Category Archives: Troy

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.

The Troy Menands Bridge

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Troy and Menands Bridge Troy postcard BPL.jpgWhile we’re on the topic of bridges, let’s move up the river to this old view of the Troy-Menands Bridge. What was originally a lift bridge, as shown here, was opened July 17, 1933 after several years of planning and the usual Albany-Troy tussles that had gone along with bridging the Hudson for a century or so. The span was designed and supervised by a cast of RPI graduates, working with the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, whose maker’s plate still adorns the bridge. The lift operations ended by 1966; the lifting towers were removed in 2000, supposedly to reduce inspection costs. The bridge has seen several rehabilitations, and spans were added to connect it to I-787 in 1967, and is currently being resurfaced. This view includes the old tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, crucial to the success of Henry Burden’s nearby iron works.

Troy Menands Bridge Troy postcard BPL.jpgHere’s a view of the approach to the bridge on the Troy side. Those lovely entrance towers still stand.

Trojan Hotel, the Elks, and Alling Rubber

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BPO Elks and Trojan Hotel Troy postcard BPL.jpgThere’s been a lot of excitement over plans to bring the old Trojan Hotel building back from the brink. Here’s an undated postcard, posted by the Boston Public Library, with a view looking south down Third Street in Troy. On the left, the Trojan Hotel, its iconic sign already in place. To its right, the home of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, and the Alling Rubber Company, a chain selling sporting goods, bicycles and toys. Sadly, both of the Trojan’s neighbors were lost to parking and a wing of what is now the HSBC bank; click here for the street view.

Sometimes, one Liberty Bell isn’t enough

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Suffrage Bell Meneely Troy 1915.jpgA reminder to those who think the forefathers got it all right and a strict reading of the Constitution is all we ever need: they didn’t. The Liberty Bell wasn’t enough.

To call attention to injustice and draw support for women’s suffrage, a “Justice Bell,” an imitation of the Liberty Bell, was cast and sent on tour. “The bell’s casting was commissioned by Chester County’s Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger, an active member of the National Woman Suffrage Association, which later became the League of Woman Voters. The clapper was chained to its side silencing the 2,000 pound bell.”*

It was cast at a Meneely Bell foundry; this photo and another newspaper story place it in Troy, which would be Clinton Meneely’s foundry; he had broken off from his father’s and brother’s operation in West Troy (Watervliet).

That’s Mrs. Ruschenberger pulling the rope. The bell traveled Pennsylvania in support of the state’s suffrage movement. Eventually it ended up at Valley Forge National Historical Park, where you can see it today:
Valley Forge Oct 5 2014 DSC_1104

*(description from Flickr user Wally Gobetz)

Troy, 1838

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Troy 1838 William James Bennett.jpgFrom 1838, a view of Troy from the west bank of the Hudson River at the United States Arsenal, now known as the Watervliet Arsenal. Click and look at it large, because this lithograph by William James Bennett has everything: boats that are sailed, steam-powered, and rowed. Industry and church steeples. Working horses, working men, fops, and a fop in training. Everything.

RPI admits women, 1942

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RPI admits women.pngIn honor of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s 207th commencement ceremony tomorrow, we’d like to note that it was 71 years ago that the institute determined that having ovaries would not necessarily preclude a person from understanding engineering and science. Today, that “limited number” of women students is as high as 29% of the student body.

Behold Henry Burden’s Horseshoe Machine

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Burdens Horseshoe Machine 1857.pngMargaret Proudfit’s biography of her father, Henry Burden, gets downright giddy over the invention that made his fortune, the horseshoe machine:

Watch this wonderful piece of mechanism at work which in a second of time makes a horseshoe. Before you are two strong frames between which are four revolving shafts geared together and getting their motion from a pulley-wheel. On the shaft most exposed to view, you see three cams, one of which raises a cutting lever, another lifts a bending frame on which is a bending tongue, and the third works the flattening pieces … Observe now the rapid movements of these shafts and their appurtenances. Gliding like a fiery serpent, you see a red-hot bar of iron, moving toward the machine, on the feeding rollers. Already the iron jaws of the monster are opening to catch between its incisive teeth this glowing rib of iron. The end of the bar has passed to the opposite side of the ravenous automaton’s mouth, which is the proper measurement of the length of the intended shoe – the cutter comes up and severs it, and for an instant stops the feed; the bending tongue raises up and is pushed against the cut bar and bends it between two forked cams; it is then caught between the upper and lower dies, taking their impression, the bending tongue falls back, and the side levers close in the heel-ends …

In the [punching-room] are seen a long line of men seated astride of the saddles of the punching machines making the nail-holes through the indented marks previously put in the creased part of the shoes. Thence they are conveyed in hand-cars to the swaging furnaces in which they are placed before they are swaged.

Boys are at work here, taking with tongs the heated shoes from the furnace and putting them singly on the revolving dies of the swaging machine. After the heated shoe is seated upon one of these dies, it is carried to the top of the machine where it is stopped for a moment; a top die descends on it and two side steels swage the sides of the shoe, removing all bulges and making the outside edges of the shoe perfectly smooth …

The shoes when packed for shipping are then taken out, weighed and packed in kegs, in each of which are to be found 100 pounds of perfectly made horseshoes.


Want to know more about Henry Burden? Just follow these links: