Category Archives: Schenectady

The Great Western Gateway Bridge: The Life of the Citizen is at Stake

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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.

The Great Western Gateway: There Will Be Speechifying

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Western Gateway Bridge.jpgAs Schenectady grew into an industrial powerhouse and State Street grew into a thriving commercial district, and as automobiles began to become an important form of transportation, it became clear that the old bridge across the Mohawk, an iron trestle affair that carried trolleys across between Washington Avenue and the end of the dike (Schonowe Avenue in Scotia), was no longer going to cut it. And so plans began to build a grand new replacement, christened “The Great Western Gateway Bridge.” There was a state commission, there were hearings, there were reports. And when it was all being tied up into a nice neat bow, there was some speechifying.

The Great Western Gateway Commission held a hearing at the Schenectady High School on Dec. 1, 1915, gathering support for any of the five or six options that were then before the Commission. Dr. Richmond of Union College said there were only two worthy of serious consideration: one from the end of Union Street to the Sanders Residence (you know it as the Glen-Sanders Mansion, which at the time was not completely obscured by a massive banquet facility), and the other from the end of State Street to Mohawk Avenue. (That second route seems like a straight shot to us now, but it really wasn’t until the current bridge was built around 1974, when the Mohawk Avenue approach was realigned, the Binnekill filled in and the inconvenient westward bend of State Street considerably softened by a much less perceptible curve in the bridge ramp.)

“I think you will find very cogent arguments for the route from the foot of State street to the foot of Mohawk avenue, Scotia. That is the only adequate answer to this demand. Farsighted managers of railways and subways, layers out of the great highways, are willing to go to almost any expense to take out the curves. We must remember that a bridge is not like a summer bonnet . . . which is as a flower of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast away. Any bridge which we build in these enlightened times should stand at least two or three hundred years . . . Huge indeed has been the waste in this State and in all of our cities because we had constantly to undo the mistakes of the past and do them over again.”

Sadly, anyone who remembers the beautiful, graceful Western Gateway Bridge that was built after this hearing most likely knows two things about it. First, they didn’t take out the curve. Far from it; it had a spectacular curve that cars sailed off of with alarming regularity, so that in latter days the concrete wall was held up with steel cables and still cars challenged it. Second, it didn’t last two or three hundred years. In fact, it didn’t quite make 50.

Oh, there will be more speechifying in the days to come.

Lurie’s: No More Stamps for 1925

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LuriesadsSchenectadyGazette1-3-1925.pngLurie’s was a little remembered Schenectady department store at the corner of State and Ferry, which would have put it right in the vicinity of Barney’s. (It’s possible it was related to the M. Lurie Company of Amsterdam, and it’s possible it wasn’t.) They sold all kinds of clothing and fabrics, and gave away their own trading stamps. At least, until 1925. On January 3, they put the public on notice — they would redeem all Lurie stamps, but there would be no more stamps for 1925.

Downtown Schenectady, Then and (almost) Now

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State Street 1978 and 2007An odd departure, but I always have a hard time remembering what little stores were where in the downtown Schenectady of my youth, and it’s harder now that this (fortunately preserved) section of State Street is being rehabbed. So, above, a lousy picture I took on a cold, dreary afternoon in 1978; below, a pic of the works in progress from 2007. The building at the farthest right above is gone, replaced by the new Bowtie Cinemas building. I’m sorry I didn’t get any shots of it before it was taken down, it was magnificent.

Before the commercial takeover of “upper” State Street, above the Erie Canal, after the Canal closed in the early part of the 20th century, this area was still largely private homes. I suspect all four of these buildings in the new shot were once homes, and were surrounded then by the Carl Co. building on the left and Witbeck Hardware (the tall tower) on the right.

 As much as we think things are stable, they’re not. Just 14 years before my 1978 picture, nearly all the busineses in this shot were different. In 1964, the Time Center Jewelers was there, but there was also the Four Twenty Eight Restaurant and Marshall’s Foot Wear. The sign that says “Peggy’s” had previously said Fox & Murphy, a sporting goods store. Bern’s Camera was alone in the Close Building.The building housing the Squire Shop may have been vacant in 1964; the Squire Shop was then down by the overpass, next to the Gazette. There was a place called Rudolph Bros. Inc, and the Vendome Restaurant, which must have decamped from the original Vendome Hotel, which had been across the street.

My grandmother waitressed in Peggy’s Restaurant for a number of years after Wallace’s Department Store closed. She originally went there with the woman who managed the Wallace’s restaurant, Agnes Beauville, who opened and operated Beauville’s. Before too long it was sold and became Peggy’s.

it all looks a far sight better than it did in 1978.

