Mansion Historic District
The Mansion Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Mansion Historic District is located in the southeastern sector of the city of Albany. The area is set on a hill rising from the flood plain of the Hudson River and is situated between two ancient ravines that were filled and graded in the mid-nineteenth century. The Mansion Historic District has become isolated as a result of construction of the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza to the north and west, extensive rowhouse demolition in adjacent neighborhoods to the east, and construction of high-rise public housing on the south. Specifically, the area is bounded on the north by an arterial connector between the Empire State Plaza and Route 787. This elevated construction separates the Mansion Historic District from the Downtown Albany Historic District (National Register 1/31/1980). On the east the area abuts the Pastures Historic District (National Register 3/16/1972) and is separated from it by vacant land on the east side of South Pearl Street. The southern boundary reflects a transition from predominantly residential rowhouse development to light industrial use, utilities operation, large areas of open space and modern, high-rise public housing. The western boundary of the neighborhood extends along the east side of Eagle Street. On the west side of that street is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (National Register 6/8/1976), the New York Executive Mansion (National Register 2/18/1971), and the Cathedral Elementary School.
The sixteen-block Mansion Historic District contains approximately 475 individual structures and related outbuildings. It is predominantly a residential neighborhood with commercial activity on South Pearl Street and Madison Avenue and with neighborhood grocery stores interspersed. The district includes two schools (one is closed), two institutional and day care centers, an alcoholic's rehabilitation center, three neighborhood parks (all on Philip Street), and two churches, one of which has been closed.
The earliest streets laid out in the Mansion Historic District were South Pearl and Grand Streets, both dating to the 18th century. Madison Avenue was opened in the early 19th century and Trinity Place in 1836. The district's earliest architectural development occurred along these streets. Between the years 1820 and 1835, buildings appeared randomly, but primarily on Madison Avenue at its intersections with South Pearl and Grand streets. Only a few representative structures remain from that early period; others have been removed or altered beyond recognition.
Planned development characterized the next phase of building construction in the Mansion Historic District. It was bolstered by the subdivision of large estates and speculation by local businessmen and contractors. New rows of buildings appeared late in the 1830's and early 1840's along Trinity Place, Grand Street north of Madison Avenue, and Hamilton Street. The 1850's were a period of citywide expansion and this decade witnessed the transformation of the interior, southern and western portions of the Mansion District from open, unexcavated land to a compact residential neighborhood. Grand Street was almost wholly constructed in that decade, as well as large rows on Eagle Street, Philip Street and all cross streets between these two avenues.
The 1860's and 1870's were largely a period of infill, rebuilding of older streets for development of larger estates not subdivided in the previous decade. Construction of whole rows in this period occurred primarily on cross streets between Grand and Philip Streets and on Grand Street near its intersection with Myrtle Avenue. Only a handful of buildings in the district were constructed in the late 19th and 20th centuries. These are found predominantly on or near Madison Avenue.
The Mansion neighborhood represents a transitional period in American architecture characteristic of the mid-nineteenth century. There are a number of buildings which employ elements of both the Federal and Greek Revival styles and some which combine features of both the Greek Revival and Italianate. There are also highly refined examples of these styles in the district and an unusual example of the application of Gothic Revival decoration to rowhouse construction. Italianate is the most widely represented style in the district and it is present in many levels of sophistication. There are a number of rows which employ very modest Italianate ornamentation, while others feature designs and proportions reminiscent of detached Italianate villas. Late nineteenth century architecture in the neighborhood is generally undistinguished; but a brownstone row in the Romanesque Revival mode on Eagle Street and the decorative Queen Anne facades of No. 45-49 Elm Street are notable exceptions.
The Mansion Historic District is characterized primarily by brick construction, but frame housing predominates on the south side of Myrtle Avenue below Philip Street, on the north side of Myrtle Avenue west of Philip Street, on the north side of Park Avenue, and on Philip Street south of Myrtle Avenue. There are only a few intrusions in the district and they are scattered. On the whole, the Mansion Historic District exhibits a high degree of architectural integrity. Facades have remained relatively intact except for the application of late nineteenth century ornamentation and modern siding on some frame buildings. Most of the commercial structures on South Pearl Street and Madison Avenue, however, have undergone storefront alterations, and the lower stories of some residences scattered throughout the district (especially on Westerlo Street) have been altered to accommodate commercial development.
The architecturally and historically significant Mansion Historic District is a largely intact nineteenth century residential neighborhood which features a dense concentration of two and three-story attached houses. The area is significant for its role in the mid-nineteenth century expansion of Albany and has important historical associations with prominent state and local figures.
