Wednesday, September 17, 2014

4 Elk Street

There's been some discussion of the Roosevelts in Albany, thanks to Ken Burns' new PBS documentary.

The elegant house above is 4 Elk Street which was home to Franklin Delano Roosevelt while serving as a State Senator from 1910-12.

The house was built circa 1830.  For many years, it was the home of Franklin Townsend .  In 1900, the facade was remodeled by architect Marcus T. Reynolds.  It was at this time that the lovely glazed panels were added above the third story windows;  the center panel depicts a classical female head above laurels and the side panels feature quivers of arrows and bows.

This is one of several facades that were incorporated into the present New York Bar Association Center building.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fort Nassau - Two Events

At 7:00 tonight, at the main branch of the Albany Public Library, historian John Walcott will give a presentation on his research and findings about the location of Fort Nassau.

Later this month, there will be an Early Albany fair at the Corning Preserve.  The event will be held on September 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  More details are available here or you can RSVP on the event's Facebook page.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Finding The Fort

An essay by local historian John Wolcott on the likely location of the 1614 Fort Nassau

Researcher Pinpoints Long Lost 1614 Albany Fort

And more on the subject in a recent post by Don Rittner:

Preserve Fort Nassau and Fort Nassau 2 and Fort Nassau 3 and....

This site is one with tremendous historic significance which should be explored, preserved, and promoted instead of forgotten or destroyed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Partial Collapse - The Palmer-Gavit House

Yesterday afternoon, various local news outlets reported on the collapse of a building in downtown Albany.  The building is located on Columbia Place (a corner just north of the intersection of Eagle Street and Columbia Street).

The brick house was built in 1852 by sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer and John Gavit.  Gavit was a well-known Albany printer whose son, Joseph, would later marry Palmer's daughter Francis.  By 1860, the house was mentioned in a long, rather florid poem in celebration of Albany that was read at the dedication of Tweddle Hall.  One verse read in part: 

Our present, with that light upon us, how 
Moves on Majestic to new glories now.
Arts flourish, Progress laughs, and all the world
Begins to know our banner is unfurled.
Here Palmer first divulged his splendid gifts,
Till now the sceptre of high art he lifts --
Till now his native genius, power, and grace
Make an art Mecca of Columbia place.

(from "Dedidcation of Tweddle Hall," a poem delivered by William D. Morange, Esq.)

Palmer began his career as a self-taught sculptor in Utica, but relocated to Albany in 1846.  As a carpenter, Palmer had built mantles, carved moldings, and bannisters for various residences in Utica and it is possible that he did at least some of the interior woodwork for this new house in Albany.  The building adjacent on the right in the photos was built as Palmer's studio and it was here that many of his best known marbles were executed, including The White Captive, Peace In Bondage, and the heroic Angel At The Sepulchre.  Several other artists started their careers as apprentices in his studio, most notably Charles Caverley who sculpted the monument to Robert Burns in Washington Park.  According to one of Palmer's daughter's, the studio included a blacksmith and carpentry shop on its lower floors while the marble studio and modelling studio were located on upper floors.

Due to high city taxes, Palmer later changed his primary residence to Appledale, a farm he owned in Glenmont.  He continued to work from this studio and was a regular at Lawson Annesley's frame shop and art gallery.  He also owned a house at 5 Lafayette Street where he died on March 9, 1904. 

In the 1870s, Palmer's Columbia Place house was briefly occupied by St. Agnes School.  An advertisement for the school notes that it will be opening for its third year at 2 & 3 Columbia Place before moving to its permanent building later in the school year.  In more recent times, the building has been used for offices, but was vacant for several years as a photo posted on my companion blog in 2009 shows it empty and for sale.

At the time of yesterday's collapse, the building (which was recently sold) was undergoing stabilization.   The rear of the property sits atop the steep hill above Sheridan Hollow and it is possible that recent heavy rains which flooded the hollow below may have contributed to the damage.

