Friday, December 5, 2014

The Virginia Bowers Memorial Sculpture

This wonderful sculpture made from original trolley tracks removed from Delaware Avenue honors the late Virginia Bowers, Albany historian.  It's a whimsical creation with metal birds in its branches and stands behind the Delaware Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library.  If you'd like to buy a brick to be placed around the sculpture, they are $50 each and can be ordered here.

For more on Virginia Bowers, see this brief profile.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

An Uncommon Thrill - When The Hilton Sisters Came To Albany

Violet and Daisy Hilton

 In 1934, Daisy and Violet Hilton brought their vaudeville act to Albany.

Audiences at the Capitol Theater in Albany are getting an uncommon thrill these days, "The Hilton Sisters," American Siamese Twins," born at San Antonio, Texas, are appearing on the stage with their "Double Rhythm Revue" and are also meeting with the audience personally in the foyer to chat with patrons and present their autographs.

The Hilton Sisters, who are making an unfortunate accident of birth pay them back what it can by their stage appearances are also good entertainers.  They sing, play musical instruments and dance with male partners.

The June 4 edition of the Schenectady Gazette didn't get it quite right.  Daisy and Violet Hilton were not born in San Antonio, but in Brighton, England on February 5, 1908.  The illegitimate daughters of an unwed barmaid, the infant girls were fused together at the pelvis and, while they did not share any major organs, they did share a circulatory system and it was thought at the time that surgical separation could cause one or both girls to bleed to death.  Immediately after their birth, the twins were taken by their mother's boss, Mary Hilton.  Mary Hilton and her husband (always referred to as "Sir") raised the girls with plans to exploit their connection for profit.  They oversaw the girls' early training as singers and dancers, but kept them under control with threats and abuse.  The girls began their show business careers at the age of three when Mary Hilton and Sir took them on tour through Germany, Australia, and the United States.  Mrs. Hilton died in Birmingham and left control of Daisy and Violet to Mary Myers.  Mrs Myers took them to San Antonio and continued the girls' musical training.  The abusive control of every aspect of the twins' lives also continued until 1931 when the twenty-one year old sisters sued their "managers."  They succeeded in their suit, gaining their freedom from Mary Myers and her husband along with $100,000 in compensation.

 Advertisements like this appeared in the Albany, Troy, and Schenectady newspapers.

The Hilton Sisters took charge of their own careers, touring the country with a vaudeville act.  In 1934, their "Double Rhythm Revue" came to Albany.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Tour of Lost Cemeteries

Just in time for Halloween, All Over Albany (a site you should be reading daily) gave this blog a much appreciated shout-out in a post about Washington Park's previous incarnation as the State Street Burying Grounds.  

Below is a brief tour of sorts of some other former burial grounds in Albany.  It appeared in Charles Mooney's column (always a source of fascinating bits and pieces of local history) in the Knickerbocker News on October 14, 1961.

We ran across John E. Boos this week and, as we customarily do, asked Albany's famed authority on Abraham Lincoln if he had a story to tell. Mr. Boos, who is a man of a few thousand words when occasion demands, took a deep breath and said, to wit:

“Your column has been filled so much with butchers, and bakers, and candlestick makers, old buildings, old people, and Otto de Heus's sheet music, why not change to a more solemn subject and asked if the average citizen remembers or ever heard of the many cemeteries in the city?”

“There was a cemetery on Arbor Hill bounded by Ten Broeck Street, Second Street, Hall Place and Ten Broeck Place – now, and for many years a fenced-in lawn, although it could have been a more useful place as a neighborhood playground.

The Ten Broeck family erected a vault at Livingston Avenue and Swan Street in which was entombed the remains of Generals Philip Schuyler and Abraham Ten Broeck, both heroes of the Battle of Saratoga.

“When the vault began to crumble, the remains were removed to Albany Rural Cemetery, and General Ten Broeck's grave has never been marked, though there is a monument honoring him on the battlefield.

“To honor Col. John Mills and Gen. Solomon Van Rensselaer, they were buried near the Washington Avenue side of Capitol Park, one having been killed at Sackets Harbor in the War of 1812 and the other severely wounded at Queenstown Heights in the same war. Their remains were later removed to Rural Cemetery where they now rest, the state having erected a monument on Mills' resting place.

“At the foot of State Street, under the floor of the Reformed Church, a number of members were buried. The remains were removed in 1818 to a new cemetery on Beaver Street where a new church had been erected. (The National Commercial Bank's Heartland Building now covers the site).

“Peter Schuyler, Albany's first mayor, was buried in the church, and possibly his remains still rest in the Beaver Street plot.

“There was a cemetery on the south side of Central Avenue above Watervliet Avenue, where I believe the members of St. John's Lutheran Church were buried. There was another Lutheran cemetery on the State Street side of Washington Park at Willett Street, the bodies having been removed when the park was laid out.

“On Washington Avenue above Partridge Street was St. Mary's Cemetery, overgrown with weeds and brush when the bodies were removed to a new resting place in St. Agnes Cemetery, while at Hamilton and South Pearl Streets the Hallenbeck family'sburial plot covered a half acres for more than 100 years.”

