Category Archives: Schenectady

The Kermis: think of it as cosplaying the Dutch

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So yesterday we started to describe the excitement around the first Kermis to be held in America, which was put on in Schenectady in 1948 as part of its sesquicentennial anniversary noting its chartering as a city. The rest of the article from the Altamont Enterprise is well worth perusing, especially if you wonder about a time when an entire city could be expected to cosplay (at least down to their feet) and men were encouraged to smoke pipes for the week. Fair warning: do not play a drinking game for every time some form of the word “gay” appears in this article.

The Kermis will be held both in and outdoors, the new state armory in Schenectady and a city park directly opposite having been engaged for the event. In the park, there will be a merry-go-round, ferris wheel and a number of other carnival attractions, including the Dutch food booths. In the armory there will be 80 or more exhibit booths and a stage for a nightly show by strictly Dutch performers. Highlighting the exhibits will be a collection of 12 paintings by the old Dutch masters, valued at $200,000 and a Dutch village of 11 typical Dutch buildings and stores, being sent to Schenectady from Holland especially for this Kermis.

Another unique and outstanding attraction of the Kermis will be a Dutch barrel organ, also being sent from the Netherlands for this celebration. This instrument, which somewhat resembles a circus wagon with its ornamental bright red and gold decorations, is reputed to “make more noise than two or three brass bands.” It is moved about by horses and played by means of perforated paper rolls. Operated by persons in Dutch costumes this organ will be moved about neighboring cities a few days before the opening of the Kermis for advertising purposes. There is but one other barrel organ in the country, and this rests among the exhibits of the Dutch museum at Holland, Mich., a gift from the Netherlands in reciprocation for what that city has done in promoting the annual tulip festival.

The entire city will assume a gay Dutch attire for Kermis week. On each street pole will be large Dutch windmills with blades which will turn with the breeze. American and Dutch flags will be in evidence everywhere, the business stores will be gaily decorated and all residents of the city have been asked to appear in Dutch costumes during the three days of the Kermis, except possibly for wooden shoes which it was agreed would be too difficult a job for persons unaccustomed to them. All men, however, have been asked to smoke the long stem church warden clay pipes that week.

Authentic Dutch costumes, sent from Holland, have been on display in Schenectady, so people can make their own attire. Interest aroused in their exhibit indicates the spirit with which the residents are responding to the invitation to dress like the Dutch for the Kermis.

To carry out traditions of this country which generally prevail at all gay festivals, two additions to the Dutch idea of the Kermis are being added to Schenectady’s celebration. There will be a King and Queen of the Kermis, elected by popular vote of the city’s residents, and a fireworks display the last two nights, originating from a floating barge in the Mohawk river, which flows past the Kermis grounds.

According to Clyde D. Wagoner, chairman of the Kermis committee, this three-day celebration promises to be one of the gayest and most unique ever held in Schenectady and an event which should attract 25,000 or more to Schenectady each night for “no one in these parts has ever seen a Kermis before.”

Kermis Week in Schenectady

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kermis_week_in_schenectady.jpgThis postcard from the great Tichnor Collection posted by the Boston Public Library on Flickr raises the interesting question: What’s a Kermis?

Well, the Altamont Enterprise of June 18, 1948 is very glad you asked:

Schenectady, founded by Arent Van Curler and a party of 15 Holland Dutchmen in 1662, is going to be given back to the Dutch for a three-day period the last week in June [1948] when the first Dutch Kermis ever to be held in this country will be staged with all the fanfare and atmosphere which tend to make these festivals among the gayest events of the year in the Netherlands.

Schenectady was not chartered until 1798 and the Kermis will highlight the many events to mark the city’s sesquicentennial being celebrated this year. To whet the appetites of Schenectadians for what to expect at the coming kermis, a real Dutch dinner was held as the inaugural event of the sesquicentennial on March 29. The menu was strictly Dutch, having been provided by the chef of the Niew Amsterdam of the Holland-American line. The main course was Leidsche Hotspot met Klapstuk, which according to the chef was nothing more than “Leiden Hodge Podge” with boiled beef. Actually hodge podge was a mixture of potatoes and carrots. What proved a real treat to the 400 unacquainted with Dutch meals was the Griesmeel pudding met bessen sap, which was served just before the dessert of Dutch cheese and Holland rusk. Not until the meal was over did they learn it was just a Dutch way of preparing cream of wheat pudding with red currant sauce.

The Kermis in Holland originated as a mass said on the anniversary of the founding of a church. In honor of the patron saint it was first known as a Kirmass. Such celebrations, in early years quite religious with church bells ringing throughout the town ot mark its opening, gradually assumed a festive air. First the church allowed feasting, then dancing and some sports, until today it has assumed the air of a gay carnival. They now last a week and scarcely anyone works; all join in seven days of gaiety and fun making. The hot dog stands, as we know them in America, serve “poffertjes,” little round pancake blobs of dough twisted and covered with butter and sugar, and “wafelens,” which are oblong wafers, also buttered and sugared. Both come hot off the griddle. Fish booths offer herring and the more aristocratic smoked eel. This is the merry-go-round, roundabout swings for the children and many other county fair attractions.

Schenectady’s Kermis will officially get under way on June 24 with a mammoth street parade of Dutch floats and hundreds of children and adults all dressed in costumes of the Netherlands. Carrying out the Holland tradition, in the forefront of this parade will be the “Geldersche Achterhoek” or Kermis pole with a stork’s nest on top on which will be mounted a stuffed bird. As this reaches the Kermis grounds, amid the tolling every church bell in the city, it will be erected as a signal for the official opening of festivities. Present at this ceremony will be Dr. Eelco van Kleffens, Netherlands ambassador to this country, and Dr. Willem Cnoop Koopmans, consul general, from New York, both of whom have accepted invitations from Schenectady’s Mayor Owen Begley to come to America’s first Kermis. At the close of the Kermis, the pole will be taken down, carried in solemn funeral procession to its “burial” spot to repose until another year.

Tomorrow: probably more about Kermis!

Entering Scotia

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Entering Scotia NY.jpgAnother view, this time from the topside, of the Western Gateway Bridge and its approach into Scotia. I always loved the concrete lattice details, which on the “new” bridge were replaced by steel guiderails and chain link fence, which I’m sure is lovely to someone (perhaps a junkyard dog), but not to me. (The Troy-Menands bridge still has similar lattice work on its approach on the Troy side.) The light poles were majestic.

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