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Marcus T. Reynolds: A Local Architect with a Long-Lasting Influence

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Albany’s Architectural Legacy

Marcus T. Reynolds and his Eclectic Perspective

The Van Rensselaer House. Photo Courtesy of Williams CollegeIf you’ve ever walked around Albany, you’ve probably noticed the eclectic architecture of the city. Modern, practical skyscrapers stand alongside seemingly antiquated, detailed structures, giving the city character and architectural significance. Much 19th and early 20th century architecture remains throughout the city, and many of Albany’s notable buildings from this time period can be credited to Marcus T. Reynolds.

A prominent architect during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Reynolds was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1869 and was raised in Albany by his aunt after his mother passed away in 1875.  Because of his affiliation with the Van Rensselaer family (his aunt was widowed by Bayard Van Rensselaer), Reynolds was a member of high society in Albany. He attended various private schools, including The Albany Academy, before attending college at Williams College beginning in 1886.

As an undergraduate at Williams, Reynolds was a member of the Sigma Phi Fraternity. After deciding to pursue architecture and completing his B.A. at Williams, Reynolds continued his architectural studies at Columbia University. He graduated from Columbia in 1893 after completing his thesis entitled Housing of the Poor in American Cities, a work that also earned him an honorary Master of Arts degree from Williams College.

Reynolds returned to the Albany area when he was ready to start his professional career. His social status helped him greatly as he made his start; many wealthy, high-class friends of his family became his first clients. In fact, the Van Rensselaer Mansion, which was owned by Reynolds’ cousins, was one of his first projects upon graduating from Columbia.

Marcus Tullius Reynolds (1869-1937)The demolition of the mansion, which was necessary because it had fallen into disrepair, happened to occur around the same time as another of Reynolds’ initial architectural undertakings: the reconstruction of the Sigma Phi Fraternity lodge at Williams College—where Reynolds had lived during his senior year of college—which had been destroyed in a fire. When designing the new Sigma Phi lodge, Reynolds had the idea to recycle some of the materials from the demolished Van Rensselaer mansion in the construction of the new lodge. Unfortunately, though this was a creative idea, stonework and window trimmings were the only materials that were reused—the bricks and most other materials were too old and damaged to be useful.

Reynolds took on many other projects and his career thrived throughout the early 20th century.  He designed some of the most prominent and recognizable buildings in Albany, some of which still exist today.

One of Reynolds’ largest and most well known projects was the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building, now the SUNY System Administration Building, located in downtown Albany. This building was designed by Reynolds to include New York State history in its adornments. If you look closely, you’ll see the name and coat of arms of Henry Hudson, a salamander emblem representing Francis I of France (whose expedition ventured into the Albany area before the Dutch), a symbol representing the Duke of Albany, symbols representing various prosperous, high class families (including the Van Rensselaers, Schuylers, and Livingstons), various beaver carvings, and other significant details. Reynolds also designed the weathervane atop the center tower, a 400 pound replica of the Half Moon—the ship Henry Hudson arrived in Albany on—that is 6 feet, 9 inches long and 8 feet, 10 inches tall, and the largest working weathervane in the US.

The Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building. Photo Courtesy of History Around Schenectady

Reynolds also designed the First Trust Company Building on State Street in Albany, located diagonally across from the Delaware and Hudson Building. He was famous for his bank designs throughout the Northeast, with buildings in Albany, Catskill, Hudson, Amsterdam, New York City, and New England.

Hackett Middle School and the Hook and Ladder #4 building, both on Delaware Avenue, and the current Albany Academy building on Academy Road were also designed by Reynolds, as were various other buildings throughout Albany. Many of his buildings have been named to the National Register of Historic Places, which lists buildings that are historically relevant and worthy of preservation.

Reynolds’ work has had a lasting impact on the city of Albany and its architecture that can still be seen today. His buildings, scattered throughout the city and the Northeast, are glimpses of the area’s architectural past lingering amidst the hustle and bustle of the modern era.

Jessica Venezia is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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