John Boos, although he didn't say so in so many words, appears to regret some of Albany's old cemeteries were removed to make way for civic and industrial progress, for he added:

“The graves of early citizens are highly revered in Boston, and one who rambles down its crooked streets will still find the old cemeteries in the business section of the city. Kings Chapel, Granary and Old North Church have visitors from all over the nation who delight in reading the quaint inscriptions on the tombstones.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Half Moon Sailing Away

Albany has a pretty poor record when it comes to keeping and promoting its history.  Now, there is a good chance that we will lose the Half Moon, the beautiful replica of Henry Hudson's ship which explored this area in 1609.

Replica Half Moon May Move To The Netherlands

It would be a wonderful thing if people could rally around keeping the ship here.  Otherwise, the only Half Moon that we will have left will be the historic weather-vane atop the old D&H Building on Broadway.

For more information on the ship and its activities...or to make a donation...please see their site:

The Half Moon

See also:  Helping History

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Not The Right Stones


The Lake House is Washington Park has a series of panels which illustrate the Park's history.  They're generally excellent, include a number of vintage photos and maps, and are definitely worth stepping inside to view.

The panel which interests me the most is, not surprisingly, the one which notes the history of the Park's location as a municipal cemetery.  The State Street Burying Grounds served as the not-so-final resting place for thousands of local residents until it closed in 1868 and the remains moved to the Church Grounds section at the Albany Rural Cemetery.

The panel in question includes a detail of an antique map of Albany showing the position of the Burying Grounds and its divisions among various congregations.  Two headstones are included as representing the various graves at the Burying Grounds and therein lies an inaccuracy.

It is very unlikely that either gravestone shown on the panel was ever in the State Street Burying Grounds.

The upper stone shown on the right is one of the most distinctive gravestones in the Church Grounds.  Though it has eroded badly in recent years, it is an incredible example of a colonial headstone carved with a winged skull;  an "momento mori" intended to remind the living of their own eventual death.  The inscription is framed with heavy vines and the lettering is finely carved.  It was carved for the grave of Elyse Gansevoort Winne who died in 1728 and was laid to rest in the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church which was then on South Pearl Street near Hudson Avenue. When that graveyard was eventually removed, a number of its oldest stones and remains were placed in a special vault beneath the tower of the Middle Dutch Church which was erected nearby on South Pearl Street.  These same headstones and remains were later placed in a vault beneath the Madison Avenue Reformed Church, as noted in this article by John Walcott.  Those stones and remains  - including Elyse Winne's - were eventually placed in the Church Grounds at the Albany Rural Cemetery, but did not spend time in the State Street Burying Grounds and was therefore not included in the Common Council inventory of the Burying Grounds.

The lower stone depicted is a plain brown sandstone marker from the grave of Dick who is identified in the inscription as a slave of John F. Pruyn who died in 1799.  This stone now rests in the African Methodist Episcopal section of the Church Grounds.  Dick may or may not have been originally buried in the State Street Burying Grounds.  He does not appear in the massive list of graves inventoried by the Albany Common Council prior to the removal to the Rural Cemetery.  However, that list is not complete.  There are quite a few graves now in the Church Grounds that were not printed in the inventory, perhaps omitted by mistake as the stones were transcribed.  He may have originally been buried in the previous municipal cemetery which stood just off Eagle Street south of the State Capitol.  This cemetery received burials from around 1789 to 1799, the same year Dick died.  He may have been buried in one of the small graveyards identified on period maps as "Negro Burying Grounds".

Or it's very possible the young man was buried in the same graveyard as Elyse Winne.  Dick's master was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and may have arranged for Dick to be interred in a family plot in the congregation's churchyard.  This would account for why Dick's name also does not appear on Common Council inventory.  Like Elyse Winne, Dick and his gravestone would have lain in the vault beneath the Madison Avenue Reformed Church before being eventually brought to the Rural Cemetery.

In that case, neither stone is representative of the graves cleared from the State Street Burying Grounds.  Also, the caption identifies the skull stone as belonging to Elyse Wenne Huys.  The word "huys" is not part of her surname, but part of the old phrase "huys vrouw" or "housewife."

See also:  Jeremiah Field and The Headstone That Was Not Lost, The Oldest Stones (includes a larger photo of the Elyse Winne stone),and Dick.

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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Making of the Mall

This video documenting the building of the Empire State Plaza just recently surfaced thanks to Albany...The Way It Was (see previous post) and the individual who posted it to YouTube.  It's absolutely a must-see.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Albany...The Way It Was

If you're a Facebook user with an interest in Albany's past, there is a must-join group.

Albany...The Way It Was is filled with active discussions which range from the nostalgic to the more distant past.  As the group description states, it is a place were Albany memories are crowd-sourced and it includes a companion Flickr with thousands of photos.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Albany History Page

A compilation of links, blogs, and other resources which I have found useful or interesting in my ongoing exploration of local history online (and off).

The Albany History Page

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Albany's Origins At Risk

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, this article is another must-read piece on the threat to Fort Orange.

Oil Plant Could Destroy 1614 Dutch Fort In Albany NY

Please read, share, and show support for our heritage.