Category Archives: Schenectady

When Bridges Were Bridges

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Bridge over Mohawk River at Scotia.jpgNot sure just when this undated postcard of the original Western Gateway Bridge was made, but the bridge itself, a graceful concrete arch structure, opened in December 1925. Previously, Schenectady and Scotia were connected by a trolley bridge between Schonowe Avenue and Washington Avenue.

Four men died in an accident during the Western Gateway’s construction in 1923, and a missing fifth contributed to the persistent rumor that one man was encased in a concrete arch footing. (Larry Hart finally put this rumor to rest.) There was a weeklong celebration of its opening in the summer of 1924, including fireworks on the river that drew 75,000 people.

It was demolished in 1974, having been replaced by a graceless steel span that was given the same name despite being unlovely and not having a dangerous curve. Many of the Belgian pavers that made up its deck found their way into local walkways and gardens.

State Street, Schenectady, Then and Then

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State Street Schenectady trolley tracks.jpg Again from the Boston Public Library collection, a wonderful postcard view looking east up State Street from the railroad overpass. Some genius of car-bonnet dating could probably narrow the age down for us, but the trolleys were still running. On the left was Jay Jewelry, and just across Broadway was Woolworth’s. You can’t really make out much of the next two buildings, but the next tall one on the left is Wallace’s. On the right, the Hotel Hough, home to Rudolph’s Jewelers. The next tall building up from that was Clark Witbeck’s hardware concern. And, of course, Proctor’s, which then had a vertical sign.
State Street Schenectady.jpg In this somewhat later view, sometime in the ’50s, the trolley tracks are gone. On the left you get a better view of The Imperial Shop, and then Jay Jewelry (missing its distinctive sign). The angle here lets you make out the Planter’s Peanuts store over in the Hough. Proctor’s vertical sign is gone.

Schenectady Rug and Carpet

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Schenectady Rug 1.jpg

From the files of the Boston Public Library come these three postcard views of something less than a landmark, the Schenectady Rug and Carpet Store. It was at 789 State Street in Schenectady, about at the corner of Hulett, in a building that is now gone.

Big on slogans, they were. “Home means more with carpet on the floor.” “Trade-in your carpet like you trade-in your car.” “No parking problem.”

Schenectady Rug 3.jpg I’m not sure what the order of the businesses was, but suspect that Schenectady Rug & Carpet was the successor to, or just the new name of, Bailey Rug Co.
Schenectady Rug 2.jpg At the very least, I know that Bailey Rug was in operation in 1939, having found ads in the Schenectady Gazette from that year. And they were open evenings, as this romantic view of the Bailey Rug Company at night suggests.

The rural school nurse

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Rural School Nurse report.pngIn 1916, Schenectady County schools were dissatisfied with the use of physicians to give students medical inspections: “cards were filled out and filed and nothing further was done; no attempt was made to correct defects discovered and no emphasis placed upon healthful habits of living, diet and sanitation.” So they appointed Miss Mildred B. Curtis as school nurse and charged her with inspecting students in eight rural school districts in Glenville, Niskayuna and Rotterdam. “Miss Curtis began her duties on January 10, 1916 and worked for the remainder of the school year . . . Her work has been so successful that eleven school districts have joined in engaging her for the next school year.”

In those few months, Miss Curtis inspected 1280 students, many of whom might otherwise have never seen a health professional. That she found 512 to be “defective” shouldn’t be read as the modern pejorative; a footnote explains that “most of the defects are grouped about the head, as defects of vision, hearing, teeth, tonsils, etc.” That she found so many with defective teeth should be no surprise, either as this was a time when Colgate was on a vigorous campaign to give away¬† toothpaste to school children along with a card explaining how to brush one’s teeth. That the number of “mouth breathers” (also not pejorative, but considered unhealthful and a sign of sinus problems) outran the number of “backward” students may be a good thing, and it’s rather surprising that the number of cases of lice (“pediculosis”) was so low.

The main purpose in hiring Miss Curtis was to ensure there was follow-up, which the contracted physicians never provided. “The follow-up work in the homes has brought me into close contact with the children and parents and has enabled me to explain directly to the parents the nature of the child’s defect and the probable result of its neglect, and also to offer free medical service to the poor deserving children, and my assistance in bringing the children to the city for examination or treatment when for various reasons the parents have not been able to bring them.”

Another view of the Burr Bridge

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Tripp-003 Mohawk River Bridge.jpgLast year the Grems-Doolittle Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society featured the photographs of early Schenectady photographer Henry Tripp. Since yesterday we heard the story of cows falling through the old Burr bridge that connected Schenectady to Scotia, today we’ll take a look at Tripp’s great photo of the Washington Avenue approach to the bridge. Unfortunately, the photo is undated, but it’s probably from somewhere around 1871, when the old 1806 wooden cable bridge (yes, there can be wooden cables) was dismantled, to be replaced by an iron structure using the same piers, which was completed in 1874.

Prominent across the top is the painted legend “ONE DOLLAR FINE FOR CROSSING THIS BRIDGE FASTER THAN ON A WALK.” Beneath that, interestingly, are advertisements, for such things as “Peruvian Syrup for the Blood,” “Wister’s Balsam,” and H.S. Edwards’ hardware store. It’s clear that demolition has begun, as the roof, added in 1830 to protect the bridge, has already come down in places, and there is a sign on the center post that says “NO ONE ALLOWED ON THIS BRIDGE.”

Why these gentlemen are arrayed across the entrance is not clear – the dandies up front may have been the builders of the new bridge, and the less well-dressed gentlemen in the background may have been the demolition crew. Or they all could have just been some Schenectadians with time on their hands to pose for a photograph. Not clear. All this wood was carted away and most of it re-used, in local barns and by a match company.

While the iron bridge that replaced this was in service until 1926 (and torn down ten years later), its abutment is still visible at the end of Washington Avenue. In fact, an aerial view of the Washington Avenues in Schenectady and Scotia makes it pretty clear what path the original bridge took; the avenues align perfectly.

By the way, Theodore Burr, because of his innovative, patented bridge designs, deserves to be at least as famous as his cousin Aaron.

Cows Below!

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Old Mohawk Bridge.pngSchenectady, Oct. 14, 1857:

“The flooring of the old Mohawk bridge gave way this forenoon, precipitating about fifty head of cattle a distance of eighteen feet into the river. Only one of the cows was hurt. This is the first accident that has occurred since the building of the bridge, by Theodore Burr, in 1808. It is expected to be repaired by to-morrow morning.”

We’ve written about Burr’s old bridge between Schenectady and Scotia before.

Patton & Hall Shoes

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Patton & Hall 1921.pngWhen this ad ran in 1921, Schenectady’s Patton & Hall shoes was a thriving business, with additional stores in Amsterdam and Saratoga. The company occupied a large building on State Street, just a few doors closer to Erie Boulevard than Barney’s, and catered to the same “carriage trade.” I’m not sure just when they went out of business, but their building still stands, with a great ghost sign on its west side.

Patton Hall shoes sign

Patton Hall sign

Phone on Moving Trolley

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Phone on moving trolley.pngPerhaps the first version of a carphone? In 1921, General Electric successfully used carrier current communication, which transmits a low power AM signal through alternating current lines, to communicate from a moving trolley car “with a point more than three miles distant. Considering radio itself was still in its infancy, that seems a pretty impressive feat.

Helen Keller will not work in Schenectady

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A curious item from almost exactly 101 years ago, in the Detroit Free Press:


John Macy, With Whose Family She Lives, Resigns His Position With Mayor.

“Schenectady, N.Y., Sept. 21 – John Macy, executive secretary to Mayor George R. Lunn, has tendered his resignation, to take effect immediately.

“He gives as a reason his wife’s illness, stating that it is necessary for him to return at once to his home in Wreckham [sic: Wrentham], Mass.

“The departure of Mr. Macy will mean that Helen Keller, the famous blind girl, will not come to this city and become a member of the municipal public welfare board as planned. The position has been kept open by Mayor Lunn for her as Mr. Macy expected to move his family here this fall.

“Miss Keller makes her home with Mrs. Macy and has since her childhood. Mayor Lunn was surprised by the resignation as today was the first time that Mr. Macy had intimated leaving the socialists in Schenectady. No successor has yet been named.”

The story just seems odd as can be, until one learns that Mrs. Macy was better known to the world by her maiden name, Annie Sullivan. John Albert Macy was a writer and editor from the Boston area who met Helen Keller when she was attending Radcliffe. He learned to communicate with Keller, and for a few years pressed Sullivan to marry him, which she did in 1905. He developed strong socialist beliefs which Keller shared, and wrote extensively on the topic, which is likely what brought him to the attention of George Lunn, Schenectady’s socialist mayor. The association didn’t last, obviously, and neither did the marriage; Macy and Sullivan divorced in 1914.

$10 down and $2 a week

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Hampton Manor Ad 1927 3.jpgAs we mentioned yesterday, in 1927 the suburbs of Albany were starting to boom. Veeder Realty was pushing two new developments, Birchwood Park and Hampton Manor. Birchwood Park was between stops 18 and 19 on the Schenectady Railway Company trolley line to Albany, somewhere in Colonie. As far as we can tell, Birchwood Park is lost to time, though no doubt some of the homes still exist. Hampton Manor, as noted yesterday, was and remains a tidy little development in East Greenbush. Neither place can be accessed by trolley, and Hampton Manor’s direct bus service was cut last year.

Even by 1927 standards, $10 down and $2 a week doesn’t seem like a lot of money for buying a lot.

“The plan enables you to start building without the usual method of first paying up for the lot. A small amount of cash secures the lot and starts the building . . . and the balance is paid same as rent but considerably less than most rents are these days! Act at once. The liberality of the plan may bring a demand that we cannot meet. First come, first served. At least INVESTIGATE!”