant at the corner of Madison Avenue and Lark Street.

Most of the murals from my childhood are long gone. The one picture above, if I recall correctly, came somewhat later. It decorates a wall in the parking lot of the McDonald's on lower Central Avenue and, well, it's not in the best of shape. The paint is still bright, but peeling in places...and graffiti has made its appearance on a number of the panels.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A surprise on Lancaster Street

I spotted this small, but very distinctive manhole-like cover on Lancaster Street between Lark Street and Washington Park just this weekend.

It was those round cabochons of purple glass that caught my eye. Rather fancy for an apparently utilitarian metal lid in a sidewalk, though it matches rather nicely with the matched row of brownstones lining Lancaster Street. Of course, some of the glasses are one place, there's just a dark hole. A few yards away, there is another cover with a similar metal design that did not include the glass.

The edge of the cover reads Jacob Mark Worth Street NY. And there is a patent date...1873.

A quick bit of research over my morning coffee turned up a little information on this company. These are called "illuminated covers" or "vault lights" and they were intended to bring light into basements and other below-ground chambers with little or no other light sources. The rounds of purple glass are actually prisms which direct the light into the undergrounds spaces.

Vault lights were first patented in 1845 and were later used to bring light to early subway platforms. They are much more common - and there are much larger specimens from a variety of makers - scattered around lower Manhattan. There are examples of Jacob Mark vault lights on Hudson Street and Duane Street in Manhattan. Knowing me, I'll probably go out of my way to find them on my next trip down to the City.

But, for now, I'm rather curious why a small vault light was installed on a quiet street in Albany...and just what was originally illuminated by those amethyst-colored prisms.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ten Broeck Mansion

I'm quite ashamed to admit that, despite a lifelong love of local history, I've never actually visited the Ten Broeck Mansion (or the Schuyler Mansion across town...or Cherry Hill). Maybe it's because, when I was growing up, no one brought be there due to the tough reputation of the neighborhoods surrounding each of these historic homes. Maybe I just never got around to going.

Whatever the reason, I mean to make up for lost time next year. Consider it one of my New Years visit all three of the above sites.

The photo above shows the Ten Broeck Mansion on the high ground above the street of the same name. The house was built in the late 1790s when the land was actually part of the Township of Watervliet and leased from the Patron, Stephen Van Rensselaer. Originally called Prospect because of its excellent views of the Hudson River just north of Albany, it was later called Arbour Hill...a name that extends to the surrounding neighborhoods to this day.

Click here to visit the Ten Broeck Mansion's site.

(And be sure to check out the wonderful photos of the interior and gardens)

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've already blogged about this building, an old truck garage at Warren Street between Lincoln Park and Arch Street. For a utilitarian structure, it has a sort of grim elegance...and I love the star-shape of the wall supports on either side. I've seen decorative wall supports before, usually on very old houses. But these are the first stars I've seen and they're a charming touch on a very simple building.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Retro Lunch

This sign on James Street just off State Street keeps catching my eye, though I'm usually distracted by the nearby Bank of America with its elegant Philip Hooker facade and the gorgeous former Mechanics & Farmers Bank building on either side of the intersection.

I've found very little information on this restaurant. The spot has been vacant since 2002, though I'm not sure whether the last lunch shop operating there was the original K.W. Savory or just continued with the catchy name. Apparently, the place at one time could claim to be Albany's first salad bar...and homemade ice cream is always tempting enough!

But the stylish retro sign is the real attraction now. I think I like it because, for me, it calls to mind a time when my great-aunt worked downtown at such businesses as Albany Associates and Reuben H. Donnelly Corporation.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Early in this blog, I mentioned that I'm really fond of the details one finds on older buildings, even simple utilitarian structures often surprise me with them.

This strip of tile is one of two pairs flanking two narrow windows on either side of an entrance to a building at Maiden Lane and James Street.

The decorations caught my eye this afternoon because they combine blue with two of my favorite colors, green and purple and, while I'm not much of a make-up wearer, I suddenly have the urge to visit the local Sephora!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gone The Way of The Buggy Whip

This shabby brick building on Spruce Street just of Sheridan Avenue is certainly a relic of a different era. The painted sign on the east facade announces the availability of horses for sale or exchange. It recalls a time when horses and the vehicles they drew were still the primary way to travel or move goods around the city and when parts of this area above Sheridan Hollow were used for stables for the elegant houses on Elk Street and Washington Avenue above.

A couple of wealthy 19th-century families even pastured cows for fresh milk here.

