Category Archives: Troy

Sturgess Governor Engineering Company

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Sturgess Governor.pngJohn 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.

Mrs. Hattie Stufflebeam

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Hattie Stufflebeam.pngHoxsie 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.

State Street Methodist Episcopal Church

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State Street Methodist Church.pngWe 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.

The tomb that oil cans built

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Oakwood Cemetery Troy Sept 2013 029Ran 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.

The Maria Theresa enters the Smithsonian

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BishopCanoe.jpgAfter 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.

The merits of the paper canoe

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Waters Balch.jpgNathaniel Bishop didn’t originally set out to paddle from Troy to the Gulf of Mexico in a paper canoe. He had started from Quebec in a traditional wooden boat, but on arriving at Albany he decided that he needed to jettison both his paddling companion and his heavy boat. “After a journey of four hundred miles, experience had taught me that I could travel more quickly in a lighter boat, and more conveniently and economically without a companion. It was now about the first week in August [1874], and the delay which would attend the building of a new boat especially adapted for the journey of two thousand miles yet to be travelled would not be lost, as by waiting a few weeks, time would be given for the malaria on the rivers of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and even farther south, to be eradicated by the fall frosts.” But it’s clear that even before arriving in the area, he knew of the merits of the paper boats being made by George Waters just north of Troy, which were winning all sorts of races at a time when America was having a bit of a canoe racing craze. Having completed his journey, Bishop extolled their virtues:

Inquiries regarding the history and durability of paper boats occasionally reach me through the medium of the post-office. After all the uses to which paper has been put during the last twenty years, the public is yet hardly convinced that the flimsy material, paper, can successfully take the place of wood in the construction of light pleasure-boats, canoes, and racing shells. Yet the idea has become an accomplished fact. The success of the victorious paper shells of the Cornell College navy, which were enlisted in the struggles of two seasons at Saratoga, against no mean antagonists, — the college crews of the United States, — surely proves that in strength, stiffness, speed, and fineness of model, the paper boat is without a rival.

When used in its own peculiar sphere, the improved paper boat will be found to possess the following merits: less weight, greater strength, stiffness, durability, and speed than a wooden boat of the same size and model; and the moulded paper shell will retain the delicate lines so essential to speed, while the brittle wooden shell yields more or less to the warping influences of sun and moisture.

Bishop also gives us the colorful story of how paper boats, made from layers of manila, varnished thickly, came about:

Mr. George A. Waters, the son of the senior member of the firm of E. Waters & Sons, of Troy, New York, was invited some years since to a masquerade party. The boy repaired to a toy shop to purchase a counterfeit face; but, thinking the price (eight dollars) was more than he could afford for a single evening’s sport, he borrowed the mask for a model, from which he produced a duplicate as perfect as was the original. While engaged upon his novel work, an idea impressed itself upon his ingenious brain. “Cannot,” he queried, “a paper shell be made upon the wooden model of a boat? And will not a shell thus produced, after being treated to a coat of varnish, float as well, and be lighter than a wooden boat?”

This was in March, 1867, while the youth was engaged in the manufacture of paper boxes. Having repaired a wooden shell-boat by covering the cracks with sheets of stout paper cemented to the wood, the result satisfied him; and he immediately applied his attention to the further development of his bright idea. Assisted by his father, Mr. Elisha Waters, the enterprise was commenced “by taking a wooden shell, thirteen inches wide and thirty feet long, as a mould, and covering the entire surface of its bottom and sides with small sheets of strong Manila paper, glued together, and superposed on each other, so that the joints of one layer were covered by the middle of the sheet immediately above, until a sheet of paper had been formed one-sixteenth of an inch in thickness. The fabric thus constructed, after being carefully dried, was removed from the mould and fitted up with a suitable frame, consisting of a lower keelson, two inwales, the bulkhead; in short, all the usual parts of the frame of a wooden shell, except the timbers, or ribs, of which none were used — the extreme stiffness of the skin rendering them unnecessary. Its surface was then carefully waterproofed with suitable varnishes, and the work was completed. Trials proved that, rude as was this first attempt compared with the elegant craft now turned out from paper, it had marked merits, among which were, its remarkable stiffness, the symmetry of the hull with respect to its long axis, and the smoothness of the water-surface.”

Down the Hudson in a paper boat

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kayak.gifOn July 4, 1874, Nathaniel Bishop left Quebec in an 18-foot canoe, intending to paddle (with an unnamed assistant) to the Gulf of Mexico. “It was his intention to follow the natural and artificial connecting watercourses of the continent in the most direct line southward to the gulf coast of Florida, making portages as seldom as possible, to show how few were the interruptions to a continuous water-way for vessels of light draught, from the chilly, foggy, and rocky regions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the north, to the semi-tropical waters of the great Southern Sea, the waves of which beat upon the sandy shores of the southernmost United States. Having proceeded about four hundred miles upon his voyage, the author reached Troy, on the Hudson River, New York state, where for several years E. Waters & Sons had been perfecting the construction of paper boats.”

