The city gone by

It’s hard to imagine how different the Albany of the past was from the Albany of today, how different the character of community and everyday life. I look at the old buildings as I walk or bike through town and imagine a time when things were very different. All 16 floors of the State Bank building were full (full!) with every kind of venture imaginable – a beauty salon on the 9th floor, offices of sand and gravel companies, the Buckeye Ribbon and Carbon Company, and more lawyers than you could shake a stick at. But Albany, like every other city, was filled with ventures that have been lost to globalism or time. Once it was home to a handful of piano makers, which is about how many there are in the world now (and the piano makers of Albany supported the felt makers of Dolgeville). But the city was home to all kinds of things that strike us as strange today, as evidenced by these clippings from the Sampson & Murdock 1907 Directory of the Cities of Albany and Rensselaer.

Harry Wild 1907.pngFor instance, lambs’ tongues. It’s hard to imagine a food supplier today who would highlight, of all the things in their inventory, the availability of lambs’ tongues. But Harry E. Wild apparently thought that was a major selling point in 1907.

But yes, there’s more . . . .


Albany Cork Works 1907.png

The Albany Cork Works provided corks of every description. In a time when every kind of drink came in glass bottles (also made locally), and every glass bottle needed a cork, this was very big business indeed.

Albany Made Brushes 1907.png

We do still have a local paint company, but I think local brushes are long gone. Maybe the decline of kalsomining (usually “calcimining”) is to blame. Think globally, kalsomine locally. (I could be wrong, but I think this building was lost to the need for parking.)

Campbells Parlor Academy 1907.png

Robert C. Campbell, whose dance Parlor Academy was at 42 North Pearl Street (about where the Dunkin’ Donuts is now, at the corner of Pine), wanted you to know that he was not putting on cheap Saturday night band dances. There will be none of that here. I  imagine that limited his clientele somewhat. Though that “Delsarte” sounds a little racy.

Hudson Valley Ice 1907.png

We know you have choices in ice, and we’re happy that you’ve chosen Hudson Valley Ice. (Though in terms of options, ice had nothing on coal  — there are nearly 60 coal dealers in the 1907 Albany directory). We were once touring a historic home along the Hudson and were being shown a very nice ice barn they had built, and someone who was definitely old enough to have predated refrigeration raised her hand and asked the docent, “How did they make the ice?”

German newspapers.png

There were not one but two German daily newspapers in Albany before the Great War (and I think none after it). Well, the providers of lambs’ tongue had to have a way to reach their market.

Home Savings Bank 1907.png

The Home Savings Bank, unfortunately, is long gone. So is this, its earlier building, which it replaced with a lovely art deco skyscraper that, last I knew, was being used as a “data hotel.” It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were laughing at 3.5% as a hopelessly antiquated rate of return. Now it seems like an impossible dream.

Albany Fire Proof Storage 1907.pngStorage is nothing new, though it was a bit grander than the steel sheds we use today. And there was a lot more fur inside.

Stephen Parsons Coffee Spices 1907.pngStephen Parsons’ wholesale operation was in a building that doesn’t exist anymore, on streets that don’t exist anymore. So if you’re looking for cream tartar, you’re out of luck.

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