St. Andrew’s Society: Bettering Upstate NY for 200+ years

Vermont Albany 9 9 2015 104 a

Were it not for the striking metalwork atop the door on a four-story brownstone, the structure at 150 Washington Ave. in Albany, NY, would have gone unnoticed in a city full of beautiful old edifices.

In the grillwork is a bronze cast of St. Andrew, one of the Twelve Apostles, carrying a cross amid leaves and branches, on a block. The image stands in front of a banner which bears the words “St. Andrew’s Society”.

For more than 200 years, the St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Albany (NY) has aided people near and far, from denizens of the New York capital to inhabitants of the distant Scottish Highlands.

The society was begun in November 1803 when 41 “Scotchmen,” as they called themselves then, met at the corner of State and North Pearl streets in Albany to found the city’s St. Andrew’s Society, named for the patron saint of Scotland.

At the time Albany was a frontier settlement, with just 5,500 residents.

The founders were merchants, physicians, clergymen and politicians, men who sought to begin an organization for “social and benevolent purposes.”

“They enjoyed life, but they could not stand still when fellow Scots were in need,” according to information found on the society’s website.

The society’s motto is “Relieve the Distressed.” In its first 100 years, it concentrated on immigrant Scots who needed help to find shelter, money and assistance in finding work.

As Scottish immigrants continued to flood into Albany through the 19th century, the society devised special arrangements with boarding houses and restaurants to provide shelter and food for the newcomers.

St. Andrew's Society of the City of Albany, 150 Washington Ave., Albany, NY.

St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Albany, 150 Washington Ave., Albany, NY.

However, disasters at home and abroad were given significant attention, such as the poor in the Scottish Highlands hit by the Great Famine in 1846-47.

By the 20th century, the society had made it a practice to support a broad range of Albany-area charities annually.

The society’s efforts extend into death, as it has long been the custom to provide members and indigent Scots with grave sites in St. Andrew’s plots in the city.

The society has long been active in affairs of the city and the nation:

  • A little over six months after the St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Albany was begun, a resolution was adopted “in token of the grief of the Society for the premature and untimely death of Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the first members of a kindred society in the city of New York.”;
  • On July 21, 1826, its members joined the funeral procession in honor of the memories of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom had died on July 4, 1826;
  • On May 13, 1847, a special meeting of the society was held to take action to aid the “suffering poor” in the Highlands and Scottish islands, with $200 granted for relief, and another $1,081 taken up in subscriptions;
  • On Sept. 1, 1862, a meeting was called to encourage the enlistment of Scots for the Union Army in the Civil War, specifically with Company D of the 177th New York Infantry Regiment, of which society member Capt. James Dodds was now leading;
  • Some 57 members of the society marched with the funeral cortege for President Abraham Lincoln when it moved through Albany in late April 1865;
  • Some $250 was given to aid the sufferers of the Johnstown, Pa., flood on June 4, 1889; and
  • The society received a check for $1,000 from Andrew Carnegie to purchase books for the library of their new building on Nov. 13, 1902.

The society purchased the building at 150 Washington Ave. in 1926, after selling its previous location for “ten times what it paid for it,” enabling it to continue on its mission of providing for the distressed.

Today, there are more than 100 St. Andrew’s societies around the world, with many in Canada and the United States. The St. Andrew’s Society of Charleston, South Carolina, founded in 1729, is accepted as the oldest.

(Top: Metalwork above entryway to St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Albany, Albany, NY.)

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