Monday, November 19, 2012

Albany: Then & Now - App Review

This app by Tim Varney of Troy Web Consulting first came to my attention with an article on All Over Albany (a site which you should absolutely check daily).  At the time, I had not yet upgraded to a smartphone capable of downloading apps.  However, with a very recent upgrade to an Android phone, I was extremely eager to try Tim Varney's Albany: Then & Now.

The app, which is a free download for both Android and iPhone/iPad, gives a terrific glimpse into the city's past by matching present-day map locations with century-old photographs of the exact same place.  Each antique photo is accompanied by a brief, but excellent description.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Battle In Lincoln Park

 Above:  View inside the Beaverkill ravine in Lincoln Park, site of the 1626 ambush

In the late summer of 1626, a party of armed men set out from the Fort Orange.  Led by the Dutch outpost's superintendent, Daniel Van Kriekenbeek (there are numerous spellings of the name) the men (two of whome were not Dutch, but Portuguese) were accompanying a group of Mahicans in a planned attack on the Mohawks.

Van Kriekenbeek's decision to join the Mahicans in their ongoing conflict with the Mohawks was a departure from the previous neutrality the Dutch settlement had maintained with both and it would nearly end the good relations between Fort Orange and the Iroquois Confederacy to the west.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shoes and Maps

This year's Sculpture In The Streets exhibit in downtown Albany features replicas of Dutch clogs painted by local artists.  This particular shoe - located on South Pearl Street - features a detailed rendering of an 1857 map of the city.

The title of this shoe is "Paths of The Past" by Mitchell Biernacki.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Old Halenbeek Burial Ground

Downtown Albany was once dotted with public, private, and church graveyards.  The earliest churchyard surrounded the First Dutch Church at what is now Broadway and State Street, a Lutheran graveyard stood on South Pearl Street just below State Street, small burying grounds for soldiers from Fort Frederick and for African-Americans were located just outside the stockade not far from today's City Hall.  Later, municipal burial grounds were established on Eagle Street (just south of modern East Capitol Park) and then at State Street (now the northeastern corner of Washington Park). 

There were also small family burial grounds on farms, estates, and privately owned or leased lots.  One such lot - complete with a private vault - was built by merchant David Vanderheyden around 1766 at what is now the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Swan Street. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Don Rittner - Preserving Albany's Undiscovered City

Above:  Albany's first official seal
This post by Don Rittner is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in Albany's history and its preservation.

The Albany Preservation Plan (Preserving Albany's Undiscovered City)

Please read it and share it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Civil War Poetry of Alfred B. Street

Albany poet Alfred Billings Street was, in his day, best known for his sentimental nature poems and his published accounts of excursions into the Adirondack wilderness.  He also delivered verses for many civic occasions (such as the consecration of the Albany Rural Cemetery)

During the Civil War, however, the focus of poems turned to patriotic Union themes.  He would publish nineteen such works beginning with "Smite!" (reprinted below) at the beginning of the war and ending with "Abraham Lincoln Dead." 

Several of these poems would celebrate local heroes, including Colonel Lewis Benedict.  Another was read for the opening of the Army Relief Bazaar.  These poems, mostly printed in local newspapers, were later included in a two-volume collection of his poems published in 1866.

Foes on our banner are bashing;
   Freedom that banner upholds,
Calling her sons to her aid,
City and mountain and glade!
   Rally then under its folds!
   Stars, ye bear hope in your light!
  Pearl, thou art emblem of right!
Wrath in the crimson is flashing:

See!  the dim forms of our fathers,
   Frowning, bend low to our sight;
Voices are heard on the gale:
"Sons, if ye cowardly fail,
   Hide in the caverns of night!
   No!  ye will on in your might!
As the storm over us gathers,

Here hang the hopes of the nation!
   Choice have we only to fight!
Sorrows shall nerve us anew!
Know but in battle's red dew
    Peace spreads her blossom of white;
   Smite then for our freedom and right! --
Smite! 't'is our only salvation!

(Detail of Albany's Soldiers & Sailors Monument)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Willett Stone

This boulder at the corner of Willett and State Streets honors the namesake of the former, General Marinus Willett.

The plaque features a profile of Willett and the following inscription:

In Grateful Memory of General Marinus Willett
1740 - 1836
For His Gallant and Patriotic Services In
Defense of Albany And The People of
The Mohawk Valley Against Tory And Indian
Foes During The Years of The War For
Independence, This Stone, Brought From The
Scenes of Conflict And Typical of His Rugged Character,
Has Been Placed Here Under The Auspices of The
Sons of The Revolution
In The State of New York
By The Philip Livingston Chapter
A.D. 1907

This memorial was originally located a few yards deeper in the park, but was moved to its present location several years ago as it was struck several times by cars missing a sharp turn.

