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 Campaign for 48
Historic Albany received a generous $268,062 Environmental Protection Fund grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 2016 to stabilize the house by reconstructing two foundation walls and restoring the characteristic H-Bent framing. Historic Albany will be announcing a contractor for the stabilization work by the end of August. We are excited to finally be embarking on our plans to stabilize the structure so that it not only stands the test of time, but can be put back to use in our community for people to enjoy and learn from. We are looking forward to beginning work on the building early this fall and sharing it with you on our hard hat tours. (Check back soon for dates!)
In conjunction with this stabilization work, Historic Albany Foundation is launching two fundraising initiatives, The Campaign for 48 Hudson to raise $150,000 as a match to the stabilization grant and $50,000 for a Historic Structures Report (HSR). Why an HSR you ask and why now? A Historic Structures Report is the standard first step in the restoration of an important historic building. This is not your standard historic building, so the approach to its treatment should be anything but run-of-the-mill. Historic Albany is assembling an international team of experts to produce a book about the building, it’s history and construction, and recommendations for conserving, restoring, and reusing this invaluable cultural asset.
A Bit of History
The house has had relatively few owners over its nearly 300 years. The first owner was Johannes Van Ostrande, an alderman. Members of the Ostrander Family are still in the Capital Region today and have a family association whose membership spans the United States and Canada. Click here to learn more about the Ostrander Family. The next owner was Johannes Radliff, who made the first major change to the building. Radliff widened the building to have a carriage pass through between 48 and 46 Hudson Avenue. He also also flattened the pitch of the roof and raised it up a few feet to have a full second strory. Circa 1832, Jared Holt, owner of Jared Holt Wax Factory which produced stitching wax, purchased the building. He lived in the house and then constructed the three story brick addition for his business. He operated a leather goods and findings business at 48 Hudson. Holt was the last to live in the house at 48 Hudson Avenue. George T. Stoneman ran a dry goods business in the latter 19th century and added the final addition, a single story off the rear of the building. In the early 20th century, the building had several tenants including Kibbe’s Candy and Long Trucking. In 1935, the building was purchased by the Saul’s who operated Saul’s Restaurant Supply there until the late 1990s. For a more complete history and more about each owner, visit our history and architecture page.
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. Historic Albany’s podcast series, Listen Albany, explores the intriguing and colorful tale of how 48 Hudson was identified in the episode, Finding 48. This can be enjoyed on our website or wherever podcasts are listened to.
Historic Albany’s Involvement & Stabilization
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. 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.
Historic Albany is currently stabilizing the building, constructing a new foundation wall to the east and south as well as restoring the H-Bent framing. This project is in part funded by a grant from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through Title 9 of the Environmental Protection Act of 1993 and is supported by the Preservation League of New York State’s Endangered Properties Intervention Program which provides funds for acquisition, stabilization, or rehabilitation of significant endangered sites.