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The Past And The Past

More or less by accident, I seem to have chosen “old home week” as the theme for blog posts at the moment. I’ll move today from Flushing to the next place I lived: Troy, New York. The Sanborn map above shows a small piece of downtown Troy, probably as it was in 1904. (The map is listed as 1885 to 1904, but it’s too built up to be the earlier date.) It can’t be later than 1904 because the building at the head of Broadway, labelled as “Polytechnic Institute” is the old Main Building of Rensselaer, which burned in 1904. That was the impetus for the school to move up the hill (toward the top of the page) to a larger campus. The building up and to the left from the main is the Winslow Lab, constructed to get dangerous, potentially explosive experiments out of the Main Building. Ironically, the lab building still exists.

The train station on the left, demolished in 1958, was a union station serving both the New York Central and the Delaware & Hudson. In a bit of urban planning that would be generally unacceptable today, the tracks simply cross the streets at grade, including the branches for the station.Here’s the front of the station, completed in 1903 and photographed a couple of years later:

The other public building I want to show is the 1897 Troy Public Library, in a somewhat damaged photo from about the same time:

A lot of people assume that this is a Carnegie library, but it’s not. It’s larger and more ornate than almost all of the Carnegie libraries. More importantly, Andrew Carnegie’s money wasn’t needed here: the elite of Troy funded its construction. The building is on the National Register and still in use as a library. I did a fair amount of research here in 1985 and 1986 for history classes.

These are both large public buildings where budget was not the driving factor in their design. The library has survived because the library function has survived; the railroad station might have been adaptively reused if it were abandoned later, but the end of rail service in the 1950s meant that it was doomed. Something that’s harder to see from our perspective in 2022 is that neither was an outlier architecturally when built. Sure, they were bigger and more ornate than most of the buildings surrounding them, but it was a matter of degree. Troy was a prosperous city in 1904 and one that followed the architectural styles of the time, so ornate masonry was common there. These buildings seem like monuments to us in part because they are so different from the ordinary buildings of our time.

Anyway, they’re pretty and I like the pictures.