Lincoln Park -- from beer, bricks and beavers

lincoln park beaver park plan 1914

A plan for Beaver Park from 1914

By Carl Johnson

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.

Beer

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.

Bricks

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.

"Borrowing"

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?"

The Beaver

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

Comments

I was just talking about Lincoln earlier today. Very cool, guys.

Thanks for this! I find so much written about Washington Park, but very little about Lincoln Park (I live in between both). I've been exploring the old Beaver Kill gully a lot over the past year (except when the smell is too bad). I've been posting about it at my blog - http://albanynydailyphoto.blogspot.com/2009/05/lost-in-wilderness-part-one.html

More photos - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=302975&id=503485273&l=daa73c9f11

It's a pity that the ravine is so filthy with trash and the smell from the sewers that run into the underground falls...it could be such a scenic and historic part of the park, instead of gated and neglected.

Washington Park wasn't designed by FL Olmsted; the design was inspired by Olmsted. From what I remember, Olmsted visited and provided input on the park once. Dr. John Pipkin at UAlbany did a great series of lectures on the development on WP for the Institute of History an Art a few years ago. Also, check out the historic marker on the corner of Madison, across from New Scotland-I think the name of the actual designer is listed.

AOA, can you look into the management of Washingon Park? What roles do the city gardener and forester play, if any? Are there plans for a master plan for the park?

nice work. its the only place in Albany you can watch cricket.


it also looks like a big penis from that photo.

Awesome post! I enjoyed it immensely!

I never made the connection that the Olmstead of Washington Park was also the Olmstead of the Chjcago World's Fair written about in The Devil in the White City. Very interesting!

Good job AOA, I love this stuff!
@Paula: excellent blog series! How fascinating! I've lived in the area all my life and have never been down there because I was always taught that Lincoln park was the "dangerous one." I'm definitely taking the dog for a walk over there.

Elisabeth -- I chose the words "Olmsted pedigree" carefully, because you're right. Olmsted and Calvert Vaux did propose a vision for what would be Washington Park in 1868 -- but the actual plans were drawn by local engineers John Bogart and John Cuyler, who trained under Olmsted and Vaux. John Bogart probably deserves an entry on his own.

More on Col. Bogart: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9F00E7D91E3CEE3ABC4E51DFB266838B639EDE

I don't know if it's true but I've heard that Lincoln Park was at one time planned as a storm drain catch basin- in case of flooding the water would be turned into the park and then channeled to the Hudson. Interesting theory.

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