Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Albany Bicenntennial Tablets - Part One

1886 was a celebratory year for Albany. It marked the 200th anniversary of the granting of the Dongan Charter, the municipal charter issued by Governor Dongan which separated Albany from the colonial estate of Rensselaerwyck and created it as a city.

Among the many commemorations, a series of 42 bronze plaques were placed throughout Albany through the efforts of a committee headed by architect Walter Dickson. The Bicentennial Tablets were created by William Hailes (a maker of stove and machine patterns whose shop stood at the corner of Broadway and Hamilton Street) and placed at sites significant to Albany history.

The plaques varied in size from small (about 16 x 7 inches) to large (about 32 x 40 inches) and marked such places as the site of Fort Frederick atop State Street's steep hill, historic churches and private residences of note, original names of streets, and the courses of some of the old streams that once flowed through the city. They commemorated events such as the ride of Symon Schermerhorn who carried the news of the Schenectady Massacre to Albany, visits by George Washington, and the planting of an elm tree by Philip Livingston.

The tablets were part of a celebration of Albany heritage that included proclamations, sermons, hymns, parades, visits by Mohawk chiefs, and an evergreen "triumphal arch" built across Broadway complete with a wooden replica of the old stockade gates.

A numbered list of the plaques was published in various late 19th and early 20th century guidebooks to aid visitors to Albany in retracing the paths of the city's history.

Almost 125 years have passed since the Bicentennial Tablets were set in place and, gradually, many of the plaques disappeared as buildings were torn down and new structures raised. Streets were widened, paved, and repaved and the plaques set along curbs lost or destroyed.

More than half of the original 42 plaques are gone. At least one of the current plaques is a replica replacing a lost marker noting the home where Governor DeWitt Clinton died in 1828. The majority, though, are lost and forgotten. Only about a dozen survive and some of those are now very difficult to find.

Looking at the original list of markers is a poignant reminder of how much of Albany's early history was not preserved. So many of the places commemorated by the plaques were gone by the time of the Bicentennial and many of those that still stood intact as of 1886 are long since gone.

To be continued...

Plaque Number 1 - Fort Orange 
Plaque Number 4 - The Progenitor
Plaque Number 29 - The North East Gate
Plaque - Old Saint Mary's
Plaque - Lydius Corner
Plaque - On Broadway

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