The Mansion Historic District was developed primarily between the years 1839 and 1875 and exhibits some of Albany's finest examples of the Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate styles. The area's early settlement and rapid nineteenth century residential development represents important episodes in Albany's growth. The neighborhood was part of the city's Jewish mercantile center in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and was the nucleus of Albany's Italian immigrant community until the 1960's and 1970's. Population shifts and construction of the Empire State Plaza during the 1960's had a devastating effect on the Mansion neighborhood. Long-time residents moved out and many buildings were abandoned. Today, the area is experiencing a rebirth; segments of the population are moving back into the inner city and buildings are being purchased and revitalized.
The Mansion Historic District is named for its proximity to the New York Executive Mansion but the name also reflects the early character of the district. The area was considered a part of "suburban" Albany as late as the decade of the 1830's and here, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a number of wealthy families purchased large estates (generally five to forty acres) upon which they erected "homestead mansions." The earliest of these landed estates was that of Hendrick Hallenbake, which dates to the early eighteenth century. The exact boundaries of the Hallenbake property have been difficult to determine, but it is known that the estate extended at least eighteen hundred acres west from the Hudson River and north from the Beaverkil, a stream which emptied into the Hudson along the present line of Arch Street. Hallenbake was a farmer and it is unlikely that his home would have been referred to as a "mansion." But after his death in 1766, the family subdivided the estate and sold large parcels to individuals who then constructed elaborate country homes, frequently referred to in local records as "mansion houses."
There were three such homes within the boundaries of the Mansion Historic District by the mid-nineteenth century. Others were found nearby, west of Eagle Street and south of the Beaverkil (Schuyler Mansion: National Historic Landmark, 12/67). The most prominent of these is believed to have been built around the time of the Revolution by the Yates family. The Yates home was located at what is now the intersection of Trinity and Ashgrove Place (site of Philip Schuyler High School). Peter Yates, a prominent local revolutionary figure, is known to have occupied this site in 1791. The mansion house and surrounding estate was sold to James Kane in 1807. Kane was a wealthy merchant who, together with six brothers, made a fortune trading in the Mohawk Valley region. He increased the holdings purchased from the Yates estate and the grounds of the Kane estate eventually extended east to South Pearl Street, west to Grand Street, north nearly to Madison Avenue and south halfway to Arch Street. Under Kane's ownership the homestead was known throughout New York. An 1813 state gazetteer identified the site as worthy of "eminent notice" and for many years it was referred to locally as the "home of delightful hospitality" and a "delightful resort" for all ages and ranks.
James Kane lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1819 and the mansion house and estate were taken over by his creditors. The house was subsequently used as a temporary governor's mansion during the gubernatorial career of William H. Seward and possibly others. In 1834 the estate was purchased by Henry Yates and Archibald McIntyre, prominent state politicians. Yates resided in the mansion house until his death in 1854, but the portion of the estate north of Westerlo and Ashgrove Streets was subdivided on speculation before 1840. After the death of Henry Yates, the old mansion house was sold for use by the principal of the Albany Female Academy. The house itself was demolished in 1865 and replaced by the Ashgrove Methodist Church, designed by architects Woollett and Ogden in the Romanesque style. What remained of the estate was sold for development before 1870.
At the time the Kane estate was subdivided, there had been little development elsewhere within the Mansion neighborhood. South Pearl Street, Madison, and Grand were the only streets laid out by that time and only a few random structures were located on or near Madison Avenue at its intersection with South Pearl and Grand Streets. Although laid out in the eighteenth century, the first structure on Grand Street did not appear until 1835 and at that time it was considered to be on the "western verge of the city." The only structures in the Mansion Historic District which represent its early nineteenth century development are the largely unaltered house at No. 146 Madison Avenue (c.1828), a five-bay Federal style house with a gabled roof, dormer windows and lintels incised with a Greek fret design, and No. 143 Madison Avenue, a Federal building erected in 1833. No. 143 Madison Avenue was altered in the late nineteenth century in the Italianate mode, but it still retains many of its earlier Federal features.
The opening of the Erie Canal (1825) nearly doubled Albany's population and stimulate its economic growth in the 1820's and 1830's. As a result, new residential districts were opened both north and south of the city's nucleus (axis of State Street and Broadway). Specifically within the Mansion Historic District, the subdivision of the old Kane estate and speculative buying by local building contractors spurred new residential development. Trinity Place, then named Broad Street, was opened in 1836 and the first planned rowhouse development took place on that street in 1839 and 1840. Nos. 16-24 and 39-45a Trinity Place, two attractive Greek Revival rows, were erected at that time, as was No. 2 Ashgrove Place.