It's interesting to note that the Willett Street might not have been named for the General in the first place. It was originally Willet Street and probably followed the pattern of naming the north-south streets in this area after birds - Eagle, Swan, Dove, Lark, Willet, and Snipe (the last of these no longer exists). At some point, the extra "t" was added and the association with General Willett began, making it a logical place for his memorial.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Update On The Reburial of the Schuyler Flatts Slaves

This afternoon, an informational meeting was held at the Albany Public Library to discuss the reburial of skeletons discovered near the Schuyler Flatts. The remains are of fourteen people who were undoubtedly slaves owned by the Schuyler family from the early 18th to early 19th centuries. The speaker was Paul Stewart of the Underground Railroad History Project; representatives from the New York State Museum, St. Agnes' Roman Catholic Cemetery, and Albany Rural Cemetery were present, along with the Town of Colonie's historian.

Some background information on the discovery of the skeletons and proposals for reburial were discussed.

In the past, the need for a suitable burial container had been mentioned as a concern; some sort of casket that would preserve the remains in the event of a future exhumation (presumably for scientific or educational purposes). However, this is no longer considered an issue and, in my opinion, there should not be any future exhumation of these skeletons. Their next resting place should be their final resting place and they should be allowed to lie in peace there. I would assume that reasonable samples from the bones could and would be retained by the NYS Museum for additional research as technology in that field advances.

A suitable burial container is still an issue, though. The discussion included modern-style burial vaults, simple wooden boxes in a manner similar to the original white pine coffins, cardboard boxes which have been used in previous reburials of historic remains, or merely wrapping the bodies in muslin winding sheets and laying them to rest in the earth. The issue of burying the remains separately or in a mass grave was also mentioned. All of these options are, of course, dependent on cost and available funds.

On the subject of funding, while the expenses have not yet been determined, I would suggest that donations could be solicited from individuals, businesses, and organizations with an interest in assisting with the cost of reburial and the placement of a suitable memorial or marker.

Several locations for reburial were mentioned. One early proposal put forward not long after the bones were discovered was to rebury them at the same privately owned site where they were discovered, along with an appropriate marker. There are at least two more undisturbed burials there and it is believed there may be others. However, there would be little protection for the remains if, in the future, construction or development affects the property. The parcel would have to be rezoned as a cemetery to be protected under the New York State Cemetery Laws and this, no doubt, would involve quite a bit of legal paperwork. Also, St. Agnes' Roman Catholic Cemetery – which is located just south of the original grave site and adjacent to the Albany Rural Cemetery – has offered to donate a suitable plot in a section called Founder's Hill, not far from the remains which were transferred to St. Agnes' from the Catholic lot in the State Street Burying Grounds during the mass removal of graves in 1868.

Another proposed site was the Church Grounds of Albany Rural Cemetery. It is my opinion, based on the history of the Church Grounds and the information presented at this meeting, that this is the most appropriate place for the reburial of the Schuyler Flatts skeletons.

First, there is strong precedent for such a reburial. In the past, when historic graves have been uncovered by construction or development, they have often been re-interred at the Church Grounds or other suitable areas of the Rural Cemetery. These reburials include the graves exhumed from the Alms House site along New Scotland Avenue, children from the Albany Orphanage, and Pearl (the name give to a woman whose grave was discovered along South Pearl Street, formerly the site of an early Lutheran burial ground). Also, the Rural Cemetery is closest to the place that these people knew as home, though not by choice, and where they were laid to rest without the expectation of future generations disturbing their graves.

Second, as the religious beliefs of these Schuyler slaves are unknown to modern scholars and historians, it would be appropriate to bury them in a secular cemetery – such as the Rural Cemetery – which has allowed for the burial of people of any race or religion. Also, the Church Grounds includes the African Methodist Episcopal burials moved from the State Street Burying Grounds. While this church did not exist during the lives of the Schuyler Flatts slaves, it is not impossible (thought completely unprovable) some of the individuals could possibly be direct descendents or other kin.

Today's meeting was, of course, very preliminary. There will be future meetings to further address the subject and to form a committee to handle the arrangements. A town hall meeting will also be held to get further input from the public. It is hoped that a reburial – with a fitting ceremony – can be held sometime in the warmer months.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Reburial of Schuyler Slaves

Above: Marker in the historic Church Grounds section of Albany Rural Cemetery

Today's Times Union has a very interesting article on the issues surrounding the reburial of the skeletal remains of slaves discovered close tothe Schuyler Flatts site.

Input Sought On Schuyler Slaves Reburial

One of the proposed reburial sites mentioned in the article is the subject of my latest blog, the Albany Church Grounds and I will try to follow this story closely.

For those unfamiliar with the Church Grounds, it is a section of Albany Rural Cemetery where graves were relocated from older churchyards and the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park). It contains some of the oldest gravestones in the Cemetery and includes two rows of stones from the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the past, it has been fairly common for older remains discovered in local construction sites (such as the Alms House burial ground off New Scotland Avenue) to be reburied here.

The Schuyler Flatts site, now a park, is located almost across the road from the Cemetery's main entrance on Broadway in Menands.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Church Grounds Project

A number of posts here in recent months have featured gravestones found in the Church Grounds section. The more I explore and research this section, the more I am impressed by its historic significance and I have decided to create a blog focusing on the Church Ground burials.

Many of the Church Grounds stones are broken or badly eroded so I know going into this project that I will not be able to transcribe every one, but I want to document as many as I can before time completely erases them.

The new blog can be found at:

The Albany Church Grounds