Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Samuel Munson, The Munson Block, and Its Destruction for an Expanded Marketplace

Samuel Lyman Munson was born the 14th of June, 1844, of Puritan lineage; his forebear, Thomas Munson, was one of the founders of New Haven, Connecticut. He rose from a clerk at a Boston dry goods store, from there venturing to Albany, where he became a commercial traveller in the store of Messrs. Wickes & Strong, clothing manufacturers. Prospering as a salesman, in 1867, after four years on the road, Munson, along with J.A. Richardson and L.R. Dwight, established a linen collar factory under the name Munson, Richardson & Co. Two years later the partnership was dissolved and the business became Munson’s alone.

Munson’s business – beginning with six employees and two sewing machines – gradually outgrew his early locations on Broadway and Green Street.

In 1884, he purchased the old Hudson Avenue Episcopal Methodist church, and converted it into a large-scale factory, making shirts, collars, cuffs, lace goods and handkerchiefs.

The building was 140′ by 68′, four stories high, retaining the old church domed roof; it occupied the entire block from Hudson Avenue to Plain Street. A 48-foot American flag adorned the top.

There were 500 employees and 208 sewing machines, making 250,000 dozen collars and cuffs, 50,000 dozen shirts and 10,000 shirt fronts in its first year alone. By 1917, the company had 1,000 employees spread across several cities.

Munson became a trustee of the Home Savings Bank, a director of the National Exchange Bank, and a board member of the United States Fidelity and Guarantee Company. He was also a Mason and director of the Albany Chamber of Commerce. In 1868, he married Miss Susan B. Hopkins of Albany, raising a family of six children.

The S.L. Munson Company continued to grow, expanding its output to children’s clothing and women’s dresses. In 1925, they opened a retail outlet at the factory, calling it the Manufacturers Sample Shop.

The Depression had a major impact on the garment industry nationwide. Starting in 1929, the Sample Shop ads began adding “MUNSON COMPANY STOCK LIQUIDATION” to its newspaper ads. No doubt, the crushed economy forced Munson to downsize. There were so many business failures that the Sample Shop ads were forced to add “WE HAVE NOT CLOSED” to their advertisements.

In that same year, the owner’s son and company vice-president, Samuel L. Munson Jr., died. The business downturn and personal loss probably had profound effects on Mr. Munson, who himself died in 1930, at the age of 85.

On February 1, 1931, the S.L. Munson Company suspended operations and went out of business. The Sample Shop held a final liquidation sale, and that was the end of the Munson Company.

But not the end of the building.

Wellington S. Jones, for many years General Manager of the Munson firm, took over the space, as the Jones Manufacturing Company. That business eventually relocated to Chatham, and in 1932 the property was purchased by Hudson Avenue Realty Corporation, headed by John Aiello, produce dealer, with John Vogel as vice president. Vogel moved his furniture warehouse business into the building.

That same year, a mere two years after her husband’s passing, Mrs. Munson, age 87, also died. She had become a prominent society leader, active in the Mayflower Descendants, the D.A.R., the Red Cross, and other charities. She was also for years President of the women’s board of the Homeopathic Hospital, now Memorial.

Mrs. Munson was one of the more old-fashioned socialites, who held an “at home” each Friday afternoon during the winter season at the Munson home, 84 Lancaster Street, a fashionable three-story brick building what was known in those days as a “double house.”

Meanwhile, the Depression notwithstanding, the City had begun looking for ways to expand its still-thriving market square. The Lyons people refused to sell. In 1936, after months of investigation and negotiation with owners of property adjacent to the Albany Center Market, Mayor Thacher announced the final selection of the site to be acquired. That site was the entire Munson Block (an area bounded by Grand, Market, and Philip Streets and Hudson Avenue), for which the City paid around $350,000.

On June 19, 1936, a crew of 28 WPA workmen, recruited from the Loudonville reservoir job, began tearing down a building in the rear of the block, on Market Street, under direction of the Coyle Wrecking Company. Buildings on Market Street were razed first, so that Hudson Avenue traffic would be unimpeded. The Munson Block, largest individual building on the site, was the last to be torn down.

When it was gone, WPA workers moved east and west toward Philip and Grand. It took six weeks to tear down the entire block and level the site preparatory to placing a temporary asphalt coating.

During the demolition, work crews discovered a box in the cornerstone of the old First Methodist Church, corner of Hudson and Phillip. Inside were copies of the Albany Argus and the Albany Evening Atlas, both dated June 12, 1844; a half dozen copies of the Christian Advocate, listing minutes of the meeting of the Methodist churches; an 1844-45 directory of Albany; a map of the city, dated 1833; four coins including a half dime of the same vintage; a small framed portrait believed to be of the Rev. Freeborn Garretson, the pastor, who organized the congregation in 1789; a Bible, hymn book, and record of church officers and several other articles.

The entire block was flattened by mid-July. And eventually the name of Samuel Munson, his rise to prominence, and his reign as a captain of Albany’s industry were lost to the sands of time.

2 Responses to “Samuel Munson, The Munson Block, and Its Destruction for an Expanded Marketplace”

  1. Paul DesAutels

    Enjoyed reading this as I have little postcard from them from December 1885, possibly it was a Christmas card, mailed from Albany NY to Highgate VT with a 1 cent stamp.

    Reply

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