Author Archives: carljohnson

Again with the steam

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1862 Schenectady Directory Eureka Steam Mills.png

Oh, steam! Is there nothing you don’t make better? I’m not sure exactly what they actually milled at Eureka Steam Mills, which was at Broadway and Division Streets (possibly where the defunct Adirondack Trailways terminal is), but they were one of a number of dealers in coffee, spices, cream tartar, mustard, &c. in downtown Albany in 1862.

It seems to me that in a time when everything was run by steam, Albany was at its most prosperous. Nowadays, with steam mills and steam crackers impossible to find, times aren’t so good. I’m just saying, maybe it was the steam.

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Bears in the news

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Bears in the news? Nothing new. The Cohoes Cataract, 1849, reported on a resolution of the trustees of the village of Cohoes:

“Complaint having been made that Wm. H. Bortell has a bear near his house which is not safely secured, therefore Resolved: That the police constable be, and he is hereby ordered to direct the said Bortell in the name of the village to secure the said bear or remove him so as children and passengers shall not be exposed any longer.”

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Mmmm . . . steam crackers . . .

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As I’ve said before, if you wanted to show that your product was the height of modernity in the 19th century, it had to be made by steam. Witness Fred Carr & Son’s Greenbush Steam Cracker and Biscuit Manufactory. It had previously been J. Whiting’s cracker factory, at Second Avenue and Washington in what is now Rensselaer. These weren’t your old-fashioned crackers, baked with coal or perhaps boiling vats of offal – these were STEAM crackers! An impressive variety, too – oyster crackers, milk biscuits, ginger snaps, graham crackers, soda wafers, saltines and more.

Frederick Carr’s home at 15 Second Ave., Rensselaer, still stands.

Imagine how ticked off Fred Carr and son must have been when Shredded Wheat started touting its electric baking process, using the power of Niagara Falls. Hey, steam was good enough for you people all these years, it should be good enough now!

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Where the Erie Canal met the Hudson

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Once, it might have been the most important transportation intersection in the United States: the spot where the Erie Canal opened into the Hudson River. Here, barges carrying grain and hundreds of other products from the Great Lakes region had to be lifted from mule-drawn packet boats the plied the canal and moved onto sailing ships and steam vessels that would carry the goods down to New York harbor. And imported goods that had arrived in New York, or any of its many manufactures of the time, had to be manually loaded onto canal boats for their journey west. In the days before the railroads, and even for decades after rail reached over the Appalachians, the water level route was the commercial lifeblood of our nation.

Erie Canal at Albany marker DSCN8357.JPGAnd we still remember it today, with preserved pieces of the original canal scattered here and there throughout the Capital District, noted by the blue-and-yellow markers. But this particular spot, once the busiest harbor in the state outside of New York City, is now a riverside park with no hint of its industrial past. Now part of the Corning Preserve, the site has a bike path, a boat launch and lots of parking, but only a lonely historical marker gives any indication of its former importance. You have to follow the filled-in canal quite a way up the aptly named Erie Boulevard before you can find the first trace of old canal infrastructure, unmarked and forgotten, a little bit of lock wall right in front of the Huck Finn’s Warehouse.

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The Albany-Rensselaer Bridge

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The Approach to Albany Rensselaer bridge postcard.jpgI don’t have a date for this postcard, which features the first Dunn Memorial Bridge, a lift bridge dedicated August 19, 1933, replacing the Greenbush Bridge. By the opening of the Dunn, Greenbush was a memory, consolidated along with Bath-on-Hudson and East Albany into the City of Rensselaer. This is the approach to the bridge as seen from Rensselaer; at the time it connected directly to Third Avenue, with Broadway crossing underneath the Albany-bound ramp. The ramp is lovely. On the Albany side, the bridge connected to Ferry Street. The site in this view has a long history as bridge ramp, as it still connects traffic to the new Dunn Memorial Bridge, several hundred feet to the north.

The building on the left stood until sometime in the 1990s; when I moved here it was home of the now-defunct Yankee Doodle Bikes. The building on the right, with some changes to its roofline, is still there.

The Albany skyline has changed a bit in the years … at this time the most distinctive elements were the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building and the New York Telephone Building. Because of terrain and interceding buildings, the State Capitol is generally not very visible from the Rensselaer side.

Albany and Rensselaer did not get a second vehicle crossing until 1968, when the Patroon Island Bridge, carrying I-90 across the Hudson River, was opened. This bridge, also seen in this postcard view, blew up real good in 1971.

The first bridge to carry non-rail traffic across the Hudson between Albany and what was then called Greenbush wasn’t built until 1882, some years after the upper (Livingston Avenue) and lower (Maiden Lane) railroad bridges were constructed. Like the bridges that came before it, it was an article of contention, opposed by those who feared it would obstruct navigation and by the ferry owners. Even after the first bridge was built, its successors were also opposed. You can find more about that bridge here.

We’re proud of our shoddy work!

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Troy Waste Manufacturing Co. 1895.pngNot surprisingly, in its heyday the Collar City (and neighboring Cohoes, the Spindle City) generated a lot of waste fabric. But in 1895, very little waste was allowed to go to waste, and the cast-off cotton and wool of the collar and shirt bosom industries was collected up for a variety of uses. Paper, for instance, was not always from tree cellulose, but often had a high cotton (“rag”) content. Cotton batting was not made from freshly processed yarn, but from cast-off materials from other manufacturing processes. And wool fibers that were too short for weaving or felting would be reclaimed into a cheap material called “shoddy.” (Today, Google finds this so hard to believe that even if you search for “wool shoddies,” it will first return you results for “wool hoodies,” making it clear you can’t be looking for what you think you’re looking for.) Although shoddy became a synonym for something that would quickly fall apart, even shoddy wool was longer lasting than cotton, and in an age when even ditch-diggers wore some form of woolen suit, shoddy was in high demand. (And I imagine if you were the foreman of the ditch-diggers, you might distinguish yourself with a high-class merino shoddy.)

The Troy Waste Manufacturing Company was a major dealer in cotton and woolen waste, batting, paper and shoddy stock. If you wanted something shoddy, they were the place to go. If you wanted another go-round at the joke, you might say they were proud of their shoddy workmanship. Their building still stands, by the way, though as its plaque indicates, the current building is from 1909. A shoddy fire burned down the previous building in 1907.

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Trojan Bowling

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In 1935, the bowling and billiard hall that Erve managed was in the Hall-Rand building on the northwest corner of Congress and Third Streets in Troy. This was the former Rand’s Hall, later Rand’s Opera House, expanded in 1872 as a concert room, lecture hall and place of exhibitions. How Rand’s Hall became “Hall-Rand,” or how an opera house became a bowling alley, I don’t know. I also don’t know how “Erve” is pronounced. Sadly, it’s long gone, and a  former chain restaurant building housing a fast food buffet occupies what should be a prominent corner of the city.

Guy Bull’s location for wrapping paper and twine is a residential neighborhood on the edge of Knickerbacker Park.

How to make Bosoms of Superior Quality in your own home

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The other day we mentioned that Ketchum’s Gentlemen’s Furnishing Store was, in addition to being a purveyor of shirt bosoms of superior quality, an agent for the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine. It shouldn’t be any surprise that there are numerous advertisements for sewing machines in the Collar City’s directory for 1870 — sewing was practically the official occupation of Troy. Andrew Aird and Bros. were the local agents for Wheeler & Wilson of Watertown, CT, one of the leading sewing machine manufacturers of the day (eventually they were absorbed by Singer).

Andrew Aird was a native of Scotland who lived in Green Island and had a number of interests in Troy. In addition to selling and repairing sewing machines at 380 River Street, he was also listed as a provider of collar manufacturers’ tools at 480 River. His brothers John and Henry were also in the business. In 1875, Andrew Aird opened his jewelry and watchmaking business in the Mansion House Block, and remained in that business at least through 1900. He was also listed as a machinist at the same address.

Your great great grandma’s pottery

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Today Troy’s Pottery District is a combination of history and artisans, and there are a number of people in the area creating distinctive works for sale in the River Street shops. But in 1870, “Troy Pottery” meant something else entirely. We’re talking sewage. But clearly W.J. Seymour’s yard at the corner of Ferry and William in Troy was the place to go for drain pipe of all shapes and sizes, and had been since 1809.