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The Downtown Commercial District of Albany began to grow soon after Albany's founding in 1848. Shortly after the Monteith brothers moved into their new house on the edge of the present downtown, they opened a general store. Other businesses soon followed. By 1878, downtown Albany boasted grocers, dry-goods stores, a wagon dealer, cigar stores, butchers, livery stables, a tailor, a "shaving salon," shoe stores, a printer, saloons, hotels, an agricultural implement dealer, and a furniture dealer who doubled as an undertaker. Many of the buildings and businesses seen in old photographs still exist, as the downtown district remains the civic, commercial and social center of Albany.

Starting in 1851, E.M. Briggs ran a ferry operation across the Willamette from the foot of Ferry Street. The ferries charged 12.5 cents for foot passengers, 20 cents for horses and mules, and 75 cents to cross the river with a wagon and team. 100 pounds of freight cost 5 cents. The Albany Steel Bridge replaced the ferry in 1892. The footings of the bridge are still visible, carrying power lines across the river.

The first steamboat called in Albany in 1852, and the downtown district quickly developed into the mid-valley riverboat landing. By 1866, five riverboats owned by an Albany man made regular trips between Albany, Corvallis and Portland. Remnants of this era of river travel still exist in the former riverbank warehouse and steamboat landing located at the foot of Broadalbin Street. Constructed in 1866, Avery Mill located at 213 Water Street, is the oldest surviving building along the waterfront. It was first used as a warehouse and converted to a flourmill in 1877 and also served as a ticket office or the ferries.

During Albany's early commercial building period, impressive and ornate structures sprang up downtown. Built in 1887 by Judge L. Flinn, the Flinn Block, located at 222 First Avenue, boasted one of the most ornate French Second Empire facades in the Northwest. It was originally the First National Bank and later the L.E. Blain Clothing Company. The S. E. Young building was also built in 1887 and was moved to its present location at 136 Lyon SW by teams of horses in 1914.

Architectural styles of the Downtown Historic District include: Italianate, Queen Anne, American Renaissance, Commercial Brick, Art Modern and Twentieth Century Period Revivals, and a modified French Second Empire.

Design guidelines have been developed for the Historic Downtown and are available at City Hall in the Community Development Department.

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