We’ve written before about the paper boats of Waters, Balch & Co., the Troy company where George Waters was making revolutionary racing boats from heavily varnished paper; they had only been manufactured for six or seven years but had already become famous by the time Bishop was making his journey.

“My canoe of the English ‘Nautilus’ type was completed by the middle of October; and on the cold, drizzly morning of the 21st of the same month I embarked in my little fifty-eight pound craft from the landing of the paper-boat manufactory on the river Hudson, two miles above Troy. Mr. George A. Waters put his own canoe into the water, and proposed to escort me a few miles down the river. If I had any misgivings as to the stability of my paper canoe upon entering her for the first time, they were quickly dispelled as I passed the stately Club-house of the Laureates, which contained nearly forty shells, all of paper. The dimensions of the Maria Theresa were: length, fourteen feet; beam, twenty-eight inches; depth, amidships, nine inches; height of bow from horizontal line, twenty-three inches; height of stern, twenty inches. The canoe was one-eighth of an inch in thickness, and weighed fifty-eight pounds. She was fitted with a pair of steel outriggers, which could be easily unshipped and stowed away. The oars were of spruce, seven feet eight inches long, and weighed three pounds and a quarter each. The double paddle, which was seven feet six inches in length, weighed two pounds and a half. The mast and sail – which are of no service on such a miniature vessel, and were soon discarded – weighed six pounds. When I took on board at Philadelphia the canvas deck-cover and the rubber strap which secured it in position, and the outfit, – the cushion, sponge, provision-basket, and a fifteen-pound case of charts, – I found that, with my own weight included (one hundred and thirty pounds), the boat and her cargo, all told, provisioned for a long cruise, fell considerably short of the weight of three Saratoga trunks containing a very modest wardrobe for a lady’s four weeks’ visit at a fashionable watering-place.”

Waters himself accompanied Bishop for the first few miles after he set out from Troy on his romantic adventure:

“The rain ceased, the mists ascended, and the sunlight broke upon us as we swiftly descended upon the current of the Hudson to Albany. The city was reached in an hour and a half. Mr. Waters, pointing his canoe northward, wished me bon voyage, and returned to the scene of the triumphs of his patient labors, while I settled down to a steady row southward. At Albany, the capital of the state, which is said to be one hundred and fifty miles distant from New York city, there is a tidal rise and fall of one foot. A feeling of buoyancy and independence came over me as I glided on the current of this noble stream, with the consciousness that I now possessed the right boat for my enterprise. It had been a dream of my youth to become acquainted with the charms of this most romantic river of the American continent. Its sources are in the clouds of the Adirondacks, among the cold peaks of the northern wilderness; its ending may be said to be in the briny waters of the Atlantic, for its channel-way has been sounded outside of the sandy beaches of New York harbor in the bosom of the restless ocean. The highest types of civilized life are nurtured upon its banks. Noble edifices, which contain and preserve the works of genius and of mechanical art, rear their proud roofs from among these hills on the lofty sites of the picturesque Hudson.”

Later, the Maria Theresa entered the Smithsonian.

What pencils and bridges have in common

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It’s back-to-school week, so we’re all thinking of school supplies, which means we’re all thinking of Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, whose graphite originally came from the historic town on Lake Champlain. But Dixon didn’t just make pencils; another example of his handiwork could be found on  a painted bridge many miles south of Ticonderoga, in Waterford.

Paging through “Graphite” magazine, as Hoxsie is wont to do, we find this account of the Waterford bridge:

On July 10, 1909, “fire destroyed the Burr Bridge, which was the longest wooden bridge in America. It was a four-span structure with a total length of about 750 feet, and was built in 1803. At the time of its destruction, this wooden bridge was in excellent condition. It is this noted structure that the present Waterford Bridge replaces.

Boller & Hodge, of New York City, were the consulting engineers and the steel work was fabricated and erected by the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pa., and painted by Mr. George MacLaurin, contracting painter, of Philadelphia. The structure is now owned by the Union Bridge Company, Mr. Thomas A Knickerbacher, president, through whose courtesy we are able to reproduce the photograph.

1803 Waterford Bridge.pngWhy was the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, publisher of the more-than-somewhat self-promoting “Graphite” magazine, interested in the new Union Bridge the connected (and still connects) Waterford to Lansingburgh? Because George MacLaurin wasn’t spraying just any old concoction over that new steel highway and trolley bridge – he was using Dixon’s Silica-Graphite Paint.

Joseph Dixon produced the first pencil made in the United States, which came to be known as the Dixon Ticonderoga, but that was only the beginning of his empire. He designed a mirror in a camera that presaged the viewfinder, and as a printer developed a method of printing banknotes that would prevent counterfeiting. He patented a double-crank steam engine and a method of tunneling under water. But it was graphite that captured Dixon’s imagination, and it seemed there was nothing it couldn’t do. He used it in stove polish and lubricants, foundry facings, brake linings, oilfree bearings, non-corrosive paint, and graphite crucibles for melting metals. And pencils. Ticonderoga, once the most recognizable pencil brand, was the source of the graphite, from very pure ores on Lead Mountain. American Graphite was the first company to make the Ticonderoga pencil, but eventually the company was Dixon’s.

