Author Archives: carljohnson

Schenectady Newsies

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910.jpg

101 years ago, there was no TV news. There wasn’t even radio. The only way to get information about the greater world was by newspaper. And newspapers were sold by newsboys on the streets of every city in the country. As child labor went in those days, the newsboy’s lot was fairly cushy.  I’ve previously written about what was going on in the news that day, so follow this link if you want to know.
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One of the Jones Boys

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Moses Jones roofing art

This week I learned that Moses Jones, Practical Slater, was the man who laid the roof on historic St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, which is now owned by the Historic Albany Foundation. HAF puts tremendous efforts into maintaining this gem that anchors Arbor Hill, and which will be central to any return to greatness for that neighborhood. So I wanted to learn just a little bit more about Moses Jones.

In 1860, when St. Joseph’s was built,  Moses M. Jones was 30 years old, living in Schenectady. He was married, had real property valued at $1000 and personal property at $2000. Moses was born in Wales; his 28-year-old wife Catherine was from Pennsylvania. Their children were Morris M, Emma and George. His profession was given as “slater.”

Right next door to Moses? More Jones boys, all slaters. There was Morris M. Jones, 28, and his wife Angeline and son Royal. (Angeline was also from Pennsylvania, and Royal and Morris were born there, suggesting the Jones boys swept through Pennsylvania to pick up some brides on their way to the not-yet-Electric City). There was another Morris M. Jones, 19, and a David M. Jones, 16. In that household was another slater, John M. Drake, 20, who had the courtesy at least to have the proper middle initial if he was going to persist in not being a Jones. They lived in a merchant neighborhood on Yates Street, a street that runs between Union and Liberty just east of Broadway that is now little but parking lots. But in 1860, it was slaters, clergymen, tailors, and a patent rights business. In 1863, Moses registered for the Civil War draft, though his age then was given as 39.

But other than this ad, a single census entry, and a draft registration, I can’t find any evidence of Moses. He doesn’t appear in the 1870 business directory. All the Jones boys seem to disappear, except Royal, who shows up in Tacoma, Washington, in 1892. I’d love to report that he was putting up slate roofs, but he was listed as a cook.

By the way, to go by the surviving records, in 1830 Wales was producing people named Moses Jones by the bushel basket.

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Moses Jones, Practical Slater

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Moses Jones was a practical slater, and he knew whereof he spoke. Slate roofing is heavy, expensive, and difficult to work with, but when done right it’s beautiful and bulletproof. And as he pointed out, it’s reusable.

Interesting that in the 1862 Schenectady directory, Moses Jones listed his residence before his business address.

Fans of St. Joseph’s Church on Arbor Hill in Albany should take note that it was considered (by Moses Jones, at least, who installed it) to be the most complete slate roof in the United States. I have no idea what that means.

“Practical Slater” would have been an excellent name for a Puritan, by the way.

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“Tepidarium”?! I want to go to there!!

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There’s been a lot of press lately about the closing of the last of Albany’s public baths (which by now is truly just a swimming pool). Once, the baths were so much more. In 1870, you could have walked just one block (or “square”) north up Broadway from Delevan House, one of Albany’s biggest hotels, and treated yourself to Turkish, electro-chemical and sulphurous vapor baths. Easily reachable by horse cars from all parts of the city, the bath house was open until 9 every night and until midnight on the Sabbath. Calculated against unskilled wages, that $1.25 for a single ticket would be about $148 today, so it’s likely this place wasn’t for the hoi polloi.

The Modus Operandi of the Turkish Bath: “The Bather enters the Reception Room, registers his name, and is there shown into a Dressing Room, where he disrobes, each bather having a separate apartment. A sheet is then provided for him, and he is now ready for the ‘Tepidarium,’ or warm room. There his head is wet with cold water, also drinks freely of water, and reclines or sits on a resting chair for ten or fifteen minutes, until the skin becomes soft and moist. He is then ready for the “Calidarium,” or hot room, until profuse perspiration takes place, the head meanwhile being kept with wet with cold water. He is then taken out and shampooed from head to foot with perfumed Glycerine Soap, which leaves the skin ‘soft as velvet.’ Then comes the Spray Bath, warm at first, then cool, then cold; and so gradual is the change of temperature that no shock is given to the system. When the bather is sufficiently cooled, a hot dry sheet is thrown over him, he is ushered into the ‘Frigidarium,’ or cooling room. Here, reclining or sitting, he remains until thoroughly cool and dry, when he is ready to dress, a wiser, cleaner and happier man.”

