Adam & Eve in Albany

Adam + Eve 1827
Adam & Eve, Dubufe (1827)

The exhibition of masterpieces of European art was a popular and lucrative form of entertainment in 19th century America.  An early and noteworthy example of this was the American tour of two massive paintings by French painter Claude-Marie Dubufe in 1833 – known together as “Adam and Eve and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” depicting scenes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

King Charles X of France had commissioned the paintings from Dubufe in 1827, but with the King’s abdication in 1830 during the July Revolution, Dubufe ended up selling them in 1832 to two London art dealers, the Brette Brothers, who, together with one James Creighton, planned for the paintings to make a three year American tour.

Paradise Lost, Dubufe (1827)
Paradise Lost, Dubufe (1827)

The paintings began their tour in May 1832 in Boston.  By January 1833, they were in New York City.  They were displayed at the court house in Troy during the month of August 1833.  In September, they were in Rochester.  They arrived in Albany on September 29, 1833, where they were displayed in the rotunda of the new City Hall until November 2 of the same year.

Albany City Hall, 1832
Albany City Hall, 1832

Wherever they went, the paintings excited debate as to their propriety.  The New York Evening Post insisted that “… the delicacy of the spectator will not be wounded by an uncalled for exposure of persons.  Clergymen of reputation and ladies and gentlemen of the best families, both here and at Boston, have expressed their unqualified admiration of these pictures which have with no small degree of propriety been called moral paintings.”  But the New York Mirror countered that they were “splendid in their licentious character” and “an offense to public morals.”  Closer to home, the Troy Budget declared that the paintings elicited “one sentiment of admiration and approbation”

Albany Evening Journal, October 14, 1833
Albany Evening Journal, October 14, 1833

The paintings were huge – each was 12 ½ feet by 8 ½ feet.  They were available for viewing from 8 am until 10 pm.  Single admission was 25 cents, with 50 cents getting you a ‘season’ ticket.  During the evening, the paintings were ‘brilliantly illuminated.’  Profits from one day’s exhibition were set aside for charitable purposes, and that day, $38.00 was turned over to the Common Council for distribution to the poor.  Ads for the exhibit stayed away from controversy, instead emphasizing the ‘chaste feeling,’ ‘charm,’ and ‘poetic power’ of the paintings, which would ‘make a lasting impression on the mind of every beholder.’  During a later tour in 1849, the organizers of the exhibit offered free admission to Sunday School classes.  More proof that clever marketing did not begin in the 20th century.

The paintings were considered lost until they appeared in an auction in Stockholm in 1991.  In 2008, they were purchased by the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, France, where they can be seen today.

Much credit to the Fultonhistory website for all the old newspaper reports.

“… Our Peculiar Friend and Benefactor.”

The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C.  To give an impression of what the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.
The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C. To give an impression of how the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.

On Monday, April 17, 1865, the “colored citizens of the city and county of Albany” gathered at the African Methodist Episcopal Church at 381 Hamilton Street to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln, whose death, they wrote, filled them “with sorrow unspeakable.”  In a series of resolutions passed by that assembly, they acknowledged the magnitude of this “unparalleled disaster” for the nation as a whole.  But they also “deem[ed] it our right to claim his death as our more peculiar loss and affliction, because he has been the instrument of good in striking off the chains from so many millions of our brethren, and because he has ever stood forth as our peculiar friend and benefactor, whose memory will be cherished by and us and our children for generations to come.”

Israel AME ChurchThat sentiment was surely felt poignantly by the small African-American community in Albany.  Slavery had been finally abolished in New York State only in 1827.  Some of the elders gathered that day might have been enslaved at one time themselves, or would have been the children of slaves.  Perhaps some in the congregation had escaped from slavery in the South.  The image of ‘striking off chains’ was not mere rhetoric; it described quite literally what Lincoln’s actions had done for blacks, some of whom would become citizens of Albany.

Most of those gathered at the ‘First’ or ‘Israel’ A.M.E. church that Monday would have remembered a similar gathering back on January 5, 1863, when, in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation, a “Mass Convention” was held in Albany.  An afternoon meeting was held at the the A.M.E. church, and an evening meeting at the African Baptist Church further down Hamilton Street, between Fulton and Grand.  Frederick Douglass attended both meetings, giving a speech entitled ‘The President and Emancipation’ at the Baptist Church.  “The ladies” prepared a “Festival Extraordinary” for the occasion.  It was a joyous, even ecstatic moment – “A Moses is found who will lead the Children of Africa out of American bondage,” as a broadside for the convention declared.

Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.
Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.

But now that new Moses was dead.  And the African-American community seemed to struggle to find words adequate to describe the depth of their sorrow.  They had “heard with profound awe and grief of the death of the Chief Magistrate of the Nation in the height of his renown.”  And they were filled with “unspeakable sorrow” that “he should fall victim to the hate and vengeance of that dark malignant foe which the Nation has so desperately struggled for its life…”  Yet for all its anguish, Albany’s black community was sustained by hope:  “[Y]et we acknowledge the goodness that preserved us through manifold perils, that good and wise ruler, by whose proclamation the chains of the oppressed have been broken, and liberty proclaimed to the captives.”  Finally, they resolved “with renewed vigor and unwavering zeal, in our humble manner, [to] aid the Government in putting down treason in all its forms.”

These resolutions were signed by the president and secretary of the meeting, William H. Anthony and Reuben W. Harris, respectively.  In the 1865 City Directory, Mr. Anthony is listed as being a barber at 27 Maiden Lane, which was also the hairdressing establishment of William H. Johnson, a well-known black abolitionist (whose story is told here: ).  Anthony lived at 257 Elm Street.  Mr. Harris was listed as waiter, living at 20 Fayette (Lafayette) Street.

The full text of these resolutions was published in the Albany Evening Journal of April 26, 1865.

Albany Man Defies Death on the Lusitania


On May 7, 1915, the ocean liner R.M.S Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the loss of nearly 1,200 passengers and crew. There were 767 survivors. No Albany residents seem to have been aboard, although several were from the Capital region. But the Albany Evening Journal reported at length on a man named Martin Mannion (or Manion), who had at least a tangential Albany connection.

Martin Mannion
Martin Mannion

Mr. Mannion, a native of County Kildare, Ireland, had come to the United States in 1911 to work as a jockey and horse trainer. He had spent time in St. Louis, Missouri before coming to New York State. During the 1914 racing season, Mannion was in Long Island, caring for thoroughbreds from the stables of Richard Croker, the infamous Tammany Hall ‘boss.’ While there, Mannion was injured in a railroad accident. One foot had been amputated, but he was still having trouble. Friends recommended that he see Dr. Marcus T. Cronin, surgical resident at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany (then located at Broadway and North Ferry Street).

On April 23, 1915, Dr. Cronin performed a re-amputation of Mr. Mannion’s foot. Mr. Mannion had been boarding at 800 Broadway (just a couple of blocks from St. Peter’s), and by April 30, had already purchased a ticket on the Lusitania from the H.J. Curtis agency in the Douw Building, and was on his way to New York City for its departure to England. He had told Henry Glatz, the proprietor of the rooming house he was staying at, of his intention to return to Ireland and take up work at the famous Curragh Racecourse.

Second Class Smoking Lounge, where Mannion was playing cards when the torpedo struck.
Second Class Smoking Lounge, where Mannion was playing cards when the torpedo struck.

Mr. Mannion was in the second class smoking cabin playing poker on the afternoon when his ship was struck by the torpedo. He feared he was doomed because he was wearing an artificial leg, and at first he began going down with the ship. But he somehow surfaced, and being a good swimmer, was able to stay afloat for four hours, until he and another man were rescued by a small boat. While trying to stay afloat, he encountered a crowd of two hundred men and women, clutching each other and thrashing in the water, crying for help; Mannion feared they all drowned and considered himself fortunate to have kept out of their way.

Mannion later told the Cork Examiner that the sinking was “sorrowful in every way.” He continued: “I am thanking God for my escape and do not think that I can ever be sufficiently grateful. When we struck the Irish land again you can imagine our joy. I need scarcely say that we Irish, with the other survivors bid the old land with an added blessing. “The top of the morning” in such a heartful manner that perhaps very few Irishmen ever did before.”

Lincoln in Albany: The Final Passage


This April 26 and 27 marked the 150th anniversary of the passage of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train through Albany, en route to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.  Many have written on this portion of Lincoln’s final journey (as many have written on every aspect of the 16th president’s life, death and burial), but I’m going to mainly present what was reported by Albany’s leading newspapers of the day, the Albany Evening Journal and the Albany Argus, with some other supplemental materials, according to my own particular (and peculiar) interests.

The visit of Lincoln’s mortal remains to Albany was unusual in that it involved a night-time arrival.  The timetable for what was officially designated the ‘Lincoln Special’ called for the pilot locomotive to arrive on Tuesday, April 26th, at 10:55 p.m. at the Hudson River Rail Road depot in East Albany.  In anticipation of its arrival, the officers and members of both houses of the Legislature gathered cross the river, in the Capitol’s Assembly Chamber at 10:00 pm.  They were then escorted by three companies of New York State militia to the Hudson River RR ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane.  Crowds had already filled State Street as the dignitaries made their way down to the waterfront.

The Hudson River Railroad Ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane
The Hudson River Railroad Ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane

On their arrival at the ferry landing, the presiding officers of the Legislature, together with the military escort, the members of the Albany Common Council, and members of the Committee on Arrangements, took a ferry across the Hudson to the East Albany station.  A crowd of people from that side of the Hudson was also awaiting the President’s arrival. The pilot locomotive, the Hudson River RR’s Constitution, arrived about fifteen minutes late, giving the signal that the Presidential train would be following in ten minutes.  The train of nine cars was pulled by the Hudson River RR locomotive Union (appropriately enough – it was the same engine that took Lincoln from Albany to New York City back in 1861 during his pre-Inauguration tour).  On the front of the locomotive was a large portrait of Lincoln, covered in black bunting and illuminated with lanterns.  The car containing the casket had only recently been built and had been originally intended as a special Presidential travelling car, a kind of ‘Air Force One’ for the Steam Age.  This would be Lincoln’s only occasion to use it.

Upon the train’s arrival at the East Albany depot, Captain Harris Parr, Keeper of the State Arsenal in Albany commenced the firing of a minute gun – an artillery piece that would fire a blank charge every minute until Lincoln’s body arrived at the Capitol.  This was also the signal for Albany’s many church bells to begin tolling.  As word of the arrival spread, the crowds along State Street grew.

Members of the military escort removed the coffin from the train car and placed it on the hearse, drawn by four grey horses, which carried the remains to the ferry.  The civilian and military escort accompanying the train, in all more than one hundred passengers, also got on board the ferry.  The Evening Journal gave a moving description of that short trip across the Hudson:

“The hush of death prevailed on the ferryboat, as it crossed the river.  The great chieftain, who had conquered the enemies of Union and Freedom, in the very hour of victory had been called to stand among the enshrined departed, to receive the full rewards which were awaiting the accomplishment of his glorious mission – and there, on that boat, civilians and chieftains, legislators and people, governors and governed, alike stood in mute awe around his cold remains.”

Albany Zouave Cadet, Private
Albany Zouave Cadet, Private

On the ferry’s arrival at the Maiden Lane landing, a procession quickly formed.  A detachment of police in advance, followed by a drum corps of boys, then by Schreiber’s and Eastman’s College bands.  The three militia companies (including the Albany Zouave Cadets, who were then designated Company A, 10th Regiment New York State National Guard) under the command of Gen. John F. Rathbone (cousin of Maj. Henry Rathbone) followed.  Then came the hearse with its guard of honor.  Behind came the Common Council, State officers, and the Legislature, all flanked by 100 firemen carrying torches.  Additional light would have been provided by the many mourning displays in office and shop windows, many of which were illuminated for the occasion.  Despite the huge crowds, already unusual for such a late hour, all remarked on the profound silence that prevailed during that midnight funeral procession.

At the top of State Street, the coffin was removed from the hearse and carried through the front gate of the Capitol park on Eagle Street and on into the Capitol itself and the Assembly Chamber.  The Chamber had been specially prepared to receive the remains.  All the desks and chairs had been removed and a large dais, draped with mournful bunting, was erected in the center of the room.  Over the Speaker’s chair was draped a banner with a quote from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:  “I have an oath registered in Heaven to preserve, protect and defend the Government.”  The Chamber had been decorated by B.W. Wooster, a popular Albany upholsterer and undertaker!

Old State Capitol, Assembly Chamber
Old State Capitol, Assembly Chamber

The Guard of Honor and members of the Veteran Reserve Corps (disabled veterans who were still capable of limited service) took their places around the dais while the embalmer and undertaker prepared Lincoln’s body for viewing.  The Guard of Honor consisted of a group of six senior officers, changed every three hours.  Gen. Rathbone was the senior officer for the first watch.  Col. Frederick Townsend was senior officer for the fourth watch.  When all was ready, the militia companies took up positions around the Capitol and its environs, the Capitol doors were opened, and the mourners were admitted to pay their respects.  It was about 1:15 in the morning.

