This post begins while I was a graduate student at the University of Vermont. My class did this really awesome project using historic postcards as a research tool. We picked postcards related to Burlington and the surrounding area and then re-photographed the locations depicted in the cards. Using the postcard and the new photograph, we wrote a “before and after” history comparison.
Since that project I’ve had a new appreciation of historic postcards because they can offer a wealth of information about both buildings, landscapes, and any changes that have occurred. Let’s be honest any historic photograph can offer a ton of information when researching the history of a place. I found a wonderful collection of historic postcards to go through at North Country Neighbors, a type of flea market located under the Roxy movie theater in Potsdam, NY.
North Country Neighbors is a pretty cool place to check out since the different vendor booths are always changing their wares. One of those booths has a bunch of historic postcards, which every now and then I go through and see what I can find. The most recent time there I found a few postcards including one for Washington Park in Albany, NY. Since I was going to Albany for the historic preservation conference I figured it would be a fun postcard to buy so I could compare it with the Park today.
Typically you would be able to date the postcard on the design located where the stamp is suppose to go but the stamp on this postcard is blocking that. The stamp is a called a Washington “Olive Branch” design that was issued around 1912. Another website called the “Albany Postcard Project,” actually has an estimated publishing date range for this card as 1907-1915. So in other words the postcard dates to the early 20th century!
So when I was in Albany I check out Washington Park and took photos of the Mall which extends form Knox Street to Northern Boulevard. This area is the eastern section of the park and is actually the old parade ground. It is the most formally planned section of the park and has a lot of things including: flower gardens, croquet lawn, and a tree lined promenade (the Mall).
The Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Washington Park Historic District. The district includes portions of South Lake Avenue, Madison Avenue, State Street, Willett Street, Thurlow Terrance, Eaglewood Place, and Western Avenue.
The park has technically been in existence for a little over a hundred years but the land has always been designated for public use since 1686 when Albany was first chartered during the reign of King James. Let’s take a moment to realize that Albany is an extremely old city. I did not realize that until I was there and walking around and listening to the different presentations on the City during the Conference. For comparison, Boston is a little over 50 years older than Albany (it was founded in 1630).
The Park has had many uses during its history. It has been the location of Albany’s powder house (1802), a burial ground (1800), the public square (1806), and used as a parade ground for drills, county fairs, and skating parties. By 1869 a law had been passed allowing for a public park and obviously the parade ground was the prime candidate for the City’s new public park. Frederick Law Olmsted (a really important landscape architect) was hired as a consultant to write a report on the possibility of a park.
About a year later the firm, Bogart & Cuyler, began to design the park and started construction, which lasted for 20 years. The gentlemen had worked previously with Olmsted on another project and were heavily influenced by the report Olmsted had written for Albany. Design elements that are Olmsted features include the natural scenery of rolling meadows and lake views within the realm of formal spaces. It’s all about the view in the parks inspired by Olmsted and feeling like you’re in the wilderness when really you’re in the middle of a city. Think Central Park in NYC, which is designed by Olmsted.
According to the Washington Park Conservancy’s website the Knox Street Mall was completely renovated in 2001. I tried looking for information in regards to the restoration but could not find that much information. In general their website was lacking a lot of information. Hopefully in the future they add to the contents of the site. Check out the photos below to see what the Mall in Washington Park looks like today. When I was visiting Albany, the Tulip Festival was happening, so there were a lot of tulips and people in the Park one of the days I visited.
If you own any historic postcards, see if you can find the locations depicted. It’s always cool to see how things have changed over time or maybe there haven’t been that many changes over the years. The photos I took of the Mall today look pretty much like it did in the early 1900’s. It’s most likely because of the renovations that occurred in 2001. It was also fun to be at the Park on a week day when it wasn’t so busy and then compare what was going on during the Tulip Festival when the Park was buzzing with life!
If you have any thoughts or comments about Washington Park, or are interested in the history of your old postcards and need help, leave a comment!
If you’re interested in learning more about the UVM postcard project see this link: http://www.uvm.edu/~hp206/2012/. I specifically worked on the “University, Hill Section.”
Or if you’re interested in what other UVM historic preservation groups are researching follow this link: http://www.uvm.edu/~histpres/?Page=HPJ/index.html.
For further information about today’s blog post:
Frederick Law Olmsted: