Maclean House, Princeton, New Jersey

Maclean House on the campus of Princeton University, around 1894. Image from Views of Princeton University (1894).

The house in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post on Nassau Hall, Princeton University was established in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as the College of New Jersey. The school moved to Newark a year later, and then to Princeton in 1756, upon completion of Nassau Hall. At the time, Nassau Hall encompassed all of the school’s amenities under one roof, including classrooms, dormitory rooms, offices, a dining room, and a meeting hall. However, the school did have a separate building for the college president, who lived here in this brick two-story house, located immediately to the northwest of Nassau Hall, fronting Nassau Street. Like its neighbor, the house was completed in 1756, and it was likewise designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith. Its first occupant was Aaron Burr Sr., who had served as Princeton’s president since 1748.

Burr died only a year after moving into this house, in the fall of 1757, leaving his widow Esther with two young children, including future vice president Aaron Burr, who was just a year and a half old at the time. Burr’s replacement as president was Esther’s father, Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor and theologian. Edwards had begun his ministry career in Northampton, Massachusetts, where his preaching had helped to spark the Great Awakening. However, after many years in Northampton he was dismissed by the congregation in 1750, and he subsequently moved to the remote western Massachusetts town of Stockbridge. There, he served as a missionary to Native Americans until the College of New Jersey invited him to be its next president.

Edwards arrived here in Princeton in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, and one of his first priorities was to encourage students to receive a smallpox inoculation. Leading by example, he was inoculated on February 23, 1758. However, what was supposed to be just a mild case of smallpox progressively worsened over the next few weeks, and he died here at this house in Princeton on March 22, barely a month after becoming president of the college. He was buried in nearby Princeton Cemetery, alongside his predecessor and son-in-law, in a plot that later became known as Presidents’ Row because of the many college presidents interred there.

After Edwards’s death, this house was subsequently occupied by the next eight college presidents: Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, James Carnahan, John Maclean, and James McCosh. Of these, Witherspoon was probably the most notable. In addition to serving as president for more than 25 years, Witherspoon was also involved in politics during the Revolutionary War era. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in that capacity he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, becoming the only active clergyman to sign the document.

Aside from being the residence of many Princeton presidents, this house was also home to a number of slaves over the years. Most of the early presidents were slaveowners, and New Jersey was among the last of the northern states to abolish slavery. The state enacted a gradual emancipation plan starting in 1804, but slavery in New Jersey was not fully eliminated until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The last Princeton president to have slaves here in the house was Ashbel Green, who was president from 1812 to 1822. He had at least three slaves here during this time, including Betsey Stockton, whom he freed in 1817 when she was about 19 years old. She remained here as a paid servant for the next five years, and during this time she also received an education. Then, in 1822 she traveled to Hawaii as a Christian missionary, and upon returning to America she became an educator, eventually teaching for many years at an African-American school here in Princeton.

The last college president to occupy this house was James McCosh, who moved into the newly-acquired Prospect House in 1878. The house was then used as the residence of the dean of faculty, and seven different deans lived here between 1883 and 1967. The first photo was taken during this period, no later than 1894, and it shows the northern side of the house, from Nassau Street. This photo also shows two large sycamore trees standing in front of the house. These trees had been planted in 1765, less than a decade after the house was built, and by the time the photo was taken they were already nearly 130 years old.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, very little has changed here in this scene. The house is now occupied by the Alumni Association of Princeton University, and it is named the Maclean House in honor of John Maclean, who lived here during his presidency and served as honorary president of the Alumni Association. Despite these changes in use, though, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and along with Nassau Hall it stands as the oldest building on the Princeton campus. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is that the two sycamore trees are also still standing. Now more than 250 years old, they are nearly twice as old as they were in the first photo, and in the summer their leaves partially hide the view of the house from the street, as shown in the present-day photo.

Nassau Hall, Princeton, New Jersey

Nassau Hall at Princeton University, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Nassau Hall, which opened in 1756, is the oldest building on the Princeton campus, and among the oldest college buildings in the United States. The College of New Jersey, as it was known at the time, was established in 1746, and it was originally located in Elizabeth before moving to Newark in 1747. Then, in 1753 Nathaniel FitzRandolph donated a plot of land here in Princeton to the school, and a year later the cornerstone was laid for this building. The building was nearly named for Governor Jonathan Belcher, but he demurred out of modesty, instead suggesting it be named Nassau Hall in honor of William III, who was from the House of Nassau.

