Author Archives: Paul Nance

The Albany Theatre on South Pearl Street

Local newspapers wrote the Leland movie theater’s obituary in the spring of 1965, with the headline “Curtains for Albany’s Oldest Theater”[i] A little less than a year later, the wrecking ball demolished its last remaining wall. The last photograph of the building, labeled “Last Days of a Landmark,”[ii] shows the building just before demolition, and briefly describes its past glories. The side and rear walls had already been demolished, and the marquee and fire escape removed, displaying, for the first time in that century, its graceful 1825 façade.

Albany Times Union 3 Feb 1966 [credit: Albany Group Archive]

Most in Albany would know the theater in its last, sad state, showing salacious films at bargain prices. Few would remember its glory days, when the best of British and American actors played Shakespeare on its stage, when Charlie Chaplin performed some of his first comedy, or when it was early part F.F. Proctor’s chain of theaters. Certainly few Albanians would remember that this building had also housed St. Paul’s Church for almost a quarter of a century. Over the next several posts, we will tell a bit more of the story of this marvelous old building in its various forms, as the Albany Theatre, St. Paul’s Church, the Academy of Music, Trimble Opera House, Leland Opera House, Henry R. Jacobs Opera House, Proctor’s Leland Theater and finally simple The Leland.

 

Green Street Theatre [image credit: Albany Group Archive]

In 1825, Albany had a population of 16,000. It was a city on the move, with the Erie Canal completed that year, and business already beginning a boom that would double the population by 1840. And the city had no theater. The first theater, on Green Street, had opened in 1813, but survived only five years. The city was again without a theater. In January 1824, a group of prominent businessmen formed a joint stock company, and raised subscriptions for a new theater, to be located on South Pearl Street. They hired Philip Hooker to design the building, and construction began in August 1824. [iii]

Albany Theatre Stock Certificate of Volkert P. Douw

Albany Theatre Stock Certificate of Philip Hooker

Albany Theatre Gideon Hawley installment receipt

The Albany Theatre (sometimes called the Pearl Street Theatre) opened in May 1825, under the management of Charles Antonio Gilfert. Gilfert was manager for only one year, but that year was among the finest the theater was to have. The Albany audience saw the great Junius Brutus Booth, patriarch of the Booth theatrical family, in twelve different roles.

St. Paul’s Second Building on Pearl Street

Junius Brutus Booth as Brutus [image credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection]

Booth ended the season with a week in which he took major roles in three Shakespeare plays. In this single week, June 17-24, 1825, he played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, the title role in Othello and Brutus in Julius Caesar.

Edmund Kean [image credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection]

Another star of the Gilfert period was Edmund Kean, “The Monarch of the British Stage,” who first appeared in the fall of 1825. Kean was joined by Edwin Forrest, then at the beginning of his career, but destined to become one of the great American Shakespeareans of his generation. Forrest perfected his craft here in Albany, playing in Shakespeare histories and tragedies with Kean: Othello (Kean in the title role, Forrest as Iago), Julius Caesar (Kean as Brutus, Forrest as Titus), and Richard III (with Kean again in the title role and Forrest as Richmond).[iv]

Edwin Forrest, age 21 [image credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection]

Forrest was only 20 years old, and quite a wild young man. He once escaped arrest by reciting Shakespeare to the Albany watchmen, known as leather-heads, who were trying to break up his party. He was not so lucky on a second occasion, and spent the night in another Hooker-designed building, the Albany Jail, located on the southeastern corner of Howard and Eagle Streets. The next morning, he was reprimanded by police justice John O. Cole, in words from Othello: “ – what’s the matter/ That you unlace your reputation thus,/And spend your rich opinion for the name/Of a night brawler? Give me answer to it!”[v]

Philip Hooker’s Albany Jail, after its conversion to the Albany Hospital

Despite these stars, the seasons were not financial successes, and Gilfert resigned in May 1826.

The farewell benefits now began, and were, many of them, poorly attended. To show to what a strait even the best actors were reduced to fill the house, it may be noticed that for Forrest’s farewell benefit, Hyatt, the comedian, played Richard! Forrest supporting him as Buckingham! The season, having proved disastrous, closed May 2d, Gilfert being unable to pay his company, many of whom were left destitute. Forrest himself was forced to leave his wardrobe at his boarding-house, as security for arrearages, when he went to New York. As before stated, a majority of the company were re-engaged by Gilfert, when he opened the Bowery, October 23d, 1826.[vi]

Between Gilfert’s exit and 1829, a period of three years,the theater had eight managers, none of the them able to make a profit, despite a continuing string of well-known actors. The one manager we should mention is George Vernon (born George Verrall), who in addition to his acting and management skills, was also an artist. In the same period, he designed the ornate pulpit, screen and altar for St. Paul’s church on Ferry Street.[vii]

Albany Theater [image credit: Albany Times Union, artist Perry Van Guysling]

A somewhat more successful period was between 1829 and 1836, when William Duffy and William Forrest (brother of Edwin Forrest) managed the theater. This was interrupted by William Forrest’s death, and then finished by Duffy’s death in 1836 at the hands of one of his actors, John Hamilton, in a fight next door to the theater at the Rising Sun Tavern.[viii]

The downward spiral continued, with another five managers between 1836 and 1839. The final manager, H.W. Preston, carried on until early 1839, when the stockholders, tired of losing money every season, sold the building to St. Paul’s Church. The last performance, on March 30, 1829, was “The Hypocrite.” After the main attraction, the playbill also promised (in jest we assume) another offering: “After which, the interlude of H.W. Preston, The Manager in Distress.”[ix] The next day, Preston surrendered his lease to the Albany Theatre Association.

Despite the financial problems, The Albany Theatre featured some of the best of British and American actors. We have mentioned Booth, Kean and Forrest. But there were many other famous actors of the time who appeared in the Albany Theatre:

We will continue the story in our next post, as we see the theater came to be the home of St. Paul’s Church.

[i] Albany Knickerbocker News 30 Mar 1965.

[ii] Albany Times Union 3 Feb 1966.

[iii] A full description of the theater may be found in H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough), 63-64:

The new theatre is situated on the west side of Pearl street, extending to William; sixty-two feet front, one hundred and sixteen feet deep; height in front, forty feet; divided into a basement, principal and attic story. The entrance to the boxes is by three lofty arched openings; the piers and arches are of free stone, beautifully rusticated; they occupy three-fifths of the front; the entrances to the pit and gallery are on each side in plain brick work. Above the rusticated basement, the center is embellished with six stone pilasters, supporting an entablature and angular pediment; the pilasters are coupled at the angles, and the order is the antique Ionic; the cornice only is continued the whole length of the front, which is crowned with a bold balustrade, surmounted with appropriate acroteria. The outer lobby is entered by two steps, from which you are conducted by easy flights of winding stairs to a spacious corridor surrounding the first tier of boxes. Over the outer lobby in the second story is an elegant saloon or coffee room, with an adjoining chamber, and over these in the third story, are similar rooms for refreshments The auditory is divided into a pit and three tiers of boxes, the gallery being in the front of the third tier; the boxes advance one seat in front of the columns which support them; the second and third tiers are brought forward on arches springing from the capitals of the pillars. The ceiling is in the form of a dome, painted in stone-colored panels, with rosettes. The glass chandelier is to be lighted from above and lowered through the fret worked circlet in the centre of the dome. The proscenium and the panels of the boxes are to be splendidly ornamented. The stage is fifty-eight by fifty-two feet, above which are painting rooms, carpenters’ galleries, etc. An adjoining brick tenement contains a green-room and very comfortable dressing rooms. The whole is furnished in handsome style, and is somewhat larger than the Baltimore theatre. Mr. P. Hooker is architect, and Mr. Grain the scene painter. The probable cost, including lot, is about $25,000.

[iv]

The hard novitiate of Edwin Forrest was now drawing near its close. Securing a stock engagement with Charles Gilfert manager of the Albany Theatre he opened there in the early fall and played for the first time with Edmund Kean then on his second visit to America. The meeting with this extraordinary man and the attention he received from him were foremost among the directing influences of Forrest’s life. To his last hour he never wearied of singing the praises of Kean whose genius filled the English speaking world with admiration. Two men more unlike in mind and body can scarcely be imagined. Until now Forrest had seen no actor who represented in perfection the impassioned school of which Kean was the master. He could not have known Cooke even in the decline of that great tragedian’s power and the little giant was indeed a revelation. He played Iago to Kean’s Othello Titus to his Brutus and Richmond to his Richard III.

[Brandon Mathews and Laurence Hutton, Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States (New York: Cassell & Company 1886), 38]

 

[v] Players of a Century, 85-86.

[vi] Players of a Century, 103.

[vii] As described in Albany Gazette 25 Aug 1829:

The screen is 24 feet wide, supported by four octagonal gothic columns, in panel work, and rising about 18 feet from the chancel floor. The columns are finished at the top with pinnacles, ornamented and encircled with carved leaves and vines; in the centre of the screen and immediately over the pulpit, there rises a pediment supported by clustered columns and an arch; the pediment also surmounted with a richly ornamented pinnacle extending to the ceiling and standing in relief, in a niche prepared to receive it. The top of the screen and bases of the pinnacles are finished with castellated battlements, and the panel work in quatre foils.

[viii] We don’t know whether this sort of violence was typical of the Rising Sun. In 1863, a new bar, Oriental Palace Hall, opened in the same block. It was definitely a violent and seedy place. When it closed in 1874, the Daily Argus described it as a “vile den.” [Daily Argus 24 Oct 1874]

[ix] Players of a Century, 215-216.

190 Years Ago in the Pearl Street School Room

Richard Bury, Rector 1827-1830

190 years ago this past week, on November 12, 1827, a group of men gathered in a school room in Albany’s South End, organized a new Episcopal congregation to be named “St. Paul’s Church or Congregation in the City of Albany” and elected the congregation’s first vestry. A week later, on November 19, the vestry elected St. Paul’s first rector, Richard Bury. The new congregation had been meeting in that room since the previous summer, gathered there by the Rev. Mr. Bury (previously priest-in-charge at Christ Church, Duanesburg) and two of his friends, Charles Skerritt and John Le Breton.

