Category Archives: General Albany History

Ella J. Graham, Contralto Soloist and Teacher of Art

We know some of the names of St. Paul’s soloists in the nineteenth century, but very little about their lives and careers. There are exceptions, especially those who went on to operatic careers (Lucy Eastcott, Henry Squires and Isabella Hinckley) and our one composer (James Mason Sayles), but for most of the rest we know only their names.

That absence has been remedied by a biographical sketch in one of Mrs. Grace McKinlay Kennedy’s scrapbooks: “Life of Ella Jane Graham,” lovingly written by Ella’s younger sister, Maude Graham. Ella J. Graham was St. Paul’s alto soloist from 1891 until 1899. When her musical career ended about 1910, she returned to St. Paul’s and remained an active member (particularly in the Business Women’s Guild) until her death in 1936.

Ella Jane Graham certainly had a very successful musical career as a young women. A 1898 newspaper article describes her as “Albany’s foremost contralto.” And St. Paul’s solo quartet during the period in which it was anchored by Ella Graham and soprano Anne North Turner Rogers must have been a wonder. But Ella Graham’s teaching career — an astounding 56 years of service — and her influence as head of the Albany High School art department, deserve to be remembered and honored.

Two of Ella Graham’s nine siblings are also of interest. “Eddie” (George Edward Graham, 1863 – 1910) was head of Albany’s office of the Associated Press, and later a war correspondent and assistant managing editor of the Los Angeles Examiner. He was author of Schley and Santiago, an account of the decisive battle of the Spanish-American War. Howard Graham (1865 – 1933) was also a journalist, the resident manager of Proctor’s theaters in Albany, and later manager of theaters in North Adams, Massachusetts.

Ella Jane Graham

Life of Ella Jane Graham

George Lytel Graham, was born in Carlysle [Carlyle], England August 12th 1827 and died March 23rd, 1883, 56 years old. He came to the United States as a book agent for a London firm. Came to Albany, where he joined the St. George Society. They procured him the position of Sexton of St. Peter’s Church, where he served in the old St. Peters, and the present day edifice.

Elizabeth Jane Jones, born in Manchester England, August 22nd, 1837. Came to the United States with her Mother, when she was 13 years old. Went to Philadelphia, where they stayed with her Mother’s sister, Aunt Jane Morehouse. She then had an offer from the Albany Hospital as a nurse which she accepted. Lived in Albany all the rest of her life. She had a position as nursery governess to some Albany children. Here she met Father, and in her early twenties, she married him.

Mr. John Tweddle, was Father’s best friend, who came from England. Was a Malster [maltster]. He could not understand why Father did not have a trade. He gave Father a natal day present every year, so he could go back to England each year on his vacation.

Ella Jane Graham was born March 21st, 1860, 2nd oldest member of the Graham family. Died June 4th, 1934 . Funeral was from St. Paul’s Church. There were 12 sons and daughters. All the members of the family were born in Maiden Lane, except brother James. After that we moved to 10 High st. which is still standing.

Ella and my oldest sister, Mrs. Theo. Liecty, both went to school 2, then on State above Hawk St. Ella and Kathryn both graduated In 1874 from the Albany Free Academy, on State below Eagle St. Kathryn then went to work in the Weed Parsons co., where she met her husband, and married him –- years later. Ella graduated from the Albany Free Academy in the class of 1878, passing with high marks in all her studies. It was then she choose [chose] to teach.

So she persuaded her Father to ask his good friend Hon. Andrew S. Draper to see what he could do for her, as he was a member or the Board of Public Instruction, and after a small delay, he had her appointed Chart Class Teacher at School No. 5, on North Pearl St., Prof. John A. Howe, being the Principal. There was no Kindergarten at that time. I remember she used to tell me with much mirth, how Mr. Howe would say to her, just lookin[g] causally at her, go to your room please, the bell has rung, and then knowing he bad made a mistake, would say, excuse me please, you are so young looking Miss Graham. She taught there 30 years, and worked up to the 9th grade. There were 9 grades then.

When Prof. Theo. Hailes, lost his teacher of drawing in the Senior High School by marriage, he came to Ella, and said you are too good for grade teaching, apply tor Teacher of Drawing, and I will back you,. She did, and got the position, where she taught for 26 years, making in all 56 years of teaching in the Public School system of Albany. She loved drawing and music.

As Father died in 1883, and we were a large family, Mother had very little except what came in each week. Brother Will was engaged at that time, so that left Ella and Eddie to support the family, so they carried on. Ella as a young girl sang in St. Peter’s choir, so when she earned money of her own she took lessons from Prof. Chas. White, who came from New York each week. Her first position was with Mrs. Emily Hendrie Miller, organist of the Calvary Baptist Church, then on the corner of State and High sts. Her next position was at Holy Innocents, where she sang 4 years. Then she was called by Prof. Geo. E. Oliver to sing alto in St. Paul’s Church. The quartette included, Anna North Turner Rodgers, Soprano, Ella Graham, Alto, Elsworth Carr, Tenor, Ed. Kellogg, Baritone. He sang quite a few years and then retired. Ned Parkhurst filled his place and stayed until Prof. Oliver retired. The following are the churches she sang in besides the above. Jewish Synagogue. There they thought her voice was not loud enough so she did not stay. Trinity Methodist, First Presbyterian, Madison Ave. Reformed, which was the last one she sang at. After that she came back to St. Paul’s Church, and rented a pew.

These are the houses we lived in while she was with us. Moved from 10 High St., to 28 LaFayette street, where my Grand Mother died at the age of 87. Moved to 242 Hamilton street. Then Howard was married, and Alice at St. Paul’s by Freeborn G. Jewett and Dr. Battershall. Elizabeth Graham Edge is her only survivor. Then Eddie married, and Ella, Mother and I, moved to a smaller place, 101 Eagle St., and mother died there, after living there 8 years. Ella taught Night School, so she thought she should be nearer her work, so we moved to 429 Hamilton St. below Quail St., near the High school, where we lived 8 years. Then Betty came up north to go to school, and we moved to 256 Quail st., lived there for 8 years, Ella passed away suddenly the last year of our stay there. We moved next to 471 Hamilton St., living there 8 years, where Alice Edge died suddenly. Then Betty and I moved to 151 Western Ave., a nice apartment.