THE LADIES GO THROUGH THE SAME ROUTINE.

Funny how the Modus Operandi of the Sulphurous Vapor Bath isn’t given.

Two cities can play at that game

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In the old days, cities took their reputations as manufacturing centers very seriously, and so did the companies. When inter-company (and intra-family) rivalry broke out in the burgeoning bell industry, one company took pains to point out that only their bells were actually made in Troy; that other pack of scoundrels (who dominated the industry) were in West Troy, across the river in what is now Watervliet. And to some extent it still matters today; I won’t ever buy a Troy-Bilt product again, simply because they’re no longer built in Troy, or anywhere near. They decamped for Michigan years ago.

So I can’t help but feel that the Albany Paper Collar Company, a few miles south of the Collar City, must have always been thought of as putting out a second class product. Not because their collars were paper; don’t forget that celluloid (an Albany invention) hadn’t yet been applied to the collar business. Paper collars were considered a breakthrough. If they were made in Troy.  Oh, sure, those Albany collars’ll cover your neck, but they’d never make it in the big town. Nevertheless, they had a very large factory on Broadway, right where the DEC building is today. One guide to Albany claimed it was the sixth largest company in an industry of 70, employing from 40 to 50 persons, “mostly girls,” and that this business also supported the box factory of George Cozine at 283-285 Broadway, “which is fitted up with all the latest improved machinery, and devoted expressly to making the little box into which the collars are put, each box containing ten collars systematically rolled in the least possible room.” The covers of the boxes were ornamented with a fine representation of our new State Capitol.

Scientist, Practical Dyer.

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In the 1850s and 1860s, Robert McFarlane was the editor of Scientific American. “A genuine Scot, from Rutherglen, near Glasgow,” he was instrumental in promoting the benefits of Gail Borden’s invention of condensed milk, and wrote an important treatise on dyeing and calico printing. By 1870, he had left the big city life and editing behind, and was in charge of The Old Dyeing and Scouring Establishment at 24 Norton Street in Albany. How did the editor of the premiere scientific magazine of its day (in a day when science was held in high regard) end up running a high-end laundry? I don’t know. Perhaps he just really liked dyeing things.

Norton Street, by the way, is gone.  Formerly called Church Street and, until 1835, Store Lane, it ran east from South Pearl Street and ended at Green Street. It is shown as “Nail Street” on the Simeon De Witt maps from the 1790s.

Fix that umbrella!

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Daniel Weaver of 49 Green Street was not only a manufacturer and dealer in umbrellas and parasols, he also re-covered and repaired them. An Albanian from 1870 was likely hard pressed to imagine why you would throw away an umbrella when it could be repaired; today we can hardly imagine how you could repair one when new ones at the Target are $14. (Or, on the streets of New York, fi’ dolla — though sometimes the price goes up with the rainfall.)

Also, he always had corset bone on hand, sold in quantities to suit purchasers — not like the whole corset bone dealers who required you to take an entire whale’s worth of bone at a time.

Not enough galvanized iron cornice these days

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In fact, to say there’s not enough galvanized iron cornice these days is a sad understatement. While I’ve seen some lovely, graceful buildings with nice decorative elements put up in other cities (look at all the handsome new construction in Washington, D.C. over the past decade and change), here we settle for the quickest, cheapest, ugliest, least decorative econoboxes available. Not that I’m bitter. But Albany is a beautiful city of graceful historical buildings, and J.W. Osborn and Bradley Martin had to have at least a small hand in that. If you know where to look, there’s still a fair amount of galvanized iron cornice, window caps, &c. around for the viewing, 140 years later. That they were selling these items from James Street, right off of State in the heart of downtown, rather than the distant lumber district, suggests they were appealing to the upper class of citizens who appreciated the makings of a fine home. Where would you go for galvanized iron cornice today? Not Google, that’s for sure – all references are to that past.

Yeah, I’m just gonna wait until they invent foam

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No doubt that H.R. Watson used the finest curled hair, husk &c. (and if you have already covered hair and husk, just what could that “&c.” be?) in their mattresses, and no doubt that “spring under” was a major innovation, even though today it seems logical that you wouldn’t want the springs on top of the mattress. (Unless of course you really wanted to be separated from the curled hair.) And honestly, I don’t know how “live” I want my geese feathers to be. But maybe it’s best that Watson had some French lace curtains on hand to fancy up the place.

Plain Street, which once ran west from South Pearl between Hudson and Hamilton, is no more, destroyed by the South Mall Arterial.