Sunday, January 19, 2014

Albany's Union Station -- Then and Now

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the inauguration of Albany's 75th Mayor, the first female mayor in the 328 years since the city received its Charter from Governor Thomas Dongan in 1686.

Union Station, New Year's Day 2014
The ceremony took place at Kiernan Plaza, which is Albany's former Union Train Station, the same edifice through which my Vanden Bergh grandparents passed upon their arrival in Albany in 1911. This historic building, built at the turn of the 20th century, has now been purchased by the State University of New York at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which intends to make it over into a technology innovation center.

At the ceremony, I sat next to an elderly gentleman who remembered embarking and debarking at the train station on trips to and from New York City many times in the 1940's and '50's. How ironic it is that an edifice built in the horse-and-buggy era is now the offices of the 21st century nanoscale engineering college.

My grandparents stepped out of the building into a cacophony of trolley cars and horse-drawn carriages that shared the cobble-stoned pavement with Mr. Ford's new horseless carriages. They clutched their baggage in one hand, and in the other a scrap of paper with the name and address of another Dutch family living in Albany's South End. Timidly approaching a policeman, they inquired of him in their broken English what trolley line would take them in that direction.

Ironically, most immigrants coming to Albany in the early 20th century were not Dutch, as were most of the city's earliest European residents. Subsequent waves of immigration to New York State's Capital District bore many Irish and Italian surnames, now reflected in the names of the Albany Common Council members sworn in on New Year's Day along with Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

Union Station - interior decorative element
The Beaux-Arts facade of the building has not changed much since its construction, nor have the fluted columns and decorative swags of the building's interior. But the clatter of horses' hoofs and the ring of trolley bells have given way to the clicking of computer keyboards, just as the sounds of the Dutch language gave way to the Irish brogue and lilting Italian accents of the forebears of today's Common Council.

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Read more about Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh's arrival in Albany at Union Station at this earlier blog post: Arrival at Last 

For local coverage of the inauguration of the new Mayor and a bit about the history of the Union Station building, you may also find this article worth perusing: "The New Guard." (from a local weekly newspaper, "Metroland")

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