The first announcement of this event was in the Albany Argus for November 16, 1827:

St. Paul’s Church in the City of Albany – On Monday evening last, the 12th inst[ant] an Episcopal congregation, under the pastoral charge of the Rev. Richard Bury, was duly organised, and designated by the title of “St. Paul’s Church in the City of Albany.”

The wardens and vestry of this congregation intend, as soon as sufficient funds shall have been raised, to erect a church in the south part of this city, for the accommodation of its numerous and increasing population; until which time the services of the church will be conducted in a large and commodious room, to be prepared for this special purpose. They will indulge the hope that in this undertaking, they will be favored with the approbation of their fellow-citizens in general; but particularly with the good will and earnest prayers of those, who having “tasted that the Lord is gracious,” are desirous that others also may be brought to a knowledge of “the truth as it is in Jesus,” and to a participation of the blessedness of those who know the Lord, whom to know is life everlasting.

We next find the formation announced in The Christian Journal and Literary Register, Volume XI, No. 12, Dec 1827, page 376-377, which repeats the second paragraph of the Argus announcement exactly, and credits it to one of St. Paul’s first vestrymen. It then appends another paragraph, this also attributed to the anonymous vestryman:

It affords me peculiar pleasure to add, that it is with feelings of the most unfeigned kindness  towards the congregation of St. Peter’s, and its venerated and truly estimable rector, that the wardens and vestry of St. Paul’s have commenced their operations. This is as it should be for when members of our holy and apostolic church, in the exercise of that Christian love which should always characterize her faithful followers, unite their humble efforts for the extension of her primitive discipline, evangelical doctrines, and inimitable liturgy, may then not hope that He who has built his Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and who has solemnly declared. that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her,” will crown their undertaking with success, and enable them to “bring forth their top-stone with joy.”

Barent P. Staats, member of 1827 Vestry

Since that beginning, St. Paul’s has owned four buildings in the city, and worshiped in two others (St. Peter’s Church in 1839, and Trinity Church 1964-1966), but this building, where we only stayed from summer 1827 until summer 1829, holds a special place as the congregation’s birthplace. There is some confusion, however, about what sort of school room this was, where it was located and who owned the building.

Many of our sources describe their meeting place as a “school room” on South Ferry Street but are vague on its exact location. One says that it was “below Ferry,” and two specifically place it at the corner of South Pearl and Rensselaer Streets. One also mentions that the school room was in the upper room of the building. Is this a  literal description, or just a reference to the apostles meeting in an upper room In Acts 1:13?

When you think of that school room, don’t picture a cute little red school house, because this seems to have been a very simple old building. In 1827, the city of Albany had no public schools. The first building built as a school in the city (other than the Lancaster School on Eagle Street) was not erected until 1832. This must have been a private school of some kind, using whatever sort of structure was available.

Albany Tax Assessments are available for these years, and they list 158 South Pearl, on the northeast corner of Rensselaer, on the rolls for 1827, 1828 and 1830. In 1827, it was described as “old wood building.” In 1828, when St. Paul’s was using it, it is noted: “at present a place of worship.” In 1830, after St. Paul’s had moved into its new building on Ferry Street, it had reverted to use as a schoolhouse.

Hekzekiah Wells, member of 1827 Vestry

Throughout this period, the building was owned by George Charles, who lived next door. We assume that he plied his trade there, and even with the windows closed against the November chill, the odor of his tannery must have been strong in that school room. There seems, then, to be no doubt that the building in which St. Paul’s was organized was owned by George Charles. But an early (and otherwise very reliable source) tells a different story.

From “Our City Churches – XIV: St Paul’s (Episcopal)” Albany Evening Journal 28 Jan 1871:

The first named committee [authorized “to obtain a room for the temporary use of the congregation”: Bristol Fox, John Nelligar and either Agur or Hezekiah Wells] reported on the following week that Mr. McDougal, the owner of the school house which they then occupied, had offered to repair the building, and put it in a condition suitable for worship for the sum of $230 in advance and $50 annually thereafter, while they continued to occupy it. This offer did not seem to meet with much favor, as they rejected it, and authorized the last named committee [authorized “to secure a lot for erection of a church”: Edward A. Le Breton, Barent P. Staats and Bristol Fox] to treat with Stephen Lush and Mr. Kenyon for the purchase of lots facing on Ferry Street, and finally succeeded in purchasing three lots – two from the former for the sum of $2,500 and one from the latter for the sum of $500, in the following spring.

Agur Wells, member of 1827 Vestry

This Mr. McDougal must be John W. McDougal who was also a member of St. Paul’s first vestry. It would certainly make sense that the congregation would use a building owned by one of the organizers. If McDougal did own the building, and was, as the article claims, rejected in his offer of a long-term lease of the building, this might explain why, after this mention, he disappears completely from church records.

So, while can be certain about the school room’s location, we are left with a mystery concerning it’s ownership. The Albany Evening Journal account has the ring of truth, and may help us understand why Mr. McDougal left the church immediately after it was formed. But the tax assessments are very strong evidence that the old wood buidling was owned by George Charles.

