Category Archives: Rensselaer

The Blue Factory

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One of our favorite road names in the Capital District (and a favorite road for cycling) is Blue Factory Road. It is named not for a factory that was blue, but for a factory that made blue.

Before the age of synthetic colors (in which a Rensselaer factory played a significant role), colorants primarily came from minerals and earths. Prussian blue, which Wikipedia says was the first modern blue pigment that was stable and lightfast, was developed throughout the 18th century. (Here’s a very nice summary of its many uses.) It is easily made, but requires a certain type of iron. It turns out that Rensselaer County had just the right type, and appears to have been the source of all the Prussian blue in the state, from a factory owned by the Davis family for at least three generations.

Samuel Davis appears to have been the first to go into the business of making Prussian blue, but we’ve been unable to find out when. His son Aaron Davis was born about 1820 at the family farm in Cropseyville. While farming appears to have continued, the main business was clearly Prussian blue. In any event, the 1854 Balch map of Rensselaer County shows the “Howe and Davis Blue Factory.” The Rensselaer County Business Directory of 1870 lists Aaron as a manufacturer of Prussian blue and farmer with 100 acres.

Blue Factory

In the non-population schedule for the 1870 census, Aaron is again reported as a maker of Prussian Blue, and his materials include prussate of potash, copperas, allum (?), and potash. He has 6000 units of Prussian Blue, but what those units are is not reported, and it appears to be worth perhaps $5150 (hard to read).

The Troy Daily Times on May 22, 1895, notes the passing of Aaron Davis:

“Aaron Davis, an old and esteemed resident of Cropseyville, died early this morning. The deceased was born in Cropseyville about seventy-five years ago, and had always resided at the old homestead. He was engaged in the manufacture of paint and in farming. A wife and children survive.”

The business was still going strong when Davis died, and in his will he left to son Samuel A. Davis all his real property, all his farm stock, and “also all apparatus used by Aaron Davis & Son in the manufacture of Prusian [sic] Blue.”

Samuel Davis continued the business, along with his son. A 1904 report of the New York State Department of Labor notes, in a section on manufacture of paint, that “one factory in Rensselaer county turned out annually $4,500 worth of Prussian blue,” but doesn’t specify the year. Another report says that the Prussian blue manufactory (which they identify as in Grafton) had $2000 worth of capital, $1000 worth of raw materials and $5000 worth of products. A 1914 story in the Troy Daily Times says that Samuel represented Brunswick on the County Board of Supervisors:

“Mr. Davis has associated with him his son and they manufacture blueing of the variety known as Prussian blue. There is no other establishment of the kind in this section and but few in the country and it may therefore be regarded as one of the many industries peculiar to Rensselaer County. The product of the plant is shipped to New York, where it is handled by a commission house. The blueing is used in the production of patent leather, to which it gives a very high polish. The output of the Davis plant is considered second to none in the market and the blueing is in great demand. A noteworthy feature of the business lies in the fact that it was established more than 100 years ago, but how much longer than a century Supervisor Davis said yesterday he did not know. It was more than 100 years ago that his grandfather came to Grafton from Boston and obtained employment in the establishment with a man named Hoyt. Subsequently it was operated by a Mr. Fielding, then by Mr. Davis’ grandfather, after that by his father and then the business came to him. Accordingly it is a business with a history and one of the oldest manufacturing plants in this section.”

When the blue factory went out of business, we don’t know. But the road named for it remains.

 

Now Is The Rail Station of Our Discontent

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We outlined how the original thought to move Albany’s railroad station to Rensselaer turned into a part of the overall plan to run the interstate along the river. Since the train station moved, the complaining about it has rarely stopped. Even now that the new facility is considerably better appointed than the old box of a station, there are endless complaints about the location, the poor public transit support, and taxi service that would have to improve significantly to reach horrible.

Well, that was the case right from the start. In January 1969, a writer for the Knickerbocker News started out with:

“Figure on adding $1.25 cab fare, plus tip, to your travel expenses if you’re taking a train to ‘Albany.’ Or, if you’re willing to carry your luggage a block from the door of Penn Central’s new ‘Albany’ passenger station in Rensselaer to the bus stop, you can get to The Plaza in Albany for only a quarter. The extras are the price the passenger pays for the railroad’s decision to shut down the old Union Station on Broadway and move the Albany station over the river.”

