The Van Ostrande-Radliff House
The Oldest Building In Albany
One hundred and fifty miles up the Hudson River from New York City stands the earliest and best example of Dutch colonial urban architecture in the Hudson Valley—the cradle of New Netherlands and, as Russell Shorto calls it in The Island at the Center of the World, “the first multiethnic, upwardly mobile society on America’s shores.”
Built in 1728, the Van Ostrande-Radliff House is one of a handful of Dutch urban buildings to survive in America and is documented to be the oldest building in Albany. This building is an important piece of America’s Dutch history and a rare and tangible link to one of the country’s earliest urban settlements. It demonstrates the type of early Dutch framing and construction that was prevalent in and around Albany, from the mid-seventeenth century until around the close of the French and Indian War in 1763. While some Dutch buildings from this period have been photographically documented, only two Dutch buildings remain in Albany: the Van Ostrande-Radliff House and Quackenbush House, now the Olde English Pub.
“If you've ever been in a 17th century canal house in Amsterdam, you know it's a special kind of interior space: an intimate warren, snug, yet facing the city and ready to participate in its life. The architect Witold Rybczynski has described Dutch urban houses of that era as the first modern homes, the first to be purpose-built not for an extended family or an amorphous group but specifically for what we think of today as the family unit: a couple and their children. 48 Hudson Avenue is not only the oldest building in Albany; it's also the only known example of 18th century timber frame Dutch urban architecture. The scrim in front gives an idea of what the house originally looked like. It also reveals how much Albany, and for that matter New York City, owes to its Dutch founders.”
- Russell Shorto, Bestselling author of The Island at the Center of the World
48 Hudson Avenue has had a variety of different uses and undergone many changes; growing wider, taller, and deeper with three major additions and alterations between 1790 and 1892, and two facelifts in the 20th century. Ironically, every time the building was significantly altered, the owner stripped the building back down to the Dutch “bones” and today, the story most clearly told is by the building itself in physical evidence that is its Dutch origin.
The house was originally identified as a Dutch building in the 1980s after the demolition of a number of buildings in the neighborhood leaving and it’s front gabled roof was exposed. The gable had been hidden from view since the 1930s, making the building appear to be a run-of-the-mill 19th century commercial building.
As the surrounding neighborhood was demolished one building at a time, the Van Ostrande-Radliff House found itself sitting in the middle of a sea of parking lots and in danger of being demolished itself to add a few more parking spots. In 2009, it was included as an artifact of days gone by in plans for the construction of a new convention center that was to be sited in the “parking lot district.” As the convention center moved to a new location, the building continued to sit vacant with only minimal care.
Historic Albany acquired the building, by donation, in 2013 to ensure its survival and [develop a plan to interpret the building, making it a world class tourist destination]. Historic Albany’s goal is to stabilize it, the building so that it will continue to stand for another 300+ years and tell the important story of life in urban Dutch settlements in America. To do this, the Van Ostrande- Radliff House will not be restored in the traditional fashion, which is most often taking a building completely back to the most significant period of a building’s history.
When Historic Albany’s work is complete, the front of the building will appear as it did in 1728; the design will be guided by the clues found in the remaining historic fabric of the building, rather than photographic documentation. The interior, however, will not appear as it did when the Van Ostrande family lived there. The finishes and partitions that were removed in any number of the renovations will not be conjectured and recreated based on accounts of other homes. The house will be a “study house” of sorts, with the remaining Dutch characteristics restored and left exposed so that the public will be able to experience the building in a truly unique way.