Category Archives: Scotia

The Little Village That Could

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Scotia, NYHoxsie is nothing but rail talk these days, and combine that with news about the old hometown and it’s not possible to skip this one.

What is now the Village of Scotia is actually one of the oldest places in the area, with Alexander Lindsay building a home there in 1658, three years before Schenectady was established. But as a governmental entity, it didn’t seek incorporation until the early years of the 20th century, when it chose to become a separate entity from the Town of Glenville. That would seem simple, but it got hung up in a battle with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which opposed the creation of the village.

In 1902, the Albany Evening Journal reported that the New York Central had secured an injunction restraining the residents of Scotia from proceeding with incorporation of the village. In 1901 there had been a special election and proposition for incorporation. “At that time an action was brought by Messrs. Maynard and Collins, taxpayers of Scotia, to have the election set aside on the grounds that the town clerk at the time he issued the call for the election was not a resident.” That action failed, and failed again, and it looked like incorporation could move forward, until the New York Central brought opposition “on the grounds that, in defining the corporation limits, the railroad was unfairly treated and a larger share of the company’s property was included for the purpose of taxation than was necessary and just.” In other words, some of the NYC tracks had been gerrymandered in to the village. Given that the village’s northern boundary was proposed to extend just far enough to include the tracks, the railroad may have had a point.

That fight went on into 1904. A 1954 Schenectady Gazette article on the village’s 50th anniversary said that then “the railroad grew tired of its fight against the persistent efforts of the villagers, and the injunction was vacated when the railroad counsel ‘took a vacation.’ The village elected Dr. Herman Vedder Mynderse, whose home is now Lake Hill House, as its first president.”

 

 

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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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.

The Western Gateway Bridge, again

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Western Gateway Bridge.jpgI don’t think I’ve ever seen this view before (another one from the Boston Public Library collection), but it’s a fantastic picture of the Western Gateway Bridge. Sure, my unreasonable love for this bridge may be because it was the first bridge I really knew, and because I was pushed across it in a baby buggy until I could walk, and walked across it until it was demolished. But it could also because it was a structure of beauty and grace, the kind we hardly care about anymore. This excellent view from the northern sidewalk demonstrates just how much of a bend there was in the bridge, which was a crazy design. The current roadway still bends, but not so severely, and with the filling of the Binnekill (which is the water you see in this view), that part of the curve is no longer up in the air. Toward the end of its life, cars frequently went sailing off the bend, and the lovely concrete latticework was held in place with steel cables.

Just left of center is the Van Curler Hotel, now Schenectady County Community College. New buildings at the college mean that you can no longer see the Armory from the bridge.

Collins Park

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Collins Park pavilions.jpgOne last postcard view of the somewhat idyllic village of Scotia, NY. Or at least of its picnic pavilions. We noted a little bit of the history of Collins Park when we looked at the lovely village library. Growing up, Freedom Park and Maalwyck Park didn’t yet exist, and they’re both special-purpose parks. Collins had everything: swimming, sledding, picnicking, athletic fields, walking/biking paths, a playground, tennis and basketball courts … everything. We’re lucky that previous generations thought that providing a public space for general recreation and respite was important.

Mohawk Avenue, Scotia = Main Street, U.S.A.

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Mohawk Avenue Scotia.jpgAnother great postcard of Scotia, N.Y., from the Boston Public Library collection. This depicts Mohawk Avenue (State Route 5) looking west on one of the main commercial blocks of the village, sometime in the 1950s. On the left is Swire’s Department Store, one of the greatest little catch-all department stores of all time. I waxed nostalgic about it a decade back, at length, and concluded that its free cardboard boxes were perhaps its greatest gift to teenage boys with time (and matches) on their hands.

Further down on the left, the Scotia Cinema, still there to this day and doing better, in fact, than when I was a kid. Beyond that, the smattering of insurance businesses and drugstores (Dorf Arsmedic!) that made up the avenue.

The blank block wall of Swire’s, by the way, opened onto the tiny car lot of Scotia Dodge, whose showroom was across the street. Just this side of that tiny lot was the Hometown Bakery, whose incredible scents no doubt stopped this scene’s photographer in his tracks. (These cards were photographed, then painted; it was the style at the time, and it’s a style I wouldn’t mind seeing come back.)

So on the other side of the street, as I said, was Scotia Dodge. I guess now it’s Scotia Motors. Just past that, Empire food market, which was a number of other things through the years; I remember it as the short-lived Food Circus. (Who wants a food circus?) Foreshortening beyond that makes the steeple of the First Baptist Church appear closer than it actually is.

The Scotia Public Library

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Scotia Library.jpgSo, while we’re postcarding through beautiful downtown Scotia, New York, we have to visit everyone’s favorite library. Part of the Schenectady County library system, it’s in the Abraham Glen House, which dates to the 1730s and is as charming as can be. Abraham Glen was a grandson of Alexander Lindsay (the family later took the Glen surname), one of the founders of Schenectady and son of Johannes, hero of the aftermath of the Schenectady Massacre. The house remained in the Glen family for decades, then was sold to the Collins family in 1842. They farmed the land and drew ice out of what would become Collins Lake. At the end of the family line, the village of Scotia acquired the property as a park in 1924, and the library opened in the old home around 1930.

Pretty much everyone in Scotia wants to believe there is a tunnel between this house and the Glen-Sanders Mansion, as a precaution against Indian attacks. Perhaps.

It is now impossible to imagine how many hours of my youth were spent in this tiny library. I’m sure there was a time when I would have recognized every spine on the shelves, every record in the collection, even the paperbacks in the spinning rack by the door.

The Scotia Post Office

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Scotia Post Office.jpgScotia’s post office building dates to 1940 and looks to me like a village post office is supposed to look. Auto enthusiasts could probably give a good idea of the date of this postcard, but not much has changed on this corner in the last half-century. The free-standing signs out front, which used to advertise for military recruiting, are long gone, but everything else is the same. By the way, in the early 1960s, my great-grandparents lived in the upstairs apartment of the gray building to the left.

Inside the post office is an historic WPA mural created by Amy Jones, depicting “The Glen Family Spared by French Indians,” a reminder of the aftermath of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690.