The 400th anniversary of Albany’s first documented European settlement gives us an opportunity to clear up some inaccuracies surrounding its history. In particular, it is time to roundly debunk the stubborn myth that the French built the first European structure in Albany.
Several Wikipedia pages—”Albany“, “Castle Island,” “Fort Nassau“—claim that Albany’s first European structure was a fort on Castle Island built by French traders in 1540. The “Castle Island” page calls it a chateau and claims that the Dutch rebuilt the French fort, “which they called a castle[,] giving rise to the name of the island.” This is silly. There is no credible evidence of a French fort on Castle Island or anywhere in the region, and any account of a structure resembling a chateau is particularly absurd. So where did this myth come from? Continue reading
Fort Nassau: the first Dutch trading house built in North America, was constructed on Castle (Westerlo) Island on the Upper Hudson where Albany is. It was but a small redoubt, yet deemed the acorn from which sprouted the American Middle States. This trading post lasted only three years and was badly damaged by a spring freshet and abandoned. Eventually even its ruins were silted over and forgotten.
In 1796, Albany contemplated a plan to acquire patents for water lots and extend South End streets opposite the north end of Castle Island, out into the Hudson River. It was similar, on a smaller scale, to the way Manhattan expanded out into the Hudson and East Rivers. In the course of finally implementing this in the 1840s, dredging was found necessary to adjust the upper end of Castle Island and Island Creek to accommodate the plan. Continue reading
As the 1830’s drew to a close and the 1840’s began, committees were formed in some cities in the north to protect freedom seekers from re-enslavement, and to assist them in their flight to freedom in the north or in Canada. As slave catchers sought freedom seekers, these “vigilance” committees provided legal assistance, food, clothing, money, employment, and temporary shelter.
Such a committee formed in Albany in the early 1840’s, and one continued to exist up to the time of the Civil War. Albany’s anti-slavery newspaper, Tocsin of Liberty, identifies ten people, Blacks and whites, as members of the executive body of the local Vigilance Committee in 1842. Some are familiar names from the city’s history, such as Thomas Paul and Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Lattimore. Continue reading
A local historian believes he has pinpointed the exact location of a 1614 colonial fort in Albany.
“Fort Nassau” was North America’s oldest Dutch trading house, built in 1614 near the present-day Port of Albany. But the precise location of the ruined structure has been largely forgotten over time as the natural and built environment changed during four centuries.
“Fort Nassau is very significant to American, Dutch and Indian history,” said John Wolcott, the researcher who identified the location. “But its exact location had been lost over the years. Not only has the geography changed, but the latitude readings provided by early maps have to be adjusted for problems caused by being inland using instruments of the time.” Continue reading
The New Netherland Institute and New Netherland Research Center have announced “1614,” the 37th New Netherland Seminar, which will take place on September 20th at the Carole F. Huxley Theater in the Cultural Education Center in Albany.
The seminar will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the construction of Fort Nassau—the first documented European settlement in New York state—on present-day Castle Island in the port of Albany. The seminar speakers and topics are listed below. For registration and additional details, visit the website of the New Netherland Institute. Continue reading
Albany Public Library joined New York Heritage, a statewide digital library, in the spring of 2014 to raise awareness of its collections. The library’s Pruyn Collection of Albany History is a treasure trove of information about the leaders, citizens, buildings, governments, events, and history of New York’s capital city. The collection includes documents about urban renewal, the South Mall construction, city and state government, and African American history.
Albany Public Library’s digital collection on New York Heritage contains a small sample of our local history holdings. The full Pruyn Collection includes thousands of books, photographs, city directories, newspapers, documents, census records, city council minutes, maps, and more. We invite you to visit the Pruyn Collection of Albany History, which is housed at Albany Public Library’s Main Library at 161 Washington Avenue. Continue reading
He was the Supervisor of the Town of Thompson in Sullivan County, a member of the New York State Assembly, a State Senator, member of Congress, and New York’s first Superintendent of Banking, as well as one of Monticello’s most successful merchants. And in 1851 he joined with seven others in founding what would become one of America’s most respected newspapers.
