State Street from South Pearl Street, Albany, New York

Looking west on State Street from near the corner of State and South Pearl Streets in Albany, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

State Street is the main east-west route through downtown Albany, originally starting at the Hudson River wharves and extending westward up the hill in a straight line toward the state capitol. It provided a direct link between the city’s water and rail transportation and its government institutions, and in the process it passed through the heart of Albany’s central business district, which is shown here in these two photos.

The first photo was taken around 1904, and it shows a busy street scene. Dozens of pedestrians are visible walking on the sidewalks and crossing the street, and there is also a mix of horse-drawn wagons, along with at least three trolleys traveling up and down the hill. Automobiles are conspicuously missing from the scene, but this would not last long. The New York state legislature, meeting in the state capitol at the top of the hill here, had passed the first motor vehicle registration laws in the country in 1901, and by 1904 the state had some 15,550 registered cars on its roads.

The buildings on either side of State Street in the first photo reflect the changes in architectural styles during the late 19th century, along with the city’s growth during this same time. Starting on the far left is the Globe Hotel, which is perhaps the oldest building in the photo. It appears to have been built around the mid-19th century, and by the time the first photo was taken it housed the hotel, along with a number of retail tenants. These included a fruit market at the corner of South Pearl Street, and the photographic supply shop of Finch & Hahn on the State Street side of the building.

Further in the distance, towering above the Globe Hotel, is the Albany City Savings Institution building, which was probably the newest building in the first photo. This large Beaux-Arts building was designed by noted local architect Marcus T. Reynolds, and it opened in 1902 as the city’s first skyscraper. Just beyond the bank is another new building, the Empire Theatre, a burlesque theater that opened here in 1898.

On the other side of State Street, starting in the foreground, is the Tweddle Building. It was built at the corner of North Pearl Street in the mid-1880s, replacing the earlier Tweddle Hall, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1883. Beyond it is the Ten Eyck Hotel, with a painted sign on the side of the building proclaiming it to be “positively fire proof.” The nine-story hotel opened in 1899, filling a void in Albany’s hotel business after the Delavan House burned in 1894. This disaster, which claimed the lives of 16 people, would have still been fresh in people’s minds when the Ten Eyck opened, and likely explains why the owners went to such lengths to advertise its fireproof construction.

Beyond the Ten Eyck, on the other side of Chapel Street, is the Albany Savings Bank. This ornate building was completed in 1875, and it was occupied by the bank until the late 1890s, when the bank moved to a new building on North Pearl Street. The county then purchased the building, and it was in use as county offices when the first photo was taken.

Further up the hill from the bank building are two other commercial blocks, followed by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on the other side of Lodge Street. The main portion of the church was designed by architect Richard Upjohn, who was particularly well-known for his Gothic-style churches. It was consecrated in 1860, but in 1876 the parish added the 180-foot tower, which was designed by Upjohn’s son, Richard M. Upjohn.

At the top of the hill, in the distant center of the first photo, is the New York State Capitol. Construction on the capital had begun in 1867, but it was not completed until 1899, when Theodore Roosevelt was governor. By the time the first photo was taken, Roosevelt had become president, but less than a decade later another politician with the same last name would arrive at the capitol. Franklin Roosevelt served here as a senator from 1911 to 1913, and he later returned as governor, serving from 1929 until he was elected president in 1932.

Today, nearly 120 years after the first photo was taken, the capitol still dominates the background of this scene. It remains in use as the seat of the state government, although it has since been joined by a number of other government buildings, including the 34-story Alfred E. Smith State Office Building, which rises above the roof of the capitol in the present-day photo.

However, most of the other buildings in this scene at the turn of the century are gone now, including everything in the foreground. The Globe Hotel was altered beyond recognition in the early 20th century, and was known as the Arkay Building until the late 1920s, when it was demolished to build the National Savings Bank, which stands on the site today. Across the street, the Tweddle Building was demolished in the mid-1910s, and in its place the Ten Eyck Hotel built a new 17-story skyscraper. The hotel also continued to operate the older Ten Eyck, which became known as the Annex, and both buildings stood here until they were demolished in the early 1970s.

Further in the distance, only a few recognizable buildings from the first photo are still standing, aside from the capitol. On the left, the Albany City Savings Institution is still here, although it was altered in the 1920s with the addition of a large clock tower, and it is now mostly hidden from this angle by the National Savings Bank. Across the street, St. Peter’s Church is also still standing. Unlike the Savings Institution building, it has not been overshadowed by taller neighbors, and it continues to be a very prominent feature here on State Street. It remains an active Episcopalian parish, and in 1980 it was named a National Historic Landmark, becoming one of four Albany buildings, including the capitol, to receive this designation.

State Hall, Albany, New York

Looking south on Eagle Street in Albany, with State Hall in the foreground and City Hall further in the distance, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

For most of the 19th century, the seat of the New York state government was the old capitol building, which was completed in 1809 and demolished in 1883. However, the capitol was too small for all of the state offices, so during the early 19th century many of these offices were located in what became known as the Old State Hall, at the corner of Lodge and State Streets. Then, in 1842, a new State Hall was built here on Eagle Street, on the left side of both of these photos.

The new building housed a variety of officials from both the executive and legislative branches. These included the secretary of state, comptroller, treasurer, attorney general, state engineer and surveyor, superintendent of the bank department, superintendent of public instruction, canal commissioners, canal appraisers, state chancellor, register of chancery, and clerk of the court of appeals.

Architecturally, State Hall was a far more imposing building than the old capitol. It was designed by architect Henry Rector, and it features a Greek Revival exterior, which was fashionable for public buildings of this era. Here at the front entrance, facing Eagle Street, is a large portico with a pediment that is supported by six large Ionic columns. Around the rest of the building, Doric pilasters are interspersed between the window bays, and the building is topped by a large dome. State Hall was also far costlier to build than the capitol, and it generally had better quality building materials, most notably an all-marble exterior, as opposed to the capitol’s relatively plain brownstone.

The old capitol was eventually demolished in 1883, after the state government moved into the current capitol building, which stands diagonally across the street from State Hall. However, State Hall remained in use throughout this time, and it was still occupied by state offices when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. By this point, it had also been joined by the current Albany City Hall, located just beyond the building in the center of both photos. This was the work of prominent architect Henry H. Richardson, who had also been involved in designing the new capitol. Its distinctive Romanesque architecture provides an interesting contrast to the Greek Revival design of State Hall, reflecting the shifts in architectural tastes over the course of the 19th century.

Although the new capitol building was much larger than its predecessor, it was still insufficient for the growing New York state government. As a result, by the early 20th century the Court of Appeals, which was located in the capitol, was looking for new space elsewhere. In New York, the Court of Appeals is actually the state’s highest court, equivalent to the Supreme Court in most other states, and the court was in need of a facility of its own. The state government explored the possibility of building a new courthouse behind the capitol on Swan Street, but instead decided upon converting State Hall into a courthouse.

Along with renovating the interior, the project also involved expanding the building with an addition to the rear, which housed the courtroom itself. The courtroom had originally been located in the capitol, where it was designed by Henry H. Richardson. However, when the Court of Appeals judges left the capitol they took the courtroom with them, and its ornate oak paneling, fireplace, and furnishings were reinstalled here in State Hall.

The project was completed in 1917, and the building was renamed Court of Appeals Hall. It has undergone several renovations since then, in the late 1950s and early 2000s, and it also suffered a large fire in 1958 that destroyed the roof and dome. However, it is still occupied by the Court of Appeals, and this view of the building has remained essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken, aside from the “Court of Appeals State of New York” inscription on the entablature. Further in the distance, City Hall is also still standing with few exterior changes, and it remains in use by the city government. Because of their historical and architectural significance, both of these buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1970s.

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.

New York State Capitol, Albany, New York (2)

The New York State Capitol, seen from the grounds on the east side of the building, around 1895-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the New York State Capitol was built over the course of 32 years in the late 19th century. Its construction involved many delays, four different architects, numerous design changes, and substantial cost overruns, but by the time it was completed in 1899 it was one of the grandest state capitol buildings in the country. The first photo was taken around this time, showing the main entrance on the eastern side of the building, with its massive exterior staircase leading up to the portico.

A little more than a decade after its completion, the capitol had a fire that caused extensive damage to the western side of the building. The governor’s Executive Chambers, which are located here on the eastern side, were unaffected by the fire, and the two legislative chambers only suffered water damage. However, the State Library, with hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable books and manuscripts, was lost in the fire, and the library’s night watchman also died in the disaster.

Overall, aside from the fire the only significant changes to the capitol have been interior renovations over the years. The building is now joined by the massive Empire State Plaza immediately to the south of it, but the exterior of the capitol itself still looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the only real difference in this scene—other than the trees—is the statue of General Philip Sheridan, a New York native who served with distinction during the Civil War. This statue was designed by prominent sculptors John Quincy Adams Ward and Daniel Chester French, and it was installed in 1916 in the center of the park here on the east side of the capitol.

New York State Capitol, Albany, New York

The New York State Capitol, seen from Eagle Street on the east side of the building, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The capitol in 2019:

For a state capital, the city of Albany is relatively small, with a current population of just under 100,000. This modest size is even more apparent when contrasted with New York City, which is nearly a hundred times larger than Albany. However, while the city itself might be small, New York more than makes up for it with one of the most impressive state capitol buildings in the country, which stands here on a hill just to the west of downtown Albany.

Albany became the capital of New York in 1797, and for much of the 19th century the state government was housed in a capitol building that stood on the far left side of this scene, directly in front of what is now the southeastern corner of the current capitol. This building was completed in 1809, and it remained in use even as its much larger replacement rose behind it in the late 1860s and 1870s. The state legislature finally moved into the yet-unfinished capitol in 1879, and the old one was demolished in 1883, although the new one would not be completed until 1899, after many years of construction delays and cost overruns.

Work on the new capitol had begun in 1867, and its initial design was the work of Thomas Fuller, a Canadian architect who had previously been involved in designing the buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. His plans called for a Renaissance Revival exterior, although the construction work had only progressed as far as the ground floor by 1875, when he was dismissed from the project. The state then hired architects Leopold Eidlitz and Henry H. Richardson, who designed the next two floors before they too were dismissed in 1883 by then-Governor Grover Cleveland. Both Eidlitz and Richardson were pioneers of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, and their involvement is visible in the exterior design of these two floors, which are significantly different from the ground floor.

Architect Isaac G. Perry then oversaw the final stage of construction, although Eidlitz and Richardson continued to be involved in the design process, and the upper floors have many of the same Romanesque features as the second and third ones. The capitol was also intended to have a Romanesque-style tower in the center, although this was ultimately never completed, in part because of concerns that the ground beneath the building would be unable to support its weight. However, financial issues likely played a role in this decision as well. By the time the building was declared completed in 1899, its original estimated construction costs had ballooned to a staggering $25 million, equivalent to over $750 million today. Finishing the tower would have meant spending even more money, not to mention prolonging a project that was already nearly a third of a century in the making.

The first photo was taken shortly after the capitol was completed, showing the large exterior staircase on the eastern facade of the building. It has a total of 77 steps and extends outward 166 feet from the front of the building. Built in the 1890s, it was one of the last major exterior features added to the capitol, and it was designed by Isaac Perry. He had also intended to build a large gable above the entrance, similar to the one on the west side of the building. However, structural concerns about the added weight forced him to abandon this plan, and he instead built a balcony over the entrance.

Unfortunately, the building’s troubles did not end with its completion. In the early morning hours of March 29, 1911, a fire started in the Assembly Library on the third floor. It soon spread to the nearby State Library, where hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable books and manuscripts provided more fuel for the blaze. By the time the fire was brought under control, the library was a total loss, and the fire caused extensive damage to the upper floors on the western side of the building, including the collapse of the tower at the southwestern corner. The fire also claimed the life of the State Library’s night watchman, 78-year-old Civil War veteran Samuel Abbott, whose charred body was found under the debris two days later.

The eastern side of the building, shown here in these photos, was unaffected by the fire. This included the governor’s Executive Chamber, located on the second floor in the southeast corner, on the left side of this scene. The flames did not reach the legislative chambers, which are located on either side of the building in the center of the east-west axis, but both rooms suffered water damage, and the legislators temporarily met across the street in City Hall while the capitol was repaired. In the end, the fire caused over $2 million in damage to the building, not to mention the priceless contents of the State Library, and none of these losses were insured by the state. The exact cause of the fire was never determined, but the most likely culprit was faulty electrical wiring, which had been installed in the early years of electric lighting.

Overall, though, despite the early troubles of the capitol building, it has stood here as a major landmark for well over a century. During this time, it has seen the rise of many notable politicians, particularly governors, who have gone on to achieve national prominence. Three of the governors who served here in this building subsequently became president: Grover Cleveland (1883-1885), Theodore Roosevelt (1899-1900), and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1929-1932). Of these, both Cleveland and Franklin Roosevelt were sitting governors when they were elected to the presidency, and Theodore Roosevelt was the governor when he was elected vice president in 1900.

Other prominent governors have included Charles Evans Hughes (1907-1910), who later became Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the United States; Al Smith (1919-1920, 1923-1928), the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate; and Thomas E. Dewey (1943-1954), who ran for president as the Republican candidate in both 1944 and 1948. The 1944 presidential election was particularly interesting in that it pitted the sitting New York governor against a former governor, Franklin Roosevelt. More recently, Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973) served as vice president under Gerald Ford, after his 14-year tenure here as governor. Another vice president, Levi P. Morton, was also governor (1895-1896), although he was not elected to this office until after his term as vice president.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much has changed in the area surrounding the capitol, particularly to the south on the left side of the scene. During the Rockefeller administration, all of the buildings in the blocks to the south of the capitol were demolished as part of a large urban renewal project in order to create the Empire State Plaza, a sprawling complex of state office buildings. Although not visible in this particular view, the Modernist and Brutalist-style buildings of the plaza provide a sharp contrast to the elaborate 19th century architecture of the adjacent capitol building.

As for the capitol itself, it has undergone interior renovations over the years, but on the exterior it remains essentially the same as it did at the turn of the 20th century. It has been a source of controversy over the years, both for its expense and for its visual appearance as an odd hybrid of Renaissance and Romanesque architectural styles. However, it remains in use as the capitol of one of the largest states in the country, and it is probably the most recognizable historic landmark in the city of Albany.

Quincy City Hall, Quincy, Mass

The Quincy City Hall on Hancock Street in Quincy, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The building in 2019:

The city of Quincy is probably best known and the birthplace and home of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They were born 32 years and 75 feet apart from each other, in adjoining houses less than a mile south of here. As such, Quincy is one of only two cities in the country—along with New York City—to have been the birthplace of two presidents. However, at the time Quincy was neither a city, nor was it even its own municipality. Throughout the colonial era, present-day Quincy was the northern part of the town of Braintree, before being split off as a separate town in 1792. From there, it would be nearly a century before Quincy was incorporated as a city in 1888.

During this time, Quincy saw significant growth. From a population of just over a thousand in 1800, it had grown to nearly 3,500 by 1840, and in 1844 the town began construction on a new town hall, which was completed later in the year. It was designed by prominent architect Solomon Willard, who is best-known for the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. Like the Bunker Hill Monument, it was constructed out of locally-quarried Quincy granite, and it was built only a year after the monument’s dedication in 1843.

Overall, the exterior of the town hall is a good example of Greek Revival architecture, which was common for public buildings of this era. The front facade, shown here in these two photos, features a triangular pediment above four Ionic pilasters. The main entrance is located between the two central pilasters, with the inscription “Town Hall Erected A.D. 1844” inscribed above it. Originally, the ground floor included two storefronts, although these were altered later in the 19th century.

Quincy became a city in 1888, and the old town hall building here became city hall instead. The changes to the front of the building came afterward, and included the addition of a “City Hall” sign above the entrance. The first photo was also taken sometime after these changes occurred, probably around the turn of the 20th century. In this scene, four men stand outside the entrance, with a uniformed police officer standing to the left at the corner of the building. Aside from the modifications to the building, another sign of progress was the trolley line running in front of the building, with the tracks visible in the street and the electric wires above them.

Today, this building remains in use as Quincy City Hall, although it has been significantly expanded with a modern addition behind and to the right of the original structure. Most recently, the building underwent a major restoration that began in 2013. It was damaged by a fire during the project, but the work was ultimately completed in early 2016. This project also coincided with the closure of the portion of Hancock Street in front of city hall, creating a pedestrian-only plaza between it and the United First Parish Church across the street from here. Today, the exterior of the building is not significantly different from its appearance in the first photo, and it stands as a well-preserved example of a mid-19th century municipal building.