Category Archives: George William Warren

The Albany Theatre Becomes the Home of St. Paul’s Church

As we saw in our earlier post, the first period for the Albany Theatre ended with Henry W. Preston’s surrender of the lease to the Albany Theatre Association on April 1, 1839. Fifteen managers in almost as many years had staged the best of drama with some of the finest actors of the time, but none was able to consistently make money for the investors. The Association chose to sell, and found an unusual purchaser. Just as had happened with the Green Street Theatre earlier in the century, the Albany Theatre was sold to a church, St. Paul’s Episcopal.

St. Paul’s, Ferry Street

In February 1839, St. Paul’s was a dozen years old, but like the theater, had never been able to find financial security. Founded in 1827, the congregation had moved two years later into their new building on South Ferry Street. In this period, Albany was growing rapidly as a result of the completion of the Erie Canal. Trade on the canal brought in many new residents, and the South End was the area of most rapid growth. St. Paul’s was something of an experiment: the hope was that the new congregation could attract St. Peter’s parishioners who had moved to the South End, but also draw residents of the area who were unchurched. This plan would only work if those attracted were able to support the church by purchasing a pew and paying an additional annual pew rent. At that time, this was the most common way of supporting a church.

Diagram of Ferry Street Church, showing pew appraisals

The new church building was quite expensive, and the vestry went deep into debt, assuming that they would be able to pay the principal and interest as new members purchased pews. But the expected influx of new residents did not occur, and those newcomers who did join were not able to purchase pews. St. Paul’s found itself on the underpopulated edge of the city, with pews not paid for, and unable to pay its creditors. The congregation struggled for several years, but the crisis came in January 1839, when a court ordered them to sell the building in order to pay the creditors.

We do not know if St. Paul’s vestry had another option, but we do wonder why they chose a new site only three short blocks from St. Peter’s Church, the other Episcopal Church in the city of Albany. In the same January 24 vestry meeting at which the decision was made to sell the Ferry Street building, the vestry also agreed to obtain a right of refusal for purchase of the theater. And they took the first steps toward modifying the theater by hiring Henry Rector “to draw plans and estimate expenses of alterations necessary to convert the Theatre into a Church.” A month later, the vestry closed the sale on the theater, and approved plans by Rector to convert the building for use as a church.[i]

And so St. Paul’s moved from one Philip Hooker-designed building (the Ferry Street church) to another (the Albany Theatre). This was doubly appropriate, because Hooker’s parents had been among the earliest communicants of St. Paul’s.[ii]

At the sale of the building, the Albany Theatre Association turned over all the original stock certificates to St. Paul’s. The association also provided the congregation (for reasons that are not clear) with a “Schedule containing a list of Scenery &c in the Theatre belonging to the proprietors.”

Booklet documenting sale of Albany Theatre stock to St. Paul’s Church

With sale of the Ferry Street building in July, St. Paul’s had no place to meet. The congregation of St. Peter’s invited the homeless congregation to join with them during the interim, and the two congregations met together for the next eight months, with the two rectors, William Ingraham Kip and Horatio Potter, sharing clerical responsibilities. This was the second time the congregations had share ministers. The first was 1832, when St. Paul’s rector, William Linn Keese, also served St. Peter’s, when it was between rectors.

Trinity Church (image credit: Albany Group Archive)

But the entire congregation did not leave the South End. In a major split, a number of St. Paul’s families, including those of several vestry members, chose to stay in the South End and continue faithful to the original purpose. They formed a new congregation, to be known as Trinity Church. The new congregation was not strong or wealthy in its early years, but by 1848 they were able to build a handsome building on what is now Trinity Place, where they remained until they closed in about 1980.[iii]

As to the modifications necessary, Dr. Kip remembered later that “there was nothing left of the original edifice, but the four walls and roof.”[iv] The extent of the modifications is confirmed by a 14-page proposal in our archive (probably the Henry Rector plan), with detailed description of the modifications, beginning with the statement:

To accomplish the object intended, it will be necessary first to remove all the floors, partitions, boxes, seats & etc. in the interior of said building; leaving the whole area enclosed by the exterior walls from the cellar to the [word illegible] of the principal tie beams in one unencumbered space and then proceed to the construction of the walls, partitions, floors, galleries, seats, pulpit, chancel, ceilings and rooms for sextons & etc. as shown by the annexed plans.

Given the congregation’s financial condition, there were limits to what could be done. They were not able, for instance, to afford stained glass for the windows, and had to settle for “common ground glass.”[v]

St. Paul’s was, however, able to afford a new organ, replacing the instrument sold with the Ferry Street building. Negotiations began in early 1839, and by May of that year, the New York City musical instrument dealer Firth and Hall had agreed to liberal financing. This instrument, designed and built by Thomas Robjohn, under contract with Firth and Hall, was installed in September 1840.[vi]

The women of the parish also raised money to purchase communion chalices and paten that are still in use at St. Paul’s.[vii]

One of the chalices purchased in 1839

The extensive renovations took longer than expected. The congregation initially expected to be in the new building by November 1839[viii], but the renovations were not completed until February of the next year.

The remodeled building was consecrated by Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk, Bishop of New York. The event had originally been scheduled for February 21, but “in consequence of the state of the roads” the bishop was not able to reach the city, and it was postponed until February 22.

A newspaper account of the consecration describes the renovated building:

We have heard but one opinion of the interior of this spacious edifice. Without pretension to architectural display, the effect is nevertheless admirable – and the arrangement and rich but chaste finish, well adapted to the sacred uses to which the building is now appropriated.[ix]

This account concludes with the reminder that the sale of pews would begin the next day. St. Paul’s continued to fund itself by the sale and rental of pews, and would for the next 80 years. It was not until 1927 that St. Paul’s did away with pew rents, despite a growing consensus in the denomination that pledged contributions were a much better option for supporting a congregation.

