Albany 50 years ago -- more than 100 years ago

north pearl and state 1800s illustration by james eights

I AM an Albany Knickerbocker -- a Dutchman of purest Belgic blood -- and I justly claim to be heard, as the last as well as the most loyal of the fading cocked-hat generation, who mourn over the barbarisms of despotic Fashion and the hot haste of society in these degenerate days, when steam and iron have usurped the power of honest breath and muscle, and the lightning has become the obedient chariot of thought.

You can fit many cycles of death and rebirth in 400 years.

We were thinking about that as we read through this piece from a 1857 edition of Harper's: "Albany Fifty Years Ago." It's based on the recollections of James Eights, a "natural scientist" and illustrator who grew up in the city, as told to Benson John Lossing, a noted writer and editor at the time. (Here's a stripped down version of the text hosted by the Internet Archive. Do an in-page search for "ALBANY FIFTY YEARS AGO.")

The article is structured as a pictorial walk-through of Albany near the beginning of the 19th century, as Eights remembered it. It's packed with laments about then-modern fashion ("The lady had 'lost her waist') and "social retrogression," recollections of gossip and plotting ("How many plans which controlled the destinies of the Empire State may have been matured in these daily social councils!"), the retelling of pranks and jokes, and the noting of historical events ("Nowhere did the death of [Alexander] Hamilton make a more profound impression than in Albany, and nowhere was the hatred toward Burr, his destroyer, more intense.").

It's kind of fascinating reading through all these memories of a place that had already been made new at least once or twice by the time Eights recalled it. But some of the threads stretch into our modern day, in names and streets that still exist. It makes us wonder about the ways the old, old history of Albany still influences the place, maybe in ways no one living today even realizes.

From the close of the piece:

A little while and I shall be like those old buildings-prone among the buried things of the Past; and yet a little while, and you, too, will be a forgotten item on the day-book of the living. But it is better to laugh than to weep, and so I will close my sermon here at the end of the text. Here is a glass of fine old Rhenish, imported by my friend Barent Bleecker. We may never meet again on the earth; so with the sparkling goblets in our hands, I will say, God bless you! Adieu!

From: Benson J. Lossing, "Albany Fifty Years Ago," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 82 (March 1857): 451-463

[via Daniel Nester -- Thanks!]


An easier way to view the full essay is on the Making of America site hosted by Cornell. You can click through each page here:;cc=harp;rgn=full%20text;idno=harp0014-4;didno=harp0014-4;view=image;seq=0461;node=harp0014-4%3A3

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.


Recently on All Over Albany

Debbie's Kitchen is returning (with Debbie)

There's wondrous sandwich news in Albany: Debbie's Kitchen is planning to return to its old location on Madison Avenue in Albany -- with Debbie herself... (more)

The Albany airport's getting terminal upgrades, a new parking garage, and a new connector road from Exit 4

The Albany International Airport is set to get terminal upgrades and a new parking garage as part of a $42 million renovation -- and there's... (more)

Same place, very different map

The history of Albany as a city stretches back 400 years. But the history of this land -- and people living here -- is, of... (more)

How to handle a situation involving a neighbor and uncertain future for a shared property?

Anonymous emails: Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the situation below: We live in Center Square and we share a demising... (more)

Postmodern Jukebox back at Troy Music Hall

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox is returning to the Troy Music Hall February 22. Tickets on on sale to the general public this Friday, August 17... (more)

Recent Comments

I don't understand how people give such leeway to expensive highway boondoggles like this one as compared to the scrutiny the Albany Skyway project is receiving. Sure, there's certainly things to criticize with the Skyway project, but this project appears to save drivers 30 seconds on their way to the Airport at the cost of $50 million dollars! How is this not receiving five times the scrutiny and outrage that the skyway project is receiving?!? Imagine how much good we could do if that $50 million were spent in the City of Albany...

Here's the proposed design for the Albany Skyway

...has 10 comments, most recently from james

Debbie's Kitchen is returning (with Debbie)

...has 1 comment, most recently from Jsc

The Albany airport's getting terminal upgrades, a new parking garage, and a new connector road from Exit 4

...has 4 comments, most recently from Mike

Follow up: Delaware Supply

...has 4 comments, most recently from Dave

How to handle a situation involving a neighbor and uncertain future for a shared property?

...has 2 comments, most recently from jsc