Amasa J. (Amasa Junius) Parker.

Landmarks of Albany County, New York online

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to the proceeds of the sale of the Old Stadt Huys. The building
erected cost $110,688.42, including the furnishing of the council cham-
ber. Of this sum the city of Albany paid $34,200, the county $.3,000,
and the State the remainder. The commissioners chose what was
known as Pinkster's Hill for the site of the structure, and on April 23,
1806, the corner stone was laid with impressive ceremonies. The
Iniilding was first occupied by the Senate and Assembly in special ses-
sion November 1, 1808. It was an imposing edifice for those times and
was visited by many people. The following careful description of the
edifice was written by H. G. Spafford, of Gazetteer fame :

It stands at the head of State street, 130 feet above the level of the Hudson. It
is a substantial stone building, faced with freestone taken from the brown sandstone
quarries on the Hudson below the Highlands. The walls are fifty feet high, consist-
ing of two stories and a basement story of ten feet. The east or main front is
adorned with a portico of the Ionic order, tetrastile, the entablature supporting an
angular pediment in the tympanum of which is to be placed the Arms of the State.
The ceiling of the wall is supported by a double row of reeded columns; the floors
are vaulted and laid with squares of Italian marble; the building is roofed with a
double hip of pyramidal form, upon the center of which is a circular cupola, twenty
feet in diameter. On its dome is a statue of Themis, facing eastward — a carved
figure of wood, eleven feet in height, holding a sword in her right hand and the bal-
ance in her left.

This is a description applicable as the building appeared in 1883,
when it was taken down, with the exception of minor additions in the
rear, and more or less interior alteration. The city and county officials
met in the Capitol until the completion of the City Hall in 1831, when
they removed thither.

The New Capitol, upon which work is still in progress, is fully de-
scribed in numerous current publications, rendering it unnecessary to
give in these pages more than an account of the steps which led to
its erection. The subject of a new Capitol building and of removing
the State capital to some other city than Albany was agitated to some
extent about 1860. On April 24, 1863, on motion of James A. Bell,
senator from Jefferson county, the Senate referred the subject to the
Trustees of -the Capitol and the Committee on Public Buildings, In
1865 the Senate appointed a committee of three to receive propositions
from various cities as to what action they would take regarding the
removal of the capital from Albany. No satisfactorv result was


reached through this committee. Albany proposed to convey Congress
Hall Block, or any other lands in the city suitable for the new Capitol
building-, and the proposal was promptly accepted. On May 1, 1865,
an act was passed by the Legislature authorizing the erection of a new
Capitol. Work upon the foundations of the structure was begun July
7, 1800. In the summer of 1871 the superstructure was far enough
advanced to receive the corner stone. June 24 was set as the day for
that ceremony, which was grand and imposing. An introductory ad-
dress was delivered by Hamilton Harris, followed by the reading of
documents that were to be placed in the stone by William A. Rice; an
address by John T. Hoffman, then governor; and Masonic ceremonies
conducted by Most Worshipful John Anton, grand master of the Grand
Lodge of the vState.

The first Board of Capitol Commissioners was composed of Hamilton
Harris, May 3, 18*66; John V. L. Pruyn, May 3,1866; Obadiah B.
Latham, May 3, 1866; James S. Thayer, May 19, 1868; William A.
Rice, May li), 1868; James Terwilliger, May 1!), 1868; John T. Hud-
son, May 10, 1868; Alonzo B. Cornell, May 19, 1868 The second
board was thus constituted: Hamilton Harris, April 26, 1871; William
C. Kingsley, April 26, 1871; William A. Rice, April 26, 1871; Chaun-
cey M. Depew, April 26, 1871; De Los De Wolf, April 26, 1871; Edwin
A. Merritt, April 26, 1871. The second Board was superseded by act
of Legislature passed in 1875, and the lieutenant-governor, attorney-
general, and auditor of the canal department were made commissioners.
On July 15, 1875, an advisory board to these commissioners was ap-
pointed consisting of F. Law Olmsted, Leopold Eidlitz, and Henry
Richardson. This board was superseded in 1876 by the appointment
of architects. An act passed March 30, 1883, authorized the governor,
with consent of the Senate to appoint an officer to be known as the
Commissioner of the New Capitol, and who was to have charge of the
completion of the structure in all respects. His term of office is the
same as that of the governor, two years. The same act abolished the
office of Superintendent of the Capitol. A subsequent law passed the
same year designated the governor, lieutenant-governor and speaker of
the assembly, cx-officio, trustees of the finished parts of the building,
and of other vState buildings in Albany, for which they appoint a super-
intendent with an annual salary of $5,000. The Capitol building is
now nearing completion. Situated in what is to be hereafter known
as Capitol Park, on the lofty eminence overlooking the valley of the

