First Church in Albany, Albany, New York

The First Church in Albany, located at the corner of North Pearl and Orange Streets in Albany, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

The First Church in Albany was established in 1642, back when New York was still the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The British took control of the colony in 1664, renaming it New York, but the Dutch inhabitants continued to live here, and they continued to influence the region’s culture for several centuries. During this time, the members of the First Church met in several different buildings before the completion of the current one in 1799, at what is now the corner of North Pearl and Orange Streets.

The building was designed by Philip Hooker, a young Albany architect who would later go on to design other important buildings in the city, including Albany Academy, the old state capitol, and the old city hall. His design for the church featured a symmetrical main facade, with a columned portico that was flanked on either side by identical towers. In many ways its original appearance bore a strong resemblance to Charles Bulfinch’s Hollis Street Church in Boston, and Hooker may have drawn inspiration from it. However, Bulfinch’s church was built of wood and lasted barely 20 years before being replaced, while Hooker’s brick church has remained in use for more than two centuries.

The church here in Albany has seen some alterations over the years, though. The first major renovation came in 1830, with an addition to the rear of the church. This was late in Hooker’s career, and he was involved in the design process. A second renovation occurred in the late 1850s, which included removing the original Greek-style portico and replacing it with a new Romanesque-style entryway.

The first photo was taken around 1907, showing the view of the church from the southeast. A few years later, another renovation added Tiffany stained glass windows, along with other interior changes. Then, in 1939 the old addition on the rear of the building was demolished, and a new parish house was built in its place. Other more minor exterior changes have included the addition of small oval windows near the tops of the towers, and the removal of the ornate cornice above the front gable.

Throughout its history, perhaps the most famous parishioner of this church was Theodore Roosevelt, who attended services here during his time as governor. Another notable guest was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who visited here as part of the church’s 300th anniversary celebration in 1942. Today, the church is still in use, and its congregation is one of the oldest in New York. The building itself is also the oldest church in the city, and it is one of Philip Hooker’s few surviving works. Because of its significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The Albany Academy, Albany, New York (2)

The Albany Academy, viewed from the east side near the corner of Eagle and Elk Streets in Albany, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

As explained in the previous post, The Albany Academy was established in 1813. Four years later, the school moved into this building near the corner of Elk and Eagle Streets, just to the northeast of the present-day state capitol. The Federal-style building was designed by noted Albany architect Philip Hooker, and it stands as one of the city’s most architecturally-significant historic buildings.

The building was used by The Albany Academy for more than a century, and during this time it had many notable students, including future nine congressmen, a Supreme Court justice, and other important historical figures such as author Herman Melville. However, the building is probably best known for its association with Joseph Henry, who attended the school in its early years before returning as a science teacher in 1826. It was here that he performed important experiments on electromagnetism, including the discovery of electrical inductance. This would enable subsequent technological advances such as Samuel Morse’s telegraph, and today the SI unit for inductance is named the henry in his honor.

The school was still located here when the first photo was taken around 1908, but within a few decades it had outgrown its original building, and in 1931 The Albany Academy relocated to a new campus further from downtown Albany. This building was then sold to the City School District of Albany, which remodeled the interior and converted it into offices.

Today, the building still serves as offices for the school district, and very little has changed here on the exterior since the first photo was taken, although it is now partially hidden by trees from this angle. Otherwise, the only real change in the present-day scene is the statue of Joseph Henry, which stands in the lower center of the photo, in front of the main entrance. It was installed here in 1927, and it was the work of John Flanagan, a prominent sculptor who is best known for designing the Washington quarter, which was first minted in 1932.

The Albany Academy, Albany, New York

The Albany Academy, near the corner of Eagle and Elk Streets in Albany, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

The Albany Academy was established in 1813 as a school for boys, and in 1817 the school moved into its first purpose-built facility, which is shown here in these two photos. The building stands just to the northeast of the New York State Capitol, in between Washington Avenue and Elk Street on the west side of Eagle Street. It is perhaps the city’s finest surviving example of Federal-style architecture, and it was designed by prominent architect Philip Hooker, whose other nearby works included the original capitol building and the old city hall.

This building was home to the academy for over a century, and during this time it saw a number of notable students. One of the earliest was Joseph Henry, who entered the school in 1819. He later returned as a science teacher in 1826, and over the next few years he performed groundbreaking experiments in electromagnetism here at the school. Probably his most important discovery here was electrical inductance, which occurred around the same time as—but independent from—Michael Faraday’s similar discoveries in Britain. This property of electrical conductors was later used by Samuel Morse in his invention of the telegraph, and today the SI unit for measuring inductance is named the henry in his honor.

Aside from Henry, The Albany Academy had many other students who went on to have successful careers, particularly in the fields of government and law. Nine future congressmen attended the school while it was located here, as did prominent federal judge Learned Hand, Supreme Court justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham, and longtime Albany mayor Erastus Corning 2nd, whose 41 years in office is a record among mayors of major American cities. Other prominent students included authors Herman Melville, William Rose Benét, and Stephen Vincent Benét, along with future World War II general and Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who attended the school while his father was serving as governor of New York.

