Category Archives: Schenectady

The Woolworth’s That Wasn’t A Woolworth’s

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W.H. Moore and Son, Schenectady, State and FerryEverybody remembers the old Woolworth’s in Schenectady. But what they don’t remember is that it wasn’t a Woolworth’s, at least not originally – it was a W.H. Moore’s.

William H. Moore was a native of Saratoga Springs, born in 1841; his family moved to Watertown as his father found work with the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. Willliam went into dry goods, and was a partner in the Augsbury and Moore Dry Goods Store in Watertown, New York, when he gave a young Frank Woolworth, from Rodman, NY, his first job. Although Augsbury and Moore was a fine store catering to the carriage trade, and young Frank showed up for his interview without suit or tie, William Moore took a chance on the young man, who offered to work unpaid for three months in exchange for board and lodging. Moore (this according to the Woolworths Museum site) proposed an apprenticeship of six months, with pay starting in the fourth month. Woolworth began work in March, 1873. Later denied a raise, Woolworth went elsewhere, but came back to work for Moore and a new partner. In the midst of continued depression in 1877, Moore hit on the idea of clearing surplus stock, pricing it all at five cents, and brought in additional merchandise that could sell at that price. Woolworth, essentially a window dresser, gussied up the display and put up a sign that said “Any article on this table 5 cents.” This kinda gave him an idea, and he went off to try it in Utica (where it didn’t go very well) and Lancaster, PA, where it was a hit. Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store was soon expanding, with branches in Harrisburg and Scranton run by his brothers. The Woolworth brothers expanded by engaging family and former co-workers to open their five and dime stores.

While Woolworth was expanding, Moore and his subsequent partners did not do well, and he closed out his business. Eventually he went to Woolworth, who offered to back him in any business enterprise, sold him goods at cost, and helped him establish a new store in Watertown. With this backing, in 1896, he started another five and ten cent store in Schenectady with his son, L.W. Moore, as partner – W.H. Moore and Son, at State and Ferry streets.

In 1911, Woolworth created a “big combine,” as the Utica Herald-Dispatch put it, announcing a world-wide combination of five and ten-cent stores capitalized at $65 million, embracing 600 stores in the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. Two of those stores were Moore’s in Watertown and Schenectady. In discussing the new enterprise, Woolworth gave full credit to William Moore:

“I worked under Mr. Moore as an employe in those days. He taught me the business,” said Mr. Woolworth. “One day he decided on a little counter, three by five feet, in a corner of his store, to put in a line of five-cent goods and sell them only on that counter. There is where the five and ten-cent business started.”

W.H. Moore & Son SchenectadyAt some point W.H. Moore & Son moved to the familiar location of State and Broadway. When it stopped being called W.H. Moore is not clear, but Moore himself died in May of 1916, aged 74, after a trip to the dentist – which is reported to have put Woolworth off dentistry for the rest of his life.

 

 

True crime, 1914: Armed robbery, carjacking, murder

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While digging up info on Schenectady’s Hygienic Lunch, we ran across this charming tale of armed robbery, carjacking, and the death of a dentist. Here’s the story from the Schenectady Gazette of August 18, 1914:

Cashier Swears Conway Robbed Electric Lunch

George Volk and Hygienic Lunch Man, However, Say Prisoner Is Not the Man – Arrest Made in Albany by Detectives Van Deusen and Rooney on Warrant Sworn Out by James Stathes, Night Cashier – Conway, Police Say, Bears Excellent Reputation

John Conway, 28 years old, a core-maker, was arrested yesterday afternoon by Detectives Van Deusen and Rooney in Albany, charged with being the party who held up and robbed the cashier of the Electric Lunch in State street early Saturday morning. The two officers, accompanied by James Stathes, the night cashier, who was on duty in the lunch room when the robber secured $134.70 from the cash register at the point of a gun, were on their way to Albany in an endeavor to locate the robber. While on the car Stathes suddenly pointed out Conway, who was on the car [streetcar], as the man who did the job.