She granted that if someone were picking up a passenger, they’d have no problem finding parking (with about 80 spots then available, and 70 more expected). Pine Hills cabs would meet trains at the station, and could be called by direct telephone. “If you prefer, you can use a pay telephone to call another cab company.”

The United Traction Company buses (pre-CDTA) served the new station every 20 minutes, except from 1 am to 5 am, when they were hourly. Yes, our buses used to run overnight. From Albany, you’d catch the Rensselaer-Third Street bus at Hudson Avenue and Broadway – well, there’s something that hasn’t changed. That the bus didn’t really pull into the station also hasn’t changed, so we’re going on 50 years of dumb. The writer noted that the train ticket from Schenectady to Albany, now Rensselaer, cost 83 cents. The cab ride from Rensselaer to State and Pearl would run you $1.25.

But Rensselaer, and Penn Central, and passenger rail in general, did have supporters. One of them was Charles Mann Sr. of Rensselaer, part of a railroading family whose son Ernie literally wrote the book on the Railroads in Rensselaer. In a February 1969 edition of the Knick News, Mr. Mann took exception to a recent article that had focused on the shortcomings of the Penn Central in a recent snowstorm.

“As a long time reader of the Knickerbocker News and as a retired railroader, I will be the first one to admit that the passenger service furnished by the railroads at the present time may be subjected to criticism, but may I ask why the passengers on the train described by Mr. Waters [the writer] went to the railroad for transportation at the time mentioned. Why did they not go by air, bus or by private auto as they have been going for a long time?

The reason they did not go by plane or bus at the time was that there was no air or bus service available on account of severe weather conditions.”

He went on to note that the railroads faced the same weather conditions as airlines and bus lines, but that the railroads functioned more or less on scheduled and arrived at their destinations.

“There were several pictures of stranded travelers at airports, automobiles stranded at locations on the highways across the state going no place due to weather conditions, but there was no severe criticism made about the air lines or bus lines as there was made about the railroads.”

Mr. Mann then, quite rightly, said that the paper seemed to have taken a dislike to the Penn Central since it moved its station, noting that most editions of the paper contained some slam against the station’s location, parking facilities, or the fares to get there.

“As for parking space, where could you find a place to park your car near the Union Station in Albany?” Oh, snap (as the kids say).

“Also, may I remind you that for as many years as I can remember (and I can remember a good many) the people of Rensselaer had to pay the same bus and taxi fares to get to the Albany station.

When conditions favor air and bus line operation no one ever thinks of taking a train for transportation so why should the railroads be forced to maintain 1st class, on schedule service (which they do at a loss) when all other means of transportation has ceased to function … With the present amount of passengers using the railroads you should not expect to have a Grand Central in Rensselaer or Albany.”

Then, and quite rightly, Mr. Mann dropped the mic with this closer:

“it seems to me that the public deserted the railroads before the railroads deserted the public.”

Yep.

New York Central: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

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Union station broadway albany ny early 1900s

The New York Central’s Union Station in Albany, from the Albany…The Way It Was archives on Flickr, at https://flic.kr/p/kDwsk5

Okay, admittedly, our headline from yesterday was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, the Penn Central Railroad didn’t ruin everything, although it didn’t help many things either. But a commenter noted that they were really just finishing the work the New York Central had started, in the face of the fairly catastrophic decline in both freight and passenger rail service. And while it was convenient that New York State wanted to eliminate tracks and the Maiden Lane Bridge in order to build I-787, that only became a factor in the later ‘60s when the plan for the Riverfront Arterial was final. But it’s true, the situation was all set up nearly 10 years before it happened.

In 1959, the New York Central first proposed moving its passenger station to Rensselaer, and the City of Albany of course immediately opposed it. That caused the railroad, led by President Alfred Perlman, to complain that the city and its business interests had failed to respond to the railroad’s proposals for redevelopment of its riverfront property, including the then-59-year-old Union Station. The railroad argued that economic necessity and a program to streamline operations forced the move, that the Rensselaer station would be more convenient for Albany residents, and that “abandonment of many of its Albany properties will give the city an opportunity to spruce up a rundown section.” Perlman said they would lend their industrial development experts (presumably not the ones who had caused the railroad to be so rundown) to advance a broad urban redevelopment project for the area, which would cover land from Union Station to the river, and north toward the Livingston Avenue Bridge. He even hung out the idea of combining it with a “Title 1” project, a federally aided slum clearance and urban renewal project – the feds would pay two-thirds the cost of acquiring and clearing the area in order to sell it to private interests for redevelopment. But he also said there had been three offers to buy the station from “out-of-town interests” considering the building for office and store use. He also said the Maiden Lane bridge could be converted to vehicular traffic to relieve the burden on the Dunn Memorial.

