Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Corning Preserve's Amazing Lineage
The Albany Basin was constructed as the entrance for the original Erie Canal and completed and open to boat traffic in 1825. The basin was built by utilizing the natural harbor of the Hudson River at Albany by building two piers, each with bridges linking them to Quay Street along the mainland, at the foot of lower State Street and Columbia Street. The pier at the foot of State Street became the dock for the Albany Yacht Club and recreational and commercial boats parked within the basin. The northern part of the basin - north of Columbia Street bridge - was filled in for a rail yard. Not long after, the yard, northeast of Union Station, became so overburdened for more trackage and automobile parking that the remaining southern portion of the basin - south of Columbia Street - was filled in by the late 1940s. Commuter/tourist riverboat traffic was dwindling at this time, as well, which suited the extinction of this State Street pier as the home of the Albany Yacht Club. Most of the land-fill was turned into parking but the two piers were not entirely modified and remained in place while the newly filled in basin was brought out to the locations of the piers creating a new and contiguous riverfront in what used to be the middle of the Hudson River. The Maiden Lane Rail Bridge, built originally in 1871 and rebuilt in 1900, also remained in place as it continued to serve as the vital New York Central river crossing between Rensselaer and Albany leading to the rear of Union Station. The Maiden Lane Rail Bridge, when one studies old photos of it, was held up by stone supports, not unlike those that still exist supporting the neighboring and contemporary Livingston Avenue Rail Bridge just to the north. The Maiden Lane bridge simply crossed over a parking lot west of the old State Street pier instead of the water of the old basin. (The former Albany Yacht Club moved to the Rensselaer side of the river, south of the present Dunn Memorial Bridge where it still exists, due to not having a basin or adequate shoreline to service it any longer.) There appears to have been a stone support for the bridge at the pier where it met the Hudson's main channel. The bridge was fed on the east in Rensselaer through what would become the Junior-Senior High School baseball field and several feet to the south of the school's track. Time goes on and the school has now been demolished, as well, as of 2008 and remains vacant land pending construction of a huge undertaking to turn Rensselaer's otherwise undeveloped riverfront between Amtrak rail lines and the river into a modern marina and park area complete with office, retail, and residential - "mixed use."
The move of commuter rail out of Union Station and Albany to the other side of the river to Rensselaer in 1967/1968 (and subsequent storytale fate Union Station - see my prior blog about the station) and contemporaneous consolidation of the New York Central into Penn Central (soon to fail and be replaced by Amtrak) led to the replacement of Albany's riverfront tracks and adjacent parking lots along with removal of the Maiden Lane Bridge. Most accounts, including "Trackside in the Albany, N.Y. Gateway 1949-1974 with Gerrit Bruins and Jim Odell" by Leo Kilian, which provides stunning photography and accounts of the old railways, imply there are no vestiges of the old Maiden Lane Bridge. Honestly, no vestige of the former trackage through Albany is evident, either, as the current CSX line in-between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-787 is a realignment/rebuild of those lines. The bridge, as it appears in several aerial photographs, including an excellent photo on the lower right-hand side of page 15 of "Albany Revisited," by Don Rittner, crossed over the State Street pier south of an old building at the north end of the pier (old ticket office?) and north of the main multi-story recreational building constructed for the Albany Yacht Club. When I-787 ("riverfront route") was proposed and, unfortunately, built (unfortunately, at least, in the terms of elevated with gratuitous ramps and frontage roads,) it replaced mostly the area once covered with tracks but the area to the east (last incarnation as filled-in basin/parking lot) was left with no comprehensive plan for development and was half-heartedly turned into a "preserve" or riverfront park and later was dedicated to Mayor Erastus Corning II and renamed in his honor. (Dedicating unfinished and half-assed projects such as this to the former mayor was only-fitting. The park included two now-sunken parcels of land with feeders to the Hudson River enabling their use as tidal ponds and a strip of land separating the ponds from the river with a path through it which was constructed over the exact last route of Quay Street which previously serviced the parking lots and connected on the south to Maiden Lane and on the north to Livingston Avenue. This is an educated guess based on an aerial from 1974 on the USGS site which shows the riverfront being reconstructed but including a very clear and wide Quay Street, instead of a path, as it last appeared in other photographs and no tidal ponds but an otherwise vacant stretch of land that could be mistaken for Corning Preserve of 2001. Also constructed and finished around this time was Empire State Plaza which needed its own pumping station and that resulted in the allocation of the extreme southern end of the preserve to an architecturally-interesting pumping station and riverfront dock for tug boats. Otherwise, there remained no vestige of the area's previous incarnations other than its geographic location. Before I became an amateur photographer, I ventured to the area to investigate the shoreline (which is made up of very interesting combinations of slate, brick, stone, plant, wood, etc.) in the area of the newer Riverfront Park amphitheater (which one could argue threatened even further to cover-up any remaining vestige of the past.) Just above the pumping station and dock is a portion of the shoreline underneath a tree which contains a stone support standing, most likely a bit lower than its one-time full height, in the exact location the Maiden Lane Bridge appears to have crossed and it resembles the supports in old photos and the ones supporting the current Livingston Avenue Bridge. The above photograph shows that stone support as I photographed it almost four years ago, not knowing what I would come to believe it is.
Of note, though I did not live here before the Riverfront Park amphitheater and Hudson Riverway pedestrian bridge were built by 2002, it appears a lone-standing remnant of the buildings along the pier was still extant until that time just north of this stone support and at the likely northern extent of the old pier and, upon examination of 2001 aerials in Google Earth, it appears to have resembled the building mentioned earlier just north of the old bridge in old photos. If anyone remembers there being an old structure in Corning Preserve along the riverfront in the present location of the amphitheater (about in the location of the southern of two protruding bulkheads/lookout areas-also newly constructed and appearing in the above photo to the right of the support,) I'd be interested in hearing about it.