Today I’d like to share another find from the church archives: a small card, advertising a Book Social to be held in our Parish House in November 1906.
I’d never heard of a Book Social, but I’ve found that that around the turn of the century, they were a common way of attracting book donations for a library. As the announcement explains, the “admission fee will be a book suitable for the library of the Sunday School.”
In some cases, book socials were designed to create a new library, but that was not the case here. St. Paul’s had had a Sunday School library for many years. We know, for instance, that the former librarian, Ira Porter, Jr. had served for an impressive 45 years.
In 1906, St. Paul’s Sunday School had been a thriving part of its outreach for most of the church’s 79 years. In 1907, the Year Book reported attendance of 225, plus another 39 on the “cradle roll.” There were 26 teachers and 7 officers, including two librarians.
The Social was sponsored by the St. Paul’s Guild, a group “composed of young people of the parish” which had only been organized that year. In 1907, the Guild listed 36 members, most between the ages of 18 and 25. The month after the Book Social, the St. Paul’s Guild also sponsored a Christmas entertainment for the Sunday School.
Unfortunately, we don’t know any details about the entertainment the Guild provided. The tableau would have consisted of a classical or religious scene, depicted by costumed performers. Might the music have been provided by organist Robert H. Moore, who was also pianist for the Sunday School?
We do know the event’s location: the Parish House, which at that time was the rooms on Jay Street that had been donated by Van Antwerp in 1883. You can see the exterior in these two photos, the first from 1920, the second from 1964, just before the Parish House (and church) were demolished.
St. Paul’s Jay Street Parish House, 1920
St. Paul’s Church Jay Street Facade May 1964
It is likely that this event was one of the many new projects initiated by St. Paul’s energetic young rector, Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks, then in his first year at the parish. In a sermon that fall, Brooks urged the congregation “to repair and beautify their church by memorial gifts.” Completion of those enhancements was still years in the future, as was a renewal of parish social programs.
Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks
But one change initiated by Brooks had already been accomplished. Two months before this Book Social, St. Paul’s chorus of men and women with four soloists had been replaced by a choir of men and boys.
St. Paul’s Choir, during the rectorship of Arthur R. McKinstry (1927-1931)
On Sunday morning, October 23, 1910, the Albany Argus dedicated half of the front page of its second section to a long piece on St. Paul’s Church. Titled “A Church at Work: Social Service at St. Paul’s,” the article described St. Paul’s in glowing terms as “a Centre of Social Service in Albany,” with detailed descriptions of fourteen parish activities.
The congregation that the newspaper describes is certainly energetic. But what is most impressive is that this description could be written of St. Paul’s in 1910. Only ten years earlier, a New York Times columnist had described St. Paul’s as “a church in Albany that is the very reverse of rich and marked by the signs of decrepitude sometimes incidental to advanced age.”
This transformation may be attributed in large part to the parish’s new rector, Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks. When he arrived in Albany in 1906, Brooks immediately began a program of rejuvenation, starting with a campaign to repair and beautify the church.
By late 1907, that effort was well under way with major enhancements to the church nave and a new enthusiasm for parish outreach.
Since then [late 1906] two windows had been put in place, two were now being constructed, a baptistery had been erected, the chancel enlarged, the organ reconstructed, two tablets had been erected and the credence table rebuilt. Meantime the Sunday-school had doubled its offerings for missions, the parish had met its apportionment and had also made various gifts for charities.
The 1910 Argus article describes the motivation behind all this new activity. It seems likely that the following, connecting St. Paul’s efforts to the guilds of the medieval English church, must have been written by Brooks himself.
The church at work nowadays is an interesting development in Christianity, and one of the most active an interesting examples of it in Albany is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The old and original idea of a church was a collection of people who paid a minister to preach the gospel on Sundays, and a Sunday-go-to-meeting place in which to congregate and listen to the minister’s preaching, But very far back in the history of the Church of England the development of the church at work is interestingly chronicled in a history of the English guilds, in which it is set forth in very early English that: ‘The pouere men of the parisshe of seynt Austin begunnen a gylde in helpe and amendment of here pouere parisshe churche.’ So it came about that the help and amendment of parish churches soon made them a meeting place on other days than Sunday, and as the guilds grew the temporal purposes of the churches broadened.
Now the calendar of the month for such a church as St. Paul’s would include a list of activities happening on nearly every day of the week to astonish an old-fashioned churchman of the once-a-week variety.