Upon completion, Nassau Hall was one of the largest buildings in the English colonies, and the largest in New Jersey. It was the only building on campus at the time, so it was home to all of the school’s amenities, including a meeting hall, a dining room, offices, classrooms, and dormitory rooms. There were 70 students enrolled when the school moved here to Princeton, and its faculty consisted of the president, at the time Aaron Burr Sr., and two tutors. It was designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith, and one of the earliest descriptions of the building appeared in 1760 in the New American Magazine, which emphasized its rather spartan design:

There are three flat-arched doors on the north side giving access by a flight of steps to the three separate entries. At the center is a projecting section of five bays surmounted by a pediment with circular windows, and other decorations. The only ornamental feature above the cornice, is the cupola, standing somewhat higher than the twelve fireplace chimneys. Beyond these there are no features of distinction.

The simple interior design is shown in the plan, where a central corridor provided communication with the students’ chambers and recitation rooms, the entrances, and the common prayer hall; and on the second floor, with the library over the central north entrance. The prayer hall was two stories high, measured 32 by 40 feet, and had a balcony at the north end which could be reached from the second-story entry. Partially below ground level, though dimly lighted by windows, was the cellar, which served as kitchen, dining area (beneath the prayer hall), and storeroom. In all there were probably forty rooms for the students, not including those added later in the cellar when a moat was dug to allow additional light and air into that dungeon.

As was the case with most of the colonial-era colleges in the United States, the primary objective at the College of New Jersey was to prepare men to enter the ministry. However, while most were affiliated with either Puritanism or Anglicanism, this school was Presbyterian in its theology. Up until Woodrow Wilson in the early 20th century, all of its college presidents were ministers, and during the colonial era this included Great Awakening leader Jonathan Edwards and Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon.

Edwards arrived here in 1758, only two years after Nassau Hall was completed, but he died just a month later, after receiving a smallpox inoculation. The next two presidents also died relatively young, but John Witherspoon became president in 1768, and remained here until his death in 1794. During this time, he was also involved in politics, including serving on the Continental Congress, and he was the only clergyman among those who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Aside from these two presidents, the school also had a number of prominent students throughout the 18th century. Future president James Madison graduated from here in 1771, and one of his classmates was future vice president Aaron Burr, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who graduated a year later. Others included Joseph Hewes, Benjamin Rush, and Richard Stockton, all of whom signed the Declaration of Independence along with Witherspoon.

After the end of the Revolution, ten Princetonians participated in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and five of them signed the Constitution: Gunning Bedford, David Brearley, Jonathan Dayton, James Madison, and William Paterson. Many other former Princeton students held other positions at the state and national level in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution. These included General Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, who served as a cavalry officer in the Revolution and later as governor of Virginia, and Oliver Ellsworth, who served as the second Chief Justice of the United States.

However, it was not only Princeton’s students who played a role in the American Revolution; the school itself became a battleground during the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Prior to the battle, about 1,400 British soldiers were stationed in Princeton, and Nassau Hall was converted into barracks. During this time, the interior of the building was vandalized by the occupying army, and it was damaged even further during the battle itself. When Washington’s army advanced on Princeton, about 200 British soldiers took a defensive position inside of Nassau Hall, protected by the stone walls. However, the Continental Army opened fire on the building with cannons, and at least two cannonballs hit it before the British surrendered, effectively ending the battle.

Overall, the Battle of Princeton was a relatively small battle, but it helped to provide a much-needed morale boost for the Continental Army. Throughout the summer and fall of 1776, Washington had suffered a series of defeats as his army steadily retreated from New York City and across New Jersey. Thomas Paine famously described the situation as “the times that try men’s souls,” since many soldiers were deserting or not planning on re-enlisting after their enlistments expired on January 1, 1777. However, Washington’s surprise victory at Trenton on December 26, followed by Princeton a week later, helped to motivate soldiers to re-enlist and even inspired new recruits to join the army. Two years later, the Battle of Princeton was memorialized in Charles Willson Peale’s famous Washington at Princeton painting, depicting the commander in chief leaning against a cannon on the battlefield, with Nassau Hall visible in the distance on the left side of the painting.

Following the battle, Nassau Hall was occupied by the Continental Army throughout much of 1777, first as barracks and then as a hospital. This caused further damage to the interior, but at the end of the war the building took on a very different role when it temporarily became the capitol of the United States. Since 1775, Independence Hall in Philadelphia had been the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, in 1783 a group of about 400 soldiers from the Continental Army marched on Independence Hall, demanding payment for their wartime service. Despite Congress’s requests, the Pennsylvania state government declined to use the militia to protect the building, so the Continental Congress left Philadelphia on June 21, and reconvened nine days later here at Princeton, in the second floor library of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall served as the capitol building for the next four months. During this time, on October 31, 1783, Congress was notified that British and American diplomats had signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution. That same day, Congress also held a ceremony for diplomat Peter John van Berckel, who presented his credentials to Congress as the first Dutch ambassador to the United States. Van Berckel was apparently offended that his formal reception occurred in a small New Jersey town, rather than in Philadelphia as he had expected. However, he subsequently served as ambassador until 1788, and following the end of his term he continued to live in the United States for the rest of his life.

In any case, Congress did not remain in Princeton for much longer. It met here for the last time on November 4, 1783, and subsequently departed for Annapolis, where the Maryland State House functioned as the temporary national capitol. Congress would later return to the Princeton area, meeting in nearby Trenton for a little less than two months in late 1784 before moving to New York City in 1785. The capital city would then shift back to Philadelphia in 1790, before permanently moving to the newly-established city of Washington D.C. in 1800.

In the meantime, Nassau Hall continued to function as the home of the College of New Jersey throughout this time. However, on March 6, 1802 the building was completely gutted by a fire, leaving only the stone exterior walls still standing. The school soon began raising funds for its reconstruction, and among the donors were the citizens of Princeton, who feared that the school would use the opportunity to move out of the small town. For the work of rebuilding Nassau Hall, the school hired architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is best known for having designed the United States Capitol in Washington. His plans for Nassau Hall were largely faithful to Robert Smith’s original design, and consisted of mostly minor stylistic changes. Perhaps the greatest difference was the roof, which was raised two feet higher than the original.

Thus restored, Nassau Hall would continue to be occupied by the school for the next half century, until another disastrous fire gutted it on March 10, 1855. This time, architect John Notman was responsible for the renovations, in the process making more drastic changes than Latrobe had. Inspired by Italianate-style architecture, which was popular at the time, Notman’s plans gave Nassau Hall more of a Renaissance appearance. Here on this side of the building, his design included a new arched doorway at the main entrance, and an arched window and balcony above it. Notman’s most significant alteration, though, was the addition of two Italianate towers, with one at each end of the building. The tower on the east side of the building is hidden behind the trees in the first photo, but the western tower is partially visible on the far right side of the scene.

The first photo was taken around 1903, and just two years later the tops of these towers were removed. Otherwise, though, the exterior of the building has not changed much since the 1855 reconstruction. However, the school’s use of Nassau Hall has evolved during this time. As Princeton added new buildings to its campus, Nassau Hall no longer needed to serve as an all-in-one building for dormitory rooms, classrooms, and offices. By 1924, the building was being used exclusively for administrative offices, including the offices of the university president, and it has been used for this purpose ever since.

Today, after surviving a Revolutionary War battle and two major fires, Nassau Hall still stands as an important part of the Princeton campus. It has been heavily altered, especially after the two fires, and the only original materials left in the building are the stone walls. Regardless, though, it remains one of the oldest college buildings in the country, and it is also important for its role in the Battle of Princeton and as the temporary capitol of the United States. Because of this, Nassau Hall was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

This church was made famous by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but the building predates the story by more than a century, and it stands as the second-oldest existing church building in the state of New York. It was built in the late 1690s by Frederick Philipse I, a wealthy Dutch settler who owned a large tract of land along the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Philipse immigrated to New York in the 1650s, about a decade before England gained control of the colony from the Dutch. However, the Dutch landowners here were allowed to retain their property, and by the 1670s he had acquired a significant amount of land, including the modern-day municipalities of Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mount Pleasant. At the time, there was a small community here in North Tarrytown, including a graveyard here on the left side of this scene. However, the people lacked a permanent church building, so in the late 1690s Philipse had this stone, Dutch Colonial-style church constructed at the southern end of the graveyard for his tenant farmers. By some accounts, Philipse designed the church himself, and he also may have personally assisted with the construction work, including carving the pulpit.

The church is located on the west side of the Albany Post Road, modern-day US Route 9, on a hillside about a hundred yards north of where the road crosses the Pocantico River. During the American Revolution, this area around Sleepy Hollow was a sort of neutral zone, located between British-occupied New York City and the areas to the north, which were controlled by the Continental Army.

One of the most important wartime incidents here occurred in 1780, when Major John André was captured by American forces less than a mile south of the church. He had been returning south after a secret meeting with Benedict Arnold, and upon searching him the Americans discovered documents that incriminated Arnold in a plot to surrender West Point to the British. Arnold was able to evade capture after the plot was exposed, but West Point remained secure and André was subsequently executed as a spy, since he had been behind enemy lines in civilian clothing.

Another significant local event in the war was the Battle of White Plains, which was fought a few miles to the southeast of here in 1776. During the battle, a Hessian soldier was decapitated by an American cannonball, and this is said to have been the inspiration for the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the story, the narrator describes how, according to legend, the ghostly apparition had lost his head in “some nameless battle” during the war. He was buried here in the graveyard next to this church in Sleepy Hollow, but he would leave every night and travel to the battlefield in search of his head, although he always needed to return to the graveyard by dawn.

By the time Washington Irving published his story in 1820, this church was already over 120 years old. In the story, he emphasized the eerie, isolated location of the church, particularly in this passage:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared nearly a century later, around 1903. By this point, both the church and its surroundings had undergone changes. The church was damaged by a fire after a lightning strike in 1837, and the repairs included alterations to the building. It was partially restored to its original appearance in the late 19th century, but by then it was no longer in regular use. The congregation had moved to a new building in Tarrytown during the mid-19th century, and the old one here in Sleepy Hollow was subsequently used only for special events.

Also during this period, the land around the church became a new cemetery. Originally named the Tarrytown Cemetery, it was later renamed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the request of Washington Irving, who was interred here after his death in 1859. Unlike the much older graveyard next to the church, this new cemetery reflected the mid-19th century trend of rural cemeteries. These were typically well-landscaped, with plenty of trees and winding footpaths that followed the contours of the ground, making cemeteries feel more like a park. Aside from Irving, many other prominent people have been buried here in Sleepy Hollow, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie after his death in 1919.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the 320-year-old church is still standing here alongside US Route 9. Remarkably little has changed in the scene during this time, and the building is still owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold events and services here on occasion. Because of its historical significance, along with its literary associations with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the church was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Washington Avenue Armory, Albany, New York

The Washington Avenue Armory, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This building was completed in 1890 as the armory for the Tenth Battalion of the state militia. It originally consisted of an administrative area here in the front section of the building, with meeting rooms for the various companies within the battalion, and a large drill hall directly behind it. The armory was located in the midst of an urban environment, surrounded by rowhouses and commercial buildings and only a few blocks west of the capitol, and it served as both a place for military training and as a social club for the unit’s members.

The entire building was constructed of brick, with brownstone trim from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. It was designed by prominent architect Isaac G. Perry, and it features a Romanesque design that gives the armory the appearance of a medieval castle. This style of architecture was common for public buildings of the late 19th century, and particularly for state armories in New York and elsewhere. For these armories, the architecture was not merely decorative; the building’s massive, imposing appearance conveyed a sense of governmental authority and strength, and it could be used as a fortification in the event of civil unrest.

During the late 19th century, concerns about civil unrest were largely based on a number of violent labor disputes that occurred around the country starting in the 1870s and 1880s. This would continue for the next few decades, including at least one deadly strike that occurred here in Albany in 1901. That year, the city’s trolley motormen went on strike, and the United Traction Company replaced them with non-union operators. In response, the strikers and their supporters vandalized a trolley, cut the overhead trolley wires, and sent at least one of the replacement motormen to the hospital.

The Tenth Battalion was assembled here at the armory before dispersing by company to protect the company’s powerhouse and two trolley barns during the night of May 15. The next morning, they were supplemented by the arrival of the 23rd Regiment from Brooklyn. This unit had prior experience in dealing with strikes, and they also had the advantage of not having any local connections to the strikers. However, perhaps because of that, these outside soldiers caused further violence when several opened fire on a crowd, killing two bystanders who were not involved in the strike.

In addition to its military use, though, the armory was also used for a variety of civilian purposes, including as a venue for sporting events, dances, concerts, lectures, and expositions. One early event was a wrestling match featuring the reigning world heavyweight champion, Joe Stecher, who easily defeated Mort Henderson, the “Masked Marvel.” Later in 1920, Albany residents could pay 50 to 75 cents to “watch” the World Series here, which was reproduced on a board based on live play-by-play telegraph reports.

Over the years, perhaps the armory’s best-known use has been as a basketball arena. It was the home court of the city’s first professional basketball team, the Albany Senators, which began playing here in the 1919-1920 season as part of the New York State League. Basketball was still a relatively new sport at the time, and there were no nationwide professional leagues, but the New York State League was one of many regional leagues, with teams such as the Schenectady Dorpians, the Utica Utes, and the Gloversville Glovemakers.

The Senators played particularly well in their first year, and they finished the season as co-champions along with the Troy Knights of Columbus. During that year, the team’s starting lineup included Marty Friedman and Barney Sedran, both of whom were later elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Both were short by modern basketball standards, and Sedran is, at 5’4”, the shortest player in the Hall of Fame. Another notable teammate of theirs here in Albany was Harry Riconda, who was the Senators’ leading scorer for the 1919-1920 season. He was also a professional baseball player, and he played parts of six seasons as a Major League Baseball third baseman between 1923 and 1930.

More recently, the armory has been used by Albany Patroons, a minor league basketball team that began playing here in 1982. The team moved into the new Knickerbocker Arena—now the Times Union Center—in 1990, and three years later they moved to Hartford. However, a new Patroons team was formed in 2005, and returned to the armory for its home games. This team folded after the 2009 season, but it was replaced by a third iteration of the Patroons in 2018. The new team continues to use the armory, more than a century after the original Albany Senators played here.

Throughout this time, the armory remained in use by the National Guard until 1989. Since then, in addition to basketball games, it also hosts a number of other events, particularly concerts, and it has a seating capacity that ranges from 3,600 for basketball games to 4,300 for concerts. On the exterior, very little has changed in the building’s appearance since the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. It stands as an important landmark along Washington Avenue, and in 1995 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Union Station, Albany, New York (3)

The main entrance to Union Station on Broadway in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view of Union Station is similar to the one in the previous post, but provides more of a close-up view of the central part of the building, with the main entrance in the foreground. As explained in that post and an earlier one, the station opened in 1900, and it served passengers of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the Delaware and Hudson Railway, the West Shore Railroad, and the Boston and Albany Railroad. The latter two railroads were owned by the New York Central, so overall the railroad was responsible for two-thirds of the daily trains here. This is emphasized by the fact that the New York Central’s name is engraved here on the facade in the first photo, directly above the central arch.

The station was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, with a Beaux-Arts style that was popular for public buildings of the era. The three arches here at the main entrance are the most distinctive architectural elements of the building, and in some ways they foreshadow the similar arches used more than a decade later when the New York Central built Grand Central Terminal more than a decade later.

Above the arches are a number of carvings, including a clock in the center atop the building, which is incorporated into the New York state seal. To the left of the clock is a figure representing Liberty, and to the left is Justice. An eagle is perched atop a globe above the clock, and underneath the clock is the inscription “Excelsior,” the state motto of New York. Other prominent carvings include large globes atop the corners, each of which is supported by four lions.

The first photo was taken soon after the station opened, and it shows an interesting mix of people outside the station. There are no cars visible on the street, but there are two horse-drawn vehicles, with an expensive-looking coach in the foreground on the right, and a more modest carriage further in the distance on the left side of the scene. Several people appear to have been watching the photographer, including a man with a top hat just beyond the coach, a man beneath the right arch with a briefcase and bowler hat, and three young newsboys who are standing in the street. Others seem indifferent to the camera, including at least three women walking along the sidewalk in front of the station, and another man in a bowler hat who is smoking a pipe and casually leaning against a column.

Union Station continued to be used by the railroads well into the mid-20th century, but by the 1950s ridership was in a steady decline, here in Albany and around the country. The station ultimately closed in 1968, ending passenger rail service into downtown Albany. To replace it, the railroad built a new, much smaller station across the river in Rensselaer.

The old station here in Albany was in limbo throughout the 1970s, and it was the subject of several different proposals, including demolition. However, it was ultimately restored as an office building in the late 1980s by Norstar Bancorp, whose name still appears on the facade in the spot where the New York Central’s name was once located. After a series of bank mergers, the building eventually became offices for Bank of America until 2009, and it is now occupied by several different tenants. Despite these changes in use, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the only significant difference here in this scene is the loss of the iron canopy above the entrance.

Union Station, Albany, New York (2)

Union Station in Albany, seen from the southwest corner at Broadway and Steuben Streets, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in a previous post, Albany’s Union Station opened in 1900 here on Broadway, in the northern part of downtown Albany. It was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, along with two of its subsidiaries: the West Shore Railroad and the Boston and Albany Railroad. Together, these three railroads comprised more than two-thirds of the rail traffic here when the station opened, with 42 New York Central, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany trains departing daily. The remaining traffic was from the Delaware and Hudson Railway, which was headquartered in Albany and had 31 daily departures here.

The first photo was taken soon after the station was completed, showing its ornate granite Beaux-Arts exterior. It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which was responsible for many of the stations along the route of the Boston and Albany. During the heyday of passenger rail travel, the railroad stations of large cities often featured grand architecture. Such stations would provide a good first impression to visitors of a particular city, along with demonstrating the importance and prosperity of the city and its railroad lines. This would have been especially important here in Albany, given its role as the capital city of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country.

Here on the west side of the station, where most passengers would have entered and exited the building, the exterior features three arches, giving it an appearance similar Grand Central Terminal, which was built more than a decade later. Above these arches are a number of elaborate carvings. Of these, the most prominent is the state seal of New York, which was carved over the course of three months by about 15 workers. It stands above the middle arch, and it consists of a clock that is flanked on either side by allegorical representations of Liberty and Justice. Beneath the clock is the state motto, Excelsior, and above it is an eagle perched on a globe. To the left and right of the seal, atop the corners of the central part of the station, are stone globes, each supported by four lions. Although not visible here, two identical globes are located on the other side of the building.

This station was a busy place throughout the first half of the 20th century, with rail travel peaking during World War II when up to 121 daily trains departed from here. However, railroads around the country saw a steep decline in ridership soon after the war, when highways and airlines became the preferred ways to travel by the 1950s. Even the New York Central, once one of the most lucrative companies in the country, was facing possible bankruptcy. This financial situation was not helped by the fact that it had to maintain large, aging stations such as this one in Albany, despite very limited numbers of passengers.

In 1968, the New York Central merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, creating the Penn Central Railroad. Around the same time, the railroad began constructing a new, much smaller station across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, and the old station here in Albany closed on December 29, 1968. The tracks to the station were then removed and, as a sign of the changing ways that Americans traveled, Interstate 787 was built through the former rail yard behind the station.

The station itself was the subject of different redevelopment proposals, some of which would have involved demolishing the old building. Instead, it was ultimately preserved and converted into offices in the 1980s. For many years it was occupied by banks, beginning with Norstar Bancorp. The company’s name is still carved in the facade above the central arch, but the bank went through a series of mergers in the 1990s and early 2000s, eventually becoming part of Bank of America. The former station was occupied by Bank of America until 2009, and the building is now used as offices for a variety of other companies.