Pew Deed to William M. Gregory, dated 1 Jun 1854

While the choice of a theater so close to St. Peter’s seems odd, the vestry’s selection was a happy one, because the congregation flourished on South Pearl Street. Despite the closeness to St. Peter’s, the building’s location was an advantage. In the 1830’s, Pearl Street was one of the most prestigious residential areas of the city, and many neighbors became members of the new congregation. Barent P. Staats, a member of the 1827 vestry, described the situation in 1839 forcefully: “it [the church] was discovered shortly after the present [i.e., present rector, William Ingraham Kip] came to be hopelessly wrecked and it was absolutely necessary to take a new position & in reality to begin a new enterprise.”[x] Indeed it was a new enterprise. Rather than attempting to attract newcomers, as did those who broke off to form Trinity Church, St. Paul’s was now situated to attract Albany’s better class. As J. Livingston Reese, St. Paul’s rector 25 years later wrote: “It is most probable that this change of location saved the parish from ultimate extinguishment, and brought it where it could reach a larger and more influential part of the population.”[xi]

1858 receipt from the Albany Insurance Company on St. Paul’s South Pearl Street building

A later rector said:

I do not think it too much to say, that it was while St. Paul’s congregation worshipped in the edifice on South Pearl street, that it attained its greatest influence and distinction. This was practically during the long and brilliant rectorship of the Rev. Dr. William Ingraham Kip, who became rector in 1827 [actually 1837] and remained at the head of the parish until 1853.[xii]

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

Kip left St. Paul’s in 1853 to become missionary bishop of California. He was succeeded by two very strong leaders: Thomas A. Starkey (later Bishop of Newark, New Jersey) and William Rudder (subsequently long-term rector of St. Stephen’s, Philadelphia). Kip and Rudder were particularly known for their dynamic preaching, which attracted many new members.[xiii] Starkey was known for his pastoral skills, and for his interest in social outreach, including the creation of St. Paul’s Church Home for Women.

Thomas A. Starkey

During these years, the new Robjohn organ was presided over by a series of remarkable musicians: William L. Reston[xiv], Oliver J. Shaw[xv], John Underner[xvi], and William M. Daniell[xvii].

In a letter to the editor of the Albany Evening Journal, an Albanian signing himself “A Listener” provided this review of one of St. Paul’s services in its first year on Pearl Street:

I last evening had the pleasure of attending services in St. Paul’s Church, and I confess myself highly pleased with the whole service. Mr. Kip gave us a very highly finished sermon, at the same time calculated to carry conviction to the conscience of every individual. His was was “the second coming of our Lord to judge the world,” and the solemnity of the scene was heightened by the impressive manner of the speaker.

The organ (which by the way is one of the finest I ever listened to), was handled in an admirable manner by Mr. Shaw, a gentleman who stands deservedly high as an organist. The rich full chords, the perfect harmony, the ease and grace of the movement, spoke the master of the instrument. On the whole, the prospects of the church are flattering as could be wished, and the congregation are highly favored with the privilege of such religious instruction.[xviii]

This series culminated with George William Warren[xix], St. Paul’s most illustrious organist and choirmaster of the nineteenth century.

Rock of Ages by George William Warren

We have very few descriptions of the building’s interior in this period. One is most unflattering:

To the Wardens & Vestry of St. Paul’s
Church, Albany —
Gentlemen, —

When I purchased the pew in your Church, I was assured that a window would be opened at the north end of it. At present on a cloudy day or when an assemblage of darkly dressed persons are in front of us, you might as well attempt to read in a coal-hole. The pew will no longer answer us and I therefore return your deed on which I have paid my first instalment. You will probably be of my opinion that some portion of it may be & ought to be refunded to me.

Remaining Gentlemen

Your obt. Servant

Charles Smyth[xx]
Albany 8th January

We also have a brief description from one of the choirboys in George William Warren’s short-lived boy choir. Writing more than fifty years later, Charles M. Nickerson remembered that the boys sat in the organ loft, with the organ to their right and the quartet choir on the other side.

When the sermon began, it was our wont to draw the curtain that hung over the front of the organ gallery and then slip out one by one by the door behind the organ into the Sunday School room, there to regale ourselves on candy and peanuts and enjoy general conversation until a signal from the choirmaster [George William Warren] called us back for the offertory hymn. This was in the old St. Paul’s the one time theatre on South Pearl St. The Sunday School room in the rear of the organ loft had no doubt served as the lobby or bar of the theatre.[xxi]

George William Warren

The “organ loft and and north room” are again mentioned in vestry minutes in 1858, when major renovations were made “fitting up and arranging the organ loft and north room with carpets, gas, painting, gilding and decorating for the convenience of the musical director and the choir” as part of the May 1857 negotiations to rehire George William Warren for his final three years at St. Paul’s. These expenses contributed to the church’s budget shortfall, requiring the next year a plea from the vestry for pew-owners to increase their pew rental.

By 1860, the advantages of the Pearl Street location had faded. The neighborhood had changed from largely residential to commercial. The vestry determined to look elsewhere in the city and sold the Pearl Street building.

William Rudder, rector at that time later remembered:

The old church had served its purpose, and its day of fullest usefulness was gone. The part of the city in which it was situated had completely changed its character within a few years. The church had become hemmed in by places of business, and by other surroundings of a very undesirable character; and the congregation was drifting away, and more and more each year, to the more desirable western portions of the city. Under these circumstances the vestry determined to build a new church edifice to meet the new conditions of the case, and one more worthy of the position and ability of the parish.[xxii]

William Rudder

In October 1862 the building was sold for $14,000 to Hugh J. Hastings, who a yer later leased it to theater architect John M. Trimble.[xxiii] In our next segment, we will follow the building’s history as Trimble makes the church once more a theater: the Academy of Music.

[i] Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany, Series 2, Volume 3 (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1871), 338-339.

[ii] Samuel Hooker (1746-1832) and Rachel Hinds Hooker became communicants of St. Paul’s in July and August 1830 respectively. The couple moved to Utica, New York in 1832.

[iii] Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany, Series 2, Volume 3 (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1871), 337-394.

[iv] John Edward Rawlinson, “William Ingraham Kip: Tradition, Conflict and Transition” (Ph.D. dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, 1982), 18, quoting a 9 Apr 1852 letter from Kip to Thomas N. Stanford, partner in the publishing firm of Stanford & Swords.

[v] Rawlinson, 18.

[vi] Albany Argus 4 Sep 1840. Correspondence and the bill of sale are held in the archives of St. Paul’s Church.

[vii] Rawlinson, 18, quoting a 29 Oct 1839 letter from Kip to Mr. Sherman.

[viii] Parochial report for St. Paul’s, Albany in Journal of the Proceedings of the Fifty-fifth Convention of the Diocese of New York: Held in St. Paul’s Chapel in the City of New-York on Thursday, October 3d and Friday, Oct. 4th, A.D. 1839 (New York: Printed for the Convention), 1839, 67. A vestryman, Simeon DeWitt Bloodgood, had also hoped that the congregation would be in the new building by fall (Bloodgood’s 30 Mar 1839 letter to Harmanus Bleecker, transcribed in Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice, Harmanus Bleecker: An Albany Dutchman 1779-1849 (Albany: William Boyd, 1924), 187-188).

[ix] Albany Argus, 25 Feb 1840.

[x] St. Paul’s vestry minutes, volume 2, 77.

[xi] “Historical Sketch of St. Paul’s Parish: From a Sermon of the Rector,” in The Semi-centennial Services of St. Paul’s Church, Albany, N.Y. 1877 (Albany: The Argus Company, 1877), 13.

[xii] William Prall, “The Past, Present and Future: A Sermon Preached January 26th, 1902 in Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of the Parish of St. Paul’s, Albany, N.Y.,” 4.

[xiii] Brooks, “Sermon delivered by the Reverend Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks on Sunday morning, November 17th, 1907, in commemoration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Founding of St. Paul’s Parish in the City of Albany,” printed in St. Paul’s Year Book for 1907, pages 7-8.

[xiv] St. Paul’s organist 1839-1840. Born about 1811 in England. Organist at St. John’s Church, Kirkheaton, West Yorkshire. Teacher at the Albany Female Academy.

[xv] St. Paul’s organist intermittently between 1840 and 1847. Born about 1817 in Providence, Rhode Island, son of noted composer Oliver Shaw. Active there and in Bangor Maine. Music teacher, performer and composer of popular music in Albany 1841-1852 or later. Moved Utica where he was again active as performer and teacher until his death in 1861

[xvi] St. Paul’s organist 1846-1847. Born 1829 in Albany, member of a prestigious musical family. Composer, accompanist to Jenny Lind on her United States tour. Died 1904.

[xvii] St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster 1847-1848. Born 1811 in England, educated at the Royal College of Music, accomplished horn player as well as organist. Died 24 Aug 1892 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

[xviii] Albany Evening Journal, 21 Dec 1840. City directories from 1858 – 1860 show a number of wholesale and retail groceries in the block. One neighbor “of a very undesirable character” was the Empire House on the corner on South Pearl and Beaver, with 42 guest rooms that seem to have been particularly favored by actors, and a “lager beer saloon” on the first floor.

[xix] St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster 1848-1856 and 1857-1860.

[xx] Charles Smyth (1783-1844) was a St. Paul’s vestryman for a single year (1835), possibly serving out another’s unexpired term. He had earlier served for ten years on St. Peter’s vestry. Smyth was in business in Albany with James Byrne, doing business as Byrne & Smyth, “vendue and commission business” as early as 1803. Later he was in partnership with James Wood (as Wood & Smyth), dissolved 1814. In 1818 (seven years before completion of the Erie Canal), he was assuring transportation of goods to the upper Great Lakes (Detroit and Sandusky) “by the most faithful and experienced teamsters” for no more than $4.50 per hundred-weight. Later he was involved in shipping, both in steam-boats on the Hudson River, and on the Erie Canal.

[xxi] Charles M. Nickerson, “St. Paul’s Choir of Fifty Years Ago” pages 25-26 of St. Paul’s Year Book for 1907. Is Nickerson perhaps referring to the second floor saloon, or the third floor area for refreshments mentioned in Hooker’s description of the theater?

[xxii] “Sermon of the Rev. William Rudder, D.D.,” in The Semi-centennial Services of St. Paul’s Church, Albany, N.Y. 1877 (Albany: The Argus Company, 1877), 35-36.

[xxiii] “An Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 13 Oct 1863. “Fire This Morning,” Albany Evening Journal 29 Jan 1868.  H.P. Phelps (in The Players of a Century. Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880, pages 329-330) reports that Hastings sold the building to Trimble for $5,000 cash and a mortgage of $10,000. This cannot be correct. When the building was destroyed in 1868, Hastings was still the owner, with Trimble’s widow holding a ten year lease, with a right to purchase in five years.

George Wm. Warren’s “fanciful and somewhat comic style”

In an earlier post, we mentioned a characterization of George William Warren’s performance on the organ: “Mr. Geo. Wm. Warren organist of St Paul’s Albany next extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style.” This assessment was contained in a review of a concert celebrating a new Hook organ at St Paul’s Church in Troy, New York. The letter, signed only “Philomel,” was published on page 102 of the October 28, 1854 issue of  Musical World.

George William Warren

George William Warren

But we have recently found that there is more to this story. Warren responded the same month in a letter  to the Musical World’s editor published in the December 2, 1854  of the journal (page 166).  After describing  the European opera career of former St. Paul’s soloist Henry Squires, Warren reacted with good humor to Philomel’s characterization, and suggested why the reviewer might have found his performance comical:

One thing more and I am done. Your correspondent “Philomel” writes from Troy about the Organ exhibition at St Paul’s, and dubs me a Comic Organist; and as it is not so desirable to have that reputation, as some other, will you allow me to justify myself in the Musical World. When I played that evening it was a prima volta and in a certain passage when I used the CC pedal expecting that I had drawn the register “pedals and choir” lo! it was “pedals and great” and nothing out but “trumpet” which of course snarled astonishingly; as I was in for it, I proceeded up the scale and finally got out of the scrape. I explained this to Mr. Philomel who was in the Organ loft; but it is a very good joke and if he has said it, of course I am a Comic Organist and if Christy will get an organ to use at his concerts, maybe he will give me an engagement. Again I would say to you, how much I am charmed with your paper and I wish it was a dally instead of a weekly: and if I can be of use to it in any way command.

As Warren prepared to show off his footwork, he pulled the wrong coupler, and instead of bringing a pleasant mixture of sounds to the instrument’s pedals, he brought only a blaring trumpet. When he played the lowest note on the pedal board, the audience heard a loud, nasty blast. By moving up the pedals, the ugly effect was reduced, and Warren was able to continue. This, then, was Warren’s guess as to what Philomel found fanciful and comic.

The “Christy” from whom Warren jokingly suggests he might receive an engagement, was Edwin Pearce Christy, entertainer and producer, whose minstrels shows included an early version of vaudeville.

But this jovial conversation was not over!  In the December 23, 1854 issue of Musical World (page 206), Philomel replied to Warren’s explanation of his error in registration, and expresses affectionate regard for the young organist’s energetic style and character:

I regret that any remark of mine should cause even that degree of uneasiness in Mr. George Wm. Warren’s mind sufficient to call for a “comical” letter. Mr. Warren is, incontestably, a wit; and I do not desire, either by accident or design, to incur the consequences of his ridicule. Lest, however, he should deem the last observation more “comical” than true, I beg to state, that my remark “Mr. Warren extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style” referred not to the mistake in the pedal playing, for this is common enough, and I did not notice it; but simply to his off-hand, dashing, sprightly, operatic, and in view of his unmistakably volatile temperament, occasionally comic style. Indeed a man cannot break away from the general current of his thoughts, and Mr. Warren’s musical expressions are the natural outbursts of a heart, (to all outward appearance at least) free from care, and overflowing in its excess of joy.


George Wm. Warren at Albany’s Second Presbyterian Church

In previous posts, we have outlined George William Warren’s engagements as St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster, showing from contemporary sources that he was at St. Paul’s from late 1848 until August 1, 1860, the “nearly thirteen years” at St. Paul’s that he mentions in his letter of resignation[i].

During this period, we know that Warren left St. Paul’s during late 1856 and some part of 1857 when he was organist and choirmaster at Albany’s Second Presbyterian Church. Until recently, however, it has not been possible to say exactly how long he was there. Our only source of this information that he had gone to Second Presbyterian was a November 1856 article in a Boston music journal,[ii] which does not tell us exactly when he left St. Paul’s, or when he returned.

Second Presbyterian Church (source: Albany Group archive)

Second Presbyterian Church (source: Albany Group archive)

The chronology is now provided by a May 1857 article in the Albany Morning Express which announces Warren’s departure from Second Presbyterian: “St. Paul’s Church has finally effected another engagement with George William Warren, who, until last October had been their organist for eight years.”[iii] This would mean that Warren left St. Paul’s in October 1856 and returned (as we know from his letter of resignation[iv]) effective August 1, 1857.

This period of a bit less than one year at Second Presbyterian is confirmed by an August 26, 1857 article about the gift of a silver goblet to “Mr. George William Warren, on retiring from the Second Presbyterian Church as organist, to resume his previous position at St. Paul’s.”[v] The article transcribes a letter, dated August 26, 1857, from the choir of Second Presbyterian to Warren, in which they thank him for his “instruction and direction as leader of the music in Second Presbyterian Church for one year.”[vi]

This allows us to construct a chronology of Warren’s activities during 1856 and 1857. In an April 1856 advertisement Warren identifies himself as “Organist and Musical Director at St. Paul’s Church (eight years)”.[vii] But sometime during the summer of 1856, Warren decided to leave St. Paul’s.

John Tweddle

John Tweddle

In September, according to St. Paul’s vestry minutes, “George W. Warren account for services as Organist & amounting to $698.77 was present and referred to Messrs. [Edward E.] Kendrick [, John] Tweddle & [Benjamin C.] Raymond with power & authority to adjust the same.”[viii] Almost $700 was a great deal of money in 1856, perhaps very close to a full year’s salary. Had Warren not been paid for some time? It seems likely, but we have no evidence.

Whatever the cause, Warren left St. Paul’s during the month of October 1856, and settled into his new job at the church often called “Mr. Sprague’s Church,” in reference to its eminent minister, William Buell Sprague. We first hear of him in his role at the exhibition of a new organ at First Congregational Church in Albany.

Front, 1856 Organ Exhibition Program (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

Front, 1856 Organ Exhibition Program (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

Reverse, 1856 Organ Exhibition Program (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

Reverse, 1856 Organ Exhibition Program (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

The program for a December 12, 1856 Organ Exhibition, celebrating the installation of a new William A. Johnson organ at First Congregational lists among the organists who played that day George William Warren, “organist of the Second Presbyterian Church.” Warren performed twice, first demonstrating the new instrument’s use in religious music, and then playing a set of extemporaneous improvisations titled “Extempore Fantasie, a la Orchestra.” We assume this was similar to the “Prelude in Organ Style concluding with an extempore Fantasio a l’Orchestre” that he performed in June the previous year at the exhibition of a new organ at Troy’s Park Presbyterian Church.[ix] We can hope that the audience that day was entertained by Warren. An 1854 review says that he “extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style” at the exhibition of the new organ at St. Paul’s Church, Troy, New York in October of that year.[x]

First Congregational Church and its minister, Ray Palmer (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

First Congregational Church and its minister, Ray Palmer (Albany Public Library Pruyn Collection)

A major change for Warren at Second Presbyterian was the type of choir. At St. Paul’s, Warren had conducted and composed for a quartet choir, four professional soloists, many of whom (including Lucy Eastcott, Henry Squires and Isabella Hinckley) went on to operatic careers. Second Presbyterian, on the other hand, had a chorus choir, a larger group primarily composed of amateurs.

During his year at Second Presbyterian, Warren continued his relationship with St. Paul’s and its choir. In January 1857, his Second Annual Concert for the Poor included Isabella Hinckley and Master Willie [William James] Gourlay, St. Paul’s former soprano and treble soloists[xi]. And the next month, Warren, “assisted by the choir-boys of St. Paul’s,” provided music for service at Grace Church to test improvements to its organ by an anonymous donor. This Festival Service also included St. Paul’s “Old Choir” (probably members of the former quartet choir) consisting of Miss [Isabella] Hinckley, Miss [Elizabeth M.] Atwood and Mr. [Stephen W.] Whitney.[xii]

George William Warren

George William Warren

We have only a few clues as to why Warren chose to return to St. Paul’s. He was a member of the congregation, and Mary Eliza Pease, whom he would marry at St. Paul’s in September 1858, was also a communicant. But as the Albany Morning Express suggested in May[xiii], St. Paul’s vestry must have made him an offer impossible to refuse.