So here are the detailed reasons they gave in the Knickerbocker News:

Top New York Central Railroad officials say they have to move their Albany passenger station to Rensselaer to meet the economic demands of modern railroading and that no lowering of local taxes could persuade them to change their plans.
These reasons for the move – and reasons why they say they could not locate a new station elsewhere – were outlined by the Central’s president, Alfred E. Perlman; vice president, John F. Nash, and eastern district general manager, Robert D. Timpany:
1 – Union Station is “old, obsolete and too big” and expensive for these days of declining passenger business. The train control system in the station area is obsolete.
2 – A change to a “small, functional station in Rensselaer with just a waiting room and ticket office” would save the railroad $1 million a year.
3 – Taxes are a minor part of the picture. The Central pays the city $59,000 a year on Union Station, Mr. Perlman said, while it expects to save $1 million a year on the move to Rensselaer.
4 – A Rensselaer station, with easier access through traffic and more parking space would be “more convenient” to Albany residents.
5 – The cutback in railroad jobs that would result from the move would not be large.

That Rensselaer would work, and no other location would, was said to be because the railroad already had coach yards, diesel and repair facilities there, and “all we need is a small station building.” A plan for a station in Colonie would run up to $5 million. Perlman got in a little dig at the city, too, saying the $59,000 the railroad paid in taxes “makes up the city’s operating deficit of $57,000 on its airport.” Then, stretching his point and credulity, he argued that the Rensselaer station was really only three city blocks away (assuming you paved over the Hudson). He also said that the move would not discourage rail travel but increase it – that part was even plausible, since parking in Albany was a problem even then.

Mayor Corning, in the same edition of the Knick, said, “Stripping this matter to the bare essentials, all that the New York Central has done is say that it wants to move the railroad station from Albany to Rensselaer. The administration of the City of Albany is opposed to this move, and expects to oppose it before appropriate regulatory bodies. Accordingly, the suggestion of the New York Central – and it is only a suggestion – and any other suggestions for this area are, I believe, premature.”

In 1958 there were already plans to run a new highway along the riverfront. It’s worth noting that just a few years later, in 1962, there were plans and even contracts to build what was called the Riverfront Arterial, which would run from Livingston Avenue to the Yacht Club (and someday south to the Dunn Memorial and north to the Troy-Menands Bridge), filling in the Yacht Club basin to provide parking for 1,000 cars. More on that in the future, but let’s note that the 1962 plan did not call for scrapping any railroad tracks.

How Penn Central Ruined Everything, Railwise

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Those who remember Albany’s Union Station as a glorious destination in the ’50s and ’60s most likely benefit from the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. A 1969 column in the Knickerbocker News acknowledged that “In its dying days, Albany’s Union Station was an odiferous and dingy cavern, but still, if you looked hard, you could see traces of the station’s earlier grandeur.” If you grew up later than the ’70s, you may not be able to understand just how dingy cities were back then – between coal ash, diesel fumes, and the horrendous exhaust that came out of each and every automobile, every structure was covered in soot. Likely the exterior of Union Station had never been cleaned, and by some accounts the same could be said of the inside.

Hoxsie hesitates to even bring this up because it excites passions even today, nearly 50 years after passenger railroads left Albany proper. But it’s worth looking at what caused Union Stations in Albany and Schenectady to be left behind, two “modern” new stations to be built in Rensselaer and Colonie, and the general collapse of passenger rail at about the same time.

For starters, understand that in the 1960s, passenger rail was deeply unprofitable, under assault from air travel, private automobiles, and truck freight on superhighways. The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central had discussed merging as early as 1957, when things weren’t quite so dire. The Pennsylvania started focusing more on real estate deals than on railroading, resulting in the destruction of its landmark Penn Station in New York City. When merger talks began again, they were said to be more about creating more borrowing power for financing other ventures than about consolidating an efficient business. The merger was federally approved in 1965, but took until early 1968 before the US Supreme Court finally allowed it. The merger apparently was never well-planned; the condition that all existing workers continue in employment ensured no efficiency would be gained, and a struggling economy, growing inflation and bad management of the freight business alienated customers. By 1970, the company would be bankrupt, and its collapse would lead to the federal creation of Conrail and Amtrak.

