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The Proposed River Bridge

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Proposed Greenbush Bridge.pngYesterday we had an artist's rendering from 1886 of the then-new Albany Greenbush bridge. It looks like it was built pretty much according to this plan, which was laid out in the charter of the Albany Greenbush Bridge Company, which gave these specifications:

Wrought Iron Bridge.

The company contemplates erecting a bridge of wrought iron for the accommodation of carriages and foot passengers, and over the carriage-way a railroad track. The bridge will be 844 feet long, a 400 feet draw in the center, and a 222 feet span at each end. The following extract from the specifications will show the ease with which the draw is to be managed.


The first draw span will be 400 feet long over all, and will be located between the two fixed spans, and will be built on a turntable 36 feet diameter from center to center of drum. The bridge across the Mississippi at Louisiana, Mo., has a draw 444 feet, and has been worked successfully for four years past. This will be of same pattern.

Draw - How Worked.

The draw span will be worked by two steam engines, connected at right angles with suitable machinery to swing draw span wide open in the space of one minute's time, and close it in the same space of time, and suitable hand gearing to operate draw span in case the engines are disabled.


The fixed spans will be two in number, each 222 feet long from center to center of end pins.

Height of Spans.

The height of fixed spans will be 34 feet and 9 inches from center of bottom chord to center of top chord.


This draw is within a few feet of the same length as that of the bridge chartered by Congress and constructed over the Mississippi river at Louisiana, No., and it must be taken into consideration that the Mississippi river at that point has a current of six miles per hour, while there is no perceptible current in the Hudson river. As to obstructing the navigation of the Hudson by this contemplated bridge, those who pretend to believe it do so because they are opposed to any bridge. They know it will not in the least impair the commercial interests of the city of Albany.

The first Greenbush Bridge

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Greenbush Bridge.pngIt wasn't until after years of bickering that a bridge across the Hudson River between Albany and Greenbush (now Rensselaer) was established. The Albany and Greenbush Bridge Company was chartered by the Legislature in 1872, and immediately hit roadblocks. The merchants of Troy were dead set against a bridge, viewing it as an intentional barrier to navigation that would stop ships at Albany, to the capital city's mercantile advantage. They'd made the same arguments against the first bridge (now the Livingston Avenue Bridge) and the Maiden Lane bridge, both built in the years after the Civil War. The ferry lobby wasn't too keen on it, either; having lost the fight against the railroad bridges some twenty years earlier (and with it, a lucrative business moving rail cars across the river), the ferry operators realized that a crossing that would accommodate people and horses would probably be the end of the business.

Somehow the public interest prevailed, and in 1882 the first Greenbush Bridge opened. We haven't previously stumbled across any images of that first bridge after it was built, so we're thrilled to find this lovely engraving from an 1886 Albany Bicentennial commemorative history. The bridge was a swing bridge, similar to the Livingston Avenue Bridge.

On the Albany side, you can see the mouth of the Island Creek, a northern extension of the Normanskill (dammed or bridged, it is not clear). The land between it and the Hudson is Westerlo Island, owned by the Van Rensselaer Land Co. The railroad running just north of the creek is the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company Rail Road; the West Shore Rail Road connected just outside this picture. On the Greenbush side, the tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road are heading toward the Maiden Lane Bridge, and the Boston and Albany is heading on up north.

R.V. Pasco, stove maker

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RV Pasco.pngHaven't been able to learn much about R.V. Pasco, whose 1863 ad appears here. He was one of many stove makers and dealers in the area at a time when the Capital District was the stove capital of the country. His was one of the few businesses in Greenbush (now Rensselaer) that advertised in the Albany directory, but this was at a time when the railroading business in Greenbush was starting to boom and perhaps residents on the eastern side of the river were numerous enough, and cold enough to need their own stove maker.

$10 down and $2 a week

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Hampton Manor Ad 1927 3.jpgAs we mentioned yesterday, in 1927 the suburbs of Albany were starting to boom. Veeder Realty was pushing two new developments, Birchwood Park and Hampton Manor. Birchwood Park was between stops 18 and 19 on the Schenectady Railway Company trolley line to Albany, somewhere in Colonie. As far as we can tell, Birchwood Park is lost to time, though no doubt some of the homes still exist. Hampton Manor, as noted yesterday, was and remains a tidy little development in East Greenbush. Neither place can be accessed by trolley, and Hampton Manor's direct bus service was cut last year.

Even by 1927 standards, $10 down and $2 a week doesn't seem like a lot of money for buying a lot.

"The plan enables you to start building without the usual method of first paying up for the lot. A small amount of cash secures the lot and starts the building . . . and the balance is paid same as rent but considerably less than most rents are these days! Act at once. The liberality of the plan may bring a demand that we cannot meet. First come, first served. At least INVESTIGATE!"

Hampton Manor

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Hampton Manor Ad 1927.jpgBy the 1920s, Albany had pretty much filled out to its current extent; the wide open lands of Pine Hills had been built up in the 1890s, and the trolleys made it possible for people to live outside the city and still get to work. The sudden growth of the personal automobile also led expansion into the suburbs, and new housing developments started to spring up. Places like Menands and east Colonie started to grow, and across the river, settlement spread beyond the hamlets that now made up the city of Rensselaer. Up the hill in East Greenbush, Veeder Realty Co. started selling building lots in Hampton Manor. This ad from 1927 promises pure spring water ("think that over, Mr. and Mrs. Albanian!"), a lake stocked with trout, and a new school and church (St. Mary's) within the gates of the development. There was a fine state road (Columbia Turnpike, now Routes 9 & 20), two trolley stations and the Nassau bus, not to mention a very short drive across the old Greenbush bridge.

"Don't mind the 'Detour' signs. They don't apply to Hampton Manor."

Dunn Memorial Bridge

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Dunn Memorial Bridge postcardAlways nice to see a view of the old Dunn Memorial Bridge, named in honor of posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Parker F. Dunn, Morton Avenue's bravest son. But it's also nice to see the kinds of messages people used to spend a penny to send:

"Thats a railroad bridge that I go across on     Bob"

Of course, it was never a railroad bridge. He may have been confusing it with the Maiden Lane bridge just to the north, which carried the tracks over the river to Union Station.

In 1971, the old Dunn blew up real good.

Trolley disaster at Greenbush

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Trolley Crash.pngThe 1890 railroad sabotage at Greenbush miraculously took no lives. But a 1901 trolley crash outside Greenbush (which is now part of the city of Rensselaer) was much more serious, killing at least seven people.

It was May 26, 1901, and the trolleys were at the start of their summer runs. In those days, most local trolley companies had amusement parks way out at the ends of their lines; the Albany Fast Line's destination resort was Electric Park in Kinderhook.

"Electric-cars racing for a switch while running in opposite directions at the rate of forty miles an hour, cost five lives yesterday afternoon by a terrific collision in which over forty prominent people were injured, some fatally, and others seriously." The five killed immediately included the two motormen; two more died shortly of their fatal injuries. At least 11 others were seriously injured.

"The lobby of the post-office filled with dead and wounded, hysterical women and children looking for relatives and friends, surgeons administering temporary relief, and ambulances racing through the city, taking the wounded to hospitals ... The scene of the accident was a point about two miles out of Greenbush, on the line of the Albany and Hudson railway. The point where the cars met on the single track was a sharp curve, and so fast were they both running and so sudden was the collision that the motormen never had time to put the brakes on before South-bound Car No. 22 had gone almost clean through North-bound Car No. 17, and hung on the edge of a high bluff, with its load of shrieking, maimed humanity."

Fortunately for the sensitive readers of the age, the newspaper accounts were reserved and tasteful:

"Fully 120 men, women, and children formed a struggling pyramid, mixed with bloody detached portions of human bodies and the wreckage of the cars ... The few women and children who had escaped injury and death were hysterical, and added their cries to the shrieks of the dying and mutilated. Men with broken arms and bones, dislocated joints, and bloody heads and faces, tried to assist others who were more helpless. Help had been summoned from East Greenburg [sic] and vicinity, and in a little time the bruised mass of humanity, with the mutilated dead for a gruesome and silent company, were loaded on extra cars and taken to Albany."

