Albany’s Angel of Mercy

almshouse
The Albany Almshouse, ca. 1920

In 1892, William P. Letchworth, a leading figure in the reform of New York’s care for the poor, in an address to the State Board of Charities, related the following incident of thirty years past:

“On a cold, raw day, a sad-faced woman left the door of the Albany City Almshouse. As she directed her steps toward the city, and drew her fluttering garments closely about her, she thought that the piercing winds from the Helderberg Mountains were not more chilling than the administration of public charity.  This woman was not a pauper, but was of a good family and possessed of some means with which she freely aided others.  For years her energies had been specially directed to saving and comforting the sinful and sorrowing that had drifted into the forlorn places of this world.  In pursuing her benevolent work she visited the Albany Almshouse, and was shocked at the state of things she found there.  It was the old story – utter indifference to sanitary laws, promiscuous association of the young and old of both sexes, disregard of the rules of common decency, brutal treatment, dirt, cold, foul air, putrid meat, insufficient clothing, etc.  Miss Elizabeth Knapp (for that was the visitor’s name) remonstrated earnestly with the keeper against these abuses.  He responded by shutting the door in her face and forbidding her ever to enter the place again.”

In a series of events apparently still well known at the time of Letchworth’s address, Miss Knapp surreptitiously gained admittance to the Almshouse as a pauper and reported her experiences while there. “A sharp controversy followed,” Letchworth continued, which ultimately resulted in reforms at the poor house and the choice of reform-minded individuals at the next election.  Letchworth credited these events with the establishment of the State Board of Charities, which he considered to be a great advance in the care of the indigent.

Of the incident involving Miss Knapp, apparently still well known in 1892, I have been unable to find any further details. But there is a good deal of evidence of her energies in “comforting and saving the sinful and sorrowing.”

On August 25, 1853, the Albany Evening Journal reported a shocking event – “INFANTICIDE – The body of an infant a few days old was found in the corner of the fence around Kane’s Walk yesterday. It had, apparently, but recently been abandoned by its inhuman mother.”  I can’t help but think that this awful event served as an impetus for Elizabeth Knapp, for less than three months later, in the Evening Journal, is the first reference to Miss Knapp who made an ‘appeal for fixtures’ for her “Retreat” adjoining Kane’s Walk on South Pearl Street.  The place, later known as Miss Knapp’s Juvenile Retreat, or more commonly as “The Ragged School,” was to be a place of refuge for abandoned children, personally run by Elizabeth Knapp and a few volunteers.  It consisted of a residence and school for “little orphans, who, but for the unrelenting care of this truly philanthropic young lady, would be begging and starving on the streets.”

ragged-schhol
Victorian-era English Ragged School

Elizabeth Knapp was born in 1818, the second of four children born of Mary Haring and Hubbell Knapp. Hubbell was a Connecticut Yankee who married into a very old Dutch family, eventually living at 51 Hamilton Street, a property deeded to the couple by Mary’s parents.  Hubbell was the master of the sloop Syren, which plied the waters of the Hudson between Albany and New York for the Commercial Line.  (Hubbell also lived for a time after his wife’s death at 50 Hudson Avenue, recently demolished.)  Hubbell was active in Whig politics; Elizabeth’s parents belonged to the Second Dutch Church, although Elizabeth herself became associated with the Episcopal church at some point.  Elizabeth was graduated from the Albany Female Academy with the Class of ’37.

The Juvenile Retreat was established at 181 South Pearl, a block above Kane’s Walk, the small private park where the infant had been abandoned in 1853. The building was referred to as the ‘old Salem Dutcher’ place. The building is still extant.

181-s-pearl
181 South Pearl Street

Throughout the 1850’s, Miss Knapp’s Juvenile Retreat was a popular beneficiary of the city’s charitable giving. Funds were received from the annual “Old Folks’ Concert,” which also passed along funds to the Orphan Asylum, the Home for the Friendless, and the Dorcas Temperance Society, among other good causes.  St. Paul’s organist George William Warren seems to have given frequent benefit concerts at Association Hall for Miss Knapp’s Ragged School.  In November 1857, a subscription was organized by the members of the Albany Exchange for the purchase of 20 barrels of flour to meet the needs of the forty children then resident at the Retreat.  The ‘ladies of the city’ organized a fair in 1860 at the Board of Trade for the Retreat’s benefit.  In that same year, the Legislature was moved to appropriate $1,000 to pay off the Retreat’s mortgage.