F. J. H. MHRRll.


historic Hudson, it forms one of the grandest State buildings in the
country. For a detailed description of the structure the reader is re-
ferred to H. P. Phelps's Albany Hand Book.

State Hall. — On February 14, 1797, a bill passed the Legislature au-
thorizing the erection of a public building in the city of Albany with
the view of making it the seat of State government, Asite was chosen
on the corner of State and Lodge streets and ground was broken for
the foundation early in that year. The building was completed in the
spring of 1799. The building is still standing and presents nearly the
same appearance that it did nearly a century ago. It is substantially
built of brick, four stories high, with the front on State street. In the
eastern wall is a tablet with the following inscription :
Erected for State Purposes,
A, D. 1797.
John Jay, Governor. ( Philip Schuyler, Abraham Ten Broeck,

- Teunis T. Van Vechten, Daniel Hale,
William Sanders, Arc/it. ( Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Commissioners.

In this building were located the State departments, by which it was
occupied until 1813, when they were removed to the new wState Hall,
and the vState Museum was placed in this building. Interior changes
were made to fit it for its new purpose. The museum consists of de-
partments in botany, zoolog)-, geology, and mineralogy, which embrace
nearly all of the natural productions of the State. At a later period
the building was used in part for the State Agricultural Society. This
so crowded the apartments that the Legislatui-e subsequently made an
appropriation for the erection of a building in rear of the old Capitol,
and in 1858 the libraries, antiquities and other collections of a literary
and art character were removed thereto. In 1865 the Legislature pub-
licly recognized the importance of making the State Cabinet of Natural
History a museum of scientific and practical geology and comparative
zoology. In 1870 a law was passed organizing the State Museum of
Natural History, and providing an annual appropriation for its support.
Since that time the old hall has been known as Geological Hall.

State House. — What is known as the State House, situated on Eagle
street, was finished in 1812, and at once occupied by the various State
departments which were removed from the old hall. It is a substantial
and handsome structure, and until its really grand proportions were
overshadowed by the new City Hall which stands just to the south of
it, it was one of the finest buildings in the city. It is built of the white


stone from the Sing Sing qiiarries and cost the State $350,000. The
building is now occupied by the comptroller, the state engineer and
surveyor, the bank department and state geologist.

Tlie Post-office. — As far as known there were no public postal facili-
ties established at Albany until after the Revolution. Prior to that
time each person made such arrangements as he could to get his
meager mail. But the new government at the close of hostilities
promptly established the post-office department, by the appointment in
July, 1775, of a postmaster-general, with headquarters in Philadelphia,
Benjamin Franklin being the first incumbent of the office. Regulations
for the guidance of postmasters, the carrying of mails, duties of post-
riders, etc., were rapidly established, and routes between different
points opened. The first congressional act relating to mails in Albany
was the following :

September 7, 1785. Resolved, That the Postmaster-General be and is hereby
authorized, and instructed, to enter into contract for the conveyance of the mails by
stage-carriages from the City of New York to the City of Albany, according to the
accustomed route.

No paper money to be received for postage.