Captain John Cooke

It is Veterans’ Day again, and time to remember those of the St. Paul’s family who served in the military. We have mentioned veterans of two twentieth century wars. A year ago, we celebrated our one-time organist and choirmaster, T.F.H. Candlyn, who served in World War I. And we have mentioned those from St. Paul’s who died while fighting in the Second World War. Today, we reach back into the preceding century, to a man who fought with the United States army in two wars. But there are other reasons to remember this man, who contributed significantly to Albany’s entertainment and musical life in the middle third of the nineteenth century.

John Cooke was born in England about 1797. He came to the United States in 1820 as part of the circus band with the Page, Austin and Tufts Menagerie. By 1825, he was in Providence, Rhode Island, where he formed his first band.

National Band of New York, performing with the Menagerie of June, Titus, Angevine& Co., 1834

Shortly afterward, he moved to Albany, where his first job was again as a band musician, with a circus situated on North Pearl Street, now the site of the Capital Repertory Theater. Settled in Albany by 1830, John Cooke quickly established two institutions that formed an important part of the city’s entertainment: the Albany Brass Band and Castle Garden.

The Albany Brass Band (often referred to as Cooke’s Brass Band), was Albany first wind band, and during the antebellum period the only source of popular wind music here. Between 1830 and 1861, the band played at many public events, and sponsored concerts, military events, dances, cotillions and balls. The band was also associated with Albany’s Republican Artillery. The band drilled with the soldiers, and accompanied them on a formal visit to New York City.

In 1833, Cooke created Castle Garden, a pleasure garden located on State Street, near Dove “from whence a spacious view of the river and the surrounding countryside for several miles can be had.” But the view was hardly the only entertainment. Castle Garden was known for its fireworks, some designed by “Mons. T. Alesander, from Paris, an artist well known, and who has distinguished himself as a pyrotechnist.” Displays included such exotic and extravagant exhibitions as The Battle of Algiers, Bengola Lights, The Chinese Lychenaise, and Zannia Peruvia. There were also balloon ascents (one conducted by Louis Anselm Lauriat “the celebrated aeronaut”), and refreshments, including “ice cream, soda water and many other delicacies of the season.”

Neither the brass band nor Castle Garden produced much income. But their popularity, and the personal affection felt for Cooke, can be gauged by the numerous benefits for him, each attempting to cover the losses of the season.

Cooke volunteered for the army during the Mexican War of 1846-1848. He was appointed a First Lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of the First New York Volunteers. Cooke ended that conflict as a captain of artillery, and used that title for the rest of his life.

Albany Morning Express 31 Jul 1857

During the 1850s, Cooke’s Brass Band continued its busy schedule of balls and cotillions. Castle Garden had closed as a pleasure garden in 1845, but for much of this period Cooke continued a smaller business as a bowling saloon at the same address. “Saloon” should not be understand to mean Captain Cooke was serving alcohol: advertisements make it clear that this was a soda parlor, serving ice cream during the summer months to quench the thirst of the bowlers.

With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, John Cooke joined those responding to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers. When that three month enlistment expired, Cooke, now 64 years old, volunteered as a captain in Company F of New York’s 91st Infantry Regiment.

Two years later, in May 1863, while leading his men on an assault of a Confederate battery, Captain Cooke was injured at the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. A bullet struck his right shoulder and lodged against the bone, shattering the arm. Cooke was evacuated to St. James Hospital in New Orleans, where he spent 44 days. He was mustered out on June 22, 1863 and by August of that year had returned aboard ship to New York City, on his way home to Albany.

Captain Cooke wanted to return to military service, but his health would not allow it, nor it seems was he able to return to work with his band or his saloon. In 1867, a newspaper reported that he was “in the most indigent circumstances.” It had been hoped that the Constitutional Convention of 1867 might award him a pension, but that did not happen. Instead, his friends held yet another benefit, this time a concert at Tweddle Hall.

Tweddle Hall, northwest corner of State and Pearl Streets (image credit: Albany Institute of History and Art)

In 1870, Captain John Cooke was appointed a messenger in the Adjutant General’s Office, and he held that position until his death in December 1875. Cooke’s funeral was held at St. Paul’s church on Lancaster Street, the service read by our rector, J. Livingston Reese. The building was crowded with his many friends, and particularly the musical and military groups with which he had been associated. A contemporary newspaper praises the music, both choral and instrumental, which would have been led by our organist and choirmaster, Edward Savage.

St. Paul’s Chancel before 1901

St. Paul’s, Late 19th century

The procession from St. Paul’s to Albany Rural Cemetery must have been very impressive, with uniformed enlisted men and officers of the Ninth Brigade, the 10th and 25th Regiments and the 91st Volunteers, as well as Albany’s Burgesses Corps. Klein’s Band was joined by 45 bandsmen of Doring’s Band and the Albany City and Tenth Regiment Bands. Veterans from Post 21 of the Grand Army of the Republic were represented as well. From St. Paul’s, the process moved west on Lancaster to Swan, north on Swan to State, east on State to Broadway, and thence to the Albany Rural Cemetery. We are told that “[a]ll along the route of the procession the streets were occupied by an immense concourse of people.” Cooke’s tombstone at Albany Rural reads simply “Capt. J. Cooke.”

