Category Archives: Uncategorized

Columbia Safety Bicycles

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This has nothing whatsoever to do with Albany, Schenectady or Troy history. However, my first two bicycles were Columbia bicycles, and so I was delighted to find this ad for Columbia Safety Bicycles, from the Pope Manufacturing Company of 77 Franklin Street, Boston, Massachusetts, in an 1890 edition of Scribner’s magazine.

How fortunate that they had companion machines!

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The battle of the porch

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Newspaper used as insulation has been able to tell me what no civic records ever could: exactly when my house was built. For the most part, it was put together in 1939, by a family named Lodge that was living in Menands at the time. Mr. Lodge worked for the phone company, and parts of the house include some plywood sheets and pieces of crates stamped American Telephone and Telegraph. Because of the . . . interesting way our porch was put together, we had always assumed it started life as an open porch and was eventually enclosed, and we were never sure when the porch was added. Thanks to the miracle of newspaper insulation, we can now see that the porch was added shortly after “F.D.” (no room for that “R.” in that narrow column) repeated his no-war pledge, which was reported in the Knickerbocker News on September 12, 1940. Unfortunately, most of the papers were crumpled and ravaged by time, so there was very little to salvage. But now we know the porch came just about a year after the house.

Where’s your fingers, Gramps?

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My grandfather, who was a carpenter among other things, was always missing his right thumb and forefinger. They were just stubs. He always said it was from playing with firecrackers, and he said it as an angry admonition that was supposed to instill fear. And it did — I never lit firecrackers in my fingers, which in the ’60s and ’70s made me something of an oddity I suppose. But Grandpa, there’s a bit of a difference between firecrackers and blasting caps.

This article from the Gloversville Morning Herald, July 17, 1926, details how my 15-year-old grandfather (the “aged 16” in the article is either erroneous or, more likely, a lie) blew his thumb and forefinger off by applying flame to a dynamite blasting cap, the device that detonates a stick of dynamite. He was up to no good, probably stole the caps from another boy, and this would hardly be his (or his father’s) only trouble in the rough-and-tumble immigrant city of Amsterdam, New York in the 1920s and 1930s.

The article reads as follows:

Dynamite Cap Injures Three
One, John Crisalle, Loses Thumb And Finger Of Right Hand In Explosion.
John Crisalle, 140 Forbes street, Amsterdam, aged 16, had the thumb and finger of his right hand blown off shortly before noon yesterday by the explosion of a dynamite cap, to which he was applying the flame of a match. His left hand was mutilated and his face gashed also, while Dominick Severa, 268 East Main street, and Edmund Carbonelli, 9 Eagle street, who stood near, received puncture wounds and gashes in the face, neck and chest.

The dynamite cap which exploded was one of several which Crisalle had, three others being found in his pocket after the accident. The explosion occurred in a yard between St. Casimir’s church on East Main street and the residence of Raymond J. Gilston. This yard is often used by the boys of the neighborhood as a playground. There were several there at the time of the explosion, the three who were hurt being close together watching for the results of fire applied to the cap. The explosion was heard throughout the neighborhood, and four or five men were on the scene within a moment or two. Fragments of bone and flesh blown from Crisalle’ [sic] hands were discovered lying on the ground. He was taken to the office of Dr. Lombardi and thence to St. Mary’s hospital. The stumps of the thumb and fore finger of the right hand were amputated, but the wounds to the left did not indicate that there will be any loss of fingers to that hand. His face was cut, a gash under the left eye being very deep. The other two boys were attended by Dr. Tomlinson at his office.

The cap which exploded is one of the kind used in quarries. The caps are metal cylinders only about an inch and a half to two inches in length and hardly the diameter of an ordinary pencil. They are used to communicate the spark from the battery to the dynamite charge proper. It is not quite certain how Crisalle obtained them. He spoke of having received them from a lad named Joseph Bucci of Lark street. Bucci was summoned to police headquarters. He admitted having had quite a number of similar caps for some time. He got them, he says, from a bunch of rags, part of a collection of his grandfather, who is a dealer in rags and junk. He had a box full, he said, and has played with them himself now and then and thrown them around, but they never went off.

He had no idea that they were dynamite and had evidently been under the impression that they were some ordinary sort of cap or blank cartridge. He denied having given any of them to Crisalle, but he did say that he was throwing them about in the neighborhood of his home, and that Crisalle was there and must have picked some of them up, or somebody else did and then gave them to the injured boy.

