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Early Railroads of New York

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dewittclinton-200.jpgFor the year ending Sept. 30, 1865, the Railroad Commissioners of the State of New York offered the following statistics for a year in which steam and horse railroads were both still operating:

New York that year had 3089.84 miles of steam roads, with 962 engines, 820 first class passenger cars, and 181 second class cars. The horse roads only covered 256 miles. (Horse-drawn rail tended to persist within densely populated cities, where fear - or experience - of fire caused a ban on sparky steam engines. Troy was one such city.)

Steam passenger trains in that year ran 7,978,889 miles, carrying more than 16 million passengers. The average speed, including stops, was figured at 20.57 miles per hour; without stops it was 25.43. Express trains were higher, at 26.25 and 30.44. Horses, despite having much less road, must have run much much more frequently, as they ran 18.4 million miles and carried more than 107 million passengers.

In that year, steam railroads killed 24 passengers, 92 employees, and 111 others; 227 in all. Another 272 were listed as injured. The horse railroads only killed 8 passengers, 1 employee, and 21 others, for a total of 62. So for the steam roads, that worked out to an average of 30.5 million miles of travel for each passenger either killed or injured, and for each one killed, 675,643 weren't. These are published statistics.

The report also helpfully tabulates "the date when the several Railroads of this State were opened for public travel." Although many of them, of course, aren't local, I thought it would be useful to show them here. We all well know that the first passenger rail of any kind was right here between Albany and Schenectady, but it's surprising how quickly rail service grew in the immediate Albany area, and perhaps also surprising how slow it was to expand elsewhere. The report included the date, the name of the railroad, and the number of miles opened each year.

In 1831. The Mohawk and Hudson, 17 miles,

In 1832. The Saratoga and Schenectady, 22 miles, and 1 mile of the New York and Harlem.

In 1834. The Ithaca and Owego, 29 miles, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1835. The Rensselaer and Saratoga, 25 miles.

In 1836. The Utica and Schenectady, 78 miles.

In 1837. The Tonawanda, 44 miles; the Lewiston, 3 miles; 15 miles of the Long Island, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1838, The Hudson and Berkshire, 31 miles.

In 1839. The Syracuse and Utica, 53 miles, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1840. None.

In 1841. 46 miles of the New York and Erie and 5 miles of the Long Island.

In 1842. The Albany and West Stockbridge, 38miles; the Auburn and Rochester, 78 miles; the Schenectady and Troy, 21 miles; 10 miles of the Long Island; and 6 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1843. The Auburn and Syracuse, 26 miles; the Attica and Buffalo, 31 miles, and 7 miles of the New York and Erie.

In 1844. 52 miles of the Long Island, and 12 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1845. The Cayuga and Susquehanna, 29 miles; the Buffalo and Niagara Falls, 22 miles; the Troy and Greenbush, 6 miles, and the Skanaeateles and Jordan, 5 miles.

In 1846. 8 miles of the New York and Erie.

In 1847. 25 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1848. The Saratoga and Whitehall, 40 miles; the Oswego and Syracuse, 35 miles; 140 miles of the New York and Erie, and 29 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1849. The Chemung, 17 miles; 59 miles of the New York and Erie, and 75 miles of the Hudson River.

In 1850. The Northern Ogdensburgh, 118 miles; the New York and New Haven, 14 miles; 78 miles of the New York and Erie; 18 miles of the Watertown and Rome, and 69 miles of the Hudson River.

In 1851. The Canandaigua and Elmira, 47 miles; 128 miles of the New York and Erie, and 52 miles of the Watertown and Rome.

In 1852. The Buffalo and State Line, 69 miles; the Troy and Boston, 26 miles; the Plattsburgh and Montreal, 23 miles; the Sixth Avenue, 4 miles; 51 miles of the New York and Harlem; 20 miles of the Watertown and Rome, and 44 miles of the Buffalo, Corning and New York.

In 1853. The Albany Northern, 33 miles; the Troy and Bennington, 5 miles; the Troy Union, 2 miles; the Canandaigua and Niagara Falls, 99 miles; the Buffalo and New York City, 91 iles; the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls, 77 miles; the Sackett's Harbor and Ellisburgh, 18 miles, and 46 miles of the Buffalo, Corning and New York.

In 1854. The Syracuse and Binghamton, 80 miles; the Flushing, 8 miles; the Brooklyn City, 17 miles, and the Third avenue, 4 miles.

In 1855. 26 miles of the Black River and Utica, and 30 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1856. 9 miles of the Black River and Utica, and 24-1/2 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1857. 2 miles of the Brooklyn City, and 21 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1858. 11 miles of the Buffalo, New York and Erie.

In 1859. The Genesee Valley, 15-1/2 miles; the Ninth Avenue, 3-1/2, and the Broadway Railroad of Brooklyn, 4-1/2.

In 1860. The Atlantic and Great Western in New York, 49 miles; the Staten island, 13 miles; 4 miles of the Brooklyn Central and Jamaica; 5 miles of the Brooklyn City, and one mile of the Ninth Avenue.

In 1861. 4 miles of the Brooklyn City, and 5 miles of the Warwick Valley.

In 1862. Coney Island and Brooklyn, 10-1/2 miles; 5 miles of the Brooklyn City and Newtown; 17-1/2 miles of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburgh, and 5 miles of the Warwick Valley.

In 1863. Albany and Susquehanna, 35 miles; Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island, 4 miles; Forty-Second Street and Grand Street Ferry, 7 miles; Rochester City and Brighton, 6-1/2 miles; Utica City, 2; Van Brunt Street and Erie Basin, 1-1/2 miles.

In 1864. Albany and Susquehanna, 1 mile; Broadway and Seventh Avenue, 8 miles; Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island, 2-1/2 miles; Central Park, North and East River, 19 miles; Forty-Second Street and Grand Street Ferry, 1 mile; Long island, 5-1/2 miles; Harlem Bridge, Morrisania and Fordham, 5 miles; Troy and Cohoes, 3-1/2 miles; Utica City, 2 miles.

In 1865. Adirondack Company, 25 miles; Albany Railway, 3 miles; Albany and Susquehanna, 46 miles; Oswego and Rome, 18 miles; Saratoga and Hudson River, 26 miles.

Image of the Dewitt Clinton from Schenectady County Historical Association.

1860s 1st railroad bridge across HUDSON Albany NY NYCRR

The Hudson River Bridge Company built the first structure to cross the Hudson at Albany. When it opened in 1866, it was simply the Hudson River Bridge. Once the Maiden Lane Bridge opened at the end of 1871, the older bridge was often called the North Bridge. Eventually, it picked up the moniker of the Livingston Avenue Bridge, the name by which it is known today.

