Amasa J. (Amasa Junius) Parker.

Landmarks of Albany County, New York online

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Denison WorthingtonT William E. Bleecker, Charles P. Smyth, Walter R. Bush,
Arthur C. Southwick, Rufus King, Charles H. Stanton, Franklin Townsend, William
A. Rice, Hooper C. Van Vorst, George B. Steele, William Dey Ermand. Rufus G.
• Beardslee, James I. Johnson, Theodore Townsend, Gilbert L. Wil.son, George C.
Lee, Ralph P. Lathrop, Richard Merrifield, Clinton Cassidy, Charles T. Shepard,
Robert L. Johnson, Charles P. Easton, Edmund L. Judson, John T. McKnight,
[ohn Templeton, Samuel Hand, Franklin Edson, William D. Morange, Edward 1 )e
Forest, Frank Chamberlain, Robert Lenox Banks, Grenville Tremain, John S. Dele-
van, Frederick T. Martin, John Swinburne, Henry C. Littlefield, Charles A. Robert-
son, Amasa J. Parker, jr., Fred W. Brown, Jacob S. Mosher, Thurlow Weed Barnes,
John M. Bigelow, William P. Rudd, George E. Oliver, Frederick Harris, Oren F.
Wilson, Eugene Burlingame, Isaac D. F. Lansing, Harmon P. Reed, Curtis X.
Douglas, Charles B. Templeton, C. V. Winne.

The Albany Penitentiary. — This institution was incorporated in
April, 1844, and on December 19, of that year the supervisors authi)r-
ized the purchase of a suitable site and the erection of buildings. The
site selected comprises now about forty-five acres, to the south of Wash-
ington Park. Work on the first buildings was commenced at once, and
was largely performed by prisoners who were taken to and from the jail
for the purpose. It was opened in 1846. AmosPilsbury was appoint-
ed superintendent in 1844, and held the position until his death in
1872. During his administration of almost thirty years he established
a system of government for the penitentiary that was so wonderfully
successful as to give it and its author a world-wide reputation. The
svstem has been perpetuated imder subsequent management. ( )rig-


inally the prison had only ninety cells, but this number has been in-
creased to more than 600. Many new workshops have been erected
and the grounds enclosed by a high wall. The penitentiary has been
made a paying institution through its acceptance of prisoners from
other counties, and from contract labor done by convicts. General
Pilsbury was succeeded by his son, Louis D. Pilsbury, who held the
office of superintendent until 1879, when John McEwen was appointed.
He held the position until 1889, when James Mclntyre was appointed.
He was succeeded in 1896 by Chester F. Dearstyne. On May 11,
1885, an act was passed by the Legislature, which relieved the super-
visors and the mayor and recorder of the city of responsibility for the
management of the penitentiary, which was vested in a Penitentiary

Albany County Alinshouse. — The office of overseer of the poor is one
of the oldest in the State, being in existence long before the beginning
of the present century, and has always had. an important bearing upon
Albany county and city. Unlike most oth'er counties of this State,
Albany county has never made any material distinction between the
poor of the towns and those of the county. The poor laws are exe-
cuted by the superintendent 'of the almshouse, the overseers of the
poor, and to some extent through a few of the charitable institutions.
The powers of the office of overseer of the poor were considerably en-
larged by the act of 1703, and so continued through the colonial period
and were retained nearly intact by the legislative act of March 7, 1788.
This act made provision for establishing an almshouse in Albany,
which was the first one in the State established under State law. The
churches had, previous to that time, maintained parish almshouses,
one of which is described in the act of August 10, 1720, incorporating
the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Albany. The act of 1788
gave the overseers of the poor, with consent of the towns, authority to
build, purchase or hire houses for the poor, and to provide work for
them. An act of April 2, 1819, amended the former act extending the
powers and duties of the overseers to lunatics, habitual drunkards and
poor children. The supervisors have the power under certain restric-
tions, to abolish the distinction between town poor and county poor,
making them all chargeable to the county. This law provides that in
those counties where the poor are made a charge upon the counties,
there shall be a superintendent of the poor, with the same powers and
rights as the overseers of the poor in respect to compelling relatives to

care for their own paupers, the seizure of property, etc. There are no
superintendents of the poor in Albany county. The charter for 1883,
and the city ordinances under it, passed in May, 1884, provide that the
overseer of the poor in the city of Albany shall have charge of and
apply and distribute funds for the temporary relief and support of the
poor of the city.

The site of the almshouse is south of Washington Park and west of
the penitentiary. A farm of eighty-six acres belongs to the institution.
Here are the poor house, hospital, pest house, and other structures
for proper care of the poor. The expense is borne in the ratio of
sixty per cent, by the city and forty per cent, by the county. The
lands granted under the Dongan charter have all been alienated
to the city, excepting the farm before mentioned, and the parade
ground and old bitrying ground which are included in Washington
Park. The first buildings for the poor were erected in 182G, at a cost
of $14,000. The poor house proper of to-day was built about 1850, and
other structures and improvements have been made as necessit)' de-

Albany County Agricultural Society. — The first agricultural society"
in this county was formed in 1818, and -thereafter held three annual
fairs. The county was then without an organization akin to an agri-
cultural society until the organization of the Albany and Rensselaer
Horticultural Society, which held its first exhibition in the Geological
rooms in September, 1847. Fairs and exhibitions followed in 1848, 1849
and 1850. In 1851 the town of Coeymans organized an agricultural soci-
ety, with James W. Jolley, president ; this was afterwards merged into the
county society. On May 14, 1853, a meeting was held in Albany, in
which James W. Jolley was chairman, and Joseph Warren, of Albany,
secretary. After some discussion an organization was effected with
the following officers: President, James W. Jolley; treasurer, E. P2.
Piatt; secretary, Joseph Warren; with a vice-president from each
town. The first annual fair of this society was held at Bethlehem
Center, October 4-6, 1853. While this was in a measure successful,
it was seen that the fairs must be held in or near the city; the second
fair accordingly was held on the Washington Parade Ground in No-
vember, 1854. A number of succeeding fairs were held on these
grounds. On May 8, 1862, was organized the Town Union Agricul-
tural Association of the Cotmty of Albany, with the following officers:
President, Jurian Winne; vice-president, James W. Jolley; treasurer,


William H. Slingerland; secretar}-, Samuel C. Bradt. In the next
month the title of this association was changed to Albany Count}- Ag-
ricultural Society. In 18(53 a fair was held by the society on the Wash-
ington Parade Ground. Fairs continued to be held down to 1870,
with the exception of one year, some of which were moderately suc-
cessful, but as a whole they were not very generously supported . In June,
1873, the Albany Agricultural and Arts Association was organized with
the folhnving officers: President, Thomas W. Olcott; vice-president,
Maurice E. Viele; treasurer, William H. Haskell; secretary, Volkert
P. Douw. This society purchased about forty-four acres of land four
miles north of the city, a tract whijch was happily adapted to the pur-
poses of the oi'ganization and where it was hoped permanent buildings
might be erected and the institution start upon a long career of useful-
ness The land was properly laid out and buildings were erected at a
cost of $30,000. The State Agricultural Society held its fair of 1873
on these grounds. In 1874 this society and the Albany County Society
held a joint fair September 32-35, with Volkert P. Douw, superintend-
ent. The county society held no fairs after that year. The other
association continued in e.Kistence and held exhibitions several years.
The grounds are now in market for sale.


The general history of Albany county, which has been traced in the
preceding pages of this volume, necessarily includes very much of the
history of the city of Albany down to the close of the Revolutionary
war; but a few salient facts relating to that pericjd of about 1-50 years
must be briefly noticed here.

It cannot be truthfully stated that the topography of the site of
Albany was originally favorable in all respects as a situation for a great
city. Consisting of a narrow level tract along the Hudson River, low
enough to be sometimes partially overflowed, backed by a slope extending
westward for nearly a mile, quite steep in some sections and divided
into four well-defined ridges, separated by deep valleys or ravines.


this much of its area was not especially inviting to the early seekers
for a city site. .Still farther westward extended a sandy plain, into
which the ravines mentioned cut their way for some distance. But
causes other than favorable topographical conditions have often deter-
mined the situation of large communities. If the land on which Albany
was to be built seemed forbidding as necessitating vast labor to
render it suitable for close settlement, it on the other hand offered in
its sloping hill sides and parallel ravines, the best of conditions for per-
fect drainage, excellent facilities for military fortifications, which were
so important to the early residents, and picturesque natural attractions.
It is not probable that the future drainage facilities or the beauties of
nature awakened remarkable enthusiasm in the Dutch settlers, but the
proximity to the Indians and their rich furs, facilities for self-protection
and for traveling and shipping southward on the great river and west-
ward on the Mohawk, were something tangible.

