June 19, 1871, New York Times, THE NEW CAPITOL.; Preparations for the Laying of the Corner-Stone.
A Chapter from History Sketch of the Old Capitol. Origin of the New Movement and its Progress.
ALBANY, N.Y., Thursday, June 15, 1871.--The near approach of the time when the corner-stone of the new Capitol is to be laid invests with some interest the proceedings that marked the construction of its predecessor, the present well-known building.
Up to 1804 the people were satisfied that the old structure, on the corner of Broadway and Hudson streets, in the City of Albany, was sufficiently capacious to do all of the business necessary to run the State of New-York, and they, therefore, made no movement toward superseding it by a better. In that, however, the citizens possessed themselves with the idea that the building was not large enough to properly honor the assembled wisdom of the State of New-York, and they therefore moved the Legislature to pass a law appointing Commissioners to proceed and build a State-house that should properly accommodate the demands of the State. This bill entitled "An act making provisions for improving Hudson River below the City of Albany, and for other purposes," was passed on the 6th day of April, 1804. It named John Tayler, Daniel Hale, Philip S. Van Rensselaer, (then Mayor of Albany,) Simeon De Witt and Nicholas N. Quackenbush, Commissioners to project and erect a building suitable for the public purposes of the State, and for the Courts and offices of the City of Albany. It authorized the levying of a tax upon the County of Albany of $3,000, and upon the City of Albany of a like sum. This is explained by the fact that at this time the building was intended to be built by and belong to the Corporation of Albany. The bill further authorized the managers of lotteries, created in "An act for the encouragement of literature," to raise the sum of $12,000, in addition to the sums already provided, and when such sum was raised to pay it over to the Commissioners. Each Commissioner gave a bond in the penal sum of $30,000 to the people of the State to faithfully perform his duties under the act, and to account every six months to the Controller. They were also empowered to sell the old State-house.
Having now a certain capital on which to proceed, the Commissioners proceeded to engage their architect, one HOOKER, and to make estimates of the probable cost of the venture. The amount upon which they finally proceeded appears in an estimate in the handwriting of Simeon De Witt, filed in the office of the State Engineer, to have been $120,000. Ground was broken, and for two years the work went on. On the 7th day of March, 1807, the available money having been expended, the Commissioners report to the Legislature as follows:
AMOUNT REQUIRED IN CONSTRUCTION OF THE STATE-HOUSE.
To inclose building...$16,000
To complete interior...$20,000
This proposed a wooden cornice and roof, and if the work was done in stone and slate, then $10,000 additional would be needed
AMOUNT RECEIVED BY COMMISSIONERS.
From sale of City Hall...$17,200
Tax on City and County of Albany...$6,000
Given by Corporation of Albany...$10,000
This sum of $33,200 had already been expended, and there only remained provided for by law, the $12,000 authorized to be raised by lottery. The Commissioners report that not less than $30,000 more will be required. The report goes on to say that the work could have been done for a less sum if brick had been used instead of stone, but that the Commissioners would have considered that they had erred in their duty had they used less substantial material. That the State has as yet made no contribution, the whole burden of the building so far, except the $3,000 taxed upon the County of Albany, having been borne by the city. The Commissioners close by asking further aid, and saying that the strictest economy had marked the construction of the work. This was referred to a Committee composed of Messrs. Rudd, C. Platt, Sheldon, Van Olinda and Roseboom, on the 27th of March, 1807. This Committee asked to be discharged from further consideration of the report. This was done, and upon motion, a joint Committee were appointed, and they recommended that the State advance $20,000 to the Commissioners, to be repaid by a lottery. This was done, and the pot was kept boiling for a while longer.
On the 24th of March, 1808, the Commissioners made the following detailed report of the sums received by them:
From tax on City of Albany...$3,000
From tax on County of Albany...$3,000
From Corporation of Albany...$10,000
From sale of Court-house...$17,200
From proceeds of lottery...$12,000
From the State, to be reimbursed by a lottery...$20,000
From extra donation by Corporation of Albany...$4,000
They estimate that $25,000 more will be required, and state hat if that sum is given by the State the City of Albany will level and beautify the grounds about the building. This was referred to a committee, and on the 29th of March, 1808, they reported a bill, which was passed on the 8th of April, giving the $25,000 required on condition that the corporation of Albany secure to the people of the State the use of such apartments in the new buildings as the Legislature may require for public purposes, and that they further execute a bond to the people of the State, in the penal sum of $50,000, to faithfully perform such act; and also, that the Corporation of Albany immediately proceed to level and ornament the grounds. This was evidently done, for on the 11th day of March, 1809, the final report of the Commissioners is made, and they say nothing of any neglect by the City of Albany. The report is as follows:
Expended in erecting the State-house, furnishing, &c....$97,000
On hand in money and material...$3,000 00
and closes by saying, that the furniture to be used will vary in quality, so that no estimate can be made upon the additional amount required to complete the work. The report is signed by John Taylor, Chairman Board of Commissioners.
The Legislature in the Supply bill of 1809 appropriated $5,000 to complete the furnishing of the building. This failing to accomplish that result, on the 30th of March, 1809, the last act relating to the erection of the old Capitol was passed, and $5,000 was appropriated to finally end the job. Up to the date of this act the building had been known as the State-house, it now became known as the Capitol. According to these figures the entire cost of the building, furniture and all, was not less than $110,000. The Capitol building remained the property of the city until about the time the present City Hall was built, when for $20,000, and the privilege of quarrying marble from the Sing Sing Works, the city sold its interest to the State. Very little is said about the corner-stone of the Capitol building, and it is impossible to find any record of its situation or contents. In the Albany Gazette of April 23, 1806, the following appears:
"Yesterday the corner-stone of the new State-house, to be erected in this city, was laid by Hon. P.S. Van Rensselaer, in presence of the Chancellor, Judges of the Supreme Court, members of the Corporation, State-house Commissioners, and other respectable citizens. The site upon which this edifice is to be erected is at the head of State-street, on the west side of the public park. It is to be built of stone, is 100 by 80 feet, on an improved plan, embracing much elegance with convenience and durability."
And this is all that was said in the papers of that day of the laying of the corner-stone of the venerable building now the head-quarters of the Tammany organization. It was not considered necessary in those days to call in the Masons to perform the duty that lay directly in the province of the Mayor, as Mr. Van Rensselaer then was; and it is very unfortunate that Mr. Hoffman does not feel qualified to perform a duty which he, as the representative of the people, is justly called upon to perform.
The history of the new Capitol, since the time when it became an established fact by the action of the Legislature, may not be uninteresting. Certainly the vast sums of money already spent to bring it to a position when the first layer of superstructure may be laid interests the taxpayers of the State. The quarrels over appropriations, the jealousies of Commissioners---all these things have been frequently written; but now they are all to be buried under the corner-stone, and the work go on to an early completion. On the 27th day of January, 1865, the Senate adopted the following resolution, and thence-forward the building of a Capitol became a State burden:
Resolved, That a select committee of three be appointed by the President of the Senate, to ascertain by correspondence or otherwise, with the City of Buffalo and other municipalities of the State, on what terms the grounds and buildings necessary for a new Capitol and public offices can be obtained, and that said committee report as soon as possible.
On the Committee were appointed Wm. Lamibeer, Jr. C. J. Folger, O. M. Allaben, who, on the 16th of February, 1865, sent to the different cities and towns in the State a circular, stating the nature of their appointment, and asking that reports be made from different portions of the State of the premises available for the purposes of a new Capitol, the cost and ease of procuring building materials, facilities of travel, statistics of health, size and population of town, and other matters. An answer was required as early as the 1st of March. This was sent to the Mayor of the cities in the State and to two hundred villages. It not bringing the desired responses, another circular was sent on the 11th of March, asking that the request be attended to, and that the replies be sent in by the 20th inst. Further saying that a meeting would be held by the Committee on the 22d of March to hear any parties interested. On the 30th of March the Committee reported that they had received numerous letters in reply to their circular, that the City of New-York offered a site on the Battery, City Hall Park, Tompkins-square, Mount Morris-square, Central Park or Washington Heights, and to erect, free of expense to the State, all the necessary buildings, and to furnish a plot on Fifth-avenue one hundred feet square, opposite the Central Park, and to erect an executive mansion thereon. Yonkers tendered three beautiful sites for Capitol and State-houses, Saratoga Springs offered sites and such a sum of money as the State should think proper. The village of Whitestown proposed to donate any quantity of ground. The City of Albany offered the square known as the Congress Hall property. Buffalo, Oswego and Utica declined to have anything to do with the matter. The village of Athens, better known as the end of Vanderbilt's White Elephant Railroad, made liberal propositions, and one Alonzo Greene appeared before the Committee and made arguments in its favor. The strongest argument being that he was the only person who had attended the call of the Committee. The Committee say that if the capitol is removed they consider that the City of New-York is the proper place for it, but they doubt the propriety of its removal; and conclude with a recommendation that the bill for the erection of a new Capitol in Albany be passed. The Committee publish in an appendix twenty-four communications from different portions of the State. One from Margaretville. Delaware County, breaks into verse and opens thus:
"Amid the wilds of Delaware,
From politics and war afar, Encradled by the snow-clad hills,
And culled by trickling mountain rills,
There sleeps a little village white,
And from that pretty town I write.