Beyond fundraising, there were other ways to support Miss Knapp’s work. In 1858, the Ferry Street Methodist Episcopal Sunday School organized an annual excursion to Newton’s Hook (‘a most lovely place’) for children from the Orphan Asylum as well as from Miss Knapp’s Ragged School.

Despite the community support, Miss Knapp struggled to provide for the children’s needs. At the beginning of 1861, she reported that while the Retreat had brought in $1570 during the previous year, expenses had been $1590. As the idea of debt was ‘intolerable’ to her, she announced that she would close the Retreat, “the failure of means is God’s sign, to which I have uniformly referred, as marking the period of suspension.”  The receipts she reported for 1860 are interesting in their own right: $260 for groceries, including cornmeal, butter, rice, beans, molasses, etc.; $100 for bread; $60 for milk; $15.30 for gas; $17.62 for coal (beyond what was donated); for shoes $15.  Miss Knapp continued at the school, so it seems that the crisis was averted for the time being.  There were surely other gifts in kind as well.  A Mr. Featherley of the Central Market was recognized as a leading benefactor for providing, over the course of several years, a supply of fresh meat on two days of each week.

The continued need for the Retreat was made apparent in February 1862, when it was reported that an eight month old girl had been left at the doorway of Mrs. Knapp’s Ragged School at 181 South Pearl Street. Neighborhood children said they saw two women in a sleigh drop the baby off and then head toward Ferry Street.  This particular child was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Fanyou, being the third foundling taken in by the couple.  In March of the same year, another infant was left abandoned in the doorway.

But in spite of the continued need for the Retreat, by December 1864, Elizabeth Knapp had left Albany. It’s not clear where she moved, but there is a reference to her being in Hyde Park, Massachusetts in 1884.  Nor is it clear why she left, although ‘lack of means and failing health’ were cited years later..  There is no reference to her being married.  The Retreat seems to have been in a somewhat precarious financial situation in the 1860’s.  Miss Knapp’s father Hubbell had died in 1862.  Perhaps he was a key source of financial and moral support, the absence of which became unbearable for Elizabeth.

In any event, Albany was left scrambling to fill the gap left by Miss Knapp’s departure. A Miss Carpenter, who already worked at the Retreat, took charge, at least in the short term.  Apparently, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church tried to take the Retreat under its aegis, but it soon became apparent that the congregation could not support the work.  In 1864, there was organized the Orphan’s Home of St. Peter’s Church.  It took charge of fifteen children formerly of ‘Miss Knapp’s School.’  It remained incorporated as the Albany Juvenile Retreat until 1876; the location was moved in 1865 to 59 Chapel Street.  In 1864, St. Peter’s appropriated $1,700 for the support of its “Orphan’s Home.”  The rector of St. Peter’s served as the president and governed it together with a board of female managers who supervised a matron.  The institution was to accept girls only, who were ‘indentured’ to the Home until the age of sixteen.  The girls were to be trained in housework and sewing.

There is no further mention of Miss Elizabeth Knapp until 1896, when the City Directory lists one Elizabeth Knapp boarding at the Home of the Friendless at 553 Clinton Avenue. In March 1898, she died in the Home for the Friendless, what the Evening Journal called a ‘travesty of fate.’  There were still many of her children “who today in their maturity ‘rise up and call her blessed.’”  “In her old age, she yearned for her native city, the scene of her early labors, and she returned here to die among friends in whose hearts the memories of her blessed work were still living.”  An obituary called her the ‘loving mother who never forgot her children.’  It also noted that “before she slept her last sleep one of the children she had raised sat beside her until her eyes closed.  To wake up and behold the heavenly vision of the little ones who shall welcome her into the Father’s house.”  Her funeral services were held at St. Peter’s Church.   Miss Elizabeth Knapp is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.

grave-at-albany-rural
Grave at Albany Rural Cemetery

 

Advertisements

The Mysteries of Maiden Lane

1670-1659-map
Map from 1659/1670

Maiden Lane is an Albany street one could easily overlook. But it is one of the oldest streets in the city.  Yet, its origins and the source of its name are shrouded in mystery.

