A Brief History of the Mount Ida Neighborhood - Fire

[Figure 9] Native Troy’s attitude toward the foreign-born goes a long way toward understanding how immigrants made such impressive strides.  The Irish, for example, were generally not kept from jobs they could perform or out of homes they could afford to build or purchase.  The nativist sentiment that made 1850s and 1860s New York City, Philadelphia and Boston often intolerable places for immigrants was not the rule in the upper-Hudson Valley.  Anti-immigrant stances did not normally find their way into local legislation, and when they did even long-standing statutes were often overturned.* Although incidents of religious and racial bigotry certainly occurred in the area, attempts to portray Irish Catholics as relentlessly persecuted are generally misguided.**  Albany and Troy have a remarkable—almost unequalled—history of religious tolerance and cooperation that dates to the seventeenth century.  Without this cooperation the task of assimilation would have been far more formidable.

[Figure 10] Industry and immigration were not the only catalysts for Mount Ida’s growth.  Fire was a nearly relentless presence in downtown Troy, claiming almost nine hundred buildings (exclusive of sheds and outbuildings) and four million dollars in damage between 1820 and 1862.

* Germans won the right in Albany to have German taught in the public schools and Catholics in both Troy and Albany won the right to have Swinton’s Outline of History—a long-established textbook that portrayed Catholicism and its response to the Reformation in an extremely negative light—removed from public schools.  See: Margaret E. Conners, “Their Own Kind: Family and Community Life in Albany, New York, 1850-1915” (Ph.D Thesis, Harvard University, 1975), xxx. 

** See, for example, Rev. Augustus J. Thébaud, S.J., Forty Years in the United States of America (1839-1885) (New York: United States Catholic Historical Society, 1904), 112-117.  Thébaud was a French-born Jesuit and the pastor of St. Joseph’s in Troy (1851-1860; 1863-1868).  Thébaud was clearly surprised and impressed by the level of kindness and support that most Trojan Protestants showed Catholics.  When the one blatantly anti-Catholic minister in the city spoke against aiding Irish Catholics with a pool of funds collected by all the city churches during the harsh winter of 1857, he was openly opposed by the ministers of the city—even those among his own denomination.  Thébaud particularly praised the support of Episcopalians (who “were always very friendly to Catholics,” 111), Unitarians and “Calvinists.”  

 

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