The horse business in Albany has gone the way of the proverbial buggy whip, of course, but there are visible remnants of it here and there. In some downtown neighborhoods, carriage houses have been renovated into modern dwellings, but still retains original features such as the beams used to hoist hay bales into lofts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An invitation

Let me just take a quick break from taking and posting photos to invite you to stop by a new blog I've created - Albany (NY) History.

The introductory post there should explain it all, but essentially, the response to the more historic items on this blog has been strong and I'd like to be able expand on that. So, I'm creating this new blog as both a companion to this and a stand-alone focusing on history.

Please join me there...and suggestions are more than welcome!


End of Season

Well, this is it...the end of autumn. Not officially, of course. Winter is still a few weeks away. And we've been spoiled by some very nice warm days this November. But now it's getting colder and a little gloomier.

This is one of the pools forming part of the World War II Memorial located between the New York State Museum and the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception. The pools have been drained for the winter. The pipes which, in warmer weather, create turbulent waters symbolizing the chaos of war, are bare and exposed. And these leaves have settled neatly in one corner.

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon. This morning, I saw the first snowflakes. Just the lightest dusting, but as I said on Facebook...snow is snow.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The James Farm

For the past couple of years, I've used a little shortcut that runs parallel to Delaware Avenue between community garden behind the Hackett Middle School and the McDonald's parking lot on Holland Avenue. I've used it more since Walgreens opened next to the McDonald's over the summer.

And whenever I've passed through this quiet "cut," I've always had this feeling that there was something about the place. I wasn't sure exactly why I felt that way...until this past week.

I knew that William "Billy" James, the founder of a very prominent New York family and grandfather of novelist Henry James, owned property in the area of Delaware Avenue.

A young Irishman, James settled in the still predominately Dutch city of Albany in the late 18th-century and eventually owned a farm close by what his literary grandson called "the far-off Beaverkill." His farm stood close to what is now the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Providence Street, just across from the Lincoln Park tennis courts and only a few yards south of the gully which contains the last remnants of the Beavekill.

About a week ago, I was running an errand on Delaware Avenue (and resisting the urge to go explore the gully again). I paused to take a photo of the street sign on Providence Avenue...and that's when I made the connection. The wooded shortcut picture above was once part of the James' farm.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Down In The Hollow

This is the view west along Sheridan Avenue just above North Pearl Street. This street was once the bed of a stream, the Fox Creek or Vozenkill. After the stream was moved underground (not unlike the Beaverkill across town), the area known as Sheridan Hollow was built over with small, shabby flats and the area became one of 19th-century Albany's slums.

The area became home to immigrant families, mostly new arrivals from Ireland. Unemployment in the Hollow was estimated at 20%. Despite a then-modern sewer created when the Vozenkill was buried, sanitation was poor and many of the houses relied on privies. Water- and sewage-borne diseases such as cholera were all too common afflictions. Overcrowding was so extreme that an 1850 census showed 84 people (from less than twenty families) living in only three two-story homes.

The area remains very shabby to this day. A hotel and upscale restaurant (Yono's at the right of this photo), a nice cafe (the Victory) do well enough at its eastern most end. But venture up the street - past the gloomy bulk of the old ANSWERS incinerating plant and a small assortment of industrial buildings and parking facilities for the State offices on the hill to the south - and there's very little to see. Just rows of abandoned wood-frame row houses with boarded windows and NO TRESPASSING signs. The area was rough enough around the edges when I was a child and my favorite great-uncle lived on Sheridan Ave. at South Swan. But it's gone down since then.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Endless Ascent

These steep stairs are one of three flights of stairs leading up - or down - to Sheridan Avenue. One flight runs down from Columbia Place near the house of Erastus Palmer. That one is now gated and overgrown with weeds at the top. The one above is the middle set and runs down from Swan Street. My great-uncle used to live at the foot of this set when I was small. The next flight is part of the parking lots below Elk Street.

When I was very young, these stairs were quiet derelict and scary. The steps were cracked, choked with weeds, and had a reputation for being dangerous. They've since been repaired and, while they're still slightly seedy at times, they're greatly improved.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Theatre Row

There's not a great deal to write about this particular photo. Aside from history, theatre (specifically Broadway musicals) is one of my biggest interests. So, when I saw this street sign on Sheridan Avenue, I just had to take a photo of it.

Also, since it is Thanksgiving, I want to just say a very sincere thank you to everyone who has been reading, following, and commenting on this blog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

City Limits

In 1986, during Albany's Tricentennial celebrations to mark 300 centuries since the signing of the Dongan Charter, a line in the colors of Albany's flag appeared on downtown streets. The line retraced the boundary of the stockade that enclosed Albany in 1686.