Front view
Old State Capitol entrance

Two double file lines, four abreast, were formed which passed through the Eagle Street gate, up the front steps to the portico, and on into the Assembly Chamber.  The line split, passing either side of the dais, the one line leaving by the north door, the other by the south door of the Capitol, then through the gates to either State Street or Washington Street.  The line extended all the way down State Street, turning northward up Broadway.  All throughout the night, the procession of mourners would continue, passing the President’s coffin at an estimated rate of 60 per minute.  The huge numbers of mourners in every city had come as something of a surprise to organizers.  One historian has written: “The pushing and hauling of so many people straining to get in at that unusual hour and for the somber purpose was wholly unexpected. Police and militia were present in small details only.”

The civilian and military guests accompanying the Lincoln Special were escorted to the Delavan House and Congress Hall.  The funeral party was said to be in a state of exhaustion, practically in a daze from the stunning crowds which had met them at every stop.  The Illinois delegation, overwhelmed by it all, sent a member on ahead to warn the people of Springfield to get ready.  All that previous afternoon, crowds had arrived by train and boat, from all over New York and New England, far outstripping the city’s ability to accommodate them.  Hundreds milled about the street all night, having no place to stay.  Some were provided shelter in a schoolhouse.  Many restaurants remained open all night to provide for the masses of strangers.

The railroad men would also have been busy that night.  Getting the President’s train from the Hudson River RR depot in East Albany to the New York Central RR tracks in Albany required a series of complex maneuvers in the days before the Livingston Avenue bridge, which was completed the following year.  The train would have continued north on the Hudson River RR tracks to Troy.  Perhaps in Troy, it would have switched engines and continued on the tracks of the Troy & Schenectady RR, crossing over the Green Island railroad bridge to West Troy, switching to the Albany & Rutland RR tracks, then proceeding south to Albany.  At Albany, it was switched to the tracks of the New York Central and fitted out with a NYCRR locomotive and pilot engine in time for the continuation of the ‘Lincoln Special’ westward.

Lincoln's Funeral Car
Lincoln’s Funeral Car

One passenger of the ‘Lincoln Special’ who did not disembark the train was President Lincoln’s deceased son Willie, who had died of typhoid fever in 1862.  Willie’s remains had been disinterred and placed on the train, in a plain white casket, so that he might be buried with his father in Springfield.  His body was kept in the same compartment of the hearse car that carried the elder Lincoln’s remains.

The day was clear and bright, pleasantly warm – a contrast to the rains of the day before.  All through the morning the anxious crowds kept coming without let up.  With such crowds, some chaos was inevitable.  One eyewitness, in describing the scene at the narrow gate outside the Capitol, on Eagle Street, through which all the mourners had to pass, noted: “[We] found there a crush and a crowd almost uncontrollable in its impatience after so long a wait.  The gateway was not wide, and the police could not prevent frequent jams and small panics.  Women screamed and fainted, hats and articles of wearing apparel were lost, and at times men fought for a place.”  And then, there were the pickpockets.  At least one visitor from a rural area lost $100 in U.S. bonds to a pickpocket.

But far more remarked upon was the silence that prevailed.  The Argus described it aptly: “Aside from the slow tread of the procession, not a sound was to be heard in the streets.  Every place of business remained closed, not a vehicle was to be seen passing through the streets, and never upon a Sabbath morning did the city present a stillness so complete.”  “Many were in tears and conversation was carried on in hushed tones,” said another eyewitness.

Controversy existed then and now over what the mourners would have seen of Lincoln.  The science of embalming was still in its infancy and the task before the official embalmers was daunting – preserve a body (and especially a face) for a two week trip involving multiple open air viewings over many hours and a long and bumpy train ride.  No one had ever done that before.  In Philadelphia, eyewitnesses found him looking “quite natural.” So did the Philadelphia Inquirer, which observed “a natural, placid, peaceful expression.”  But after the 23 hour viewing marathon in New York City, doubts began to arise.  The New York Times reported that his face had changed several shades darker than it had been and that, with his jaw dropping and teeth visible, “it was not a pleasant sight.”  In Albany, embalmer Charles Brown and undertaker Frank Sands handed a firm denial to the press: “No perceptible change has taken place in the body of the late President since it left Washington.”  But reporters in Albany noted that Lincoln was “evidently growing yet darker in spite of the chemicals used as preservatives.”  One Albany eyewitness, who had been a child at the time remembered “in three or four places, perhaps, small dark-blue spots.”  But most ordinary citizens seemed to see the man rather than the blemishes.  Louise Coffin Smith of Troy recalled “The tired worn face of our President had a look of peace.”  She also remembered “an old colored woman [who] attempted to kiss him, saying between her sobs, ‘We have lost our best friend.’”

Catafalque used to carry Lincoln's casket in Albany procession
Catafalque used to carry Lincoln’s casket in Albany procession

At 10 a.m., the members of the Legislature and State officers assembled in the State Library, and proceeded in a body to view the remains.  Finally, at noon, the doors of the Capitol were closed and preparations for the procession to the train were begun.  There was still a line of many thousands extending all the way to Broadway when the viewing was ended.  Estimates were that more than 50,000 had viewed Lincoln’s body.

The procession began at about 2:00 p.m.  Detachments of police led the cortege, followed by General Rathbone and his brigade –  the three regiments of New York National Guard, the 10th and 25th regiments from Albany, the 24th Regiment from Troy, and the Troy Light Horse Artillery Battery.  The hearse followed, pulled this time by six white horses.  Then came the State and local officials, civic associations – St. Andrew’s Society, Hibernians, Fenians, Masons, Odd Fellows, Druids, German Turnvereins – the ever-present Albany Burgesses Corps, followed by firemen from Albany and surrounding communities.  The procession wended its way up Washington Avenue, south along Dove Street, then back toward downtown on State Street.

Procession on Broadway, moving toward the photographer
Procession on Broadway, moving toward the photographer

Church bells tolled as the solemn procession moved through the city.  It moved quickly.  Though several thousands marched, it took only 30 minutes for it to pass a given point, in contrast to the four hours required for the procession in New York City.  80,000 were said to be lining the route of the procession.  Four bands accompanied the marchers, playing, it was reported, “Love Not,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Come and Let Us Worship,” and other funereal songs.  All marchers were on foot, including the governor and mayor.  No carriages, banners or floats were permitted.  Even more remarkably, there was not a single speech given by anyone.

