Friday, January 29, 2010

The Missing Viaduct

A few months ago, I blogged about the flights of stairs leading up from Sheridan Hollow. Pictured above is the unused flight leading up to a weed-covered gate near the Erastus Palmer house on Columbia Place.

Very near this set of crumbling steps was the old Hawk Street viaduct. This pedestrian bridge, considered an engineering marvel when it was completed around 1890, spanned a thousand feet over Sheridan Hollow to connect the neighborhoods around the Capitol to the northern part of the City.

The viaduct is long gone. I've only seen it in photos on old postcards. As of the early 90s, a small remnant of the south abutment was supposedly visible near these stairs. Even that seems to have vanished, apparently beneath the parking garage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

City Hall Lion

When I was little, security in public buildings was not as rigorous as it is now. I remember when we could enter City Hall from any door, including this one on what is now Corning Place (I think it was part of Maiden Lane before it was renamed to honor the late Mayor Erastus Corning).

I was a fairly observant child - I've been told that, as a toddler, I brought a court room to an abrupt pause when I suddenly noticed the ornament atop a flag pole, and said, "Eagle!" Everyone, including the judge, stopped to see what I was pointing at.

But, as observant as I was, I never noticed this heavy carved lion's head guarding the Corning Place doors of City Hall...until now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Philip Livingston

The recent news about the planned sale of the old Philip Livingston school building reminded me that I photographed this plaque not too long ago.

The plaque commemorates the birthplace - Livingston Manor, long since gone - of Philip Livingston, a New York delegate to the Continental Congress and Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The plaque is affixed to the wall of a building at the corner of State and Pearl Streets, once known as Elm Tree Corner. Now, it's home to a bank and one of my favorite places...a Starbucks coffee shop.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Old Industrial Buildings

Sometimes, I don't really have anything to say about a particular photo. There's no relevant history, just a view that catches my attention.

That's the case with today's picture, an old industrial building along Broadway just north of the Port of Albany. It's just an aging brick structure with multi-paned windows that caught my eye during an unintended detour a few years ago (as in, the person driving took a wrong turn). There's nothing very distinctive about it, except perhaps the rusty old loading doors with a tangle of wires hanging from a pipe above. A building nearby has a small rail trestle running into similar doors and that may have been the case here, too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Bit of Random Junk

Tucked along the Normanskill Creek under the Delaware Avenue bridge that connects Albany with Delmar, there is a delightful walking trail.

This area, at Albany's southern edge, has a history dating back to pre-colonial times; evidence of Native American encampments has been found along this part of the Normanskill. In the 17th-century, water rights along the creek were leased to a Dutch settler and the rushing waters provided power for small mills.

The walking trail passes landmarks such as the ruins of an ice house and sawmill from the early 19th-century, the Whipple Bridge (the oldest steel bridge in the country), the well-preserved 19th-century Normanskill Farm, a community garden, a real yellow brick road (see my Albany NY History blog about the road)...and this random piece of old farm machinery, slowly rusting in the underbrush along the stream.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Castle

There is a castle tucked in a corner of Washington Park near the lake. I can still remember my first sight of it, too, late on a November evening.

While I grew up very close to the park and spend many afternoons on its playground, I rarely ventured west of the lake's pretty iron bridge and had never seen this castle before. In the cold November twilight, it looked fascinatingly a local pied-a-terre for Count Dracula.

Designed by Ernest Hoffman (who also designed the former firehouse which is now home to the Steamer 10 Theatre where Madison and Western Avenues meet) in the early 1890s, the house of granite was built for an inventor named Charles La Dow. Unfortunately, tragedy struck La Dow's family not too long after they moved into the Thurlow Terrace "castle." His son died of asphyxiation, possibly from a problem gas fixture in his bedroom. Less than ten years after the house was finished, La Dow himself died suddenly on Central Avenue. The house was acquired by the Hunt family in 1910.

The castle has a ghost, too, though I've yet to read the details. A recent article in the Times Union referred to the haunting in the upper tower as having been verified by a local spiritualist. I don't doubt that the place has a ghost or two.

The building housed a law firm in recent years, but currently stands empty. And it's for sale. Despite tragedy in its early history, I love the place with its hidden passages, imposing stone, and gorgeous woodwork inside. But the price is just a bit too high for me!

Friday, January 22, 2010


I'm not one to complain too much about the weather or seasons. I find a lot to like in all the seasons and weather has its purpose.

That said, sometimes winter seems terribly colorless. White snow, gray days, salt-bleached streets.

Any splash of color is welcome. Such as the berries on this tree growing in the below-street-level courtyard of an apartment for senior citizens on Central Avenue.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From My Personal Archive

One of my favorite places to explore is the Albany Rural Cemetery out in Menands. It's almost 500 acres and there are historic graves at every turn of its winding roads and paths. I especially love the wooded ravines with hidden waterfalls and neglected vaults set into hillsides.

In the 19th-century, the Rural Cemetery was not only famous as a burial place, but as a peaceful park to take a stroll or carriage ride. Guidebooks were even published to highlight the many beautiful monuments and famous graves.

One of my favorite works of art in the Rural Cemetery is the renowned Angel At The Sepulchre by sculptor Erastus Palmer. My other favorite is the statue picture above. It's a small figure, very easy to miss...especially when the grass and weeds are high. The photo was taken about ten years ago and my notes are now missing, but I recall this was the grave of a little child named Rufus Van Antwerp.

