Historic Rapp Road Community— An Update

We continually remember before Our GOD and Father Your Work produced by Faith
Your Labor prompted by Love, and Your Endurance Inspired by Hope in Our LORD JESUS CHRIST.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

Our ancestors lived by this scripture and put it to use in daily life. They believed that Hope and ultimately Faith produced Endurance and Perseverance. They left oppression, poverty and racism behind in the South with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. The meager earnings they were able to salvage for the trip north would tell you or I “we cannot make it on these funds.” Yet their Hope and Faith in GOD told them “They could make it.”

Upon arriving North in the 1930’s, they found that conditions in the South End of Albany did not align itself with the life they were accustom to for themselves and their children. There were bars, gambling & prostitution. These individuals believed in prayer and worship. Not easily discouraged, they sought whatever opportunities they could find in the way of work (which was very scarce). Led by their pastor, Louis W. Parson (a visionary) and William Toliver, they eventually came to settle in a 28 acre tract of land purchased by the two men. It was known as “the Holy Land” on Rapp Road in the Pine Bush area. They were a part of the Great Migration of Blacks during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Through prayer, fasting and faith they believed GOD had provided them with land nobody else was interested in. They toiled and sacrificed, creating something out of nothing. They developed and cultivated this “Holy Land” into a community. They grew gardens, raised livestock for sustenance and built modest homes as they could afford them. To outsiders there was nothing unique about these homes, in fact, it was the community itself that was unique. They did not have a “Blue Print” on how to develop a community, yet they thrived and prospered quietly until the early 1970’s. In 1971, New York State built the Washington Avenue Extension displacing some of the homes within the community. Developers saw the new highway as a means of opportunity and our community suddenly became viable property “for their own blue prints.” The State University of New York at Albany, Pyramid Corporation’s Crossgate Mall, Crossgate Commons, Theresian House and Daughters of Sarah were just the beginning.

Slowly and strategically developers have sought to obtain pieces of our community bit by bit for their own personal gain. More recently the NanoScale College of Science and Technology on Washington Avenue Extension has had an even bigger impact on our community along with new Medical Office Buildings and a Marriott Residential Inn along the frontage road which parallel Rapp Road. Over the past year, two developers have sought to dismantle original homes within the immediate community. The Toliver House located at 8 Rapp Road was one of the first homes built in the community. It was dismantled by Bernacki Property Management Inc. last year (2012) with the intent of replacing it with an office building and parking lot space for ten cars. However, the community was able to convince the City of Albany’s Zoning Board of Appeals to deny a permit for commercial use in the neighborhood. The William Wilborn House located at 59 Rapp Road was purchased by the Daughters of Sarah Retirement Community in March of 2012 and was also slated to be dismantled this year. Mark Koblenz, CEO for the Daughters of Sarah Retirement Community stated “There is nothing unique about the house.” What Mr. Koblenz fails to recognize is that the Wilborn House is an important piece of Rapp Road history. It was the residence of the late Bishop William Wilborn and his wife Frances. They were instrumental in parceling land to members of their church community after Parson’s death in 1940 and played a vital role in leadership and the development of the community. Again, residents of the community went before the Zoning Board of Appeals in January, 2013 and asked that a request to dismantle the home be denied. The residents would like to buy the property back for use as a museum. Talks between residents of Rapp Road and Daughters of Sarah are currently underway, no decision has been reached as yet.

The Historic Rapp Road Community was purchased on May 2, 1930. Today, second, third, fourth and fifth generation residents still reside in the community. “Eighty-three years later……we are still here by the grace of GOD and with His help we will remain an intact community.” It was placed on the New York State and National Historic Registry in 2002 and 2003 as a historic African American Community within the City of Albany. Our community is a key player in the development of Albany’s Pine Bush area during the 1930’s,40’s and 50’s. We are not opposed to change, we simply want the remnant that remains here to have their rightful place in Albany’s rich history. Developers must not assume they can muscle their way into our community, disregard and disrespect our presence. The Historic Rapp Road Community is our heritage and legacy, left to us by our ancestors. We intend to honor and protect our legacy.

Residents of the Historical Rapp Road Community





Published in May/June 2013 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter