What did Troy’s garage bands do in the days before staple guns and telephone poles? They called on Mrs. Dundon, City Bill Poster, who pasted billsheets to the bricks of the Collar City. When this ad was published in 1895, the brush had been a power in the land for 26 years. Cash buys paste!
Before collars, Troy’s fortune was made in iron works. The old forests of the Adirondacks fueled iron forges up and down the Champlain valley and beyond, but Troy emerged as the major iron manufacturing center in the state in the mid-1800s. And for a time Troy and nearby foundries were putting out huge proportion of the stoves in use in the country. This Rootsweb page excerpts the story of the industry from “Troy’s One Hundred Years,” and it’s notable that there were so many stove manufacturers that Buswell and Durant, who took this ad in the 1870 Rensselaer County Directory, don’t even make the list. (For those who are interested, this research paper lists literally dozens of stove manufacturers that set up shop in Troy, Albany and in between.)
I don’t know where I’d go for mourning goods today, but in 1870, I’d have gone to Betts & Medbury, in the Mansion House Block in Troy. Dry goods of every description, but mourning goods were their specialty. Mourning was big business in those days.
The first time I became aware of Wells & Coverly, a pretty high-end gentlemen’s clothing store, was when I moved to Syracuse in the late ’70s, where I believe they had a store in Shoppingtown Mall and may have still had their South Salina Street location. It was a top name for quality and service, and pops up in a number of Syracuse-related searches; people were proud of their Wells & Coverly clothes and their Nettleton shoes. So I was surprised to find that in fact, Wells & Coverly was from Troy.
Weise’s “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889” says that in 1890, Frederick Wells and James Coverly, took over the men’s and boys’ clothing business of Morris Gross at 336-338 River Street and 13-17 Fourth Street in Troy. (Curiously, there was also a Boston hardware concern some years earlier by the name of Wells, Coverly & Co. It was around in the 1850s, and other variations including the Coverly name continued through 1864, when it became Frye, Phipps & Co. I can’t find the connection between the hardware and the clothes.) In 1907 they added to their location in Troy, had a location in Hoosick Falls, two stores in Oswego, and opened their Syracuse store in the Betts Block on South Salina Street (it still stands).
With the renovations, their store in Troy had 80 feet of frontage on both River and Front streets. “The showcase equipment of the store commands admiration. Another innovation is the most modern type of the electric cash carrier system with six stations. The electric lighting is provided for by an entirely new plant formed by Nernst lamps. Large mirrors on all sides enable customers to get a full view of their new suits from head to foot. Toilet rooms are also among the conveniences provided for patrons. The room set aside for children is a very handsome apartment. The doors and drawers of the cabinets and cases require no more than the touch of a little finger to move them.”
I suspect its location was probably where the Uncle Sam Atrium parking garage is today, directly across from Frear’s Cash Bazaar; I’d love to hear from someone who knows.
Thanks to a posting over at the Nostalgic Syracuse Facebook page, we were twigged to another piece of the Massachusetts connection. George B. Dowley, who began with a clothing store in Hyde Park, went to Worcester, Mass., and bought out the venerable Ware-Pratt Company, Worcester’s oldest and largest clothing store. According to the “History of Worcester and Its People,” Dowley “bought the Wells-Coverly company and incorporated the business, April 1, 1914. This company operates stores in Troy, Syracuse, and Oswego, New York. George B. Dowley is the president of this corporation and his son is treasurer. Mr. Dowley added to his strong of clothing stores by purchase, May 2, 1918, another place in Springfield, Massachusetts, which will be run by the Ware-Pratt Company of Springfield.”
Of interest, here in 2015, we happened across an antiques shop in New Hope, PA, that had a number of printing related items, and among some cast-off lead type cuts was this logotype for Wells & Coverly:
Not surprisingly, in its heyday the Collar City (and neighboring Cohoes, the Spindle City) generated a lot of waste fabric. But in 1895, very little waste was allowed to go to waste, and the cast-off cotton and wool of the collar and shirt bosom industries was collected up for a variety of uses. Paper, for instance, was not always from tree cellulose, but often had a high cotton (“rag”) content. Cotton batting was not made from freshly processed yarn, but from cast-off materials from other manufacturing processes. And wool fibers that were too short for weaving or felting would be reclaimed into a cheap material called “shoddy.” (Today, Google finds this so hard to believe that even if you search for “wool shoddies,” it will first return you results for “wool hoodies,” making it clear you can’t be looking for what you think you’re looking for.) Although shoddy became a synonym for something that would quickly fall apart, even shoddy wool was longer lasting than cotton, and in an age when even ditch-diggers wore some form of woolen suit, shoddy was in high demand. (And I imagine if you were the foreman of the ditch-diggers, you might distinguish yourself with a high-class merino shoddy.)
The Troy Waste Manufacturing Company was a major dealer in cotton and woolen waste, batting, paper and shoddy stock. If you wanted something shoddy, they were the place to go. If you wanted another go-round at the joke, you might say they were proud of their shoddy workmanship. Their building still stands, by the way, though as its plaque indicates, the current building is from 1909. A shoddy fire burned down the previous building in 1907.
Guy Bull’s location for wrapping paper and twine is a residential neighborhood on the edge of Knickerbacker Park.
The other day we mentioned that Ketchum’s Gentlemen’s Furnishing Store was, in addition to being a purveyor of shirt bosoms of superior quality, an agent for the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine. It shouldn’t be any surprise that there are numerous advertisements for sewing machines in the Collar City’s directory for 1870 — sewing was practically the official occupation of Troy. Andrew Aird and Bros. were the local agents for Wheeler & Wilson of Watertown, CT, one of the leading sewing machine manufacturers of the day (eventually they were absorbed by Singer).
Andrew Aird was a native of Scotland who lived in Green Island and had a number of interests in Troy. In addition to selling and repairing sewing machines at 380 River Street, he was also listed as a provider of collar manufacturers’ tools at 480 River. His brothers John and Henry were also in the business. In 1875, Andrew Aird opened his jewelry and watchmaking business in the Mansion House Block, and remained in that business at least through 1900. He was also listed as a machinist at the same address.
Today Troy’s Pottery District is a combination of history and artisans, and there are a number of people in the area creating distinctive works for sale in the River Street shops. But in 1870, “Troy Pottery” meant something else entirely. We’re talking sewage. But clearly W.J. Seymour’s yard at the corner of Ferry and William in Troy was the place to go for drain pipe of all shapes and sizes, and had been since 1809.