The heavy wooden fence ran from the Hudson River on the east and close to the current path of Maiden Lane on the north side and, on the south side, roughly parallel to modern Hudson Avenue near the parking garages and post office. Fort Albany marked the western end close to today's Crown Plaza Hotel at Lodge Street.

This artist's rendering gives a good view of how Albany would've looked at the time of the Charter.

Albany certainly has grown since the signing of the document which, in effect, created it as a city.

The commemorative lines on the sidewalk have all but worn away in the part twenty-three years. There's one piece on State Street a half block up from the Crown Plaza, near where Fort Albany (and, later, Fort Frederick) stood. The portion in the photo is at the rear of St. Peter's Episcopal Church just off Lodge Street.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rail Remnants

Trains were long a vital part of Albany's culture and economy. You could say that people here were, in a sense, "early adopters" since the country's first chartered railroad had its starting point near the junction of Madison and Western Avenues. Prominent families such as the Cornings amassed fortunes in the rail and related industries. Trains were a vital part of the West Albany stockyards, bringing in cattle from western states. Passengers trains departed from the handsome Union Station until the 1960s. Freight trains still haul goods in and out of the Port of Albany.

There are plenty of obvious reminders of the railroad heyday, both the commercial and the passenger lines. The Union Station is still a visible (though again vacant) part of Broadway, weathered old rail bridges can be seen here and there. On cloudy days, the sound of train whistles sometimes carries as far as my house near Lark Street.

This very short stretch of track goes nowhere...emerging from the gravel in a litter-strewn lot across from the old U-Haul Building on Broadway just north of the Port.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Coming Back

I haven't been able to update the blog for some days due to a computer problem. Good news, everything is fixed and posts will resume shortly. In the meantime, an ornamental face on one of the large urns flanking the steps at the western edge of Capitol Park, just opposite the Alfred E. Smith Building on Swan Street.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Most Albany residents are familiar with the monument at the Henry Johnson Boulevard (formerly Northern Boulevard, but renamed to honor a WWI hero) entrance to Washington Park.

The most common view of the monument is from the front - a bronze maiden holding a sheathed sword, her arms laden with palm branches. But that view doesn't show the handsome details of the marble base, such as the Union soldiers shown above.

While it's commonly called the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, its official name - according to a nearby plaque - is the Albany Veterans Memorial. Dedicated on October 12, 1912, it was rededicated in 1986 as part of Albany's Tricentennial celebrations.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting Ready

This past weekend was unseasonably warm and I took a walk in Washington Park to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon.

A crew was in the Park installing some some of the displays for the annual "Capital Holiday Lights." The annual winter event is a colorful drive-through exhibit of holiday-themed lights which benefits the Albany Police Athletic League.

I have to admit I've never actually driven through the Holiday Lights. Mainly because I don't drive and because I live so close to the Park that I see the whole display every time I go for a walk.

But it is quite pretty and I do highly recommend it, especially for kids.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Perched high on the facade of 74 State Street are three rather stern-looking faces atop stylized winged bodies which overlook the busy block below and are probably overlooked by the scores of people passing below.

74 State is a particularly handsome building on lower State Street Hill between Green and North Pearl. It was built for offices in 1910 and originally known as the Kinney and Woodward Building. Recently renovated as a hotel, their site gives a good summary of the structure's history and some remarks by Albany author William Kennedy. Click here to read.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lost In The Wilderness - Part Five

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the Beaver Kill Ravine.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Aside from the presence of the old brick and stone culvert giving a glimpse of a rushing river beneath the Lincoln Park gully, my other favorite feature of the Beaverkill ravine is the stone. The north and south walls of the gully are lined with heavy gray-black outcroppings of truly ancient bedrock.

According to a geology report in a 1930 bulletin from the New York State Museum, the stone is "Snake Hill shale" which it describes as a "dark, argillaceous, intricately folded and crumpled, as much as 3,000 feet deep."

According to the same 1930 report, there are very few places around Albany where this ancient bedrock lies exposed. I've seen similar stone along the Normskill near Delaware Avenue at the City's southern boundary. The other location given in the bulletin is a spot called Black Rock Cut, somewhere along the old NY Central Tracks near Tivoli Lake.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Random Cow Sticker

The Delaware Avenue section of Albany has been quite chaotic in recent months with a massive street reconstruction project tearing up the sidewalk and road. Walking it is a real chore, but driving it seems even worse. So, I'd rather avoid it for now. But, while running errands the other day, I took a break near St. James Church and Key Bank...and spotted this colorful cow sticker on a fire hydrant near the benches.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nickels, Dimes, and Quarters

If you're on North Pearl Street, look up at No. 15. Way up, above the modern Rite-Aid sign and just below the roof, you'll see gray terra cotta medallions with the Roman numerals V, X, and VV5. They give a hint to the building's original use. It was built in 1937 to house a S.S. Kresge store where, rather like Woolworth's famous "five and dime," merchandise sold for a nickel, a dime, or a quarter. Let's just say the current occupant is a bit more expensive than that!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Goblin's Passage

Tucked on the side of the massive flight of steps on the east side of the New York State Capitol is a pair of wooden doors. If you peer through them, you'll see a dim, dusty space piled with vague bulky shapes that appear to be old lamposts and other indistinguishable architectural bits and pieces. And, beyond them, a patch of light from an identical pair of doors on the far side of the stairs.

It's called The Goblin Passage and was apparently meant to allow an easy short-cut from one side of the Capitol stairs to the other. It's obviously been unused - aside from its current storage purposes - for years.

While I grew up close to the Capitol and had toured it many times, the Goblin Passage was something I didn't notice until I saw an exhibit of black & white photos highlighting the building's richly-detailed architecture. I have to admit that I saw this exhibit shortly after seeing Labyrinth and, well, I was quite thrilled to learned our Capitol had its own Goblin Passage.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Past Life

Certainly most people who live in Albany - along with a good many people who just pass through on 787 - are familiar with the U-Haul Self-Storage Building at 139 Broadway. It's hard to miss a building with a full-sized moving truck slowly rotating on the roof!

But probably far fewer people see the ornate evidence of the building's previous incarnation. If one ventures down to this otherwise gloomy-looking southern stretch of Broadway, one finds this beautifully ornamented entrance on the building's western facade, a side that would have once faced a very busy thoroughfare.

The original sign above the door announces that this was once the Albany Hardware & Iron Company, a business that actually had its origins in the 18th century and supplied items ranging from axe heads and bird cages to scales and food choppers to firearms.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pizza Memories

As far as I can recall, my very first taste of pizza came here at Jonathan's when I was quite small.

Two other pizza shops stand out in my early memories - Jack's American Pie on Delaware Avenue and Mr. B's in Colonie Center. Both Jack's American Pie (with its window full of jade plants) and Mr. B's (with its hard orange booths and little coin-operated jukeboxes at each table) are long gone now.

Jonathan's is still here on North Pearl near Maiden Lane, though there is a For Sale sign in the window. I don't eat downtown often, but still stop at Jonathan's for a slice or two every now and then. The interior has changed a little, but it's still the dark-paneled familiar shop where I had my first slice of hot, cheesy pepperoni pizza.

And it's still crowded with downtown office workers at lunch time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The House On The Roof

If you stand near the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the Henry Johnson Avenue entrance to Washington Park and looks upward towards State Street, you'll find what appears to be a very old house perched atop the roof of a 13-story apartment building.

An odd sight. It really looks as if someone took a farmhouse from Albany's past, lifted it up into the sky, and set it down intact on this rooftop overlooking the Park.

Not quite. It's actually the housing for the apartment buildings elevator equipment. Rather mundane after all. But it was deliberated designed to look like a colonial Dutch dwelling when the hundred-unit apartment building was constructed in the 1925 as an annex to the rear of 397 State Street, a striking 1880s brownstone by City Hall's architect H.H. Richardson.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sculptor's House

Erastus Dow Palmer is my favorite artist and no doubt a subject I'll be posting more about in the future. The gallery of his sculptures is, for me, the highlight of the collections at the Albany Institute of History & Art (not that I don't love the mummies there, too) and more than worth the price of admission.

My first exposure to his work came over twenty years ago on a trip to the Albany Rural Cemetery. I remember hearing some passing reference to an especially fine angel statue there, but I wasn't really looking for it and I didn't expect to be that impressed by one angel in a cemetery full of fascinating monuments. And I didn't actually know where this angel was located within the cemetery. But my late great-aunt (who somehow put up with my interest in history and let me drag her from Tarrytown to Ticonderoga and all sorts of places in between) was looking for the Corning family plot because she used to work for the late Mayor Corning's brother.

And, just across from the Corning plot, there was this angel. A white marble figure in the center of its own circular plot. It was Erastus Palmer's Angel At The Sepulchre. Even though the stone was eroded and covered with some sort of lichen from well over a century of exposure to the elements, it was still a very beautiful and moving work of art and it began my ongoing interest in the sculptor.

I knew his second Albany house was long gone, but I'd read that his first house and studio still stood on Columbia Street. However, I made several trips up and down that steep downtown street and found nothing that matched the description of Palmer's residence.

Then I realized what I'd read was wrong. It wasn't Columbia Street, but Columbia Place. And I knew just where that was. More than once, I'd noticed an old house tucked in a corner behind the foot of Elk Street. But I'd never really gone over and looked at it.

Sure enough, it was Palmer's house. Locating it at last was rather like finding a Holy Grail of area history for me. OK, the fact that I found two dollar bills on the curb nearby was nice, too.

Click here to read more about Palmer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Set In Stone

For some reason, I'm very fond of stone. Stone houses always catch my eye, whether they're simple early American fieldstone farmhouses or ornate Gothic mansions like Lyndhurst in the Hudson Valley.

And I like walking on stone...whether it's the old strip of flagstones that passes for a path in my backyard or the mellow cracked white marble sidewalk running through parts of Manchester, Vermont (the latter always reminds me of giant Ivory Soap flakes). Mind you, I'm the sort who wears hiking shoes every day so I don't have to worry about catching my fashionable high heels on rough paving blocks and twisting an ankle.

These stones are part of the main platform of the Empire State Plaza. They surround a black granite marker near the Plaza's north side, not far from the black and white cobblestone arrangement I've previously posted about (see Waves of stone)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Imposing Presence

Located across Washington Avenue (but by no means overshadowed by) from the ornate bulk of the New York State Capitol, the old State Education Building is one of Albany's most recognizable buildings. It's impossible to miss that stately row of massive marble columns. In fact, it is said to be one of the longest load-bearing colonnades in the world.

I grew up hearing about the old State Museum which was housed in this building until the 1970s when it relocated to the Empire State Plaza on the far side of the Capitol. Mostly, I heard about the Iroquois diorama and the Cohoes Mastodon. The Mastodon's skeleton is now on display near the newer (and much more accurate) Native American diorama at the modern State Museum and the stuffed effigy is (when last I looked) located in the lovely old Cohoes Library. (Click here for some more details on the Mastodon...and some photos of its former home in the State Education Building).

I've only been inside this building a few times when I was quite young. It was well after the Museum moved, but I remember seeing some links from The Great Chain which stretched across the Hudson River at West Point to prevent passage of British ships during the Revolutionary War and what appeared to be a replica of the Liberty Bell.

I recently read some accounts of a ghost which haunts the sub-basement of the State Education Building. Supposedly, a laborer working on the foundations of the building vanished one day. His personal effects were found and it was assumed he'd fallen into the excavations, but his body was never recovered. It's said that this man's ghost makes his presence known in the building's lowest levels. I don't know if there's any truth to the tale, but it certainly corresponds to family stories I'd heard about a worker or two falling into and being entombed in the concrete as the building was constructed.

The State Education Building was constructed by the Rochester firm of R.T. Ford between 1908 and 1912. It was designed by the Paris-trained architect Henry Hornbostel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Last Rose

This is probably one of the last roses I'll see this year (not counting the cut ones in florist shops). Autumn has arrived, the weather is quickly turning cold and gloomy. But a few roses are still in bloom in the little park on the east side of the Capitol and the bee in the photo above is obviously making the most of the final few roses of the season.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Quick History Lesson

Albany is dotted with plaques and signs and markers which, if passers-by actually notice and stop to read them, give brief lessons about the City's long history.

This plaque is fixed to the exterior wall of City Hall, just inches from the sundial I previously blogged about. Dedicated in 1924 as part of a commemoration of the tricentennial of the first permanent Dutch settlements in Albany, it gives a short summary of the City's earliest days as a remote trading outpost on the shores on the Hudson River and lists some of Albany's earliest names...Fort Nassau, Fort Orange, Rensselaerwyck, The Fuyck, Beverwyck, and Williamstadt.

The family names of the citizens who sponsored this plaque also read like a local history lesson...Van Rensselaer, Vrooman, Pruyn, Lansing.

One of them was Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice and I highly recommend her sister's memoir, An Albany Girlhood by Huybertie Lansing Pruyn Hamlin. It lacks literary polish, but it is an enthusiastic and detailed account of upper-class Albany life during the late 1800s and Alice P. Kenney's end-notes are full of historic information to flesh out Huybertie's recollections.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Elms

This NYS historic marker stands just in front of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Western Avenue and notes that it was once the site of The Elms and home to a man who played a key role in the development of the Adirondack Park.