Here are the highlights from the social services listed in the 1907 Argus article:
Services are held on the first Sunday of each month, and literary and social meetings are occasionally held. As the missionary resides 100 miles away, his visits arc necessarily short and infrequent, and it is not deemed wise to undertake to do too much, but the results of the mission work, even under such restrictions, seem to be highly satisfactory, and the mission itself is one of the most peculiar and interesting agencies tor good connected with St. Paul’s.
St. Mark’s Chapel. The article describes the work of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew organizing a chapel in Pine Hills that grew into St. Andrew’s Church. After St. Andrew’s became an independent parish, the Brotherhood turned its attention to “the new Delaware avenue section that has grown so enormously in the last year or so.” As we have seen in an earlier post, the chapel survived only for a few years more, closing in summer 1913 when they lost the lease.
The results of attendance at the Sunday school and the afternoon service have justified the opening of the chapel. Sunday school is held on Sunday afternoon at 3:15 and a service with sermon or address at 4:30. The building, which was formerly a storehouse. has been remodeled and made comfortable, heated by a hot-air furnace and lighted by electricity. Undoubtedly as the district grows the chapel will grow until St. Mark’s will become a church by itself.
St. Paul’s Cadet Corps. This must have been short-lived effort. I have been unable to find other references to it in Albany newspapers of the 1910s and 1920s.
St. Paul’s Cadet Corps came into existence last November and grew to a body of 50 well-drilled soldier boys under command of Major Charles B. Staats of the Tenth Regiment N. G. S. N. Y., who has drilled them Friday afternoons at 4 o’clock. The purpose of this organization is to teach the boys of the parish the life of the soldier. The boys are taught the setting-up exercises at the beginning, and later on will go to the State armory for drilling and instruction in the manual of arms. Through this corps it is hoped to produce a lot of boys who will have a soldierly bearing, who will walk erect and have a knowledge of the life a soldier in all its varied aspects.
The first meeting of the corps this season was last Friday, and there is a fine outlook for the year.
The Men’s Guild is a sort of club for service, which has an annual banquet, an annual “moonlight excursion,” and regular meetings at which addresses were made during the year by the following: Judge Randall J. LeBoeuf, on “Alaska,” Police Justice John J. Brady, on “Juvenile Delinquents,” State Forest, Fish and Game Commissioner James H. Whipple, on ”The Preservation of Our Forests,” Prof. Jesse D. Burks on the “The Mountain People of the Philippines,” Major R. R. Biddell, “War Reminiscences.”
Parish Aid Society. This group provided work for women in sewing aprons, towels, dusters and other small items at home. The society gave the materials, and then offered the finished product for sale to members of the church. The Society also organized a “woman’s exchange” in which women could advertise willingness to care for children or the elderly, or to make baked goods.
The church school of St. Paul’s is 84 years old. Among the children who learned their lesson of the day at St. Paul’s were the late Bishop Satterlee and the present bishop of Los Angeles. The kindergarten was substituted for the primary department two years ago and with the full kindergarten equipment of chairs, tables and materials. The work among the children has been especially successful. The enthusiasm and loyalty of the school grows, and the “mite box” offering for mission was the largest of any school in the diocese last year.
An Altar guild sounds ecclesiastical rather than energetic, bur the Altar guild of St. Paul in the course of Iast year held five regular meetings and a number of entertainments that raised the balance due of the amount pledged toward the improvement of the chancel in commemoration of the eightieth anniversary of the founding the parish. It held a linen sale, a rummage sale and gave two plays, beside furnishing flowers for the altar and distributing them to the sick at the close of the services.
A church periodical club is a bright idea. As this little paragraph of the club urges: “The matter of sending a periodical, a paper or a magazine to some distant point to a missionary or to a mission station is a very simple and inexpensive thing. All the society asks is that your send a paper or magazine after you are through with it and pay the postage. The expense is slight. The pleasure and the delight you may give a missionary may not be measured. Why not begin with the New Year and use this simple means of making some on happy?
Girl’s Guild. Apparently, the St. Paul’s chapter of the Girls Friendly Society (which a few decades later became one of the most dynamic of the parish’s activities) had not yet been organized.
Meetings of the Girls’ guild are held every Friday evening from September until June, and last year lessons were given for five months by Miss Hills, of the Albany Academy for Girls.
Weekly meetings of the mothers were held during last winter and four dozen garments made for the Child’s hospital, the season closing with social evening and refreshments.
