John Wolcott, historian, preservationist, activist, and fierce advocate for the Pine Bush, dies at 90

ALBANY, NY: It is with great sadness that Save the Pine Bush learned of the passing of John Wolcott of Albany, NY, Thursday afternoon, August 17.  John was a founding member of  Save the Pine Bush in 1978.  He was a plaintiff on every lawsuit filed by Save the Pine Bush.

Born September 22, 1932, John passed away a few weeks shy of his 91st birthday.

John was an expert map-maker and researcher.  He discovered evidence of a forgotten foot path through the Pine Bush that in the 1600’s and 1700’s ran parallel to the main Albany-Schenectady Road, called the Maquas Padt or Indian Path.  His research showed that the common name of the federally and state endangered Karner Blue butterfly was named after a developer (such irony!).  His ground-breaking research into historical deeds for a SPB lawsuit over water lines resulted in defending the integrity of the borders of the Pine Bush Preserve.  Since this incredible research by John, there has been no significant encroachments on the boundaries of the Preserve. John’s meticulous research into property-owner deeds has led over the years to the addition numerous parcels of land to the Pine Bush Preserve.   John was instrumental in persuading the City of Albany to purchase the City Preserve.

John’s love for the Pine Bush began when he first visited the Pine Bush, at the age of 3.  For nearly 40 years, John led (or organized) monthly hikes in the Pine Bush.  He knew a wide range of hike leaders who, in addition to taking people to the Pine Bush, showed hikers birds of the Pine Bush, plants, butterflies and many other aspects of this unique ecosystem.  Over the years, John attended and spoke at hundreds of public hearings regarding development proposals in the Pine Bush.  He spoke always for preserving the land, and opposing any construction.

In addition to his passion for Pine Bush preservation, John was known for his deep love of historical buildings.  He was an expert on Dutch colonization of Albany in the 1600s. He could actually could read documents in the City of Albany archives that date to the 1600s that were written in a version of old Dutch that was archaic when it was written. He was the first one to date 48 Hudson Avenue, the oldest standing building in Albany.  He identified and advocated for the preservation of the “Rum Factory”, an impressive 18th century rum factory located on Broadway that was unfortunately was destroyed by New York State. Part of the rum factory was excavated prior to the construction of the offices of the Dormitory Authority of New York State. 

Not all of his efforts at preservation were successful, for example, his efforts to preserve the original Fort Orange that was built in the 1600s by the Dutch. Elevated Route 787 was built on top of it with a pillar going through the heart of Fort Orange.  For several decades, that pillar sported the graffiti “Oranje Boven” (Arise Orange) which John always asserted was scrawled by a drunken sailer.

John cared deeply for people, always there to help friends and strangers. He and wife of nearly 50 years, Linda Becker, would offer their home and support to so many people.  We don’t know how many; John never talked about it; he just did it.

John was an integral part of the success of Save the Pine Bush.  His knowledge of the history, geography and significance of the Pine Bush in Albany and surrounding communities was essential. 

The New York State Assembly passed a special resolution on June 20, 2001 to honor John Wolcott.  The resolution said, in part:  “That this Legislative Body pause in its deliberations to honor John R. Wolcott for his leadership, activism and resolute devotion to the City of Albany, New York.”

Save the Pine Bush wishes to extend sincere condolences to John’s wife, Linda Becker, and to their family.

John Wolcott Obituary

John Wolcott, passionate advocate for Albany Pine Bush, dies – Albany Times Union (archived/no pay-wall)

Remembering John Wolcott – Save the Pine Bush Archives