Verplanck Colvin (1847 - 1920) was the son of an Albany lawyer and raised just across the Hudson River in the village of Nassau. When he was eighteen, he received a book from a local poet, Alfred Billings Street. Street's works are largely forgotten today, but he was quite famous in Albany during the Civil War era for his enthusiastic and patriotic verses about the Union and for his numerous poems honoring the natural beauties of the region. The book that Street gave to young Colvin was his own Woods and Water, a memoir of a journey he'd made through New York's Adirondack Mountains.

The book obviously inspired Verplanck Colvin. He spent the next few summers exploring the Adirondacks and, by the time he was twenty-two, he had already conceived the idea of a formal geological survey of the mountain region.

By 1872, he received a $1000 stipend from New York State and was appointed Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey. At the head of a 100-man crew, he led expeditions to Mount Marcy and the source of the Hudson River (Lake Tear-of-The-Clouds), Seward Mountain, Panther Gorge and, in the process, became keenly aware of the need to protect the region from the ravages of industry.

He became an advocate for the creation of a state preserve to safeguard the Adirondacks for the sake of the environment and the economy. His work and numerous writings eventually led to the formation of the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1885.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hudson River Day Line Office

If this building on Broadway wasn't so distinctive, it would be completely eclipsed by the adjacent Delaware & Hudson and Albany Evening Journal (now SUNY offices) building with its lacy Gothic trim and elegant spires.

Built in 1907 and designed by architects Charles G. Ogden and Walter van Guysling, it housed the ticket offices of the Hudson River Day Line. The Day Line provided transportation between New York City and the Albany area and it was considered one of the most successful passenger steamboat services of its era.

The charming building with stucco walls and baroque gables originally stood 100 feet to the north along Broadway, but was moved with the massive Delaware & Hudson Building was constructed.

The building has housed a succession of restaurants since the 1960s. I remember one was called L'Auberge, though I never ate there. The building has been been dark for a while, but a sign I spotted a few days ago announces that it's re-opening next month.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Beaver Kill Ravine - Part Four

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the Beaver Kill Ravine.

A combination of books and old maps, including one dating back to 1790 helps to trace - approximately - the original route of the Beaver Kill.

The lost river begins its course much further uptown near the present Albany High School campus. When I was a student there, I remember catching a glimpse of running water beneath a storm drain in the main courtyard and I now wonder if that might have been some part of the Beaver Kill.

From the school's vicinity, the stream would have flowed east roughly between Washington and Western Avenues until turning somewhat southward near Quail Street. From Quail, it continued east down Elberon Place and through what is now Washington Park where in now forms part of the lake.

From the eastern end of the Park lake, the stream would have flowed south along New Scotland Avenue before veering sharply to the east beneath modern Myrtle Avenue. The old Albany Penitentiary once stood near the current sites of the Veteran's Administration Hospital and Hackett Middle School.

Across from Hackett, the stream flowed through the Lincoln Park ravine shown above - one of the last visible features of the Beaver Kill - and continued east through the future site of the Park before crossing Broadway at Arch Street and flowing into the Hudson River near the present U-Haul Building.

In the 1880s, a plaque was placed in a curb at the corner of Arch and Broadway noting that the Beaver Kill - "an ancient waterway now arched over" - once flowed through that area of Albany's South End. A cursory exploration of that intersection a few weeks ago turned up no trace of the old plaque. I wasn't surprised that I could not find the plaque since the area has been rebuilt and repaved many times over the decades, but I was still a little disappointed.

To be continued...

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Five
Winter In The Beaver Kill

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Hudson River

The Hudson has been getting a lot of attention in Albany lately. 2009 marks 400 years since the explorer Henry Hudson (an Englishman sailing for the Dutch) navigated his ship, The Half Moon, up this river.

It's the stuff of history classes. The Hudson was a key to the settlement and development of Albany...a vital part of transportation and trade for centuries to come. And the name Hudson is everywhere...businesses, streets, buildings bear it proudly.

Albany "lost" much of its Hudson River waterfront with the construction of 787 with its labyrinth of ramps, roads, and overpasses. But a century earlier, prominent local citizens had already objected to the loss of access to the River with the building of the handsome Delaware & Hudson Building on Broadway at the foot of State Street.

Now, the Hudson is all but invisible from most parts of downtown, but access has been restored through the creation of the Corning Preserve and Albany Riverfront Park, as well as a pedestrian bridge that connects Maiden Lane with the Preserve.