As early as 1960, there were plans to run an interstate highway along the Hudson River around Albany. Planned routes varied, but they kept coming back to plans that would eliminate most of the rail along the river. This would be difficult to do so long as the main rail crossing was the Maiden Lane Bridge – the highway would have to go over or under the tracks that connected the bridge to Union Station, causing some definite planning difficulties and leading state transportation officials to favor a plan that would simply eliminate that bridge.

As we have noted before, the Rensselaer side of the river had a long history of passenger travel, though it could not really be said that it had anything approximating a station in 1968. Albany was home not only to the New York Central / Penn Central passenger line, but also to the Delaware and Hudson line that ran through Watervliet and Mechanicville to Montreal. With the loss of the Maiden Lane bridge, both railroads had the excuse and reason to get out of an outdated, expensive-to-maintain station facility at Albany; the Schenectady station would also be closed. But, if the Maiden Lane Bridge had to go, trains still had to be able to cross the river, meaning the Livingston Avenue Bridge, which had been locked open for a period of years, would be brought back into service. Being single track, this would become a choke point on the system, but at least trains could cross.

Colonie Station proposal 1967In 1967, the PSC approved a Penn Central proposal to replace the Albany and Schenectady rail palaces with “modern” new stations at Rensselaer, off East Street, and on Karner Road. Look at the accompanying drawing from 1967 and take a guess if that was ever built. Plans were submitted in February 1968 for a Colonie station, the Karner Road Depot, which would consist of a 30 by 50 foot building with a 960 foot platform, and a parking lot 100 by 250 feet. Rensselaer, originally designated as a passenger stop (way different from a station in railroad terms) would have a 65 by 170 foot building and a parking lot 230 by 350 feet. For the D&H, loss of the Maiden Lane bridge forced the Montreal line to bypass the Watervliet and Mechanicville stations, which at that time averaged two passengers per day, and go instead through Schenectady and up to Saratoga Springs. In September 1968, the PSC allowed the D&H to move across the river as well.

Maiden Lane Pedestrian bridge

It was a good thing they did . . . in the same newspaper that this was announced, there was a photograph of the dismantling of the pedestrian footbridge that was part of the Maiden Lane Bridge. The cutline read, “If grandmother’s house lies over the river you’ll have to use a new route – other than Maiden Lane Bridge from Albany to Rensselaer – to get there on foot. The 1880-vintage footbridge is being dismantled. But pedestrian facilities will be added to the new South Mall Arterial Bridge.” (That’s now the Dunn Memorial Bridge, and while it is possible to cross it on foot, to call the crossing in any way a facility is to stretch the point.)

The Rensselaer station opened sometime in 1968, a box next to a grocery store that served as the region’s rail station until 2002. That Knick News columnist who in early 1969 called Union Station “odiferous” also said that

“In contrast, the Penn Central’s new Albany-Rensselaer station in Rensselaer is – with all due respect to our neighboring city – a rude comedown and a ride to the new station is a dispiriting experience. Situated at the northern edge of Rensselaer, the station is reached after a bumpy ride over narrow streets. It looks more like a small-town depot for short-haul buses than a railroad station and is tucked away in a shallow ravine as if the Penn Central were ashamed at what it had done, as well it might be. Let us hope that the railroad’s new Albany-Schenectady regional station on Karner Road in Colonie has more class.”

Well, one could hope.

On June 27, 1969, on the eve of the opening of the Colonie station, the Schenectady Gazette ran an editorial lamenting but understanding the march of time.

“When you look at the crumbling station you are reminded of the days when freight trains and passenger trains were coming and going night and day through Schenectady … It is understandable that Penn Central wanted to close the Schenectady depot, for, like most railroad stations built half a century or more ago, it is a large mausoleum which no doubt impressed everybody when it was constructed but which is thoroughly impractical for this day and age, costing a mint of money to heat and to keep in satisfactory repair (which is why there are not many people who want to buy it to make use of it as it stands).”

The Schenectady station would close at midnight the next night.

Colonie Station Knick News 1-31-69When the Karner Road station opened on Sunday, June 29, 1969, it was described as being equipped with a waiting room that measured 56 feet by 30 feet, capable of seating 48 people. The parking lot was paved (!), protected by guard rails, and would hold 50 cars. All five east and west trains would stop there. If you’re trying to figure out just where it was located (and we’re told the building is still there), the directions were to proceed to New Karner Road via Routes 5 and 20, turn west onto New Karner Road, follow that to Albany Street, take a left onto Albany Street and travel two blocks where the station is located on the left. There would be no café, but vending machines were promised.

A 1969 overview of the fate of Empire Service (which still exists, though not with the frequency it enjoyed half a century ago) in the Times-Union noted that

“The populace took to the super-highways in their super cars and to the airlines in the super airplanes. They abandoned the railroads. They abandoned the trains going in and out of Union Station. In Albany, a super-highway under construction for the state’s super-quarters known as the South Mall had to go over a portion of the railroad tracks. The state bought the area, including Union Station, for $5 million. The station would be of no use to the railroad with part of its tracks gone, and it was closed. The fate of the fine old building is yet to be decided. It is now in the process of being transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Office of General Services, custodian of surplus state property.”

This was at a time when there were state hearings at the Public Service Commission, which then regulated railroads, into the standards of service provided by Penn Central. The PSC had sued the railroad for failing to adequately maintain its passenger locomotives; union engineers brought charges of neglect and deterioration. Albany wasn’t the only place that was concerned, at a time when it had lost its train station, and the promised new one in Colonie hadn’t yet opened; New York City considered the Empire Service, with its connection to the seat of government and beyond, as critical.

Soon came the interesting revelation that of the two “modern” stations – assuming “modern” means nondescript huts with plastic seats in the waiting area – Penn Central had paid only for one, the one in Rensselaer. The Karner Road station, which ran to $150,000 in 1969 money, was paid for by the State Department of Transportation, apparently very quietly. A Penn Central attorney confirmed that the facility was built by the state (but owned and operated by the railroad), and said the railroad “was not about to design a ‘Taj Mahal’ when the state was footing the bill.” Nor when Penn was footing the bill, it’d be fair to say.

When a “temporary” station reopened in Schenectady, pretty much at the site of the old Union Station, the Colonie station was closed, Sept. 9, 1979. It appears to still survive as a construction storage shed.

Thanks to several folks who have made helpful suggestions on improvements to this article. The earlier version used Penn Central to refer to both the pre- and post-merger railroad, but in fact it was the Pennsylvania Railroad prior to the merger. There are other examples. Also noted: the New York Central wanted out of Albany nearly 10 years earlier. More on that here.

The Volunteer Life Saving Corps

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1876 Map with Bath, East Albany, GreenbushIn river towns, people would occasionally fall into the river and drown. So it only makes sense that in 1902, the newly consolidated city of Rensselaer proposed to have three life-saving stations along the riverfront, as outlined in the Albany Evening Journal of July 15:

Rensselaer is soon to have three life saving stations. One will be at the old Bath ferry slip, one at the Albany Yacht Club quarters near the baseball grounds and one at the ferry landing at the foot of Second avenue. They will all be under control of the United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps of the department of New York.

Captain J.J. Greekstone, of the main office, was in Rensselaer to-day and had a conference with Mayor Lansing about the matter, and the mayor entered into the spirit at once, for he thinks it a good thing.

The captain wishes to establish five members of the crew at each station and any boy over 16 can become a member. At the station, when established, will be life buoys, life lines and later life boats. The mayor, this morning, gave Captain Greekstone a room in Republic headquarters, where he will be from 7:30 to 9 o’clock this evening to enlist all those who wish to join. In establishing of the station at the points above named is done because it is where there is most danger. The upper Bath dock is a landing place for ferry boats and where excursions leave from. This can also be said of the dock at the foot of Second avenue, while the station at the Albany Yacht Club is near the baseball grounds where many bathe and are getting on and off the boats when a game is on.

For those who don’t know, Bath (more accurately, Bath-on-Hudson) was on what is now the north end of Rensselaer, and the Albany Yacht Club in those days was also on the Rensselaer side. However grand this life saving plan, it’s not entirely clear that it happened.

There were at various times various levels of life saving crews up in this reach of the Hudson. The 1894 annual report of the United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps, New York department, listed a Schodack Landing division covering Coxsackie and New Baltimore, and said that several lives had been saved that year. Of the Albany division, under Commodore Garret T. Benson, it was said only that he would have “many boat crews organized for early spring work in 1895.” The Upper Hudson River division, covering from Troy to Mechanicville and including Cohoes, would have 15 crews under Commodore N.L. Weatherbee.

Captain Fred CollinsThe 1909 annual report, while touting the Corps’ great achievements in New York City, lamented the lack of State support (which was only $40 in 1909, down from $5000 in 1894), and noted that it relied on subscriptions. $5 to $10 year would make you a subscribing member; $10 to $25 made for an associate member. $25 to $50 earned the designation of honorary member, while more than $100 a year as classified as a patron. “A renewed effort to obtain a State appropriation for the work in New York State during 1910 wlll be made, and we have every confidence of success.” At that time, the Albany division was in the charge of Captain Fred Collins, and it was noted that “The Corps work in this city has progressed and the membership increased through the constant efforts of Captain Fred Collins. He and his crew gave a very credible life-saving exhibition in Schenectady during the season, which resulted in much good.” That doesn’t sound like they were necessarily doing a lot of life saving, and the annual report listed only one rescue that was under consideration for an award in the area: in Troy, Arthur R. Tyler rescued John Conners. Upstate, only six lives were listed as saved, compared to 268 in New York City.

 

 

The Morner House

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Morner House near Albany (LOC)

Checking through the Library of Congress collection on Flickr, we ran across this 1911 photo published by Bain News Service, marked “Morner House Near Albany.” If it looks like there was quite a hubbub going on at the Morner house, well, there was. For starters, “near Albany” is relative; Bain also described the house as in Defreestville. In fact, it was on Morner Road in East Greenbush. The reason it was in the news was the shocking murders of Mrs. Conrad Morner (a widow), son Arthur and daughters Edith and Blanche. They were generally believed to have been killed by an Italian farmhand named Edward Donato (or Di Donato) who had worked on the farm for a few months. The New York Times has as good a summary as anyone. No particular motive beyond a potential disagreement with Arthur Morner was discussed. Apparently quite a number of people thought to be Donato were arrested all over the area and beyond, but none of them could be positively identified, and he was never found. There was long speculation (including the possibility that Conrad Morner’s death a few years before was also suspicious) but no resolution. The house still stands.

The Barnet Family: Far From Shoddy

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While we were digging around the “Personal Pages” from a 1919 edition of Textile World, our curiosity was piqued by this note on the generosity of William Barnet, perhaps Rensselaer’s leading shoddy manufacturer. (Hoxsie will always find “shoddy manufacturer” funny, but if you don’t know, shoddy was a cheap fabric made of short-fibered reclaimed wool.) The article says that:

William Barnet, president of William Barnet & Sons, shoddy manufacturers of Rensselaer, N.Y., and a prominent resident of Albany, was one of the first to volunteer the use of his automobile to carry the orphans of Albany to and from Maple-Beach Park [successor to Al-Tro Park], where the annual orphans’ field day will be held. Mr. Barnet is a leading member of the Albany Motor Club, which has undertaken to supply transportation for the orphans.

It would appear that trundling orphans off for a day of fun was actually one of Barnet’s lesser good works; his reputation, and that of his company were anything but shoddy. (Sorry.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, the original factory was founded at Broadway and Westerlo St. in 1898, then moved to Rensselaer in 1905. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1915 and later expanded. “The fumes and smoke which are characteristic of shoddy mills will be entirely absent in the new structure, according to Mr. Barnet, Sr. A device has been installed to draw off all obnoxious odors from the shoddies and carry them through a series of tubes to the outside.” A memorial to William Barnet from the Albany Evening News of Dec. 15, 1932, expressed what appeared to be the common opinion of Barnet:

William Barnet was one of the givers. He gave of money and time and service and sympathy. His long life of four score years was not lived for self but for others. His sense of public responsibility was large. He believed in kind words and good deeds. He had lived in Albany since he was 20 years old and he established the business of William Barnet & Son in Rensselaer. Sometimes it seemed as if business was his avocation and service to the public was his vocation. Under supervision of Herbert Hoover he was chairman of the Belgian Relief campaign. He was a trustee of the fund to build the Salvation Army Home and chairman of the Jewish War Relief campaign. In the war he was supervising chairman of draft boards in this section. He was a leader in several fraternal organizations, a world traveler and one of the foremost philanthropists that Albany has known. His life was an inspiration to all. To know him as a friend was a privilege. His example of active high citizenship will never be forgotten. The city mourns one of its rarest men.