The President of the company was Dean Richmond, who had in 1864 been chosen to replace the retiring Erastus Corning as president of the New York Central Railroad Company.  Secretary and Treasurer was Sidney T. Fairchild,  an attorney from Cazenovia who was general counsel for the New York Central, among many other positions. (The son of this secretary/treasurer, Charles S. Fairchild, later became secretary of the United States Treasury.) Other members of the Board of Directors of the bridge company were Erastus Corning and Henry H. Martin, who served Corning in banking and railroading, as well as some other interesting railroading characters. One was William H. Swift, a bartender turned inspector with the railroad; James H. Banker and Augustus Schell filled out the Board. The construction team also served on the Board: Julius W. Adams, bridge engineer; A.F. Smith, Superintendent of Construction; and Charles Newman, Bridge Builder.

The Albany Evening Journal's Feb. 23, 1866 account of the first crossing of the bridge was captured in the 1866 Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioners of the State of New York:

"Crossing the Bridge. -  After the meeting of the Directors of the Hudson River Bridge Company, yesterday afternoon, and shortly after three o'clock, a train consisting of four cars, drawn by the locomotive "Lyman J. Lloyd," belonging to the Central Railroad Company, started from the depot on Maiden Lane for a trip across the bridge. The Directors of the Bridge Company, several of the Directors of the Central railroad, and a number of the employees of the company, together with officers of the Hudson River, Harlem and Boston railroads, were passengers on the train.  The train was drawn back by the locomotive "James H. Banker," belonging to the Hudson River Railroad Company.

Subsequently a freight train, consisting of eight cars, loaded, belonging to the "Red Line" - through cars from Chicago to New York - passed over the bridge safely.

The Annual Report also recorded this March 5, 1866 article from the Albany Argus, explaining the importance of the new bridge:

Railroad Changes at Albany. - The revolution in railroad travel at this point, produced by the erection of the Hudson river bridge, is a very important one. For years the crossing of the Ferry at Albany has been a great inconvenience to the traveling public. Especially has this been the case during the fall and winter months, when persons leaving the warm cars on either side have been exposed to the cold winds on the river.

All the trains now leave this city from the New York Central Depot, near the Delavan House. On Saturday this new arrangement was in full operation. The Hudson River, the Harlem and the Boston trains all landed their passengers on this side of the river, and all the trains leaving this city for New York or Boston started from the same locality. Passengers going East or West had only to step from one train to another. The trains of the New York Central and the other roads named, all started from the same depot.

Trains are also run from New York to Buffalo and Suspension Bridge without any change whatever. Passengers from either of the points named can retain their seats through the whole route. These trains are called the "Red Line," the cars being painted red to distinguish them from the other trains. They are elegantly fitted up, and provided with all the comforts and conveniences possible to furnish, for such a long journey.

This new arrangement will involve important changes in connection with travel through this city. The ferry boats will be almost entirely relieved from business, except so far as local traffic is concerned. The crowds of carts, and drays, and passengers, at the foot of Maiden Lane, will be no longer witnessed. The ticket and baggage offices of the Boston railroad will be transferred to the New York Central railroad yard, and from the locality tickets will be sold, and baggage checked for all points leading from the city by railroad, except the Albany and Susquehanna route.

This great revolution has been effected by the construction of the Hudson River bridge, and it must be acknowledged that the change will be very welcome to the traveling public.  The result has produced a concentration of the trains on all the roads named at one point, and we presume it will be for the interest of these several corporations to unite in the erection of an immense depot which will afford ample accommodations under this new state of things.

LivingstonAveBridgeMap1895.pngThe New York State Engineer and Surveyor's report from 1864 contains an extensive history of The Hudson River Bridge Company, the operation that built Albany's iconic Livingston Avenue Bridge. The report contains a huge amount of detail, some of which we're reproducing here because a huge amount of detail on these old structures is usually lacking.

First, it includes Chapter 243 of the Laws of 1864, which was an act amending laws from 1856 and 1857 authorizing the construction of a bridge across the Hudson river at Albany. The original site was determined not quite right, and the new chapter allowed the HRBC to move the site of the bridge

from the place now located for the construction thereof, to a line running across the Hudson river, under the provisions of this act, south of the north boundary line of the city of Albany, and not more than one hundred feet north of the north line of Lumber street in said city, at a proper height of not less than twenty feet above ordinary common tide water.

The act made it the job of the state engineer and surveyor to determine the proper place for the bridge and to ensure it was of the proper height, allowing for clearance of some vessels (interestingly, the requirement of a draw is not mentioned in this act). The State Engineer and Surveyor at the time was William B. Taylor, who made his determination May 6, 1864.

Beginning at a point on the wharf in the city of Albany, on the westerly side or shore of the Hudson river, sixty (60) feet north of the north line of Lumber street in the said city (the said wharf being the westerly line of what is generally known as the Albany Basin), and running thence in a direction south fifty-four (54°) degrees, thirty-five (35) minutes east across the main channel of said river to a  point on the island on the easterly side of said main channel, commonly known as Van Rensselaer island, which point is situated one hundred and twelve (112) feet easterly from the front line of the docks on said island and from last mentioned point, running on a line curving southerly with a radius of nine hundred (900) feet to the easterly side or shore of the said river, in the town of Greenbush, Rensselaer county, is the proper place for the construction of said bridge across said river; and I do also hereby further certify and determine that the proper height for said bridge is at least thirty-four and one-half (34-1/2) feet above the lower mitre sill of lock number one of the Erie canal, which lock connects the Erie canal and the Hudson river at the outlet of said canal into the Albany basin, and I do hereby further certify and determine that said bridge, when contracted at the place and height above ascertained and fixed therefor, will be at least twenty-five (25) feet above ordinary common tide water.

Within the report was a description of the history of the Hudson River Bridge at Albany, prepared by chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, Charles Hilton, Esq., "who, in the early progress of the bridge, aided efficiently in its plans and construction."

Hilton writes that the bridge crossed about a half mile above the old railroad ferry and linked the New York Central Railroad on the west and the Hudson River, New York and Harlem, and Albany and Boston Railroads on the east. He provides an extensive physical description of the bridge, which follows:

Commencing on the Albany side, the west approach leaves the line of the New York Central Railroad near the corner of Broadway and Colonie streets, curving to the left on a radius of about one thousand (1,000) feet, for a distance of eight hundred sixty-six (866) feet, thence straight three hundred fifty eight (358) feet; thence curving to the left again on a radius of one thousand (1,000) feet, two hundred twenty-one (221) feet, and thence straight, forty-eight (48) feet, total, fourteen hundred ninety-three (1,493) feet, to the west shore of the Albany basin, and beginning of the bridge proper; thence the line is straight, and nearly at right angles to the course of the river across the Albany basin, two hundred (200) feet, Albany pier, seventy-eight (78) feet, and the main channel of the river ten hundred twenty-one (1,021) feet, total, twelve hundred ninety-nine (1,299) feet; thence curving to the right on a  radius of nine hundred (900) feet, for a distance of seven hundred seventeen (717) feet, across the flats which spread out at the head of Van Rensselaer's island, to the east abutment, or end of the bridge proper; thence the line continues curving to the right on about the same radius for five hundred (500) feet over the east approach to the line of the Hudson River Railroad, making the total length of the bridge and approaches, four thousand and nine (4,009) feet, or, over three-fourths of a mile.

