A Hollow Development
By Don Rittner

Well the State of New York is at it again. They want to build another garage. This $20 million or more project is one for 1500 cars so State workers can get to work within walking distance of the Alfred E. Smith Building, the Empire State Plaza and other state offices - after all we must accommodate those suburban commuters, don't we? The proposed site is bounded by Sheridan Avenue, Elk Street, North Hawk Street and South Swan Street. It's an interesting area since one of Albany's oldest roads still exists there and it was the proposed site of an elegant large park in 1914.

Back on August 23rd, 1762, the Albany Common Council ordered that a "Publick Street remain in the Foxes Creek, beginning at the East end of Messrs John & Gerrit Rosebooms Lott and run up as farr as the Schyt Bergie till it is ordered otherwise by the Corporation."

This public road is shown on a 1758 British Army map, and as seen today, is a small one-car width paved section that hugs the hollow along Sheridan Avenue and is located in part of an existing Sheridan Park. Historian John Wolcott believes the road was put there at an earlier time because of a slow increase in grade making it much easier to haul materials west, and the fact that the Common Council ordered it to be kept in use two years before John Bleecker laid out the city in nice orderly blocks and grids, may support this theory. Also it is analogous to the Mohawk-Hudson Railroad that used the easier grade up Tivoli Hollow later on in 1844.

Fox Creek, or the original Dutch name Vossenkill, meandered its way through the present Sheridan Avenue, or Sheridan hollow, originally called Howe Street and also known as Gander Bay. The old public road, called Road Street, began near end of Pearl Street originally, was channeled into Howe (Sheridan), and the remaining vestige of the street lies just south below Swan Street at an odd angle, and then runs along the bottom of the new garage site. Up until a few years ago Road Street was unpaved.

Schyt Bergie, is Dutch for "Dung Hill" and apparently was a place where manure was deposited for years forming a small hill. It is obviously gone, though one would say there still is a lot of schyt being flung in Albany. The hill was located where the Great Western Turnpike of 1799 (Western Avenue) and Schenectady Turnpike of 1805 (Central Avenue) converge.

Fox Creek by the way was walled and canalized, and then later sewered and runs under Sheridan Avenue these days.

There is also evidence that a Black Cemetery was on the brow of the hill on the south overlooking this road between Elk and Swan Streets

This also brings us to Sheridan Forest. In 1914, Arnold Brunner in his Studies For Albany proposed a large Sheridan Park for the area that extends from Dove to Swan and from Elk to 100 feet from Sheridan Avenue, that is 100 feet higher at Elk and Dove than at Road Street. It was obtained by the city because it was too steep for development, at least by 1914 standards.

Brunner's design had a wide terrace with two walks and a central grass plot 10 feet below Elk Street, and connected by steps and ramps. The central portion of the terrace was extended to provide a fine esplanade and also an excellent site for a future monument. Beyond this the ground sloped steeply to the line of Spruce Street to a walk shaded by two rows of trees on the other side of which were to be playgrounds for boys and girls. An overlook for vehicles was also designed. Brunner illustrated the park in his publication.

As it turns out, the city did build a small park that exists today, not much of one, but the other elements were never realized and that brings us to the present situation. What could have been a jewel like Academy Park, Washington Park, or Lincoln Park (Beaver Park) will now become just another parking garage that does nothing for the citizens of Albany but provides one more convenience for the benefit of suburban sprawlers.