The oldest map of Beverwijck, the stockaded community that grew up adjacent to Fort Orange in the early 1650’s, is usually dated to 1670, although one source dates it as early as 1659. The map shows only two named streets, Joncaer Straet, which is today’s State Street, and Rom Straet, the forerunner of Maiden Lane.

Rom Straet had its origins, apparently, as a bear track, the most direct route from the heights of today’s Capitol Hill to the Hudson River. Another early map, from 1698, shows a small stream running down the center of Rom Street.  The foot of Rom Street was the location of the earliest ferry to Greenbush.  Rom Street also terminated at the so-called Western or Schenectady Gate of the palisade surrounding Beverwijck, later Albany.  A trading post was also located at the head of the street, adjacent to the palisade.  As such, it served as an important ‘short cut’ for traders and Indians alike seeking to do business with each other.

1698-roemer-map
1698 Roemer map

The origin of the name ‘Rom’ for this street is unclear. While usually understood to denote rum, a liquor popular in the Indian trade, and plentiful enough during the Dutch tenure, this was not in fact the Dutch word for rum.  It may, however, have been a corruption of the Dutch word, which was ‘rum,’ just as in English.  Still, while rum was indeed sold to the Indians who came to Beverwijck to trade, the sale of alcohol to the Indians was totally illegal until the late 1670’s, and it seems unlikely the town fathers would have dignified that trade by naming a street after it.

It has also been suggested that ‘Rom’ might be a corruption of the Dutch word ‘rong,’ meaning ‘rung,’ as in the rungs of a ladder. The steep slope of this narrow thoroughfare could have suggested a ladder to the early settlers.  Still another suggestion is that it is a corruption of the Dutch word ‘rond’ or ‘round,’ which in Holland, was occasionally the name given to streets which bypassed a more significant street.  In any event, it is not at all clear how Rom Straet received its name, though it seems to have received its name from the town’s very earliest days.

With its capture by the English in 1664, many of the streets of Albany began to receive new names. Yet, as late as 1716, the Common Council still referred to the street as Rom Street, when it authorized repairs on it.  The first reference to Maiden Lane appears to be in the Common Council minutes from 1725, when it is mentioned in conjunction with the ferry slip at its foot.  By this time, Maiden Lane was largely “a service street providing access to the backyards of prominent homes on State, Market, and Pearl streets, containing sheds, stables, and some modest residential buildings.”1

The origins of the name ‘Maiden Lane’ are also somewhat mysterious. One possibility is that it was simply a name adopted from a street name in New Amsterdam/ New York.  Maiden Lane was the name given in 1712 to a street just beyond the palisade surrounding New York.  During Dutch rule, it was a path frequented by washerwomen, known then as T’Maagde Paatje (‘the Maiden’s path’).  Thus Maiden Lane was just an English translation of an existing Dutch street name.  Not necessarily distinct from this theory, is that the name was based on a well-known street in London. The still-existing Maiden Lane in London was originally known as ‘Mayde Lane,’ supposedly named for a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stood in the middle of it.  The street dates back to at least 1467.  By 1735, it had been renamed Maiden Lane.  So perhaps a homesick Londoner gave the narrow Albany street its name.  Or just a homesick New Yorker.

Maiden Lane continued to thrive in its role as a short cut to the top of State Street Hill. Hotels were located on it, always advertising their location on the ‘shortest route to the depots.’  It also became a thriving commercial area, taking advantage of the significant foot traffic, especially between Broadway and North Pearl Street.  It would also become the namesake for the Maiden Lane Bridge, which carried rail traffic to the new Union Station on Broadway.

Today, Maiden Lane is a shadow of its former self. The portion from Eagle Street to Lodge Street has been renamed Corning Place.  One can no longer walk uninterruptedly to the waterfront – the Ten Eyck Plaza blocks its path between Lodge and Pearl Streets; the 787 arterial blocks it progress past Water Street, although a foot bridge ‘extends’ the path to the Jennings Landing.  But the now truncated street is a tangible reminder of the very earliest days of our ancient city’s founding.

modern-view
Google Earth view 2011

 

1  From the Colonial Albany Project website: http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/streets.html

Albany and the Fur-Seal Trade

furseals

Trigger warning: Some may find reading about Albany’s complicity in the destruction of extremely cute animals to be disturbing.  Read at your own risk.

The early history of Albany was defined to a great extent by the fur trade, specifically beaver fur. For the first hundred years of its existence, Albany served as a trading post, where Indian trappers would exchange their beaver pelts for European trade goods, which pelts would then be trans-shipped to Holland and England, where they would be manufactured into clothing (mainly hats, in the case of beaver fur).  But after the Revolution, with the end of British trade policies which restricted manufacturing in the colonies, a fur manufacturing and dyeing industry began to develop in America, particularly in Albany.  In the 1780’s and 1790’s, a number of furriers began to operate in Albany, including John W. Wendell, Elisha Dorr, and William Mayell.  But by the beginning of the 19th century, with beavers nearly extinct in New York State and with beaver fur being replaced by silk for fashionable men’s hats, Albany furriers and dyers were looking for new raw materials with which to ply their skills.  One that was growing in popularity in the London market was the fur seal.

Dennison Williams of Albany began manufacturing men’s caps in 1822. In 1824, Williams began making caps from the skins of fur seals, imported from the South Shetlands in Antarctica, using an improved method he had developed for removing the outer hairs from the fur seal skins.  In 1825, he became the first furrier in America to dye fur seal skins.  Williams established agencies in Boston, New Orleans, and Nova Scotia, and soon made a small fortune, before retiring from the manufacturing side of the business in 1827.  He continued as a fur wholesaler into the 1850’s.

south-shetland-islands_king-george-island_waterloo-island_bellinghausen-station_ri1anf_zs7anf-a
South Shetland Islands

 

Williams’ fur seal cap business was continued by his partners, William Packer, and Ezra and James Prentice, who formed Packer, Prentice & Co. They were soon doing $500,000 in annual sales.  By 1844, the 700 to 800 workers in their factory at 105 Water St. were producing 2,000 fur seal caps a day, which were shipped to New York City, whence they were exported throughout the world.  There were at least four other fur seal cap manufacturers in Albany in the 1830’s and 1840’s, processing more than 20,000 fur seal skins a year.  But a slowing demand for fur seal hats and reductions in the fur seal population led to a contraction of the industry, so that by 1850, there was only one manufacturer in Albany still processing fur seal skins, George C. Treadwell & Company.

george-c-treadwell-image
George C. Treadwell

 

 

George C. Treadwell was born in Farmington, Connecticut in 1812 and came to Albany by himself when he was fourteen years old. He hired himself out to Chandler, Star & Co., a dry goods firm until 1829, when he was employed by Packer, Prentice & Co.  Just three years later, Treadwell went into the business of dressing fur seals for himself.  A few years later, Treadwell began experimenting with the dyeing of fur seal skins and eventually developed a dye called ‘London Brown’ for which he became famous in the industry.  Treadwell’s furs were said to be of “exquisitely soft and downy texture and rich dark-brown color.”  One of Treadwell’s employees, James Chase, travelled extensively in search of new sources of fur seals, including the American Far West, Alaska, the Pribiloff Islands, and Siberia.

1878-directory-ad
1878 ad

After weathering the decline of the fur seal trade in the 1840’s, George C. Treadwell & Co. was well positioned to take advantage of a sudden resurgence of the trade in the late 1850’s as fur seal hats became all the rage in London. While in earlier times, fur seal caps had been produced mainly for “cabmen and street peddlers,” with the improved methods of dressing and dyeing Treadwell and others had introduced, fur seal was now suitable for high fashion.  As the demand for fur seal hats waned again, Treadwell expanded into the manufacture of gloves, sacques (a kind of short jacket), stoles, and muffs.   Until 1878, Treadwell’s company would be the only fur seal manufacturer in the United States.  In that year, John Williams, the son of the above-mentioned Dennison Williams, established himself in the trade in Brooklyn.

Treadwell’s company had several locations in its long history, but 482 Broadway, across from Stanwix Hall, would be its principal manufacturing and retail location after the Civil War. Like so many other businesses of the day, George C. Treadwell & Co. was a family business, employing George’s brother, son and son-in-law.

1891-directory-ad
1891 ad

George Treadwell died at his home at 735 Broadway (across from today’s O’Brien Federal Building) in 1885, but the business continued to flourish, its dyes winning a prize at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. But by then, the Albany fur seal industry’s days were numbered, as family members lost interest in the business, sources of supply shifted, fashions changed, and better heating reduced the need for warm fur clothing.  By 1896, George C. Treadwell & Co. no longer appears in Albany city directories.  Instead an American Fur Company advertised itself as a “dresser and dyer of fur seals of the celebrated Treadwell Dyes.”  But by 1900, this last vestige of a major Albany industry was also gone.

With raw materials coming from Canada, Russia, the Arctic Circle and Antarctica and with exports going to England and Continental Europe, the fur seal industry drew the farthest parts of the world together in a web of commerce, with Albany at its hub. Changes in Siberian seal populations and changes in London fashions all had a direct impact on the lives of Albanians.  We often think of globalism as a 21st century phenomenon, but the Albany fur seal industry is an example of how closely the world was tied together even in an earlier and supposedly simpler age.

 

The Spires of Albany

1820 small
Albany, 1820

During the height of a cholera outbreak in 1822, a resident of New York City took the occasion to escape the pestilence and travel to upstate New York. He wrote an account of his journey, entitled “Our Travels. Statistical, Geographical, Mineoralogical [sic], Geological, Historical, Political and Quizzical. Written by Myself XYZ etc.”  The anonymous author had little to say about Albany, through which he passed, but he did make this observation about the Albany skyline:

“The Albanians, seem to pride themselves on their steeples, of which they have a goodly number for the proportions of Churches. Nay, not content with the usual allotment of one steeple to a church, they have, egad! put a couple to one of their houses of worship. This “steeple-mania” hath albeit a good effect when viewed at a proper distance, and carries an air of importance, the spires being mostly built in a shewy style.”

And as his boat proceeded down the Hudson, the observer recalled a verse he had read somewhere:

“Long has proud Albany elate,

Rear’d her two steeples high in air;

And proudly boasts she rules the state,

Because the Governor lives there!”

Below are pictures of all of the churches whose spires the anonymous writer would have seen in 1822. Alas, only one of them is still with us, First Dutch Reformed Church, with its twin steeples, which elicited such surprise from the author.

Presbyterian, 1st Beaver + Pearl
First Presbyterian; Beaver & South Pearl; built 1796

Dutch Reformed, First

Episcopal, St. Peter's
St. Peter’s Episcopal; State Street; built 1803

Dutch Reformed, Second

Presbyterian, Second
Second Presbyterian; Chapel above Maiden Lane; built 1811
Evangelical Lutheran Church
Evangelical Lutheran; Pine & Lodge; built 1816

 

St. Mary's
Chapel & Pine; built 1820

 

Thanks to the Albany Archive Flickr Group, where most of these images can be found.

George Hughes, Portrait Painter

29 Washington Ave
29 Washington Avenue

When I first saw this image of a house formerly standing at the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Hawk Street, my eye was immediately drawn to the large window on the second floor. I thought, ‘How nice that would be for an artist’s studio.’  And after a search through some city directories, I discovered that it was indeed both a residence and a studio for one George Hughes, who listed his occupation as ‘artist.’  After a little research, I’d say Hughes, all but forgotten today, deserves a little more recognition.