The above view of the River was taken from the Preserve earlier this summer.

Today, there will be a Quadracentennial celebration called Hudson River Fair down at the Riverfront Park. If I can ever pry myself free of this computer, I'll be there.

For more information on the Fair, see

Friday, September 25, 2009

World War I Memorial

Albany is dotted with all sorts of monuments and memorials. This is one of those monuments that I have always known was there...yet didn't really know what it stood for.

This graceful maiden with her palm frond and olive-entwined sword stands on the lawn of the Capital District Psychiatric Center at the corner of New Scotland and South Lake Avenues. I've noticed it a hundred times since childhood and even sometimes romped around the little playground just yards away. But until this summer, I never knew what this monument stood for.

The olive branch and palm - symbols of peaces, of course - are quite common on war memorials and hint at this one's purpose. But, from the front, one can't tell exactly who or what it commemorates. You have to venture around to the back to find the inscription on the sarcophagus-like base.


The inscription doesn't specify which World War, but a small carving near the maiden's right foot offers an explanation. It gives the sculptor's name - Attilio Piccirilli - and a date of 1923.

World War II was still some years away and I suppose that, at the time the monument was dedicated, World War I was indeed very fresh in the minds and hearts of Albany's citizens.

Attilio Picirilli, by the way, was an Italian-born sculptor of some note. Coming from a family of artists, he was responsible for the Maine Memorial at New York City's Columbus Circle, the Fireman's Memorial in New York's Riverside Park, busts of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe in the Virginia State Capitol, and sculptural elements for the Frick Mansion, Rockefeller Center, the Wisconsin State Capitol, and a number of other public or civic buildings.

A short bio of Picirilli gives the official name of the monument here in Albany - The Mother's War Memorial.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Telling Time

I'm rather fond of sundials. Not that I've ever really had any occasion to actually use one. I did have a small one that I bought as a souvenir at some Revolutionary War site, but I never took the time to figure out how to align it, how to take into account daylight savings, and all those little details. So it basically ended up as an awkward paperweight.

This sundial is mounted just outside the window of the Mayor's office at City Hall. It's probably not noticed by the scores of people who move in and out of City Hall on a given day. The sundial is just around the corner from the main entrances and most people are preoccupied with whatever business brings them there in the first place.

The inscription on this century-old sundial gives the exact latitude and longitude of the finial atop City Hall's tower and notes that the exact time at the 75th meridian (Albany, as the plaque indicates, is on the 73rd) is 4 minutes and 58.8 seconds slower than "Albany Local Time."

How precise!

I have to admit that my high school lessons on latitude and longitude are long since forgotten, but I rather like the idea of "Albany Local Time."

The plaque itself was placed in 1897, during John Boyd Thacher's tenure as Mayor of Albany. His name reminds very familiar to local residents since it was given to the State Park in the Helderberg Mountains just south of the City. Thacher is buried in a handsome vault in the Albany Rural Cemetery. The mausoleum features a red stained glass cross patterned after those on Christopher Columbus' ships; Thacher was the author of a two-volume book about the explorer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Enter The Kenmore

The former Kenmore Hotel occupied a gorgeous Victorian Gothic building on North Pearl Street. Built in 1876-1878 by architects Ogden & Wright, the building still stands, now used for mixed commercial space.

The Kenmore's first proprietor was one of Albany's most respected African-American residents and a noted hotelier, Adam Blake, Jr.

I've only been inside the old Kenmore once. During one of Albany's First Night celebrations on New Year's Eve, the old Rainbo Room upstairs was open for some music and dancing and I went up to take a peek at the place where big bands once played...and where the notorious gangster Legs Diamond once partied.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plaza Wall

This won't be the first or last time I say that I'm not fond of modern architecture. It's simply not my cup of tea.

But I won't say that I dislike the stark white marble-and-glass design of the Empire State Plaza. Perhaps it's because I grew up almost in its shadow and, since it was in its final stages of construction right around the time I was born, it just seems to me as if it's always been there. So I tolerate it, despite the fact I don't care for the architectural style.

This curving white wall stands on the eastern side of the Plaza's upper level - just opposite The Egg and near the the windowed structure that formerly housed The Sign of The Tree restaurant. The dark windows behind the wall are part of The Corning Tower.

The Sign of The Tree closed some years ago and nothing has replaced it yet, but tables and chairs sit and wait as if the restaurant were ready for diners.