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North Greenbush’s one-room school

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It is claimed that District School No. 1, now called The Little Red Schoolhouse, is the only one-room schoolhouse operating in New York State. Built in 1861, it’s just south of Troy near Hudson Valley Community College; this school is the North Greenbush school district. Its survival in the age of school consolidations is remarkable, though it should be noted that it is now only two grades, kindergarten and first. I suspect there was a broader spectrum when this photograph (from the Library of Congress) was taken; it’s undated, alas. I also suspect that most of the studies involved finding the perfect distance from that stove in the winter months. Too close and you were no doubt singed, too far and your toes were frozen.

More on its history here.

Water tower with bells on

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It figures that if I’d trip across such a thing as a water tower that has, inexplicably, bells, there would be some kind of local connection. It appears that in 1902, a millionaire in Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, wasn’t going to be pleased with the local water tower ruining his view, and so he commissioned something much, much more elaborate, now known as the Lawson Tower. And unlike any other water tower I’m aware of, it has bells. Bells from one of the most famous foundries of its day, the Meneely foundry of West Troy, NY. West Troy is now known as Watervliet. This photograph is from the Library of Congress, via the Historic American Buildings Survey. The bell carillon not only still exists, but was recently refurbished.

Hoxsie’s all a-Twitter

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Hoxsie rooster.pngHoxsie has grown and grown since I launched it earlier this year as a (nearly) daily collection of pictures and snippets relating to the local history of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, and a few other parts of the Capital District as well. I’m happy to have a few hundred daily readers who aren’t just spambots, and appreciate the support of other local sites like All Over Albany, even though I end up neglecting writing for them in favor of Hoxsie.

It’s easy to keep up with my daily nonsense, either by coming to this site, or picking up the RSS feed, or if you’re one of those twenty-first century types, Hoxsie’s on Twitter: @HoxsieAlbany (can ya believe regular old Hoxsie was taken?) And if you’re wondering, “Why Hoxsie?” the answer is here.

Comments are always welcome, but not easy, I’m sorry to say. That’s because of the spambots.

You young printers don’t even tread pelts!

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“My first employment as an apprentice, beside cutting wood
and making fires in the printing-office, was in ‘treading pelts,’ a duty of
which the present generation of printers is growing up in ignorance. The balls,
which have been succeeded by rollers, were made of green sheepskins, which had
to undergo a sort of tanning process between your feet and the floor. It was a
long and tedious operation, as every printer whose apprenticeship commenced
previous to 1812 will attest. In 1814 dressed deerskin began to be used instead
of pelts, but it required time to induce old printers to become reconciled to
this innovation.”

— The Life of Thurlow Weed, including his autobiography, 1883

Electric pumps? Excellent idea.

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Imagine a time (and that time was 1906) when people had to be convinced that having electric pumps to supply water for firefighting was a good idea. In case the advantages over handpumps or getting a steam-operated pump up to pressure weren’t obvious, The Insurance Press in 1906 felt the need to print the New York Edison Company’s thoughts on why electricity was a good idea:

Claims Made for Their Efficiency in Fighting Fires.

Referring to the advantages of electric pumps for fire protection, the New York Edison Company claims:

“The electric pump is the only apparatus through
which it is possible to carry out any predetermined method for the
instantaneous supply of water during the earlier stages of any fire.
Plans regarding the organization of a boiler-room force may not be
followed; fires may be banked, re miring some time to get the full
pressure of steam; or the people in charge may be required, at the time
of the fire, to lend their assistance in putting it out. All this means
that the important matter of supplying water under the highest possible
head is being neglected.

“Not so with the electric pump. It requires no
human presence, no high-pressure steam, nothing but the fall of water
below a fixed point, in either the pressure or gravity tank, to provide
an inexhaustible supply of water for instantaneous application in
extinguishing the fire.

“Properly installed, such a pump, receiving its
power from generators located miles away, should continue in operation
long after it has been possible for any human being to remain in the
building. A large number of these pumps located over a given area would
be the source of protection, not only to the building to which they are
directly attached, but, in the event of necessity arising, would aid in
the suppression of fire in adjoining buildings.

“Circumstances are readily conceivable, under
which they might prevent a very widespread conflagration, and it would
be unusual, where so installed, to find that they did not greatly
restrict the fire losses.

“The insurance and
building laws of New York City permit the installation of electric
pumps on a par with steam-pumps. Formerly, steam only was specified,
But, keeping abreast of the improvements in this apparatus, the city and insurance authorities have both agreed that they were justified in making the change.”