Both the officers knew Conway, who bears an excellent reputation and who has roomed in Jay street, near the city hall, for the past three years and were loath to believe the cashier. Conway left the car at Pearl street, Albany, and went into Sauter’s dru store. Van Deusen and Rooney, with Stathes, secured a point of vantage and, after again looking minutely at Conway, Stathes declared he was the man.

Conway was therefore placed under arrest and brought to this city, where a charge of robbery, first degree, was lodged against him, Stathes swearing out a warrant. George Volk, the Gazette pressman, whose automobile the robber used to make his get-away, intimidating Volk with his gun, was sent for and he denied that Conway was the man. The cashier in the Hygienic Lunch, which had also been visited by the robber just prior to his doing the job at the Electric Lunch, was also called and he was positive that Conway was not the man.

Stathes, however, insisted that Conway was the man and swore to the information upon which the warrant was issued. Conway was released under bail bond and will have an examination on August 24 at 2 o’clock.

Another story was rumored about the streets last night to the effect that the man, Charles Thompson, who had such a terrific fight in the dental office of Dr. Myers in Troy late Saturday night, both men falling from the window to the pavement, which fall resulted in the death of Dr. Myers and the serious injury of Thompson, was the man who committed the hold-up in this city early Saturday morning.

Word was received by the local police last night to this effect and an effort will be made today to identify Thompson as the man who robbed the Electric Lunch. Officers with Stathes, Volk and others will visit the Troy Hospital, where Thompson is suffering from a fractured skull, and see if he answers the description of the robber.

If it was Thompson, then he had a hell of a day: robbed two lunch joints at gunpoint, stole a car and drove to Troy, where he got into a fight with a dentist that ended in fatal defenestration. Apparently that’s just what happened, and a little more. The Troy Times of August 14, 1914, told more about the death of the dentist:

Dentist’s Tragic Death – Locked in Desperate Struggle With Supposed Burglar Dr. Charles G. Myers Plunges From Roof to Brick Pavement in Yard forty Feet Below – Dies in Hospital – Intruder Survives But Badly Injured – Conceals His Identity.

Dr. Charles G. Myers, dentist, with offices over The Troy Trust Company, died at the Troy Hospital shortly before midnight Saturday night from injuries received in a fall from the roof in the rear of his office on the upper floor of the building while grappling with an intruder, supposedly a burglar intent on stealing gold leaf from the dental offices. The latter, known only as Charles Thompson, a name he gave, was also taken to the hospital, having sustained injuries to his head, face and left arm which at first were supposed to be fatal, but which the physicians later decided were not necessarily so.

Thompson told police here wasn’t there to steal, but was looking for the bathroom, and was just attacked by Dr. Myers. The police didn’t believe him, and probably believed him less when they found out his name was Raymond J. Sampson, who also went by the name of Edward Farley and had come from Elizabeth, New Jersey. In his murder trial the next year, it came out that he had run into an ex-con acquaintance from Elizabeth who was working as a motion-picture operator up in Cohoes, by the name of William Rixon. They met on the afternoon of the Schenectady robberies.

“I said ‘Hello, Ed,’ and he said ‘Hello, Will, what are you doing here?’ I said I lived there. He said, ‘How’s pickings?’ and I said ‘Pretty poor.’ He said, ‘Show me a prominent man or house, and I will go fifty-fifty with you, and you can go home.’ I had a beer and he took a ginger ale. He showed me a roll of money, and said it was Schenectady money. Then he showed me an automatic gun.”

Not suspicious at all. They didn’t get him on murder, but did send him to prison on manslaughter. The Troy Trust Building, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Third Street, was demolished in 1952, replaced by what was then the Manufacturers’ National Bank. And, as far as we know, Conway continued to enjoy an excellent reputation.

 

The Hygienic Lunch, and the Father of the Veep

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Hygienic Lunch menuFile this under: How did we not know this? Hoxsie grew up hard by Schenectady in the 1970s and was perhaps more tuned than your average teenager to both politics and local history. And yet, until this week, we had no idea that the father of Vice President Spiro Agnew, one Theodore Agnew (originally Theofraste Anagnostopolous), was once the proprietor of a couple of lunch joints in Schenectady and Troy. That seems like the kind of information that would have been floating around the zeitgeist, particularly given that Spiro (whose middle name was Theodore) was a controversial, polarizing figure who ended up resigning from the Nixon administration in a bit of a scandal.

