The flatlands around the head of navigation for the Hudson River were uneventfully farmed by Dutch settlers and their descendants for the better part of 150 years. After the American Revolution one of those farms, the Vanderhyden place, was subdivided into building lots. Streets were laid out in a grid plan based on Philadelphia’s and in 1793 the new settlement was designated the Rensselaer County seat. There was a spate of classically-inspired town-naming going on in New York State at the time and the village became Troy.
During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Troy gained prominence as an exporter of grain and vegetables. In 1822 Henry Burden, a native of Scotland, arrived as superintendent of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory. His inventive mind soon automated work that had previously been done by hand and he soon patented a process for manufacturing iron spikes for the new railroads. In 1835 Burden invented a horseshoe machine that cranked out a horseshoe every second, a technological wonder of the day. Troy had its feet planted firmly in the Industrial Revolution. Foundries were busy churning out stoveplates and casting bells.
Visiting Europe in 1864, Horatio Winslow purchased the rights to manufacture and sell Bessemer steel in the United States and began production at his company;s Troy works. Introduction of the the metal brought a new order of mass haulage by rail, and Troy became the steel center of the country for a decade before its supremacy was eclipsed by Andrew Carnegie’s Pittsburgh mills.
In the 1820s a local housewife, Hannah Lord Montague, wearied of washing her husband’s entire shirts when only the collar was dirty so she cut them off and started a new industry. Ebenezer Brown began the manufacture of detachable collars in 1829 and in 1834 Lyman Bennett opened the first successful collar factory. And Troy had a new moniker: “Collar City.” While Troy’s industries were propelling it to the first rank of American cities it was also a leader in education. Under the patronage of Stephen van Rensselaer, Troy was the home of the first strictly scientific academic institution in the United States, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, and Emma Willard was a national leader in the education of women, establishing some of America’s first and most admired women’s colleges.
Troy’s fall from prosperity mirrored other northern cities in the post-World War II period. The industries have mostly disappeared but the schools still thrive - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the city’s largest private employer. The population has dwindled to mid-19th century levels and that suits the streetscape. In 2006, the New York Times described the city as having “one of the most perfectly preserved 19th-century downtowns in the United States.” Hollywood has found its way to Troy to take advantage of these living set pieces and our walking tour of this by-gone world will begin with a statue dedicated to a fictional character, Uncle Sam...
River Street and Front Street
In February 1789, Samuel Wilson and his brother Ebenezer left Mason, New Hampshire by foot to seek their fortune in Troy. The two brothers opened a brick factory and were soon in charge of a prosperous and popular enterprise; they were known around town as“Uncle Sam” and “Uncle Eben.” In 1793 the brothers went into the meat-packing business. By 1812, the E. & S. Wilson Company employed 100 people and slaughtered 1,000 heads of cattle weekly and were supplying provisions to the United States Army during the War of 1812. During the war, so the story goes, the initials of Uncle Sam and United States became entwined by some jokester and Uncle Sam was born as a euphemism for the American government. If Sam Wilson was indeed the original Uncle Sam he didn’t apparently know about it. When he died in 1854 none of the newspaper obituaries by Troy writers mentioned the Uncle Sam connection. Two obituaries reprinted from Albany newspapers did, however, talk about Uncle Sam. The most famous depiction of Uncle Sam was a recruiting poster created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. The face bears resemblance to the real Samuel Wilson, albeit with facial hair. Whatever the truth in the murky origins, this metal likeness of Samuel Wilson stands as a memorial to Uncle Sam.
WITH YOUR BACK TO UNCLE SAM, TURN RIGHT AND WALK SOUTH ON RIVER STREET (THE HUDSON RIVER WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
The Market Block
290 River Street at River and Third streets
There were three notable public markets in Troy: Fulton Market here was the first, erected in 1841. The first floor was leased to butchers and market men and a large hall on the second floor was used by theater companies. The original Greek Revival styling was updated in the late 1800s to create this three-story flat-iron shaped commercial block.
National State Bank Building
297 River Street at Fulton and Third streets
This junction housed a public market beginning in 1840. The market burned in 1903 and in its place rose this five-story bank designed by local go-to architect Marcus F. Cummings in the Beaux Arts style. Cummings’ design reflects the practice of creating early high-rise buildings to resemble a classical column with a defined base (the rusticated stone first floor), a shaft (theornate light gold brick middle stories) and a capital (the carved stone cornice). When Troy buildings began being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the National State Bank Building was one of the first recognized, in 1970. The National State Bank was established in 1852 with Ralph J. Starks at its head; it became a national bank in 1865.
The Frear Building
2-8 Third Street
William H. Frear began his business career on March 1, 1859 as a salesman in the dry goods concern of John Flagg. He gradually progressed until he was running “the largest and leading dry goods house north of New York City.” Frear’s Bazaar featured 53 departments spreading over 56,000 square feet and employed 300 people. Sales receipts were north of a million dollars per year. In 1904 those receipts funded this splendid Neoclassical emporium, an elegant turn-of-the-century indoor shopping mall with a marble and cast iron stairway, glass dome over the atrium, plaster-work ceilings and cast iron railings throughout. The Frear building has been renovated into an office building for its second 100 years.
WALK STRAIGHT ONTO THIRD STREET AS RIVER STREET BEARS RIGHT.
19 Third Street
Crafted in the Neoclassical style in 1924, the former Masonic lodge now does duty as a senior center. Prior to 1871 the Masons of Troy leased space on State Street after which it was determined to construct a dedicated temple. Architects Cummings and Birt of New York City designed a striking five-story structure with a polychromatic Ruskinian-Gothic facade with stores on the ground level and a stained glass window to indicate which of the city’s Masons was currently meeting inside. The building burned on February 4, 1924.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS A SHORT DISTANCE TO THE CORNER WITH RIVER STREET AND TURN LEFT.
255 River Street
When Isaac Keith was dealing furniture out of Peter McCarthy’s building and W.A. Sherman was selling stoves and furnaces here back at the turn of the 20th century they could not envision the firestorm that would one day surround their retail establishment. Constructed by Charles P. Bland in 1904, the builder decorated the five-story building with white terra cotta with its most distinctive feature being a two-story carved stone entrance that resembles a proscenium arch across the three-bay facade. In the 1960s the McCarthy Building had an appointment with the wrecking ball but protests from outraged residents spawned a historical preservation movement in Troy and landed the venerable commercial building on the National Register of Historic Places.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET INTO MONUMENT SQUARE.
Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument
This was Washington Square when the Rensselaer County Soldiers and Sailors Monument was dedicated on September 15, 1891. The monument was created with a pedestal featuring four bronze tablets, one representing the epic battle of Civil War ironclads, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, and the other three being representative of the cavalry, artillery and infantry. From the pedestal rose a granite shaft, surrounded by a bronze figure, entitled “The Call to Arms” by James E. Kelly of New York. The entire height of the monument is 90 feet.
LOOK TO THE EAST ACROSS SECOND STREET.
Hendrick Hudson Hotel
200 Broadway at northeast corner of Second Street
At seven stories, the Roaring Twenties-era Hendrick Hudson Hotel on the east side of Monument Square was the largest building ever built in the city at the time. Crafted of brick and limestone, the hotel was the must-stop location for visiting dignitaries. It soldiers on today as office space.
WALK TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE SQUARE WHERE BROADWAY MEETS SECOND STREET.
1-9 Broadway, south side of Monument Square
This is the oldest building on Monument Square, erected in 1835 by noted merchant Le Grand Cannon. It is an early work of Alexander Jackson Davis who was to become one of America’s leading architects in the next decade. Here Davis and collaborator Ithiel Town, one of the country’s first professional architects, built a large-scale commercial building in the Greek Revival style. It stretches 22 bays across the square and stands five stories high, constructed of load-bearing brick. Such massive projects are rare to see today from the 1830s although the roof received a then-fashionable French Second Empire mansard roof after two fires in the 1860s. It still operates as a retail-office building.
EXIT THE SQUARE AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING DOWN RIVER STREET.
Monument Square Apartments
2 First Street at River Street
The Monument Square Apartments began life as the Rensselaer Inn. The angled brick building, designed in a restrained Classical Revival style, was constructed in 1906. Merchant king William Frear, one of the largest landowners in the city, donated the lion’s share of the building funds to bring a first class guest house to downtown.
216 River Street at First Street
Celebrated architect Calvert Vaux contributed to the design of this landmark commercial building with frontage on River and First streets. The flat-iron shaped, multi-hued structure was raised in 1871 and is a rare example of the High Victorian Gothic style in Troy. The building originally sported a sixth floor crowned by a trio of spires but they were lost in a fire in 1916. During the 1980s the building had been foreclosed for taxes and subsequently sat vacant for over twelve years. Pieces of masonry were detaching from the structure and falling to the street. Demolition appeared imminent but the building was rescued and restored to its post-1916 appearance.
TURN LEFT ON FIRST STREET. TURN LEFT ON STATE STREET.
14 State Street at Second Street
John T. Christie was born in Troy in 1853; he was educated in the public schools of Troy and at Troy Conference Seminary at Poultney, Vermont. He was engaged in the flour milling business at Bristol, Vermont, for two years, when, having had his mill destroyed by a flood, he settled in Troy. In 1865 he formed a partnership with Rev. S. Parks, and was for several years engaged in the insurance business as Parks & Christie. Christie continued in the insurance business until 1883, when he disposed of his interest and purchased stock in the Ludlow Valve Manufacturing Company of Troy. In 1891, when that company was reorganized, he was elected president, continuing in that office until his retirement. He had this Romanesque-styled corner building constructed in 1895.
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
32 Second Street at State Street
The Troy Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1823. After decades of conducting business from a series of modest banking offices plans were launched in 1870 for a grand headquarters that would house not only the bank operations but include a music hall on the upper floor. George Browne Post, whose recently constructed eight-story Equitable Life Assurance Society was the first office building in New York City designed to use elevators, won the commission for the new project as his pioneering work with metal framing was the only way to bring the structure in under budget. Post would become renowned for his ornate French Renaissance designs and the Troy Savings Bank was one of his earliest works. When completed in 1875 the final price tag for the massive, six-story bank was $435,000. Nary a headlining act missed appearing on the celebrated Music Hall stage until the middle of the 20th century. In 1979, a group of private citizens formed the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Revitalization Committee to restore the community jewel. Meanwhile the bank remained a going concern until 2004 when it was swallowed by First Niagara.
TURN LEFT ON SECOND STREET AND WALK DOWN HALF A BLOCK.
21 Second Street
Formed by a group of printers, the Pioneer Building Loan and Savings Association opened its first bank on River Street in Troy on March 12, 1889. The bank remains independently operated and has been a fixture on this block since 1915. Its Renaissance-inspired home quarters features a rusticated stone base, engaged fluted columns and elaborate stone carvings.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO WALK SOUTH ON SECOND STREET ACROSS STATE STREET.
49 Second Street
The Paine family made its money in the Troy Malleable Iron Company, one of the works that helped the city become the second largest producer of iron in America. John W. Paine was admitted as a partner in the concern in 1854. He hired Washington architect P.F. Schneider to design this mansion in 1894. Schneider’s adaptation of the Richardsonian Romanesque style with its asymmetrical massing, broad arches fronting a recessed entry, corner tower and colonettes earned it the informal moniker “The Castle.” Costing some $500,000, the limestone-faced house was widely considered the most extravagant private residence in Troy. After Paine’s death the house passed through the family until there were no more heirs. Then it was handed to the butler who willed it to his daughter. Finally it was left to Russell Sage College which used it for awhile and since 1951 it has been the home to the Alpha Tau chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. You might recognize the house from its starring turn in Martin Scorcese’s Age of Innocence. The director tapped Troy to stand-in for old-time New York City and the Castle played Miriam Margolyes’ house in the movie.
57 Second Street
This Federal-style townhouse. faced in limestone and marble, is considered one of the best representations of that era in Troy. Constructed in 1826, the two-story townhouse was a gift of New York City merchant and banker William Howard to his only daughter, Betsey Howard Hart. Betsey had married his friend Richard P. Hart and dad wanted her to have a taste of New York City elegance while living in Troy. Hart would later serve as president of the Schenectady and Troy Railroad and put in a stint as mayor of Troy. In 1892 the family sold it to George Cluett, a local textile magnate. The Cluett family donated the house to the Rensselaer County Historical Society in 1952; today it is operated as a house museum.
Rensselaer County Courthouse
80 Second Street at Congress Street
Architect Marcus Cummings was busy on this corner in the 1890s - in addition to the trio of Russell Sage College buildings across the street he designed the county courthouse here in1894. He gave the building a Classical flavor with rusticated ground floor, a fluted Ionic portico and a richly denticulated roofline with balustrade.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET ONTO ROBISON COMMON OF RUSSELL SAGE COLLEGE.
Russell Sage Hall
Russell Sage College Campus
Robison Common at Congress and Second streets
Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage was the second wife of Russell Sage, New York financier and railroad baron. Sage left his family farm at the age of 15 in 1831 to begin work as an errand boy in his brother’s grocery in Troy. He entered politics in Rensselaer County and eventually served two terms in the United States Congress. He subsequently settled in New York City and amassed one of America’s greatest fortunes on Wall Street. His first wife died of stomach cancer in 1867. Two years later the 53-year old Sage married Margaret, twelve years his junior. Although the marriage has been depicted as loveless and arranged for appearance’s sake, the union lasted until Sage’s death in 1906 at the age of 90. His wife inherited his entire fortune of $70 million; Sage wound up buried alone in a mausoleum in Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery. Margaret Olivia Sage began dispersing her money for the benefit of women’s education. A graduate of the Troy Female Seminary, she founded Russell Sage College in the city in 1916, two years before her death. Russell Sage Hall is one of three buildings designed for the seminary by Marcus Cummings in the early 1890s; Plum and Gurley Halls to the rear are the others. It is crafted of golden brick and brownstone and displays classical and Tudor influences.
First Presbyterian Church (Julia Howard Bush Center)
Russell Sage College Campus
Robison Common at Congress and First streets
James Harrison Dakin, born in Hudson in 1806, lived only 46 years but carved an important career in early American architecture in the South. Before he left for New Orleans he designed this Greek Revival hexastyle temple in 1835. With its stout fluted Doric columns supporting a full entablature, the building crafted for the First Presbyterian Church is one of the only ten remaining examples of Dakin’s Greek Revival style works in the United States. Today it functions as a lecture and performance hall for Russell Sage College.
WALK BACK OVER TO SECOND STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Troy Public Library
100 Second Street
The first books were checked out in Troy in 1799. The collection then embarked on a peripatetic existence around town with stops in various houses and businesses. This classical showcase came along to house the collection a hundred years later, in 1897. Designed by New York architects J. Stewart Barney and Henry Otis Chapman, it stands as one of America’s earliest examples of the Italian Renaissance style, a return to classicism that would dominate the designs of the nation’s public buildings for the next thirty years. The Troy Library sports main facades of gleaming white Vermont marble, exquisite carvings and an original Tiffany window. The funds for the project came from Mary E. Hart in memory of her late husband.
TURN LEFT ON FERRY STREET. TURN LEFT ON THIRD STREET AND CROSS CONGRESS STREET.
First Baptist Church of Troy
82 Third Street
Silas Covell hosted the first Baptist gathering in his Troy house in 1793; afterwards he offered his warehouse for regular meetings. In 1796 Jacob D. Van der Heyden conveyed this land for a proper meetinghouse which was constructed over the next few years. Samuel Wilson, “Uncle Sam,” supplied the brick used in the building at a cost of $457.31. The current brick church was erected in 1846 with a spire 177 feet from the ground. In the early 1880s the interior was renovated, the portico lowered and the six Ionic columns on the portico lengthened.
