originally published in the Albany Times Union


Paul Grondahl

The step-gabled Dutch colonial brick house at the northeast corner of Pearl and State streets (home to the Fleet Bank building today) stands in the shadow of Albany's fabled elm tree and is immortalized in an 1840 painting by James Eights in the collection of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

The house and its owner provides a history lesson in colonial Albany.

John Lydius, a Dutch Reformed minister, arrived in Albany by ship from the Netherlands about 1700 and shortly thereafter built a brick house on the corner of State and Pearl.  He enjoyed its comfort a brief time before his death in 1710.

His son, John Henry Lydius, had no desire to follow his father in a life of the cloth, but approached the fur trade with a religious zeal. Lydius made his way to Canada, established a trading network with the Indians and built a prominent trading company at Fort Edward in the 1740s. Credited as the founder of Fort Edward, Lydius lived there but kept the family home in Albany.  Lydius married Genevive Masse, who had at least six children and as many as 10 (records are unclear).

Lydius was mostly in Fort Edward, while his wife and children lived at State and Pearl in a typical house of the period two stories, six tiny rooms, 20-feet by 30-feet with a loft above the top floor for storage.  In the 1740s, Lydius the trader fled Fort Edward, after being burned out by marauding French troops, and settled in Albany with his family.

At the mid-way mark of the 18th-century, when he was in his 50s, Lydius finagled huge land grants from the British crown encompassing tens of thousands of acres on the Vermont side along Lake Champlain. Lydius started sub-dividing the vast tracts and struck it rich.  In 1760, Lydius was elected alderman of Albany, making him one of the six leaders in the city.

But disgruntled buyers, who felt swindled when their ownership was challenged, discovered that Lydius was trafficking in fraudulent land grants.  Things went sour for Lydius, who fled Albanians out for his scalp and Indians who no longer trusted him after being cheated om trades. In the early 1760s, Lydius sailed for England, hoping to clear up the land titles with the king and expecting the flap back in Albany to die down.  Citizens and the courts decide to prosecute Lydius upon his return. Lydius lays low overseas.

The Revolutionary War broke out. Genevive and the kids weathered the storm in their house at State and Pearl. One son, Martin, was an Indian interpreter and still living at home with his mother at the age of 40. Another son, Balthus, a bachelor, didn't seem to have a steady job. In 1779, the Lydius house was assessed at $400 and Genevive had to come up with $20 in annual taxes.  Martin's personal income was assessed at $100 and he paid $2.10 in income tax.

John Henry Lydius died in England in 1790, a loathed and notorious trader left in disgrace.

In 1800, Balthus Lydius was still living in the house at State and Pearl, a bachelor, with two black slaves and an Indian woman caretaker. By 1810, he had taken in three boarders. He died in 1815 and his obituary called Balthus ``a very ecccentric character'' and ``the terror of young boys.''

Stefan Bielinski arches his eyebrows. He says he doesn't know how to interpret that last point.

The director of the Colonial Albany Social History Project at the New York State Museum has traced the story of the Lydius family through their house for a new book he's writing, ``The Other Revolutionaries.''  The Lydius saga will be contained in a chapter titled, ``Broken Homes: Widows, Abandoned Wives, and Single Women in Wartime Albany, 1775-83.''

The Lydius house was sold after Balthus, the last Lydius male, died in 1815, leaving no descendants. It was the end of the Lydius direct lineage.  The house burned in 1840.  The family's legacy lives on in a small way.  A winding road through the Guilderland portion of the Pine Bush is named Lydius Street.  Madison Avenue used to be Lydius Street, but was re-named.

First published on November 23, 1995
Copyright 1995, Capital Newspapers Division
of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Home | Email | New York State Museum