George Hughes was born in in 1863, in Paris, according to one source, although the circumstances of his birth there were not explained. But he was raised in Albany, attending St. Joseph’s Academy.  He later studied with John-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian, and attended the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There, he studied with the French realist painter Léon Bonnat, who had been appointed to the faculty in 1882, and who was quite popular among American students, in part because he could speak English well.

Bouguereau's_Atelier_at_the_Académie_Julian,_Paris_-_Jefferson_David_Chalfant_-_Google_Cultural_Institute
Académie Julian,Paris, by W-A Bouguereau. Ca. 1880

Hughes’ first appearance in an Albany city directory is in 1886, when he is described as an artist living at 39 Van Woert Street, over the railroad tracks and just across from a brickyard. This might have been his ‘struggling artist’ phase!  But just three years later, he had a studio at 20 North Pearl Street, and was boarding at 34 Jay Street.  Hughes moved his studio several times.  In 1890, he was at 25 North Pearl; in 1896, he was at 55 North Pearl.  And in 1900 and 1901, Hughes lived and worked at 29 Washington Avenue, just across the street from the Capitol.  By 1903, Hughes is shown living and painting at 2 Columbia Place.

The 1905 city directory lists George Hughes as a ‘portrait painter,’ with the notation that he had ‘moved to Paris, France.’ There are no further listings for Hughes until 1911, when his studio was at 78 Maiden Lane, directly across from Albany City Hall.  This remained his studio and home for the rest of his life – in fact, he died in his studio on March 7, 1932.

George Hughes, with Walter Launt Palmer, David Lithgow and other local artists, was a founding member of the Albany Artists’ League, which thrived from about 1900 to 1908. He was also a long-standing member of the Albany Institute’s ‘Artists Committee.’

Mrs. George Hughes, as she is always identified in the newspapers (but whose maiden name may have been Lavery), was active in Republican politics, which may have been her way of helping her husband’s career, since many of his subjects were judges and politicians. The papers also reported that the Hughes’ frequently travelled to France, ‘wintering’ there in 1897 and 1899.  In 1913, at least, they spent the summer at Thompson’s Lake in East Berne.

FrankBlack
Gov. Frank Black. 1901

A number of George Hughes’ portraits can be found around Albany – the official portraits of Frank Black and Levi Morton in the Hall of Governors in the Capitol; a portrait of Judge William Cuddeback at the Court of Appeals; a portrait of Simon Rosendale, New York State Attorney General, and the first Jew elected to state-wide office, belongs to the Albany Institute (although they seem to attribute it to the wrong George Hughes, giving his dates as 1900-1990).

Hughes is reported in the newspapers to have done many other portraits: of George Douglas Miller; of Albany actress Carrie A. Turner; Rev. Paul Birdsall of Grace Episcopal Church; Mrs. Charles M. Brown; Miss Anna Battershall; as well as paintings entitled ‘Mrs. H.,’ ‘Portrait of a Lady,’ and ‘Woman with a Cat.’

Woman with a Cat

Hughes painted portraits of Mayors James McEwan and William S. Hackett. The Hackett portrait was life-sized, and in 1927, was hung in the foyer of the ‘William S. Hackett Apartments,’ which are today the Robinson Square Apartments.  I wonder if it’s still there?

A detail about his portrait of Governor Levi Morton. It is actually signed ‘L. Bonnat’ and dated 1883.  This was one of a pair of portraits done of Morton and his wife Anna, while Morton was Minister to France from 1881 to 1885.  Hughes signed his name above Bonnat’s (but in much smaller letters) with the word ‘after’ – which could mean Hughes finished Bonnat’s work in 1883, while he was working with him at the École, or that he touched it up before it became Morton’s official portrait as Governor.  The matching portrait of Anna Morton does not bear Hughes’ added signature.

LeviPMorton
Gov. Levi P. Morton. 1883

George Hughes was also commissioned to paint a series of nineteen paintings for the new D&H railroad station in Cooperstown, completed in 1916, according to plans by Albany architect Marcus Reynolds. Fifteen of them dealt with scenes from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales; four of them were portraits – of Judge William Cooper, James Fenimore Cooper, Abner Doubleday, and Erastus Beadle.  The station was closed in 1935, but the four portraits were given in 1956 by the D&H to the First National Bank of Cooperstown, for ‘permanent’ display.  One wonders where they might be now.

