On July 1, 1880, the members of the Fort Orange Club gathered at the handsome brick building at 110 Washington Avenue to celebrate the formal opening of their newly renovated clubhouse. Held just five months after the club had been formally incorporated, the physical transformation of the building was greeted with accolades, and it was agreed on all sides “that there was not a clubhouse in the country more pleasantly located, more appropriately and richly furnished, or where the appointments were more complete.” — The Albany Evening Times, July 1880
Albany, in 1880 was in many ways well positioned for the establishment of a prominent gentlemen’s club such as the Fort Orange Club. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the arrival of steamboats and railroads in the 1840’s and 1850’s had made Albany a major crossroads of upstate New York and an important gateway to the Midwest. It was found, by a group of the city’s leading citizens, that a club commensurate with the character and importance of Albany was an urgent want. And a club “elevated in character, worthy of city, broadly representative and inclusive in membership and faithfully maintaining a high standard,” would supply this requirement.
Thus, on the evening of January 31st, 1880, at the Albany Law School then housed in a former church on State Street, a formal meeting to launch the Fort Orange Club was held. Among the forty-nine men who signed the constitution that evening were several local notables including Erastus Corning Jr., Daniel Manning, and Robert H. Pruyn. Established to cater to the city’s most prominent citizens, the Club has continually maintained the traditional values on which it was found. Its membership has always been one of distinction and has included many New York State Governors, state and national officials, and leading businessmen. Distinguished guests of the Club include past President’s Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Since its beginnings the Fort Orange Club has resided at 110 Washington Avenue in historic downtown Albany. Because of its close proximity to the main business and government areas of Albany, the desirable location was one of the main reasons this site was chosen in 1880. As evidenced by the clubhouse today, and its ever growing list of members, The Club’s charter members were wise in their selection.
Today, 110 Washington Avenue remains a central location, convenient to the Club’s members who reside in Albany and the surrounding counties, many of whom commute to downtown Albany for work or entertainment. Originally built in 1810 as a private residence, the building has undergone many renovations and has continued to grow and expand along with its membership. By 1900 the Club had undergone major construction efforts to add both east and west wings, including dining facilities, additional bedrooms, a second floor kitchen, billiard room and a large first floor lounge. In 1932 the athletic wing was added, and during the late 1960’s and 70’s, the clubhouse went through a major interior renovation and included the conversion of the original billiard room into a spacious, and luxuriously decorated main dining room. A passenger elevator was added, bedrooms were redecorated and given private baths, additional bedrooms were constructed and the social areas of the Clubhouse were refurbished. In 1990 an update to the athletic wing was completed and a new two-floor men’s locker room and women’s locker room were built to accommodate our newly elected female members. In 1997, the West Lounge was redesigned in the Arts and Craft style and won the Preservation Merit Award from the Albany Historic Society.
The tradition of superior service, common fellowship and the finest of amenities, continues to mark the Fort Orange Club as a place of distinction, a place of enjoyment, and a place of celebration. Just as the building at 110 Washington Avenue has upheld its sense of architectural history, the same may be said about the Fort Orange Club fellowship itself. As we move forward throughout the 21st century, the Fort Orange Club will continue to grow and change, meeting the needs of the membership, while maintaining the traditional values which has made the Club such an important and integral part of the Capital District.