Category Archives: Troy

Troy’s Earliest Merchants

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According to Arthur James Weise, in his “The History of the Seventeen Towns of Rensselaer County,” the first merchants of Troy came to the riverside town almost before it was even a town. At that time, Lansingburgh was actually where it was at. In 1786, the present site of Troy was known as Ferry Hook and was occupied by the three farms of Jacob I., Jacob D., and Matthias Van der Heyden, who looked north and saw Abraham Lansing prospering by attracting New England immigrants onto building lots. The Van der Heydens decided to do the same, and it wasn’t long before these new settlers needed a place to buy things. Possibly the first was opened by Benjamin Thurber, whose advertisement in the June 4, 1787 Northern Centinel and Lansingburgh Advertiser shows the kind of wide-ranging inventory and liberal payment policies that were required in those pioneering times; in fact he says far less of what he has to offer than of what he is willing to take in payment:

Benjamin Thurber Hereby acquaints the Public that he continues to sort his New Cash Store, at the sign of the Bunch of Grapes at the Fork of Hoosack Road, near Mr. Jacob Vanderheyden’s with East, West-Indian and European goods of all kinds. For which he will receive, in lieu of Cash, black Salts, Shipping Furs, Wheat, Corn, Rye, Butter, Cheese, Flax and Flax Seed, Tallow, Hogs’ lard, Gammons, Pork, Bees-Wax and old Pewter. He also continues to receive ashes, as usual, to supply his newly erected Pot and Pearl Ash factory and will pearl black Salts in the best manner on Equitable Terms; and also will give the highest Price for black salts.

N.B. – A number of New French Muskets for sale at the above store.

Shortly after him came Benjamin Covell, who set up shop on the west side of River Street, between Ferry and Division streets. He wrote to his brother about the conditions he found:

Ferry Hook, Nov. 16, 1786. – I arrived here the 2d. This country is the best for business I ever saw. I will go into my store the 18th of November; hired it for six months for £12 lawful money. Done more business in one day than in one week in Providence. The night of the 15th, after sundown, took in twenty dollars. Got my goods first from Albany, but in the spring will go to New York. I am one mile from Benjamin Thurber’s down the river. They are all well. I board to Stephen Ashley’s, the same man that I hire of. He appears to be a clever man, and keeps a large tavern, which is a great advantage to me.

“Black Salts,” by the way, refers to a form of potash, which hardly defines anything to the modern reader. Potash is made by burning wood to ashes in a pot, and was used in the manufacture of soap, glass and fertilizer. A “gammon” is the lower end of a side of bacon.

Fulton Street, somewhen

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Fulton Street Looking East.jpgAnother great local postcard from the Boston Public Library, from a past date known only to those who are skilled in car-bonnet-dating. This is from Third Street, looking east up Fulton Street. On the left, you can see a cigar store, the Fanny Farmer store, and a store called Weinberg’s. The lovely buildings in the left foreground are no longer there, replaced by the Uncle Sam Garage. On the right, Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar. Mid-background is the building housing the NIte Owl News at the corner of Fourth. Up the hill, beyond the approach, depending on when the postcard image was taken: Troy Hospital, or, after 1922, Catholic Central High School. After 1952, it became RPI’s West Hall.

Frear’s Bazaar . . . and bizarre

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Frears_trade_cardpoem.jpgAt least to me, this trade card for Frear’s “Again Enlarged and Improved Troy Cash Bazaar” seems a bit, well, bizarre. The card, printed by T. Newcomb of New York City and perhaps used by other merchants as well, features a dandy (or is he a fop?) contemplating a sunflower, and the odd bit of verse:

“A Japanese young man,

A blue-and-white young man,

Francesca di Rimini, miminy, priminy,

Je-ne-sais-quoi young man.”

Turns out that’s from an 1899 Gilbert and Sullivan work called “Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride: A Comic Opera in Two Acts.” Even reading it in context, I have no idea what it means.

What does it have to do with Frear’s? Perhaps it was so well known then that it was just considered quotable.


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Julius Saul trade card.jpgWhile we’re on the subject of the trade cards of Troy merchants in the 19th century (yes, that is the subject we were on), here’s another one from the Boston Public Library collection on Flickr. This one is from Julius Saul, the clothier of Troy whom we’ve profiled before. It’s safe to assume that this imprintable card featuring the likeness of President James A. Garfield, apparently the sitting president at the time, could have been one of a series of presidential cards (“collect ’em all!”). Or perhaps Mr. Saul just thought his customers needed reminding of who the president was. It was a simpler time.

Saul didn’t limit himself to Troy; he also had a store at 51-53 North Pearl Street in Albany, as a commenter was good enough to inform me.

A cabinet card photograph from Troy

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hughmccusker.jpgSo yesterday we said we didn’t know much about Hugh McCusker, dealer in carpets, oil cloths and more. But we did run across this cabinet card photo that captures the Troy merchant and his impressive beard. The photograph was taken by Zeph Magill, a photographer who worked in the Keenan Building at Third and Broadway late in the 19th century. I don’t have an easy way to date either McCusker or Magill, but a guess of 1880s or 1890s wouldn’t be far wrong.