Silica graphite paint was prized for its resistance to corrosion, used on bridges, gas holders, and other high-stress applications. Dixon’s promotion of the use of his paint on the new bridge was also an excuse to present us with a rare picture of the Burr bridge, and to fail to understand the fancy ‘s’ in signpainting and to relate that “The curious old sign above ad to the left of the trolley car reads: ‘One dollar penalty for paffing this bridge fafter than on a walk  by any Perfon or Perfons, riding or driving any Horfe or carriage.”

New Waterford Bridge.png

 Click here for the original page with pictures of the old and new bridges.

Originally published June 18, 2012.

William Young’s Troy buildings

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William Young's printing house.pngIt tickles Hoxsie’s cockles that so many beautiful, important, historic buildings in Troy are seeing renovation and reuse. Not least of these is the building constructed by William H. Young, bookseller and stationer, which has stood somewhat neglected on First Street next to the Rice Building for too long. Young’s printing and bookselling business was responsible for both of these buildings. Happily, it looks like this one will be saved.

Young’s business descended a long line. It was begun in 1821 by Ebenezer Platt, who partnered with Daniel Platt and formed the Franklin Bookstore, selling books and stationery and named for a bust of old Benjamin Franklin over its doorway on River Street. The business and the partners moved almost ceaselessly. William Young came on the scene in 1842, working with various partners through the years. In 1864, he built this beautiful brownstone at what was then numbered 8 and 9 First Street, which connected to an existing store-room at 216 River Street. In 1871, he built the glorious corner anchor now known as the Rice Building (or at least the first three storeys of it), where he established a book-bindery and printing office.

Writing in 1876, Arthur James Weise, whose work was being published by William Young, wrote that “His spacious store-rooms contain a large collection of American and foreign publications, Bibles and prayer-books, text-books for colleges and schools, cheap and choice stationery, a full line of gold pens and pencils, and the latest specialties in fancy goods. He also manufactures blank books of all styles, from great bank ledgers to pocket memorandum books.”

Troy August 2013 026Here’s how it looks today.

Troy August 2013 073

General Grant’s funeral procession

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Gen Grants funeral Albany nysed.jpgWe all know (we do all know this, right?) that General Ulysses S. Grant finished his military memoirs in a small cottage at Mount McGregor just before dying there on July 23, 1885, a bit more than twenty years after Appomattox. The cottage, loaned him by Joseph Drexel of New York, was subsequently presented to the Grand Army of the Republic and eventually became a New York State Historic Site.

It was some days after his death before a memorial service was held at the cottage on August 4 (and on the same day at Westminster Abbey, London), after which his body came by rail to Albany, where it lay in state in the new Capitol, still very much under construction, and was viewed by thousands. The next day, August 5, the General’s body was escorted down State Street hill, again with thousands looking on, and sent on to New York City, where he had lived prior to coming to Mount McGregor. The city had pledged that he could be buried in any park to his liking, and a huge sum was collected to build his tomb in Riverside Park. General James Grant Wilson, in his “Life of General Grant,” gave a sense of the send-off given to this respected old soldier:

“On Wednesday afternon, the 5th, the body of the great soldier arrived in New York, and was escorted by an imposing body of troops to the City Hall. For three days it lay in state, and was viewed by nearly a quarter of a million of persons, including a large number of old soldiers who had served under him.

“Saturday, August 8th, was the day appointed for his public funeral, the arrangements having been made by General Winfield S. Hancock. A more magnificent demonstration was never witnessed in the New World, attesting the nation’s admiration and respect for the memory of the American soldier. It is supposed that at least a million and a half persons saw the procession. The streets of the city echoed to the tramp of thirty thousand soldiers and veterans who marched with measured tread to the solemn music of a hundred military bands. There were to be seen heroes of scores of battles, and the torn and tattered flags that waved over Shiloh, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, and other well-contested fields. Never but once before and once since in the history of New York have so large a number of armed men marched through its streets. . . .

It was nearly six hours after the funeral cortège left the City Hall that the catafalque, drawn by twenty-four horses, reached the grave on the banks of the historic Hudson, and was placed in the temporary tomb with appropriate ceremonies, in the presence of his family, the President of the United States, his Cabinet, ex-Presidents Hayes and Arthur, his pall-bearers, Generals Sherman and Sheridan of the Union armies, and Generals Johnston and Buckner of the Confederate service, with many of the most eminent men of the country. So, on that bright and sunny August afternoon, he was laid to rest. . . .”

Grant's coffin, Franklin Iron Works, Troy.jpg Worthy of note, with thanks to the Library of Congress: General Grant’s steel coffin was fashioned at the Franklin Iron Works of Troy, a steam boiler maker on Center Island (also known as Starbuck Island), between Troy and Green Island.