The school remained here in this building well into the 20th century, and it was still in use when the first photo was taken around 1907. However, within a few decades the school had outgrown the old building here in downtown Albany, and in 1931 it relocated to a new campus on the outskirts of the city. The school is still located there today, although in 2007 it merged with the Albany Academy for Girls to form The Albany Academies.

In the meantime, this building was sold to the City School District of Albany, which renovated the interior and converted it into district offices. Today, the school district still occupies the building, which has remained largely unchanged since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It is one of Philip Hooker’s few surviving works, and in 1971 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Old New York State Capitol, Albany, New York

The old New York State Capitol, on the north side of State Street a little east of Eagle Street, around 1860-1880. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The scene in 2019:

Albany has been the capital of New York since 1797, but for the first decade or so the state legislature met in City Hall, which served as the temporary capitol building until a new one was built. Construction on the first purpose-built capitol, shown here in the first photo, began around 1806. It was designed by prominent Albany architect Philip Hooker, and it featured a brownstone exterior with marble trim. Its Federal-style design included a portico with Ionic columns here on the east facade, and a cupola atop the three-story building. On the top of the cupola was an 11-foot wooden statue of Themis, with a sword in her right hand and a balance in her left.

Overall, though, despite being the capitol of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country, this building was decidedly modest in its appearance, especially when compared to its contemporaries in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut. This was likely dictated more by budgetary constraints than to Hooker’s talent as an architect, but one major criticism of his design was the awkward inconsistency between the apparent two-story east facade, and the three stories on the other sides of the building. Aside from the portico and cupola, the rest of the exterior was largely devoid of ornamentation. Even then, many of these decorative elements were cheaply-made. Like the statue of Themis, the pediment and entablature was made of wood, and even the columns were deceptive in their appearance; instead of solid marble, they were brick with marble veneers. In total, the capitol only cost around $115,000 to build, equivalent to less than $2 million today.

The capitol was completed in 1809, and it served as the seat of the state government for the next 70 years. For the first few decades it also housed Albany’s city government, before a new City Hall—which was also designed by Philip Hooker—was built nearby in 1831. However, it did not take long for the state to outgrow the capitol, even with the extra space after the city government moved out. In 1842, State Hall—now known as the New York Court of Appeals Building—was built nearby on Eagle Street to provide additional room for state offices, and in 1854 a separate State Library building was added behind the capitol.

Even with these expansions, though, the capitol was still generally considered to be inadequate, in terms of both aesthetic appearance and practical use. One legislator even went as far as to declare it to be “an offense to the eye and a reproach to the state.” There was clearly a need for a new capitol, but the issue also raised the question of whether Albany should even remain the capital city. Many other cities, including New York City, made overtures in hopes of becoming the new capital, but in the end the state legislature decided to remain in Albany, and in 1865 voted to acquire land for the construction of a new capitol building.

The new capitol was to be located directly behind the old one, and it would be everything that the old one was not: massive, architecturally grand, and expensive. It also took much longer to build; construction started in 1867, and it was not completed until 1899, after many delays and cost overruns. In the end, it cost $25 million to build, or about 400 times the cost of the old capitol, after adjusting for inflation. Because of these delays, the state legislature remained here in the old capitol for more than a decade after construction began, before moving into the new partially-completed building in 1879. The old building continued to be used for state offices for several more years, though, before finally being demolished in 1883.

Today, this scene bears no resemblance to its appearance when the first photo was taken about 150 years ago. The site where the old capitol once stood is now part of East Capitol Park, and in the background is its replacement, which continues to be used as the state capitol today. However, there are several surviving remnants from the old building, although they are not located in the present-day scene. During the demolition, the four Ionic capitals at the top of the columns were saved and given to Governor David Hill, who displayed them on the grounds of his estate on the outskirts of Albany. The property later became Wolferts Roost Country Club, but the capitals remained there until around the 1970s, when they were unceremoniously dumped into a ravine. Three of these were ultimately recovered in 2014, and at the time there was talk of returning them here to East Capitol Park, although this proposal does not appear to have been carried out yet.

East India Marine Hall, Salem, Mass

East India Marine Hall on Essex Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is one of the oldest museums in the United States, with a complex lineage that traces back to 1799, with the formation of the East India Marine Society. At the time, Salem was one of the most prosperous seaports in the country, with merchants who were among the first Americans to trade with southeast Asia. The society was established by local captains with several goals, including sharing navigational information, providing aid to families of members who died, and collecting artifacts and other interesting objects from the East Indies. Membership was limited to captains and supercargoes of Salem vessels who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn.

The organization moved into its first permanent home in 1825 with the completion of East India Marine Hall, shown here in these two photos. The building was formally dedicated on October 14 of that year, in a ceremony that was attended by many noted dignitaries. These included President John Quincy Adams; Congressman and former Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield; Associate Justice Joseph Story of the U. S. Supreme Court; former Senator, Postmaster General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering; and famed navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch.