Lincoln Funeral Car
Lincoln Funeral Car

At the foot of State Street, the cortege turned up Broadway and went, not to the NY Central depot, but to a place known as ‘the Crossing,’ where the railroad tracks intersected Broadway, just beyond Lumber Street (later Livingston Avenue).  There the ‘Lincoln Special’ was waiting, already under steam.  The Edward H. Jones was the locomotive, with the Chauncey Vibbard serving as the pilot engine.  The elaborate hearse car had itself been an attraction during the day, with thousands of people passing through it.1  Without ceremony, Lincoln’s coffin was placed on board.  It took another fifteen minutes for the large military and civilian escort to board the cars.  And then, right on schedule, at 4:00 in the afternoon, the ‘Lincoln Special’ steamed out of the capital city of the Empire State and on toward Lincoln’s final resting place.

1           The hearse car, which had been originally built for the living President, was variously described as being of black, brown, chocolate, maroon, or red in color.  In 2013, scientific analysis of paint chips from a surviving window frame from the car showed the color to have been a deep maroon – four parts black and one part red.

I’m grateful to the Albany Group Archive on Flickr for some of the photos.  Also to for the relevant newspaper pages.  Additional information came from , , and from an article on Lincoln’s body, found in by Richard Wightman Fox.

A Most Un-Civil War

The American Civil War is often described as a conflict that pitted ‘brother against brother.’  There were certainly many instances of such divided families, none more prominent, perhaps, than that of Abraham Lincoln’s own wife.  Mary Todd Lincoln of Kentucky had four brothers who took up arms for the Confederacy and one who fought for the Union; five sisters who were pro-Union (like their father), and four who supported the Southern cause.  But such family splits were mostly confined to border states like Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri.  In the Deep South and upper North, there was far more unanimity within the states themselves and within families for their respective causes.

Capt. Robert Townsend, USN

But for one prominent Albany family, the dividing line between North and South cut straight through their home and hearth.  During the first quarter of the 19th century, Isaiah Townsend firmly established his family as one of wealth and influence in the capital city.  The Townsend Furnace, owned and operated by Isaiah and his brother John, was one of Albany’s most flourishing industries.  John had served two terms as mayor of Albany in the 1830’s, and Isaiah’s son Franklin served a term as mayor in the 1850’s.  Isaiah had seven children, all of whom survived to adulthood. At the outbreak of the Civil War, three of Isaiah Townsend’s sons threw themselves into the Union war effort in various ways.  Robert entered the U.S. Navy and served in the blockade of Charleston, S.C.; as captain of the ironclad gunboat Essex on the Mississippi River, during the battle of Port Hudson; and as captain of the U.S.S. Wachusett, chasing Confederate commerce raiders in the Pacific Ocean.  Franklin, who managed the iron business after his uncle John died, was active in raising and financing the formation of the 113th N.Y. Volunteer Infantry Regiment (later re-designated the 7th N.Y.S. Heavy Artillery Regiment).

Frederick Townsend
Brig. Gen. Frederick Townsend, USA

Their brother Frederick had been Adjutant-General of New York before the war.  At the start of the war, Frederick organized the 3rd N.Y. Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the ‘Albany Regiment’), and led it, as its colonel, at the Battle of Big Bethel.  Later in the war, he served as a major of the 18th U.S. Infantry, Regulars, participating in the bloody battles at Corinth, Mississippi and Perryville, Kentucky.  Frederick ended the war as Provost Marshal General for New York State, with the rank of brigadier general. But not all the Townsend children spent the war in enthusiastic service to the Union.  Mary Townsend, (known as Molly), the youngest of the children, had, fifteen years before the war started, fallen in love with a dashing young Army officer stationed at the nearby Watervliet Arsenal – Lt. William Henry Talbot Walker.  After a brief courtship, and just as the Georgia-born soldier was about to be deployed to the Mexican War, Molly married Lt. Walker at Albany’s First Presbyterian Church on May 9, 1846.  She soon after moved to her husband’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia.

Maj. Gen. William H. T. Walker, CSA

Walker was a career soldier, having been educated at West Point.  He served with distinction in the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican War.  Walker resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on the day South Carolina seceded.  He initially served as brigadier general of the Georgia Militia, but entered Confederate service in 1863.  He distinguished himself during the Vicksburg Campaign and, as corps commander, at the Confederate victory at Chickamauga.  Walker proved to be stubborn, ill-tempered, and exceptionally touchy on matters of honor.  But he was unquestionably a brave and competent commander.  He was killed by a Union bullet on July 22, 1864 at the Battle of Atlanta. I have not seen any correspondence between Molly and her family about the strain her marriage to a Confederate general may have put on her family ties and patriotism.  Was she torn inwardly?  Or did she embrace the cause of her new home state, just as many transplanted Northerners did during the war?  But General Walker did write many letters to his wife in Augusta, sharing many details of his constant battles, not only with Union forces, but moreso with his fellow Confederate commanders, most of whom he despised – details he surely would not have shared with Molly unless he trusted her implicitly.

Mary Townsend
Mary ‘Molly’ Townsend Walker

In one letter, Walker sheds some light on what he expected of his loyal wife. Historian Stephen Davis writes: ‘He had instructed his wife to take the children and leave the country if the South lost the war.  He also urged his young ones to “grow up hating the Yankees more and more every day.”  “I don’t want any cousining or uncling any Northern kin – That is played out,” he wrote.’  Molly does not seem to have taken her late husband’s advice after the surrender of the South.  She and her four children remained in Augusta, Georgia.  But neither did she return to her large kinship network in Albany.  Molly Townsend Walker died just four years after her husband, at the age of forty-two, and was buried beside him at the Walker family plot on the grounds of Augusta State University.

N.B.  Another Civil War connection for the Townsend family- General Frederick Townsend was married to Sarah Rathbone, first cousin to Major Henry Rathbone, who sat in the theater box with Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination.

Albany’s First Public Schools (Part I)

In 1795, the Albany Common Council passed an ordinance for the establishment of free schools.  An initial attempt to fulfill that requirement petered out by 1800.  And even by 1810, there were as yet no public schools in the city.  Many commentators have noted the slowness with which Albany advanced the cause of free public education.  The Lancaster School, established in 1811, was the first concerted attempt to address the need.  But less than thirty years later, the Lancaster School was closed, having proved inadequate to meet the needs of the growing city.