The approaches to the bridge designed ultimately to consist of masonry and embankment, are at present temporarily built of timber trestle work, varying in height from three to twenty feet, with timber truss bridges over Montgomery, Centre and Water streets, on the Albany side. The trestle work on the east side of the river, consists of piles driven in the ground in rows of four each across the line of the track, the rows being eight (8) feet apart, cut off at the proper height and capped with twelve-inch square timber. Upon these caps the stringers are laid, which carry the cross-ties and rails. The trestle work for the western approach is more substantially constructed, being framed in double bents of twelve inch square timber, having their sills imbedded in the ground several feet below the surface, and of sufficient width for a double track. The trestle work of the east approach is intended to be replaced by an embankment during the coming season; while it may be several years before that of the west approach is replaced by more permanent structures.

Consists of twenty (20) spans, of the following clear widths: three (3) over the Albany basin of sixty-six (66) feet each, four (4) fixed spans of one hundred seventy-two (172) feet each, and two (2) draw spans of one hundred eleven and three-fourths (111-3/4) feet each, over the main channel, and one (1) span of seventy-one feet, and ten (10) spans of sixty-six (66) feet each, across the flats on the east side; and stand about thirty (30) feet clear height above ordinary summer tide level of the river.

Consists of twenty-one (21) stone piers, as follows: beginning at the west end, the first pier is on the west shore of the basin, and is thirty-two (32) feet long and six (6) feet thick under the coping; then follow two (2) in the Albany basin, sixty (60) feet long and six (6) feet thick under the coping; the next is a square abutment, about forty-four (44) feet on each side, and located on the west side of the Albany pier, leaving a roadway in front about thirty (30) feet in width; the next pier is in the deepest water of the main channel, and is seventy-two (72) feet long and six and one-half (6-1/2) feet thick under the coping; the next is the pivot pier, thirty-two (32) feet square, on which the draw-bridge swings; then come three more piers in the main channel, of the same dimensions as the one mentioned next before the pivot pier; and after them, ten (10) more on the flats, of the same thickness, but not so long; and lastly, the abutment on the east shore, having wings extending up and down stream, to retain the earth embankment to be built behind it.

1866_Albany_railroad_bridge_Harpers.jpgThe piers and abutments all rest on foundations of spruce piles, from twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, and driven from two and a half (2-1/2) to three (3) feet apart between centers, and as deep into the bed of the river, as they would go (without splintering under the hammer), which was generally from twenty-four (24) to twenty-eight (28) feet below low water level. In preparing the foundations for the masonry, different methods were adopted in different portions of the work. In the case of the pivot pier, and the three main channel piers east of it, the site of each pier was first excavated to a  depth of about twenty (20) feet below low water, and of a length and breadth considerably greater than the intended pier, and, after the piles were driven, a strong crib of twelve inch square timber was built around them, the sides of the cribs being kept from spreading by ties of 1-1/8 inch square iron, placed twelve (12) feet apart in each course of timber. The crib was then sunk upon the bottom of the excavation, having been made of sufficient height to bring the top thereof within two feet of low water level. The interior of the crib was then filled with concrete, composed of coarse gravel and hydraulic cement, and the surplus excavation around the cribs filled with loose stone up to within twelve (12) feet of low water, to support the crib and avert any danger from scouring. The piles were then cut off level with the tops of the cribs, and the whole covered with a platform of six-inch plank, upon which the stone work was commenced. For the westernmost pier in the main channel, which is in the deepest water, no excavation was made, but the piles were cut off to a level about a foot above the bed of the river, and the masonry sunk upon them by means of a timber caisson. For each pier in the basin the piles were cut off six (6) feet below low water, a strong platform moored over them, on which the masonry was commenced, and lowered upon the piles by means of screws. For the piers on the flats, east of the main channel, the site of each was excavated to a depth of about three (3) feet below low water, the piles driven as for others, and cut off about one foot below low water. The excavation was then filled around and over the heads of the piles with concrete, about up to low water line, and upon this the masonry was commenced.

The masonry of the piers and abutments is composed of the best quality of limestone of a bluish grey color, from quarries at Amsterdam and Tribes Hill, on the line of the N.Y. Central Railroad, and from Kingston, in Ulster county, and is laid in courses varying in thickness from twelve to thirty inches.

The beds and joints are cut, and the arrises of each stone chipped to a line, but the faces are left rough and undressed, forming what is technically called "rock-faced work."

The stones in each course are clamped together with strong iron clamps, and each course is secured to the one next above and below by iron dwells. The shape of the ends of the piers in plan is that of a gothic pointed arch, being formed by two circular arcs of sixty (60) degrees each. The up-stream edge or nose of each main channel pier is sloped back at an angle of about thirty (30) degrees from the perpendicular, the better to enable them to resist, break up or turn aside masses of ice or other floating bodies.  The pivot pier has guards, constructed of stone in the same manner as itself, placed up and down stream at the proper distances to receive the ends of the draw when swung open, and connected with the pivot pier by timber crib work filled with loose stone.

The sides of all the piers and abutments, except the pivot pier and its guards, which are vertical, have a batter of half an inch to a foot, and the tops are coped with large cut flags carefully fitted and clamped together, and projecting nine inches beyond the face on all sides.


The superstructure is designed ultimately to be of iron, and to carry a double track, but at present consists of a single track timber bridge, all except the draw spans being on the well known Howe plan.

The trusses of the long spans (172 feet) are twenty-four (24) feet high, and those of the short spans (66 feet) nine (9) feet [sic] high. The needle beams, 7 X 14 inches, rest on the lower chords, and support the running timbers, cross-ties and rails in the usual manner. The clear width between the trusses if fifteen (15) feet.

The draw, designed by Mr. J.W. Adams, the engineer, is on what is known among engineers as the "arch brace plan," the peculiarity of which consists in having the main supporting braces radiate from the ends of the lower chords to different points in the length of the upper chords, thereby transmitting the weight of the bridge and load directly to the abutments, instead of indirectly through a series of braces, as in most other plans. The ends of the draw when swinging are supported by eight chains composed of iron bars 5X1 inches, extending from the top of a central tower sixty (60) feet high to the ends of the lower chords of the trusses.

The turn-table of the draw consists essentially of a series of seventy (70) rollers, placed between two circular tracks, one being fastened to the masonry of the pivot pier, and the other to the under side of the bridge. The faces of the tracks which are six (6) inches broad, are accurately planed, so as to present no obstacle to the movement of the rollers, which are turned true and smooth. The rollers are twelve (12) inches in diameter, and eight (8) inches long on the face. They are placed in the annular space between two concentric iron rings, and kept at the proper distance by radial bars, which connect the inner ring with a collar fitted to and revolving around a central pivot pin six (6) inches in diameter.