There are five creeks, or kills, as they were called by the Dutch,
flowing wholly or partially across the territory which was incorporated
in the city of Albany. These are the Normanskill, Beaverkill, Rutten-
kill, Foxenkill, and Patroon'sor Mill Creek, some of which have become
parts of the city sewer system. The Normanskill is one of the largest
streams in the county and is represented in city territory only by the
headwaters of the Krumkill, one of its smaller branches, though the
creek itself empties into the Hudson at Kenwood, but a quarter of a
mile south of the city limits. Beaverkill (sometimes called Buttermilk
Creek) rises in the westerly part of the city and empties into the Hud-
son a little below the steamboat landing. This was formerl_v a con-
siderable mill stream, and a part of it is now incorporated in the sewer
system. The Ruttenkill had its source above Lark street and flowed
wholly within the old city walls. Ordinarily a small stream, it was
periodically swollen into a torrent by rains and melting snows and
poured its waters down through a deep ravine, where Hudson avenue
now is, crossed Pearl street at the site of the Beaver block and emptied
into the Hudson a little below State street. It was bridged at South
Pearl street and Broadway. Clay was found on its banks from which
were made bricks for some of the old buildings, and, in early years,
fish abounded in its waters. The ravine of the Ruttenkill was about
o50 feet broad and fifty feet deep through most of its length and was
a neglected, filthy place. Here was erected the gallows for public
executions, which was last used for the hanging of Strang in 1827 for


the murder of Whipple. Between 1845 raid 1850 the ravine was filled
and the hills lowered b}- contract which was given to Charles Stanford,
a brother of Gov. Leland Stanford. The Foxenkill flowed outside of
the city before the extension of the boundaries, being a stream of con-
siderable size, and affording excellent fishing. It was bridged on North
Pearl street near Canal. Patroon's Creek once supplied pow'er to the
Patroon's mills and discharged its waters into the Hudson near the
old manor house.

The names given to this city have been : Pem-po-tu-wuth-ut (place of
the council-fire), by the Mohegans; Sche-negh-ta-da (through the pine
woods), by the Iroquois; Ga-ish-tin-ic, by the Minci; Fuyck (fouk), a
hoop-net, otherwise Beversfuyck, supposed to refer to a bend in the
river where fish were caught, probably first Dutch name; Beverwyck,
a place for beavers, retained from about 1634 to 1664 (sometimes writ-
ten Beverswyck); Fort Orange, in honor of William, Prince of Orange
and Nassau ; Rensselaerwyck, in honor of the Patroons, the Van Rens-
selaers; Aurania, another name for Orange; Williamstadt, in honor of
William, the .Stadtholder ; New Orange, in honor of the Duke of Orange
probably (a designation seldom used); Oranjeburgh, city or fortress of
Orange (a name spoken of by Mrs. Grant); Albany, inhonor of James,
Duke of York, Albany and Ulster, brother of King Charles II, who
made him proprietor of the New Netherlands. He afterward ascended
the English throne, from which he was driven soon after because of his
odious character.

The boundaries of Albany as given in the charter of 1686 were as

East, the Hudson at low water mark ; south, a line drawn from the southernmost
end ot the pasture at the north end of Martin Gerritsen's Island, and running back
due northwest sixteen miles into the woods, to a certain creek called Sandkill; north,
a line parallel to the former, about a mile distant; and west, a straight line drawn
from the western extremities of the north and south line.

The charter included ferry rights, all waste land, rights to certain
fields and public buildings, the right of fishing in the vicinity of the
Hudson within the limits of the county, and of purchasing from the
Indians 500 acres of meadow land at Schaahtecogue on the north, and
1,000 acres at Tiononderoga (Fort Hunter) on the west, whereon to
establish colonies for frontier protection. After the organization of
counties from the western district of Rensselaerwyck, that part which
was west of the Hudson, the city boimdaries were:


Westerly, Rotterdam and Niskayuna in Schenectady county; easterly, a line run-
ning through the center of the Hudson River channel ; southerly, Bethlehem and
Guilderland ; northerly. Colonic and Watervliet.

