Category Archives: Schenectady

If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.

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1862 Schenectady Directory Walker Groceries.pngThe last great store in Schenectady to carry just about everything was Wallace Armer Hardware, which gracefully closed its doors about 20 years ago. But Armer was clearly descended from a long tradition of general stores in canal towns that carried a little bit of everything. In the case of James Walker’s store on State Street in 1862, that everything ranged from groceries to agricultural implements, house furnishing goods to wood and willow ware, rope, twine and cordage, coal oil and lamps, bird cages, fishing tackle, brushes, and who knows what else.

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Rinso ad Gazette 1921.png

I’ll try for just a moment to focus only on the non-sexist elements of this Rinso detergent ad that ran in the Schenectady Gazette in 1921.

Oh, wait. There aren’t any.

Light fixtures at war prices!

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1862 Schenectady Directory Edwards gas fittings

I’ll admit that I’m not sure whether “war prices” were a good thing when John A. Edwards took out this ad in 1862’s Schenectady directory. This was the golden age of gas lighting. But while he was fitting your pipes, you might as well get him to hang your door bell in the most substantial manner and at short notice. Door bell emergencies were nothing unusual to him.

Not sure, either, what the Old Stand was, but Centre Street in Schenectady  is now Broadway, of course.

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Schenectady Newsies

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910.jpg

101 years ago, there was no TV news. There wasn’t even radio. The only way to get information about the greater world was by newspaper. And newspapers were sold by newsboys on the streets of every city in the country. As child labor went in those days, the newsboy’s lot was fairly cushy.  I’ve previously written about what was going on in the news that day, so follow this link if you want to know.
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One of the Jones Boys

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Moses Jones roofing art

This week I learned that Moses Jones, Practical Slater, was the man who laid the roof on historic St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, which is now owned by the Historic Albany Foundation. HAF puts tremendous efforts into maintaining this gem that anchors Arbor Hill, and which will be central to any return to greatness for that neighborhood. So I wanted to learn just a little bit more about Moses Jones.

In 1860, when St. Joseph’s was built,  Moses M. Jones was 30 years old, living in Schenectady. He was married, had real property valued at $1000 and personal property at $2000. Moses was born in Wales; his 28-year-old wife Catherine was from Pennsylvania. Their children were Morris M, Emma and George. His profession was given as “slater.”

Right next door to Moses? More Jones boys, all slaters. There was Morris M. Jones, 28, and his wife Angeline and son Royal. (Angeline was also from Pennsylvania, and Royal and Morris were born there, suggesting the Jones boys swept through Pennsylvania to pick up some brides on their way to the not-yet-Electric City). There was another Morris M. Jones, 19, and a David M. Jones, 16. In that household was another slater, John M. Drake, 20, who had the courtesy at least to have the proper middle initial if he was going to persist in not being a Jones. They lived in a merchant neighborhood on Yates Street, a street that runs between Union and Liberty just east of Broadway that is now little but parking lots. But in 1860, it was slaters, clergymen, tailors, and a patent rights business. In 1863, Moses registered for the Civil War draft, though his age then was given as 39.

But other than this ad, a single census entry, and a draft registration, I can’t find any evidence of Moses. He doesn’t appear in the 1870 business directory. All the Jones boys seem to disappear, except Royal, who shows up in Tacoma, Washington, in 1892. I’d love to report that he was putting up slate roofs, but he was listed as a cook.

By the way, to go by the surviving records, in 1830 Wales was producing people named Moses Jones by the bushel basket.

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Typographical show-off

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1862 Schenectady Directory Van DeBogert lumber coal.png

Van Debogert Bros. sold lumber and coal and cement and flour and grain and yada yada yada. In the mind of some printer in 1862, that was secondary to the excellent opportunity this ad afforded to show off how many very fancy fonts were available. Again for you kids, there was a time when a font meant something and was something, and that something was expensive. Every character was cast in lead. A font was a very precise thing: a particular typeface in a single size. If you wanted more than one size, you had to buy it, not press Ctrl-F.

This Schenectady city directory was probably printed by Joel Munsell’s large printing house in Albany. If you were a big, successful printing house with dozens or perhaps hundreds of fonts available, you wanted to let people know that, even if you had to do it on the back of an innocent merchant.

The disincentive to this kind of typographical splattering is one I’d love to see returned to use today, to put an end to people who think they can design in Word and that “text art” is ever a good idea. (N.B.: It is not.) When the printing was done, the ink wiped away and the forms were broken up, somebody in the composing room had to put every single character on this page away, in its proper slot, in the right drawer, in the right size. It would have taken a lot of time, and would have made you think twice before you’d try the shotgun-font effect again. If only we could get that disincentive back.

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Colonial Ice Cream

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Colonial Ice Cream 1920s.png

There was a time when all ice cream was local, and Colonial Ice Cream was a prominent ice cream maker in Schenectady and Scotia, supplying  many local restaurants and stores. The last Colonial factory was in the former Mohawk School on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia; the building was demolished in 1962 and has been a parking lot next to the Baptist Church ever since.

Mrs. Smith was my great grandmother, but I don’t know that she ever played bridge or offered Colonial ice cream for dessert.