An exhibition of George Hughes’ work would be not only a tribute to an exceptionally talented and prolific Albany artist, but an interesting record of some of the political, economic, and ecclesiastical movers-and-shakers of turn-of-the-century New York State and Albany.

Thanks to Al Quaglieri at the ‘Albany … the Way it Was Facebook Group’ for posting the first photo, which got this whole train of thought started.

N.B. There are a lot of artists named ‘George Hughes,’ and it can be a problem keeping them straight.  One is an Englishman and rough contemporary of the Albany artist; another is an artist whose work adorned the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, and who lived from 1907 to 1990.

 

Kane’s Walk: The Park That Might Have Been

Kane's Walk
‘Kane’s Walk,’ artist unknown, ca. 1840.

Just after the end of the American Revolution, wealthy Albany attorney Peter W. Yates began building a house for himself on Washington Street (later South Pearl Street), just north of the Beaverkill ravine.  This elegant mansion was surrounded by orchards and gardens.  To the east of the mansion was a grove of ash trees, which flanked the long drive from the house’s entrance to the street.  The 1794 DeWitt map shows the location and basic configuration of the house and grounds.

Simeon DeWitt map, 1794.
Simeon DeWitt map, 1794.

In 1809, Yates sold his estate to James Kane, a prominent Albany merchant.  In the course of Kane’s occupancy, the city expanded rapidly southward.  As it did, Kane subdivided some of his lands for development.  At some point in the 1820’s, Broad Street was extended southward, cutting off the mansion from the ash grove and from South Pearl Street.  Kane had the grove surrounded by an iron fence with a pillared gateway at the entrance, and laid out footpaths inside the fence, turning the entire block into a semi-private park that came to be known as Kane’s Walk.

Kane’s Walk was later described as a ‘promenade for the fashionable and wealthy’ and a tree-filled ‘breathing spot,’ in the midst of the city.

1857 map.
1857 map. Kane’s Walk is directly under the numeral 2.

Into the 1830’s, Kane’s Walk took on more of the character of a public park.  A religious revival conducted by the ‘common preacher’ was held here in 1837. In the same year, the Common Council had to take action to prevent an ‘unauthorized’ circus from doing business at Kane’s Walk; but in the summer of 1850, the James M. June & Co. Circus had evening performances there.  It was the location of the Albany public schools’ ‘Anniversary’ celebrations in the 1840’s and 1850’s, when upwards of 2,000 students from all of the city’s public schools would gather for speeches, declamations by pupils, and music.

Kane’s Walk also had its seedier side.  Jesse Strang and Elsie Whipple, of Cherry Hill Murder fame, had a tryst here in 1827, as they conspired to murder Elsie’s husband.  In December 1838, Rensselaer Van Rensselaer (son of Solomon, another resident of Cherry Hill) was violently assaulted by two men at Kane’s Walk.  In August 1853, the body of an abandoned infant was discovered in the park.  Two vagrants found sleeping in the Walk were arrested in June 1858.  And in June 1860, Alwilda Hoffman and Ellen McCarty, both 15 years old, were arrested while ‘on a cruise’ in the company of several young men at Kane’s Walk.

Henry Yates, who had bought the Kane mansion in 1834, died in 1854, and shortly after, it was announced that Kane’s Walk would be subdivided and sold for development.  It’s not clear how quickly this development took place – there was a school celebration in 1856, and the vagrants were arrested there in 1858.  But references to Kane’s Walk seem to refer more and more to a locale rather than to an actual park.  When the China Tea Shop advertised in 1861 that it was on ‘old Kane’s Walk,’ it was describing an address about a block north of where the park was located.  In any event, an 1876 map shows the area formerly occupied by Kane’s Walk to be completely covered with buildings, both residential and commercial.

1876 map.
1876 map.