Ella’s life was one of sacrifice and love.

Written by Maude M. Graham, April 1946.

Ella Jane Graham, 1930

Master Burke Comes to Albany

Albany had a rich cultural life in the first half of the 19th century, as business from the Erie Canal made the city a hub of commercial and artistic life. I’ve written about some of the famous actors who appeared in the Albany Theatre, and most recently about composer and virtuoso pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s friendship with George William Warren, St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster from 1848 until 1860. But there was another international star whose strong ties to the city of Albany have become obscured by time.

Albany Argus, June 1860

When George William Warren resigned his position at St. Paul’s in 1860, heading for his new position in Brooklyn, his native city could not bid him farewell quietly. A huge “Farewell and Complimentary Concert” was organized in Warren’s honor, to be held June 28, 1860 in conjunction with the dedication of Tweddle Hall, on the northwest corner of State and North Pearl Streets.

A highlight of the event was the Dedication Address, written and recited by William D. Morange. This was an extended verse oration, beginning with a recital of Albany’s early history, and reaching its climax with a description of the city’s glories in the mid-19th century. Among those mentioned, of course, was the night’s honoree:

Here Warren – gifted George, the child of art
The genial artist, with the mammoth heart –
Whose soul all music, when his boyish hand,
Tinkled the triangle in Joe Burke’s band,
Is brimming o’er with jolly music now,
When artist laurels deck his manly brow –
Here Warren lives, whom all the world admires,
Whose very presence pleases and inspires.

William D. Morange, A Poem Delivered at the Complimentary Concert to Geo. Wm. Warren (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1860), 13.
Cover of George Wm. Warren’s “Song of the Brook”

Who, I wondered, was Joe Burke? And what this this band in which a youthful Warren performed? We have another clue. In 1865, Warren dedicated his “Song of the Brook: Pastorale for the Piano Forte” with the words “Homage from an old student to Joseph Burke.” We know that Warren had very little formal musical education, so discovering one of his teachers is exciting. But it is far more interesting to find an international star who enriched Albany’s cultural life.

Joseph Burke as Teddy O’Rourke (credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection)

When Joseph Burke first visited Albany in 1831, the thirteen year old was already an experienced public performer. Master Burke (as he was then styled) had been playing the violin since age 3, and had appeared in theaters in Great Britain and Europe since age 5, acting in roles usually reserved for adults. Born in Ireland, Burke was brought to this country by his parents in 1830. He first appeared in the Albany Theatre on June 20, 1831, acting in two plays and conducting the orchestra in an overture between the plays. During the 1830s, Burke appeared four additional times on the stage of the Albany Theatre, and developed close friendships here.[1]

Master Joseph Burke (credit: Furness Theatrical Images Collection)

Burke acted and played across the United States until 1838, when he abruptly left the stage. We do not know why Burke quit acting, but his impresario father may no longer have been able to market a man of age twenty as a child prodigy. There are also clues that Joseph’s father had lived extravagantly on his son’s income, and may have amassed considerable debt. Certainly, in later life Joseph Burke adamantly refused to discuss his time on the stage.[2] No matter the reason, in 1840 Joseph Burke settled in Albany, and began to study law in the offices of William L. Marcy, the former governor of New York.

While Joseph Burke gave up acting in 1840, he did not give up music. In addition to his law studies, he performed on the violin, conducted and (as we have seen) taught music. Burke was a force in forming and developing the Concordia Society, an amateur orchestra that played four concerts a year in Albany between 1840 and 1844. This, apparently, is the “band” in which George William Warren played. Burke was the orchestra’s leader (that is, concertmaster) for the first season, and also its conductor for the remaining three seasons. He performed solos at each concert, and routinely received rave reviews from local music critics.[3]

Joseph Burke (credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection)

Although he was admitted to the bar, Burke never practiced law. Instead, in 1844 he decided to further his musical career. He traveled to Belgium, where he studied with the great violinist and composer, Charles Auguste de Bériot. Returning to this country in 1845, Burke intended to give his grand first concert in New York City, but he was convinced to perform it first in Albany by a letter he received signed by forty-three prominent Albanians, the list headed by Thomas W. Olcott, Gideon Hawley, John Van Buren and Thurlow Weed. This distinguished group wrote that they:

“feel that a claim upon you, arising from intimacy and personal friendship formed during your long residence in this city, warrant them in soliciting you to modify your arrangements so far as to make your first appearance before an Albany audience”[4]

Responding to this heartfelt plea, Burke agreed,

“[A]s I admit with pride and pleasure the justice of what you are pleased to call your ‘claim’ upon me I without hesitation accede to your flattering request.”[5]

Burke then set off on a series of successful concert tours across the United States. In 1850, he signed a contract with P.T. Barnum to perform with soprano Jenny Lind on her American tours.[6] Rumor has it that he fell deeply in love with Jenny Lind, but was never able to express his feelings to her. When she married another man, Burke was heart-broken and never married.[7] He lived the rest of his life in New York City, performing and teaching violin, while spending his summers at his farm in Batavia, New York. A highlight of Burke’s career was the United States premier of the Mendelssohn violin concerto, which he performed with the New York Philharmonic on November 24, 1849[8].

Burke’s last concert in Albany was in 1859, but he continued to visit the city regularly. When he died in 1902, the Albany Argus published a lengthy obituary, recalling in detail his connections to the city. And Burke clearly retained an affection for this city and its people. Among his papers was found a “very carefully treasured” copy of that 1845 letter, begging him to perform his first concert following his return to Europe in this city of Albany.[9]


[1] Joseph Burke’s first engagement at the Albany Theatre extended from June into early July 1831. Subsequent appearances were in July 1833, February 1834, December 1836 and October 1837.

[2] The pianist and composer Richard Hoffman, said of his close friend, “After he gave up the stage, which was in the thirties, he could never bear to refer to the time when he was an actor. As soon as he ceased to be a child and to act as a child phenomenon, he had a disgust for the theatre.” “Joseph Burke’s Varied Life,” Sun and New York Press 26 Jan 1902, 32. And in 1879, when Henry P. Phelps wrote Burke, asking for his recollections of his time on the Albany stage, he responded, “There is nothing of any possible interest in the way of personal incident or reminiscence, during my residence in Albany, that I recollect, to furnish you with. Perhaps some of ‘those who still remember me’ may, but I doubt it.” H.P. Phelps, Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 153-156.

[3] The group’s last concert for which I can find a notice was 7 Feb 1844. There is no further mention in local papers after that date, or any explanation of its fate.

[4] “Mr. Joseph Burke,” Argus 25 Nov 1845, 2.

[5] “Mr. Joseph Burke”.

[6] Native Albanian John Underner, St. Paul’s organist from 1846 until 1847, was Lind’s accompanist on these American tours.

[7] This story of unrequited love is gracefully told in Carl Carmer, “The Irish Wonder and the Swedish Nightingale,” in Dark Trees to the Wind (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949), 151-165.

[8] A copy of the concert program may be seen at https://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/e82e06bd-9340-4831-9a29-85c1ea8767df-0.1

[9] “Why He Liked the Tribune,” New York Daily Tribune, 21 Jan 1902, 10.

Crotchets and Quavers

George William Warren

When the Albany Morning Express announced George William Warren’s marriage in September 1858, the newspaper mentioned neither his profession, nor his position as St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster. The only identification given is a nickname, “Seven Octave.” Apparently, this was identification enough for their readers, but it means nothing to us. The standard concert grand piano in the mid-nineteenth century had a span of seven octaves. But why would the newspaper identify Warren in such a way?[1]

This question was answered when I chanced on a weekly column published between 1856 and 1858 in the Albany Morning Times. Titled “Crotchets and Quavers,” the column covers Albany music and artistic scene in a lively, gossipy style. And each column is signed “Seven Octave.”

Isabella Hinckley (credit: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Even without the Morning Express identification, there could be little doubt that George William Warren is the author of “Crotchets and Quavers.” He himself is frequently mentioned, including his concerts, organ exhibitions and the piano juries on which he sat. There is frequent mention of organs and church music, particularly at St. Paul’s and Second Presbyterian, the two churches in which Warren played in this period. And many of the posts relate to Warren’s closest friends: Erastus Dow Palmer, Frederic Edwin Church and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Seven Octave also frequently updates Albanians on the European operatic careers of Warren’s former soloists at St. Paul’s: Lucy Grant Eastcott (now styled Madame Escott), Henry Squires and Isabella Hinckley.

Rock of Ages by George William Warren

And Warren himself confirms that he used the pen name. After moving to Brooklyn in 1860, Warren began writing dispatches signed “Jem Baggs” in the “Musical Correspondence” column of Dwight’s Journal of Music. In the last of these dispatches, he wrote, “We have written many indifferent gossiping musical letters in our day, and were last known in your paper as Jem Baggs. We like our first name better, and with your permission will hereafter be again a Seven Octave.”[2] Although Warren seems to have intended to continue with his old pen name, this is the last reference to Seven Octave that I can find in Dwight’s Journal.

The scholar S. Frederick Starr found several of these “Crotchets and Quavers” columns pasted (without identification of its source) into a scrapbook belonging to Warren’s friend Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In his Gottschalk biography, Starr mentions four items from the column, all matching those in the Albany Morning Times issue of 24 May 1856.[3] Starr assumed that Gottschalk was the author of the column primarily because Gottschalk later published five compositions under the name Seven Octaves (note the plural). It seems likely that Gottschalk borrowed the pseudonym from Warren. This must be what Gottschalk meant when he wrote in November 1864 that he was “composing five new contraband pieces that are to be published under the aegis of a borrowed paternity.”[4]

“Crotchets and Quavers” is particularly interesting because it was written during an eventful period in George William Warren’s life: his departure from St. Paul’s after eight years as organist and choirmaster, his year at Second Presbyterian, and his return to St. Paul’s. Items in these columns clarify Warren’s reasons for these changes, as well as giving us a detailed look at artistic life in Albany in the period.

For a taste of the content, here a sample of items from “Crotchets and Quavers” for May 24, 1856. Sections quoted by S. Frederick Starr are in bold. Over the next few months, I will post excerpts from all the “Crotchets and Quavers” columns I have located, with notes on their significance for our understanding of both George William Warren and of life in Albany in the 1850s.

Madame Escotte (Mrs. Eastcott that used to be) is singing Verdi’s Traviata in English, at Drury Lane, London.

Speaking of Madame La Grange reminds us that her concert with Gottschalk in this city was a great success in every way. A large and brilliant looking audience graced the occasion and it was decidedly the most elegant musical affair we have ever had in this city. Madame La Grange looked, sang, and was dressed superbly, and displayed wonders of vocalization, such as we never beard, even from Jenny Lind or Madame Sontag. Gottschalk played as only he can play, on two admirable Grands, one of which (the Cecilian) was particularly delightful and seemed to suit him to perfection. The audience were very enthusiastic and the illustrious artistes were rewarded with rapturous applause and beautiful flowers. but [sic] we will not particularize, as we expect a fine critique from the Albany correspondent of the Musical Review, who signs himself Allegro.

The Buckley’s sang well and the Theatre was crowded at their performances. Their burlesques are very funny and the music of them is very enjoyable. Mr. Percival has an admirable voice and Frederick Buckley’s violin playing was a great deal too good for the audiences, who had not the manners to listen to that part of the entertainment which pleased good taste.

We are happy to know that Mr. Cherbuliez, the splendid Basso at St. Peter’s, is receiving many pupils both in singing and French, and he is giving great satisfaction as a teacher. Gottschalk, who lived in Paris for ten years, says his accent is admirable, and we are right glad to have such a musician, linguist and excellent gentlemen to live with us.

Miss Hinkley is going to Italy in about a year, where a thorough course of study will make her one of the great singers for the future.

When people build such high structures as the bank building in Broadway, why do they not put some little finish to the side walls, which in this case show almost as much as the fronts. This is a great fault in our city buildings, which a little paint might very much improve.

The Delevan House improvements are nearly completed, and when we say that it will be the most beautiful [sic] arranged and tastefully ornamented hotel in America, we hardly do it justice.

Domestic musical news is scarce. LaGrange and Gottschalk have come and gone, but the memory of that superb concert will be meat and drink to some folks for a long time.

Boardman, Gray & Co. are making a grand piano, which we soon hope to hear.

Miss Sullivan, the principal Soprano at the cathedral, has an excellent voice, which she uses with much Skill. By the way — the new Trombone stop in Carmody’s Organ is very fine and adds much to the power of the instrument.

Speaking of organs, the one in St. Paul’s Church is miserably out of order, and that bothers – Seven Octave

[1] “Matrimonial Items,” Albany Morning Express 17 Sep 1858, 3.

[2] “Musical Correspondence,” Dwight’s Journal of Music, volume 23 (17 Oct 1863), 119-120.

[3] S. Frederick Starr, Bamboula! (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 234-235.

[4] Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, ed. Jeanne Behrend (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), 230. The entry is dated 1 Nov 1864.

St. Paul’s “Two Minute Charley”

As we dig out our cars and driveways from yet another Albany snowstorm, I wanted to share a story from a snowy winter 90 years ago. This tale is told in the memoirs of Arthur R. McKinstry, St. Paul’s rector between 1927 and 1931.

Arthur R. McKinstry

In those years, McKinstry tells us, Albanians stored their cars from December until April because of the cold and snow. For transportation, most used trolleys and taxis, renting a car and driver for special occasions.

St. Paul’s rectory was next door to the church, so you might think that McKinstry’s transportation needs would be minimal. But he was also vicar St. Stephen’s in Elsmere. Sundays meant two trips to Delmar: one in the morning for the service and one in the afternoon for the church school. And of course he would be regularly called on for visits to parishioners, weddings and funerals.

Albany NY Knickerbocker Press, June 13 1920

For winter transportation, McKinstry relied on the Albany Motor Renting Corporation, whose garage was located conveniently just up Lancaster Street from the church. This firm offered a variety of services, including taxis, weekend excursions in the country and limousines for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. They boasted that their fleet included the popular Cunningham Car, manufactured in Rochester, New York.

Albany NY Times Union, May 27 1921

In his frequent trips with these drivers, McKinstry learned that they had nicknames for the ministers they frequently transported.

When I begged my informants to tell me what they called me, the chauffeurs balked. However, after much persuading they consented to reveal my nickname. They said, “When you came to the city we didn’t know very much about your terminal facilities. The first funeral we had at St. Paul’s Church was in the dead of winter, a very cold day, and after getting the congregation nicely seated, we all went off to a speak-easy. We had expected you to last at least thirty minutes. But you fooled us. You lasted only fifteen minutes, and we got bawled out by our employers. So we call you “Two Minute Charley.”

Arthur R. McKinstry, All I Have Seen: The McKinstry Memoirs by the Fifth Bishop of Delaware 1939-1954 (Wilmington, Delaware: Serendipity Press, 1975), 36-37.

After leaving Albany, McKinstry had quite an illustrious career, including connections with two presidents. As rector of St. Mark’s, San Antonio, he conducted the wedding of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. And with the intervention of President Franklin Roosevelt (whom he had come to know quite well during his Albany years) he was offered the rectorship of Washington D.C.’s St. Thomas Church, Du Pont Circle. McKinstry declined that offer, but ended his career with another Du Pont connection, as the fifth bishop of Delaware.

Arthur R. McKinstry

St. Paul’s First Cemetery Plot

Deed for St. Paul’s plot in the State Street Burying Grounds

In a previous post, I described St. Paul’s cemetery plot, given to the congregation in 1878 and still in use today. But that section of the Albany Rural Cemetery was not our first cemetery plot. Forty years earlier, in March 1838, the City of Albany granted St. Paul’s “[a]ll that certain piece or parcel of land, bounded on the south by Lancaster street, on the east by the Presbyterian burying ground, on the north by lot number Eleven and by No. 27, and west by Snipe Street” for use as a cemetery.

Diagram of St. Paul’s plot in the State Street Burying Grounds

Can’t quite picture where that would have been? For the past 150 years, Snipe Street has been known as Lexington Avenue. If you extend the line of Lexington and Lancaster Streets (both now much shorter than they were then), you will find that the plot’s southwest corner would have been at a point on the north side of what is now Washington Park.

This was in the State Street Burying Grounds, Albany’s public cemetery from 1800 until 1866. Each Christian denomination had a section, and there were also a Potter’s Field, a section for African-Americans and a small number of graves of persons not associated with a church.

Location of State Street Burying Grounds (credit: @AlbanyArchives)

This image overlays a current photograph of the Washington Park area with a map of the State Street Burying Grounds. In 1838, there were only two Episcopal churches in Albany, and you might expect that St. Paul’s shared the Episcopal lot with St. Peter’s. But it appears that St. Peter’s had sole use of the Episcopal section because the legal description makes it certain that St. Paul’s plot was at the south end of the section marked “Private Cemeteries” on this map. To confirm the location, notice that in the diagram of St. Paul’s section, the north end is marked as the vault of Archibald Campbell. His vault would have been the first of these Private Cemeteries to the north of our plot.

When the State Street Burying Grounds was closed and the land taken to build Washington Park, the burials were moved to the then-new Albany Rural Cemetery, in a section known as the Church Grounds. Our next research effort will be to try to determine who from St. Paul’s was buried in this plot, and where in the Albany Rural Cemetery they now rest.

Mrs. Leland and the Leland Opera House

In early May 1876, the former Albany Theatre (later St. Paul’s Church, the Academy of Music and most recently the Trimble Opera House) became the Leland Opera House, owned by Warren F. Leland (with his brother Charles E. Leland a silent partner) and Alexander Dickey.[i] On May 31, 1876, the Leland brothers and Dickey leased the building to John W. Albaugh for a period of five years at an annual rate of $10,000[ii]. Albaugh had been the theater’s manager since November 1873[iii] and before that had been stage manager at its predecessor, the Trimble Opera House.[iv]

Leland Opera House about 1890

The new Leland Opera House opened on August 28, 1876, with a performance of “Rosedale,” starring Richard Fulton Russell. The Albany Argus reported:

Leland Opera House, more attractive, handsomer and brighter than ever, was thrown open to the public last evening for the coming fall and winter season. Within was a large, brilliant, fashionable, elegant, refined and critical audience. Beauty, wit, grace and fashion came to do homage at the Thespian shrine. It was very swell from the Pompeiian lobby to the new crimson drop. There were lovely gushing women attired in the latest mode of the goddess fashion; sparkling diamonds glittered and flashed; jaunty hats and ribbons and flowers moved prettily, promiscuously and coquettishly. There were men in immaculate ties and kids, and, of course, the inevitable and ubiquitous small boy, who stamped and whistled and sweltered in the gallery. It was a brilliant, picturesque scene, perfectly fitting the beautiful and delicate colored scene surrounding it.[v]

That first season continued in September with performances of “Flying Scud” and in October with Lucia di Lammermoor featuring the Kellogg Grand English Opera.

Flyer for “Flying Scud” Sep 1876

Flyer for Lucia di Lammermoor Oct 1876

1876 also saw a major event for one of the theater’s proprietors: Charles E. Leland married actress Rosa St. Clair. Far more than Charles, it is Rosa M. Leland who made the Leland Opera House the success that it was, and who deserves to be remembered as its eponym.

Rosa M. St. Clair

Rosa M. Leland

Rosa was born in New York about 1853 as Rosa Marian Delaune (also reported as Dealaune or De Laune.) Rosa’s father died when she was an infant, and Rosa’s mother remarried. Rosa had a half brother, Garrett F. Kelly, with whom she was very close. Assuming the stage name Rosa M. St. Clair[vi], Rosa first came to Albany as part of Sallie Partington’s stock company, hired by Lucien Barnes for the Trimble Opera House’s 1871-1872 season. She made her debut as a walking lady (a non-speaking role in which appearance alone was important), but by the end of the season she had taken leading roles. It was during this season that she and Charles E. Leland fell in love, but Rosa continued her career. During the 1872-1873 season, she appeared in Daly’s Theatre, New York City; in 1874 she played at Booth’s Theatre under managers Henry C. Jarrett and Henry David Palmer; in 1875, Rosa toured the United States with Adelaide Neilson.[vii]

Rosa then left the United States, and spent two years in a Paris convent[viii]. She returned to the United States on December 6, 1875 aboard the same ship as Charles E. Leland[ix]. We assume that Charles had convinced her to return and to marry him, since they were married soon after her return, the same year, that Charles E. Leland opened the new Leland Opera House.[x] Following her marriage, Rosa gave up the stage, with the exception of one tour (described below) and appearances in Leland Opera House benefit performances.

While Rosa had given up her stage career, she must have wanted to keep her hand in the business. In 1880 Charles E. Leland bought out his partner, Alexander Dickey, and became sole owner of the theater. When John Albaugh’s lease expired in 1881, Leland leased the theater to his wife, who would be its manager for the next eight years. On September 22, 1881 the Leland Opera House opened its 1881 – 1882 season, with Mrs. Charles E. Leland it leasee and manager.[xi]

Albany NY Evening Times 1881 Dec 24

Mrs. Leland quickly showed her sure hand in managing the opera house, with appearances by major stars of the day. For example, that first season saw appearances by Joseph Wheelock, Rose Keene and Miss Mary Anderson, “America’s Tragedienne.”[xii] And the second season featured Nat Goodwin and his wife Elizabeth Weathersby in “Black Flag.”[xiii]

No wonder that Rosa was highly regarded by the city of Albany. One commentator gushed:

The present manager is Mrs. Rosa M Leland, who for the past three seasons has demonstrated perfectly that a woman can run a theatre successfully in every respect provided she has the tact, enterprise, and necessary experience. Mrs. Leland (prior to her marriage), was a successful actress, and in that capacity acquired a knowledge of what is necessary for proper stage effect, attainable in no other way. Her wide acquaintance with the profession, and that which is best in it added to natural executive ability, has had much also to do with her success. The uniform opinion of press and public has been that never has Albany had a better theatre than under her management. Plays of the best order, actors of the highest rank have been seen at the Leland in quick succession.[xiv]

Several sources report that Rosa and Charles Leland’s marriage was not a happy one. This may be inferred from Rosa’s return to the stage “after many years’ absence” in January 1883[xv], and from her  November 1883 tour with the Madison Square Company to California to play the role of Mrs. Dick Chetwyn in Bronson Howard’s “Young Mrs. Winthrop.”[xvi] That same year, she and Charles E. Leland divorced.[xvii]

Theater Pass, 1884 1885 Season (credit: Albany Group Archive)

Theater Pass, 1887-1888 Season

Rosa continued her successful management of the opera house, with the assistance of her half brother, Garrett F. Kelly. In addition to the benefit performances for the opera house[xviii], Rosa was generous in offering the stage for benefits for other organizations, including the Diocesan League, Exempt Fireman and the Actors Fund,[xix] as well as the Burgesses Corps and the Albany Musical Association.

Charles Doring Band Benefit 1883 (credit: Pruyn Collection, Albany Public Library)

Albany Music Association Benefit 1888 (credit: Pruyn Collection, Albany Public Library)

Over the next years, with the opera house a success, Rosa expanded her business operations. During the winter of 1886-1887, she opened a theatrical agency in New York City. In the spring of 1888, she was able to purchase the theater building, and became both its owner and manager.[xx]

Leland Opera House during the blizzard of 1888

While she was only about 35 years old, these efforts must have taken a toll on Rosa’s constitution. During the summer of 1888, she took a three-month trip to Europe to regain her health[xxi]. But hardly had she returned, when in October 1888, her brother Garrett F. Kelly died.[xxii] Ill and depressed, grieving for her brother who had been her main support, in the late autumn of 1888 Rosa gave up the business. She leased the building to Henry R. Jacobs for a period of five years.[xxiii]

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (credit: Albany Group Archive)

Her health, however, never recovered, and Rosa Leland died on March 10, 1889. Her funeral was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and her pallbearers included many of the city’s most prominent citizens.[xxiv] She is buried, with her brother Garrett, in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.

Rosa Leland’s Tombstone, St. Agnes Cemetery

We will continue our story of the Albany Theatre, with the next episode covering the brief period as the H. R. Jacobs Opera House.

[i] “The Opera House Sold to Warren F. Leland,” Albany Morning Express 08 May 1876; “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History – The Curtain Rung Up on the Last Act – A Foreclosure Suit Commenced” Albany Evening Times Dec (probably 27) 1880; Daily Argus 11 May 1876.

[ii] “The Leland Opera House: Its Lease to J.W. Albaugh” Albany Evening Times 01 Jun 1876.

[iii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House: Appearance of Albany’s Oldest Theatre Under New Management” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889.

[iv] H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 309.

[v] “Leland Opera House: Brilliant Opening Last Evening,” Daily Argus 29 Aug 1876.

[vi] The earliest reference to her stage name is a December 1871 article mentioning that the “charming actress” was too ill to perform and was under the care of three doctors (Daily Albany Argus 22 Dec 1871.)

[vii] “A Popular Manager: Mrs. Rosa St. Clair Leland’s Successful Theatrical Career,” Albany Evening Journal 12 Apr 1887; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away – A Notable Woman – Obituary Notes,” Albany Evening Journal 11 Mar 1889. A notice following Rosa’s 1871-1872 debut season was less than enthusiastic about her acting skills, saying that she “manifested splendid taste in dressing, and fair talent in minor parts.” “Dramatic Personals,” Albany Evening Times 21 Aug 1872.

[viii] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”.

[ix] Adriatic ship’s manifest for a journey departing from Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland and arriving in New York City 06 Dec 1875; a scan of the document is available on Ancestry.com. Listed in the same ship’s manifest, immediately adjacent to  Rosa and Charles, were George Burlingham (the Delavan Hotel’s manager), and David Rose (partner in an Albany carriage-making firm). “Personal” (Daily Argus 06 Dec 1875) describes the arrival of Leland, Burlingham and Rose in New York, but does not mention Rosa. Leland, Burlingham and Rose had sailed for Europe together two months earlier (“Personal,” Daily Argus 05 Oct 1875).

[x] “A Popular Manager: Mrs. Rosa St. Clair Leland’s Successful Theatrical Career”; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland,” Albany Times 11 Mar 1889.

[xi] “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”.

[xii] Classified advertisement, Albany Evening Journal, 24 Dec 1881.

[xiii] Classified advertisement, Albany Evening Journal, 18 Sep 1882.

[xiv] H. P. Phelps (compiler), The Albany Hand-Book (Albany: Brandow & Barton, 1884), 101.

[xv] “Theatrical Chronology,” The New York Clipper Annual for 1883, 2.

[xvi] “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”. The Sacramento Union carried multiple references to such a production in March 1883. Rosa appeared in the same play at a Leland Opera House benefit shortly afterward (Albany Morning Express, 27 Apr 1883).

[xvii] “Entre Nous,” The Theater, volume 5, number 10, March 11-18, 1889, page 212.

[xviii] In addition to the 1883 “Young Mrs. Winthrop” event mentioned above, Rosa Leland performed in at least four other benefits: as Mrs. Beresford with Lester Wallack in “Impulse” in 1885; as Belinda Treheone in “Engaged” in 1886; as Mrs. Vane with Miss Rose Coghland and Osmond Tearle in “Masks and Faces” in 1887; as Lady Millicent with Dion Boucicault in “The Jilt” in 1888. (“The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”)

[xix] “Death of Mrs. Leland,” Albany Evening Journal, 11 Mar 1889.

[xx] “The Highest Bidder: Mrs. Leland in New and Successful Role,” Albany Times 24 Apr 1888; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”.

[xxi] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”.

[xxii] “Death of Mrs. Leland”.

[xxiii] “Chat By the Way,” Albany Evening Times 19 Nov 1888; “H.R. Jacobs Opera House: Appearance of Albany’s Oldest Theatre Under New Management” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”.

[xxiv] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”; The Theater, volume 5, number 10, March 11-18, 1889, page 212; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; Albany Times 13 Mar 1889.

 

The Trimble Opera House

After the fire of January 1868, the blackened façade of the Academy of Music (formerly the Albany Theatre and St. Paul’s Church) stood alone and forlorn on South Pearl Street for almost two years. There was wide public interest in building a new Academy of Music, but progress came very slowly. In November 1868, Hugh J. Hastings sold the property to John M. Trimble’s widow, Mary Ann Trimble.[i] Then in March 1869, New York State chartered a corporation named “The Academy of Music in the City of Albany,” whose aim to was issue stock to fund a new theater.[ii] Later that month, three trustees were elected, one of whom was the owner of Albany’s Delavan House, Charles E. Leland, who will figure prominently in this story.[iii]

The Delavan Hotel (credit: Albany Group Archive)

But it was only in November 1869 that Mrs. Trimble took action, in conjunction with Lucien Barnes, husband of her daughter Ada G. Trimble[iv]. Barnes (the uncle of William Barnes, Jr., head of the Albany Republican organization[v]) had been chief clerk and cashier at the New York State Department of Insurance[vi], and no doubt helped his mother-in-law arrange the issuance of $40,000 in bonds, mortgaged by three trustees, among them (once again) Charles E. Leland.[vii] Mary Ann Trimble leased the theater to Barnes for a period of eleven years at a nominal rate of $1,000 annually, conditioned on his paying the principal and interest of the bonds.[viii]

Barnes hired architect Thomas R. Jackson, who had produced the designs for the Academy of Music six years earlier. The building went up very quickly, and was complete only 51 days after work began.[ix] The day before the grand opening, the theater was opened for the stockholders, with refreshments served by Charles E. Leland’s Delavan Hotel staff.

Of the Opera House itself we cannot speak in too high terms of praise. It is certainly one of the most beautiful places of amusement in the country. The decorations are superb, the fixtures unexcelled, and the entire outfit the best money can buy. No expense has been spared to make it, in all respects and every particular, equal to any of the metropolitan theatres. The private boxes are magnificently furnished – each one being a parlor of itself. In fact not anything is lacking to ensure comfort and pleasure to the patrons of the establishment.[x]

The next evening, December 31, 1869, the new theater opened with a production of Richard Sheridan’s The School for Scandal.

Playbill for Opening Night at the Trimble Opera House, 31 Dec 1869

Only four days after the theater’s reopening, a tragedy occurred, when the music director, Conrad Louis Underner, died suddenly during a performance.[xi] “Lewey” was the son of well-known local music Conrad Underner, with whom he had played in the orchestra of the old Albany Theatre.[xii] He was also a composer of several marches. Lewey’s brother, John Underner, was also a composer and organist at St. Paul’s Church in 1847, when it was in the former Albany Theatre.

Marie Bonfanti in The Black Crook (credit: New York Public Library Digital Collection)

A highlight of the first season was the production of “Black Crook,” featuring lead dancer Marie Bonfanti. This production played for a full month to standing-room crowds, and seems not to have created the furor in Albany as it had in New York City, despite the then-scandalous sight of women in tights.

Cover to the Black Crook Demon Dance

Chorus of The Black Crook (credit: New York Public Library Digital Collectdion)

The season of 1870-1871 included such stars as

  • Joseph K. Emmett (who later built the mansion that became Wolfert’s Roost), playing “Fritz, Our Cousin German”
  • Lotta (born Charlotte Mignon Crabtree)

Joseph K. Emmett as “Fritz” (credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Lotta (credit: New York Public Library Digital Collection)

Franceska Janauschek (credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle (credit: University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection)

 

Despite this glamorous season, Barnes was having financial problems. In late 1871, Mary Ann Trimble issued two additional mortgages on the property to allow Barnes to repay Charles E. Leland and Alexander Dickey “for money loaned, and work, labor and services, and material.” Another condition of Barnes’s’ lease was that he was to pay all taxes and water bills. He had failed to do so, and the Albany County Treasurer was threatening to sell the building at public auction if payment was not made.[xiii] Barnes’s financial problems were likely compounded by marital problems: Barnes and Ada Trimble were later divorced.[xiv]

By May 1872, Barnes was insolvent, and was declared bankrupt in July of that year,[xv] his only asset the value of his lease from Mrs. Trimble.[xvi] He left as manager on July 31, 1872, having taken gross receipts of almost $215,000 in the two and a half years of his lease.[xvii] In December 1872, Mrs. Trimble sold the property to Warren F. Leland (on behalf of his brother, Charles E. Leland, and Alexander Dickey, holders of the mortgages on the property), who leased it to Aaron Richardson,[xviii] and in May 1875 (avoiding complications of Richardson’s pending divorce) conveyed the premises to Richardson’s sister, Sarah Phillips, with a mortgage. Phillips soon failed to comply with the terms of the mortgage, and the theater was again in receivership.[xix]

Warren F. Leland purchased the theater from the receiver at public auction on May 6, 1876, paying $8,000 and assuming encumbrances of an additional $60,000.[xx] “Mr. Leland, as soon as he was handed the deed by the referee, proceeded to the Opera House, and took formal possession of it. Hereafter it will be known as the Leland Opera House…” [xxi]

[i] Albany County Clerk Deed Book 219, pages 207-208, dated 28 Nov 1868. “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History – The Curtain Rung Up on the Last Act – A Foreclosure Suit Commenced” Albany Evening Times Dec (probably 27) 1880.

[ii] “The New Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 19 Mar 1869.

[iii] “Meeting of the Corporation of the New Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express, 29 Mar 1869.

[iv] H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 376.

[v] “Proctor Sells Leland,” New York Clipper, 21 Jun 1922.

[vi] Phelps, 376.

[vii] Phelps, 376.

[viii] “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History”.

[ix] Phelps, 376-377.

[x] “The Reception at the Trimble Opera House,” Albany Morning Express, 31 Dec 1869.

[xi] “Sudden Death,” Albany Morning Express 04 Jan 1870.

[xii] “’Lewey’ Underner – His Early Connection with the Orchestra of the Old Pearl Strreet Theatre.” Albany Morning Express 08 Mar 1868.

[xiii] “The Trimble Opera House,” Albany Evening Times 21 May 1872.

[xiv] Ada Trimble married twice more, both times to actors. A marriage to Harold Forsberg ended in divorce in 1884, after repeated reports of domestic abuse. [One incident is graphically described in the Daily Argus for 5 Jun 1874]. She married for the third and final time to Frederick Bryton in 1887. [“At the Theater,” Trenton Evening Times 16 Oct 1887]

[xv] “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History”.

[xvi] “Lucien Barnes’ Bankruptcy,” Daily Albany Argus, 2 Sep 1872.

[xvii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House,” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889

[xviii] “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History”

[xix] [“The Opera House: More Litigation – A Suit to Foreclose the Mortgage” Albany Evening Journal 30 Nov 1875.

[xx] “The Opera House Sold to Warren F. Leland,” Albany Morning Express 08 May 1876.