This turn-table, which is wholly of iron, was made by the Boston Machine Company, and is a very creditable piece of work.

The draw, which weighs about 330 tons, can be opened and closed by five men in about five minutes.


Beginning at the west end of the west approach, the track rises at the rate of twenty (20) feet to the mile, for a distance of seven hundred fifty (750) feet to Montgomery street, where it crosses over the Albany branch of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, and from thence descends at the rate of thirty (30) feet per mile to the west end of the bridge proper. Across the main channel is grade level, but from the east side thereof it descends at the rate of thirty-five (35) feet per mile to the Hudson River Railroad.

Of course, we've given some other parts of the history of the Hudson River Bridge, later known as the North Bridge, and today known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge; you can find it here. While the substructure discussed here still exists and dates to 1866, the superstructure of the bridge was replaced about 1902.

Lake_Avenue_Observatory_Observatory_and_Landscape.jpgAfter a shaky start, the Dudley Observatory got up and running and in fact became a fairly important observatory in the latter part of the 19th century, one of Albany's many claims to scientific fame. However, after a few decades, it appears that the site on Dudley Heights proved less than satisfactory. The precise explanation isn't given - those who argue that the city lights were an issue ignore that the observatory, in moving from Arbor Hill to a site behind what is now Albany Medical Center, on property now housing the Capital District Psychiatric Center on South Lake Avenue, was hardly out in the country. More likely is the proximity to the railroads and the West Albany yards - so close, in fact, that the Dudley deeded some of its land to the New York Central Railroad. Given all the fuss that was made over the perfection of the stone piers on which the observational instruments sat, it can't be that the ever-growing rail business, a very vibratory affair, was a good thing for the neighboring observatory.

 So it would appear that a plan was hatched and worked through the Legislature and city government. The observatory was to move over to what is South Lake Avenue, which was then the grounds of the almshouse (poor house) and some associated buildings for people with communicable diseases (the "pest house") and smallpox (the "smallpox house"), and apparently, for a while at least, the plan was for the almshouse to move to the Dudley's old site.

That plan emerged at least as early as 1891, as an article in the Albany Times says: "Petitions were received from owners of premises and occupants of Van Woert and other streets against the transfer of the Dudley observatory grounds so as to erect an almshouse hospital and pest house on the grounds (it contains the signatures of over 600 persons); ...." When that happened, there was supposed to be a continuation of Lake Avenue (then also called Perry Street) through the almshouse farm, and other institutions such as the Home for Incurables and the House of Shelter would be given property there. But by the time the swap came, only a park was planned for the old observatory grounds.

 It was 1892 before acts were passed in the Legislature allowing the move, and in 1893 a deed was executed from the Board of Commissioners of Washington Park transferring to the Dudley Observatory conveying:

All that piece of parcel of lands lying and being on the east side of Lake Avenue and part of the premises known as the Alms house farm commencing at a point on the east line of Lake Avenue 66 feet north of the intersection of the north line of Warrant Street produced to the easterly line of Lake Avenue (a point bearing N. 87 [deg] 15' E. and distant 100.4 feet from city monument No. 25, said monument being the north westerly corner of Lake Avenue and Warren Street) thence

S. 51 [deg] 55' E. 502 feet; thence

S. 29 [deg] 10' W. 357 feet; thence due South 280.2 feet, said point being in the north boundary of the New Scotland Plank Road; thence westerly along said north boundary 100.3 feet, thence due north 225 feet; thence

N. 51 [deg]. 55' W. 270 feet; thence

N. 29 [deg]. 16' W. 257.2 feet; this point being in the easterly line of Lake Avenue, thence north along said easterly line 38 [deg] 05' E. 352 feet to the point and place of beginning. Containing 5 acres and 8/10ths of an acre more or less.

Subject nevertheless to and this conveyance is made upon the condition that there shall be erected on the land hereinbefore described within three years after the execution and delivery of this conveyance an observatory building and that the same shall be used upon completion and thereafter continued always to be used as and for an astronomical Observatory under penalty of forfeiture of the land hereby conveyed, to the City of Albany upon failure of this condition and the Board of Commissioners of Washington Park shall nevertheless have authority subject to the approval of the Trustees of said Observatory to lay out and maintain said premises as if the same were still a part of the land in their possession for Park purposes.

Observatory_and_Almshouse_1895.pngLanguage in the deed made it pretty clear this was a swap between the Dudley and the Washington Park commissioners "for purposes of a public common," but that the Observatory could continue in possession of the old buildings until new buildings on the new site were ready, up to a period of eighteen months. Bonds were to be issued by the city to pay for this arrangement, to the tune of $15,000 that was to be paid to the Observatory. Then the lands and buildings on Dudley Heights would become a public common. "Nothing in this act shall be construed as requiring a transfer by said trustees of the Dudley Observatory of the piers of masonry which now support the instruments in use by said observatory, or the library cases in the present observatory buildings, or to prevent the removal thereof."

Exactly when the new facility on South Lake commenced operations we can't say. It was dedicated in 1893, which seems insanely quick for a swap that was only executed the year before, and the Dudley had a history of inaugurating things that weren't quite ready. This map from 1895 clearly shows its location. It lasted at the "new" location until about 1968, when it had to depart to make room for the Capital District Psychiatric Center. The Times Union has a photograph of the second observatory on fire, most likely being burned down in order to clear the site. Land that it had bought in Selkirk didn't work out, as a new electrical generating facility was being built right next to it, creating interference. It had a temporary home at 100 Fuller Road, in a former auto parts warehouse that it shared with the Atmospheric Science Research Center of SUNY, and at the time it seemed likes its connections to SUNY and/or Union College would land it with one of those permanently, but that wasn't quite how it worked out. Eventually the observatory made its way to Schenectady, housed at what used to be called The Schenectady Museum and is now known as the Museum of Science and Innovation, or MiSci.

The old observatory on Dudley Heights appears to have lasted into the '60s; a May 1967 article says that the original "decaying structure became a haven for vagrants and was leveled by the city a few years ago." At one point, in 1929, there was a plan to move Memorial Hospital up to the site on Dudley Heights, but nothing appears to have come of that.

Scheutz_mechanical_calculator.pngIn the middle of the 19th century, the highly respected scientific advisor to Albany's nascent observatory went on a spending spree of epic proportions. Even in Albany, rarely has so much been spent for so little result. That even some of what was purchased was eventually actually acquired and put into use should be considered something of a miracle. As we previously noted, the Dudley Observatory was inaugurated without any of its telescopes, clocks, or scientific instrumentation in place, and some of that equipment never came to fruition. But it did get some heavy stone piers, the fanciest iron shutters for the dome, and one of the earliest computers in the world, which was apparently never put to any use.

On the Observatory's Scientific Council were Dr. Benjamin Apthorp Gould and Alexander Bache, one of the leading men of science of his day and head of the Coast Survey. Bache championed the opinions of Dr. Gould and pressed for him to be named director of the Dudley. Bache wrote "Now that matters have gone so far at Albany, why not . . . consult Dr. Gould about all the details? I would not now move a peg without his advice."

The Trustees were nevertheless souring on the promises of Gould. with little to show for many thousands of dollars in spending. And then there was the question of buying a computer.

About this time [1856], Dr. Gould urged the Trustees to purchase a calculating machine of the achievements of which he had spoken very enthusiastically. Neither Transit, Meridian circle, Chronographs, Clocks or Dials, in all of which large investments had been already made, were received, and nothing was in working order.  Great as was their respect for science, and entire as was their confidence in their scientific advisers, they could not always repress the regret and disappointment they felt, that, as yet, so little that was visible or practical, had been accomplished. Still, they retained their confidence in Dr. Gould, and gave their consent that he should purchase "the calculating machine," although the funds of the Observatory scarcely justified the expense . . .

The Trustees will not attempt to justify themselves for permitting an expenditure, so obviously injudicious. The "machine" had been exhibited and held for sale, both in Paris and in London, without finding a purchaser. Its utility had yet to be demonstrated. Not another Observatory in the world had ventured to invest the amount required, in such an experiment . . . The "machine" was purchased in December, at a cost of five thousand dollars. It arrived in April, 1857, but was laid aside for more than twelve months, when it brought forth a column of printed figures, and the Trustees were charged two hundred dollars for "bringing it into use."

There is only one reference in the Trustees' statement on the matter that positively identifies this calculator - it was a device created by Per Georg and Edvard Scheutz of Sweden, based on Babbage's difference engine. Wikipedia mentions that Georg Scheutz created two of these machines, one sold to the British government in 1859 and another to the United States in 1860; but Gould in one of his letters in 1858 clearly refers to it: "the Observatory possesses the Calculating or Tabulating machine of G. and E. Sheutz, of Stockholm, which is still unpacked." Wikipedia describes the devices as being used to create logarithmic tables, but notes that it was imperfect and did not produce complete tables. It was never clear what it was intended to accomplish in astronomical calculation.

That was hardly the final indignity the Trustees suffered. There was the matter of the piers, the supports for the telescopic instruments.

"Dr. Gould desired to have the largest solid stone piers in the world; irrespective of cost; and the Trustees, relying upon him as a practical astronomer, were anxious to second his views. It is true, they sometimes considered those views peculiar." For instance, Dr. Gould's insistence meant that the front wall of the Circle Meridian room "was necessarily kept open during the whole winter, in consequence of Dr. Gould's objections to the piers from the Lockport quarries, and the time occupied in procuring others from Kingston." Further, he insisted on the development of a crane of his own design for the placement of the piers, and the use of this crane required that the walls of the west wing be taken down and then rebuilt.

The Trustees, ignorant as they are, are not so ignorant as not to know that great precision is necessary in placing such piers. But they also suppose that to move them to their place and elevate them, is a very simple and easy matter. A competent mechanic could do it all. But, to have a stone, which was to be devoted to such a purpose, moved and handled like common stones, would not suit the notions of Dr. Gould. He must have a crane contrived specially for this purpose.

That involved engineering, lots of back and forth of plans and, of course, much expense. He also insisted on iron shutters for the wooden dome and the wings. The shutters, if made of wood, were expected to cost $300, and go on a wooden dome that cost $3000.

In 1857, in the midst of the financial troubles of the country, Dr. Gould directed the architect to prepare plans for flexible iron shutters - a thing, as the Trustees understand, unknown in any Observatory in the world. The plan has been executed. The shutters have been made, and now they are too heavy for the dome. A new dome must be built, at a cost of $3000 or more, or else the shutters, which, with the machinery for opening and closing them, cost nearly $2000, must be lost. Dr. Gould also caused expensive machinery to be constructed for opening the shutters of the wings. The practical loss to the Observatory, arising from these injudicious expenditures, is probably not less than $5000.

The Trustees expressed the end of their patience to the Scientific Council in June of 1858, and believed that Council would advise Dr. Gould "to retire from his position, and, if they chose to be further connected with the Observatory, suggest some suitable person to succeed him." Instead, Gould and the Council put up a fight, enlisting Mrs. Dudley, the original benefactor, to their side. Found, unusually, at the Observatory, Gould employed a guard to prevent the Trustees from entering the facility; he was finally run out by a court order and police escort.

Happily, Dr. O. M.Mitchel, the Trustees' first choice, was now able to accept the position of director, and although he was still unable to relocate to Albany, he sent an associate director, Franz Brünnow, who was more than capable. Under their guidance, the Dudley finally became ready to make astronomical observations.

(The Trustees, by the way, were the following: Thomas W. Olcott, Ira Harris, Robert H. Pruyn, William H. DeWitt, Jonathan F. Rathbone, James H. Armsby, Samuel H. Ransom, Alden March, and Isaac W. Vosburgh.)

Pictured is a drawing of the Difference Engine No. 1 designed by Pehr Georg Scheutz and his son Edvard Scheutz from 1843 onward. The machine was completed in 1853 conjunction with Johan Wilhelm Bergström. From Golding Bird & Charles Brooke (1867) The Elements of Natural Philosophy; or, An Introduction to the Study of the Physical Sciences, 3rd Ed., J. Churchill & Sons, p.121, fig.173 on Google Books.


The Observatory's New Clothes

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Olcott_Meridian_Circle.jpgSo as we noted previously, the original Dudley Observatory, located on Dudley Heights in Arbor Hill in Albany, was created in a fit of local scientific boosterism that took advantage of the fact that Blandina Dudley had wads of her deceased husband's cash, a wish to have him memorialized, and apparently couldn't say no to the Trustees of this new institution, who went to the well repeatedly. Originally conceived and organized from 1851-53, the institution was inaugurated on August 28th, 1856, with a special meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One would expect that would have been a tremendous occasion to show off the beautiful new observatory building, the various clocks and chronometers so vital to the study of celestial objects, and the Olcott Meridian Circle that was named for benefactor and trustee Thomas Olcott, which would precisely pinpoint objects in the night sky. What a proud night that would have been! But at the inauguration, none of the instruments had yet been received, the walls of the institution were unfinished (waiting for the large instruments to be put in place), and the entire ceremony took place over at the Capitol, a healthy distance from where the Observatory wasn't yet.

 In 1858, the Trustees of the Observatory felt compelled to issue a statement, one of many in an unusual back-and-forth between the Trustees and the director/advisor of the Dudley, Benjamin Apthorp Gould. When their first choice to guide the observatory, O.M. Mitchel of Cincinnati, could not be available in Albany on their timetable, the Trustees turned to Dr. Gould, the first American to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy. He became introduced to the Dudley project when the Trustees looked at making a business arrangement with the Coast Survey, a Naval operation that was prohibited from establishing a fixed observatory. The survey's superintendent, Doctor Bache, suggested that Albany obtain a heliometer, by means of which "certain astronomical measurements can be performed with greater accuracy, than by any other instrument at present known to science." The Coast Survey was very much interested in access to such an instrument. Bache said that if the citizens of Albany should purchase a heliometer, the Coast Survey would supply a transit instrument and observers free to the institution. The Trustees went to Mrs. Dudley, secured $6000 for a heliometer, and went back to Bache. Bache and others asked for the creation of a scientific advisory council, on which both Bache and Dr. Gould, among others, would sit.

In the meantime, Mrs. Dudley was hit up for another $8,000 so that the "Heliometer might be the largest and best instrument of its kind in the world." Olcott ponied up the money for his Meridian Circle (at a mere $5,000), and Bache authorized the purchase of a transit instrument. There was also to be a "Normal Clock," a highly precise instrument that was to be funded in part by railroad magnate Erastus Corning. With this shopping list and a letter of credit, Dr. Gould was sent off to Europe in late 1855 to make the necessary arrangements for these vital instruments, which were to be constructed and in place by August 1856. Returning from Europe, Gould brought back the idea that the observatory would provide the New York Central Railroad with accurate time, determined by the observatory and indicated telegraphically to the railroad, at a rate of $1500 a year. Similar offers were made to other railroads, and to several cities including New York City. Writing to the mayor of New York City, Gould said that when the time service began in August 1856, it would "give accurate time to your city, within the fraction of a second, by the dropping of a time ball."

Just two years after this promise, the Trustees expressed some bitterness, saying they, "in their simplicity, believed all this meant something. They believed that Dr. Gould had a perfect knowledge of all the facts; they thought that he, if any one, knew what instruments he had ordered were capable of accomplishing, and when they could go into operation. They believed that these visions were soon to become realities, and that from and after the time of the Inauguration, the trains on every railroad centering in Albany would govern their movements, and start from every station, by the click of the 'Corning Clock;' and that when, in the eloquent language of the immortal Everett, 'the eternal sun strikes twelve at noon, and the glorious constellations, far up in the everlasting belfries of the skies, chime twelve at midnight' - then, the dropping time ball in every great city on the continent would announce at so many points on earth, what was thus chimed in the 'belfries of the skies.'" The Trustees had been promised this would be a tremendous revenue stream.

"The effect of these brilliant prospects was, as might be supposed, greatly to increase the confidence of the Trustees in their adviser."

There was the matter of the heliometer. Gould had not contracted for one in Europe, and instead proposed that one be built by a Mr. Spencer of Canastota; not only did the price increase, but it was asked that the Trustees send Spencer to Europe to examine other heliometers. The Trustees assented. Then Gould suggested that another person be sent with this Spencer, arguing that Spencer was unused to travel, that his life was too precious to the cause of science to be risked, and that he bore certain peculiarities; "a judicious companion might, to use his own language, 'prevent him from going off upon side issues.'" This the Trustees also finally agreed to. More things were bought, or at least ordered, and Dr. Gould was working from Cambridge, MA, his home, or travelling; he was rarely in Albany. He blamed others for problems with construction, though it was clear he was holding things up, delaying design of the piers needed to hold the telescopes and the designs needed for the time ball system. . He promised that the Meridian Circle would be shipped by the end of July, 1856, but found there was going to be trouble with the chronographs.  Time, somewhat ironically, ran out.  The Trustees wrote:

The Inauguration was to take place on the 28th of August. It was to occur at the time of the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and to constitute its great feature of attraction. To it, the Trustees had looked forward with intense interest. It brought with it, it is true, some reasons for sadness. It came with hopes unfulfilled, and expectations disappointed. Of all the splendid promises made by Dr. Gould, and the brilliant visions which he had kept before their eyes, not a single one was realized. No Transit, no Meridian Circle, nor any other instrument attracted the admiration of the scientific world. No marvelously constructed clock, noiselessly recorded the accurate passage of time, as it was chimed forth from the "belfries of the skies." No "time ball" fell in the great commercial emporium. No bond of ever acting sympathy, linked together the clocks of Rochester, Buffalo, Troy and Albany. No railroad station exhibited to the scientific members, on their way, any evidence that the trains upon which they traveled, were deriving their time from the Dudley Observatory. The Observatory itself had the appearance of a ruin. The walls of both wings were open to receive the piers and cap-stones, and to permit the working of the "Ingenious Crane," or as it might more properly be called, the Automaton Mason. Instead of leading their distinguished visitors up the hill, to spread before them the glories of the model instruments, the efforts of the Trustees were directed towards keeping them within the limits of the capitol, and the large tent, and inducing them to forget the deficiency of the real, in the brilliancy of the fanciful.

The photograph is of the Olcott Meridian Circle, from the Dudley Observatory's Digital Collection. It was photographed not in Albany but in the observatory's southern facility, in San Luis, Argentina.

Dudley_inaugural_marker_Academy_Park_Paula_Lemire_11888524_10155926598500274_8645183558389351220_o.jpgPS -  Thanks to Paula Lemire for this photograph of a marker in Academy Park commemorating the inauguration of the Observatory, among other things.



DudleyFloorPlan.pngThe Annals of the Dudley Observatory, Vol. I, published by Weed, Parsons in 1866, provides a handy ground plan of Blandina Dudley's dream observatory, which was formally inaugurated in 1856.  The space marked a was the front entrance and piazza. Immediately inside, b, was the base of the equatorial pier, essentially the permanent mounting point for a telescope..

To the east, c, was the Olcott Meridian Circle, in a room 22 feet 9 inches by 35 feet 7 inches. The transit piers are marked as t; r is the turntable for turning the apparatus, and x is the track. p are the collimator piers for the meridian circle. So, what's a meridian circle? Wikipedia is glad you asked.

The meridian circle is an instrument for timing of the passage of stars across the local meridian, an event known as a transit, while at the same time measuring their angular distance from the nadir. These are special purpose telescopes mounted so as to allow pointing only in the meridian, the great circle through the north point of the horizon, the zenith, the south point of the horizon, and the nadir. Meridian telescopes rely on the rotation of the Earth to bring objects into their field of view and are mounted on a fixed, horizontal, east-west axis.

To the west of the equatorial pier, d was the Transit Room, 22 feet 7 inches by 35 feet 4 inches. This would have held a transit telescope, which would not have been on an east-west fixed axis. Here you can see that the track x curves. Y are the collimator piers for the transit.

Directly behind the equatorial pier is the Hall, e, which led to the Library (f - with cases for books on the east and west sides) and stairs leading to the dome. g and k were the computing rooms, h the chronograph room, and l the sleeping room.

Directly opposite to the front entrance, is a niche cut in the base of the Equatorial pier, in which is placed a bust in marble, executed by Palmer, of the Hon. Charles E. Dudley. On the right of the entrance is a marble dial of the magnetic mean-time clock, the pendulum of which occupies the left of the entrance. Near the middle of the east and west sides of the hall, are portraits in oil and marble slabs, commemorative of the former director, Prof. O.M. Mitchel, and the assistant astronomer, Mr. August Sontag. On the north wall are marble slabs on which are inscribed the names of the Donors . . .