What does a junior auxiliary do? That of St. Paul’s church held 15 meetings last year, dressed 30 dolls for mission boxes, and gave a cake sale.
The Woman’s Auxiliary to the board of missions, St. Paul’s branch, sent boxes to North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and to nearby villages in this State.
Parish House: These activities refer to the older section of the Parish House, built in 1883. The portraits are now a part of St. Paul’s parish archives.
The demands of the future of the church will lie in the direction of an enlarged parish house where work among young people may be carried on efficiently, and this has been ensured by the purchase of vacant lots adjoining the church property. One of the interesting features of the parish house is the emphasis of the personal element in the making of a church by the collection of portraits of the men who have helped to make the church from the beginning portraits of rectors, wardens, vestrymen, uniformly framed and hung on a line about the four sides of the room, the parish family from 1827 to 1910.
Systematic Giving: this supplemented income from pew sales and rentals. A campaign to add $100,000 to the parish endowment and to free the pews did not start for another ten years.
Systematic giving enables St. Paul’s to carry on its activities without financial handicap. Each subscriber sends to the rector a pledge card containing the amount pledged per week and the name and address of the subscriber. A package of envelopes bearing the date of the Sundays in the year is then sent to the subscriber and these are then placed upon the offertory plate, with the amount pledged inclosed.one for each Sunday, as each Sunday of the year rolls around. The amount pledged by each subscriber is a confidential matter between the subscriber and the rector.
The article also briefly mentions that the church library has a circulation of upward of 900 books, a summer school cooking class and Christmas dinners for the poor.
The Argus article ends with a final statement of the theological motivation for these activities:
St. Paul’s ought to be a centre from which those forces which count in the Christian life should go forth and be identified with the institutions of our city which have as their aim the good and the welfare of our fellow men. We are thankful that there are men and women in St. Paul’s who count it a privilege to be of service to humanity in its largest and broadest sense. There should be no narrow parochialism nor spirit of sectarianism among us, but rather breadth of mind and Christian charity.
 “Topics of the Times,” New York Times 21 Jan 1900.
 “Tablet Unveiled in St. Paul’s, Albany N.Y.,” The Churchman, volume 96, number 16 (26 Oct 1907), page 649.
 Brookes may have been referring to the guild established in 1380 in the parish of St. Augustine, Norwich.
On this last Sunday of Advent 2019, with Christmas Day just three days off, I’d like to share a few items from Christmases past, found in St. Paul’s Memory Book, a series of four large scrapbooks lovingly compiled by Mrs. Grace McKinlay Kennedy in the 1940s.
Starting with the most recent, here is the cover for the 1945 Christmas bulletin
Christmas Service Bulletin 1945
And a snapshot from the same year of the Christmas morning service in the Lancaster Street chapel. That’s the rector, George A. Taylor, reading the gospel. The two servers are his sons, Tucker Taylor and Frank Webb “Webbie” Taylor.
Christmas Morning Service 1945
Taylor was rector from 1932 until 1948.
George A. Taylor
Next, two Christmas cards from the family of Arthur R. McKinstry, rector from 1927 until 1931.
Arthur R. McKinstry
McKinstry Christmas Card 1927
McKinstry Christmas Card 1930
The cards, from 1927 and 1930, show the four children, ready for Christmas morning.
And finally, a ticket from the Sunday School Christmas festival of 1880.
Sunday School Christmas Festival 1880
I’ve been unable to find any information about the event, but we know a bit about the location. Tweddle Hall (built by former St. Paul’s senior warden John Tweddle), was on the northwest corner of State and Pearl Streets in downtown Albany. Three years after the Christmas Festival, the structure burned, and was replaced by the Tweddle Building.
Tweddle Hall, northwest corner of State and Pearl Streets (image credit: Albany Institute of History and Art)
This ticket was given to Mrs. Kennedy by Mrs. Mary A. Halse, aunt of St. Paul’s organist Raymond Sherwood Halse.
This week I was able to acquire a photograph of St. Paul’s Lancaster Street building that I had never seen before. Originally published in the Albany Times Union, it shows the church as it looked late in the winter of 1962.
St. Paul’s Lancaster Street, March 1962
The publication date, March 28, 1962, is a significant one: this was the day after the Temporary State Commission for the Capital City announced that the State would take 98.5 acres of downtown Albany by eminent domain for the South Mall. St. Paul’s Church was in the middle of this “take area.” You can read the story of the congregation’s efforts to save the building in an earlier post.
