What is the oldest business in Albany?

rb wing and son building ghost sign

R.B. Wing and Son once had a claim to the title.

By Carl Johnson

Update: Carl's found one that's even older.

Over at Hoxsie I recently unearthed a 1905 ad for Danker Florist, which is still going strong today. And that led to the question: What might be the oldest business still running in Albany?

There are a few contenders.

For many years, R.B. Wing and Son was recognized as perhaps the oldest business in the city. It started around 1854 as a ship's chandler when Albany was a booming river port, and then transitioned into construction supplies. Unfortunately, it closed in 1996 after 151 years in business, and is no longer in the running for oldest business in Albany. But it left behind one of the more distinctive buildings on Broadway, decorated with reminders of its nautical past.

The stone fabricator Adam Ross Cut Stone, now on Broadway in Albany, seems like the kind of business that's been around for centuries. But it's a relative newcomer, dating back only to 1889.

Hudson Valley Paper Company, the wholesale supplier of all kinds of paper and printers' supplies, was run by the same family from its founding in 1875 until last March, when it was sold to Lindernmeyr Munroe. But even at 137 years, it's not the oldest business in the city.

Probably the oldest business in the tri-cities would be W.& L.E. Gurley, or as they are now known, Gurley Precision Instruments. William and Lewis Gurley were both engineering graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who gained an international reputation for creating precision measuring instruments, and were particularly well known for their surveying equipment. Today they primarily manufacture highly specialized instrumentation that is used in the manufacturing, robotics, and medical fields. The firm was founded in 1845 in Troy and they are still there today, which means that for 167 years they have not been the oldest business in Albany.

It's not entirely clear exactly when the capital city's oldest business was founded; its current location lays claim to 1867, but that is clearly entirely too recent. An 1888 biographical note on its founder says that he had established himself some 40 years before, so a guess of 1848 can't be far off.

The founder was "the well and favorably known merchant tailor, whose neat and popular establishment is located at No. 54 North Pearl Street, who is one of the oldest and foremost exponents of the tailoring art in Albany." That store was a mere 25 x 80 feet in size, "nicely appointed and well ordered," and presented "a large and elegant assortment of imported and domestic, woolen and worsted goods, including cassimeres [sic, an old spelling], cloths, checks, plaids, serges, stripe cheviot, and fashionable suitings from which the most fastidious may select a full and fine line of ready-made clothing . . . ." In adjacent shops, 20 to 30 experienced hands were employed in garment-making.

This was the establishment of Benjamin Lodge, merchant tailor, who was in 1888 "a gentleman somewhat past the meridian of life, but active and energetic, was born in Scotland, and has resided in this city upward of half a century. He is a man of strict integrity in his dealings as well as a practical and expert cutter and all around workman, and is well-known and highly regarded throughout the capital and environs." It's been many years since any of the clothing on offer was produced in-house, and it has long since relocated across the street at 75 North Pearl Street.

Lodge's exterior

At somewhere around 164 years old, it's reasonable to believe that B. Lodge & Co.'s famous claim to being Albany's oldest store makes it Albany's oldest business as well.

Carl Johnson writes about history and other fun stuff at Hoxsie! and My Non-Urban Life.

Earlier on AOA:
+ A few years back, Amy went shopping at Lodge's.
+ For sale: the "oldest" house in Schenectady
+ The oldest building in Albany?
+ The oldest house in Saratoga Springs

Find It

B. Lodge and Co.
75 North Pearl Street
Albany, NY 12207

Comments

Carl, once again you've outdone yourself! A great read :)

My father's family founded B. Lodge & Co. The Lodge's were from Ontario Canada but members moved back and forth to the US. We lost the store in the late 19th C.- it's been out of our hands far longer than it was in them.

Great post! Some years ago, there was an effort to identify the oldest business in the town of Colonie. Engel's Farm was the apparent winner. Too bad the family members that last ran the business had a disagreement, and the property is now up for sale...

Did we ever find out what the oldest restaurant is? Or the oldest bar?

@Brendan,

I've heard Pauly's Hotel on Central ave is the oldest bar in Albany. Anyone else know if this is true?

@Brendan: I'm pretty sure Jack's is Albany's oldest restaurant.

@ Duncan

I have always heard that it was Pauly's but they were closed for at least five or six years recently.

Others I hear are the Orchard Tavern and some place down in the south end. I wonder if continually operated would make a difference on "oldest".

I had always heard that Pauly's wasn't the oldest bar, but that for most of history there has always been a bar at that location.

The New York State Museum has a large collection of objects once belonging to the early Gurley company.

A good article that I enjoyed reading.

"An 1888 biographical note on its founder says that he had established himself some 40 years before, so a guess of 1848 can't be far off." - As a fellow history fan, I hate to say it, but biographies are secondary sources and can't be trusted. Go to the Pruyn Collection at the APL. They have a mostly complete collection of city directories going back to the 1820s. A year by year search will quickly determine the exact age of Lodge's.

@Tim -- I'm not claiming to be definitive here, but I ran down all the suspects I could think of or find in early directories, and to my surprise it looked like Lodge's was the oldest. He's a merchant tailor on Hudson Street in the 1858 directory, which was as far back as I went with R.B.Wing out of the running.

Unfortunately, of the dozen or so banks that were in Albany back then and right up until the 1980s or 1990s, not a single one survives as a local business.

Looks like I owe you guys an article, because this one's no longer any good. New research (by which I mean, a complete accident) shows that Albany's actual oldest business is The Woodward Company, a fastener and hardware dealer that began in the carriage and saddle business in 1819 and is still going strong. Oops! Well, at least Lodge's is still the oldest store.

http://www.hoxsie.org/2012/05/woodward-hill-albanys-actual-oldest.html

woodward company started in 1819 and is still going strong.

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