Author Archives: carljohnson

Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth

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Died Long Ago - A Giffen AlbanyFrom the Schenectady Cabinet in 1855, this odd little advertisement that we suspect was meant to turn a particular phrase but which lost something in a spelling error: “Died Long Ago, Yet Liveth!” In reference to the dyeing and scouring establishment of Mr. A. Giffen at Albany’s old City Mill on Water Street, we have to assumed it was meant that he “dyed” long ago, and then we could all appreciate the pun instead of being somewhat weirded out.

“Mr. Giffen promises that no pains or expense shall be spared in shis endeavors to please, both in regard to colors and finish. Gent’s Coats, Pants and Vests dyed, scoured and pressed in a manner equal to new goods. Ladies’ Silk, Satin, Velvet, Merino, M deLaine and Bombazine dresses, dyed in every variety of shade.” And so on. A few years after this, in 1861, A. Giffen would still be in business, at 80 Beaver Street.

Lest you think he was the only dyer (or scourer) in Albany, please let us inform you of the miracle of steam scouring, and of the former editor of the Scientific American who came to Albany to die. We mean, dye.

 

William Bolles Has Something for Country Merchants

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W.F. Bolles ad Schdy Cabinet 1855While we’re stuck in 1855, let’s take a look at this ad from the Schenectady Cabinet for the shop of William F. Bolles.

“Country merchants will find at 81 State-street, a large assortment of Paper Hangings, School Books, and Letter and Cap Paper, at New-York prices.”

We can only presume that by advertising to country merchants, Bolles was at least re-selling, if not actually wholesaling, the stock of items he was offering, presumably to general stores that dotted the region. Paper hangings are wallpaper; “cap paper” probably refers to foolscap (so named for its original watermark), or perhaps flat cap or legal cap. All were varieties of coarse paper.

His shop was at 81 State Street, but his residence, at least in 1860 (when he was listed as supplying books and stationery), was at 77 State Street; not clear whether that could have been the same or just an immediately adjacent building. Later, in 1864, he was boarding at 10 Liberty Street. Bolles was born March 23, 1819, in Connecticut. He was the son of a printer in Hartford.

Possibly Painless Dentistry

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B. Stickles DentistFrom an 1855 edition of the Schenectady Cabinet, an advertisement for B. Stickles, surgical and mechanical dentist. Let’s take “mechanical” to mean that he could create things like false teeth and bridges, not that he was a wind-up automaton. All branches of the profession carried on, and all work warranted. Chloroform or Ether administered when advisable. With our limited knowledge of mid-19th century dentistry, we’d venture it was usually advisable.

We can find nothing further about B. Stickles; he doesn’t appear in the city directory just five years later.

The Rota-Ray Map and a Blinger of a Campaign

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rota_ray_system_map_albany_schenectady_troySome time ago, the folks at All Over Albany stumbled on this great little scrolling map device, posted at the David Rumsey Map Collection. Not only is it possibly the coolest motoring map device we’ve ever seen, but it appears to have generated quite a bit of excitement in those early days of motoring in the Capital District. Well, at least it excited P.J. Kehoe, secretary of the Schenectady Club of the New York State Automobile Association. In the organization’s “Motordom,” there was clearly anticipation of the club’s membership drive, which was going to be aided by the press corps of the Rota-Ray corporation, makers of this ingenious little navigation device that allowed motorists to scroll from map to map as they traversed the state.

As MOTORDOM goes to press there is impending at Schenectady, scene of the annual meeting in October, a membership campaign that will be well worth watching from the standpoint of new methods involved and co-operative action on the part of a live wire membership.

With the slogan, “Make It Three Thousand,” the Schenectady Automobile Club, using the organization and press team of the Rota-Ray Map Systems, is putting on a blinger of a campaign. The thing has been in preparation for two weeks and with the heartiest support of the newspapers of Schenectady and vicinity the campaign is almost certain to come through with a great deal of glory for all concerned.

Noting that a “live” campaign would show the optimism of business men regardless of what business conditions may seem like, Kehoe’s report said that the auto industry was on the edge of another boom that would herald the “resumption of normalcy.” Enrollment in the auto club was 1200, and they were seeking a 200 percent increase from the 9000 car owners in the district.

Of course there are always certain people in a community that join the automobile club annually as a matter of course, but on the other hand there are more who have to be shown and led to righteousness by means of personal and individual effort.