Hugh McCusker’s Popular Dry Goods and Carpet Store

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Hugh McCusker Troy.jpgMcCusker front side.jpgHugh McCusker was a dealer in carpets and oil cloths late in the 19th century, with a store at 261 River Street in Troy. His trade cards are still around, as you can see here, but beyond a couple of directory listings, I haven’t learned much about Hugh McCusker. The front of this card was, of course, stock illustration from the card company, so it’s likely retailers all over the country used the same illustration, on which a printer could insert the particular business’s particulars. The illustration’s relevance to the business was not, apparently, a consideration.

The Hendrick Hudson Hotel

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the Hendrick Hudson Hotel.jpgTroy’s Hendrick Hudson Hotel building dates back to 1926, and has been such a central part of the Collar City’s life ever since that I’ll forgive it for the hollandization of English explorer Henry Hudson’s first name. (Yes, he sailed on a Dutch ship for a Dutch company. His name was still Henry.)

With more than 160 rooms, and the shops and restaurants that always attended a high-end downtown hotel, it was a key location in Trojan public life, and attracted the likes of Richard Nixon and JFK. And it had an attractive corner in the new lobby!

The Troy Post Office

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Post Office Troy.jpgLast week we saw what a village post office is supposed to look like. Here we have Troy’s fine example of what a city post office is supposed to look like. It was built in the mid-1930s as a Depression-era construction project and, like other post offices of that era, has the good taste to include murals of local significance. Painter Waldo Peirce contributed “Rip Van Winkle” and “Legends of the Hudson,” meaning we can say with some certainty that Troy has the only post office in America with art depicting the Headless Horseman.

9 Miles to Merten’s & Phalen’s

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Mertens IMG_0147.JPGNot surprisingly, I don’t write Hoxsie to get rich. I do it because I love the history of our humble little cities that helped create this country. And I do it because by telling those stories, sometimes I really connect with others who love the past as much as I do.

Ages ago I posted an ad from a Troy outfit called Mertens & Phalen, located where the parking lot for the Franklin Plaza is today. They made and sold clothing and had a substantial operation, but I hadn’t run across any mentions of them other than some trade cards that still float around on eBay.

Then I got this wonderful message from a fellow named Mark Latham:

“Hi…just wanted to drop you a note regarding Mertens and Phalens Clothing House in Troy.  Years ago I purchased a couple signs in Waterford NY.  They were being used as walking supports in an attic of a very old home there (laid down on top of the rafters so you wouldn’t slip in between). At first I couldn’t even tell they were signs as they were completely black with dust, but when I stepped on one, I realized there were colors underneath the years of soot. Not knowing what they said, amd without really knowing if they would clean up, I took them home and proceeded to wash them.  They actually cleaned up extremely well and I believe the years of soot may have indeed been protecting them.

“Both were hand painted signs advertising Mertens and Phalens Clothing House in Troy.  One reads ‘Go To Mertens and Phalens, Troy NY’ (and gave the multiple street adresses) and the other says  ‘9 Miles to Mertens and Phalen’s’.  One of them mentions the word ‘elevators’ as that was a big deal when they were first introduced back in the 1860s.

“The first one depicts a silouette caricature of a man (oversized head on small body with victorian dressed collar) pushing a large wagon with his family inside (only black and red paint on this one).  The other depicts a full color image of a standing woman with a large cylinder shaped bowl balanced on her head.

“I never knew how they got into the home and the owner never knew although the family had owned a business (I believe she said drug store) in Mechanicville many many years back.  Maybe it came off that building at one time?  I believe Mechanicville could be about 9 miles from downtown Troy.

“Anyhow, you stated there isn’t much known to be left from this great store beyond trade cards so just wanted you to know that at least one (2) other things still exist thankfully.  And I am taking good care of them.”

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On this day in 1885

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Troy Northern Budget 1885.pngNot big on reporting what happened on this day in other years, but every now and then it’s fun. So this is what was reported in the Troy Local Budget (sometimes called the Northern Budget) on January 25, 1885, in the “Local Brevities” column.

Ice for all.

To-day’s length 9 h, 53 m.

The Democratic city general committee will meet for organization to-morrow evening.

Quite a number of Trojans attended the funeral of General Dickerman at Albany yesterday.

The 11 40 train for Montreal last night had on six extra sleepers filled with people going to Montreal.

Officer Kennedy yesterday arrested Thomas Mcguire for selling dry goods on the street without a license.

Six inches of snow would be welcomed, especially by our rural neighbors, who now come in on wheels. [Recall that when roads were ruts, travel by sleigh was wildly more comfortable than by carriage]

This is the year for taking the State census, and applications for the office of enumerator will soon be in order.

Robert Turner, who lives near St. Peter’s church, was arrested last night for hitting his wife on the head with a spittoon.

Only one R.P.I. man was arrested in Albany last night, and he was released after a short lecture by the chief of police.

It was a poor thermometer that couldn’t get below zero last week. The mercury tried hard to pull thermometers off the nails.

It is said that a good deal of the candy condemned in New York city has been shipped to the interior counties of the State. Look out!

Fine moonlights. Full moon next Friday night. Great nights for sleighing and fairly utilized by all who can control pain to gilt-edged horseflesh and vehicles.

Yesterday afternoon about 4 o’clock a team belonging to Henry Simmons, the ice dealer, broke through the ice on Mount Ida lake and was rescued with great difficulty.