Author Archives: Peter Hess

About Peter Hess

Peter Hess is the president of Albany Steel and served on the Board of Trustees of Albany Rural Cemetery for 18 years. During his time on the Albany Rural board, he wrote over 150 articles on important and interesting people buried in the cemetery. Starting about 2008, he accumulated the 150 articles and additional research into four books known as the People of Albany series. Hess has also conducted tours of the cemetery and spoken to public groups over 100 times.

A Baker’s Dozen: An Albany Fable

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Baas throwing the Ugly Old Lady out of his bakery, One Dutch legend grew up around the Oranje village baker who lived and ran his bakery on Pearl Street. It was this baker, Wouter Albertz vanden Uythoff commonly called Baas (Boss), who first baked the St. Nicholas cookie that so excited the children. Wouter Albertz vanden Uythoff used a cookie cutter to cut the images of St. Nicholas so only he could make the familiar cake.

Baas was Dutch from his big feet to his round bald head. Everything that was Dutch was right and everything else was wrong and that was all there was to it. He prided himself on his work, convinced that he was the best baker to ever live, and he probably wasn’t too far wrong. Everything he made was excellent and very decorative. Everyone wanted his cakes and cookies. Continue reading

A Short History of Christmas for New Yorkers

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Albany children singings hymns to St. Nicholas on the Eve of the Feast of St. NicholasThe tale of St. Nicholas is an old fable from mid-Europe that was popular in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. St. Nicholas was the patron saint of children, merchants and sailors and the patron saint of Amsterdam and was brought by the Dutch to the new world, which for the Dutch was Nieuw Nederlandt (New Netherland). Many of the American traditions on Santa Claus originated in the Dutch settlement of New Netherland along the Hudson River between New Amsterdam (New York City) and Oranje (Beverwyck-Albany). The other colonies were English.

The image of Santa, with his round belly and long white beard leaving presents for children in shoes left by the door and stockings hung by the fireplace, was the image of Dutch St. Nicholas. The tradition that Santa was dressed all in fur with high boots, smoked a long-stemmed Dutch pipe and rode in a sleigh with reindeer certainly never originated in either England or America. Continue reading

Feast of St. Nicholas: An Albany History

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Early Santa (Sint Nikkolas) with a long stemmed Dutch pipe.  In 1628, Dutch Dominie Jonas Michaelius organized a religious body called the Collegiate Church in New Amsterdam (New York City). Services were held in a large room over the grain mill.

In the Spring of 1633, Dominie Edwardus Bogardus succeeded Michaelius and built a plain wooden church on the banks of the East River at 33 Pearl Street. In 1642, under Director General Kieft, the Collegiate Church built a new stone church at 4 Bowling Green which was named St. Nicholas Church, which is said to be the oldest Protestant Church in America.

By the mid-1600s, an active open-air market operated daily in good weather all along Oranje’s (Beverwyck-Albany) one main intersection where Jonkers (State Street) met Handelaers (Market Street and later Broadway) Street. In the middle of the intersection was the Dutch Church, the center of the village both physically and socially. Several hundred inhabitants, mostly Dutch, were huddled in small dwellings surrounding the church. Fort Orange was located just south of Jonkers and a ferry took people across the Hudson to the eastern section of Rensselaerwyck. Continue reading

Peter Hess: Civil War Reaches Albany

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 Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Albany's Washington ParkFollowing his election as President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln undertook a train ride to Washington that would take him through Albany. He arrived here on February 18, 1861 with his wife and three sons. As their train passed the West Albany railroad shops, an electrical switch was turned off at the nearby Dudley Observatory, causing an electromagnet mounted on the roof of the Capitol in downtown Albany to release a metal ball that slid down a pole, signaling to military officials to start a 21-gun salute in Capitol Park. Continue reading

Albany History: John Pye and the Highwayman

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John Pye Possible Gravesite in Albany Rural CemeteryOn a cold and snowy 21st of December in 1808, about two in the afternoon, there alighted at the door of the old tavern in Green Street, Albany, then kept by Whitmore, a dark complexioned but elegant stranger, evidently of southern origin. He stepped to the hall of that ancient house of entertainment, and while shaking from a richly furred mantle, the snow which had profusely fallen that day; he desired the ostler to dismantle his remarkably elegant horse of its riding caparisons and to convey the horse to the warmest stall the stables afforded; when himself hastened to the ample bar-room of that well ordered establishment.

Once inside, the stranger asked the keeper of the inn, whether it was agreeable to entertain him a few days. On further acquaintance, the genteel stranger proved a gentleman of the first order, prepossessing in his manners, agreeable and diffuse in conversation, as he was extremely well informed in the lore of literature, as well of any and all parts of the globe, the governments of the different nations, the workings of universal politics and the balance of power between the different nations of Christendom. Continue reading

Peter Hess Describes Early 1800s Albany

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Albany NY in the early 1800s by James EightsIn the year 1800, Albany was peaceful and prosperous. The Revolutionary War was over and the conflicts leading to the War of 1812 had not yet surfaced. The Dutch of Albany did what they did best, manufactured products and conducted trade. Van Rensselaers, Schuylers, Lansings, Yates, Livingstons, Gansevoorts, Bleeckers and Ten Broecks were still around and still dominated Albany.

On the northwest corner of State (previously Jonkers Street) and Pearl Streets, the center of Albany at the time, stood the giant elm tree planted in front of the home of Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Livingston had planted the elm around 1750 and this corner was known as the Elm Tree Corner for the next 150 years. Continue reading

A Short History Of The Hudson River Day Line

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the-hudson-river-paddlewheel-towboat-oswegoAbraham Van Santvoord, a descendent of one of the earliest Dutch settlers in Albany, was born in Schenectady on December 18, 1784. At the age of 14, he worked with his granduncle John Post who owned a shipping business in Utica. Since, at the time, there were few roadways, and the ones they had were snow covered in the winter and mud bogs in the spring, most shipping was done by water.

Van Santvoord successfully ran a shipping business on the Mohawk River. During the War of 1812, he contracted with agents of General Stephen Van Rensselaer of Albany to store and ship provisions westward on the Mohawk to support Van Rensselaer’s troops planning to invade Canada. Continue reading