The steam ferry comes to Albany

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Until the early 19th century, the only way to cross the Hudson at Albany was by batteau, rope ferry or the newly invented horse ferry. But as Howell notes in his "Bi-Centennial History of Albany," "In 1827 the subject of procuring a steamboat for the South Ferry began to be agitated." The horse-ferry lobby didn't take this sitting down, but steam interests won (and, after all, the Hudson was where the steam boat was made famous) and in 1828 the Chancellor Lansing began running between the Albany and Greenbush shores, apparently putting the horse ferryman "One-Armed Bradt" out of a job. (It's possible that steam boats required two arms to operate, at least at first.).

For reasons lost to history, the North Ferry ran a couple of decades behind the times. Sited where the current Corning Preserve boat launch is and running directly across the river to Bath-on-Hudson, this ferry didn't even get a rope-scow until about 1800, and the horse-boat didn't come until 1831 (perhaps having been displaced by the steam ferry down at the South Ferry). The steam ferry didn't hit the north until 1841, and according to Howell, this was a much more lightly used ferry.

There was a third ferry as well, which ran from Maiden Lane (where the Hudson River Way pedestrian bridge is). It was established in 1842 by the Boston and Albany Railroad, and ferried railroad cars across the river. By then, the ferry interests were already well into a pitched battle against the creation of a bridge across the Hudson, but they were pushing against progress. The opening of the Livingston Avenue Bridge in 1866 was the beginning of the end for the ferry business. The opening of the first Greenbush Bridge in 1882, at the South Ferry site, was the end of the end.

Rensselaer, Rail Town

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Livingston Avenue Bridge

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

Today, Rensselaer is probably best known for being the home of the Albany Amtrak station. Since 1968, passengers have been unable to disembark on the capital city's side of the river, but Rensselaer's rail history goes way, way back, and once upon a time the rail yards were a massive employer here. Unfortunately I had to miss a recent talk by Ernie Mann, local rail historian, at the East Greenbush Community Library, which went along with his exhibit of artifacts. His Arcadia book "Railroads of Rensselaer" is highly recommended for fans of Rensselaer or rail.

The Rensselaer City Historian undertook a great railroad project last summer, transcribing and posting the diary of Walter Miller, a Rensselaer resident who worked the yards in the mid-1800s. Follow this link and scroll down to the Walter Miller diary link. His diary is a series of short entries describing the conditions that affected his job, which for a time at least was tending the upper bridge crossing (the Livingston Avenue Bridge). It also tells the tale of wrecks, fires, deaths and the time when "cold and high winds and blew the roof of the house of Doct. Wilson's." Highly worth reading.

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Bath-on-the-Hudson (on, not in)

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Arthur Weise has one of the few descriptions I've found of the former village of Bath-on-the-Hudson:

"Bath-on-the-Hudson, the first station on the Troy and Greenbush Railroad, three miles south of the city [of Troy]. It derived its name from several mineral springs, discovered about the close of the last century, near the village. John Maude, an English traveller, in June, 1800, visited the place; which he described as a 'town lately laid out by the patroon,' and having 'about thirty houses,' 'The medicinal springs and baths, at one time so much vaunted, are now shut up and neglected; yet, as a watering place, it was to have rivaled Ballstown, and, as a trading place, Lansingburgh and Troy.' The manor-house, north of the village, was built about the year 1839, by William P. Van Rensselaer. The village was incorporated May 5, 1874."

Weise wrote that in 1888. The City of Rensselaer was incorporated in 1897, absorbing Bath, Greenbush, and East Albany. Rensselaer's website describes the boundaries of the old Village of Bath-on-the-Hudson as "Hudson River (west); Washington Avenue and peripheral street (north); Quackenderry Creek gorge (east); Catherine Street vicinity (south)."

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