Friday, March 26, 2010

Liberty Park

It doesn't look like much, really. A tiny patch of grass, a couple of benches, a pair of trees. Nor are there great views to be had here, just parking facilities, the Albany bus terminal, and the back of Plaza Row with its fades ghosts signs for old blacksmith shops and electrical supplies.

But this lonely little green space on Hudson Avenue between Dallius and Liberty Streets is, in fact, Albany's oldest park.

Maps of Albany from 1848 identify it as a park and it can be outlined on maps going back as far as 1770. The park, known as Hudson Park (that name now refers to a neighborhood further uptown) and Diagonal Park, itself may date back to 1808.

Tradition also says that this was once the site of the Patroon's garden, part of the vast Rensselaerwyck "colonie" established in 1630 by Killiaen Van Rensselaer. Records from the late 1640s identify a three-year lease for a garden identified as being just north of "the ground where heretofore the trading house of the honorable patroon stood, and to the east of the churchyard." The patroon's house, which was destroyed by a flood in 1666, was occupied by Killiaen's son, Jeremias who was buried in said garden in 1674.

However, the well-researched The Patroon's Garden and Liberty Park, Albany, New York by Paul R. Huey discounts the connection between the garden and the park.

Ownership of the land that became Liberty Park, however, can be traced to the Wendell family, whose mills stood along the Beaverkill within modern Lincoln Park, and later in part, by Benjamin Knower, a respected Albany businessman whose waterproof hat factory still stands in the village of Altamont. The Patroon's Garden and Liberty Park gives an exhaustive list of the many owners of the lots at the site over the years.

Also of note is the proximity of this park to the oldest house in the city of Albany, the Van Ostrande-Radcliff House just a few yards north at 48 Hudson Avenue. Indeed, the archeological remnants of other 18th-century buildings may still preserved beneath Liberty Park itself since the land has been comparatively undisturbed for so long and one can only hope that this significance will be respected when plans for the nearby Albany Convention Center move forward!

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