The Albany Morning Express article mentions two elements in that offer: “The organ is to be entirely rebuilt at a cost of $1,200. The choir seats will be arranged for a “chorus,” and every plan of Mr. Warren’s which can advance true music will be fully carried out.”[xiv] The second factor is most interesting: Warren was planning to replace St. Paul’s quartet choir with a chorus like Second Presbyterian’s. In a letter to Second Presbyterian’s choir, responding to their letter of thanks to him, Warren explains what he learned there:

Your hearty wishes for my future success takes away much of the sadness in parting from you as organist. Still I shall never forget the enjoyment of last year’s choir practice, which, thanks to your kind attention , was to me a period of great profit and pleasure; for it was my first experience in chorus choir training, and the good success that has marked our united efforts, will always convince me of the vast superiority of chorus and congregational effects in church service to the “quartette” arrangement now so popular in many churches. (Still, a change in the right direction is surely taking place, and this awakening interest for true church music is one of the good signs of the times.)[xv]

It is important to remember that, although George William Warren had been a church musician for thirteen years, he had very little formal training, and was not yet thirty years old. Clearly, the year’s experience at Second Presbyterian was an important step in his education.

By the spring of 1857, St. Paul’s terminated its contract with Albert H. Wood and the quartet choir effective 20 Apr 1857[xvi], and a month later George William Warren again offered his services to St. Paul’s[xvii]. But even before Warren resumed his duties at St. Paul’s on August 1, 1857[xviii], he made it clear what he learned at Dr. Sprague’s Church. In the classified section of the Albany Evening Journal for June 15, 1857, Warren advertised for “Ladies and Gentlemen with fine voices and fair musical abilities.” Clearly, “St. Paul’s New Choir” was to a be chorus choir.

Albany Evening Journal 15 Jun 1857

Albany Evening Journal 15 Jun 1857

The following year, we have evidence from St. Paul’s vestry minutes that rebuilding the organ and moving the choir chairs were not the only expenses necessary to bring George Wm. Warren back to St. Paul’s.

Edward E. Kendrick

Edward E. Kendrick

In May 1858, church treasurer Edward E. Kendrick reported a $680 shortfall in the church budget, consisting in large part of expenses related to Warren and choir, including “fitting up and arranging the organ loft and north room with carpets, gas, painting, gilding and decorating for the convenience of the musical director and the choir, and the salary of the organist increased from $850 to $1100.”[xix]

[i] Warren’s letter of 24 Apr 1860 is transcribed in the St. Paul’s vestry minutes of 4 May 1860

[ii] Dwight’s Journal of Music 15 Nov 1856, page 53.

[iii] Albany Morning Express 30 May 1857.

[iv] Warren’s letter of 24 Apr 1860 is transcribed in the St. Paul’s vestry minutes of 4 May 1860

[v] “Musical Compliment,” Albany Evening Journal, 7 Sep 1857.

[vi] “Musical Compliment”.

[vii] Albany Evening Journal 7 Apr 1856, page 53

[viii] St. Paul’s vestry minutes for 6 September 1856

[ix] Troy Daily Whig 14 Jun 1855.

[x] Musical World, 28 Oct 1854, page 102.

[xi] Albany Evening Journal 22 Jan 1857.

[xii] Albany Evening Journal, 21 Feb 1857

[xiii] Albany Morning Express 30 May 1857.

[xiv] Albany Morning Express 30 May 1857

[xv] “Musical Compliment”.

[xvi] St. Paul’s vestry minutes. 17 Apr 1857.

[xvii] St. Paul’s vestry minutes. 26 May 1857.

[xviii] Warren’s letter of 24 Apr 1860 is transcribed in the St. Paul’s vestry minutes of 4 May 1860

[xix] St. Paul’s vestry minutes. 22 May 1858.

George William Warren at St. Paul’s — Part 3, 1857-1860

George William Warren

George William Warren

As we saw in an earlier post, George William Warren resigned as St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster sometime in the fall of 1856. At that point, he had been at St. Paul’s since 1848, other than (perhaps) ten months in 1852 — 1853 when he had been in business with Richard H. Pease at the Temple of Fancy. During the fall and winter of 1856 – 1857, Warren probably served as organist at the Second Presbyterian church, but the only evidence we have for that is the article cited in the previous post.

Albany Evening Journal 20 Jan 1857

Albany Evening Journal 20 Jan 1857

He was certainly busy that winter with the second Concert for the Poor, which again featured Isabella Hinckley and William Gourlay of St. Paul’s. That spring, Warren organized a farewell concert for Isabella Hinckley, raising funds so that she could  begin her operatic career in Europe. For information on Isabella’s brilliant career and her untimely death, see Don Rittner’s post. Isabella Hinckley’s funeral was conducted by our rector, William Rudder, at St. Paul’s , in whose choir “her extraordinary musical talent first attracted attention”.

Warren’s position at Second Presbyterian may not have lasted long. Already in February of 1857, Warren was performing with St. Paul’s boy choir in a service at Grace Church. By the spring of 1857, St. Paul’s terminated its contract with Albert H. Wood and the quartet choir, and a month later George William Warren again offered his services to St. Paul’s. Warren resumed his duties at St. Paul’s on August 1, 1857.

Even before his term officially began, Warren advertised to fill vacancies in the St. Paul’s choir.

Albany Evening Journal 15 Jun 1857

Albany Evening Journal 15 Jun 1857

Advertisements for boy choir vacancies also start at this time and continue for the next few years, including this from January 1858 “None need apply except those with good voices, gentlemanly manners and under 13 years of age.” Could this have been a reference to the horseplay mentioned by Charles M. Nickerson, who sang with the boy choir in this period?