I earlier shared this photograph taken just a few months later, around April of 1962.
St. Paul’s, freshly painted, about April 1962
But this new discovery provides an opportunity to post three other photographs from our archives that also show the building in the three years before its demolition in October 1964.
Last year, Jennifer Johnston shared with us the program from St. Paul’s 1990 production of “Fat, Fat Jehoshaphat.” Now Jennifer has made another discovery: a brochure produced over 60 years ago as part of a St. Paul’s stewardship campaign. The leaflet includes photographs of a typical Sunday at St. Paul’s, giving us a view of the state of the parish in that period.
This 1955 stewardship campaign was called “Loyalty Week,” beginning on November 13 of that year. This brochure was distributed, and “The Messenger” (which was mailed weekly to every household) encouraged families to bring their pledge cards to church on Sunday. The preacher that day was Arthur R. McKinstry, rector of St. Paul’s from 1927 until 1931, and by this time the Bishop of Delaware.
Arthur R. McKinstry
This was only nine years after the end of World War II, at the height of the Red scare (the Army–McCarthy hearings had been held the previous year), the year after the armistice that paused (but did not end) the Korean war, and at the beginning of the Cold War. With both the United States and the Soviet Union testing nuclear weapons, the United States in January of that year had begun development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. We have to agree with Deacon Mole (a character in the Walt Kelly comic strip “Pogo”) that the newspapers in that period were “Full of Doom, Gloom and rumors of Boom.”
No wonder, then that prominently placed on the brochure’s front page, in all capital letters and a bold typeface, is the warning “CIVILIZATION IS IN PERIL IN AN ATOMIC WORLD, IF THE WORLD IS UNCHRISTIAN!”
Loyalty Week 1955: Brochure Cover
Once we flip to page two, however, the view is much sunnier. There are five photographs:
Nave, with 324 worshipers:
Loyalty Week 1955: The Nave
A Sunday school room:
Loyalty Week 1955: Sunday School Classroom
Loyalty Week 1955: Luncheon
Women’s group, at work sewing):
Loyalty Week 1955: The Church at Work
There are no corresponding photographs of men’s participation, but a text block assures us of their active involvement.
Loyalty Week 1955: Men’s Activities
Chancel Choir and clergy (the rector, F. Graham Luckenbill and his assistant, Robert J. Evans). The choirmaster, Clarence A. Hollister, is on the far right of the middle row.
Loyalty Week 1955: Chancel Choir and Clergy
The accompanying text describes an active, growing parish, and includes annual statistics of 25 baptisms, 35 transfers and 19 confirmed. “This is far from sensational, but it is also far from standing still.” The author highlights increases over the previous year with both Sunday attendance and Sunday School enrollment doubled. These are certainly noteworthy increases, but one wonders why that particular comparison is made.
Loyalty Week 1955: Note from the Vestry
Milton W. Hamilton’s 1977 history of the parish provides the necessary context: the previous years had been a very difficult one for St. Paul’s:
The Reverend Oliver D. Carberry, who became rector in 1948, was an able and effective preacher, but he became involved in a controversy over church music, in which he was opposed by several vestrymen. There were other disagreements and several resignations from the vestry. Feelings ran high, and a number of families left the church. A call by one vestryman to stop this trend was tabled. The Reverend Mr. Carberry resigned February 22, 1954, to accept a call to St. Paul’s Church, Fairfield, Conn. The loss in membership, however, was reflected in less financial support. A contributing factor was that now few members lived in the downtown area. In 1948 a rectory had been purchased in western Albany. The Reverend F. Graham Luckenbill (1954-1958) recognized the need for a parking area, and it was necessary to take out a large bank loan to buy a lot for this purpose.
The impression of a thriving parish in 1955, then, relied on a comparison with the previous year, which had been a disaster. And the long term problems that had weakened St. Paul’s (white flight from downtown Albany, the decline of the neighborhood, loss of families because of controversies and debt) could not be easily overcome.
Clarence A. Hollister
In addition to the resignations of the rector in 1954, choirmaster Walter Witherspoon had resigned in September 1955, to be replaced by Clarence A. Hollister.
Bishop Frederick L. Barry
We have not found records of the results of this Loyalty Week, but the long-term demographic changes in the neighborhood would only continue to worsen for the next few years. Within three years, the parish was so weakened that when F. Graham Luckenbill resigned as rector in 1958, Bishop Barry appointed Luckenbill’s curate, Donald I. Judson, as priest-in-charge, discouraged the vestry from calling a new rector, and suggested that St. Paul’s either merge with another parish, or construct a new building elsewhere in the city. As we saw in an earlier post, the vestry rejected Bishop Barry’s advice, and instead called Nelson F. Parke.
But in October 1955, those challenges seemed surmountable, and we can appreciate the enthusiasm and vision of those who organized Loyalty Week and produced this brochure, promoting an enthusiastic view of St. Paul’s future.
My thanks to Jenn! What other treasures may she be able to find?
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
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?
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)
Last year St. Paul’s Church celebrated its fiftieth year in the Hackett Boulevard building. Some parishioners have wondered why there are so few items from the previous church in this 1966 building. Today we discuss one item from the Lancaster Street Church that could not be incorporated into the new building, and how it came to be preserved and protected for future generations.
When St. Paul’s vestry met on September 12, 1962 with William F. Meyers, New York State’s Assistant Commissioner of Housing, he told them that they would have three years before the building was demolished. It was to be a far shorter time. Because St. Paul’s property (church, parish house and rectory) were in the area designated for the South Mall’s central air conditioning and main transformer vault, the demolition had to occur early in the mall’s construction. In May 1964 the vestry was told that they would have to vacate the building by the end of August of that year. After some negotiation, the congregation agreed to hold their last service in the building on July 26, 1964. That same day, ground was broken for the Hackett Boulevard building.
Architect’s rendering, Swann Street Building, South Mall
Father Nelson Parke had passionately argued for the value of the many memorials in the Lancaster Street building. And Grace Gunderson, a member of the Temporary State Commission on the Capital City (the organization that was planning the South Mall), had proposed “to save and move the sanctuary and memorial objects such as the stained glass windows, and build a new church around them.” The vestry had to quickly determine which objects from the Lancaster Street building could be moved to the Hackett Boulevard church.
J. and R. Lamb windows, Hackett Boulevard Narthex
A dozen of the stained glass windows from the Lancaster Street building would be placed in the new church’s narthex. Room was also found for brass plaques honoring Harry Van Allen and those who lost their lives in World War II. Many items from the chapel could be used in the new building; many other memorials would be buried under the new altar.
Harry Van Allen Memorial Plaque
Memorial plaque for World War II Dead
The solution, however left a large number of other objects which could not be used in the new building. All of these objects were the property of New York State, which had taken the entire church by eminent domain on March 27, 1962. The State sold fifty-five lots of items at auction held in the last days of July 1964, including smaller stained glass windows, pews, paintings and doors. Lot number 44 “Pulpit – decorative sold oak” went to the Champlain Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church for $13.00.
The pulpit had originally been donated in 1883 by Robert Geer, in memory of his two wives: Mary Sophie Gere (1837 – 1868) and Rhoda Kellogg Shed (1837 – 1882). Robert Geer was born in Ledyard, Connecticut in 1837. He worked as a druggist in Norwich, Connecticut, then in Syracuse, New York. In 1865, he moved to Albany, where he represented the Salt Company of Onondaga, in which his first wife’s family played a prominent role. In Albany, Robert Geer was also president of the Board of Trade and served as a bank director.
In 1883, six months after the death of his second wife, Robert Geer wrote a confidential letter to St. Paul’s vestry, explaining that during her last year Rhoda S. Geer had “several times expressed the wish that some one would place a new memorial pulpit in St. Paul’s Church.” Both women had been confirmed at St. Paul’s and were communicants of the congregation. Having consulted with the rector, J. Livingston Reese, Geer commissioned the pulpit in memory of his wives, and asked the vestry’s permission to place it in the church.
J. Livingston Reese
From church records, we know that work was designed by Robert W. Gibson, architect of All Saints’ Cathedral, and designer of the pulpit in St. Peter’s Church. The pulpit was executed by Annesley & Co., the Albany firm that also made the bishop’s throne at the Cathedral of All Saints.
The Geer memorial pulpit remained in place in the Lancaster Street building for the next 81 years, but its future in summer of 1964 was far from certain. If the pulpit was not claimed by the Wesleyan Methodists before demolition began, it would become the property of the demolition contractor, to be disposed of as the contractor saw fit.
