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.


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