Worshippers afflicted with nerves are sometimes heard to complain of the restlessness of the boys in the chancel, especially during the sermon, but choirmasters nowadays certainly maintain a stricter discipline than their predecessors of the time of which I write thought necessary. When the sermon began, it was our wont to draw the curtain that hung over the front of the organ gallery and then slip out one by one through the door behind the organ into the Sunday School room, there to regale ourselves on candy and peanuts and enjoy general conversation until a signal from the choirmaster called us back for the offertory hymn. This was in the old Saint Paul’s, the one time theatre on South Pearl St. The Sunday School room in the rear of the organ loft had no doubt served as the lobby or bar of the theatre. Strange, as it may seem, our way of passing the time during the sermon was winked at alike by rector and choirmaster as long as we kept reasonably still. But it being a physical impossibility for a dozen boys to be in a room by themselves for half an hour and not become exhuberantly (sic) active, the inevitable happened. When the noise we made penetrated to the Church and even to the pulpit, the decree went forth that we must remain in our seats during the sermon, which we thought rather hard lines.

Bishop Horatio Potter

Bishop Horatio Potter

When Bishop Horatio Potter made his annual visit to St. Paul’s in May 1858, the choir sang the canticles Cantata Domino and Deus Misereatur from a service setting from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “The first of these, as rendered by the choir, with the organ accompaniment of Mr. Warren, exceeds anything in church service we have ever heard.” The reporter was equally impressed that nine of the choir were confirmed by Bishop Potter that day.

We do not know the conditions under which Warren returned to St. Paul’s, but it seems that he had been granted a raise in salary and improvements in the organ and in choir facilities. Four months after his return, the church organ, a three-manual instrument built in 1840 by Thomas Robjohn in a contract with Firth & Hall, was rebuilt by the firm of William A. Johnson. And in May 1858 the church treasurer, E.E. Kendrick, announced a $680 budget shortfall consisting in large part of expenses related to Warren and the choir, including: “fitting up and arranging the organ loft and north room with carpets, gas, painting, gilding and decorating for the convenience of the musical director and the choir, and the salary of the organist increased from $850 to $1100.”

Warren’s personal life also saw a major transition at this time. On September 16, 1858 he was married to Mary Eliza Pease at St. Paul’s. Mary Eliza was also a member of the congregation, and the daughter of Warren’s former business partner, Richard H. Pease.

That same month, a reviewer gave a mixed assessment of Warren’s work at St. Paul’s:

He has one of the best organs in the city, which he handles with much skill in the lighter style of music, which no doubt gives delight to admiring friends, but your correspondent would like to see it changed to a style more adapted to the church and to the organ. The choir, comprising several good voices, sing the musical compositions of Mr. Warren very well, but it would be to the advantage of all concerned, if more prominence were given to other church compositions of established merit. Miss C[arrie] Ross, the leading soprano, is quite a treasure to the choir…

Miss Ross was later to marry James Mason Sayles, composer of “Star of the Evening.”

As we have seen, Warren submitted his resignation to St. Paul’s vestry in April 1860, “to take effect the first of August ensuing, which time terminates the third year of my present engagement with you.” We can now see that the “nearly thirteen years … devoted to the musical interests of St. Paul’s” consisted of the period from 1848 until 1860, broken briefly only during parts of 1852-1853 and again in 1856-1857. The young man’s concern for the good opinion of St. Paul’s vestry is evident in his statement “It has always been my willing duty to try to please you; if I have not always succeeded, the cause has been something else than lack of desire on my part.” Warren was only thirty-years old, and had played at St. Paul’s since he was barely out of his teens. The vestry responded affectionately with three resolutions:

The following resolutions in answer thereto were unanimously adopted and a copy ordered transmitted to Mr. Warren.

Resolved, that we have heard with regret the communication of Mr. Geo. Wm. Warren announcing his determination to leave this City and resign his position as Organist and Musical Director of this Church, a determination which leaves a void in the musical portion of the service of our Church and inflicts a loss on those who appreciate and enjoy excellence in church music.

Resolved, that in view of the long connection of Mr. Warren with the Choir of St. Paul’s extending over a period of thirteen years, we cannot allow the occasion of separation to pass without expressing the satisfaction which his services have given during the whole of that period.

Resolved, that we tender to Mr. Warren our best wishes for his prosperity and his success in his new home and that we warmly commend him as a Gentleman whose moral character, professional ability and industry entitle him to abundant reward.


A Merry Greeting on Christmas Day!

On this Christmas morning, a greeting from the only carol written for St. Paul’s Church, Albany. “A Christmas Carol”  was “written for the children of St. Paul’s Church” in 1856 by George William Warren, our organist and choirmaster from 1848 until 1860 and sets verse by our rector, Thomas A. Starkey.

Thomas A. Starkey

Thomas A. Starkey

Geo. Wm. Warren's A Christmas Carol

Geo. Wm. Warren’s A Christmas Carol

Starkey’s words also appear on a song sheet published separately.

Christmas Carol Song Sheet (courtesy Library of Congress)

Christmas Carol Song Sheet (courtesy Library of Congress)

Thirty years later, the song was still sung in Albany. Huybertie Pruyn Hamlin, in her memoir An Albany Girlhood, refers to it as “our favorite carol” in the 1880’s. Writing fifty years later, she still recalled the frosted bells on the cover and the last line of the first verse: “to young and old, to sad and gay, a merry greeting on Christmas Day!”



George William Warren at St. Paul’s — Part 2, 1852-1856

By the fall of 1852, George William Warren had been at St. Paul’s Church, Albany for four years. We have been able to follow his work with the choir, particularly Mrs. Eastcott and Mr. Squires, and the works, both sacred and secular, that he composed in those years.

George William Warren

George William Warren

In October of 1852, Warren seems to have decided upon a career change. This was hardly a mid-life crisis; Warren was only twenty-four years old. Warren entered into a partnership with Richard H. Pease, a lithographer who also operated the successful Temple of Fancy, a variety store. In the notice published in the October 2, 1852 edition of the Albany Evening Journal by Pease, he explained that “Mr. Warren will have the general superintendence of the Variety Store, whereas the undersigned will attend to the Lithographing, Engraving, &c., as heretofore.” George Wm. Warren published his own advertisement, inviting “his old friends and other to call upon Pease & Warren and examine the new and elegant Fancy Goods, Toys, Games, Gloves, Worsteds, etc.”