Captain John Cooke’s tombstone, Albany Rural Cemetery

A final memorial was made to the old veteran the next year, with the publication of “Captain Johnny Cooke’s Grand March,” by James Haydn Waud, organist at Albany’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It is dedicated “to the surviving members of the Albany Brass Band.” The cover displays the only likeness of Captain Cooke that we have been able to find. It shows him late in life, heavily bearded, with his crippled right arm supported in a sling.

“Captain Johnny Cooke’s Grand March,” by J. Haydn Waud

The Oil Painting of St. Paul’s Lancaster Street Church

Painting of Lancaster Street Building signed “J. Lyons”

Thanks to our energetic building and grounds committee, the Blue Room has been freshly painted, and for the first time in years is actually blue! With that done, the oil painting of St. Paul’s home on Lancaster Street has been hung once more, so this seems a good time to share what we know about it.

The view is of the church in winter, with many of the houses surrounding it on the south side of Lancaster between Hawk and Swan Streets also visible. It is particularly nice that we can see a bit of the rectory  to the right of the church. As I’ve mentioned before, we have only one good photograph of that structure.

St. Paul’s Church and Rectory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can date the scene very precisely. You will notice that the church’s brick, originally buff-colored, has been painted white. This painting was done in the summer of 1960, in an effort to help spruce up the declining neighborhood. That gives us the earliest date for the view.

Father Parke supervises painting [Times Union 9 Jul 1960]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest possible date is sometime before spring 1964, by which time all the buildings to the west of the church (including the recotry) had been demolished. We can say then, with certainty, that the artist shows the church as it looked between 1960 and late 1963 or early 1964.

St. Paul’s Church and Rectory, 1963 or 1964 (photo credit: Times-Union Archive)

St. Paul’s Church after demolition of Rectory, 1963 or 1964 (photo credit: Times-Union Archive)

We also know who donated the painting. According to an article in the Knickerbocker News for May 18, 1966, it was the gift of Dr. Susan Seabury Smith, then associate professor of Library Science at the State University of New York at Albany (now University at Albany), and director of curriculum and library services for Columbia High School in East Greenbush.

But who was the artist? The painting is clearly signed “J Lyons,” but there is no other identification. The 1966 Knickerbocker News article says only that the painting was “by an artist named Lyon.” I’ve looked in period newspapers for a Capital Region artist named Lyons, but found nothing so far. One possible direction for the search would be to colleagues or friends of the donor, Dr. Smith. I noticed that the chair of the art department at Columbia High School  in East Greenbush was Lawrence Lyons. His wife’s name was June. Is it possible that June Lyons was the artist?

 

The Rev. Mr. Kip suffers Mr. DeWitt’s “unmeasured abuse”

William Ingraham Kip (portrait attributed to Asa Weston Twitchell)

In earlier posts, we have described how in 1847 St. Paul’s rector, William Ingraham Kip, proposed building two mission chapels, and how those plans failed. Our senior warden, William H. DeWitt, then offered to fund the construction of a chapel of ease for St. Paul’s, to be known as the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, and located in Albany’s North End. As the building was being constructed, DeWitt changed course, resigned as St. Paul’s senior warden and formed Holy Innocents as a separate parish. When it came time to consecrate the new building, Kip (along with the rectors of Albany’s Grace Church and Trinity Church) formally protested the consecration, and the ceremony proceeded only when certain changes were made to the church deed and Kip withdrew his protest.

A letter, held in the archives of the Diocese of Maryland, has now added substantially to our understanding of the grounds of the protest, the resolution of the dispute, and the matter’s aftermath. Kip wrote it on August 6, 1851 and addressed it to Bishop William Rollinson Whittingham, who had ruled on the protest and conducted the consecration. Kip explains his protest and the reasons that he withdrew it. More important, he describes the ill will that was continuing between him and DeWitt a year after Holy Innocent’s consecration. And he asks the bishop, whom he in later years would refer to as an “old friend,”[i] a very large favor.

William Henry DeWitt

In the letter, Kip reminds Bishop Whittingham of the two points of his protest concerning DeWitt’s deed of conveyance, in which he perpetually leased the building and grounds to the church corporation. These points were DeWitt’s assertion of:

  • a right of unlimited nomination of the church’s rector “enabling him to force a Rector on them [the people of Holy Innocents]”
  • the descent of the right of nomination to William and Ann DeWitt’s heirs forever

Kip then describes the resolution to the protest, in which DeWitt’s deed of gift was substantially changed by:

  • restricting DeWitt’s right of nomination, by providing that DeWitt could only nominate the same person three times[ii]
  • eliminating the descent of the right of nomination, so that it would end with the DeWitts’ deaths[iii]

Holy Innocents

Given the long history of Kip and DeWitt’s relationship, we could guess that that this was a very personal dispute. They had worked together at St. Paul’s from 1837 until 1850. These were difficult years for St. Paul’s, and Kip and DeWitt as rector and senior warden, respectively, for that entire period worked together closely. It was through their collaboration that the parish recovered from bankruptcy and achieved financial stability. During the early, lean years, DeWitt was also St. Paul’s major financial contributor.