The distance between the floor and ceiling is the same for all the rooms, and is 14 feet 6 inches.

There is a cellar underneath the whole building. This is used for the furnace, batteries, work shop and other purposes. The furnace is placed directly under the room l. Only the north part of the building is heated, including the library and rooms adjoining. As the meridian rooms are separated from the heated portion, by the side entrance halls, no heat can pass into them.

The walls for supporting the revolving dome are built of brick, two feet thick. The height of the cap-stone, on which the equatorial pier rests, is 18 feet 7 in. above the floor of the meridian rooms. The equatorial room is reached by a winding stairway, shown in the ground plan at e.

The dome is a cylinder of 15 ft. in height, and 22 ft. inside diameter, framed of scantling, and covered on the inside and outside with three-quarter inch pine. It rests on a cylindrical foundation of wood, at a distance of 7 ft. above the base of the pier. On the top of this foundation is a bed-plate of cast iron, 9 inches in width, hollowed in the middle; a similar bed-plate is bolted to the under section of the dome; and between them are placed 15 cast-iron balls, 7 inches in diameter, upon which the dome revolves. Soon after the completion of the dome, it was found that the balls were liable to become unequally distributed. In order to prevent this, they were provided with axes, and mounted in a wrought-iron frame. When the dome revolves, this frame is carried around with the balls.

The Annals contain substantially more detail on the construction of the building and detailed drawings of the equipment therein, including the Olcott Meridian Circle.

As noted in the comments below, the Palmer bust of Dudley, as well as the marble donor slabs and the Olcott Meridian, are still in possession of the Dudley Observatory, in the MiSci in Schenectady. The bust is on display outside the planetarium.




Mrs. Dudley Builds an Observatory

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DudleyObservatory.pngMost folks in Albany are probably at least familiar with the name of the Dudley Observatory. Those who still remember when it was in Albany remember its second location, on South Lake Avenue, but that was not its premiere location -- it was originally set high up in Arbor Hill in a place still known as Dudley Heights. The Annals of the Dudley Observatory, Vol. I, published by Weed, Parsons in 1866, which was ordered to be printed and distributed by the Secretary of State in 1865, briefly provides a history of the observatory:

The establishment of this Institution was first proposed in 1851, by Dr. James H. Armsby. The plan was submitted to Thomas W. Olcott, Esq., who was the first to promise to aid the enterprise. Prof. Amos Dean became interested in the project, and wrote to Prof. O.M. Mitchel of Cincinnati, for advice and cooperation.

Mitchel immediately offered himself for the job - "If I had control of such an Observatory as you propose to build, I think great progress could be made in this department of progressive science." Olcott, William H. DeWitt and Ezra P. Prentice each put up $1000, and then Olcott presented the plan to Mrs. Blandina Dudley, widow of Charles E. Dudley, who put up $12,000 and got what we would now call naming rights. Further subscriptions in the city raised $25,000, and the Legislature granted an act of incorporation in March 1852. Prof. Mitchel selected a site and General Stephen Van Rensselaer donated the land on which the Observatory building was erected, what is now Dudley Heights in Arbor Hill.

The building was completed in 1854, and its benefactors provided even more cash to fit it out with instruments, including another $13,000 from Mrs. Dudley, $10,000 from Olcott, and others. Formally, the Observatory was inaugurated August 28, 1856, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a eulogy to Mr. Dudley was delivered at that event, and Mrs. Dudley ponied up another $50,000 for a permanent endowment. In all, she provided $105,000 to the effort. (This inauguration came just one day after a similar event for the Geological Hall.)

What did the Honorable Charles E. Dudley do to merit this long-standing recognition? His eulogy, contained in the Annals, hardly gives a clue. It speaks of his "devoting some years to the pursuits of commerce, in which his labors were rewarded by abundant success," after which he retired from active business "and became a citizen of Albany, where he was allied by marriage with one of its most respected and influential families." Born in England to Loyalist parents who had fled the colonies, he came to the newly United States with his mother in 1795. He came to Albany somewhere around 1812, engaged in business, whatever that may have meant, and married Blandina Bleecker. Through his Bleecker connections, he became part of the Albany Regency, serving several terms as Mayor of Albany before he became a State Senator, and, when Martin Van Buren resigned his U.S. Senate seat to become Governor, Dudley was elected to fill the Senate vacancy. He served a term and then retired to Albany.

The building erected in honor of his interest in astronomy was the subject of this detailed description in the Annals:

The Dudley Observatory is situated in the northwestern portion of the City of Albany, on an elevation, about 150 feet above the mean tide in the Hudson River. It is distant from the flagstaff on the State Capitol 4931 feet, and the bearing of the latter is 23°18′40″ S.W. from the center of the dome.

The site for the building is probably one of the best that could have been chosen in the vicinity of the city; being easy of access, and at the same time sufficiently remote, as to be free from every disturbing influence. The horizon is clear and unobstructed in every direction, and the position is such as to preclude all possibility of interference, if in future years, the adjoining lands should be occupied for building purposes.

In the plane of the meridian we have an uninterrupted view to the south for more than 12 miles. And we have taken advantage of this circumstance in the establishment of two meridian marks, distant six and twelve miles respectively . . . The following plan of the grounds will show the relative situation of the various buildings:


The grounds have been partially laid out with walks, and several hundred beautiful shade trees have been planted, in situations best calculated to protect the buildings from the influence of the wind.

The observatory occupies the central and most elevated portion of the hill. The dwelling house is situated near the main entrance to the grounds, at a distance of 320 feet from the Observatory. It is built of brick, and is 42 feet by 50 feet; being three stories high, with a basement.

The gas-works, used for manufacturing gas, after the plan of Mr. Aubin, is distant 270 feet, and is about 30 feet lower. The Lodge occupied by the Janitor is distant 380 feet, and stands 10 feet lower than the observatory. The New York Central Rail Road, passes around the northeast corner of the grounds. During the passage of a train of cars, a slight tremor is noticeable when making observations with an artificial horizon, or the declinometer. In fact, so delicate is the latter instrument, that the comparative amount of the disturbance is readily read from the fixed scale, varying from 0″.25 to 1″.5, depending on the distance of the disturbing cause . . .

From a careful and extended series of observations with the Olcott Meridian Circle and the Transit instrument, made especially for this purpose, we have become fully satisfied that this tremor has no appreciable effect on the stability and adjustments of the instruments, or on the accuracy of astronomical observations . . . ."

The text goes on to describe other things that are also barely effected by the railroad, suggesting that perhaps there was a problem after all. But it would be a number of years before the Observatory would move.

Blandina died in 1863. Not surprisingly, she and Charles are buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.