He was Daniel Bennett St. John, and he was one of the original owners of the New York Times. Continue reading
There is a campaign to build The Museum of Political Corruption in Albany, New York. The campaign was started by and is being lead by College of Saint Rose Professor Bruce Craig Roter. With it’s motto of “it’s funny, but it’s serious”, it’s hoped the Museum will be a unique tourist attraction.
The museum is expected to serve as a reminder and cautionary tale to elected officials to uphold the high ethical standards demanded of their offices. “While there will be a good amount of humor, it will be used as a gateway to examine the serious subject of corruption in NY state politics,” Roter told The New York History Blog. “Museum goers will pay entrance bribes rather than fees, refreshments will be served at the Cozy Crony Cafe, and the museum auditorium will be called Tammany Hall.” Continue reading
Russell Shorto, the 2013 New Netherland Research Center Senior Scholar and author of The Island at the Center of the World and Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, as well as other acclaimed works, will talk about Dutch cultural heritage from Amsterdam and its influence on Albany, New York.
The talk will be followed by a signing of his most recent book Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, named one of Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013 and described as “an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them.” Copies of the book will be available for sale. Continue reading
Albany was a busy port city throughout the nineteenth century. During its most active Underground Railroad days, the city was occupied by lumber and other businesses at the riverfront and numerous retail establishments along Market Street (our current Broadway), Pearl Street, and corresponding cross streets. Although it was the state capital (since 1797) Albany truly began to expand only after the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which enhanced the city as a destination for riverboat shipping and traffic.
Commerce along the Hudson and Erie Canal system, and new forms of transportation such as the steamboat and the railroad, greatly increased the opportunities for people, including fugitives from slavery, to travel from port to port, and city to city. The new transportation systems, as well as burgeoning social movements of the antebellum period, such as Sunday School, temperance and women’s rights movements, provided abundant opportunities for the sort of networking that facilitated Underground Railroad efforts. Continue reading
This Saturday, June 7th, Historic Cherry Hill will present the Hudson River Family Day, from12:30 – 3:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Cherry Hill is a house museum in Albany which was once the five-generation home of the Van Rensselaer family.
Participants are invited to step into the 1700s and experience Hudson River sloop trade and daily life. The unique Hudson River Trading Game, with its 34-foot game board, will challenge all ages to experience the adventure of 18th century trade and travel on the river. Other activities will include colonial games, crafts and clothing, open house tours highlighting the 18th century architecture and history of Cherry Hill, and more. Continue reading
The New Netherland Institute (NNI), which is currently commemorating the 1614 establishment of Fort Nassau in Albany, has announced their Annual General Meeting (featuring a tour of the Van Schaick Mansion and a short talk by Russell Shorto); the line-up for the 37th New Netherland Seminar; and an opportunity to win a commemorative quilt. Continue reading
Beginning in the mid-1800s, steamboats carried people between New York City and the Albany area on the Hudson River. Romantic images lull us into believing it was a quiet means of travel, but a crowded river, faulty equipment and the bravado of the captains resulted in at least one major catastrophe every year. Night boats collided and sank, carelessness caused boiler explosions, races put passengers at risk and fires would quickly swallow the wooden vessels.
The grand Empire of Troy suffered many collisions. The Swallow broke in two on a rock, Reindeer’s explosion took forty lives at once and the Oregon and C. Vanderbilt entered into an epic and dangerous race. Collected from eyewitness accounts, these are some of the most exciting and frightening stories of peril aboard steamboats on the Hudson River. Now, local historian J. Thomas Allison has written Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes: Contests and Collisions (History Press, 2013). Allison provides an entertaining look at the romantic but perilous age of steamboat travel on the Hudson River, including tales of reckless captains racing each other and passengers’ eyewitness accounts of collisions, crashes, explosions, and fires. Continue reading
John Gabriel and Rick Kelly, two cousins who grew up together listening to radio in the Capital Region, have written one of Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series books entitled Capital Region Radio 1920-2011. The book tells the history of Albany region radio programs and personalities from its early days to recent years through more than 200 vintage images.
