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Press Releases :: 06/05/08

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW EXHIBIT SHEDS LIGHT ON DAILY LIFE IN 19TH CENTURY ALBANY

Albany, New York -- 06/05/08

ALBANY – A new exhibition -- Sheridan Hollow: A Very Working-Class Neighborhood – opens at the New York State Museum June 15, based on archaeological research that provides new insight into the realities of daily life and health conditions in one of Albany’s poorest mid-19th century working-class neighborhoods.

              Open through October 14 in a section of the Charles L. Fisher Gallery, the exhibition presents the historic context of the development of the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood. It outlines the development of water supply and waste systems that served this quarter of the city, and describes daily life for the residents there, exploring what archaeology can reveal about health conditions.

In accordance with state historic preservation guidelines, an archaeological survey of the site was conducted prior to the construction of a parking garage on Sheridan Avenue by the New York State Office of General Services (OGS).  Construction site manager Clough Harbour Associates hired Hartgen Archeological Associates to investigate the site before the OGS garage was constructed and completed in August  2006. Hartgen’s research provided the basis for the Sheridan Hollow exhibition. 

"OGS is pleased to be able to collaborate with the New York State Museum on this exhibition, which sheds light on how people lived in Albany," said Commissioner John C. Egan. "OGS remains committed to preserving the past, while providing quality facilities for New Yorkers."     

The project site is located on Sheridan Avenue, west of Hawk Street and east of Swan Street. Sheridan Avenue runs along a ravine carved out by the Fox Creek, and the archaeological site is situated at the bottom of the ravine. The land to the south of it is a very steep slope which, at one time, was the edge of the city. Around 1840, the creek was enclosed in a buried culvert and the ravine was then filled to accommodate more streets and houses. Because of its location near the creek and steep slope, the area had poor drainage, but cheaply constructed housing there made it affordable to those with limited economic means.

The exhibition notes that there was a housing shortage in Albany in the mid-1900s when railroads, and the Erie and Champlain canals, expanded trade and caused a population boom. In neighborhoods like Sheridan Hollow, flats often accompanied multiple families and boarders. In 1850, 84 people, in 19 family groups, were crowded into the four small houses on the archaeological site. Many of the neighborhood’s residents were Irish immigrants. Some were widowed spouses or parentless children who could not afford to rent on their own.

Archaeologists uncovered privies, which provided clues about the diets of Sheridan Hollow residents, as well as information on how waste was handled. They also were able to determine the locations of drains and a cistern, which showed how the city’s water supply system developed.

Researchers believe Sheridan Hollow residents were commonly afflicted with two types of parasites – roundworm and ringworm. Although parasite levels across Albany peaked in the early 19th century, they remained elevated at the Sheridan Hollow site through the turn of the century. Unlike residents in other parts of Albany, those in Sheridan Hollow continued using outhouses until the 1920s, as well as public wells that were likely contaminated from runoff containing human waste.

The exhibition displays several items uncovered by archaeologists that provide insights into daily life in Sheridan Hollow, including medicine bottles that could have contained opium or cocaine, syringe fragments, pipes decorated with shamrocks, toothbrush handles and a blown-glass rat whimsy. A whimsy was a small fanciful glass article, usually a flower or animal, made during off-hours by a glass blower with glass left over from a day’s work.  

The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department, the University of the State of New York and the Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.

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