For the next ten months, Albany newspapers regularly contain Pease & Warren advertisements for goods such as games, valentines, cards, cutlery, fans and perfume. During this period, Warren must have reduced his musical schedule: newspaper between October 1852 and July 1853 contain no references to him performing or conducting.

Pease & Warren advertisement, 1853-54 Albany Directory

Pease & Warren advertisement, 1853-54 Albany Directory

It is only in August 1853, that we find the next notice, with Warren advertising for a soprano soloist for St. Paul’s choir. The next month, September 1853, is the last advertisement for Pease & Warren. While the partnership seems to have been ended, the dissolution must have been amicable. Warren used the Temple of Fancy as his business address for three more years, but always as “Professor of Music,” no longer a partner in the business. Richard H. and Mary Pease named their son born in September 1853 George William Pease. Warren stood godfather at St. Paul’s for both his namesake in 1856 and his older brother Charles Elliott Pease in 1858. Most tellingly of all for continued warm relations, Warren married the Peases’ daughter Mary Eliza at St. Paul’s on September 16, 1858.

In December 1853, with Warren once again devoting full-time to music, we find the first contemporary description of the choir and of his compositions. A review in New York City’s The Musical World and Times describes St. Paul’s choir as consisting of G.W. Warren organist/choirmaster and tenor (he must have been unable to find a suitable replacement for Henry Squires), Mrs. Henry soprano (probably hired in August, since she received payment for one quarter due in November of that year ), Miss Scovil alto, Stephen W. Whitney bass.

The description of his compositions is not laudatory:

I cannot concede that the style of music usually performed in this church [sc. St Paul’s, Albany] is that of legitimate church music. A great portion of it is of Mr. Warren’s own composition, and is, in most instances, very nicely wedded to the words: yet I am more reminded of the concert room by it than of the church. I believe this state of things is owing to the fact the congregation require it. Mr. W. knows their taste and composes and adapts his music to their wants, like a good, obedient child.

Later that same month, St. Paul’s vestry minutes mention George Warren for the first time. A vestry resolution, dated December 13, 1853, reads “Resolved that Mr. Warren be requested and directed not to allow the organ to be used without the consent of the Vestry.”

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

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

We do not know what prompted this directive. Had he used the organ for a non-church function? Had he permitted someone else to use the organ? Whichever it may be, this was a turbulent time in the church’s life: our long-time rector, William Ingraham Kip, had just resigned to become the first missionary bishop of California. Kip appears to have left Albany with warm feelings for Warren. Thirty-three years later, he inscribed a carte de visite “To Mr. George Wm. Warren in remembrance of old times. Wm. Ingraham Kip Bishop of California 1886” A new rector, Thomas A. Starkey, was called at the end of December 1853.

Kip carte de visite reverse with inscription to Geo. W. Warren

Kip carte de visite reverse with inscription to Geo. W. Warren

In May 1854, Warren became a communicant of St. Paul’s Church. During the years 1854 and 1855 we find three newspaper notices of his performing at the inauguration of new organs, with two of these describing his extemporizing on themes. Each identifies him as organist of St. Paul’s church. The 1854 notice says that he “extemporised in his usual fanciful and somewhat comic style.”

Warren had been teaching organ, piano and singing since 1849, but in the fall of 1854, he organized larger singing classes for girls, on both Rudimental and Advanced levels. At this time, he did not offer a boys’ class, but recommended singing the classes for boys taught by Mrs. Margaret Gourlay, his former soprano soloist.

In October 1855, Warren was offered the post of organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Church, in Troy, New York. He chose to remain at St. Paul’s, Albany, with his salary doubled, and announced big plans for the future: “I am forming a choir of boys, in addition to a quintette choir and hope to have very delightful music this winter.”

This was to be the first boychoir in the city of Albany. It was composed of twelve boys, not vested, who supported plainchant and hymns. A quartet choir provided all remaining service music. One of the choirboys reported that he never learned to read music, and so the level of performance was probably not high. The most talented of these boys was William James Gourlay, the son of the Warren’s soprano soloist in 1850, Mrs. Margaret Gourlay. “Willie” was not only a soloist at St. Paul’s, but also appeared in Warren’s 1856 Concert for the Poor, where he was billed as “Master Gourlay, the little vocalist of St. Paul’s Choir”.

Albany Evening Journal 18 Jan 1856

Albany Evening Journal 18 Jan 1856

Another highlight of the “delightful music” that Warren promised for the winter of 1855 – 1856 was his recently-discovered soprano soloist. Isabella Hinckley was only fifteen years old, but she had studied piano with St. Paul’s former organist, Oliver J. Shaw, studied voice with St. Paul’s former soprano soloist, Electa Cone, and had proved herself as choir director at the Church of the Holy Innocents. She was featured in Warren’s Concert for the Poor in 1856 (“her first appearance”) and again in 1857.

Starkey Portrait St PaulsIn 1856, Warren published another piece of music with a St. Paul’s connection,  “A Christmas Carol, Written for the Children of St Paul’s Church, Albany with Words by their Rector Rev. T.A. Starkey,” published by J.H. Hidley of Albany.

Geo. Wm. Warren's A Christmas Carol

Geo. Wm. Warren’s A Christmas Carol

In April of 1856, shortly after finishing the busy schedule for the Concert for the Poor (featuring Miss Hinckley, Master Gourlay and fifty members of his singing class) in February, Warren for the first time advertised singing classes for boys. A reminiscence by one of St. Paul’s choir boys suggests that Warren used these classes to attract and train candidates for the St.Paul’s boy choir. In this classified advertisement, he identified himself  as “Organist and Musical Director at St. Paul’s Church (eight years)” implying that he had worked at St. Paul’s continuously since 1848.