Son Henry, who was president of the company for many years, worked on the Community Chest, on the board of the Jewish Community Center, and on the boards of Albany Hospital and Temple Beth Emeth. In 1940, he led a campaign against syphilis. “It seems that while he is in Albany, his idea of relaxation is going to meetings or trying to raise funds for his favorite projects.” The newspapers are filled with mentions of good works by Henry Barnet. In 1936, Barnet plant employees were among the first to receive hospitalization insurance (the terms will make you cry, so we’ll save that for tomorrow). No surprise, as Henry Barnet was instrumental in forming the Blue Cross Associated Hospital Service in the Capital District. He died in 1951, at age 71, extremely well-regarded. (Incidentally, he lived at 123 S. Lake Ave., certainly a handsome home but no mansion.)

A civic-minded family, Henry’s son William Barnet 2d lived his whole life in Albany, retired as chairman of the family business, and was involved In a number of philanthropic activities, including the foundation that bears his name and his wife’s. William Barnet III, an Albany Academy graduate, was President and CEO of the family business from 1976-2000, and has been on the boards of some little organizations like Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Fleet Boston. He was also mayor of Spartanburg, SC for a number of years.

William Barnet & Son went south in the 1960s, like most textile companies, moving its headquarters to South Carolina, and then branched out worldwide. While they make polymers and yarns, Hoxsie is happy to see that they still make short cut and staple fibers from post-industrial and post-consumer waste materials, so it’s entirely possible they’re still a leading shoddy manufacturer. We’d like to think so.

The Barnet mill still stands on Forbes Avenue in Rensselaer, now known as the Hilton Center and clearly visible from the Corning Preserve Boat Launch on the Albany side of the river.

Edmund Huyck: No Nostradamus

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As we were running down a little bit of information on Rensselaer’s Huyck Felt Mill, once one of the principal employers in that railroad town (other than the railroads, of course), we came across this little snippet from a 1919 edition of Textile World. A section called “The Personal Page” highlighted notable events in the lives of America’s textile makers, including this brief story relating what the mill’s Edmund Huyck learned from a trip to Japan:

Edmund N. Huyck, president of the F.C. Huyck & Sons Felt Mills, Rensselaer, N.Y., who recently returned from a tour of Japan, was the principal speaker at the luncheon of the Albany Rotary Club last week, and gave an interesting account of his experiences in that country. Mr. Huyck treated the subject of his address from the standpoint of a business man, and one of the points brought out was the evident lack of efficiency in the large manufacturing centers. He said that the work in that country did not equal that of the American industrial world and could not be compared in any manner. Mr. Huyck spoke of the growing military power of Japan, saying that America need have no fear from this direction as the utter lack of production in Japan would prove the undoing of that country in the event of a war, since Japan depends entirely upon its international commerce.

In fairness, Japan’s broader post-WWI military adventurism was another decade off, and its rise as an industrial power even further off in the future. But still, interesting to see how wrong you can be.

At Present Only Girls Are Needed

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Huyck's Mills help wanted adFor those of you not old enough to have searched through newspaper classifieds looking for work, you probably wouldn’t know that the Help Wanted sections were strictly divided by sex. From 1946, this help wanted ad wasn’t in any way unusual for the time, from Huyck’s Mill in Rensselaer, advertising any number of positions open – for girls. The page of the Knickerbocker News this was taken from is filled with them: Sears, Roebuck & Company, New York Telephone, even Capitol Tomato Corp. were all advertising strictly for female help.

Huyck’s Mill (also known as Huyck Felt Mill) made felt used in paper-making. Between Huyck and Albany Felt (later Albany International), Albany was a hotbed of large-scale felt, known in the business as “machine clothing.” Much of the complex still stands and is used as State offices.