[xxi]  “The Opera House Sold to Warren F. Leland”.

The Academy of Music

After St. Paul’s sold its building on South Pearl Street to Hugh J. Hastings in October 1862, the building sat vacant for a year. In October 1863, Hastings announced that he had leased the theater to John M. Trimble for a period of ten years, with the right to purchase it after five years.[i]

It is [Trimble’s] intention to fit up the place in splendid style, regardless of expense, in order that it may be made worthy of the support and patronage of our citizens. Mr. T. proposes to introduce all the latest improvements; and in point of ornamentation and decoration to make it fully equal if not superior to any place of entertainment in New York, Boston or Philadelphia.[ii]

Old Bowery Theatre, New York City (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Trimble hoped to have the building ready by the holidays. Trimble certainly had the skills and experience for the task. He had built rebuilt the Bowery Theater in New York City in sixty days, and in his career had built, renovated or designed thirty-four theaters.[iii] Trimble had been blind for several years, so the task of drawing the plans fell to his colleague Thomas R. Jackson.[iv]

 

 

Two early accounts of the renovation of the building claim that when the church floor was removed, the pit and orchestra were found just as in the original theater, and a copy of the program from the final performance was recovered.[v] Given the scope of the 1839 renovation, it is hard to believe that that much of the original structure could have remained.

Just before the theater reopened on December 28, 1863, the Albany Morning Express gushed that Trimble,

as if possessed of the Lamp of Aladdin, … willed the transformation of old St. Paul’s Church into a fairy palace; and presto! the job is done, and done on a scale of liberality and magnificence that far more than realize the wildest expectations of the most exacting and fastidious; all that his vast and various experience, refined taste, and a lavish expenditure of money could produce are centered on this superb edifice.[vi]

The author of this article was also pleased that the new design included “no bar, saloon, or other depot of abomination.”[vii]

An early production at the new theater was a first for the city of Albany: the performance of fully-staged opera. In January 1864, the impresario Jacob Grau brought his company, Grand Italian Opera in America, to Albany, where it presented Lucrezia Borgia. “It was the first time a complete operatic performance, in costume, and with full orchestra, had ever been given in Albany.”[viii]

Mary Provost (credit: Univeristy of Washington Libraries)

Later that year, in appreciation of his renovating the theater, Albany presented Trimble with a benefit performance, subsidized by a committee of prominent local figures, including Thurlow Weed, Erastus Dow Palmer, Albert B. Street, Erastus Corning, Jr. and John Tweddle. The resident company donated its service, as did the leading lady, Mary Provost.[ix]

 

 

 

 

 

Edwin Forrest as Hamlet (credit: University of Illinois Special Collections)

Another highlight of this first season was the appearance of Edwin Forrest, who played in three Shakespeare plays, Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth, in a single week. Forrest had first appeared at the Albany Theatre in 1825 when he was barely out of his teens. By 1864, he was an established star.[x]

Academy of Music Playbill 1865

The seasons of 1863 through 1867 were financially very successful, with average annual receipts of $15,000.[xi] But John M. Trimble’s health declined in the last year, and his daughter Ada G. Trimble assisted him. When John Trimble died in June 1867, the lease was assumed by his widow, Mary Trimble. Miss Trimble, then only about 24 years old, reluctantly agreed to take on the role of manager.[xii]

Albany Morning Express 28 Jan 1868

The Academy of Music’s 1867 season began on September 2, with Ada Trimble as manager.[xiii] In December of that year, the mortgage (presumably the mortgage on the sets, costumes and props) was paid in full.[xiv] On January 27 and 28, 1868, Charles Barron starred in Hilda, and was scheduled to perform the role the next night.[xv]

 

 

 

Charles Barron (credit: Wake Forest University Special Collections)

Early in the morning of January 29, 1868, a fire was reported in John Burk’s concert saloon, next door to the theater. The fire was contained, and soon thought to be out, but as the firemen were leaving, fire was discovered in the theater. Within half an hour, the entire building was in flames.[xvi] Later that day, a local newspaper reported that “the building was burned to the ground, with the exception of the front wall, which is all that now remains of the original structure of 1825.” Hastings, the owner of the building, had the entire value of the building covered by insurance. For the Trimble family, however, the loss was total.[xvii]

Academy of Music after the January 1868 fire (Harper’s, 15 Feb 1868)

In our next segment, we will see how the theater rose from these ashes, this time known as the Trimble Opera House.

[i] “Fire This Morning,” Albany Evening Journal 29 Jan 1868.

[ii] “An Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express, 13 Oct 1863.

[iii] “John M. Trimble, Architect and Theatrical Manager,” New York Times 9 Jun 1867, quoting the obituary from the Albany Evening Journal.

[iv] “Albany Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 22 Dec 1863.

[v] H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 216 and Collections of the History of Albany, Volume 2 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), 37.

[vi] “Albany Academy of Music”.

[vii] “Albany Academy of Music”.

[viii] Collections of the History of Albany, Volume 2 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), 182. A notice about plans for the engagement appeared in Albany Morning Express 22 Dec 1863. Grau’s obituary (New York Herald 15 Dec 1877) mentions that he was the manager for Isabella Hinckley, one-time soloist in St. Paul’s choir.

[ix] “Testimonial to John M. Trimble,” Albany Morning Express 15 Jun 1864; “Benefit of John M. Trimble, Esq.,” Albany Morning Express 18 Jun 1864; “Testimonial to John M. Trimble,” Albany Morning Express 20 Jun 1864

[x] “Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 27 Oct 1854.

[xi] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House,” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889.

[xii] Jane Kathleen Curry, Nineteenth-century American Women Theatre Managers (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 122.

[xiii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House”.

[xiv] Collections of the History of Albany, 329-330.

[xv] Classified advertisement, Albany Morning Express 28 Jan 1868.

[xvi] “Fire This Morning”.

[xvii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House”.

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 on the west side of South Pearl Street, between Beaver and Hudson. [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, 1880), 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.

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