Category Archives: Schenectady

It’s NOT 40 Miles from Schenectady to Troy

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FortyMiles2.pngAmong the greatest songs of Gustave Kerker (No. 14 on the Honor Roll of Popular Songwriters, according to Billboard magazine, back in 1949) was a tune he wrote, with lyrics by Hugh Morton, for an 1896 show called “In Gay New York” that was featured at the Casino Theater in New York City. Even in 1949, Billboard noted that Kerker was one of Tin Pan Alley’s forgotten men. Among the songs in that show was the inexplicably titled “It’s Forty Miles from Schenectady to Troy” (preserved for us by the New York Public Library).

“I’m going on the stage,” said the pale-faced youth,
“I’m going on the stage, and I’ll be another Booth.”
“Before you go,” said the second old man,
“You want to get the thickest pair of boots that you can
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy;
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk
To the gay Rialto in New York.”

Chorus:
It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The art of the stage is a very high art”
Said the youth as he placed his hand upon his heart
The old man said, with tears in his eyes,
“You’ll find it isn’t higher than the railroad ties!
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

Chorus:
It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The actor-man is a being most rare,”
The pale-faced youth then proceeded to declare.
The old man said, “Undoubtedly he’s sweet,
But he ought to be born with an extra pair of feet,
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

Chorus:
It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

Of course, it isn’t 40 miles from Schenectady to Troy, even if you walk it, and The Schenectady and Troy Railroad begn running in 1841, making fairly short work of the 21 miles between the Electric City and the Collar City (though at that time Schenectady was still stronger in the broom department, and Troy was pumping iron).

The Great Western Gateway Exposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction of the Great Western Gateway Bridge

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


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A FOUR CONTRACT JOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Plans for the Great Western Gateway Bridge

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


Great Western Gateway Plans Are Approved

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Bridge that Preceded It

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

The bridge carried the following tolls:

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

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

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

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.