Murdering the Electrician

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Electrician Brutally Killed in RensselaerMost things on Hoxsie are found when we’re looking for other things. This is one of those things: while searching for some background on the Albany and Hudson Railroad, we came across a brief mention in the San Francisco Call of May 17, 1907 of the murder of the railroad’s chief electrician, Alonzo Hewitt. Turns out the local papers covered that little event, too.

Hewitt was a resident of the city of Rensselaer, who had previously worked as a lineman for the power side of the business that eventually became the A&H Railroad. He was also the foreman of the Mink & Claxton Hose Company and superintendent of the fire alarm system of Rensselaer. He invented a new style of shoe for a train’s contact with the third rail that prevented the formation of ice, in 1901.

At about 7:30 on a Thursday night in May, the 16th to be exact, in 1907, Alonzo Hewitt went to his home at the corner of Glen and Fourth streets and, according to the Amsterdam Evening Recorder,

going into the sitting room, removed his coat and shoes and laid down on a lounge. In a few minutes the door bell rang, and his 12-year-old daughter, May, answered the ring. She saw a man standing on the piazza, whom she later described as in general resembling her mother’s cousin, Peter Lozon. The man asked for her father and she turned to call him.

On his daughter’s call, Hewitt sprang up and went to the door, May standing back of it. As he appeared in the doorway, the unknown assassin fired a shot gun at him point blank, shooting him in the throat. The murderer then fled.

Hewitt died half an hour later, and the police scoured the city for Lozon. The Recorder reported that

the supposed motive is found in a family quarrel. Hewitt was to have appeared this morning in court to answer to a charge of assault preferred by Roscoe Lansing. It is alleged that Hewitt had assaulted Lansing on the street because Lansing had been circulating stories in the saloons that Hewitt had beaten his wife. Lozon, the suspected murderer, is a brother-in-law of Lansing, and is also a cousin of Hewitt’s wife.

The Troy Daily Times, reporting on the 20th that there was a warrant for the arrest of Lozon, said the district attorney and police were satisfied that the crime was the outcome of a family feud and that the murder had been premeditated for some time, possibly with the involvement of others. Mrs. Hewitt, who was left with six children to tend to (May was the eldest), made a statement corroborated by neighbors that Mr. Hewitt had been under threat of his life for some time.

Wednesday night [the night before the murder] Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt were awakened from sleep by incessant ringing of the doorbell, and only through the persuasions of his wife was Mr. Hewitt prevented from responding to the call. They had just dozed again, says Mrs. Hewitt, when they were startled by the report of a revolver, and a bullet whizzed past the bedroom window. Someone was heard prowling about the yard and barn for some time after, but Mr. Hewitt did not get within range of the windows. Neighbors, who corroborated the statement, said that for some time the Hewitts were persecuted by some unknown persons and were frequently aroused in the night by the ringing of the doorbell.

On the afternoon before the murder, Hewitt told a saloon keeper on Partition Street that he had just had an argument with Lozon. “It is said that Lozon and Hewitt were the best of friends until Hewitt, an electrician for the Albany and Hudson Railway, discharged Lozon.”

Lozon’s plan always had to have been to skip town, because he hardly kept his plans quiet. For starters, he borrowed the murder weapon, which he dropped in the street nearby, from someone who lived nearby at Catherine and Fourth. In Joseph Ayers’s saloon at First and Harrison, Lozon ordered a drink and made a show of paying for it with a $2 bill, which apparently was about $2 more than he normally had on hand – he had previously in the day tried to get a haircut on credit.

Lozon said to Mr. Ayers, “You’ll be a witness,” but when asked what he meant he failed to explain. He called in two or three other men from a rear room to drink with him and repeated his declaration that they would be “witnesses.” They laughed and one asked, “What are you going to do, the Dutch act?” (meaning suicide.) “No,” replied Lozon, “there’s something doing,” and he put his hand on his coat pocket significantly. A little later Lozon was seen going over Catherine Street, and he went to the home of William F. Arris at Catherine and Fourth Streets and borrowed his gun, saying he was going coon hunting. Mr. Arris remarked that it was a poor night for hunting, but Lozon was insistent and asked for some shells.

Hewitt was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery. Lozon, as far as we can tell, was never found; police believed he had headed directly for the rail yards and grabbed a freight out of town. The 1908 Rensselaer Directory, in listing the rest of his family at 59 Pine Street, notes that Peter Lozon “moved from city.”