ordinance.pngAs we've said before, this blog devoted to random snippets of history from Albany, Schenectady, and Troy will certainly not be stooping so low as to have a feature called "Phoenixville Phriday" just because we've moved to a new town far from our roots.

Just because it's Friday, and just because this one's about Phoenixville, be assured that this is not a "Phoenixville Phriday" post.

But still . . . the ordinances of the Borough of Phoenixville, "passed by the Burgess and Town Council" between 1852 and 1857, contained this interesting requirement regarding public market places in the borough:

"...There shall be established two market places, one on the north and the other on the south side of French creek; on the north side to be located on Main street, commencing at Vanderslice's store, thence along the north side of said Main street, to John Mullin's store. The market place on the south side of French creek, to be located on Bridge street, commencing at Samuel Kreamer's store, and thence along the south sidewalk of said Bridge street to Main street, and thence along Main street to Church street, and these places to be and remain, and are hereby declared to be and remain Public Market Places, for the buying and selling of all kinds of provisions, victuals, and things of country produce and manufacture, on the days of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of every week, and that all manner of persons shall have liberty to expose to sale their meats, provisions, victuals, or country produce and manufacture, from carts or wagons, backed up to the curbs, or on such shambles, stalls booths, or other stands, not to extend more than five feet from the curb, . . . ."

The market was to be open 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. October through March, and 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. during the warmer months. The whole thing was under the control of an appointed Clerk of the Markets, who was to ensure fair weights and measures, with particular attention paid to proper sale of butter by weight. Those shorting their customers could see their butter seized:

"One third part of all butter lawfully seized shall be for the use of the clerk, and the remaining two-thirds for such use as the law directs."

A pretty powerful incentive for the clerk to find something wrong with the scales.

Not Surprising, Says Architect

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Within a story on the 1905 collapse of the John G. Myers department store on North Pearl Street in Albany were some comments from Marcus T. Reynolds, without a doubt Albany's most prominent architect of the day, one of a small handful of men who shaped what the city looks like to this day. He built a few things like the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters (now SUNY Central Administration), the First Trust Building across the street, several banks, the new Albany Academy, and the remarkable Delaware Avenue firehouse (Hook and Ladder No. 4). He knew something about buildings. So here's what he had to say:

"The calamity at Myers's is just what might have been expected," said Marcus T. Reynolds, an architect who has designed several of the city's largest buildings.

"North Pearl for the most part is lined with old ramshackle buildings that have been remodeled, altered, and their walls made to bear weights they were never intended to support. The original walls were built in former days, when hardly any one knew what good work was. The mortar was poor and the walls themselves were raised up to a height sufficient to support a two-story dwelling. As time went on it became expedient to convert these old dwellings into commercial structures. The plan followed ordinarily would be to add a couple of stories, superimposing them on the old walls erected originally for a dwelling house. About 25 years after altering the structure into a commercial building the owner would engage an architect to draw up plans for further alterations. Holes would be made in these old walls for passage ways, two or more buildings would be thrown into one with an old party wall retained between them. Plumbers would be turned loose and they would put holes through the walls for pipes; electricians put holes through for wires. The result finally would be that the walls would be much weakened and when any alterations are undertaken, as was done in the case of the John G. Myers Co., the operation is extremely precarious and attended with danger.

"Almost every one knows that the big department store on the corner of North Pearl and Steuben streets, before it was burned down three years ago, was only a remodeled boarding house, one in which DeWitt Clinton, a former governor of the state, died. These old buildings are much like the old fashioned one horse chaise: you can cut and alter them a great deal, but the day comes when they collapse."

Yeah, I say that about one horse chaises all the time.

The Myers Store Collapse

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JohnGMyersStore.jpgHoxsie recently found that the Art Institute of Chicago's Ryerson & Burnham Archives include a number of images of Albany architecture. It has a wonderful view we hadn't seen before of John G. Myers' dry goods store, 39-41 North Pearl Street. This photograph by Albert Levy is from somewhere between 1885 and 1895; the building was constructed in 1887 by the eminent Albany firm Ogden & Wright. The building would famously collapse in 1905 as the result of a clumsy construction undertaking. Reports of the deaths vary wildly, from 30 reported dead the day after, but reliable later reports say that 13 died. 

In Cuyler Reynolds' "The Albany Chronicles," the collapse was reported:

[Aug. 8] The John G. Myers Dry Goods Co. store, Nos. 39-41 North Pearl street, collapses at the time the clerks are arriving to open the store, the roof of the immense 6-story building crashing through the cellar, bearing everything with it, entombing about 80 persons and killing 13 clerks, due to insecure underpinning and shoring in the cellar while extensive improvements were under way; the streets immediately guarded by a cordon of police and all ambulances of the city summoned, at noon the railroads sending up an army of men with picks to remove the debris, and the city officials rendering assistance under direction of Mayor Gaus in person on the scene.

Just a month later, the American Architect and Building News reported:

"The investigations into the collapse of the Myers department-store at Albany, a few weeks ago, conducted by the coroner and by a commission of experts appointed by the city's mayor having resulted in practically identical reports, the contractor for the repairs, John Dyer, J., and his superintendent, Clark L. Daggett, have been arrested for manslaughter at the instance of the coroner and held to the grand jury under bail of five thousand dollars each. As the reports seem to be sensible, the men will probably be indicted and have to stand trial. The evidence is that excavation was carried too near the three piers that first collapsed and that about one of these piers no attempt at shoring had been made, while about the others the means and efforts used were palpably insufficient to provide the needed support for the loaded floors above. A blunder, in its results proved to be a crime, has been committed and punishment may properly be visited upon those responsible for it; but the real criminality in the matter is not reached and cannot be, since the public itself is the guilty party, because it has not by legal enactment forbidden the occupancy of buildings while undergoing repairs that may imperil their structural stability . . . It was a blunder to cause the collapse of the Albany building, but it was a crime, for which Mayor and coroner, in their degree, were alike responsible, that there should have been three hundred, more or less, employés and customers in the building with their lives at the risk of an always possible blunder.

The grand jury received the case on Sept. 25, but failed to issue indictments. It was sent to a second grand jury, which brought up Dyer and Daggett on charges of manslaughter. While that was going on, the Myers Company opened in temporary quarters at 69 North Pearl, where an engine fire burned the company out on Nov. 15, 1905. They then moved into the Boston Company's dry goods store at the southeast corner of North Pearl and Steuben Streets, the site of which was once home to Gov. DeWitt Clinton. A foundation for a new permanent store on the site of the collapse was begun in February 1906, after which the store returned to prominence and survived until 1970.

Skinner and Arnold: Boilers and Elevators

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riversideparkbykevinmcgrath.jpgLast week we looked at this picture and talked about the Brainerd, Tanner Company, which notably made transom lifters. But a bit closer to the water was another company I hadn't heard of, The Skinner & Arnold Steam Engine and Boiler Works. It turns out they didn't only manufacture steam engines and boilers; they also had a patent for an improvement in elevators, granted in 1871. The patent granted to David Skinner and Joseph Arnold said:

SkinnerArnoldElevator.png"Our invention relates to improvements in elevators; and it consists in a novel arrangement of means whereby a weighted lever of a friction-brake, employed to regulate the descent of the platform, may be used to actuate the belt-shifter and throw the belt on the fast pulley for raising the platform simultaneously with the releasing of the friction or not, as preferred. Also, to throw off the belt to stop the platform at any point, the arrangement being such that the friction brake may be released sufficiently to let the platform down without throwing the belt on the fast pulley."

Nope, no idea what that means.

According to Diana Waite's "Albany Architecture," they manufactured boilers, steam pumps and elevators on Herkimer Street and later on Broadway. Skinner and Arnold did pretty well for themselves, building side by side mansions at 714 and 718 Madison Avenue, in 1883, which still stand today.

Albany's Transom Lifters

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riversideparkbykevinmcgrath.jpgOver on the "Albany...The Way It Was" Facebook page, a participant posted a picture of a waterfront park I'd never seen before, from Herkimer to South Lansing. On the site of a former coal yard and cement plant, tucked in by the boiler works. I was curious about the surrounding industries, since the names didn't ring any particular bells. In the background is the Brainerd Tanner Company. Because of an inexplicable love for an architectural relic of a bygone era, I'm absolutely delighted to learn that Brainerd Tanner was best known for manufacturing transom lifters. From 1899:

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 6.02.51 AM.png"The Brainerd, Tanner Company, with New York offices and salesrooms at No. 90 Chambers Street, and factory at Nos. 72 and 74 Church Street, Albany, N.Y., are successfully manufacturing, among their several specialties, the Dickson Transom Lifters and Openers, an illustration of which is presented herewith. The Dickson Transom Lifter is universal in its adaptability to meet all requirements, as in its form it swings out in sashes centrally pivoted, or hinged at either top or bottom, and in every case for right or left hand . . . No special bracket is ever needed, as this lifter operates transoms deep-recessed as well as if they were flush. It makes safe and easy the hanging of transoms for the best manner of ventilating, namely, hinged at top swinging out, or at bottom swinging in." There's more about the transom lifters but not much more about the company that made them.

The Chicago Journal of Commerce gave a brief blurb in 1897, noting that "The Brainerd-Tanner-Gallien Company, Albany, N.Y., has been incorporated with a capital of $25,000, to manufacture hardware specialties. The incorporators are Harry J. Brainerd, William F. Tanner, and B.M. Gallien."

In 1899, The Iron Age carried a brief blurb that may have indicated all wasn't going perfectly with the company's New York operations:

"Brainerd-Tanner Company, Albany, N.Y., have removed their New York headquarters from 107 Chambers Street to 90, on the next block. They now have very much better facilities and will hereafter carry an adequate stock of the goods they manufacture and deal in."

Always strive to be adequate.

The Great Western Gateway Exposition


Greatwesterngatewaybridge.pngThe grand opening of the Great Western Gateway Bridge, a decade in the planning, was a very big deal indeed. The bridge itself opened in December of 1925, but of course December in Schenectady is not a propitious time for celebrating, so it was some months before the great Gateway Exposition took place.

In June of 1926, there was a 9-day celebration with 50 major events, "and every day will see plenty of activity from morning until late at night," the Schenectady Gazette wrote. "The event is without doubt the biggest civic demonstration ever undertaken in Schenectady and gives promise of being a celebration that in magnitude will surpass anything ever staged by a city of this size in the Eastern part of the United States.

"Parades, conventions, commencement exercises, dedication of the bridge and historical tablets, athletic events of all descriptions, fraternal and patriotic ceremonies, band concerts, special church services, an Indian demonstration, together with a huge display of fireworks and special illumination will be some of the outstanding features of the great celebration."

There was a "mammoth" industrial and transportation exhibition on Erie Boulevard, representing business and commercial interests in Schenectady together with civic, service and fraternal organizations. The General Electric exhibit alone covered 8,800 square feet of "things made and things doing." To accommodate the industrial exhibit was a tent more than a quarter mile long on the north side of Erie Boulevard (72,000 square feet of canvas). The Gateway parade featured thousands of marchers. Athletic events include a lacrosse game between Union College and St. Regis Indians, a cricket match between Schenectady and Staten Island, and a soccer match between "the famous Cosmopolitans and Clan MacRae of Schenectady."

The Schenectada (yes, that's how they spelled it) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution would be going on a plaque spree, placing a tablet on the approach to the Great Western Gateway and a marker at the Mabie house.

