WILLIAM H. KEELER
IN THE development of a particular branch of industry in Albany one of the most striking and successful examples is presented in the career of William H. Keeler, the founder of the well known and popular oyster-house of this city. While many other Albanians have attained distinction in literature, science and art, or secured the emoluments belonging to some of the learned professions or the laurels of the successful politician, it has been his chief aim in life to cultivate and master an important branch of physical science which will always be popular while the world exists; and that is the art of properly preparing delicious food for the hungry. He is, therefore, a representative Albanian, standing at the head of the caterers of the day, whose name is familiar as a household word to our citizens as well as to thousands all over the land, and who has supplied more of the wants of ” the inner man ” than almost any one else in the same line of business.
From an humble origin and small beginning, like many of the successful men of our time in different vocations and professions, he has steadily advanced to the front rank of restaurateurs and hotel-keepers of the land. The career of such a man is notable from the fact that it shows a large amount of executive ability, untiring perseverance, and a singleness of purpose that cannot be turned aside from the one great object to be obtained. Onward – onward and upward is the motto of such men, as they march on till they attain the greatest possible excellence and eminence in whatever they undertake as a calling in life. Following the natural bent of their genius, carefully studying the requirements of their chosen work, diligently improving the flying moments, and closely attending to the wants of the public, they are sure in the end to meet with that success which their youthful imagination painted in glowing colors.
William H. Keeler, the subject of our present memoir, was born in 1843, in the city of Albany. He is a son of Daniel Keeler, a highly-respected and life-long resident of this city, who died about the year 1840. At a tender age William was sent to the district school, where he was instructed in the elementary branches of education, such as might fit him for carrying on some useful, practical business in everyday life He was early inclined to the active pursuits of trade and commerce, not to the securing of academical honors or the mastery of some learned profession. As he grew up there was no hesitancy about the choice of an occupation. From boyhood this had been fixed in his mind and he has never since had cause to regret the course he pursued. When a young man of twenty he opened a small place on Green Street as an oyster-house. As he was poor he commenced business on a very small capital; but at the same time he was industrious, honest, prudent, economical and enterprising, and visions of final success cheered him in his new, adventurous undertaking. At first his patrons were few, but they reported so many good things about Keeler’s little oyster-house, especially how well they liked his ” stews,” that it was soon more largely patronized, till the place was thronged by new comers from morning till late at night. More room was soon required, and accordingly additions were made to the original establishment. And then his customers came in still larger numbers, and the chief reason was because they found that Keeler’s oysters and clams, in every style of preparation, were the best to be found in the city. He seemed to have thoroughly mastered the minutest details of his occupation – to have learned the art of preparing his dishes in the most inviting and delicious style, so that his oyster-house really became famous among Albanians and the traveling public from all directions. He always made it a point to serve those who sat down at his table with a liberal hand. His stews came hot from the stewing-pan, like “a steam of rich distilled perfumes,” with plenty of choice butter, crackers, cold-slaw, pickles, etc. His raw oysters and clams were the best to be found in the market, and the milk he furnished was in its original purity. Everybody who visited “Keeler’s ” was sure to get the worth of his money, and to go away highly pleased. And here, under this judicious and successful management was conducted an oyster-house on Green street, which for seven years became a universal and favorite resort. Mr. Keeler then sold the property.
Some of his political friends having persuaded him to enter into political life, he was elected as a democratic alden man from the fourth ward in 1872, and re-elected in 1874, serving in all four years. He was also street commissionei five years. His popularity still increasing, he was in 1882 elected sheriff of Albany County over John Sand, republican, and Colonel Severance, independent democrat. He held the position during a term of three years, administering its affairs with much efficiency and ability, and to the satisfaction of all parties having dealings with the office.
In 1877 Mr. Keeler married Miss Taylor, and has a family of five children. His private residence is 979 Madison Avenue, surrounded by large and handsome grounds, where the calmer walks of domestic life may be more fully enjoyed.
It is somewhat remarkable that after an experience of twelve years in the exciting and perplexing arena of political life Mr. Keeler should return with renewed vigor and activity to the chosen occupation of his earlier days, to achieve still greater success and more widespread celebrity in it.