The history of the Albany post-office as a government institution
begins in 1783, when Abraham Yates was appointed postmaster. There
is a tradition that Col. Henry ^'an .Schaick performed the duties of
postmaster in Albany in 1775, but if so it was only in a partially
private capacity. The early mail facilities were confined largely to
individual enterprise; messages were sent to New York by river con-
veyance and by post-riders to other points. The post-riders met at
certain points and exchanged their letters and papers, a custom that
prevailed in some localities as late as 1820. The building of steamboats
and the construction of railroads worked a marvellous change. The
policy of the government was from the first, and still continues, to give
the people the best and cheapest postal facilities, even at a heavy out-
lay. In 1785 Albany was mail headquarters for Greenbush, Schenec-
tady, Cherry Valley, Orange and Dutchess counties, and Vermont
letters were advertised here. In 1786 mails came twice a week from
New York and once aweek from Springfield, ]\Iass. In 1789-90 routes
were opened westward, the old stages which have been described car-
rying the mails along the line of what is now the Central Railroad. In
1792 post routes were extended eastward to Bennington and Burling-
ton, Vt. In 1798 regular mails were carried between Albany and


Philadelphia, 280 miles, and delivered in three days; in the same year
mail facilities were extended west into the Genesee country, and post-
riders began to traverse the county in various directions to the hamlets
and settlements.

The earliest post-office in Albany of which there is reliable record
stood in, 1784 a few doors above Maiden Lane on the east side of Mar-
ket street (now Broadway), and was kept by Abraham Yates. During
the war of 1812, on the corner of State street and Broadway, was
Jacob Mancius's drug store, in rear of which, in a small room, was
located the post-office. The clerk mingled the selling of drugs and the
handling of mail. In 1823 the post office was situated on North
;\Iarket street (Broadway) a little north of the site of the Government
buildmg. The office was removed to the Exchange building in ] 840
and there remained until 1802. During repairs in that building the
office was temporarily located on State street above Green, and in 1863
went back to the Exchange, where it remained until 1873. Its next
location was on the east side of North Pearl street, south of Columbia,
where it continued until 1877, when it was removed to the Delavan
block on Broadway. There it remained until it was placed in the new
government building, January 1, 1884.

The postmasters in Albany have been as follows: 1795, George W.
Mancius, Jacob Mancius; 1812, James Mayer; 1815, Peter P. Dox;
181G, Gerrit L. Dox; 1821, Solomon Southwick; 1822-39, Solomon
Van Rensselaer; 1839-40, Azariah C. Flagg; 1842-43, Solomon Van
Rensselaer; 1843-49, James D. Wasson ; 1850-58, James Kidd; 1858-
(U, Calvert Comstock; 1861-65, George Dawson; 1865-69, Joseph
Davis; 1869-71, Morgan L. Filkins; 1871-77, John F. Smyth; 1877-85,
William H. Craig; 1885-89, Dr. D. V. O'Leary; 1889, James M. War-
ner; January 1, 1894, Francis H. Woods.

The Government building, corner State street and Broadway, con-
tains the post-office and all other Federal offices. The first definite
action relating to its erection was taken by Congress March 21, 1872,
when an act was passed providing for such a building and limiting the
appropriation to $350,000. The appropriation was not made at that
time, as it was required that a site be donated by the city. The city
subsequently purchased the Exchange building for $100,000 and the
site was accepted by the government. It was afterwards determined
that the site was too small, and in 1873 (March 3) an appropriation of
$150,000 was made for the purchase of the Mechanics' and Farmers'


Bank property on the north and separated from the Exchange site by
"Exchange street. Another appropriation of $5,000 was made June :i,
1874, making the total cost to the city and government $225,000. In
March, 1877, ,an act was passed limiting the cost of the building to
$500,000, but meanwhile work had progressed in demolishing the Ex-
change building. In June, 1877, work was resumed, and the corner
stone was laid May 7, 1S79. The building is of granite in the Italian
renaissance style of architecture. It was first occupied duririg 1883-84.

The United States A rsenal was located in the town of Watervliet, with -
in the bounds of the present city of Watervliet, in 1813, upon twelve
acres of land, constituting the original purchase. The arsenal was
commenced in 1814 under direction of Col. George Bumford, of the
ordnance department; later its supervision was given to Major Daliba,
and still later at different periods to various other officers of the gov-
ernment. In 1835 James Gibbons offered to sell the government forty
acres of land at $300 an acre, to constitute an addition to the arsenal
property. The purchase was effected from his widow after his death,
on April 28, 1828. Some minor additional lots have been since pur-
chased. The arsenal is under charge of the Ordnance Bureau of the
War Department at Washington, and is fully equipped for the rapid
production of every description of heavy ordnance for the army. The
cost of the buildings for arsenal purposes, including machinery and all
fixtures, is estimated at $1,500,000, and the cost of all the land was
about $57,000. During the war of the Rebellion the arsenal employed
1,500 men, many of the departments running day and night. The
average number employed in recent years has been about 150, though
this number is increased at the present time.