The unadorned wall is quite in keeping with the rather futuristic look of the whole Plaza. I could easily imagine a scene from a sci-fi movie playing out on this little terrace, but at the same time, there's also something very ancient about the simple white contours.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Bung Factory

This 1850s building along Jefferson Street always stands out with its painted sign to announce its original purpose.

S. Kampf & Son manufactured the cork stoppers used to seal barrels and casks. The biggest customers for these cork bungs would have been Albany's breweries so the location of this factory couldn't have been better. Only a few very short blocks to the south stood the only Hinckel Brewery overlooking the Beaverkill and another brewery once stood just blocks to the north on Dove Street.

Given the popularity of beer and the well-established presence of breweries in 19th-century Albany, S. Kampf & Sons would have had a lucrative business until the rise of aluminum barrels replaced the wooden ones and ended the need for bungs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Almost Gone

I wasn't expecting this.

I'd set out with my camera for Beaver Street south of Eagle to see if there were any visible remnants of the previously photographed Elks Lodge, the gutted structure behind the crane. Not much to see there, but next to it - to my surprise - was an old house. A brick house with cheerful moss-green paint still on its window frames.

The house must have been completely hidden for almost a century. The front of it appears to have faced Eagle Street where it would have been completely enveloped by the handsome DeWitt Clinton Hotel which was built in the 1920s. The north side of the house would have been blocked off by the Elks Lodge and adjacent structures on State Street, and the side shown here would have been obscured by buildings on Beaver Street which were torn down only recently as part of the ongoing stabilization and demolition of buildings in the Wellington Row parcel.

I don't know how old the house is, though, or from whom it was built. And I have to wonder why it was never demolished sooner and, instead, left standing and enclosed as other buildings rose around it.

It's probably gone already. When I poked my camera through the fence to take this picture, demolition had already begun on this long-forgotten house.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Something about this brick house with understated understated brownstone trim on Ten Broeck Street has always caught my attention.

I'm not sure why it's always been the one that stands out for me. It's not the most ornate building along that row of handsome 19th-century homes, nor is it the only one with boarded windows and look of neglect. And, so far, I haven't been able to find much about this house's history.

There's just something haunted and haunting about the place.

On a recent stroll over Ten Broeck Street, I caught an unexpected glimpse of bright sunlight shining through a gap near the padlocked door. I tried peeking through and, while I couldn't see much, I realized that this elegantly austere facade is just that...a facade. There is little or nothing behind those covered windows.

A second round of hasty research turned up a short history of the location here:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Medieval Grace

Albany has many beautiful and historic churches and the Episcopal Cathedral of All Saints has always been one of my favorites.

It was built between 1884 and 1888 and designed by Robert W. Gibson. To tell the truth, the location (tucked right behind and mostly overshadowed by the the old State Education Building) and the brick front facade aren't terribly impressive at first.

But's magnificent and has real feel of being inside a much, much older English cathedral...which makes it a perfect place for the Medieval Faire (one of the delights of my pre-teen and teen years).

The handsome Potsdam sandstone interior is full of gorgeous detail from the hidden carved trilobite near the doors to the carved choir stalls to an exquisite rose window. Some of the funding for the interior work came from J. Pierpont Morgan.

The cathedral is also the burial place of Bishop William C. Doane and his wife. Doane was a true driving force behind the building of this church and it was fitting that he was given special permission to be interred there.

Two planned Gothic towers were never built and the simple facade was added in 1971.

My favorite views of All Saints and the ones which really have that medieval Old World feel are along Elk Street where the above picture was taken.

Their site is under construction, but Wikipedia has a good article on All Saint here.

P.S. This year's Medieval Faire will be held on October 24. I just might be there.a

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coulson's News Center

Coulson's is a familiar sight to anyone who frequents downtown Albany, particularly lower State Street at Broadway. For as long as I can remember, it was a place where we'd stop for the Sunday Times Union after Mass at Saint Mary's. These days, I sometimes stop in for coffee or something cold to drink after events like Alive@Five.

The News Center occupies the first floor of a 1814 building, built by a New Englander named Spencer Stafford, hardware & stove dealer - a gilt stove hung over the door. Hardware and saddlery firms sold their goods on the ground floor, upper floors housed manufacturing space.

Looking up at the fifth floor (added in the 1850s), you can see the pulley and doors through which merchandise was hoisted. Originally, each floor had such a bay. And, if you look along the north wall, you can see the ghost marks of a round window and the original gabled roof from 1814.

Coulson's has been in business since 1940s and a brass plaque on their threshold appears in a previous blog entry.