The statue is quite worn by the elements and it's been some time since I've seen it in person. In the spring I mean to go back and see just how its fared.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Closer Look

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the northern entrance to Washington Park facing Henry Johnson Boulevard is one of Albany's most recognizable pieces of public statuary. I, for one, have passed it at least once a week for much of my life and written about it in a previous post.

But, like so many familiar sights, there are many details lost to the casual observer.

It took a closer look on a recent gray morning for me to notice some of those details such as the star on the statue's sash and the figures sculpted on the sword's scabbard.

This monument, by the way, was the work of Hermon Atkins McNeil, best known to coin collectors for designing the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Underground Railroad

This sign in the parking lot of the Israel AME Church on Hamilton Street between Lark and Dove Streets always brings me back to my grade school days when we learned about the Underground Railroad. Or were supposed to learn about it. As with too many subjects, it was a name or a date skimmed over quickly and we were on to the next lessons. Certainly there was no mention of our very own local ties to the network that helped Southern slaves escape to the free North in the years prior to the Civil War.

The Underground Railroad Workshop web site which works to recognize local sites affiliated with the Railroad gives a brief history of this here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Street Art

Last month, I blogged about a vault light cover embedded in the sidewalk along Lancaster Street between Lark Street and Washington Park. A second look revealed that almost all of the elegant matching brownstone houses along this blog had these "sidewalk illuminations" set in the pavement out front.

The houses along this block were built between 1888 and 1889 by James Eaton who was heavily influenced by H.H. Richardson, the architect who designed City Hall and with whom Eaton had worked during the construction of the State Capitol.

Local legend says that the stones for these buildings were salvaged from the old State Capitol designed by Philip Hooker and demolished in 1883.

Most of the vault lights are in poor condition, with only two retaining most of the lovely purple prisms which first caught my eye. Some are filled in with cement, leaving only the metal frame.

Such is almost the case with the one above, near Waldorf Tuxedo on the corner. But here, there are colorful glass marbles pressed into the cement, along with the year 1975 and initials.

Monday, January 11, 2010


One of the most notable facades along lower State Street in Albany is that of the Bank of America, founded as the New York State Bank. Incorporated in 1803, it was one of the first banks in the young nation and the architect commissioned to design its headquarters was Philip Hooker.

Hooker was one of the leading architects of his era and his designs were a prominent part of Albany's 19th-century streetscapes.

Other surviving Hooker buildings include the former Albany Academy for Boys building in the center of Academy and Lafayette Parks, the Dutch Reformed Church on North Pearl Street, and 96 Madison Avenue. Number 2 Elk Street and the Fort Orange Club on Washington Avenue are also attributed to him.

Hooker works now gone include the previous structures of City Hall, St Peter's Episcopal and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, and a number of private homes.

Here on the old New York State Bank facade, one can find the cornerstone carved with his name, somewhat ignominiously half-obscured by an ashtray.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Centennial Hall

When I was a very young child, this building at the corner of Pine and Lodge Streets housed Albany's Family Court and was, for various personal reasons, a place that I dreaded. In fact, for many years, I would avoid even looking at this lovely Romanesque Revival building at all. I would try not to pass it and looked in any other direction when going to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church on the diagonal corner.

Fortunately, I'm well over my distaste for the building (and the Family Court has long since moved elsewhere) because it is a handsome structure of pale gold brick and white stone.

Built in 1898-99 as a school (and convent for the teaching nuns) for nearby St. Mary's, it was called Centennial Hall in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the first Roman Catholic Church in Albany (see the previous post on St. Mary's).

For the past two years, the building has been undergoing extensive restoration work to convert it into housing and offices for judges. The Times Union has an article details some of the renovations here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stating the obvious

I spotted this bicycle rack outside the College of St. Rose's Picotte Hall Art Center on State Street just east of Lark today. A true case of form indicating function, the tubular metal rack is itself a simple, stylized bike.

Though I have to add it's far too cold for riding bikes doubt why the rack was unused.

Monday, January 4, 2010


My great-uncle used to live down in Sheridan Hollow when I was very little. His house there is long, long gone; a fire destroyed the building and a parking lot now occupies the corner.

On a short cut through the old neighborhood this past autumn, I passed that corner for the first time in years. The asphalt paving had crumbled away to reveal a surprisingly elegant pattern of bricks beneath.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pointing the way

The Schuyler Mansion is one of Albany's oldest houses and best preserved. And, like the Ten Broeck Mansion across town, I will awkwardly admit that I have never actually visited it...unless you count a brief stroll across the grounds just before closing time one evening.

The handsome brick home of General Philip Schuyler was host to a number of famous Revolutionary War-era figures, from General Burgoyne to the Marquis de Lafayette. Originally called The Pastures, it was built ca. 1761. In the late 19th century, well after passing from the Schuyler descendants' possession, it housed an orphanage. It was designated as an historic monument in 1917 and is now a museum.

This sign is one of several pointing the way to the Mansion. Located not too far west of the old Pastures at the corner of Delaware and Morton Avenues, it is currently lying on its side by the Lincoln Park tennis courts as the area has been in the midst of a major street reconstruction project.

For more information on the Schuyler Mansion:

Friends of the Schuyler Mansion
Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site

I also want to take a moment to wish a very Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog and once again invite anyone with an interest in local history to please visit my fledgling companion blog, Albany NY History