McGuffey Reader 1836 edition
McGuffey Reader (1836)

Even while the Lancaster School was still open, the Common Council began to take steps, however halting, to promote public education.  In 1830, the city was divided into nine separate school districts for ‘common schools.’  State funds provided partial support, but a tuition of $2 per quarter per student was authorized.  Each district was responsible for providing rooms for its school.  District #1 held classes in a former stable.  District #9’s scholars met in the cellar of an old church on Herkimer Street.  District #8’s students met in the relative comfort of a lecture room at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  But another district housed its students in the upper room of a fire engine house on William Street.  The inadequacies of these arrangements were immediately apparent.  A NYS Assembly report from 1833 revealed that of 5461 school age (6 – 16) children in the city of Albany, barely 2500 were attending the public schools.  There were, of course, quite a few private tutors and some private academies, but these all catered to very small groups of children from the wealthier families.

#2 218 State
School #2 at 218 State Street. From 1876 map.

In 1832, the Common Council authorized the construction of the first purpose-built school building since 1817.  A three story brick building was constructed at 218 State Street (which included space for a fire engine company!).  This would continue as Public School #2 until 1884, when the property was sold, and a new school was built at 29 Chestnut Street.  Both of these locations are now buried under the Empire State Plaza.

The year 1838 marked a new beginning toward realizing the dream of free public education in the city of Albany.  The school system was reorganized, a new district was added, and eight new school buildings were erected (a move necessitated in part by the closing of the Lancaster School in 1836).  All the new buildings were three stories high and of brick construction.  The smallest, School #3, accommodated 200 students; the largest, School #8, accommodated 338 students.  The following is a list of those new schools, their locations, and what happened to them:

#1        310 South Pearl St.  Used until 1889, when new School #1 built at Franklin & Bassett.  The site is now covered by a Rite-Aid.

#3 7 Van Tromp
School #3 on north side of Van Tromp. From 1876 map.

#3        7 Van Tromp St.  Sold in 1882; new School #3 built at Watervliet & Hunter.  Site now covered by I-787 exit ramp.

#4        55 Union St.  In use until 1892, when new School #4 was built at Madison & Ontario.  Union Street disappeared under the South Mall Arterial.

#5        172 North Pearl St.  A former house of worship for Tabernacle Baptist Church was purchased and renovated into a school.  Sold in 1882, and new School #5 built just up the street at 206 North Pearl St.  Original site is now an empty lot behind the Palace Theater.

School #7 56 Sheridan (Canal)
Former School #7. From Google Street View 2011.

#7        56 Canal St. (Sheridan Ave.)  In use until 1886, when a new School #7 was built at 165 Clinton Ave. The building still exists and has been renovated for offices.

#8        157 Madison Ave.   Rebuilt at same location in 1880.  Now a parking lot.

#9        The northeast corner of South Ferry and Dallius (Dongan).  The building was sold in 1889 and a new School #9 built at 333 Sheridan Avenue not until 1903.  The site of the original school is now an empty field.

School #10 182 Washington
Former School #10. From Google Street View 2011

#10      182 Washington Ave. Continued as school until 1890, when new School #10 was built at the corner of Central and Perry.  Shortly after it stopped being a school, the original   building was bought by James Holroyd, a knit goods manufacturer, who significantly  refurbished the building, including adding a Romanesque façade.  The building still stands, is called the Holroyd Mansion, and houses the Iron Gate Café.

The one school left off this list is School #6.  That district’s school building consisted of a one story wood frame structure on The Point, at the confluence of Madison and Western, perhaps the former Mohawk & Hudson railroad depot.  In 1849, the Albany school district boundaries would be reconfigured and a new School #6 built at 105 Second St.  The site of the original school is now a park in front of a police station. Altogether, this massive construction project cost the city $119,000 and provided space for nearly 2,800 scholars.  But by 1838, there were close to 7,000 school age children in the city.  Still, a solid foundation had been laid for future growth, though that growth was slow in coming.

Thanks to John McClintock and Al Quaglieri for their helpful assistance with this blog post.

“No Man’s Life, Liberty or Property …

are safe when the legislature is in session.”  So said Mark Twain.

But Albany has always prospered while the New York State Legislature is in session.  Especially our fair city’s hospitality industry.

The official records of the 1833 Assembly include an interesting table showing where each Assemblyman stayed while in Albany for the January session of that year.  In the days before easy rail or automobile transportation, if you were going somewhere to do some work, you had to stay there until the work was done.  Commuting was rarely an option, especially with the daily work of a Legislature.  In fact, only one Assemblyman, Edward Livingston of the City of Albany, was able to stay at his home during the session.  The rest stayed in hotels and other places of lodging.  So where did they stay?

1954.59.9 Mansion House.tifThe most popular spot was The Mansion House, located on the west side of North Market, just north of State Street (later, 20 – 22 Broadway).  Originally built in 1800 as the residence of John Maley, one of Albany’s richest citizens at that time, it had been purchased in 1828 by Nathaniel S. Skinner (who had been the proprietor of another hotel, also called the Mansion House), and converted into a hotel.  It was considered the most up-to-date and well managed hotel in Albany.  Twenty-three of the Assembly’s 129 members resided at the Mansion House during the January 1833 session.

City HotelRight across Market Street from the Mansion House was the City Hotel (one of several hotels of that name in Albany’s history).  It consisted of four building fronts joined together and extended all the way back to Dean Street.  Six Assemblymen boarded here.

Going a little farther up Broadway, those Assemblymen who wished to avoid ‘ardent spirits’ were able to board at The Temperance Hotel, at the northeast corner of North Market and Steuben streets.  This building would be demolished in 1845 to make way for the Delavan House, a much larger hotel, also run ‘according to temperance principles.’  Eleven Assemblymen stayed here that January.

State Street was also a popular location for the visiting legislators.  At the intersection of Market/Broadway and State was the Adelphi Hotel, which dated to the turn of the century.  It was approximately where the Hampton Hotel building today stands.  Sixteen Assemblymen stayed here.Albany city guide:  A bit farther up the hill was the American Hotel, at 100 State Street, which hosted nineteen Assemblymen.  The old City & County Savings Bank building now stands on the site.  Caleb N. Bement was one of Albany’s noted hoteliers, and not long after 1833, he purchased the American Hotel.  Mr. Bement also had his own hotel on State Street before purchasing the American, but I have not been able to determine its location; however, seven members availed themselves of Bement’s Hotel.  Finally, the Franklin House, at 136 and 138 State Street, was the temporary residence of three legislators.

Just off State Street, at 40 – 42 Beaver Street, was the Fort Orange Hotel, which housed five members.  This building would later become one of the first homes of the Christian Brothers Academy.  The Albany Coffee House stood at the northwest corner of Green and Beaver streets.  This was one of Albany’s most ancient hostels, built before the Revolution, and originally called the King’s Arms.  The Capitol Hotel would later be built on the site.  One legislator roomed at the Coffee House.

Another popular area for the legislators to stay was the vicinity of the so-called Landing Place, later Steamboat Square.  Perhaps this was the place for statesmen more concerned about making a fast exit than about proximity to their place of employment.  The National & Columbian Hotel, which was just opposite the Landing Place, at 161 – 163 Market Street, hosted seventeen legislators.  The Eagle Tavern, another Albany inn with ancient provenance, was at the corner of Market and Hamilton, and was the residence of three Assemblymen.

Congress Hall   Of course, some lawmakers preferred to stay close to the Capitol (the Old Capitol, that is).  The storied Congress Hall was at the corner of Washington Avenue and Park Place – about as close as one could get.  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, only seven Assemblymen stayed here.  I wonder if just ‘leadership’ stayed so close, or if Congress Hall was pricier because of its location.  But there were other Capitol Hill options – A.P. Loucks’ at 15 Washington, and Mrs. Lockwood’s at 30 Washington, at the corner of Hawk Street – each of which hosted three Assembly members.

Then there were the few oddballs, who did not stay in hotels.  There was Edward Livingston of Albany, previously mentioned, who enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in his own bed at 55 North Pearl Street.  Also, there were three members (two of them from Orange County) who stayed at 33 Dean Street.  And one who boarded at 55 Chapel Street.

For a small city, Albany seemed to have quite a flourishing hotel industry in 1833, due in no small part, to the annual influx of legislators on the people’s business (and the people’s dime as well!).  So while life, liberty and property may still have been in jeopardy, Albany’s hoteliers reaped the benefits.

I did a little map showing the approximate locations of all the hotels mentioned in this blog post.  I used red for some of the numbers just to make them a little more visible.

1833 Albany_MAP%200015 copy 1

PHOTO CREDITS:  Mansion House picture from AIHA digital collection; all other images taken from Albany Group Archive Flickr site.

Ten Flags Over Albany?

We’ve all heard of Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Over Georgia. But how many flags have fluttered over Albany, New York? Albany has not only been under the sovereignty of three different countries (The Netherlands, Great Britain, and the United States), but also under the authority of two companies and a patroon. And all of them waved a flag or two over our fair city.

When Henry Hudson sailed the Halve Maen to the present site of Albany on September 22, 1609, he was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, then under the protection of the government of the United Netherlands. He would have flown both flags from his masts.

1. PrinsenvlagThis is the flag of the United Netherlands, the seven lowland provinces which separated themselves from the Spanish Netherlands in 1592.  They adopted the colors of William I of Orange, the leader of the Dutch Revolt, which were yellow, white and blue.  It was the official flag of the Dutch Republic when Hudson first sighted the Albany shore, when Fort Nassau was established in 1614, and when Fort Orange was built in 1624.

3. Dutch East Indies Company ver. 1

The flag of the Dutch East India Company was simply the flag of the United Netherlands with a monogram of the company’s name in the middle white bar.  The letters ‘VOC’ stood for Vereenigde Oosterische Compagnie –  The United East India Company.  That company had engaged Henry Hudson to find an alternative route to Asia through the Arctic Sea.  Hudson thought the prospects were better for a westerly route and so he headed toward the Americas.  Either way, Hudson was way off course by the time he got to Albany.

Two historical developments would soon lead to two new flags flying over Albany

In 1621, the Dutch Republic granted a trade monopoly to a new company of merchants – the Chartered Dutch West India Company.  The new company was given jurisdiction over the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America.  It was this company that, in 1624, sent eighteen Walloon settlers 150 miles up the North River to establish a fur trading post, which they would name Fort Orange.  It was also the Chartered Dutch West India Company that granted a patroonship to one of its major investors, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, in 1630.

Then, in 1650, Prince William II of Orange died.  He had done much to alienate himself from the Dutch States-General (or parliament), and the States-General responded to his death by passing a law that no one from the House of Orange could ever be stadtholder again (that lasted only about 20 years).  This new anti-Orange sentiment was memorialized in a new flag design which replaced the orange horizontal bar with a red one.  This was supposedly a color common to several of the seven provinces which constituted the United Netherlands.

4..Flag_of_the_Dutch_West_India_Company   The flag to the left reflects both of these historical developments.  It shows the red-white-blue flag of the post-1650 Dutch Republic, with the monogram of the Chartered West India Company – GWC – for Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie.  The company flag, before 1650 would have been similar to the East India Company flag, except with its own monogram in the center.  This flag would fly over Fort Orange until it was ceded to the English in 1664.

10.  Van Rensselaer

The Van Rensselaer’s early arrogated to themselves all manner of feudal privileges and honors, including, apparently, a flag.  In 1653, the Patroon sent a petition to the West India Company, complaining of men “coming into the Colonie of Rensselaer’s Wyck, and there causing the petitioner’s flag to be hauled down, in opposition to the will and protest of the officers.”  History has not left us with an image or description of that flag, but we do know that the patroons used the Van Rensselaer family crest – a 1632 map of Rensselaerswijck features it.  It consisted of a red shield with a so-called moline cross in white.  It is not too far-fetched to suppose that this striking crest might have formed the basis for the Patroon’s own banner.

5.  union-jack-oldWith the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664, there came another new flag.  From shortly after James VI of Scotland had ascended to the English throne in 1603, this personal union of the Scottish and English crowns was commemorated by the flag known as the Union Jack (the ‘Jack’ being a reference to King James).  It was made by superimposing the cross of St. George (red on a white background, the ancient symbol of England) over the white ‘saltire cross’ of St. Andrew (a white X on a blue background, the equally ancient of Scotland).  This would have been the flag hoisted over newly named Fort Albany when English troops arrived to take possession of the small Dutch trading post.  This flag would continue to be the standard of English rule until 1707, with only a brief interlude in 1673-74, when the English colony fell briefly again under Dutch rule.

