When you're taking a picture, nothing is supposed to exist beyond the edges of the viewfinder. The world is no longer composed of objects, just planes of light and shadow, and you're seeing in a pure way that doesn't cram perceptions into boxes called "things".

Or maybe not...

When the camera's pressed against my eyebrow, I'm hyperaware of what's outside the frame and prone to fantasies about who might be creeping up behind me. Normally this is just a paranoid distraction, but I wouldn't be posting these pictures of Thomas' Tavern in Troy without it.

Thomas' sat at the corner of River and Douw a few blocks from the Hudson River. Nearby, plenty of big city despair and decay is condensed into a dozen square blocks of North Central Troy. However, Thomas' immediate neighborhood just seems depopulated; full of vacant lots and empty sidewalks.

I first chanced upon Thomas' early one evening in July, 2003. It seemed too dark for any picture to come out, but somehow the facade caught just enough light from the sun that had already dipped behind the rooflines on River.

On a hazy afternoon a year later, I found myself in Troy with my camera in the car and an hour to kill. On my way to replace my dim shot of Thomas', I picked up a soda at a candy store on Sixth Avenue and walked up Douw, which was deserted except for a teenager strolling down the opposite sidewalk talking on his cellphone. I had Thomas' back windows in my viewfinder when I got the sensation that I was in trouble.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw that the teenager had crossed the street a block behind me and was striding briskly in my direction. On the far side of River, another man had stepped out of a doorway and was walking toward me. Even at their age I ran like a Clydesdale, so I figured that my best bet was to act oblivious but move steadily toward the intersection ahead.

I was even with Thomas' flank when I realized that the teenager behind me was coming hard, like a cornerback who's realized he's playing too far off the receiver, and I broke into a lumbering run.

Fortunately a burst of traffic stopped his partner from crossing River before I had stumbled around the corner past Thomas' front door.

When I got to my car , I looked back to see the partners walking off in opposite directions. This seemed a hell of a way to spend a vacation, so I didn't hang around to get a better portrait.

Thomas' death warrant came in the form of bricks that a Troy police officer saw fall from the rear of the building on Sunday, March 21, 2005. By sundown on Monday, the building, sold at auction in 2004 for $7,000, was rubble. The Troy Record's article noted only the tavern, which closed in 1995, had been operated by two generations of the Thomas family. But 774-776 River had been built long before, between 1873 and 1880 during Troy's Iron Age.

Frederick Epting's Civil War had ended in 1863 with a bullet in the leg. Returning to Troy with a veteran's pension, he operated markets for years, despite later losing his right arm under circumstances no one remembers. By 1880, he was partner in a meat market at 774-776 River with a fellow immigrant from Baden named Christian Rapp. Following the usual pattern of nineteenth century tradesman, the partners lived above the market with their families.

Although Christian Rapp was apparently a newcomer to Troy, his rise was rapid. By 1890, the meat market operated as "Christian W. Rapp and Son". Rapp also served as Troy's general assessor, with an office in City Hall. Along with his father- and brother-in-law, Rapp's family occupied the upper floors of 774 River. 776 River was rented to a cross-section of industrial Troy, including a miller, a melter, a boxmaker, and a confectioner named William Nugent who possibly had his store in the building.

By 1900, the River Street buildings illustrated the gap between a prosperous tradesman like Rapp and Troy's working class. In an era when even solidly middle-class families rented spare rooms to boarders, 774 River was the spacious home of Mr. and Mrs. Rapp, their thirty-four year old son Christian, Mrs. Rapp's father, and a ninteen year old immigrant serving girl named Frieda Rhuiehorst.

By contrast, the slightly smaller building at 776 River housed three families with twelve members. Henry Claessens, a Belgian immigrant, manufactured cigars and operated a tobacco shop in the storefront. Lewis Grose, Christian Rapp's brother-in-law, was a butcher who probably worked with his uncle. Grose's son and the daughter of the Burt family, which included a teamster, a carpenter, and a boxmaker, worked in the collar factories which had brought Troy a second career as a boom town.

By 1910, Christian Rapp, then a seventy-five year old widower, had moved to Second Avenue. Only the three generation Classens family remained from ten years earlier, and by 1920 they had departed as well.

As Harding and Davis competed to replace Wilson, the buildings were rented to four female-headed households whose members performed arcane tasks in the city's apparel factories. Katherine Douglas and her sister Mary Aiken likely worked as "finishers" in the knitting mill where Katherine's son William, the only man at 774 River, worked as a machinist. Mary Summers, a widow who had emigrated from Ireland in 1887, lived with five daughters, the three eldest of whom were "lockstitchers" and an "inserter" in the collar mills. Leah Pednevour, a thirty-two year old single woman from Vermont, was also a "stitcher" in the collar trade. Anna Marshall, who lived at 776 River with her teenage nephews Daniel and Archibald, continued the cigar shop.

By 1930, the neighborhood, under siege by the depression, was starting to empty out. Katherine Davis and her unmarried sisters May and Claire Aiken were the only inhabitants of 774, which they rented for $16.00 per month. 776 River had two units rented at a total of $30.00 per month. One apartment was occupied by the family of Thomas Gaffney, a commercial chauffeur. The other was the home of Mary Connelly, an unemployed woman with an eight year old son.

In the end, 774-776 River survived hard times and a world war, but couldn't beat the automobile and deindustrialization. In 1950 Troy had virtually the same population as in 1920, but there followed fifty years of free fall. The 1970s were the single most brutal decade, but overall the city had lost a third of its population by 2000. Most of these losses were in the old neighborhoods like Douw and River where people had once clustered close to the factories where they worked.

Benign neglect had left such original features as the Eptings' and Rapps' front doors in place. Further downtown, 774-776 River would have been handsome enough to become a contributor to a historic district, perhaps a tavern where the modern equivalent of Stanton's Ale flowed behind a retored Victorian storefront. But in North Central, it was another old building nobody saved.