Information on this is scant, and the timeline isn’t entirely clear. One Agnew biography says that Theodore arrived from Greece in 1902, settled in Schenectady, spent six years here and then moved to Baltimore. That timeline doesn’t quite work, as we know he was in Schenectady and Troy in 1911 and 1912.

His restaurant was called Hygienic Lunch, at a time when many restaurants, diners, and cafeterias were anything but. We first find it mentioned in Schenectady in 1911, located at 412 State Street, just below the (trolley) waiting room. (This was the old trolley waiting room at 420 State, east of the Witbeck Building. The Hygienic, we believe, was in the Hough Block, torn down to make room for the Bowtie Cinemas.)

In the Troy Times Record of March 25, 1911, we find this notice with regard to the Troy location of the Hygienic Lunch:

“The Hygienic Lunch to-day became one of the convenient eating places for shoppers and business people. Located at 319 River Street, the new lunch room is in the centre of the business district. In its equipment the Hygienic is thoroughly modern, having tiled floors and marble walls, with a kitchen equipment on which no expense or care has been spared. Small marble tables take the place of the usual wide arm chairs. The Hygienic will cater particularly to busy people, and is prepared to serve quickly a lunch or dinner, simple or elaborate. In addition to the usual sandwiches and short-order courses, patrons of the Hygienic can order a steak or portion of roast. The place is managed by the President of the company himself, Mr. Theodore S. Agnew of Schenectady, and James W. Donnan of this city. Mr. Agnew is an experienced restaurant manager, and is one of the founders of the Hygienic Lunch system, which was inaugurated in this state a few years ago.”

At the time, Agnew is found in the Troy City Directory, listed as president and manager of 319 River Street (the business was not named), and boarding at The Rensselaer (later called The Troy House).

A notice in the Schenectady Gazette from June 15, 1911, promises improvements at the Schenectady location:

“Theodore Agnew, president of the Hygienic Lunch Company is in this city after having spent some time in Troy launching a new business in that city. Mr. Agnew stated yesterday that it was his intention to as soon as possible to remodel the place of business in Schenectady and enlarge it to a certain extent. This lunch room is now capable of accommodating a large number of people, several tables have recently been installed which will seat four persons each, these replace the chairs along one entire side and a portion of the other.”

Not much else is said of the Hygienic in either location (and it’s not clear that a contemporaneous Ballston Spa operation by the same name was necessarily connected). A very brief article in the Troy Times on January 5, 1912, says that the proprietors of the Waldorf lunch system, a cafeteria style lunch joint that then had branches in eight cities from Boston to Buffalo, “to-day purchased the Hygienic Lunch from The Hygienic Lunch Company, Incorporated. George R. Donnan of Schenectady was proprietor. The new establishment will be called the Waldorf Lunch.”

That may have been the end of Theodore Agnew’s association with the Hygienic Lunch, and perhaps it was at this time that he lit out for the Charm City. It was not, however, the end of the Hygienic Lunch, for in 1914, Mr. Andrew Kansas announced the new Hygienic Lunch would be opening:

The New Hygienic Lunch

We know from the advertisements of a menswear salesman named Joe Green (and we’ll get to old Joe) that this Hygienic Lunch was also at 412 State Street, and that it continued by that name at least through 1922.

The only mention of the Spiro Agnew connection we find, other than in some biographies and birther sites (apparently there was some controversy), was an article in the Troy Times Record from October 11, 1973, after Agnew had already resigned. It was headlined “Agnew’s Father Ran Restaurant in Troy, and was filled out with just a little less information than we’ve provided above. “Agnew’s father also owned a restaurant in Schenectady but both failed to support him and his brothers. A check of the city directory of 1912 reveals Theodore Agnew moved to New York City. He eventually ended up in Baltimore, Md.”

Organizing Schenectady’s Restaurants, 1922

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What our organizers are doingHoxsie was perusing some back numbers of “The Mixer & Server,” the official journal of the Hotel and Restaurant Employes [sic] International Alliance and the Bartenders International League of America (as one does) and came across this September 26, 1922 report by A. Martel, International Organizer, under the banner of “What Our Organizers Are Doing.” What Organizer Martel was doing was visiting a number of Schenectady establishments. We thought this was particularly interesting as it has several mentions of the Nicholaus Hotel (spelled variously), later just the Nicholaus German Restaurant, whose landmark building at the corner of Erie and State is now in danger of destruction because of the demolition of its neighbors.

His report is a nice little tour of the Schenectady eating establishments of 1922:

Dear Sir and Brother – The following is my report for the month of September:

August 28, as per instructions, I proceeded to Schenectady; met Secretary Geo. Harper of Local 470, with whom I took up the local situation.

August 29, visited the Mohawk Hotel; found one waiter, a former member of Local 471 of Albany; got his reinstatement. Visited the Nicholaus Hotel and talked to the chef, who is a former member of Local 470. Met the proprietor of the Italian Gardens Restaurant, a new place soon to open up.

August 30, visited the Mohawk Golf Club, where I found a Boston cook, a former member of Local 34; he will go to Italy this month so he don’t care to reinstate; the bartender and a kitchen helper promised to join. Again visited the Mohawk Hotel and had a talk with the chef. There are three cooks here, all former members of Local 470; their talk was not encouraging. Visited the Seneca, Hygienic and New Electric Lunches, also the Standard.

August 31, visited the Little Electric, Plaza, Italian Gardens, Nickolaus Hotel, Pelops and Mohawk.

September 1, in company with Secretary Harper, we made the rounds. I soon found out what the trouble was here and decided to use another method, although there was nothing encouraging in sight I was determined to give the town a good trial. The Greek restaurants are in the majority here and that makes it doubly hard.

I visited the Greek clubs daily and there found box, waiter and counter men, also the cooks, playing cards together. In time I got pretty well acquainted and kept hammering at them. They are working seven days per week and twelve hours per day; they admit this is too much but don’t think we could change anything by them joining the union. In the meantime I kept after the Mohawk Hotel cooks, who proved to be a hard bunch to deal with. The others says: [sic] “Get them at the Mohawk first,” etc.

Visited the Sirker Restaurant; the boss is chef; they employ seven girls, pay them $7 per week for ten hours a day and they scrub the dining room floor. One of our girls is there and she promised to join as soon as they get out. Had a talk with the proprietor of the Seneca Lunch; I think we will be able to organize his place if we can supply him with the right kind of help.

September 12, visited the Little Electric Lunch; got the reinstatement of one counter man and the application of the night counter man; the chef also filled out his application but has not paid up for it yet.

September 13, went to Albany and visited all the cooks I could reach (to pay their dues), also looked for a competent chef for the Italian Gardens here.

September 14, had an interview with the Rev. P. Frick of the Methodist Episcopal Church; one of the organizations of his church was eating at the Pelops, and he promised to ask them to remain away. Also had a talk with the Greek priest, but nothing came from it, as it was plain that he was siding with the bosses who feed him.

September 16, the chef of the Mohawk Hotel left, so I took his place; got the reinstatements of the two cooks and an application of a bus boy.

September 18, the chef returned with better wages; got his application also – this makes the Mohawk solid again.

September 19, met the chef and second cook of the Hygienic; got their applications.

September 20, to Albany, after the cooks again; got a chef for the Italian Gardens; he was working at the Hampton, so I got him out and he joined Local 470 here.

September 21, met the second cook of the General Electric Company, who promised to reinstate. Visited several other places; got one application at the Seneca.

September 22, got the application of the chef of the Nickolaus Hotel, and when the second cook joints this house will be complete. Visited Sirker’s again; two new girls here.

Mohawk Hotel The Mohawk Hotel was on Broadway south of State, just about opposite Smith Street.