National City Bank
59 Third Street on northwest corner of State Street
The National City Bank was established in 1905 and in 1926 the banking house moved into this Neoclassical vault decorated by twin Corinthian pillars and a parade of like pilasters.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
58 Third Street at State Street
The first St. Paul’s was erected a block away at Third and Congress streets in 1804. The congregation’s exploding growth paralleled that of the young city and in 1826 ground was broken for this new house of worship. The church design by contract was intended to be an exact copy of Ithiel Town’s Trinity Church in New Haven, Connecticut, a pioneering work in the Gothic Revival style. The two historic buildings are indeed twins, save for the sheathing of locally quarried blue-gray limestone on St. Paul’s. In the intervening two centuries changes in New Haven have left the copy more closely resembling the landmark original than the original. Renovations in the 1890s brought stained glass from the studios of America’s preeminent art glass designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET. TURN LEFT ON FOURTH STREET.
82 Fourth Street
Entertainment impresario Frederick F. Proctor opened this 2,287-seat vaudeville theater on November 23, 1914. Proctor, who had already built and operated several successful vaudeville theaters in Albany and New York City hired Arlard Johnson to design the theater, hoping to make it his grandest project since he had entered the business nearly three decades before. It cost $325,000 to construct, and when it opened in 1914 it became the largest theater in the state and was praised as “a structure ranking foremost in American theatrical circles.” Architect Arland W. Johnson gave the five-story building a Neo-Gothic look in gleaming terra cotta to resemble a a Medieval cathedral, with details such as gargoyles and masks of drama and comedy. Motion pictures were mixed with the live performances until the 1940s when Proctor’s became a movie house only. The grand theater went dark in 1977 and, although it has resisted demolition, it has not found restoration dollars.
United States Post Office
400 Broadway at Fourth and William streets
Postal service was established in Troy in 1796 and operated from many downtown locations until moving into its first permanent home in 1894, one of America’s most spectacular post offices - a granite Romanesque Revival building with a clock tower that was a beloved city landmark. Despite local outrage it was torn down in 1934 to begin work on this two-story building that was part of a massive public works initiative during the Great Depression. The stripped-down Classical Revival building was composed of buff-colored brick with limestone trim. At the end bays the frieze is decorated with abstract stars and stripes with winged shields at the corners and inside the post office is graced by murals from Waldo Peirce at either end of the lobby. Peirce hailed from Maine and was sometimes called “the American Renoir.” A long-time friend of Ernest Hemingway, his popularity was much greater during his lifetime than his legacy has been after his death in 1970. Troy is one of only three post offices to display his work.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY. TURN LEFT ON FIFTH AVENUE.
W. & L.E. Gurley Building
Fifth and Fulton streets
William E. Gurley was born and educated in Troy and went to work as a surveyor in 1839 at the age of 18. In 1845, he went into partnership with Jonas H. Phelps, who had been making surveying instruments since 1838. Gurley’s brother Lewis Ephraim joined the shop as an apprentice and in 1852 Phelps sold out his interest and the business was renamed W.& L.E. Gurley. The firm still exists today as Gurley Precision Instruments. The Gurleys’ operation was crippled by the Great Troy Fire of 1862 but in just eight months this four-story red brick building rose in its place. The handsome factory, with Romanesque and classically-inspired stylings, is U-shaped around a small courtyard. The building, which has been restored and is a designated National Historic Landmark, also houses the Gurley Museum.
TURN LEFT ON FULTON STREET.
northeast corner of Fulton and Fourth streets
This five-story structure of buff-colored brick with decorative stone and terra cotta trim has anchored this block for more than 100 years. It was constructed in 1904 by the Ilium Realty Company and designed by the busy local architect Marcus F. Cummings. The Romanesque-flavored building has been preserved in its original form - look up to see carved lion heads in the stone cornice.
TURN RIGHT ON FOURTH STREET.
6-12 4th Street at Grand Street
Albany architect Marcus Reynolds designed this banking palace in 1923 for the Manufacturers’ National Bank of Troy that had been organized in 1865. The facade is ringed by two-story arched window openings framed by fluted Corinthian pillars. The exterior is composed of Indiana limestone, crowned by a roof balustrade with decorative urns. The interior is executed in rare pink marble. In 1992, the building was restored to its original grandeur to serve as a special events venue.
TURN LEFT ON MUSEUM PLACE ACROSS FROM FRANKLIN PLAZA AND TURN LEFT AT RIVER STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.