The Neiv York State Library, for the use of the government and
]3eople of the State, was established April 21, 1818, in charge of the
governor, lieutenant-governor, chancellor and chief justices of the Su-
preme Court as trustees. By an. act of May 4, 1844, the Legislature
placed the library completely in the custody and control of the Regents
of the University as trustees ex officio, thus protecting it from the
political dangers which have nearly ruined many other State libraries.
The rapid growth in size and usefulness under the Regents' control
resulted in the erection of a fine new library building just west of the
Capitol and connected with it by a two-story corridor. Into this build-
ing, 114 by 48 feet, the library was moved in 1854, where it remained
till the building was demolished in 1883 to make room for the ap-



preaches to the new Capitol. For the following six years the library
was in temporary quarters under the present Assembly chamber.

In 1889 there was a radical revision of the laws governing the library.
All existing laws were repealed, and the library was made an important
and integral part of the University of the State of New York. Early
in the same year it was moved to its present magnificent quarters in
the west end of the Capitol. By day the reading-rooms are flooded
with light, and the dark places in the stacks have electric lights, avail-
able at all hours both day and night. Electric student-lamps light the
tables, and carefully shaded ceiling or bracket lamps light the shelves,
aisles and alcoves.

The Capitol Library — a new feature which has amply justified itself
— is a lending library, free to every State employee residing in Albany
or vicinity. It has the choicest books in the best editions, and the
vState's mechanics, porters, and laboring men are as welcome as the
clerks or oificials to any assistance the library can give in finding the
most entertaining or profitable reading. This collection is largely
used and highly appreciated.

There are also nearly five hundred similar collections of about one
hundred volumes each which are called traveling libraries and which
are lent for periods of six months to any community in the State wish-
ing access to the best reading. This system has been productive of so
great educational results for the expenditure that it is being rapidly
copied by the other leading States of the country.

Through the paid help department any person in New York or in
any part of the world may have any service in the library for which he
is willing to pay actual cost. The least expensive assistant competent
to do the work is assigned to it, and the charge is simply enough to
prevent its being a burden on the taxpayers.

The library now contains 201,799 volumes besides 29,801 volumes in
the traveling libraries and 142,225 duplicates. It is open every week
day from 8 a. m. U> 10 r. m., except Saturdays and holidays, when it
closes at 6 p. m.

T/ie Albany Institute. — This useful institution is the direct successor
of similar organizations with different names, the inception of which
dates back to 1791. On February 27, 1829, a charter was granted
under the present title, the Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts,
and the Albany Lyceum of Natural History being consolidated to form it.
The Institute has a library containing about 7,000 volumes, and many


valuable papers. It has published ten volumes of Transactions, be-
sides volumes of its proceedings.

Tl:e Dudley Observatory stands in the western part of the city, on high
ground, 215 feet above mean tide, and a short distance from Washington
Park. It was founded through the rriunificence of Mrs. Blandina Dudley,
widow of Charles E. Dudley, with co-operation of leading citizens of the
city. The act of incorporation was passed in 1852, and the first Observa-
tory building was formally dedicated in August, 1856, under the auspices
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Geologi-
cal Hall, Albany, was opened on the previous day, as elsewhere explained.
The address commemorating the inauguration of the Observ-atory was
delivered in Academy Park by Edward Everett. Previous to the
address an additional and unexpected gift of $50,000 was received from
Mr.s. Dudley. The total donations to the Observatory exceed $200,000,
of which sum $105,000 came from Mrs. Dudley. More than $100,000
was expended on the old buildings and their equipment and about the
same sum is invested for a permanent fund. While the first Ob-
servatory served its purpose for many years and gained celebrity, the
time came when it was deemed necessary that the former buildings
should be superseded by more modern structures, located on a more
desirable site. Land was selected on Lake avenue, about two miles
southwest of the former site, in the southwestern part of the city, and
efforts were begun to collect the necessary funds for the new institu-
tion. Among the contributors was Miss Catherine W. Bruce, of New
York city, who offered to donate $25,000, chief!)' for permanent endow-
ment, provided the change was made as contemplated. Other contrib-
utions raised the fund to more than $70,000. The work of erecting new
buildings was prosecuted in 18',)2-93. In October of that year Miss
Bruce added $10,000 to her first gift, to be used largely in supplying
additional equipment to the institution. The site was donated by the
city of Albany from property in possession of the Park Commission,
and it also gave $15,000 in exchange for the original property. The
sons of the late Thomas W. Olcott provided means for refitting the
Olcott Meridian Circle, for remoimting it on the new site and for housing-
it in a proper manner. The sons of the late Robert H. Pruyn gave $6,000
for the construction of a new equatorial telescope, to be twelve inches
in aperture, and adapted both to visual and photographic use. Both
instruments are in position, and are in active use. The new establish-
ment was formallv dedicated to the advancement of astronomv in

