Sure, the Washington Park has the Olmstead pedigree, the stately splendor, and a spooky rep as a former graveyard. But the land that became Albany's Lincoln Park has the more interesting history -- a history that includes beer, bricks, borrowing and... the beaver.
The acres that now make up the green expanse of Lincoln Park were, in the 19th century, a tangle of wilderness surrounding a tumbling creek known as the Beaverkill, complete with a waterfall. In 1857 Frederick Hinckel established the Cataract Brewery, named for the adjacent Buttermilk Falls of the Beaverkill. The 1880 factory of The Hinckel Brewing Company has long since been converted to high-end apartments on Park Avenue.
The exposed clay banks along the Beaverkill made it an ideal spot for brick companies to locate. A number of brickyards, took up residence along the edge of what is now Lincoln Park. M.H. Bender, a relation of Albany's well-regarded legal publishing Bender family, made common brick and draintiles at his brickyard at the upper corner between Delaware and Dove. Another major brickyard of the day, Babcock and Moore, made bricks on Morton Avenue -- between South Hawk and Eagle Streets -- right up until the park was established in 1901.
No, not money -- geological research materials.
Tucked in between the beer and the bricks, right about where the Lincoln Park tennis courts are today, was the home of one of New York s leading 19th Century citizens, State Geologist James Hall. He was a voracious collector of geological specimens. But there was a problem of sorts -- many elements of his collection were not, strictly speaking, his. According to his biographer, Hall had a tendency to "borrow" the materials of others for his own scientific investigations and later "hoped the owner might be generously moved or might forget...He himself could appreciate these objects best of all; why should they be scattered over the earth out of their proper association and remote from their usefulness?"
Years later, civic groups like the Albany Mother's Club (now the Woman's Club of Albany) pushed for the creation of playgrounds for children. Beaver Park was billed as the city's first public playground when it opened in July 1900.
Over the next two decades, shanties along a number of former streets were torn down, the brickyards were taken over and filled in, and the Beaverkill itself was channeled underground and now only exists as part of the city sewage system. The plans for the park called for it to be the "open-air amusement center of the city," and the combination of athletic fields, a pavilion, and a large swimming pool (the current pool is the second one built in the park) certainly lived up to the promise, though it wasn't quite as grand as designers Arnold Brunner and Charles Downing Lay had hoped (they had to abandon plans for an Albany city gate).
By 1916, the beaver, on whose pelts our Albany was founded and whose namesake stream had already been forced underground, was no longer considered worthy of a namesake park. Commented James Hall's biographer, John Mason Clarke: "Mr. Hall's property is now a part of a public park, first appropriately named Beaver Park, from the Beaverkill which had cut a gorge through its upper reaches, but now rechristened Lincoln Park by a patriotic but unimaginative Common Council."
Diagrams from Studies for Albany by Arnold W. Bruner and Charles Downing Lay, 1914
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