What’s up in the publishing world, 1919

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Ran across an edition of “The American Printer” from August, 1919, which featured a series of short blurbs informative of what was going on with printers and publishers in New York State that summer. Among them:

  • The Schenectady Union-Star has changed its mechanical equipment to print an eight column, 12½ em page, instead of a seven column, 13 em page.
  • Fire in the composing room of the Albany Times-Union did several hundred dollars’ damage recently. The blaze started at 5 o’clock in the morning, but was soon under control.
  • George Edward Rines, editor of the “Encyclopedia Americana,” which is printed by the J.B. Lyon Printing Company, of Albany, told at a dinner of the Rotary Club of Albany recently how the big work is printed.
  • Leon M. Burt, of the job department of the Schenectady Union-Star, recently joined the benedicts. The bride was Miss Gertrude Bangs, of Springfield, Mass. Fellow workers presented Burt with a kitchen set.
  • Beginning September 1, the Schenectady Division of The Capital District Typothetae will meet every Monday night. Estimating classes will be formed, under direction of H.C. Alvord, secretary-treasurer of the Capital District Typothetae.
  • The Schenectady newspaper publishers and the International Typographical Union have agreed to a raise for the Schenectady printers amounting to four dollars a week. The scale is now $29 for day work and $32.50 for the night shifts. The contract runs to Dec. 15, 1920.
  • The plant of the Schenectady Gazette Press is being enlarged, and it is expected the job department will be twice its present size when the work is completed. The newspaper composing room is also being enlarged. Fred Frost, chairman of the Schenectady section of the Capital District Typothetae, is superintendent of the job department.
  • Albany printers are watching with interest the development of a Junior Printers’ Association, which was devised by youngsters interested in the “art preservative.” Many of the youngsters have their own small presses, and they plan get-together meetings to learn the game, hoping eventually to land with some of the printshops in Albany or vicinity. Raymond Warshaw is president and John H. Bielman secretary. Both are sons of employing printers in Albany.
  • Several thousand dollars’ damage was done by a fire in the plant of the Budget, which conducts a job printing plant as well as prints a weekly newspaper, at Troy, July 21. The fire damaged the main press, consumed twenty rolls of paper and two barrels of ink, and threatened at one time to spread to other departments of the paper. The Budget was recently purchased by Thomas H. Curry and Albert A. McNaughton, after being controlled for more than a century by the family of Major Charles A. MacArthur.

So, for you young’uns who never slung hot lead across a Ludlow (and, in all honesty, neither did I, at least not in real production), here are a few things you may not know:

  • A “typothetae” was a common name for a master printers’ association.
  • “Estimating” was a critical skill, not only in the days of lead type, but in photo-typesetting as well. When you laid out a page, you didn’t know how long an article was going to be; you had to estimate how long it was going to come out. The only thing that was guaranteed was that you’d be wrong. Now if you’re wrong, you just push a virtual button and change everything; then that was simply impossible.
  • Narrow columns (eight, rather than seven, for the Union-Star) were all the rage into the ’60s and ’70s. It was big news when The New York Times finally abandoned its rigidly gray, intensely vertical format, and, to my mind, even bigger news when The Schenectady Gazette did the same.
  • An em is a printing measure. It’s equal to the height of the type size being used; so if you’re using 8-point type, an em space is 8 points. But when the size isn’t specified, it’s 12 points.
  • A “benedict” was a newly married man who had long been a bachelor, taken from Benedick of “Much Ado About Nothing.” A kitchen set is a perfectly good thing to give a benedict.

The Schenectady Massacre Sign

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Schenectady massacreI love this sign at the entrance to Schenectady at the Western Gateway Bridge. Love it so much. Because where else will you find a metal silhouette of a massacre? The sign itself should be a national landmark. It says, “Welcome to our city! People were once brutally murdered here!” The only thing this sign lacks is the apocryphal snowmen guarding the gates of the Stockade.

There were originally two other signs around town, one depicting a stagecoach, the other I believe depicting the first railroad. They disappeared fairly early on, and it is thought they were just scrapped. Can you imagine?

The lettering portion of the sign was actually remade when the sign was moved, at the opening of the new Western Gateway Bridge, around 1973. Unfortunately, it was recently redone again, not restored, and I can’t say I like the way it looks.

Here’s the short version of the story of the Schenectady Massacre.

Promoting Downtown

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It’s been some time now that newspapers have been trying to promote city downtowns, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the Schenectady Union-Star, before it abandoned Schenectady entirely, sponsored a big shopping promotion called “Suburban Day,” which they described as “A united endeavor on the part of the Union-Star and the leading retailers of Schenectady to emphasize the advantages of Schenectady as a Shopping Center to every shopper within reasonable trading radius of Schenectady.”

The story about it in Editor & Publisher was subtitled, “Great Newspaper Shows the Way in Boosting Business and Permanently Benefiting Merchants of the City.” It was a huge deal. They got all the downtown merchants to put on their own promotions, “values that would be instantly recognized by the most indifferent shopper as GENUINE bargains.” There were cash prizes for an essay contest on the unsurprising theme of “Why Schenectady is the Best Shopping Center in Eastern New York.” The newspaper released balloons into the skies with special rewards for their return to certain merchants. There were special sections of the paper and signs on the trolleys.

“Did this campaign produce results? The word results hardly does it justice. Nothing short of an avalanche was produced.”

