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Relatives of Prominent Capital Region Family Searching for Long-Lost Artwork (Exclusive)

Ancestors of the Quinns and Nolans, who were successful brewers and owned an iconic Saratoga mansion, are on the case.

One of the Quinns' long-lost paintings, depicting a horse race featuring one of the Nolans' prized horses, Sir John Johnson. (Kathleen Quinn)
View Gallery 10 Photos

One family with prominent Capital Region ancestors—and an unforgettable connection to Saratoga Springs and its racetrack—is looking for locals’ help to solve a decades-old family mystery.

Kathleen Quinn, who now lives in Cheyenne, WY, is the great-great granddaughter of James Quinn, who first opened James Quinn Brewery and Malt House on Ferry Street in Albany in the 1800s. After he died in 1866, his son Terence John “TJ” Quinn (Kathleen’s great grandfather), who had been working in his father’s brewery and become a skilled brewer, partnered with Michael Nolan, future first Irish Catholic mayor of Albany and US Congressman, to open his own brewery. Together the two founded what would become one of Albany’s largest and most successful local breweries, Quinn & Nolan Ale Brewing Co., as well as the lager-brewing operation known as Beverwyck Brewery. (Like Nolan, TJ Quinn went on to serve in Congress; his son, also Terence James Quinn, but known as Ted instead of TJ, was Kathleen’s grandfather.)

However, Michael Nolan and TJ Quinn weren’t just business partners but brother-in-laws; Nolan married Quinn’s sister, Ann Elizabeth “Libbie” Quinn. And when TJ died in 1878, his three children went to live with Michael and Libbie in their Albany home, which was located at 54 Ten Broeck Street, across from St. Joseph’s Church.

Michael also purchased a summer home in Saratoga in 1883, one of the city’s most recognizable. Saratogians will know it as the hulking mansion at 24 Circular Street (a.k.a. “The Lawns”), which sits diagonally across from the Batcheller Mansion Inn and directly across the street from Congress Park (it is now owned by the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church).

Kathleen and her surviving relatives have a cache of Brownie-shot photographs, likely taken in the 1950s, of the interior of the summer home in Saratoga (see above photo gallery). In them, one can make out the portraits hanging on the house’s walls, some depicting the Quinn elders, others of the Nolan horses. One painting depicts a horse race, featuring the Nolan’s prized horse Sir John Johnson. Michael and his son, Frank, were heavily involved in the Saratoga Race Course scene as owners, and Frank headed up the aptly named Beverwyck Stable. (There’s another standalone portrait of Sir John Johnson.) A winning Thoroughbred in his time, Sir John Johnson was so beloved by Frank, that during a 1910 Fasig-Tipton sale, he bought the horse back from himself for $10,000 (about $283K in 2021 bucks), after it didn’t reach its expected hammer price.

Around the same time the photos were taken, the last of Michael Nolan’s daughters, Blanche, who had been living at the Circular Street estate, donated the mansion to an order of nuns connected to Saratoga’s Church of St. Peter. At that time, the portraits, along with Blanche’s personal effects, were removed from the house, never to be seen again. (After selling the mansion, Blanche went on to live a comfortable life at the Gideon Putnam Hotel.)

That’s where all of you Capital Region citizen investigators come into play. For one, Kathleen suspects that, because the portraits are so bulky, they may still be in the area, either in Albany or Saratoga, possibly in storage or somebody’s basement. But she’s unsure. The portraits were likely also hanging in Michael and Libbie Nolan’s Albany home as well, though, Libbie spent the final years of her life living in the Circular Street home.

Now, if you’re assuming that Kathleen and her family are out to make a quick buck on some long-dead ancestors’ lost treasure, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “We’re not making a demand,” she says of her family’s search. “We would never do that. Part of the reason being is that those things are huge! So none of us has a place to hang them and actually, they’re historically significant, particularly to Albany, and they belong at the Albany Institute.” Kathleen has even been in contact with the institute, whose chief curator, Douglas McCombs, has expressed interest in the works, depending on their condition. If, for example, the current owner or owners of the paintings didn’t want to donate them to the institute, Kathleen says that she would be willing to buy them and then donate them. They mean that much to her and her family.

Also, Kathleen and her family have been looking for the lost portraits for years, so simply figuring out where they wound up would be payment enough. “We’re obsessed,” she says. “We need an intervention here!” This isn’t her first art-hunting go ’round: She’s placed stories in an antique journal, contacted genealogy societies, and says that she would even go as far to fly an airplane around the Capital Region with a banner on it, appealing locals for clues, if that helped the family track down the lost art.

But they’ve come up with nothing so far. “As the years go by, the trail gets colder,” says Kathleen. But she hasn’t lost hope. “I think they’re out there somewhere,” she says.

Have you seen any or all of these paintings? Or do you own them? If you have any information on their whereabouts, email us at [email protected]

Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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