But a break was about to occur. According to vestry minutes for 6 September 1856, “George W. Warren account for services as Organist & amounting to $698.77 was present and referred to Messrs. Kendrick Tweddle & Raymond with power & authority to adjust the same.” The size of the demand suggests that it covers salary for multiple months, and that Warren was settling his accounts with the church.

This supposition is confirmed by a November 1856 article in Dwight’s Journal of Music, which first describes the music program at St. Paul’s as consisting of

an excellent quartet at one side of the organist, and a choir of twelve boys at the other. Quite a number of singers, of a great deal more than ordinary ability, have been engaged at St Paul’s. Mrs. Lucy Eastcott (who is now an acknowledged European prima donna) was their soprano for two years [1850-1852] and Mr. Henry Squires, now a leading tenore in London, was in the same choir at the same time. Their soprano of last season [1855-1856], Miss Isabella Hinkley, has a voice of remarkable beauty, and her talent is to he further cultivated and perfected by a thorough musical education in Italy, for she goes to Florence next May.

But then the article announces Warren’s resignation, which prompted a round of musical chairs among Albany’s organists and choir members:

But choir matters have been through a constant series of changes this season; George William Warren, for eight years director at St Paul’s resigned, and accepted at Dr Sprague’s [Second Presbyterian]. Albert Wood resigned at St Peter’s and accepted at St. Paul’s. The choirs of these and some other also changed and exchanged and it would hardly fair to report the degree of excellence in either present, but be assured a deep interest is felt have good church music and excellent salaries paid to our host organists and singers and it not be the fault of our people if the good is attained.

St. Paul’s vestry minutes do not note Warren’s resignation, and we may never know his reasons for leaving. Nor do we know why Albert Wood chose to leave St. Peter’s after a tenure of at least four years; the earliest St. Peter’s salary receipt (housed at the New York State Archives) for Wood is from August 1852 and the latest from August 1856 (shortly before his resignation), with several from every year between those dates.

George Wm. Warren must not have stayed long at Second Presbyterian church, because he offered his services to St. Paul’s in May, 1857. In a future post, we will conclude our story of Warren’s time at St. Paul’s Church with an account of his final period here, from August 1, 1857 through August 1, 1860.







George William Warren at St. Paul’s — Part 1, 1848-1851

As we have seen, George William Warren resigned as organist and choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church in October 1848. We know that he was to spend most of the period until August 1860 at St. Paul’s Church, Albany. But when did Warren first come to St. Paul’s Church?

George William Warren

George William Warren

Warren’s obituary in the New York Times (17 Mar 1902) specifically says that he came to St. Paul’s in 1848. And Warren himself suggested that year as well: first in his 1856 classified advertisement (Albany Evening Journal 1 Apr 1856) in which he identifies himself as “Organist and Musical Director at St. Paul’s Church (for eight years),” and second in his 1860 letter of resignation to the St. Paul’s vestry, in which he says that he spent “nearly thirteen years” at St. Paul’s. The thirteen year figure is repeated in an article in Dwight’s Journal of Music for 15 Nov 1856. Another contemporary sources also implies a 1848 start date: an article in Dwight’s Journal of Music (15 Nov 1856) which says Warren had been “for eight years director at St. Paul’s.”

St. Paul’s vestry minutes are silent on musical activities in this period, and we may never know the precise date or month in which he started. The first evidence comes almost a year later, when we read that “George W. Warren Organist of St. Paul’s Church” is offering piano and organ lessons (Albany Evening Journal, four insertions in mid-August 1849). Warren also advertised his music lessons the next year, describing himself as “Organist and Director of Music of St. Paul’s Church.” (Albany Evening Journal, 2 Sep 1850)

George William Warren must have begun composing early in the period. We have two compositions specifically mentioning performance at St. Paul’s. The first is “Rock of Ages,” which Warren (in his Hymns and Tunes as Sung at St. Thomas’s Church, New York (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889) dates to 1849. It was first published in 1851, dedicated to St. Paul’s rector, William Ingraham Kip, and with the notation “as sung in St. Paul’s Church Albany by Mrs. Eastcott, Mrs. Gourley, Mr. Squires and Mr. Whitney in 1850.”

Rock of Ages by George William Warren

Rock of Ages by George William Warren

We also have Warren’s composition “Come Holy Spirit,” first published in 1850 with the notation “as sung by the choir of St. Paul’s Church (Albany)”.

Come Holy Spirit, by George William Warren

Come Holy Spirit, by George William Warren

And finally, we have Warren’s “Love’s Twilight Star,” published in 1849. While this is a secular work, it is dedicated to the popular Albany soprano Miss Electa Cone, who received payment (probably as soprano soloist) from St. Paul’s in 1850.

Love's Twilight Star, by George William Warren

Love’s Twilight Star, by George William Warren

In addition to proving that Warren was at St. Paul’s in 1849, “Rock of Ages” is important for giving us the first list of the St. Paul’s choir. At this time, and into the early twentieth century, St. Paul’s had a quartet choir, composed of four paid soloists. Most of Warren’s early compositions were written for such a group. The names of the choir members are also of interest. Mrs. Gourlay and Mr. Whitney were local talent. Margaret Campbell Gourlay was an Albany voice teacher, a member of St. Peter’s Church and a member of St. Peter’s choir with Warren in 1847. We will meet her talented son Willie as member of the boy choir that Warren formed in 1855. Stephen W. Whitney was a local businessman with a long  career as a church and concert soloist. The stars were Lucy Grant Eastcott and Henry Squires. Both were recent arrivals in Albany (in 1850, the Albany Evening Journal  praised St. Paul’s hiring of Lucy as a sign of “stirring up of the dry bones” ), and both were to leave the city within two years. They went on to distinguished opera careers in the United States, Europe and Australia, about which we will have much to say in a future post.

In April and May 1852, George William Warren advertised in the Albany Evening Journal for “a soprano and tenor, to fill vacancies in the choir of St. Paul’s Church.” Lucy Eastcott (who would soon begin styling herself Madame Escott) had already left the city; Henry Squires would leave by that October, bringing this first chapter of Warren’s years at St. Paul’s Church to a close. We will pick up the story in a later post, beginning with the events of autumn 1852 and continuing through 1856.