There would be band concerts, expositions of broadcasting by WGY, singing by the Cambrian Male Chorus, the Turnverein Society and a police trio, as well as a Charleston contest and the Van Curler orchestra.

Schenectady in 1926 wasn't just celebrating a bridge. They were celebrating their explosion into an industrial powerhouse and their dreams of developing into a world-class city. Already, some of the most prominent scientists and industrialists in the world came to visit Edison's works, and finally the city had a new hotel, the Hotel Van Curler,  which Mayor Alexander T. Blessing wrote "is a pride to the city; Erie boulevard and Washington avenue have been changed from eyesores to two of the best boulevards in the country, a plaza will soon beautify the lower part of State street and the dyke part will be part of the waterfront. This is not all for plans have been completed for a new Y.M.C.A. and the relocation of the River road in this same section of the city. This represents the confidence which the people of the city have in its future."


"Successful Methods," a civil engineering magazine from around about a century ago, took the time in November 1920 to detail how work on the Great Western Gateway Bridge was progressing:



Work on Great Western Gateway at Schenectady, N.Y., is Divided Into Four Units

Work is well under way on the job of building the reinforced concrete abutments and approaches at the Schenectady and Scotia ends of the Great Western Gateway in New York State. The bridge which will carry the main State highway between the East and West over the Mohawk River and Barge Canal channel, is shown in the engineer's drawing at the bottom of this and the opposite pages.

The equipment for this job consists of a pile driver and derrick for placing the pedestal piles, an excavating machine, used in digging the trench for the reinforced concrete approach walls, two concrete mixers and a variety of other items, including a cofferdam. This is just the beginning of work that will ultimately involve the use of many additional items of equipment and will call upon contractors for some thoroughly modern methods and some big work.

testingoneofthepiles.pngThe structure, which has been planned and designed by State Engineer Frank M. Williams of New York, is to be built of reinforced concrete and, aside from the fact that it will serve as the roadway over which most of the automobile traffic between the East and West is to pass, it will have the distinction of being one of the nation's most beautiful parkways.

The Great Western Gateway derives its name from the fact that Schenectady is located at the point in New York where there is a natural break in the great Appalachian Mountain chain extending along our eastern coast. It was through this gape or gateway that the early settlers made their way westward and it was this same breach that made the construction of the Erie Canal a possibility.

The new structure will extend from the intersection of State Street and Washington Avenue, Schenectady, to the approximate center of Mohawk Avenue in the village of Scotia thereby leading directly to the State road to Buffalo. The bridge will be 4,436 feet in length and the Schenectady approach will be provided with a raised safety zone which will serve as a regulator of traffic. A 40 ft. roadway will span the new Barge Canal Terminal Basin, Van Slyke Island, Barge Canal, Hog Island and Mohawk River. This road will end in a circular traffic center.

Under the plans decided upon by Mr. Williams the structure will represent an expenditure of approximately $2,000,000 of which amount the City of Schenectady has contributed $100,000 and the village of Scotia $50,000. The structure is to be erected by the contract method but differs from others in that, instead of being let in a single contract, the work has been split up into four parts. Each part will cover a different phase of the work and the four units are to be awarded at different times, the intention being to so coordinate the work that as one contract nears completion the other can get under way.

The first contract covers only the construction of the approaches and abutments at each end of the structure. The second contract calls for the construction of 23 reinforced concrete piers. Provision is made in this, however, for the construction of piers 1 to 4 and 19 to 20 inclusive by December 31, 1920 and the completion of all the piers by December 31, 1921. Under this plan the piers at the east and west ends of the structure will be completed first, thereby enabling the contractor who obtains the third contract, calling for the erection of the reinforced concrete arches and superstructure, to start work at both ends of the bridge early next spring. In the meantime the fourth and last contract which calls for the paving and lighting work will have been advertised, so that as the third contract progresses the work of paving the roadway can be undertaken.

This plan, it is confidently expected will see the structure well under way next summer and early in 1922 the bridge will be opened to traffic. A feature of the bridge is the 212 foot span over the Barge Canal channel.

The important part which the Great Western Gateway is to take in the development of automobile and commercial traffic in the State of New York may be judged by the fact that the old toll bridge now spanning the Mohawk River at this point, collects toll from an average of 1,000 automobiles daily while numerical count shows that 22,000 people cross the bridge every 24 hours.

Ultimately, of course, the bridge didn't open until nearly four years later than scheduled, at the very end of 1925 (and that lateness could be the explanation for a December celebration).


greatwesterngatewayplans.pngAll week we've been recounting the hearing of 1915 that laid the groundwork for the Great Western Gateway Bridge between Schenectady and Scotia . It didn't actually open until 1925 (just barely -- it was in December). But the plans for the bridge were approved long, long before, back in September of 1916, according to the Albany Evening Journal.

Great Western Gateway Plans Are Approved

They Are Those Submitted by John A. Bensel, With but Slight Modifications - Legislature to Act Now

William Barclay Parsons, representing State Engineer Frank M. Williams, and R.S. Buck representing the city of Schenectady, have approved in the main the plans prepared and submitted by John A. Bensel, former state engineer, for the Great Western Gateway bridge over the Mohawk river and Erie canal at Schenectady.

The plan calls for an ornate concrete structure nearly a mile in length from the foot of State street, Schenectady, to Mohawk avenue, Scotia, to replace the iron structure that crosses the river from Washington avenue, Schenectady, to Scotia. State Engineer Williams considers the report of the engineers as final and believes that the coming Legislature will appropriate the sum necessary to carry out the state's part in the great undertaking. His department, he says, will shortly begin altering the present bridge to meet barge canal requirements pending the building of the contemplated new structure.

The report of the engineers, Parsons and Buck, is addressed to Superintendent W.W. Wotherspoon of the state department of public works which has on hand $500,000 for construction of the new Schenectady-Scotia bridge, State Engineer Williams, Mayor George R. Lunn and President John E. Gillette of Scotia village.

The engineers' report goes into the details of construction and cost and concludes as follows:

"To sum up, we are in agreement on the essential features of the bridge project, in that (1) it will not cause adverse flood conditions; (2) it is practicable to secure reliable foundations without excessive costs, and (3) the type of bridge proposed is in conformity with good, modern practice, economical and well adapted to the purpose. We differ only as to certain details of construction, not essentially affecting the general proposition, and as to the probable cost which is largely dependent upon more or less indeterminate conditions."

So, what took another nine years? Hard to say.

John Anderson Bensel wasn't just anybody, by the way. In addition to serving as State Engineer from 1911-1914, he had been president of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1910, and before that the president of the New York City Board of Water Supply. He served as a major commanding the 125th battalion of engineers for the Army during World War I (which may be part of the answer to "what took another nine years"). His New Jersey mansion is now part of Morristown National Historic Park, so he's got that going on.

The Bridge that Preceded It

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Tripp-003 Mohawk River Bridge.jpgIn its 1915 report, the Great Western Gateway Commission gave a little bit of history of the various bridges that had connected Schenectady to Scotia across the Mohawk River. Despite having been settled in 1661, the first permanent bridge to be built didn't come about until 1808. It was authorized in 1800 in the formation of the Mohawk and Schenectady Bridge and Turnpike Company, which was to build a bridge across the Mohawk at Schenectady and a turnpike from Schenectady to Little Falls. It built from the foot of Washington Avenue in Schenectady to the end of the dike in Scotia, now known as Schonowe Avenue. The bridge footings are still there.