And when was it that the Union-Star felt it necessary to trumpet the virtues of downtown shopping, to convince people from “more than fifty-five centers of population” to come into the city? One could be forgiven for surmising it was from the start of the decline, sometime in the 1960s, when much of the populace had moved out of the city, the stores were collapsing, and the newspaper itself was about to head off to Albany to be subsumed into the Knickerbocker News.

But in fact, Suburban Day was June 23, 1921.

An old-time newspaperman

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While perusing old editions of Editor and Publisher, we came across this little reminder that in the old days, there tended to be two kinds of newspapermen: the ones who were lifers at a single publication, and the ones who worked all over the place. Here’s the obituary of one of the latter type who made his career in the tri-cities, John A. Sleicher.

Albany, N.Y., May 5 [1921] – John A. Sleicher died at his home here to-day. He was in his 73rd year. Mr. Sleicher was born in Troy, N.Y. on October 4, 1848, and began his newspaper training on the old Troy Whig, afterward the Record. Later he became city editor of the Troy Whig, then the Press, still later the Times and subsequently a part owner of the Times. He eventually sold his interest in the Times and bought the Schenectady Union.

Having thus had considerable experience on small city daily papers, he became editor and part owner of the Albany Evening Journal. When he came to New York City, it was as editor of the Mail and Express, which position he held until he became supervisor of the City Record. In May, 1905, Mr. Sleicher was made president of the Judge Company, which published Leslie’s Weekly and Judge. He resigned as editor of the Mail and Express to become Supervisor of the City Record under Mayor Strong.

Mr. Sleicher had been ill for some time. When on February 23, last Judge Manton of the federal court appointed a receiver for the Leslie-Judge Company, it was said that the company’s embarrassment was largely due to Mr. Sleicher’s illness.

So here was a journalist who worked for six newspapers in the Capital District, had ownership in three of them, and then went on to run the company that published two of the largest circulation publications of their day. Not many could say that today, though it must be said that it’s amazing that three daily newspapers continue to serve the three cities.

From Crane Street to Burma

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While we’re having a little local video festival this week, take a gander at this scene from “Objective, Burma!” If you’re the impatient type, you can jump ahead to about 1:10, where Lt. Jacobs (played by Nichols, NY native and Cornell graduate William Prince) explains the place he’d rather be than Burma: Cannonball Island, Central Park. “Schenectady, New York. They have a Central Park, too, with this island in the middle. Sorta take your girl there if you’re real friendly.”

Then there’s the mention of the Gazette, and the family grocery store on Crane Street (we’ll forgive the comment that it’s “right by the locomotive works”). And Union College.

And then comes the greatest line in cinematic history:

“And if only more folks back home would realize that Crane Street, Schenectady, runs all the way to Burma, this’d be the last war.”

Sad to say that these days, I think Lt. Jacobs would likely feel safer in Burma than on most of Crane Street.

A friend pointed me to a Daily Gazette article from a few years back that gave credit for the screenplay to Ranald McDougall, who was from the Electric City; the story’s author Alvah Bessie had no such connection, so it must have been a personal addition from McDougall, for whom this is the first screenwriting credit.

Schenectady’s Nonagenarian Industry

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AlcoMarker.pngYou just don’t get to use the term “nonagenarian” often enough. But in 1938, Schenectady’s Chamber of Commerce set aside a special day for celebration of the 90th anniversary of the locomotive industry in “The City That Lights and Hauls the World.”

On the afternoon of December 13, 1938, “before a large assemblage gathered in the finishing shop of the Alco plant, Mr. Lawrence G. Magner, President Schenectady Trust Company and President Schenectady Chamber of Commerce, presented to Mr. William C. Dickerman, President American Locomotive Company, a large, beautiful bronze plaque. . .  A Scotch setting, in honor of the founders, prevailed at the presentation. Miss Lorraine Ellen MacRae, attractively attired in kilts, unveiled the plaque, and Mr. James Copeland, also in Scotch attire, provided bagpipe music.

“In the evening over 500 Schenectadians and guests attended a dinner, the feature of the Celebration, at the Hotel Van Curler. This dinner was sponsored by the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Lawrence G. Magner, President of the Chamber, acted as Toastmaster. Honorable Oswald D. Heck, Speaker New York State Assembly, and Honorable Robert W. Baxter, Mayor of Schenectady, both paid tribute to the courageous Schenectady group of men who founded the locomotive industry in this City. Mrs. Charles A. Harrell, City Manager Schenectady, presented awards to the successful contestants in the model locomotive contest conducted in connection with the anniversary celebration . . . .

“Entertainment features were under the direction of Mr. John R. Sheehan, and included Miss Joyce Wishart, Scotch dancer, accompanied by Piper Robert Dixon; Miss Ruth Filburn, radio vocalist; and a double quartet from the Schubert Club composed of Messrs. Neil O. Sheldon, E.T. Grout, Walter Melber, H.B. Haig, J.A. Chapman, F.M. Alexander, W.K. Boyd, Jr., and E.W. Wiese. Dinner music was furnished by the Rice String Trio.”

I’d love to know if perchance that plaque is still anywhere on the former Alco site, though I’m almost certain that’s too much to hope for.