6.  Red EnsignIt was during the reign of Queen Anne, and apparently at her request, that in 1707, a new flag was designed for British naval vessels and merchant ships.  It was made, in part, to commemorate the Act of Union of the same year, which definitively united England and Scotland into one realm of Great Britain.  This flag was referred to as the Meteor Flag, presumably due to its abundance of flame-like red. It also soon came to be used even on land in the English overseas colonies, including the Province of New York.  This flag would have flown over  Fort Frederick shortly after it was rebuilt as a masonry fortification in 1703.

11.  Royal Governor's flag A flag that might have flown over Albany is this one to the left, which was presented by King James II of Great Britain to Edmund Andros, after Andros had been named royal governor over the combined provinces of New England and New York.  This square flag is a simple St. George’s cross with a crown and the king’s monogram in the center (JR for Jacobus Rex).  It was a clear visual statement that the man who flew this flag spoke for the King.

7.  Gand Union FlagIn the early days of the American Patriot movement, it was not immediately clear that actual independence from England was a primary objective, and the flag used in those early days (1775 – 1777) reflected that ambivalence.  This so-called ‘Grand Union’ flag kept the Union Jack in the position of honor, but in a field of thirteen white and red alternating stripes to represent the thirteen colonies.  They were, after all, simply fighting for their rights as Englishmen.  But it was also noting the unity of the American provinces, a unity earlier expressed in the Albany Plan of Union.  The Grand Union flag would certainly have accompanied militia units on their way from Albany to the battlefields of Saratoga.

9. Hopkinson FlagBut after July 4, 1776, independence was certainly the objective of the Patriots.  And they needed a flag to represent that fact.  With apologies to Betsy Ross, the earliest known ‘American’ flag was designed by Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Originally designed for the Navy, it became the preferred design as a national flag, the ‘Stars & Stripes’ being adopted as the official banner of the United States by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.  The arrangement of the stars was not specified by statute, and so many variations were created throughout the war and after independence (the ‘Betsy Ross’ circle of stars has no attribution prior to 1792).  It would interesting to discover when the first such flag flew over Albany.  New York City had to wait until the British evacuation on November 25, 1783, but Albany had been securely in Patriot hands long before that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this colorful excursion through Albany’s history by way of its flags.  I’ve described ten flags here, not including various state, city, and military flags.  But in any case, I think we have Texas and Georgia beat!


“He started from Albany five months ago,

And trundled his wheelbarrow steady and slow.

In storm and in sunshine, through dust, wind, and rain.

Four thousand odd miles trudged the wheelbarrow man.”

The Wheelbarrow Man,” Samuel Booth, 1879

Wheelbarrow Man CDV 1883

The name of Robert Lyman Potter may not stand out in the annals of our ancient city, but he was a man who did exactly what he said he wanted to do – “to do something no one had ever done before.”  R. Lyman Potter is credited with the feat of having walked across the continental United States with a wheelbarrow.

Mr. Potter was born about the year 1840 in Marietta, Ohio.  At about the age of twenty, he found himself in Albany, working as an upholsterer.  He had a wife and two or three children.  There is no doubt that Potter was an eccentric.  When Grant was elected President in 1868, Potter vowed that he would not shave his beard until a Democrat was in the White House.  Potter left this world forever before having to make good on that vow. His ‘queerness’ was ascribed to a disease he contracted while a prisoner at Andersonville.

As Potter himself told the story, he and some friends were discussing the accomplishments of Edward Payson Weston, the professional race-walker who had recently covered 110 miles in 24 hours.  Potter, eager ‘to do something no one had ever done before,’ thought he could do better.  And so, his friends were able to put up a purse of $1,000 if Potter could walk, with a wheelbarrow, 4,085 miles in 215 days, going from Albany to San Francisco.  By the terms of the wager, Potter was not allowed to walk on Sundays.  The weight of the wheelbarrow was usually between 60 and 80 pounds, though never less than 45 pounds.  Potter claimed he started out with $3.55 in his pocket.

By his own account, Potter set off from his home at the intersection of Warren and Swan streets on April 10, 1878, between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon, pushing his wheelbarrow, followed some distance by a crowd of friends and well-wishers.  By 7:30 pm that evening, he was in Schenectady.  He arrived in Utica the morning of April 15; the next day, he was in Rome.  He continued through Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, mostly following the railroad tracks.  Continuing through northern Indiana, he arrived in Chicago on May 23, staying there for three days, the first time he had stayed anywhere for more than one night.  By now, Potter was a national sensation, with newspapers across the country reporting on his progress.  And he was now invariably known as the Wheelbarrow Man.

Potter crossed the Mississippi River over a railroad trestle at Davenport, Iowa.  Before crossing the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, on June 24, Potter was asked to give a talk on the topic of temperance, which, according to Potter, ‘was proclaimed by all to be an admirable address.’

Not far into Nebraska, Potter nearly met with disaster.  He was felled by sunstroke near Plum Creek and was laid up for fifteen days as he recovered.  But he seems to have made up for lost time, arriving in Laramie, Wyoming Territory, on July 30.  On August 13, from Table Rock, Wyoming Territory, Potter penned a letter to the Toledo Daily Sentinel, as he had promised the paper he would when he had earlier refused an interview while passing through that city.  He told the Toledo readers that he was “in excellent health and spirits” and that he had gained eight pounds since beginning his trek.  He reassured them that the ‘weary traveler had not lost his scalp,’ that the Indians were all friendly and often wished him “a good wind.”  He noted that one squaw had even named her papoose ‘Wheelbarrow’ in his honor.

Wheelbarrow Man Rochester

Finally, on October 27, he arrived in San Francisco.  He came by way of San Jose, since he was not permitted to cross the bay.  Several thousand people greeted him at Woodward’s Garden, a popular entertainment venue on the outskirts of the city.  He ‘paraded in to tumultuous applause, suitably recognized.’ Potter actually had nearly 100 more miles to go to reach the 4,085 mile goal.  But being nearly a month ahead of schedule, Potter took his time, finishing things up on a track at Woodward’s Garden on November 7, 1878.  Overall, Potter had averaged about 27 miles a day (including just the days he walked).

In Sacramento, Potter had told a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle that he was “tired of the job and wish it were over.”  His journey was expensive.  He had spent nearly $400 and had to send to Albany for funds more than once.  He also earned money by carrying letters (at 25 cents apiece) and by selling ads on his wheelbarrow, including one for Pete’s Eye Salve, which appears in the photo.  He limited himself to two meals a day and said he avoided all hot drinks.  Otherwise, meals were dear, costing Potter “four bits to a dollar” each.  Railway workers apparently took interest in him and gave him “plenty of grub” along the way.  He generally sought shelter in hotels and, because of his celebrity, was often not charged for the shelter.  Potter said that, in the West, he “never had to pay a hotel bill or a whiskey bill.”