The bridge carried the following tolls:

  • Twenty sheep or hogs, 8 cents.
  • Twenty cattle, horses or mules, 18 cents.
  • Each horse and rider or led horse, 5 cents.
  • Each horse sulky, chair or chaise, 12½ cents.
  • Each one-horse cart, 6 cents.
  • Each chariot, coach, coaches or phaeton, 25 cents.
  • Each wagon or other four-wheel carriage drawn by two horses, mules or oxen, 12½ cents, and 3 for each additional animal.
  • Each cart drawn by two oxen, 6 cents, and each additional horse or ox, 2 cents.
  • For each sleigh or sled drawn by two animals, 6 cents.
  • No toll to be charged persons going to or coming from church, or his common business or his farm, or to and from any mill, nor from any persons passing in a sleigh or sled between January 1 and March 1 of each year.

So we've learned that 19th-century EZ-Pass was complicated.

That was the wooden-cable Theodore Burr bridge, opened in 1808, dumped cows into the river in 1857, and was replaced by an iron structure on the original piers in 1874. The structure was updated with steel in 1886 and allowed to carry trolleys.

Entering Scotia NY.jpgAt the 1915 hearing on the need to build the Great Western Gateway Bridge between Schenectady and Scotia (and beyond), the Honorable Fred W. Cameron, Chairman of the Saratoga Reservation Commission (various commissions were forerunners of the State Parks system) came down to Schenectady to argue for the need for the bridge. First, he gave the history of how the State came to procure the springs of Saratoga:

The water had disappeared because of the fact that the gas had been taken out and sold for soda water fountains, to be put in these copper tubes and carried away at a great revenue to those who sold the gas, but at a great loss to Saratoga and the State of New York, because when the gas was taken out of the springs the water failed to flow and there was no Saratoga water five years ago flowing out of the ground at Saratoga, nor could any come out there by means of pumps, unless you went down very, very deep. The State passed a law forbidding the taking of gas and condemning the property - buying it in - until now the State owns about three hundred acres of ground, with over one hundred and forty springs. As soon as that gas was allowed to remain in the earth it began to bubble up in the water until now there is one hundred thousand gallons of water every day running out of the springs at Saratoga....

Then he got on to the topic, almost.

You know, Mr. Chairman, that people of late are traveling almost entirely by automobiles. More people come to Saratoga by automobile than ever did by train . . . Now, if people are going to travel by automobiles hereafter, as they are at present, it seems to me that it is good business to provide roads that are best adapted for that purpose . . . Every one who is driving an automobile, and most people who try to get out of the way of automobiles, know that an automobile is a vehicle usually driven at quite a high speed, that has a tremendous weight behind it, and a momentum that is very often underestimated, and that can make sharp turns around the corners, that it becomes an instrument of danger, not only to the occupants of the machine, but to the people who are driving or walking on the streets. If there is any worse place for driving an automobile than is presented by the road after you leave State street to go into Scotia [meaning Washington Avenue] I don't know where it is. (Applause)

Then he really wound up the argument for the route at the end of State Street, the most expensive option by quite a bit, but the one that separated auto travel from the streetcar routes, although it was expected that streetcars to Scotia would be abandoned:

I don't care anything about that cost for this reason, Mr. Chairman: I have driven in an automobile; I have driven along roads across a railway track; I have been across tracks where a short time before, because of lack of the expense of a few dollars in either having that track raised or depressed, there has been at that very same place an accident in which three of my best friends were killed, and I have thought what would be the cost. Why should the cost enter into the consideration when the life of the citizen is at stake? If you are going to invite me to drive my car along your streets and I go into a pitfall, or you do not provide for my safety, and tell me that it was because it cost too much, I tell you you come very near being a criminal. You have got no right to invite me into a place and then injure me, and you ought not to, and the State ought not to have a place that is not safe when one is acting in a reasonably careful manner, and I believe it is not safe to run automobiles down these streets, to cross around these curves going into Scotia. You have got to cross the street car tracks twice. The streets are not wide enough and they ought not to be so. Now, do not consider the cost when it comes to a question of life and death.

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