What is its name? Well, if you will,
The people call it Margaretville."
This writer goes on to say that the postman, as usual, went his rounds that afternoon with a letter directed to the village President. The place had no President, and so the postmaster must break the seal. Then comes the picture of Margaretville, as the centre of hurrying crowds and the hope of future Legislatures. This fades away as the material questions of the Committee are appreciated. The poet offers everything:
"Take what you will--we'll naught refuse--
Pay when you will, and as you choose;
Or, like Van Rensselaer of old,
Possess the lands and keep your gold."
Closing with an appeal for the health of the Governor and the State officers who are to be saved by the air of Delaware, the poet subsides.
The other communications are tame and commonplace. On the 1st day of May, 1865, the Legislature passed a law providing that when the City of Albany shall donate to the State the plot of ground known as Congress Hall Block, then the Governor is authorized to appoint three Commissioners, who shall proceed to procure plans, &c., at the expense of the City of Albany, for a proper building to be used as a Capitol. The building to be located on the site of the present Capitol. Ten thousand dollars were appropriated by the State for general purposes. The city having made the donation of the property in the following February, the Governor appointed Hamilton Harris, Jno. V. L. Pruyn and O. B. Latham Commissioners. On the 14th of April, 1866, a bill was passed that stated that, inasmuch as the City of Albany had complied with the terms of the original act, the site of the Capitol is hereby ratified and confirmed. No money was appropriated this year. On the 23d of April, 1867, the sum of $250,000 was appropriated, followed May 19, 1868, by another amount of $250,000, and an increase in the Commission of five members, namely: J. S. Thayer, A. B. Cornell, W. A. Rice, James Terwilliger and John T. Hudson.
Constant quarrels had existed since the forming of the Commission between Messrs. Harris and Latham, resulting in memorials from the latter gentleman to the Legislature, in which he charged waste of public money, &c. This, however, did not avail anything, and in 1869 the Legislature appropriated $400,000 for buying lands and proceeding in the construction of the building. There had been a constant endeavor upon the part of the people from several localities to effect a change of location after it was found that the new Capitol was a certain thing, and bills were introduced to change the site, at every session. Endeavors to block the appropriations, &c., were the common labors of the Assembly. On the special bill of 1870 to levy a tax to raise $1,300,000, this opposition became very strong. But the danger blew over, and the appropriation was made. Up to this time, therefore, the account stands:
Appropriated by chapter 210, Laws 1863, to buy lands...$70,000
Donated by the City of Albany...$6,000
Appropriated by the State for plans, &c., 1865...$10,000
Donated by City of Albany, (Congress Hall) 1866...$65,200
Appropriated by chapter 445, laws 1867...$250,000
Appropriated by chapter 830, laws 1868 $250,000
Appropriated by chapters 645 and 824 laws 1869...$400,000
Appropriated by chapter 492, laws 1870...$1,300,000
Amount paid for land...$410,200
Expenses of building to Jan. 1, 1871...$1,941,000
This year the Legislature appropriated $650,000 and appointed a new Commission, composed of W. A. Rice, H. Harris, W. C. Kingsley, E.A. Merritt, Delos De Wolf and C. Depew. The Superintendent claims that he can finish the work so that the Assembly of 1874 can hold their sessions in the building, only asking for money. The law of 1868 limited the expenditure to four million dollars, but since the corner-stone rests on two million dollars, it is hardly possible that the intention of that body will be carried out. The Masons over the State are making every preparation to have the ceremonies of the 24th the most august that have ever illustrated the records of the country. Every Lodge in the Commonwealth will be represented by a committee, and the uniforms will be as gorgeous as the possibilities of Masonic properties will allow. At first a feeling of opposition developed among the anti-Masons of the State, but as the show is of no political significance, and the Order claim to have officiated at the inception of Solomon’s Temple, it has been judged best to let them go on and play their play.