November, 1893, the National AcadetriV of Sciences taking part in this
ceremony. The institution is now doing work of high scientific value
under the director, Lewis Boss, A. M. The observations and studies
of the institution relate principally to the motions of the stars, and to
the motion of the sun in space. These researches of the .Observatory
have been aided for several years by appropriations from the Bache
Fund of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yoiuig AIi'ii's Association. — This is the oldest institution of its char-
acter in the United States; it was founded with a memebrship of about
750 on December 10, 1833. Amos Dean was its first president and
was re-elected in the second year. The association was incorporated
March 1-2, 1835, its chief purpose being the maintenance of a library,
a reading room, literary and scientific lectures, and other means of
mutual improvement. During twenty-two years 'it sustained a debat-
ing society through which much good was effected. Its rooms were in
Knickerbocker Hall on Broadway until 1840, from where it was re-
moved to Exchange building, site of the Government building, remain-
ing there until 1852; it was next located until 1870 in the Commercial
Bank building, and from there went to the Music Hall building un-
til 1877. In that year it first occupied rooms in the Bleecker building '
on North Pearl street. Harmanus Bleecker died in April, 1849, and his
widow created a fund, retaining only a life interest in same, and made
John V. L. Pruyn, of Albany, N. Y., sole trustee, with power to name
his successor. This trust consisted of real estate and securities, which
in course of time had a value of about $80,000, though ultimately it
attained a value of over $130,000. This property came under control
of Mr. Pruyn in 1852. He died in 1877, and his will, recorded January
IT. 1878, transferred all this property to Amasa J. Parker. On the 13th
of December, 188ti, Judge Parker addressed a communication to the
association, that he had at his disposal for the benefit of the association,
this property, if the necessary arrangements could be made for funds
towards the building in the city of Albany of a large public hall.
Besides this property there was a fund of $10,000, left to the association
by will by Erastus Corning in 1872. The Board of Managers of the
association on December 14, 1880, adopted the following resolution:

Resolved, That the generous proposition of Hon. Amasa J. Parker giving to the
Y, M. A. the use of the Bleecker fund, for the building of a public Hall and Library
Building, to be under the management of the Association be accepted, and that the
Association will endeavor to carry the same to a successful completion.


In January, 1887, a committee from the association was appointed to
formulate the views and wishes of the body relative to this subject,
who reported March 9, 1887. One feature of the suggested plans for
using the fund was the raising of $50,000 additional, which was ac-
compUshed after considerable effort. Upon the raising of this sum
Judge Parker transferred the whole Bleecker property to the associa-
tion, on January 7, 1888, a part of the property consisting of land on
Washington avenue, on which the hall of the association has since
been erected. The building erected is finely adapted for its purposes,
and is called Harmanus Bleecker Hall. It is capable of seating about
2,500 persons.

The Young Men's Association has been of incalculable benefit to the
city of Albany in many directions. Among its ofificers have been
many of the leading citizens of the city, an indication of which fact is
gained in the list of presidents, which is as follows :

Amos Dean, Robert E. Ward, Charles A. Hopkins, John Davis, Robert H. Pruyu,

Online LibraryAmasa J. (Amasa Junius) ParkerLandmarks of Albany County, New York → online text (page 27 of 138)