 

 

Charles Sirker was a Belgian who had come to the United States during World War I, and ran a restaurant at 155 Barrett Street. (We know this because Sirker was involved in an interesting little case of international divorce law.) That building is gone.

Pelops was located at 438 State Street, two doors from Proctor’s. Searches will turn up a postcard of the white tablecloth interior, and a matchbook.

It’d be our guess that the Seneca was the Seneca Hotel, still a landmark on Jay Street across from City Hall.

The Mohawk Golf Club was, and is, out on Union Street.

The Hygienic Lunch was located at 436 State Street, and later at 412 State Street, “near street railway waiting station.” One of its original proprietors was Theodore Anagnost, who became Theodore Agnew. His son Spiro would later become Vice President of the United States. But it would appear that Agnew was long gone from the Electric City when Martel made his visit.

Albany’s Hampton Hotel, of course, was the landmark at the foot of State Street at Broadway; the building still stands.

Of the Little Electric Lunch (such a promising name) or the Italian Gardens, we find nothing.

And the Nicholaus Hotel actually predated the currently building, which goes back to 1901 and may just survive.

The Ornamental Hair Store

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Ornamental HairHey, Schenectady! Need ornamental hair? You’re in luck. In 1840, John Xavier opened a new ornamental hair store at 92 State Street, three doors west of the post office. Everlasting curls, plain and curled frizetts, puffs, everlasting and curled ringlets . . . he had it all, kept constantly on hand or supplied at the shortest notice.

John Xavier was born in 1821 in Portugal, so when he opened this store he was merely 19. By 1870, he was listed as owning a “Fancy Store” (at 128 State Street in 1884), possessing $20,000 in real estate and a $15,000 personal estate.

A Home for the Faculty Cows

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Again, the Encyclopedia of Union College History provides a view of a time unimaginably long gone: when cows grazed on the campus pasture. Before the current West College was built in 1953, the campus was open to the west, and the lands west of the wall were called the Pasture.

Professors long had the right to keep a cow in the Pasture, a benefit which has received attention proportionate only to its quaintness. The disadvantages of owning a cow, especially in a Schenectady winter, and especially for the dignified, were manifold; most faculty members must have found it simpler to buy the dairy products they needed. Only professors Nott, Lewis, Jackson and Pearson availed themselves of the grazing privilege in 1852; Pearson gave it up by 1854 and Lewis by 1857.

There were times when no cows grazed in the Pasture, but most of the “large number of cattle” an 1865 visitor saw there must have belonged to townspeople who had paid a grazing fee; twenty years later, all the cattle fell into this category.

The cows’ various owners had to expect them to be the targets of nocturnal raids by students, who milked them, painted them with zebra-stripes, and sometimes led them into classrooms or even second-floor dormitory rooms . . .

The departure of the last faculty cow was probably ensured in June 1907 when the Board of Trustees’ Instruction Committee authorized the president to “offer to Professor Landreth an increase of $250 in his annual salary with the understanding that Professor Landreth’s cow shall disappear from the college campus.”

There was, however, at least one more instance when the Pasture was a pasture. At the suggestion of Marian Osgood Fox, wife of the college president, trustees bought five Shropshire sheep, which turned into eighteen sheep. “When not harried by dogs or teased by students, the animals picturesquely cropped the grass; they wintered on a farm in Rexford.”

The Pasture was once considerably larger, but Union College periodically sold off lots. Alumni tried to convince the city to lease the land for a park around 1900, but were not successful. The college sold off 44 lots fronting Park Place in 1901, and the city bought the lot on which it built its library (now Webster House).

During World War II, American Locomotive Co. leased the Pasture and used it for employee parking, and even parked tanks on the south end.

The Union College Burial Ground

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Memento mori, baby!So here’s an interesting side note that we uncovered while digging through the highly useful Encyclopedia of Union College, dated 2003 and apparently written by Wayne Somers. Apparently, if you’re a faculty member at Union College, you’re entitled to a free burial plot in the College cemetery in Vale Cemetery.

“About half way between Union and State streets, on Nott Terrace, the entrance road to Vale leads eastward up the hill. The first road to the left crosses a bridge between two ponds in the woods. On the left is a fenced area with signs identifying the grounds of Union College. The actual burial grounds are on a secluded terrace, surrounded by woods on three sides, and overlooking a small pond on the other. Toward the back of the plot lie the graves of Eliphalet Nott and his third wife, Urania . . . Other faculty members and their families and a few alumni and administrators have continued to be buried in the plot down to the present. With a total of about 192 burials (and a few additional markers) through the year 2000, the plot is getting full, but perhaps a quarter of the spots are still available.”

The Encyclopedia reports that although the college cemetery was not formally established until September 1863, “the need for College burial grounds had been under discussion for several years.” Because, obviously, you can’t just let the dead faculty members pile up.

Union College freshmen: No top hats or canes for you

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We’d be remiss if we left The Encyclopedia of Union College without sharing this delightful entry:

Canes. Although little is known of the protocol of cane-carrying at any period, it was long fashionable for able-bodied college students to own these appendages; at Union, canes remained in vogue until at least 1924.

Jonathan Pearson (who had a cane in 1829, before coming to Union) records in his diary instances of students striking each other with canes in 1834 and in 1859, which suggests that they were carried on other than strictly formal occasions. By at least 1863, and probably much earlier, it was customary for classes to order identical canes. Seniors owned canes of malacca, an Asian palm, in the 1860s, and in 1897 the freshmen bought congo wood canes with their class year in silver on the handle.

From at least 1868, freshmen were forbidden to wear top hats and carry canes before their third term. From 1878 until 1933 (see Hazing and Class Fights), the outcome of the cane rush was supposed to determine when freshmen would be allowed to start carrying canes, though this had become purely a symbolic issue long before the fights were given up.

A junior class order for canes in 1924 is the last report of this custom . . . a more practical substitute, class blazers, is mentioned for the first time in 1931.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that at least one college has revived the tradition of canes, though they have the good sense to not give them out until graduation.

The Life of Eliphalet Nott

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Eliphalet Nott, 1820

Eliphalet Nott, 1820

It’s safe to say that we wouldn’t still have a Union College had it not been for the efforts of its longest-tenured president, Eliphalet Nott. He was born in 1773 on a farm in Ashford, Connecticut, one of nine children. “There was no neighbor’s house nearer than half a mile, and he was thus much shut out from the society of boys his own age. The school-house of the neighboring settlement was five miles distant,” according to Cornelius Van Santvoord’s memoir of Nott. Taught to read and memorize by his mother, he later lived with and worked in the home of his much older brother Samuel, who was a Congregational minister who favored whippings as discipline and served as a school teacher, having graduated from Yale. Eliphalet studied under his brother and became a teacher himself and before he was 20 was appointed principal of the Plainfield Academy. Preferring his mother’s gentler ways to his brothers, he determined to “substitute moral motives in the place of the rod,” running very much against the current of the time. He also became a preacher in the Congregational Church, married the daughter of the Rev. Joel Benedict, and set out as a missionary, traveling through Albany on his way to Oswego, then coming partway back to the Cherry Valley, where he settled and brought his wife to live in 1796.

His wife, Sarah, became sickly after the birth of their first son in December 1797, and she went to Ballston Springs (Spa) in the summer of 1798 to take the waters, remaining there several months. Eliphalet, traveling to a meeting the Albany Presbytery was holding in Washington County, chanced to stay over at an inn at Union and Ferry streets in Schenectady, and attended a religious meeting conducted by Rev. John Blair Smith, president of Union College, right across the street from the inn. They met, each most impressed with the other, and this led to Smith’s recommendation that Nott take charge of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany at Pearl and Beaver streets, which took place in October 1798. He would also become co-chaplain of the State Legislature. He also, through his friendship with Smith, became a trustee of Union College. He became nationally famous for a sermon he gave on the death of Alexander Hamilton, which became the manifesto of the anti-dueling movement.

As mentioned before, Union had gotten off to a rocky start, with insufficient funds and insufficient students. It relied heavily on State funding and would require even more. With the departure of its third president in only nine years, Union’s trustees asked Nott, who had been trying to create free common schools in Albany, to head the institution. His wife had just died, he had four children to care for, and, as the Encyclopedia of Union College History writes, “he appears to have developed doubts that the ministry was an adequate base for effecting the changes he believed necessary to realize in America the achievement of its divine mission, the one he had made the subject of an inspiring series of sermons.”

Taking the presidency, Nott used his connections to lobby for a lottery that would benefit the college (yes, lotteries and education go way, way back). It was in cutting this deal that a number of State officials first swelled the ranks of the trustees of Union, but he gained approval in 1805 for four lotteries totaling $80,000, nearly half of which was stipulated for buildings. The Encyclopedia says:

“By the end of the decade Nott was certain enough of the success of the lottery to proceed with his plans for a college to match or outdo those well established along the Atlantic coast – Harvard, Yale, Rhode Island (Brown), Queens (Rutgers) and Princeton. Using his own slender assets and the large ones of his second wife, the widow Gertrude Peebles Tibbits whom he had married in 1807, Nott bought more than 250 acres of land on the outskirts of the city, and had a foundation laid for North College. Then in 1812-13 he took advantage of the temporary presence in the area of the distinguished French architect Joseph Ramée, and engaged him to draw plans for an entire college campus on Nistiquona Hill.”

Biting off even more, Nott asked the Legislature in 1814 to approve $274,000 to benefit Hamilton College, New York City’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Asbury African Church, and Union College (which would get $200,000 of that sum). Nott lived in Albany and lobbied full-time to make this happen. He was successful, although ultimately the lottery wasn’t, and in the end Nott borrowed money from financier William James and got Union into some extensive “side deals, speculation in a variety of uncertain ventures, secret agreements, siphoning of receipts into private pockets, tortuous bookkeeping and none at all, law suits, a case in chancery court, and in the end investigation by a hostile legislative committee which besmeared the president with charges of self-dealing and the trustees with equally serious charges of dereliction of duty.” Eventually, all were exonerated, and Nott continued as president of Union College, serving for 61 years until his death in 1866.

He also served as president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in its early years (under other names), from 1829-1845, while simultaneously heading up Union. According to RPI, he “visited the school at least every third week and was compensated with one dollar per visit plus all graduation fees.” It appears not to have been a terribly taxing post at the time, but under his leadership Rensselaer became the first civilian school to graduate civil engineers (in 1835). Union offered a degree in civil engineering after Nott resigned from Rensselaer in 1845. Nott’s memoir, interestingly, mentions this not at all.

In addition to being a man of religion, Nott was a man of science. He worked at inventing, focusing primarily on boilers, but he also famously invented the first stove that could use anthracite coal, which was a big deal at the time. It is said that the acquired 30 patents, but the Nott Stove, which was built by his son’s company H. Nott and Co., was by far the most successful. Nott was also an ardent temperance advocate throughout his life.

In 1859, aged 86, Eliphalet Nott suffered a severe paralytic stroke, but he worked at recovering from that, and proved well enough that he was able to travel to Philadelphia to spend time with his son. He returned to Schenectady in 1860 and continued his duties at the college. He did well, but in 1864 began to decline, and he lingered on until January 29, 1866.

 

 

Union College

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West College (Stone College)

West College (Stone College), believed to have been designed by Philip Hooker.

Since we were recently talking about the earliest schools in Schenectady, we should focus on the institution of higher education that grew out of those early efforts, Union College. It was founded in 1795 as an outgrowth (always anticipated) of the Schenectady Academy, which had started 10 years before. Originally, the college conducted classes on the upper floor of the Academy’s building on the north corner of Union and Ferry streets. The first trustees had prominent Schenectady names like Ten Broeck, Yates, Vrooman, Glen, and Romeyn, along with others; when the charter was amended in 1806, state officials were added as trustees, including the Chancellor, justices of the Supreme Court, the Secretary of State, Comptroller, Treasurer, Attorney-General and Surveyor-General. Later, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor were also named as trustees.

George Rogers Howell and John Munsell, in their 1886 History of the County of Schenectady, wrote that:

The name “Union College” was given as expressing the intention of uniting all religious sects in a common interest for the common good, by offering equal advantages to all, with preference to none. It is believed that this is the first college in the United States not confessedly denominational in its character.

It was originally organized October 19, 1795, with the election of Rev. John Blair Smith of Philadelphia as president; John Taylor, A.M., professor of mathematics and natural philosophy (today we call it science); and Rev. Andrew Yates, professor of Latin and Greek. First degrees were conferred upon three young men in May, 1797, in the old Reformed Dutch Church. Smith was followed by Rev. Jonathan Edwards (son of that Rev. Jonathan Edwards. Edwards began the effort to build a new stone building facing south at the northwest corner of the intersection of Union Street and what is now Erie Blvd. (This according to the Encyclopedia of Union College History). The building was unnamed but known as Stone College, later West College, and it was then on the eastern edge of the city (it picked up the “west” appellation once Union moved to its current location). It is thought the building was designed by Albany’s Philip Hooker, and that it was inspired by Nassau Hall at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Lack of money slowed construction. The trustees sold the Schenectady Academy building to raise money for the new one (but continued to hold classes there), and received assistance from the State. Edwards died in 1801 and was succeeded by Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, a Baptist from Providence, R.I., who left in 1804. The building was still unfinished.

Then came the Rev. Eliphalet Nott, whose impact on the Schenectady of his day certainly warrants discussion on its own. He came to a college whose future was far from assured. As the History says, Dr. Nott found the college wanting both means and students. Its proposed endowment was undersubscribed; sums of money came from the State, but a considerable amount of State assistance was in the form of land, including 10 lots of 550 acres each “in the military tract” [presumably the tract in the northern counties of the state, then still quite unsettled] for the support of the president and professors, and the sale of garrison lands near Lake George. The new building started by Dr. Edwards in 1798 (Stone College) was just being finished, and there was considerable debt. So the trustees did the logical thing and started planning for a much larger college, far out of the city. That actually wasn’t unwise, as the building was overcrowded by 1806. That may because the three-and-a-half story building contained classrooms, dining hall, a chapel, a central room, student dormitory rooms and a residence for the president, in addition to housing the Schenectady grammar school.

On Dec. 15, 1812, the city bought Stone College in exchange for 3000 acres of common lands in Schenectady County. It’s not clear if those included the land that the college soon built on, but much of it was sold off (and some city residents were highly critical of the exchange).
Union moved to its current campus in 1814. In 1831, it bought West College back from Schenectady, which had been using it for city and county offices, courthouse, and jail. The College pressed it back into service as classroom and dormitory space.

So, how did Union College end up where it ended up? According to the Encyclopedia, the trustees appointed Nott, Joseph C. Yates, James Duane and Abraham Oathout as a committee to seek a site for the college on “high lands bordering on the second ward of the city.” They were unsuccessful in getting a donation, and the college lacked the funds, so it was just fortunate that Eliphalet Nott happened to come into some money by way of marriage. His second wife, Gertrude Tibbits, was the widow of Troy merchant Benjamin Tibbits, a woman of means who apparently felt no compunctions about sharing those means with her new husband and the college. They assembled about 300 acres by 1812, at a reported cost of $13,692.96. North and South Colleges were built by 1814, and that took care of Union’s needs forever. Well, not quite.

In 1831, it bought West College back from Schenectady, which had been using it for city and county offices, courthouse, and jail. The College pressed it back into service as classroom and dormitory space.

For the next twenty-three years, Union was divided. Eventually, if not at once, freshmen and sophomores lived and attended classes in the old building, a peculiar choice on Nott’s part, given that the routing of the Erie Canal directly in front of Stone College in 1825 had made the city – from which Nott was much concerned to protect his charges – a seamier place.

New construction in the mid-1850s would allow the college to be consolidated once again and to once again sell West College to the city of Schenectady, which made it into the Union School, the first true public school in the city. The old building was finally torn down in 1890, replaced by the Union Street School, which only lasted into the 1940s. The site is now a parking lot with an historical marker noting the location of West College.

West College