In looking around for another establishment, with an eye especially for the complete accommodation of ladies as well as gentlemen, Mr. Keeler purchased, in 1886, the stately building. No. 26 Maiden lane, now the busy thoroughfare for the traveling public to and from the cars and boats. It is a most desirable location for the purposes for which it has been selected. And it is hardly necessary to say that from the very first this venture was a grand success, the place being the popular resort for many of our leading merchants and business-men, besides the numerous visitors, who on reaching Albany soon find their way to ” Keeler’s” on Maiden lane. In it are contained all the latest improvements and appliances in the modus operandi of a first-class establishment of this kind. On the first floor and near the large front windows are the ovens and ranges where, during the colder months of the year, oysters, clams, eggs and meats of all kinds are prepared for the table in the most expeditious manner, and under the care of professional cooks. In the summer the food is generally prepared in the kitchen in the rear of the restaurant. There is a new feature recently introduced into this establishment, and that is steam stewing-pans, of which a patent is held in St. Louis, and which are, we believe, only to be found in the Hoffman house and the Morton house, New York. This is certainly a great improvement on the old way of preparing oyster stews. There is no danger of scorching the food, and the fine flavor is perfectly retained. About twenty-five tables for gentlemen, are placed through the dining-room, while large ventilating fans, on which Mr. Keeler has secured a patent, constantly revolve over the heads of the guests in the warm summer days and nights, cooling as the breath of autumn. On the second floor is the ladies’ dining-room, where ample accommodation is afforded for two hundred and fifty, in a quiet and inviting way, and where all the delicacies of the season are served by ready, skillful hands. But Mr. Keeler’s idea of what should constitute a perfect restaurant in connection with a grand model hotel on the European plan has been fully realized in the finishing up of other apartments in an elegant manner and by additional stories to the main building. A brief glance at some of these new attractions will be interesting to many. Besides the ladies’ large dining-room on the second floor, already mentioned, facing Maiden lane and James street, finely finished with oak and chestnut and richly carpeted, with mirrors extending all along the walls of the room, with ventilating fans overhead, there are twenty-eight other smaller dining rooms, for select parties, furnished with elegant new chairs, tables, mirrors and Brussels carpets, rivalling in beauty and attractiveness the little private dining-rooms in the United States hotel or Grand Union at Saratoga and some other famous hostelries. With gentlemen of quiet, retiring manners this attractive feature cannot be too highly appreciated. These rooms are already in demand by committees, and members of different societies and organizations wishing to transact business in a more private and quiet manner. On the third, fourth and fifth stories are the gentlemen’s new sleeping rooms, forty in all, fitted up in the latest style, with a choice artistic display of furniture – with the best bedding, fine chamber sets, rich, new carpets, mirrors, and all that is necessary to contribute to the comfort of the most refined persons. These rooms are large, perfectly ventilated, and heated by steam. There is no dark room in the number. Taken altogether they are among the finest rooms for gentlemen that can be found in any hotel in the state. They are let by the day, week or month, while the restaurant tables below furnish food for the most fastidious appetite. This supplies on a larger and more magnificent scale something that has long been wanted in our city – a first-class restaurant in connection with a first-class hotel on the European plan.
The business of this establishment increasing so rapidly and encroaching on the dining-room in the restaurant, it was thought best by the proprietor to have a separate cafe on the first floor. This is a room 20×28 feet, whose interior finish is a marvel of beauty. The walls are ten and a half feet in height and the ceiling is of corrugated iron, furnished by James Wasson of this city, being the only one of the kind in Albany. A visit to this room would well repay the lover of fine workmanship. A small sitting-room is in the rear of the cafe and a neat, commodious reading-room between this and the gentlemen’s dining-room, both of which are well-lighted. Several bath-rooms for gentlemen are tastefully fitted up in different parts of the building. The whole work of construction in all departments is in harmony with the original grand design of the projector and owner of the establishment. It may be proper to add here that, in full compliance with a recent law, fire escapes, manufactured by Sullivan & Ehlers of this city, have been placed on the front of the building, No. 28 Maiden Lane.
Thus, to the enterprise of William H. Keeler, his long and close study of the wants and comforts of different classes of people, their various tastes and feelings, is due the completion of this new restaurant and hotel which will doubtless be the leading and most noted establishment of its kind this side the metropolis, and one in which Albanians will take especial pride, and which will call forth the highest commendations from weary travelers from abroad, who will here find the best of food, the best of accommodations, and the tranquility which they so often long for, in its home-like and pleasant rooms. The whole interior work was finished about the 1st of September, 1888, when all the new apartments were thrown open to the public.
In keeping with his naturally progressive spirit, and to carry out his plans on a still broader compass, Mr. Keeler, in January, 1890, purchased the building, Nos. 484 and 486 Broadway near the corner of Maiden lane, which is to be connected with his Maiden lane establishment and fitted up in fine, modern style for the use of guests; the first floor to be thrown into a large dining-room, hotel office, etc., and the upper stories to be used as sleeping-rooms. In the coming spring will be added to this establishment the buildings Nos. 30 Maiden lane and 19 James street, and the total number of gentlemen’s sleeping-rooms in all will be one hundred and fifteen. The full requirements will then be secured for conducting a mammoth restaurant and hotel on the grandest scale.