The big feature of the campaign was to be a “transcontinental race” with cars entered by “practically every dealer in Schenectady – nearly 40 all told.” The race was to start in Schenectady’s public market, with Mayor Lunn firing the starter pistol. It turns out it wasn’t a race at all, but a competition in which dealers and others racked up “miles” and passed certain cities as checkpoints according to the number of new automobile club members they signed up – and the Gazette routinely reported this “race” in ways that made it appear it wasn’t out of the ordinary. “Running parallel with this are all sorts of stunts to put the jazz into the ten big days when the automobile and the Automobile Club of Schenectady will occupy the center of attention in that immediate vicinity.”

The president of the club, E.D. Manson, and his “live” board of directors, with the assistance of the Rota-Ray organization, were able to add “uncorkable pep” to the campaign, which was to mobilize city officials, organizations, theaters, and Boy Scouts “into a big mobile driving force that is going to move things.”

The Schenectady Gazette of Sept. 16, 1921, headlined one story “Arrows Point Out Motorists’ Duty”:

This morning Schenectady awakens to the slogan “Follow the Arrow” After the city went to bed at midnight, cars with bundles of cardboard arrows departed from the club headquarters at the Mohawk hotel for the various through-routes leading into Schenectady and from the outskirts of the city brought long lines of the markers into the business section with the club headquarters at the Mohawk hotel as the focal point. All motor car owners of Schenectady who have not yet become members of the club are asked to “Follow the Arrow” and “sign up.”

Barringer & Co., The New York Store!

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Barringer's adBack in 1855, one of the finest stores in Schenectady, New York, was Barringer & Co. (“The New-York Store!”), at 87 State Street. In this ad, they proclaimed that they were now receiving, and offering for sale (a good move, business-model-wise), a complete assortment of British, French and German staple and fancy dry goods, including rich black and colored silks, new mousselin (similar to muslin) delaines, brocha long shawls, cloths and cassimers, linen shirting and sheeting, and carpeting, oil cloth, matting and more. “The extent and variety of our stock, and low prices, are unequalled by any other house in the trade.”

1855 happens to be the year that an ambitious gentleman by the name of Howland S. Barney bought into the Barringer Company; it would only be three years before he would buy out his partners and establish H.S. Barney Co. He built a landmark department store further up State Street in 1872; the building stands to this day, and Barney’s still stands strong in the memories of Schenectadians despite having closed in 1973.

Barringer small ad 11-13-1855William Barringer may have gone on to other ventures; he was only 45 years old when Barney bought him out. In 1870, he was listed as a retired merchant with real estate worth $10,000 and personal property valued at $40,000, so the rag trade seems to have treated him pretty well. Born in Columbia County around 1810, he moved to Schenectady somewhere around 1837. He married a younger woman (13 years younger), and had sons late in life, when he was 43 and 45. In 1865, he was living with his sons (but no wife) at 2 Union Street, at the corner of Washington Avenue, a building of odd personal meaning to Hoxsie – in the 1970s, it was the home of the Schenectady County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and much time was wasted there in important activities of the teen years. Decades later, it had been returned to use as a private home and, in one of those coincidences life throws at you, was owned by a friend and colleague.

 

Look for the Name “Joe”

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Joe Green's Ad 1922While digging up the dirt on Spiro Agnew’s father’s Hygienic Lunches, we ran across many, many ads by this character, Joe Green, whose menswear store was at 412 State Street in Schenectady, over the Hygienic Lunch (some years after Agnew had decamped for Baltimore). Many of the ads exhort the reader to

Look for the Name, “Joe,” and the Real Joe’s Picture Over the Door – If You Don’t See the Name, “Joe,” and His Picture, You’re Not in the Right Place.

Very specific instructions. Is it possible there was a non-real Joe Green somewhere nearby? Was there someone posting a picture of a Joe Green look-alike inside their walk-up menswear store, hoping to confuse those who weren’t sure of just where they were? It’s a mystery.

Joe Green's Ad 2

The Old Capitol Power House

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For 105 years, the Sheridan Avenue steam plant has provided steam (and, once, electricity) to the Capitol, the State Education Building and, later on, the rest of the Capitol complex. But that’s the “new” plant, hidden down in the hollow. The original powerhouse for the Capitol was right down Hawk Street. It was tucked in among a number of neighborhood buildings, none of which exist today. Some of the neighborhood was replaced by the newfangled State Education Building, and the replacement of the powerhouse came around the time the SED was completed. Across the street, what is now Lafayette Park was once all residences, bisected by the now lost Lafayette Street.

Capitol Power House, Hawk Street

This view (from the Albany…The Way It Was Flickr page) would be about from the Washington Avenue portico of the Capitol, looking across the avenue to the buildings on Hawk Street that no longer exist. To the far right, behind the light pole, is the old power house; its chimney looms large over the row houses to the left. Given that the complex was powered by coal, we can imagine the surroundings were more than a little sooty.

Capitol Powerhouse Adjacent to State Education BuildingLater, the power house co-existed with the new State Education Building, but its days were numbered. Even before the new building was dedicated in 1912, the State had begun planning for a new power plant down in Sheridan Hollow.

Demolition of the old Capitol Power HouseFrom the Albany Public Library comes this image of the demolition of the old power house. We don’t know if something took its place for a few decades before the Education Building Annex was built.

The Woolworth’s That Wasn’t A Woolworth’s

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W.H. Moore and Son, Schenectady, State and FerryEverybody remembers the old Woolworth’s in Schenectady. But what they don’t remember is that it wasn’t a Woolworth’s, at least not originally – it was a W.H. Moore’s.

William H. Moore was a native of Saratoga Springs, born in 1841; his family moved to Watertown as his father found work with the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. Willliam went into dry goods, and was a partner in the Augsbury and Moore Dry Goods Store in Watertown, New York, when he gave a young Frank Woolworth, from Rodman, NY, his first job. Although Augsbury and Moore was a fine store catering to the carriage trade, and young Frank showed up for his interview without suit or tie, William Moore took a chance on the young man, who offered to work unpaid for three months in exchange for board and lodging. Moore (this according to the Woolworths Museum site) proposed an apprenticeship of six months, with pay starting in the fourth month. Woolworth began work in March, 1873. Later denied a raise, Woolworth went elsewhere, but came back to work for Moore and a new partner. In the midst of continued depression in 1877, Moore hit on the idea of clearing surplus stock, pricing it all at five cents, and brought in additional merchandise that could sell at that price. Woolworth, essentially a window dresser, gussied up the display and put up a sign that said “Any article on this table 5 cents.” This kinda gave him an idea, and he went off to try it in Utica (where it didn’t go very well) and Lancaster, PA, where it was a hit. Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store was soon expanding, with branches in Harrisburg and Scranton run by his brothers. The Woolworth brothers expanded by engaging family and former co-workers to open their five and dime stores.

While Woolworth was expanding, Moore and his subsequent partners did not do well, and he closed out his business. Eventually he went to Woolworth, who offered to back him in any business enterprise, sold him goods at cost, and helped him establish a new store in Watertown. With this backing, in 1896, he started another five and ten cent store in Schenectady with his son, L.W. Moore, as partner – W.H. Moore and Son, at State and Ferry streets.

In 1911, Woolworth created a “big combine,” as the Utica Herald-Dispatch put it, announcing a world-wide combination of five and ten-cent stores capitalized at $65 million, embracing 600 stores in the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. Two of those stores were Moore’s in Watertown and Schenectady. In discussing the new enterprise, Woolworth gave full credit to William Moore:

“I worked under Mr. Moore as an employe in those days. He taught me the business,” said Mr. Woolworth. “One day he decided on a little counter, three by five feet, in a corner of his store, to put in a line of five-cent goods and sell them only on that counter. There is where the five and ten-cent business started.”

W.H. Moore & Son SchenectadyAt some point W.H. Moore & Son moved to the familiar location of State and Broadway. When it stopped being called W.H. Moore is not clear, but Moore himself died in May of 1916, aged 74, after a trip to the dentist – which is reported to have put Woolworth off dentistry for the rest of his life.

 

 

The Morner House

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Morner House near Albany (LOC)

Checking through the Library of Congress collection on Flickr, we ran across this 1911 photo published by Bain News Service, marked “Morner House Near Albany.” If it looks like there was quite a hubbub going on at the Morner house, well, there was. For starters, “near Albany” is relative; Bain also described the house as in Defreestville. In fact, it was on Morner Road in East Greenbush. The reason it was in the news was the shocking murders of Mrs. Conrad Morner (a widow), son Arthur and daughters Edith and Blanche. They were generally believed to have been killed by an Italian farmhand named Edward Donato (or Di Donato) who had worked on the farm for a few months. The New York Times has as good a summary as anyone. No particular motive beyond a potential disagreement with Arthur Morner was discussed. Apparently quite a number of people thought to be Donato were arrested all over the area and beyond, but none of them could be positively identified, and he was never found. There was long speculation (including the possibility that Conrad Morner’s death a few years before was also suspicious) but no resolution. The house still stands.

The Barnet Family: Far From Shoddy

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While we were digging around the “Personal Pages” from a 1919 edition of Textile World, our curiosity was piqued by this note on the generosity of William Barnet, perhaps Rensselaer’s leading shoddy manufacturer. (Hoxsie will always find “shoddy manufacturer” funny, but if you don’t know, shoddy was a cheap fabric made of short-fibered reclaimed wool.) The article says that:

William Barnet, president of William Barnet & Sons, shoddy manufacturers of Rensselaer, N.Y., and a prominent resident of Albany, was one of the first to volunteer the use of his automobile to carry the orphans of Albany to and from Maple-Beach Park [successor to Al-Tro Park], where the annual orphans’ field day will be held. Mr. Barnet is a leading member of the Albany Motor Club, which has undertaken to supply transportation for the orphans.

It would appear that trundling orphans off for a day of fun was actually one of Barnet’s lesser good works; his reputation, and that of his company were anything but shoddy. (Sorry.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, the original factory was founded at Broadway and Westerlo St. in 1898, then moved to Rensselaer in 1905. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1915 and later expanded. “The fumes and smoke which are characteristic of shoddy mills will be entirely absent in the new structure, according to Mr. Barnet, Sr. A device has been installed to draw off all obnoxious odors from the shoddies and carry them through a series of tubes to the outside.” A memorial to William Barnet from the Albany Evening News of Dec. 15, 1932, expressed what appeared to be the common opinion of Barnet:

William Barnet was one of the givers. He gave of money and time and service and sympathy. His long life of four score years was not lived for self but for others. His sense of public responsibility was large. He believed in kind words and good deeds. He had lived in Albany since he was 20 years old and he established the business of William Barnet & Son in Rensselaer. Sometimes it seemed as if business was his avocation and service to the public was his vocation. Under supervision of Herbert Hoover he was chairman of the Belgian Relief campaign. He was a trustee of the fund to build the Salvation Army Home and chairman of the Jewish War Relief campaign. In the war he was supervising chairman of draft boards in this section. He was a leader in several fraternal organizations, a world traveler and one of the foremost philanthropists that Albany has known. His life was an inspiration to all. To know him as a friend was a privilege. His example of active high citizenship will never be forgotten. The city mourns one of its rarest men.

Son Henry, who was president of the company for many years, worked on the Community Chest, on the board of the Jewish Community Center, and on the boards of Albany Hospital and Temple Beth Emeth. In 1940, he led a campaign against syphilis. “It seems that while he is in Albany, his idea of relaxation is going to meetings or trying to raise funds for his favorite projects.” The newspapers are filled with mentions of good works by Henry Barnet. In 1936, Barnet plant employees were among the first to receive hospitalization insurance (the terms will make you cry, so we’ll save that for tomorrow). No surprise, as Henry Barnet was instrumental in forming the Blue Cross Associated Hospital Service in the Capital District. He died in 1951, at age 71, extremely well-regarded. (Incidentally, he lived at 123 S. Lake Ave., certainly a handsome home but no mansion.)

A civic-minded family, Henry’s son William Barnet 2d lived his whole life in Albany, retired as chairman of the family business, and was involved In a number of philanthropic activities, including the foundation that bears his name and his wife’s. William Barnet III, an Albany Academy graduate, was President and CEO of the family business from 1976-2000, and has been on the boards of some little organizations like Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Fleet Boston. He was also mayor of Spartanburg, SC for a number of years.

William Barnet & Son went south in the 1960s, like most textile companies, moving its headquarters to South Carolina, and then branched out worldwide. While they make polymers and yarns, Hoxsie is happy to see that they still make short cut and staple fibers from post-industrial and post-consumer waste materials, so it’s entirely possible they’re still a leading shoddy manufacturer. We’d like to think so.

The Barnet mill still stands on Forbes Avenue in Rensselaer, now known as the Hilton Center and clearly visible from the Corning Preserve Boat Launch on the Albany side of the river.