For his part, Kip was disappointed by the loss of the chapel and angry at provisions he saw as contrary to church law. He had proposed a mission chapel, as an outreach for a growing and thriving St. Paul’s and as an important work in furthering the mission of the church in the city of Albany. But Kip’s concern for proper ecclesiastical polity was also a factor. Shortly after the new church’s consecration, Kip’s vestry wrote him their “approbation of your proceedings in the matter of the consecration of the ‘Church of the Holy Innocents.’” In words that echoed Kip’s intentions in raising the protest:

All depend upon our clergy in keeping a watchful eye over the Church, allowing no innovations, nor dangerous precedents, rigidly adhering to its laws and in exactly observing its old landmarks. In all these things we feel we can say that you have done your duty and that you enjoy our highest regard and confidence.[iv]

DeWitt, for his part, was frustrated in his expectation of control over a chapel for which he had paid every expense, and promised to support forever. DeWitt must have felt that, having paid for the cost of both real estate and the building itself, he had the right to make it his own family church, after the model of Troy’s Church of the Holy Cross, which had been fully funded by Mary Warren and her family in 1844.

Wm. Ingraham Kip at St. Paul’s altar (from an 1847 portrait by William Tolman Carlton)

We have suspected, then, for some time that there must have been hard feelings, but did not learn until we saw this letter how the dispute had played out in the months and years after Holy Innocent’s consecration. We do not know DeWitt’s side, but Kip’s letter to Whittingham describes his view of this personal aspect of the dispute.

Kip describes how, over the year since the consecration, DeWitt has conducted a campaign of “unmeasured abuse” and “outrageous and long-continued slander.” Specifiically, Kip has heard of DeWitt “denouncing me to one of my vestry, as ‘an infamous, black, scoundrel’, (the proof being, my making that protest) & warning one of the families in my parish against me, as one whom they w[oul]d one day find out to be ‘a devil.” Kip also tells Whittingham that DeWitt has claimed that Whittingham had disapproved of Kip’s protest and that DeWitt “publicly denies that he was forced to yield anything , or that the deed has been in any way changed.” [v]

Kip’s purpose in writing was to ask Whittingham to confirm that DeWitt was wrong on all of these counts, by writing a letter affirming that the bishop had supported the protest and continued with the consecration only after two substantial changes to the deed. Kip asks that Whittingham put these in writing “in a letter of a single page” that he could show to those who believe DeWitt’s claims.

Finally, Kip asks Whittingham for his advice: would it be proper for Kip to present this matter to DeWitt’s rector, Sylvanus Reed, “demanding that he [DeWitt] be debarred from communion until he shall make proper reparation.” Kip does not mention the fact, but Whittingham may well have known that Kip was Sylvanus Reed’s mentor. Reed was the son of a St. Paul’s vestryman, had been brought up at St. Paul’s, and had been supported for ordination by Kip and St. Paul’s vestry. Whittingham would have known that a demand from Kip would certainly have been obeyed by the young Mr. Reed.

The Rev. Sylvanus Reed

Bishop Whittingham’s outgoing correspondence, sadly, has not survived. We will never know whether Kip asked Sylvanus Reed to withhold communion from William H. DeWitt. Nor do we know if Whittingham wrote the letter that Kip asked of him, and (if he did) how it might have affected Kip and DeWitt’s relationship.

If that outcome is unclear, it is more certain that failure of the mission chapel and DeWitt’s campaign of slander had an effect on William Ingraham Kip. Although he continued as rector of St. Paul’s for two additional years, his acceptance of election as missionary bishop of California may have been encouraged by the simmering conflict over the chapel of ease that never was.

In 1852, a year after this letter was written, Kip was thinking of moving on. That year, a friend suggested that Kip should express an interest in serving as rector of Trinity Church, San Francisco. Kip reported later:

The suggestion struck me favorably. I had been fifteen years in Albany, — had built up a large congregation, — and it seemed as if there was no room for progress or enlargement in the future. On the other hand, in San Francisco was a new field, — a rising empire, — and there was a freshness and enterprise in founding the Church in that region which rather fascinated my imagination.[vi]

And the controversy may have affected Whittingham view of Kip’s situation as well. As we have discussed before, he was the diocesan bishop of Maryland, acting here while the Diocese of New York had no bishop. Shortly after the discussion about the position in San Francisco, Kip was offered the rectorship in St. Peter’s Church, Baltimore, in Whittingham’s home diocese. Kip told his old friend Whittingham that he would not accept that call, but that he was tempted by the possibility of the position in San Francisco. Whittingham told him, “You must go to California, but not as a Presbyter! You must go out in another capacity.”[vii] It was the next year (1853), with backing from Whittingham and others, that Kip was elected missionary bishop of California, and left St. Paul’s Church.

[i] Wm. Ingraham Kip, The Early Days of My Episcopate (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1892), 2, 7.