The General Electric Company, with one of its main plants in Schenectady, began experimental broadcasts in conjunction with Union College in the early 1900s. Using many culled from the miSci Museum in Schenectady, and others, this new pictorial history shares the story of when WGY officially began broadcasting in February 1922 and General Electric started a long and storied history of pioneering radio technology and programming, which ultimately set the pace for worldwide broadcast development. Capital Region Radio pioneer WGY provided entertainment and news nationally during World War II, WTRY kept listeners updated during the blackout of 1965 and WOKO introduced rock and roll to the area. Continue reading
On Saturday, April 12 from 4pm to 7pm, the Table Hopping Blog and the Albany Institute of History & Art will host the third annual Hudson Valley Hops. This event is a celebration of the strong history of brewing in Albany and today’s craft beer industry. Guests can sample local craft beers, hear talks by beer historians and brewery experts, enjoy food, and take home a commemorative glass.
There will also be a special exhibition with artifacts that tell the history of brewing in Albany and the capital region. Historic photographs, advertisements, and packaging from local brewers will be on view for this event. Continue reading
The Albany Institute of History & Art will offer FREE admission to the museum on Monday, January 20, 2014 from 10AM-5PM. Gallery Tours will take place at 1PM and 3:30PM.
Guests of all ages are invited to spend the day viewing several new exhibitions including The Mystery of the Albany Mummies; Big and Bold: Contemporary Paintings, Collage, and Sculpture from the Albany Institute’s Collection (in the recently renovated Lansing Gallery); and The Hudson River School and the Nineteenth-Century Landscape. Additional exhibitions include, Traders and Culture: Colonial Albany and the Formation of American Identity; Nineteenth-Century American Sculpture: Erastus Dow Palmer and His Protégés Launt Thompson, Charles Calverley, and Richard Park (in the recently renovated Sculpture Court); Robert Hewson Pruyn: An Albanian in Japan, 1862-1865; and A Gather of Glass: Selections from the Museum’s Collection. Gallery Tours, led by museum docents, will start at 1PM and 3:30PM, and are also free. Continue reading
Historic Cherry Hill has been awarded funding from the Pine Tree Foundation of New York for the conservation, rehousing, and select digitization of the museum’s collection of Van Rensselaer family receipt books and related clippings.
In all, there are 13 receipt books and numerous clippings and recipe fragments (in both manuscript and printed form) dating from the mid-eighteenth century through the early 20th century. The receipt books belonged to members of the Cherry Hill household. Continue reading
On Saturday January 4, 2014 Crailo State Historic Site will welcome visitors for its annual Twelfth Night Celebration from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Twelfth Night was one of the traditional holidays celebrated by the Dutch and English colonists of early New York. Twelfth Night was the final holiday of the season and was marked with unsurpassed feasting and revelry.
Featured during the event will be decorations, hearthside cooking demonstrations, seasonal music, seventeenth century reenactors, the Jolly Toy lady, and refreshments. In addition the Marketplace Museum Shop will be open, with a selection of unique items. Continue reading
The Albany Institute of History & Art will host veteran newspaperman and Albany Times Union editor at large, Harry Rosenfeld, for a lecture about his recent book, From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memoirs of a Newspaperman on Sunday, December 15 at 2PM.
Rosenfeld will recount some of the most compelling moments of his life, from his childhood in Hitler’s Berlin, to his years at the Washington Post. After the lecture, Rosenfeld will be available to answer questions about the historic events he witnessed and he will also sign copies of his book. The lecture and book signing is organized by the Museum Shop at the Albany Institute of History & Art and is free with museum admission. Continue reading
The New York State Museum has opened a new exhibit featuring a selection of important New York State decorative and fine arts artifacts that were recently donated to the Museum by Peter Wunsch, President of the Wunsch Americana Foundation.
The exhibit, Building a Collection: E. Martin Wunsch and His Passion for Collecting New York State Decorative Arts, will be on display through March 5, 2014. The Museum’s Wunsch Collection consists of furniture, paintings, silver, ceramics and folk art crafted primarily between 1700 and 1900. The objects have labels indicating they were made by New York craftsmen or have a documented New York history. The Wunsch Collection illustrates changing stylistic trends in decorative arts and provides insight into how New Yorkers once lived. Continue reading