When word came that Kane’s Walk would be sold to developers, both the Evening Journal and the Argus, which usually agreed on nothing, advocated that the city purchase the block and turn it into a public park.  The Evening Journal noted the need for such a park, since, of Albany’s four public parks, the one at Clinton Square was ‘continually closed,’ and ‘Van Rensselaer Park on Washington Street’ had been ‘left to decay.’ (The other two parks were Capitol Park and Academy Park.)  Alas, the proposal was not acted upon and that area of the South End is still without a significant green space.

I was not able to find many images of Kane’s Walk (online, at least).  There is a painting at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY entitled ‘Kane’s Walk,’ which Governor Seward had commissioned while he lived at the Kane Mansion.  But the painting seems to show the house rather than the adjacent grove.

cartoon 1839

A very interesting image comes from a cartoon printed in about 1840.  It depicted Thurlow Weed and Governor Seward and other members of the newly elected administration.  The setting for the cartoon was Kane’s Walk.  One can see the Kane Mansion in the distance, but in the foreground, the grove of trees, benches, footpaths, as well as a fence and gate.  This may well be the best image we have of the Park That Might Have Been.

Today, what was Kane’s Walk is the block bounded by South Pearl Street on the east, Trinity Place (formerly Broad Street) on the west, extending from Westerlo Street southwards to a line opposite South Ferry Street.  Here is a modern day aerial view.  The Kane’s Walk area is in the center of the photo, with the old Philip Schuyler school on the location of the Yates/Kane mansion itself, and the Samuel Schuyler house just catty-corner from the northwestern edge of Kane’s Walk.

2011 Kanes Walk birdseye copy

 

Albany and the Mormon Apocalypse

London Fire, 1666

Last week, I took note of a connection between Albany and the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or the Mormons.  A far more striking connection, however, can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) is a part of the LDS scriptures, consisting principally of the Lord’s revelations to Joseph Smith between 1823 and 1844.  On September 23, 1832, the Lord spake thus to Joseph Smith:  “… let the bishop go unto the city of New York, also to the city of Albany, and also to the city of Boston, and warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which await them if they do reject these things.  For if they do reject these things their hour of judgement is nigh, and their house shall be left unto them desolate.” (D&C 84:114-115).

In response to this prophecy, in September of the following year, Smith, together with bishop Newel K. Whitney, are said to have left Kirtland, Ohio and travelled to New York, Boston, and Albany, to warn them of their impending doom.  Whitney later wrote that they were back in Ohio by November 6, 1833.  I’ve combed some of the Albany papers of that very specific time period and could find no references to either man.  This is a little strange, for Smith and the ‘Mormonites’ were by then well-known and frequently reported on by the press.

Great Fire, 1848
Great Fire, 1848

In the September 15, 1848 edition of the Millennial Star, an official LDS publication, the prophecy from the Doctrine and Covenants was printed adjacent to an extract from the Albany Express reporting on the recent ‘Great Fire’ in Albany, which took place on August 17, 1848.  The excerpts were offered without commentary.  The implication was clear.  The prophecy had been fulfilled.

But apparently, more was to come.  On August 21, 1863, Elder Wilford Woodruff addressed a group of ‘Saints’ in Logan, Utah, where they were gathered to begin construction of a new temple.  Woodruff waved his hand over the location of the future temple and told those present that they could look forward to the day when they would ‘stand in the towers of the Temple and your eyes survey this glorious valley … occupied by tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints.”  As they did, Woodruff said, they would remember the scenes of this day, “… before New York was destroyed by an earthquake; before Boston was swept into the sea, by the sea heaving itself beyond its bounds; before Albany was destroyed by fire …” After Woodruff had finished his address, President Brigham Young rose and said: “What Brother Woodruff has said is revelation and will be fulfilled.”

Mormon Temple in Logan, Utah.
Mormon Temple in Logan, Utah.

A group of ‘Saints’ recently prepared for the end of the world, which they expected to occur as recently as last September.  The LDS authorities did not approve of the group’s speculations.  One wonders if anyone bothered to check on how Albany was doing, in accordance with the prophecy.

So take heed, ye wicked Albanites!.  What Sodom and Gomorrah were to the Old Testament, New York, Boston, and Albany are to the Mormon end times.