The only weapon he had was a “small six shooter.”  He said that he shot a deer, a porcupine, some jack rabbits, and a small bear.  He also ‘adopted’ two abandoned wolf cubs in Kansas, who accompanied Potter on his travels for the rest of his life.  He would push them in the wheelbarrow “when they got tired of walking.”

The press, while taking great interest in his expedition, presented it as the act of a crazy man.  ‘Lunatic,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘tramp,’ and ‘bummer’ were terms frequently used in the papers to describe Potter.  But in spite of his eccentricity, the San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about him:  “Potter is a fine looking man, of splendid physique and wearing a full beard.  There is not the slightest sign of the madman about him, but on the contrary, he exhibits the elation of the winner in a long and arduous contest against time.”

But having done ‘what no one had done before’ did not mean that R. Lyman Potter’s walking days were over.  Potter’s trek caught the attention of another noted ‘pedestrian,’ one Leo Pierre Federmeyer, who had recently come to the United States from his native France.  Federmeyer challenged Potter to a race across the continental United States, from San Francisco to New York City – pushing wheelbarrows of course.  A purse of $1,500 was raised and Potter accepted the challenge.  This race was also closely followed by the press.  Both men left San Francisco on December 8, 1878 and did not part ways until they were in Nevada.  Federmeyer and his travelling companion (both Potter and Federmeyer had local men accompany them during portions of the trip, especially for the more dangerous legs) were nearly killed in a snowstorm while crossing the Rockies in January.

Federmeyer arrived in Albany on July 20, 1879; Potter was reportedly still in the Midwest.   Federmeyer was half way to New York City from Albany when he learned that the railroad bridge at Poughkeepsie was out (and he was not permitted to take a ferry).  So he had to walk back to Albany, cross the Hudson over the Maiden Lane bridge, and then continue on to New York City, where Federmeyer arrived eight days later.  Potter accused Federmeyer of taking the train for part of his route, an accusation that seems to have been believed, although it is unclear whether either contestant collected the prize.  When Potter finally arrived in New York City, Federmeyer was unavailable, having gone for some weeks to Manhattan Beach to recover.

After these feats, rather than return to his wife and children in Albany, Potter went on the road again, displaying ‘curiosities’ he had picked up during his travels.  These seem to have consisted of snake skins, a bear hide, and some Native American trinkets.  But the main ‘curiosity’ was clearly Potter himself, his wheelbarrow, and the surviving wolf cub, now fully grown.  Potter travelled through Maryland in 1880, and was in Washington, D.C. in mid-1881.  A hoped for trip to Europe not panning out, Potter moved to Richmond, Virginia, setting up a ‘museum’ at the Old Stone House (that city’s oldest structure).

Wheelbarrow Man Stone House Richmond VA

In the Spring of 1883, Potter accepted another wager, for a wheelbarrow trip from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans.  But in April, Potter was apparently struck by a train as he crossed the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River in North Carolina.  His effects were returned to his widow in Albany.  She is a part of Potter’s story the newspapers say little about.  When asked why he did not return to his family, R. Lyman Potter responded cryptically, “Reason I don’t go home is that if I get there with my children, I can’t get away.”  When Potter’s widow was asked about her feelings, she replied that she hoped to get $1,000 for the wheelbarrow, and that while she liked the wolf, she could probably sell that to a menagerie.  The barrow ended up in the hands of James Martin of Martinville, though the price was undisclosed.  Monsieur Federmeyer made another appearance too, placing an ad in Albany newspapers, offering to conduct a walking match for the benefit of Mrs. Potter and the orphans.  All he needed was a railroad ticket from San Francisco to Albany.


Follow the link to an interactive map of R. Lyman Potter’s original trek from Albany to San Francisco:

The Van Vechten Building (119-121 State Street)

121 State Street Van Vechten Hall 1890   One of Albany’s great buildings (now gone, of course). Built between 1830-1832 by the Mohawk & Hudson railroad as the first class passenger terminal for its route to Schenectady, it also included space for shops and other offices, as well as a large hall on the top floor.

In the summer of 1832, Joseph Henry strung wire from his laboratory at the Albany Academy to the roof of this building to see if his electromagnet could send a pulse across a distance. The cheers of the school boys on the roof of the Van Vechten building gave Henry the first intimation that his experiment had been a success.

In 1844, the Mohawk & Hudson built a new station on Maiden Lane, thus ending the building’s career as a train station. The building seems to have fallen under the ownership of the City of Albany from then on. My guess (and it’s just a guess) is that the building was named after Teunis Van Vechten (1785 – 1859), who was mayor of Albany for four terms beginning in 1837, alderman for much longer than that, and an attorney whose practice frequently involved the city government.

In December 1844, the newly founded State Normal School began classes here on the 2nd and 3rd floors, which the City offered rent free for five years, in addition to paying $500 for renovations. The Normal School would remain here until 1849, when it moved to a purpose-built building at Lodge and Howard. Some time afterward, the building became home to a private academy run by a Mr. Levi Carr or Cass.

In September 1868, the Albany Free Academy opened with 141 students. This was the first truly public high school in Albany, and it remained in the Van Vechten building until 1876, when classes were moved to the new Albany High School building on Eagle Street. Meanwhile, the top floor, known as Van Vechten Hall, was a space that was used for a great many events and purposes – a dance studio, an armory for the Albany Zouave Cadets, the venue for countless commencement exercises, fancy dress balls, lectures, union meetings, and even the Annual Fair of the NYS Poultry Society (complete with competitions for best duck, goose, and pigeon). In 1880 – 1882, after the Albany City Hall was destroyed by fire and before the new City Hall was built, the Van Vechten building was taken over by city offices.

The building survived several threats to its existence. In 1897, the consortium behind the new Ten Eyck Hotel considered purchasing the site for a hotel. In 1924, Mayor Hackett led the effort to build a massive Masonic Temple on this location, which he deemed ‘ideal’ for the purpose. In 1942, a major fire tore through the top floor, which by that time had been made over into apartments; but repairs were made, and the Van Vechten building continued to be a popular location for professional offices and lobbying groups (including the Anti-Saloon League).

But in the early 1960’s, the land was purchased by IBM. After nearly 130 years, the Van Vechten Building was demolished in 1962 and the new IBM building completed in 1964.  50 years later it looks non-descript and dated.