Cassidy, William

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The Cassidys and their Castle

The Cassidy family of Albany and Altamont had a profound impact on the people of the Hilltowns region. They still influence where local residents worship, receive health care, spend their summers, and even what some call their town.

The Cassidys were an Irish family who came to the Albany area in the 1780s. James, an Irish Catholic, helped establish the first Catholic Chapel in Albany in 1797. His son John, who was a close friend of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, laid the corner stone for the second St. Mary’s Church in Albany in 1828. Margaret Cassidy, John’s wife, donated a small organ to the original church in 1798, possibly the first organ in an Albany church. Cassidys, Caggers and other Irish families supported the growth of St. Mary’s, which is still active in Albany today.

John's children included DeWitt Clinton, Elizabeth, and William. DeWitt Clinton Cassidy, along with his brother, was an active politician in the Albany area. The Potato Famine of 1847 in Ireland brought many impoverished immigrants to the Albany area, and the established Irish families like the Cassidys worked to help the newcomers adapt and overcome local prejudice.

Elizabeth Cassidy married the outstanding Irish Albany lawyer Peter Cagger, who was active in church affairs and Democratic politics with her brothers. Peter was thrown from a carriage while driving through Central Park in early 1869. His sudden death left her well off. To create a lasting memorial for her late husband, Elizabeth contributed $10,000 to found St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. Her step daughter, Mary Cagger, contributed another $5,000, maintaining the family tradition, and in late 1869 the hospital was open for business. Her nephew William left a trust fund that donated $70,000 to the hospital in 1945. St. Peter's remains an important resource for residents in the Albany area today.

William is the best known of the children. Born in Albany in 1815, he attended the Albany Academy and then Union College. After graduation he learned law by working in the office of John Van Buren, the son of President Van Buren. This same John Van Buren actively prosecuted the leaders of the Anti-Rent war in the Helderbergs. William soon discovered he preferred politics and journalism, and in 1841, with the help of his father and influential friends, he was appointed the New York State Librarian.

In 1843 William became editor of the Atlas, a newspaper for the radical (barnburner) branch of the Democratic party. He later joined the Atlas with the Argus, a paper for another faction (hunkers) of the New York Democrats in 1856. He remained a power behind many New York politicians, even though he never ran for office himself. When his brother-in-law Peter Cagger died in 1869, William took over his role as Secretary of the New York Democratic Party. William died of organ failure in 1873.

William Cassidy married Lucie Rochefort, the daughter of Bartholomew Rochefort, a native of France, in 1856. They had three children, William (1860), Edward R. (1862), and John (1867). Lucie was one of the first Albany residents to establish an elegant summer home on the hills in Altamont. Every summer she entertained the elite society of Albany. Because Lucie so appreciated the high (Alta) hill (Mont) where she had her summer home, she helped change what had been called the village of Knowersville to its current name, Altamont. Not every resident wanted that change, but she appealed to her friend, President Grover Cleveland, who had been a frequent visitor to her summer home. He responded, “If Mrs. Cassidy is interested in having that post office named Altamont, Altamont it shall be."

Lucie was part of a well-to-do family and had several servants. The 1870 census lists Bridget, Margaret, Nora, and Mary as live-in domestics, for example. Following the Cassidy tradition, she financed the building of St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Altamont so all the maids could have an appropriate place for worship. The original chapel has been enlarged and modified into the present St. Lucy’s Church on Grand Street in Altamont.

Her son, Edward R. Cassidy, was a noted artist who spent time in Europe. During his travels he fell in love with the grand castles he saw, as well as the Countess Donnay de Casteau of Belgium. The Countess returned to Albany with Lucie and became Mrs. Helene Cassidy in 1893. Edward joined the navy and was ensign on the United States ship Hannibal at Key West when Helene sued for divorce in 1898 for “cruel treatment.” They had no children.

During their marriage they lived in Cassidy’s Castle on Old Stage Road in Knox, NY. The castle was built in the early 1890s and made of Oriskany stone. Its Norman arch doorway and glass-enclosed turret made it an attraction known from coast to coast. Edward added a race track for horses he raised on the farm. After the divorce he rented the castle to Mrs. Harriet Kibbee Christie to use for her women’s Bible study camps. In 1907 her group purchased the camp, but soon Mrs. Christie left to form Camp Pinnacle, which is still in operation.

The YWCA took over and established the popular Young Women’s Summer Camp of Altamont, which had the Cassidy Castle as it headquarters. They operated a camp for working women from New York and New Jersey who spent two weeks living in tents and enjoying a country life. Usually 300 girls a summer took a boat ride up the Hudson to Albany, the train to Altamont and a horse and carriage or later a car ride to the camp.

The Salvation Army bought the camp in 1929 and ran occasional summer camps and meetings there. By 1949 the castle had deteriorated enough that it had to be torn down. During that process, the castle burned and was a total loss. In 1957 the land the castle had been on was sold to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady who currently run Camp Lovejoy every summer for Schenectady youth.

Edward Cassidy married Nelle Irvin Cassidy and they had one son, Robert, in 1910 in England. Edward worked as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. In the 1930s and 1940s, his family was involved in several lawsuits concerning the trust funds set up by William and Lucie Cassidy, and their children. Robert I. Cassidy lived on lands the family still owned next to the Cassidy Castle in Knox and worked extensively with rare flowers. After Robert took part in the invasion of Southern France in World War II, he worked his way around enemy lines to visit with his mother in Port Blanc, France. There he learned his father Edward had died behind enemy lines in 1942.

The Cassidys mentioned here have all passed on, but their generosity and creativeness still affect the residents of the Hilltowns and Altamont. All the resources used to create this article are online at www.AlbanyHilltowns.com under Knox Family Stories. Visit the Altamont Museum and attend Knox Historical Society meetings to learn more local history.

John Elberfeld is an instructor at ITT Technical Institute in Albany and a member of the Knox Historical Society. He recently displayed photos of Cassidy Castle in the Altamont Town Library.

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