The rowhouses at 39-45a Trinity Place were built on speculation by a family of stone masons, Alexander and William Gray. Another speculative development contemporary with the rows on Trinity Place was at 57-65 Grand Street. This row, also designed in the Greek Revival style, was built by contractor David Orr. Orr was one of the wealthiest men in Albany. His fortune was generated through a number of business associations, but particularly through real estate investment in the Mansion Historic District. He was among the first speculative contractors in the neighborhood and he eventually acquired and developed (or sold for development) lots on all streets west of Trinity Place, in particular on Madison Avenue, Grand Street, Myrtle and Park Avenues.
There was comparatively little building construction in the Mansion neighborhood in the years immediately following 1840. This was probably due to the economic depression experienced throughout the country in the early part of that decade. A small row, however, was erected on Hamilton Street in 1841 on speculation by James L'Amoreaux, an Albany attorney. After 1845 construction resumed. A row of modest one-family frame dwellings appeared on Bleecker Place between 1849 and 1851 and new construction of individual row houses occurred throughout the district between 1845 and 1850.
The 1850's was a time of economic expansion for the country as a whole and a decade of massive European immigration. In Albany these events contributed to a sharp rise in the city's population, which increased by more than one-half from 33,721 to 50,763. As in the late 1830's, the Mansion neighborhood continued to be a focal point for new development. During the decade of the 1850's most of the streets within the district west of Grand and south of Elm were laid out, although many were not officially designated until later in the century. Grand Street was almost wholly constructed at this time, as well as Philip Street, Eagle Street, and all cross streets west of Philip Street between Elm Street and Park Avenue. David Orr was still a prominent developer, but the 1850's saw the emergence of other major builders in the neighborhood. There were many carpenters and stone masons working and residing in the Mansion district but the names of Lewis and Charles Seymour and James W. Eaton were the most notable.
Charles and Lewis Seymour were never large-scale contractors, but their work is in evidence on most streets within the Mansion Historic District. A row at 44-50 Park Avenue, possibly one at 42-40 Trinity Place, 114 Grand Street, 1 Myrtle Avenue and many others are attributed to them. Lewis Seymour maintained his carpentry shop on Wilbur Street for nearly sixty years. His home, a two-story, frame, L-shaped structure with an unusual number of bays, is still standing at No. 14 Wilbur Street.
James Eaton was one of Albany's most noted nineteenth-century building contractors. Eaton was superintendent of building of the New York State Capitol for several years. He has been attributed with the construction of several attractive rows in the Mansion Historic District, a few of which are believed to be architect designed. The Italianate row at 46-68 Elm Street (1858-1859) and a similar one on Philip Street near Elm (1859) were erected by Eaton in collaboration with other local businessmen. The symmetrical Gothic row with a central finial at No. 78-92 Grand Street (1853) is also the work of James Eaton.
By 1875, the Mansion Historic District was a compact, heavily populated residential neighborhood. Its visual and geographical cohesiveness was officially recognized in 1872 when it was designated as the city's fifth ward, a political status it held until the mid-twentieth century. All major streets within the neighborhood had been developed by 1876 when the Hopkins Atlas of the City of Albany was published and few vacant parcels interrupted the streetscape.
With the exception of the alleys on either side of Trinity Place, all the Mansion Historic District's secondary streets were also developed by 1876 and were characterized by rows of small, modest, brick and frame dwellings. Fulton Street, no longer used as a public thoroughfare, Van Zandt Street, Charles Street, and Prospect Place were all settled in this fashion. Today, these streets are used primarily as rear yards for residences fronting on major cross streets, or are occupied by garages or dilapidated storage sheds. Only a few structures representing the architectural development of these back streets can be found at Nos. 32, 46, 29, 31 and 35 Van Zandt Street.
During the years of major development, 1839-1875, the population of the neighborhood was as diverse as that of the entire city and included a mixture of middle and upper-class professionals, artisans and mechanics, small tradesmen and businessmen, and common day laborers. Most residents were natives of Albany or of neighboring counties. By 1875 there were also large concentrations of Irish immigrants and a growing German community within the neighborhood.