The building was designed by Boston architect Thomas Waldron Sumner, and it features a Federal-style design with a granite exterior here on the main facade, which faces Essex Street. Originally, the main entrance was located in the center of the building on the ground floor, and it was flanked by storefronts on either side. These storefronts have long since been altered, but the names of the first two commercial tenants—the Asiatic Bank and the Oriental Insurance Company—are still carved in the granite above the ground floor. The East India Marine Society itself was located on the second floor, which consisted of a large open hall.

Despite the grand celebration for the completion of this building, though, Salem was already in decline as a seaport. Both the Embargo Act of 1807 and the subsequent War of 1812 had crippled Salem’s shipping, and it never fully recovered, with much of the international trade shifting to other northeastern ports, such as Boston and New York. Elsewhere in New England, the region’s economy was transitioning from trade to manufacturing, and Salem’s growth had stagnated by the mid-19th century, even as nearby industrial cities such as Lowell experienced rapid increases in population.

Because of this, the East India Marine Society faced dwindling membership, and by the 1850s it began considering selling objects from its collections in order to remain financially viable. However, prominent London financier George Peabody—a native of the neighboring town of Peabody—intervened, and in 1867 he established a $140,000 trust fund. The museum was then reorganized as the Peabody Academy of Science, for the “Promotion of Science and Useful Knowledge in the County of Essex.” As part of this, the natural history collections of the Essex Institute, which had been established in Salem in 1848, were transferred to the Peabody. In exchange, the Essex Institute received the Peabody’s history collections.

The Peabody Academy of Science continued to use the East India Marine Hall, but over the years it made some significant alterations to the building. In the mid-1880s the museum added a wing, known as Academy Hall, to the southeast corner of the original building. It stands in the distance on the left side of the first photo, and the sign for it is visible just beneath the awning. Then, in 1904 the storefronts were removed and replaced with museum exhibit rooms, and around this time the original front entrance was also closed. A new one-story entryway was then built on the right side of the building, as shown in the first photo. This photo also shows a large anchor in front of the building. It was made sometime around the turn of the 19th century, and it was donated to the museum by the United States Navy in 1906.

In 1915, around the same time that the first photo was taken, the Peabody Academy of Science was renamed the Peabody Museum of Salem. Throughout the 20th century, the museum continued to expand with more additions, reaching as far back as Charter Street on the other side of the block. From here on Essex Street, probably the most visible change was the addition of a large Brutalist-style wing on the left side of the original building, which was completed in 1976.

Then, in 1992 the Peabody Museum of Salem merged with the Essex Institute, forming the Peabody Essex Museum. Since then, its facility has grown even more, with new wings that were completed in 2003 and 2019. This most recent addition, which opened the same year that the second photo was taken, was built on the right side of this scene. It involved the demolition of the old 1904 entryway from the first photo, and now the original East India Marine Hall is almost completely surrounded by newer buildings. However, the main facade has remained largely unchanged throughout this time, and it remains an important landmark in downtown Salem nearly two centuries after its completion.

Second Congregational Church, Hartford, Vermont

The Second Congregational Church in the center of Hartford, around 1903-1910. Image from The Old and the New.

The church in 2018:

The present-day town of Hartford consists of five distinct villages, spread out across nearly 50 square miles of land. During the first half of the 19th century, this village here along the banks of the White River developed into the de facto town center. It was known as White River Village, and in in 1827 the Congregational Society of White River Village—later renamed the Second Congregational Society of Hartford, Vermont—was established here, with the intent of constructing a meeting house here.

This building, which is shown here in these two photos, was completed in late 1828, and it was formally dedicated on January 8, 1829. It was constructed by Jedediah Dana of Lebanon, New Hampshire, with a design that was typical for New England churches of the period, including a tower and belfry above the main entrance. On the interior, the church could seat 400 people, with pews on either side of two aisles, along with a gallery in the rear of the church.

As was often the cases in churches at the time, parishioners purchased their pews. Prices started at $52, a considerable sum for the 1820s, and the more desirable pews carried a premium. Individual families decorated and furnished their pews according to their tastes, and in the early years only pew owners could vote in church meetings, with the voting power determined by the number of pews that the person held. In all, 61 pews were sold when the church was completed, for a total of $3,788.50, which nearly covered the $4,297 that it cost to construct the building.

The church remained in use throughout the 19th century, but by the turn of the 20th century it was in need of a major renovation. This work, which was done in 1902-1903, included converting the gallery into a meeting room, replacing the heating and ventilation systems, installing new carpet and upholstery, and reducing the seating capacity to 300. Both the interior and exterior were also remodeled with Colonial Revival-style features, which were added by local architect Louis S. Newton.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after these renovations were completed. Since then, very little has changed here on the exterior. Aside from the lack of shutters in the present-day view, the church looks the same as it did more than a century ago, and it remains in use as an active church, now known as the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ. Along with the other buildings here in the village center, it is now part of the Hartford Village Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.