The first territorial change was made February 25, 1815, when a part
of old Colonie was annexed, the line of which adjoining Albany ex-
tended froin the river westerly along Patroon street, where are now
Quackenbush street and Clinton avenue. Xhis constituted the old
Fifth ward. The remainder of Colonie was annexed to Watervliet
at the same time. The changes which gave the city its present botind-
aries were made April 6, 1870, and April 26, 1871.

The islands constituting a part of Albany are Kasteel (or Castle)
Island, as it was called in early years, and which has had various other
titles, but is now known as Van Rensselaer Island, and which has been
referred to in earlier chapters as the probable site of Elkins's trading
post, established about 1614, and as where Corstiaensen landed, and
another island, lying between the city and Greenbush, and belonging
to the Boston and Albany Railroad.

The granting of the charter of 1686 makes Albany one of the oldest
existing cities of the original thirteen colonies. It was for that reason,
as well as for others, that the issue of that document was a most im-
portant historical event. Dongan was known as a just man, one of
large views for his time, of good judgment and clear foresight, with
the result that the charter was drawn upon broad lines. It sought in
no way to interfere with the then existing privileges of the people nor to
abridge their rights and liberties. While he may not have foreseen the
future itnportance of the place in times of war, he evidently clearly
understood its commercial advantages, which were even then attracting
notice. These facts are indicated by some of the provisions of the
charter. It provided that " the said town should forever thereafter be
called by the name of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the
City of Albany." It granted "to the city of Albany, all the waste,
vacant, unappropriated land lying and being in the City and the pre-
cincts and liberties thereof, extending and reaching to the low-water
mark in, by and through all parts of the said City, together with all
rivers, coves, creeks, ponds, water courses in the said Cit)' not hereto-
fore granted." It gave the city corporation its power to purchase and
hold land in its corporate name — a most important provision — as



1 do, by these presents, give and grant unto the said Mayor, Aldermen and Com-
monahy, full power and license at their pleasure, likewise to purchase from the In-
dians the quantity of 1,000 acres of low or meadow land lying at a certain place called
or known by the nameof Tionondoroge, which quantity of 1,000 acres of low or meadow-
land shall and may be in what part of Tionondoroge, or the land adjacent on both
sides of the river, as they, the said Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the said City
of Albany shall think most convenient ; which said several parcels of low or meadow
land I do hereby, in behalf of his said Majesty, his heirs and successors, give, grant
and confirm unto the said Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the City of Albany
aforesaid, to be and remain to the use and behoof of them and their successors for-
ever. To have and to hold all and singular, the premises to the said Mayor, Alder-
men and Commonalty of the said City of Albany and their successors forever, ren-
dering and paying therefor unto his most sacred Majesty, his heirs, successors and as-
signs, or to such oflficer or receiver as shall be appointed to receive the same, year-
ly, forever hereafter, the annual quit rent or acknow-ledgement of one beaver skin,
in Albany, on the five and twentieth day of March, yearly forever.

The charter designates the officers of the city as follows:

There shall be forever hereafter, within the said City, a Mayor, Recorder, Town
Clerk, and six Aldermen and six Assistants, to be appointed, nominated, elected,
chosen and sworn, as hereinafter is particularly and respectively mentioned, who
shall be forever hereafter called the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the City
of Albany, and that there shall be forever, one Chamberlain, or Treasurer, one
Sheriff, one Coroner, one Clerk of the Market, one High Constable, three sub-Con-
stables, one Marshall or Sergeant-at-Mace to be appointed, chosen and sworn in
manner hereinafter mentioned.

It provided further:

The Mayor, Aldermen and Recorder shall be Justices and Keepers of the Peace,
and Justices to hear and determine matters and causes within the said City and pre-
cincts thereof, to hear, determine and punish all petty larcenies and all other petty

The mayor was made c.v-officio coroner and clerk of the market, and
lie with the aldermen and recorder of the city were to be justices of the
peace of the county, and as such, "shall and may sit in the Court of
Sessions or County Courts and Courts of Oyer and Terminer, that from
time to time shall beheld in said County; and that the Mayor, Re-
corder, and some one of the Aldermen shall preside at such County
Courts and Courts of vSessions. The town Clerk of the said city shall
always be the Clerk of the Peace, and Clerk of the Sessions or Court of
the County."

Early in July of 1686 Peter Schuyler and Robert Living-ston were
appointed commissioners to go to New York and receive the charter.
On the 22d of July they returned with the important document and

were given a public reception "with all the joy and acclamations im-
aginable, and received the thanks of the magistrates, bnri:;esses and
other dignitaries of the city, for their diligence and care."

By the terms of the charter the following persons were appointed the
first oiificers of the city:

Peter Schuyler, mayor; Jan Bleecker, chamberlain; Isaac Svvinton, recorder;
Richard Pretty, sheriff; Robert Livingston, clerk; James Parker, marshal.

Aldermen. — Dirk Wessels, Jan Jans Bleecker, David Schuyler, Johannis Wendell,
Lavinus Van Schaack, Adrian Gerritse.

Assistant Aldermen. — Joachim .Staats, John Lansing, Isaac Verplanck, Law-
rence Van Ale, Albert Ruyckman, Melgert Winantse.

The first meeting of the "Justices of ye peace for ye County of Al-
bany," was held on the 2r,th of July, and the previously named officers
took their oaths of office. From the judicial powers conferred upon the
mayor and aldermen, those of the justices of the peace, all the court
proceedings of minor character came before them, which had previous
to the charter been brought before justices of the peace, whos^ limited
powers were conferred by the governor-general. The first meeting of
the Mayor's Court, which was also a meeting of the mayor and alder-
men for transaction of municipal business, was held in the city hall
August 31, 1686. On that occasion, it is recorded, a negro with the
classical name of Hercules, was charged by Myndert Frederickse with
stealing wampum out of his house. The prisoner confessed and was
sentenced "to be whipped through ye towne at ye carte tale by ye
hangman, for an example to others." The sense of justice of this
court apparently exceeded its ability to spell correctly.

In those days city officials were placed under penalties to attend to
their duties which at the present day would impoverish some aldermen.
The following ordinance was adopted at that meeting:

Whoever of the members of the Common Council shall be absent att ye second
ringing of ye bell, being in towne, at any common council day, shall forfeit si.N shil-
lings, toti'es quoties.

Upon the expulsion of King James II of England in 108'.», and the
accession of William and Mary, the event was celebrated in Albany.
The news reached the city on the 1st of July and a meeting of the Com-
mon Council was promptly called. A procession was formed in which
marched the mayor, council, other officials and citizens. Proceeding
to the fort the mayor there proclaimed, in English and Dutch, that
William and Mary were their lawful sovereigns. Then guns of the fort


were fired and bells were rung. The imagination may picture the
peculiar scene. Compare it with a modern political procession follow-
ing a presidential election. The little concourse of probably less
than a hundred stolid Dutchmen tramping up the hill, destitute of ban-
ners and band, to hear the mayor announce that a new king was their
master on the other side of the broad ocean. The Dutchmen were
evidently happy over the change, as well they might be.

It was as difficult, probably, in those days to collect taxes as it is at
the present time. It was found in 1695 that the city was a number of
thousand pounds in arrears, and at a meeting of the Council October
14, 1G05, when Evert Bancker was mayor, the following report was

Whereas, the .j^rriears of ye ^2,000 and ^1,500 tax having been directed to ye
constables of each warde by an warrant from Dirk Wessells, Justice, which consta-
l^les give m their report, that all who are indebted to ye said arriears gives them an
answer that they have paid it, and setts them aft from time to time.

At the same meeting the accounts of the treasurer were examined
and a warrant was directed to be issued to "fetch up all the lycenses. "
The justices were also directed to appear before the board on Decem-
ber 9, following, "to correct all affairs between the Citty and County. "
The licenses mentioned were those granted for the sale of various
kinds of merchandise.

A case that would have been summarily disposed of in these days,
but which seems to have puzzled the city dignitaries at that time, for
they never adjusted it as far as the record shows, is described in the fol-
lowing :

Cornelia Vanderheyden appears here at ye barr, and gives in the oath of her suster
Ariaantje, who is brought to child-bed, that Lief t. Symon Young is ye father thereof, ye
only father, and none but he ; and deseres that ye Mayor and aldermen would use
some methodd or anoyr with ye sd Young for the maintenance of the child.

" Ye only father" is decidedly quaint. Lieutenant Young was subse-

Online LibraryAmasa J. (Amasa Junius) ParkerLandmarks of Albany County, New York → online text (page 28 of 138)