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 The 1914 Pine Bush Preserve

What became of it?

by John Wolcott
In 1914, Albany almost benefitted immensely from the City Beautiful movement. This was part of the Progressive movement, then afoot around the country with its strong public spirit, open, honest better government and conservation bent. This, temporarily, influenced even traditionally conservative Albany.

Albany in 1912, commissioned an architect, Arnold W. Brunner, and a landscape architect, Charles Downing Lay, to make studies and to draw up plans for the greater beautification and benefit of the city. In 1914 a report and plans were published by Brunner and Lay under the title of, Studies for Albany. These showed a series of elegant formal parks, boulevards, band pavilions, an outdoor theater and various new monuments and so forth. In these studies, the Pine Bush was the one place not subjected to formal designs, layout or added landscaping. A natural "park" was recommended.

Besides the climate of a nationally heightened public spiritness, the time was ripe for a Pine Bush preserve for another reason. It was only the year before that Albany gained back a large share of its Pine Bush. It had been traded back and forth before&emdash;once in 1800 and again in 1870. Chapter 584 of the Laws of New York of 1913, which added the Pine Bush to Albany, describes it thusly: "being a territory lying to the west of the present boundary line of the city and which is in large part waste and unoccupied land, the ownership of which is uncertain." Presumably the land there was available at dirt- (or sand-) cheap prices at the time. It would be interesting to look into those remarks and I wonder if what was behind them might not make the land of little monetary value again. In spite of that question, it only would have been common sense to buy up land for conservation right away instead of waiting for prices to rise. To show the importance of this, the architects on the next to last page of text in their report published an opinion that was sadly ignored for many years (and still tends to be ignored), "the acquirement of park property far in advance of its needs costs no more because of interest and carrying charges than its later acquirement at an advanced price, and there is immeasurable advantage that parks acquired far in advance are sure to be of sufficient size."

To return to the influence of the Progressive movement on these plans, it is virtually spelled out in the preface. "The strong individualism that has characterized America has prevented the consumation of many schemes for the general welfare and we are only now beginning to realize that while the rights of the individual must be preserved, they should not be permitted to run counter to the rights of the community." Does this sound timely now, with such a prevalence of "me first" and "profits first" before anything else at all?

Most of the Brunner-Lay plans more or less waned or came to nought, except for the D&H Plaza and one or two others. As for the plan for a city Pine Bush preserve, it not only waned but largely disintegrated. The core of this preserve was Rensselaer Lake, also known as the 6 Mile Waterworks, combined with waterworks land to the east, west and north of it. In 1850 the City of Albany purchased from the Patroon of Rensselaerwyck part of the Manor preserve that had been reserved in 1800 to protect the flow of the mill stream, now known as Patroon Creek. The city then built a dam across Patroon Creek where about four other streams joined it and thus created a reservoir for Albany's water supply. The city also made other purchases extending all the way out to the Schenectady Turnpike (now Central Avenue.) These added holdings were for protecting incoming streams, springs, marshes and forest cover in order to benefit the quality and volume renewal of the reservoir.

By 1914 most of the Waterworks holdings were still intact, but the reservoir, like the Tivoli Reservoir, was maintained only for emergency backup use. Both places were slated to be public parks and both were later used to site city dumps. Both are also located along Patroon Creek, formerly called Vyvde, or Fifth, Kill. Rensselaer Lake and the area immediately around it, was actually made into a fairly nice city park eventually. It has been added to the Pine Bush Preserve and a small strip across Rapp Road was purchased in the 1980s (probably not at 1914 prices, though.) The rest of the 1914 Pine Bush preserve, however, gradually disintegrated in the following sequence keyed to 1993 Map on the next page:

  1. In 1955, the city sold a parcel east of Fuller Road to the Mohawk Brush Company for constructing a brush factory and the proposed preserve space was destroyed as well as a stretch of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad embankment. The following objections and views of an old friend of mine, Tom Flannery, are worth quoting. They were reported by columnist Tip Roseberry in the Albany Times Union, at the time. "Since taking occupancy, the new owner has decimated by bulldozer, chain saw and torch a magnificent wooded area which rightfully should have been continued as a picnic and recreational ground . . .The DeWitt Clinton passed there on the Empire State's first railroad. . .Let's save the Pine Bush from extinction while we have it intact. The Thruway has already stepped in and cut a prodigious swath through the heart of the Pine Bush. Is that not enough? Let's leave the territory an unspoiled frontier of adventure right in Albany's own backyard." As far as I know, Tom Flannery was the first since Brunner and Lay to propose a real Pine Bush preserve. Unfortunately, Tom Flannery was a voice crying in the wilderness of anti-progressive conservatism.
  2. In 1967, the city sold it's waterworks property on the south side of Central Avenue in Colonie to developers for the Northway Mall. A beautiful part of the Pine Bush was destroyed and the city did another disservice to itself and its citizens by contributing to sprawl and diminishing downtown Albany.
  3. 1969 The City sites its dump on more waterworks land.
  4. 1970s? The City uses land proposed for preserve for addition in the original preserve plan for a dump shredding plant.
  5. The City sells various parcels between the Thruway and Washington Avenue Extension for construction purposes.
  6. 1989 The City extends the dump into more land proposed for preserve addition in the original preserve plan.
  7. 1995 The City sells what is left of its waterworks land east of Fuller Road to the Gullo Company to build a strip mall right up against the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad embankment.
  8. 1998 The City approves an office development on land once intended for inclusion in the original Pine Bush preserve.

 

Does the City of Albany owe to nature and the public in this area? You tell me!

 
published March/April 2000 Newsletter
Last Updated 3/9/00

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