Albany's Public Bath No. 1

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PublicBathNo1.jpgMunicipal Journal and Engineer from July 1902 featured a thorough overview of Albany's first public bath, Public Bath No. 1, located at 665 Broadway (smack in the middle of the east side of the block between Orange and Quackenbush), hailing a public bath as a "step in the interest of public morals, clean living and the betterment of citizenship." A clean populace, apparently, was a moral populace. (The bath house is shown here on the left, in a photo from Albany Public Library from 1976.)

"The public bath was opened on December 17, 1901, and, while not of pretentious proportions, is a decidedly attractive building. The arrangement of the rooms could not be better and the sanitary conditions are of the best. At the entrance to the building is a large waiting  and reading room and the superintendent's office. Back of this is the private bath with two tubs and ten showers and toilet rooms. At the rear of the private bath is located the swimming tank surrounded on two sides by thirty-eight dressing rooms and these are so arranged that no one can enter the pool without first passing through a small shower bath room, in which every one must take a shower bath. This tends to keep clean the water in the pool. Above and around the plunge is a gallery for running or for visitors. The tank itself contains 70,000 gallons of water and is lined with white tile. The depth of water varies from four feet at one end to seven at the other. There is a diving platform on one side about five feet above the surface of the water. The water is kept fresh by a steady inflow of pure water and is kept at a moderate temperature by steam pipes. The dressing rooms are of black marble, the walls of white tile and the ceiling of metal painted a light green. A large skylight admits an abundance of light to the pool and rooms."

The bath was instantly busy, and the city often had to turn patrons away, seeing an average attendance of 150 a day in those first months. "From the first of April to the twelfth the attendance amounted to 1,861, of which 875 were boys, 125 girls, 763 men and 98 women. The women and girls are chiefly of the working classes, the kind for whom the bath was mainly intended, and the attendance of all sexes is constantly growing. It is stated on local authority that bathing parties are coming into vogue among the young ladies of the city."

The hours and prices were complicated. Residents paid a fee of 10 cents (non-residents, 25 cents) on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; baths were free Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Women and girls over 15 could go any day except Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Men and boys over 15 had from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday was upside-down day, and the hours were reversed. The bath provided soap, towels, trunks for males and bathing suits for females were all provided free. Those who wanted to wear their own could rent a locker for $1 a year; their suits and towels would be washed, dried and returned to the locker by snappy attendants.  "The fact that at times a small fee is charged has caused some to grumble, but many poor people favor a small fee for it relieves them from the feeling that they are receiving charity."

"About $30,000 has been expended for the construction of the bath, but the money could not have been used to better advantage. This bath has proved the popularity of such an institution in the city and it is probable that others of like character will be erected in the near future."

Courtesy of the "Albany...The Way It Was" Facebook Group, here's a floor plan of Public Bath No. 1:

Public Bath plans  Broadway and Orange  1900  albany ny

KnickerbockerPressManiac.pngIn his Nov. 4, 1950 column in the Knickerbocker News, Charles L. Mooney recounted days of long ago - Oct. 21, 1928, to be exact, and in doing so gave us a peek into the working of political campaigns, railroads, police work and the press, back in the days when the Knick Press was Albany's only morning newspaper.  Prompted by an assassination attempt on President Truman, Mooney gave the following account of an exciting night in the newsroom that sounds like it came directly from "The Front Page":

It happened the night of Oct. 21, 1928, while we were covering police headquarters for the old Knickerbocker Press, and we got in on the ground floor of the story quite by chance, for it took place somewhat off our normal beat.

Occasionally in those days we used to hop down for a bowl of chili con carne at the rathskeller the Bernstein brothers operated in a basement in Broadway near Quackenbush St.

We had finished a snack and were headed along Broadway when we recalled the Al Smith special train, bringing home the Governor, who was campaigning that year for the presidency, was due in shortly.

There was a vast crowd on hand to greet the Happy Warrior, who had just campaigned over much of the nation . . . The train's arrival was still a half-hour off, we recall, when Joe Boyle [captain of the New York Central Railroad Police] was called away to a telephone. To say he was excited upon his return would be putting it mildly. For there was big news in the making.

The Smith special had been speeding through the Mohawk Valley when an attendant in a tower at Hoffmans spotted a fellow riding the head end.

The tower man flashed the word ahead and Captain Boyle detailed the late Patrolman William Keith to meet the special when it slowed down at Van Woert St. crossing and take the fellow off.

In those days it wasn't unusual for a fellow to hop the front end, even on passenger trains, and the fellows who ordinarily did were hoboes who probably couldn't dig up the fare anyhow.

Back on the platform we naturally couldn't know it at the time, but when Patrolman Keith swung aboard, the free rider, a big, powerful fellow, grappled with him.

Keith grappled right back with the 6-foot, 3-inch giant and as the train nosed into the straightaway toward Union Station they were fighting a terrific hand-to-hand battle.

Just as the special slowed for the station Patrolman Keith brought his man under control, and it was only a matter of seconds before Boyle, Dunn and the whole entourage had the fellow in tow and hustling down the stairs to Captain Boyle's office for questioning.

Meanwhile, from a parlor car farther back on the train stepped Al Smith, Mrs. Smith, their son-in-law, John Adams Warner, at that time superintendent of the New York State Police, and others of his campaign party.

From still another car stepped a corps of legislative correspondents who had made the swing with the Happy Warrior . . .

We followed the police detail to railroad police headquarters, totally unaware of the magnitude of the story.

For it took only a few minutes' questioning to disclose the man on the front end was a dangerous lunatic who had escaped three weeks earlier from a state hospital at Westboro, Mass.

The fellow had beaten his way to Central New York, he said, and had ridden the train in from the west to Utica. When the train stopped for a few hours to permit Mr. and Mrs. Smith to attend Mass he hid in the railroad yards, then hopped the train again as it pulled out for Albany.

He hadn't realized it was such an important train, he told the authorities. His only thought had been to get away somewhere, although he wasn't certain where he'd like to have gone.

We chuckle sometimes when we recall that story. In the first place, there wasn't the competitive speed that obtains today. In the second place, The Knickerbocker Press was the only morning newspaper, and we had the story alone. In the third place, New York Central officials clamped a publicity embargo on the story, but we already had it in the bag.

We recall we were still a few hours from deadline, so after informing the late Tom (Duke) Ford, our city editor, of the details, we didn't hurry about getting into the office.

The Duke told a couple of legislative correspondents a little bit about the story and the wires were burning between New York City and Albany by the time we hit the editorial room.

We talked with some legislative correspondents that night that we had never met, and still haven't met.

It couldn't happen today, of course, for competition is much keener, but it is interesting to reflect that hardly more than 20 years ago there was that vast difference in news coverage.

We'd like to see some reporter walk around today for a couple of hours, in his pocket a story that produced this big, black headline in The Knickerbocker Press that night:

"Police Battle Maniac on Smith's Special"

 By the way, our guess is that the Knick went to evening publication when it merged with the Evening News and became the Knickerbocker News in 1937.

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