Last 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.
Not 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.”
Not 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.
Don’t really know a thing about H.L. Greywack, the piano dealer with the stony name in Troy. But I do know that someone put a lot of effort into this ad from the Troy Northern Budget in 1885, because arranging all that lead was no small task.
Troy’s street numbering has remained fairly consistent through the years, so I think it’s pretty likely the piano store was located in one of the buildings that still stand on Broadway between Church Street and Fourth.
So, what was crime like in the Collar City in 1885? Well, there was more than a smattering of assault on men, women, mothers and little girls. Harnesses, shawls and watches were being stolen. Peter Farrell dug his way out of the pokey (or perhaps the hoosegow) and remained on the lam. A vicious New York City criminal fired on two officers of the law. And there was illegal sledding going on on Grand Division Street (which is now just plain Grand).
And apparently the Troy Northern Budget was shocked (shocked!) to find there was gambling occurring in this municipality!
John Sturgess was a British citizen working in Troy who developed a series of innovative hydraulic water wheel governors, devices that regulated the speed with which hydropower dynamos turned. Trust us, it’s important. Here is his 1907 patent diagram for one of the devices. “The principal objects of the invention, when used to control the speed of a prime mover, are to secure a more efficient and satisfactory operation of the mechanism for controlling and regulating the supply of fluid, under pressure, to the motor, whereby a gate, controlling the supply to the prime mover, is operated.”
The Sturgess Governor Engineering Company manufactured in West Troy, which we now know as Watervliet. It was acquired by the venerable Ludlow Valve company in 1905, moved to Troy, and continued to operate under the Sturgess name until about 1918. Its old facility in Watervliet was, in 1907, intended to be repurposed for the Empire Pearl Button Company, but it was found to be too small for the 700 workers the button company intended to employ; the building would only accommodate 400.
Hoxsie interrupts the pursuit of interesting facts about local history to present what it believes is the greatest name ever to appear in the Troy city directory: Mrs. Hattie Stufflebeam. I don’t know anything more about her other than that she was a stitcher, likely in one of the collar factories, in 1916. And if the numbers haven’t changed, her house may still exist. And, as unlikely as it is, Google shows us that she’s not the only Mrs. Hattie Stufflebeam to have walked the planet.
We ran across this lovely drawing of Troy’s State Street Methodist Episcopal Church; for once we can report a building has hardly changed since it was opened in 1871. Still, it’s one of Troy’s lesser-noticed grand edifices, perhaps because from the street it’s almost entirely obscured by trees. This beauty was built of blue limestone, and replaced a brick meeting house on State Street that had been built in 1827 and was sold and razed when the new church opened.
Today it is Christ Church United Methodist, which gives some of its history here. An 1888 book with the highly detailed history of the congregation and its buildings appears here. The church’s decision to do a major multi-media installation a few years back means it is also available as a recital hall, complete with an 1883 Steinway piano.
Ran across this lovely tomb in Troy’s historic Oakwood Cemetery a few weeks back. It’s a monument to Elmer Strope, and it seemed to me that someone with a monument this grand ought to be better known to me. Usually there’s a town or a street or a park or something that you can associate with the names on these tombs, but in this case, the name of Strope meant nothing to me. A quick look at the old city directories turned up an Elmer Strope who was a clerk at Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar from at least 1890 well into the teens. His home was listed as Wynantskill. As late as 1914, he is listed simply as a bookkeeper. But it doesn’t seem like bookkeepers usually end up with custom doors on their mausoleums. So how did this come about?
Well, it would appear that Elmer E. Strope struck oil. Not literally, but he somehow got into the oil business by 1922, setting up the American Oil Company of Troy, NY, which sold canned lubricating oil and grease at just such a time as automobiles were starting to boom. (It was one of many “American Oil” companies, unfortunately for researchers.) In 1910, he was just a “dry goods salesman;” by 1915, he was an “oil jobber.” In the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses, Elmer listed himself as the proprietor of a service station, but it seems more likely his fortune came from the oil cans.
You can see some of American Oil’s collectible cans that helped put Elmer into some swanky digs for the afterlife, by clicking here.
After Nathaniel Bishop paddled a Waters paper canoe from its place of manufacture in Troy all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, he sent the craft, dubbed the “Maria Theresa,” to the Smithsonian Institution in 1876. (And of course we all know that Albany’s Joseph Henry was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian.) Whether it is still somewhere in the vast holdings of our nation’s attic, it is impossible to tell (thanks at least in part to the government shutdown). But a catalog of the “Collection to Illustrate the Animal Resources and the Fisheries of the United States, exhibited at Philadelphia in 1876 by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Fish Commission” lists the following facts about the Maria Theresa:
26619. Paper canoe “Maria Theresa.” N.H. Bishop, Lake George, N.Y.
Designed by Rev. Baden Powell, of England; built by E. Waters & Sons, of Troy, N.Y. Dimensions: length, 14 feet; beam, 28 inches; depth (amidship), 9 inches; weight of canoe, 58 pounds; weight of canoeist, 130 pounds; weight of outfit, 90 pounds; total, 278 pounds. Rowed by Mr. N.H. Bishop (from Troy, N.Y., 2,000 miles) while on his first geographical journey from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, 2,500 miles, during 1874 and 1875. Since the completion of the voyage all injuries the hull sustained were remedied by the simple application of a sheet of paper and a coat of shellac varnish to the outside of the boat. When in use a piece of canvas covers the undecked part of the canoe and keeps the interior dry. Water-courses traversed by Mr. Bishop during 1874 and 1875: From Quebec, rivers Saint Lawrence and Richelieu, Lake Champlain, and canal to Albany; the Hudson, Kill Von Kull [sic], and Raritan rivers and canal, and the Delaware to Philadelphia; Delaware River and bay to Cape Henlopen, and interior salt-water passages on coast of Maryland and Virginia to Norfolk; the Elizabeth River and canal to Currituck Sound, Albemarle, Pamlico, Cove, Bogue, Stump, and other sounds, to near Wilmington, N.C.; Waccamau River to Georgetown, S.C.; by salt-water creeks, rivers, bays and sounds along the coast of the United States to Florida; from Atlantic coast, via Saint Mary’s and Suwannee rivers, to Gulf of Mexico.