The more affluent sections of the Mansion neighborhood were on Madison Place and along Grand Street and Trinity Place north of Westerlo Street. The differences in architecture reflecting status in the neighborhood are often subtle, primarily revealed by the application of details such as rusticated brownstone basements or sandstone window elements. Madison Place, however, is an exception. It not only exhibits the most elegant ornamentation and design within the district, but the block itself is isolated in a sense by a long triangular park extending from Eagle Street to Philip Street. The residences on Madison Place were built at intervals between 1845 and 1855. Throughout the nineteenth century they served as homes to some of the city's most affluent businessmen and noted community leaders including: G.V.S. Bleecker, a liquor merchant; James Eaton, building contractor; Joseph Sporborg, merchant and president of Anshe Emeth congregation; and Thomas McCarty, brickmaker and politician.
The middle-income residents of the neighborhood, the small businessmen, managers, manufacturers, transportation agents, and contractors, resided on all streets north of Myrtle Avenue. Residences on Park Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, lower Grand, Philip, Eagle, and most secondary streets were mainly the homes of Irish laborers and mechanics, many of them ironworkers in nearby foundries.
In the mid-nineteenth century Albany's Jewish community was primarily German in background and concentrated, for the most part, on South Pearl Street. Albany's German population had been visible since colonial times and had been primarily Lutheran. With the failure of the 1848 revolutions in central and western Europe, however, large numbers of German Jews fled to America and their numbers in small communities such as Albany increased significantly. The development of South Pearl Street into an important commercial district is attributed to this immigrant group. The massive influx of Jews to America following the Russian pogroms of 1881 significantly augmented Albany's Semitic community, and they continued to have a marked impact on the commercial expansion of South Pearl Street through the mid-twentieth century. Of the Jews who found commercial success in Albany, the majority made their homes within the Mansion neighborhood on Trinity Place and Madison Avenue. The poorer families were contained further south in and about Schuyler Street.
In the late nineteenth century the Mansion Historic District became the core of Albany's Italian immigrant community and remained such for over three generations. Although Albany's nineteenth-century Italian community was small, by 1910 the Italians had become the city's fourth largest immigrant group, and by 1920 they outnumbered all others. The "Italian Core" or "Garlic Core," as it was known locally, was centered on Madison Avenue from Philip Street east nearly to the river. Italian immigrants also settled on Grand and Van Zandt Streets and by 1920 Italians had displaced the Irish neighborhoods on Park and Myrtle Avenues. Italian credit unions and banks, small businesses, Saint Anthony's Church and School, and the Sons of Italy meeting hall served the various needs of this community.
Despite population shifts, abandonment, and displacement of an old ethnic community by construction of the New York State Empire State Plaza, the Mansion neighborhood as yet retains a high degree of structural cohesiveness and a good measure of neighborhood consciousness as well. The area's distinction as a separate district in the nineteenth century was largely a consequence of topography. Massive ravines severed the district from other neighborhoods on both the north and south. Today, the Mansion Historic District is completely isolated on all sides, the result of demolition, new construction and non-residential uses at its borders. It is, however, a neighborhood in rebirth and should undergo considerable revitalization in the next years as a result of both mounting private interest in inner city homes and residential programs initiated by the city government.
Albany City Assessment Rolls 1820-1960. Albany City Archives, 27 Western Avenue, Albany, New York.
Albany City Directories (Various publishers, 1815-1970).
Albany County, Index to Public Records: Deeds: Grantors Volume A (Albany, New York: Argus Company Printers, 1905).
New York State Census for 1875, Ward 5.
City Atlas of Albany, New York (G.M. Hopkins, 1876).
Albany County, Index to Public Records of the County of Albany, State of New York: Maps, 1630-1894 (Albany, New York: Argus Company Printers, 1905).
Map of the City of Albany, Surveyed by J.C. Sidney (New York: M. Dripps, 1850).
Map of the City of Albany, Surveyed by E. Jacob, C.E. (New York: Sprague & Company and M. Dripps, 1857).
Local Publications and Repositories
Albany Department of Human Resources, Bureau of Historic Services, Vertical File (27 Western Avenue Albany, New York).
Albany Public Library, Newspaper Clippings File.
Historic Albany Foundation Newsletter (300 Hudson Avenue, Albany, New York).
Munsell, Joel. Annals of Albany 10 Volumes (Albany, New York: J. Munsell, 1850-1857 Vol.2-8; Munsell and Rowland, 1858-1859 Vol.8-10; J. Munsell, second edition 1869, Vol.1). Collections on the History of Albany 4 Volumes (Albany, New York: J.Munsell 1865-1871).
Reynolds, Cuyler. Hudson Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs 4 Volumes (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1911).
Weise, Arthur J. History of Albany (Albany, New York: E.H. Bender, 1884).
†Neil Larson, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Mansion Historic District, Albany, NY, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.