As of this afternoon, news reports indicate that building will be stabilized and saved.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Charter Day and Cake

July 22 marks the 328th anniversary of the Dongan Charter, the document which established Albany as a city and which makes it among the oldest incorporated cities in the United States.  The event doesn't get much attention since the Tricentennial celebrations in 1986 (which themselves seem to have been less spectacular than the 1886 Bicentennial (see the picture of crowds at a night parade in this previous post and some of the Bicentennial tablets which were placed at significant locations around the city).

I spent much of the day thinking that it would be great if something could be done annually to celebrate the event, even if only on a small scale. 

Yesterday, I picked up several vintage cookbooks.  Someone was putting moving out of a building in Center Square and set out a box of books.  I can never resist cookbooks so I came home with two.  Both were community cookbooks and the recipes in those can be hit or miss.  One was published by a church in Hagaman, New York and the other was published in conjunction with city Sesquicentennial in Indianapolis.
I didn't have a chance to peek inside either until this afternoon when the piece of paper shown above slipped from between the pages.  Not only does the apple cake recipe sound like its worth making (as soon as the weather cools enough to bake), but the recipe is handwritten on a piece of paper with a letterhead from the Tricentennial celebration.  Perfect timing!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Meneely Bell in Lincoln Park

Just behind the Lincoln Park tennis courts and directly across from the old laboratory of Professor James Hall, there is a very large bell.  There is surprisingly little information on this bell, but the inscription on it gives a few clues as to its history.

The front of the bell reads:   Purchased under the supervision of the Albany Board of Fire Commissioners, June 1882.  M.N. Nolan, Mayor.  Thomas Willard, Philip O'Brien, H.S. Rosenthal, A.N. Brady, Thomas Austin.  Chief Engineer, James McQuade.

The reverse of the bell notes that it was cast by the famous Meneely foundry.

According to the 1917 Albany Guide Book:

The "Big Ben" of the city bells is in the City Hall tower and is used for striking fire alarms, the hour of 9 o'clock, and for municipal purposes generally.  It was cast in 1882 by Meneelly of West Troy; weight, 7,049 pounds; height, 50 1/2 inches; diameter at mouth, 70 inches; thickness, 5 1/2 inches.  Placed in position October 28, 1882

It may have been removed from City Hall when the carillon was installed in 1927.  By then, the need for a fire bell in the tower had lessened as a new fire telegraph station had been built on Delaware Avenue in 1917.  It's less clear exactly when the bell was moved to Lincoln Park.

Edited to add:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Helping History

Albany is one of the oldest and most historic cities in the United States.  Sadly, much of our tangible history has been lost to progress.  Look around the city and you will see only a few traces of Albany's colonial era, its role in the Revolutionary War, its development as a city before the Civil War.  And, certainly, a great swath of the city was consumed with the construction of the Empire State Plaza (a subject still hotly debated decades after the fact.

There is certainly good reason to regret the historic treasures that are lost. But this is the time to not only protect what tangible history we still have, but to PROMOTE it.  It's not just about historic preservation, but also making use of what we have.

Social Media

Many local historic sites and museums have a presence on social networks. Find their web site or blog, their Facebook page or Twitter. Like or follow it and, even more importantly, don't just favorite their posts. SHARE THEM. Post to their walls. Share your related photos with them. Help expand their reach instead of just passively showing support.

Friends of...

Many have a “Friends of” group. You don't have to join every single one. But pick one or two that you have a strong interest in and join at whatever level you can afford. If nothing else, you'll likely get an interesting newsletter several times a year. Take part in their scheduled events and spread the word about them. Share their schedules. Invite people to come along with you. Share photos from the events. And, as above, if the Friends have a social media presence, like it and share it.


Haven't been to your favorite museum in a while? Go. There's definitely a new exhibit or two and it's always great to revisit the old ones. Maybe there's a picture or object that you casually passed the last time that you will see from a different perspective now. Haven't been to that historic mansion since your middle school field trip? It's still there. It's still open. And it needs visitors. Bring a friend and, once again, share the experience whatever way you can.  Maybe you'll find a chance to volunteer, too.


There are scores of excellent books on Albany's past.  Many are out of print, but still accessible.  Some, like Joel Munsell's multi-volume Annals of Albany are available through Google Books or  Others can easily be obtaining through inter-library loan. 

Local history isn't a dead thing, but it needs a bit of life.  Support it and share it.