[ii] Another account describes the resolution differently: that DeWitt’s right of nomination would be “limited to three nominations and required to be exercised within a year from the occurrence of a vacancy.” [Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany, First Series, Volume X (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1859), 434]

[iii] The Albany Annals account describes this resolution differently as well: that the right to nominate would continue, but to William and Ann DeWitt’s issue, not their heirs. Since Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt then had no living issue, and were unlikely to have any more children (William was 51, and Ann 45), this would have had the same effect. [Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany. First Series, Volume X (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1859), 434]

[iv] Letter dated 20 Jul 1850 from the wardens and vestry of St. Paul’s Church to William Ingraham Kip. Held in St. Paul’s church archives.

[v] This may be what is referred to in a lengthy footnote to the Albany Annals account:

The ground of the opposition was, the nature of the reservations to the donors, and their heirs, and it was alleged that the deed of conveyance had been altered from the form in which it had been drawn up by Mr. J. C. Spencer, and assented to, as satisfactory, on the first opening of the church. The allegation was unfounded. The deed was made out in the office of J. V. L. Pruyn, Esq., and is a verbatim copy of the original draft made by Mr. J. C. Spencer, and admitted by him to contain nothing which could prevent the consecration. The Bishop received the protest; but on a conference with the donors, the right of nomination to the rectorship was limited (as by the release above), when he determined on proceeding.

[Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany, First Series, Volume X (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1859), 434-435]

[vi] Kip, Early Days, 1-2.

[vii] Kip, Early Days, 2.

Where was St. Paul’s Lancaster Street Building?

Where was St. Paul’s Lancaster Street building? Sounds almost as silly as asking “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”

The answer of course, was on the south side of Lancaster Street, halfway between Hawk and Swan. But the building (and 98 acres in the heart of Albany), was demolished in 1964 to make room for the South Mall. So let’s reframe the question: where, in what we now call the Empire State Plaza, was St. Paul’s building? Many think it was near where the Center for the Performing Arts (popularly known as “the Egg”) now sits, but we’ve known for some time that it must have been farther west, somewhere between Agency Buildings 3 and 4.

Thanks to the New York Public Library, we can now answer the question precisely and definitively. The NYPL web site has images of a detailed 1876 map of Albany showing the church’s location. And they recently added software that allows the user to lay the old map precisely over the current Google map of the same area. The result is below.

1876 Map of St. Paul’s neighborhood, with overlay of 2014 Google map

The darker portions of the image are from the Google map. You can clearly see the edge of the Plaza Concourse in blue near the bottom right corner; the large green rectangle is the park-like area on the Plaza’s northwest corner, between South Swan Street and Agency Building 4 (shown in dark gray). In the bottom left in orange is the South Mall Arterial and immediately above it is Agency Building 3, also in dark gray.

The older map appears in lighter shades of gray, showing the streets, lots and major buildings as they existed in 1876.  And yes, hovering  just off the north corner of Agency Building 3 is the ghostly  St. Paul’s, labeled simply “Church.”

St. Paul’s Church and Rectory

The Plaza’s Central Air Conditioning Plant and Transformer Vault lies beneath what was once an entire city block, the block on which St. Paul’s stood. As we’ve mentioned before, St. Paul’s hopes for staying in their building as part of  the South Mall  were dashed when the block was chosen for the cooling and heating facility. St. Paul’s rector, Nelson F. Parke, reported that at a meeting with St, Paul’s vestry in September 12, 1962, the State’s Assistant Commissioner of Housing

told us quite bluntly that plans for the South Mall in the block bounded by Lancaster, Hawk, Jay, and Swan Streets were such that the continued existence of the Church at its present location was entirely impossible, that the demolition of the Church was inevitable, that we would have only three years in our edifice before it was torn down, and that the possibility of our being able to relocated in the South Mall area was extremely remote.

But St. Paul’s was not to have even three years. In May 1964, the Commissioner of the Office of General Services wrote St. Paul’s new rector, J. Raymond McWilliam, to inform him that

Our present schedule calls for the completion of construction plans and specifications for the Central Air Conditioning Plant and Main Transformer Vault by July 1, 1964. They would then be advertised for bids calling for initiation of work by about mid-August. The site extends from Chestnut Street on the north to Jay Street on the south, and the area to be excavated includes the entire Church property.

This work will require the severing of underground utility lines (gas, water, sewer), the relocation of the underground telephone duct system, and the closing of Jay, Lancaster and Chestnut Streets. The extensive excavation (which at the site of the Church will average about 30 fee in depth) and the other construction activities will create such disturbance in the general area that even if it were possible to program the construction so as to delay the need for the Church property as long as possible, I believe the conditions would soon become disheartening to your congregation.

The commissioner ended the letter by asking that St. Paul’s vacate the building by the end of August 1964, almost a year earlier than had been promised. The last service in the Lancaster Street building was held July 26, 1964, and the building was demolished in October of that year.

Diagram of proposed Empire State Plaza microgrid

St. Paul’s location has been in the news again lately, when it was announced that the main switchgear for the new heating and cooling system would be placed int the central air conditioning plant, precisely where St. Paul’s stood until its demolition in October 1964,

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is demolished to make way the South Mall Oct. 19, 1964, in Albany, N.Y. Historic buildings and streets 1960s, Empire State Plaza. (Times Union archive)

Before Holy Innocents: an 1847 Proposal for Two Mission Chapels

We’ve told the story of how St. Paul’s rector, William Ingraham Kip, proposed a chapel of ease for the parish, and how the first steps towards forming the Chapel of the Holy Innocents were taken 1848. But we’ve recently seen a letter (held in the archives of the New-York Historical Society) written by Kip that provides additional information about an earlier proposal. It details plans which were quite different both from those discussed in 1848 and from the independent Church of the Holy Innocents as it was incorporated in 1850.

Holy Innocents

Kip’s letter, dated May 27, 1847, was addressed to Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, a vestryman of Trinity Church, Manhattan, the richest congregation in the Diocese of New York, which then included the state as far west as Utica. Trinity had provided financial aid to many struggling congregations across New York, including a $5,000 grant to St. Paul’s in 1833 that had kept the congregation afloat during a critical period.

William Ingraham Kip (portrait attributed to Asa Weston Twitchell)

Kip now asked for another grant of $5,000 from Trinity Church, but toward a wider mission. Kip’s goal was to establish not one but two mission churches in Albany, infusing “new Spirit with the entire Ch[urch] in Albany.” He saw need in the two fastest growing parts of the city: the north end “between Broadway and the canal” and in Arbor Hill, in the area just up the hill from the Ten Broeck Mansion. They would serve newcomers, mostly immigrants, many of whom had been members of the Church of England before emigrating. Kip describes the “immense mass of foreign destitution about us” and pleads “for thousands of the destitute, many of whom were Ch[urch] going people in England, but here feel that ‘no man careth for their souls.’”

Importantly, Kip did not ask that Trinity Church directly fund the two new churches. Rather, he proposed that the grant be designated to pay off half of St. Paul’s outstanding debt, reducing the interest the congregation would have to pay, and speeding the repayment of the principal. To justify this proposal, Kip reminds Verplanck of St. Paul’s recent history. Kip probably chose Verplanck because he would have already known some of this history, having lived in Albany from 1820 until 1823 as a State Assemblyman, and then again from 1838 until 1841 as a member of the State Senate.

St. Paul’s Ferry Street Building as it looked in the early 20th century

St. Paul’s financial problems had started with its founding in 1827, culminating in 1839 with the forced sale of the Ferry Street building and the move to Pearl Street. The church could have simply reincorporated and walked away from the debt arising from the construction of the Ferry Street building. Instead, they chose to honor those debts as they began what Kip describes as their “new enterprise” in the former Pearl Street Theatre. The congregation had grown significantly since then, and the parish was stronger than it had ever been. But St. Paul’s was still burdened by $10,000 in debt, and reluctant to start new ventures while holding that debt. Halving the debt, and substantially reducing the interest payments, would encourage the congregation to respond to the city’s needs.

St. Paul’s Second Building on Pearl Street

Kip’s vision, then, was not of missions funded and supported from the outside, but of a vibrant St. Paul’s, no longer constrained by heavy debt, that would be allowed to create and support new outreach, to venture forth in mission. These new missions, he stressed, would be entirely St. Paul’s work, fully supported by the parish.

The request was an urgent one, particularly because the two areas with greatest growth also had very few churches. In 1847, there was one Roman Catholic church in the North End (St. Joseph’s, in its original home on the corner of North Pearl and Livingston Avenue) and a Methodist Chapel in Arbor Hill (Arbor Hill Methodist). And Kip points out that John McCloskey, who had been appointed Albany’s first Catholic bishop a week earlier, was likely to plan moves into both of these areas.

William Henry DeWitt

We do not have Verplanck’s response, but it must have been negative. Within the next year, Kip and his senior warden, William H. DeWitt, had begun plans to fund a single chapel of ease in the North End through subscriptions. Those plans also failed, and it was only through DeWitt’s donation of the land and the cost of construction that Holy Innocents came to be built.

This, then, is the back-story of Holy Innocents. The passion of this letter, and Kip’s vision of St. Paul’s mission work explain Kip’s disappointment and anger when DeWitt formed Holy Innocents as a separate parish. Kip had seen the mission chapel as a vital outreach that would both enliven St. Paul’s and enhance the church’s cause in the city. But DeWitt’s creation of a separate parish had not only ruined that plan: Holy Innocent’s deed provided that DeWitt and his heirs would have the right to nominate the church’s rector in perpetuity, even over objections from the congregation. DeWitt’s vision of his own private, family chapel was the very antithesis of Kip’s plan.

Kip (with the rectors of Albany’s Trinity Church and Grace Church) protested the consecration of Holy Innocents. The consecration had proceeded only when DeWitt agreed to change the objectionable terms in the church deed and Kip withdrew his protest. In our next post we will learn more about Holy Innocent’s after-story: how hard feelings between Kip and DeWitt lingered even after Kip withdrew his protest.

Wm. Ingraham Kip at St. Paul’s altar (from an 1847 portrait by William Tolman Carlton)