Flora Myers Brady Gavit Memorial Organ and Geer Memorial Pulpit
But two weeks following the sale, Hugh M. Flick, Associate Commissioner of State Department of Education (and State Historian) intervened. In an August 14, 1964 letter to General C.V.R. Schuyler, Commissioner of New York State Office of General Services, Frick wrote:
“…I have personally examined the carved wooden pulpit in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on the Mall. This pulpit was carved by Camillo Kramer and is an unusually fine example of Albany handicrafts. Miss Camilla Kramer is still living and we will seek to glean from her reminiscences concerning her father and other woodcarvers in Albany.”
Flick formally requested that the pulpit be preserved, and transferred to the collection of the State Department of Education. General Schuyler responded positively the next day, and within the week, arrangements had been made to remove the pulpit from the church and place it in the Department of Education warehouse at 1260 Broadway. If it had not been for Hugh M. Flick’s intervention, the pulpit might have permanently left the city of Albany, or might even have been destroyed.
Geer Memorial Pulpit
It is certainly a impressive piece of furniture: almost seven feet from base to top of the lectern, and monumental in scale. But it must have been the angels that impressed Flick. Each figure is carved in fine detail, with very distinctive features, as though each were based upon a real individual. How did Flick recognize it as the work of Camillo Kramer? We have been unable to locate any further documentation from the State Education Department, though I have not yet checked Hugh M. Flick’s correspondence from this period. I have been unable to find other examples of Kramer’s work, but Flick was too careful a historian to make an attribution without some evidence.
Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with hands clasped
Camillo Kramer was born in Prussia in 1846, and emigrated to the United States about 1870, settling first in New York City. He must have trained as a wood carver in Germany, because that is the first occupation listed in city directories. Kramer came to Cohoes about 1877, working as a carver for a furniture manufacturer. He came to Albany in 1882, the year our pulpit was built. He does not appear in business listings for several years, and we assume that he was working for other firms, possibly including Annesley. He established a shop at 8 Green Street (on the corner of Beaver Street) in 1888. That first year he is listed as a wood carver, but by the next year he had switched to another line of business: bicycles. Kramer sold bicycles and tricycles in the Green Street shop from 1889 until 1891. By 1893 he was back to wood carving, the occupation he continued until his retirement in 1912.
Geer Memoiral Pulpit: Angel with crossed arms
Camillo Craver was not only a craftsman. Even as a young man in Cohoes he obtained a patent for a table, and over his lifetime was granted other patents for a velocipede, velocipede wheels, a pipe wrench, and a shoe fastener.
Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with harp
Geer Memorial Pulpit: Angel with cross
The pulpit remains in the State Museum collection. In October 2015, thanks to Department of Education staff, I was able to see the pulpit in their Rotterdam storage facility, and take the photographs that accompany this post. The pulpit was most recently displayed in the museum in the mid-1990s. We can hope that Flick’s promise of inclusion in new museum displays can continue to be fulfilled, and that it will be displayed regularly, as envisioned in Flick’s 1964 letter to General Schuyler:
“In the light of the historical interest of this unusual example of the work of an Albany artisan, I would like to most sincerely request that consideration be given to the preservation of this pulpit and that it be included in the historical collections of the State Education Department. It is anticipated that when the new museum rises on the Mall, exhibits such as this will add a good deal to the value of the exhibits.”
It’s Christmas Day, and a proper time to appreciate the rose window in St. Paul’s chapel, which reproduces a painting titled “Madonna and the Holy Children, Jesus and John.”
“The Madonna and the Holy Children, Jesus and John”
The rose window was originally installed in St. Paul’s Memorial Chapel on Lancaster Street, and dedicated on March 29, 1942 by G. Ashton Oldham, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany.
Memorial Chapel, Lancaster Street
It was given in memory of Randall J. LeBoeuf, St. Paul’s vestryman from 1914 to 1930, and warden from 1930 until his death in 1939. LeBoeuf (born 1870) was an attorney specializing in banking and corporate law, the founder of the Albany Trust Company (later First Trust Company) and a justice of the New York Supreme Court.
Randall J. LeBoeuf
Did you notice the brilliant blue glass that surrounds the figures? The Times Union for March 27, 1942 tells us the story of that glass, which was shipped from England to Boston during World War II:
The first ship carrying the glass was torpedoed in the Atlantic, but was beached and the cargo saved. The glass was placed on another ship which also was torpedoed and again the cargo was reloaded, and this time the glass arrived at its destination. When delivered, the packing case was still wet and on it was painted, “Great Britain Delivers the Goods.”
A small miracle that the glass arrived safely, and that on a Christmas Day almost seventy-five years later it still graces our chapel!