Monday, April 25, 2011

QuiltBoxes - Recipe Box Giveaway

Visit and register by May 1 for Dave's recipe box giveaway. (QuiltBoxes make great Mother's Day presents.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gypsy Camps

North End legend says there was a gypsy camp on Washington Ave. in Rensselaer. Did we have had actual gypsies in New York? Akum Norder at All Over Albany found another site at an old schoolhouse in Hoosick, where gypsies camped as recently as 1965. So who were they?

The Romani ethnic group originated on the Indian subcontinent, leaving perhaps a millennium ago, and moving into Europe in medieval times. Romanies began immigrating to America in the colonial era, and a large-scale migration of the Romnaichal from Britain to the U.S. started in the 1860's. New England Magazine, May 1904 said there was a record of gypsies in New York as far back as 1850.

Image: Tents of a Gypsy Camp in Brooklyn (Library of Congress)

The Albany Evening Journal (AEJ) mentioned the Greenbush encampment several times between 1888 and 1915, in the "Neighborhood News" from Bath:

July 10, 1893: The gypsy encampment drew an extraordinary large crowd to the Manor grounds yesterday. The principal attraction yesterday was the queen of the camp, who was telling fortunes to all who wished a glance into the "future", for "the small sum of 15 cents." This seemed too high for the crowd, and it was finally reduced to 10 cents and the camp did a thriving business till long after dark. The camp will "pull stakes" this afternoon and start en route for the World's Fair.
July 31, 1893: The town bore a more quiet appearance yesterday than in any other Sunday in some time. The fact was due to the disappearance of the band of gypsies who had been encamped on the Manor grounds. Fond parents may now know when their daughters are out of an evening, that they are not at the gypsy encampment paying for a "glance into the future."

Most AEJ articles were stereotypical accounts of a gypsy getting arrested, or giving someone a bad deal in a horse trade (i.e., Sept. 7, 1905: "Foolish Man Loses Horse" and July 26, 1910: "Ballston Spa Boy Dickers With Gypsies to his Sorrow"). But a sympathetic article in 1888 described a visit to the Stanley gypsy encampment at Manning Blvd. and Washington Ave. in Albany. (This article will get its own post next week: Inside Albany's Gypsy Camp.)

On Oct. 10, 1910, AEJ reported that a band of several thousand members of the Stanley tribe, enroute to their winter headquarters in New Jersey, stopped at a gypsy camp in Colonie. In June 1912, a man backed his touring car down a 10 foot embankment after visiting the camp on Washington Ave. in Albany. (The gypsies were unable to pull the car back up with a team of draft horses.) Other gypsy camps were noted at the junctions of Colvin and Central Ave. in Albany, and on the Albany Road in Schenectady.

On Aug. 13, 1915, the AEJ mentions a gypsy camp at Hulett farm at Defreestville. By this time the Forbes Manor was no longer vacant, as it was in the 1890's, and the former gypsy camp site on Forbes Ave. (now upper Washington Ave.) was being turned into residential building sites for the booming new City of Rensselaer.

The article Gypsy Americans by Evan Heimlich is a good historical overview. The Romani people have faced centuries of oppression including ethnic cleansing by the Nazis and deportation from many countries (as recently as 2010 in France). Efforts to address ongoing discrimination are in progress, and April 8 was the International Day of Roma.

Next: Inside Albany's Gypsy Camp

Monday, April 18, 2011

Crackers and Biscuits

Nice find by Carl - jump over to Hoxsie! and check out the (1860's?) ad for Greenbush Steam Cracker and Biscuit Manufactory.

So what were all those mysterious crackers? The Complete Bread, Cake, and Cracker Baker, J. Thompson Gill, 1881, devotes a full page just to the confusion between crackers and biscuits, before moving on to crumpets and jumbles.

For some more insight into Greenbush in this era, check out this Troy Record article from October 21, 2010: "You could look it up back in 1868".

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Washington Avenue Paving

The news at the latest North End Neighborhood Association meeting is that Washington Avenue will be paved this summer.

Come to next month's meeting to learn more: Thur., May 17th at the new firehouse.

The Bath (On The Hudson)

This story was inspired by a reader inquiry, and the book "Three Villages, One City" by Douglas L. Sinclair. (It's out of print, read it at the E. Greenbush or Troy libraries.)

The mineral spring that gave Bath its name was near the intersection of Tracy St. and Forbes Ave. today. The 1876 Beers Map shows "Mineral Street" there, named for the mineral spring. The story is that in 1790 Elkanah Watson proposed the idea of the Bath to Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III. (A year later, Watson proposed the Erie Canal, which was a bit more successful than the bath house.)

Watson had traveled to the spas at Bath in England, and was "filled with delight" at their magnificence. In comparison, he found the scene at Saratoga in 1790 to be "enveloped in rudeness and seclusion, with no accommodations appropriate to civilized man".

The American Universal Geography, by Jedidiah Morse, 1793
In the new town of Rensselaer, nearly opposite the city of Albany, a medicinal spring has lately been discovered, combining most of the valuable properties of the celebrated waters of Saratoga. Should further experiments confirm the favorable opinion already entertained of this spring, it will prove a fortunate discovery for the city of Albany and for the country adjoining, as well as for the invalids who annually resort to Saratoga, under many inconveniences and at great expense.
The American Gazetteer, by Jedidiah Morse, 1797
Bath, a village in the co. of Rensselaer, New-York, pleasantly situated on the east bank of Hudson river,... A mineral spring has been discovered here, said to possess valuable qualities; and a commodious bathing-house has been erected, at a considerable expense, containing hot, cold, and shower baths.
History of the Towns of Rensselaer County:, A. J. Weise, 1880
Before the close of the last century the wonderful efficacy of the waters of several mineral springs at Bath had made the little hamlet somewhat conspicuous as a place of cure. John Maude, an English traveler, visiting places of note in the United States, in 1800, thus speaks of its notoriety, in his journal... "Crossed the river to Bath, a town lately laid out by the patroon; it at present consists of about thirty houses... The medicinal springs and the baths, at one time so much vaunted, are now shut up and neglected ; yet, as a watering place, it was to have rivaled Ballstown..."
The bath house built on the Hudson was very innovative for the 1790's - it had plumbing, unlike the other mineral springs in the region (in Ballston, you sat in a wooden barrel sunk into the mud). I'm not sure why the bath house was already abandoned by 1800. Three Villages speculates the Patroon's lease terms may have dampened the commercial potential of the enterprise.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beverwyck Manor - Library of Congress

I noticed that the National Register of Historic Places is digitizing their records, and their historic register application for Beverwyck Manor, also known as Forbes Manor, is not currently accessible online. However, I discovered a nice collection of architectural drawings and photos of Beverwyck (circa 1934) at the Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

St. Anthony-on-Hudson

Troy Record, Feb. 8, 2011: Franciscan site in Rensselaer has served different purposes
RENSSELAER — A mammoth mansion dominates and cozy cottages dot the grounds of St. Anthony-on-Hudson, a Franciscan complex on Washington Avenue in Rensselaer. Once a training ground for priests, it is now both an administrative center and retirement village. ...
Here's the classic postcard image of the abandoned Manor, just before the Franciscans bought it (you can find these on eBay). The caption always said "a relic of Revolutionary days", despite the fact that the Manor was built in 1839. Perhaps the "Revolution" they meant was the Anti-Rent War...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

South End Meeting

The meeting of the Rensselaer's South End Neighborhood Association will be held on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rensselaer Knights of Columbus located at 200 East Street.

Guest Speakers will be Sarah Stern Crowell, AICP, Director of the Planning & Development Agency for the City of Rensselaer and Peter Sheehan of The Sierra Club.

Don't forget to check out the City of Rensselaer's new official web site at:

North End Meeting

The North End Neighborhood Association (8th and 9th Wards) is having a meeting Thur., April 14 at 7pm. Please note the new location is the Washington Ave. firehouse.

Guest Speakers will be Heather Leddick from the Rensselaer Senior Center and Sharon Butler from the Rensselaer Building Department.

Don't forget to check out the City of Rensselaer's new official web site at:

Plank Road Directors, 1849

Albany and Sand Lake Plank Road Co. Founding Directors
  • Erastus Corning, Owner of Erastus Corning & Co. Hardware and the Albany Nail Works; formerly Mayor of Albany and state senator
  • David V.N. Radcliffe, Lawyer living in Albany
  • Samuel S. Fowler, Vice-president of Albany Mechanics' and Farmers Bank
  • Richard J. Knowlson, Lumber merchant, former owner of Rensselaer glass factory of Sand Lake
  • Gideon Butts, Lumber pioneer, Sand Lake
  • Evert Van Alen, Surveyor of Van Rensselaer manor, of the Van Alen farming family of Defreestville, lived in Greenbush
  • John Defreest, Farmer, of Defreestville
  • James Dearstyne, possibly Dearstyne & Godfrey groceries, on Broadway in Greenbush
  • Dewitt De Forest, Farmer, DeFreestville
  • George Cipperly, Farmer, leased the Patroon’s water rights on the Wynants Kill at Glass Lake, owned sawmill and glass factory
  • Wynant Younghans, Farmer, Sand Lake
List from “AN ACT to allow the president and director of the eastern turnpike to sell a part or all of their road, and to form a plank road from Albany to Sand Lake...”; (Laws of the State of New York, Seventy Second Session, Chap. 322, April 10, 1849) [Biographical info. is from internet searches, rather than any specific documentation.]

A different list of directors was elected at the first shareholder meeting in Sept. 1849: Richard J. Knowlton, Gideon Butts, and Samuel R. Fox of the town of Sandlake, Dewitt C. Deforest and James Dearstyne of the town of Greenbush, John V.L. Pruyn, William Smith, Stephen B. Gregory, and Archibald McClure of the city of Albany.

Here is an interesting article about the industrial enterprises of Sand Lake, etc.:"Geographic Integration of Industry on the Wynants Kill, 1816-1911", by Robert Dalton Harris and Diane DeBlois, in Business and Economic History On-Line.