The limestone-faced building on 5th Avenue, just north of the Collar City Bridge and Hoosick Street stands tall, beautiful and empty. In spite of the fact that it’s a pretty distinctive building – there are certainly no other limestone Beaux-Arts buildings in the area, it is easy to miss if you aren’t looking carefully.
People driving underneath the bridge towards the traffic light are looking at the light, or looking out for cars barreling through the avenues, but most are only vaguely aware that there is even a building there. After all, this is not Troy’s finest stretch of real estate. It’s a no-man’s land created when someone thought that highways cut through urban areas would be a boon, not a traffic and neighborhood destroying nightmare.
But in spite of everything, it stands, one of North Central’s many closed up and abandoned buildings.
Older Troy residents know this fine structure well. For over 60 years, this was the Seton Day Nursery, established to take care of the children of Troy’s working class, while the mothers worked at the nearby factories.
Troy has always been a city with a large population of lower income working women. The city, after all, was famous because of their labors. This was the Collar City, where detachable shirt collars and cuffs were manufactured, along with the shirts themselves and the laundries necessary for both.
River Street was lined with factories and laundries, large and small. The largest was the massive Cluett Peabody Company, which started out making collars and cuffs, and later made Arrow Shirts, the largest men’s shirt company of its day.
The Home came under the directorship of Sister deSalles Shriver in 1901. She was a member of the Shriver clan that would include Sargent Shriver, who married into the Kennedy family much later in the century. Sister Shriver expanded the home, and established the Seton Day Nursery in an annex in 1907. There were three children the first week. By the end of the year, there were 40.
The beautiful Beaux-Arts building at 2423 5th Avenue was built in 1914. Much of the funding for the building came from the generosity of Peter McCarthy, a son of Irish immigrants who grew up poor in Troy and made a fortune in manufacturing and railroads.
McCarthy founded the Troy Waste Manufacturing Company, which processed scrap fabrics into new fabric. His factory building is better known today as the Marvin-Neitzel Building at 444 River Street. He went on to found four other knitting companies, including the Troy Knitting Company. He was also the man behind downtown’s McCarthy Building, another Beaux-Arts beauty.
The new home for the Seton Day Nursery opened with great fanfare on May 1, 1914, and immediately set about to take care of the children of Troy's female workforce, many of whom worked only a couple of blocks away at Cluett Peabody, or at one of the many other garment factories which once formed an unbroken line along River Street.
The Day Nursery shared some of the space with the Seton Home for Girls. Over the next 60 years, the Nursery was at the center of Troy’s charitable life. The home was run by the Sisters of Charity. It was also an agency of the Troy Community Chest, a catch-all of many city charitable organizations, and was an agent of Troy’s Social Welfare Department.
They accepted children from 2 to 6, and did not discriminate by race, sex or religious affiliation. An article in the Troy Record, from July of 1957 noted that they had 85 children in their program at that time, the kids divided into five different age and development groups.
The facility had five indoor playrooms, and two outdoor playgrounds. All had toys and play equipment. The outdoor playgrounds had climbing equipment, wading pools, swings and sandboxes, among other things. They had six Sisters of Charity, two trained children’s nurses, a group leader, two assistants, a clerk, cook, two maids and a maintenance man, plus a part-time high school student helper, as staff.
However, in spite of the success of the Nursery, by 1966, the institution was ready to move out of their 5th Avenue home. The building needed thousands of dollars of repairs and upgrades, and they didn’t have the funds, or the insurance coverage. So they decided to abandon the building and move to South Troy, to the St. Joseph’s Club building at Hanover and 4th Ave. They planned to re-open there in January of 1967.
The 5th Avenue building was leased temporarily to the Salvation Army in 1968. The Army was in the process of tearing down their old building on River Street and building the current building, and rented the Nursery in the interim.
I was not able to find out if anyone else was there in the time between the late ‘60s and the 1990s. In 1994, the building was purchased for Uncle Sam’s House, Inc. They were a non-profit organization that housed and helped low income and homeless veterans.
The organization, which was headquartered in Schenectady, provided housing in Troy, and was set up with counseling for addiction and mental health issues. The residents worked in custodial and laundry services for the various government and other agencies they were contracted with.
However, it didn’t last long. In 1999, Joseph Franklin, the president of Uncle Sam’s House, applied for a state grant for the building. The state’s Housing Trust Fund gave them a grant for $574,216 and a loan of $159,504. Attached to this money were some stringent conditions, among them the necessity to maintain the building as low-income housing.
They also had to pay all city property taxes, as well as water and sewer and any other assessments. If they defaulted on the mortgage for any reason, since the Housing Trust Fund held the note, the State could demand a re-payment of the money in full.
Well, long story short, Uncle Sam’s didn’t hold up their end of the deal, and defaulted. When the Housing Fund investigators came to 2423 5th Ave in 2007, they found it boarded up, chained and vacant. They called in the loans. And then the interest started to accrue. Franklin was in the wind.
In 2011, the building was put on the city’s auction block for $10,500, the amount of a lien on the property. But anyone who bought it would also be responsible for the massive debt to NY State to the tune of $926,755.04. Needless to say, no one bought it.
That was in 2011. The State no doubt, has kept the interest clock ticking. Joseph Franklin and Uncle Sam’s House were long gone and the State could not collect from anyone.
I was unable to find any information after 2011. The building sits there – empty, rotting and forgotten. For what purpose?
The State is never going to get their money. They need to move on and forget it. Or at best, negotiate WAAAY down to a number that would make the building still viable for rehabbing. It’s not the fault of a new owner that the previous owner skipped out.
This is a valuable and beautiful building with a fine history, one that’s still in good enough shape to be brought back to life. Wouldn’t it be great to hear children playing here once again? Wouldn't it be a fine building to live in?
It could happen. It needs to happen.
My name is Suzanne Spellen. I've been many things: a writer, historian, preservationist, musician, traveler, designer, sewer, teacher, and tour guide; a long time Brooklynite and now, a proud resident of Troy, NY.