Author Archives: carljohnson

Where to go for Bosoms of Superior Quality?

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1862 Schenectady Directory Ketchum Gentlemen's Store.png

Why, Ketchum’s Gentlemen’s Furnishing Store, of course. In case you thought he was going to up and quit the business at any minute, A.M. Ketchum “would respectfully inform the citizens of Schenectady and vicinity that he will continue the manufacture of shirts, collars, bosoms of superior quality, and keep constantly on hand a general assortment of gentlemen’s furnishing goods.” From the age when collars and cuffs were detachable and replaceable (much to the benefit of our own Collar City, Troy), I’ve always heard the term “shirt waist.” But apparently “shirt bosom” was also in use and did not provide the kind of grade-school tittering that such a phrase would occasion today (and Google and Zemanta are essentially fifth-grade boys, because it’s being suggested that a related article to this would be “Chest Vibrator Increases Breast Size.” That’s quantity, not quality, Zemanta).

Ketchum was located on State Street just below South Ferry. He was also an agent for Wheeler & Wilson, one of the earliest sewing machine companies, at a time when that domestic miracle was still relatively new.

Wallace Company Department Store

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Wallace department store postcard.jpgWallace Company was a downtown Schenectady mainstay from 1892 until 1973, when all the great downtown department stores (H.S. Barney, W.T. Grant, S.S. Kresge) seemed to collapse within a few years of each other, leaving only Woolworth’s and the venerable Carl Company behind. Wallace’s was owned by Forbes & Wallace of Springfield, Massachusetts, and also had branches in Poughkeepsie and Kingston. It loomed large in my childhood, not only because I spent endless hours as a bored little boy stuck waiting for my mother in the fabric department (remember when there were fabric departments?), but because Wallace’s may have been the reason I exist in the first place. My grandmother was a waitress in the luncheonette (every department store of any kind of class had a luncheonette), and she noticed a young man who was working in the parking lot – they parked your car for you in those days, in the lot that opened onto Liberty Street – and somehow thought that her daughter should meet this young man. I can’t imagine why she thought that a young man who had never been to high school and was parking cars for a living, two years older than her possibly college-bound daughter, should be a good catch; maybe the only explanation is that it was the ’50s. My father graduated to delivering furniture for Wallace’s, and my mother worked there, too, making clothes for the mannequins (I know that makes no sense in the modern age, but back when people made their own clothes and pattern sales were huge, the stores would have someone make sample clothes and put them on the mannequins). Eventually (or about two months after she graduated high school), they married, and a couple of years later, both working at Wallace’s, they had me. My mother stopped working full-time because that’s what was done then, though she still sewed on the side and sometimes waitressed at the drugstore a few blocks from our home (yes, drugstores had waitresses then). My father went on working for Wallace’s until maybe 1967 or ’68, when he went to work for Central Markets as a local delivery truck driver. (Later on, Central Markets would change their name to Price Chopper.)

The Wallace Co. building, constructed in 1892 and expanded in 1910, still stands on Schenectady’s main commercial block.

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Steam Planing!

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1862 Schenectady Directory Steam Planing Mill.png

Steam was all the rage in the 1860s. Like electricity would be in just a few decades, “steam” became a symbol of modern industry, a sign of a business that could produce a lot and quickly. In this time we see ads for steam printing presses (the first in the country was in Albany), mills, and even cracker production. Van Vorst and Vedder, just a block or so from the Erie Canal, were justifiably proud of their steam planing mill.
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Anthracite.com, early 20th century edition

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You can order your coal by telephone! Imagine: no more dispatching orphans down to the coal yards, crying for anthracite and striking a less than advantageous bargain with the local collier. No more waiting to learn of the bargain while the orphan is distracted by games of pitch-penny or roving tobacco gangs. You simply pick up the telephonic instrument, scream the complicated three-digit calling number at the girl, and in minutes you’re connected with the main office. Will the wonders of this new century never cease?

Yes, there is an Anthracite.com. They don’t give out their phone number.

Some firsts we don’t talk about much

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Albany Perforated Roll Paper 1907.png
Jessica Pasko at All Over Albany wrote last year about how Albany is the home of rolled, perforated toilet paper. She didn’t, however, investigate whether our hometown was also the pioneer in toilet paper holders, but it seems likely. Now you’ve got a roll where you used to have a pile of papers; it couldn’t have taken long to realize that toilet paper wanted to be hung up. A year’s worth of toilet paper and a nickel-plated holder for only a dollar may have seemed a tremendous deal in 1907, but then again, the Sears catalog was free. Apparently, if you didn’t live east of South Dakota, you’d better hope you got the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s catalogs, because the Albany Perforated Wrapping Company’s offer was not for you.

38 Colonie Street, by the way, is currently as dead-end as a dead-end can be.

Bedsteads

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1862 Schenectady Directory Albany Bedstead Factory.png

You don’t hear the word “bedstead” much anymore, which could be why Albany is so shamefully bereft of bedstead factories. Not so in 1862.

But when you Google “bedstead,” one of the top entries is from the Albany Institute of History and Art, which features a magnificent example that belonged to Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

No doubt this factory on the edge of the lumber district produced slightly more modest bedsteads. Rufus Viele was president of the Albany Mechanics Institute, and of the YMCA. He lost ten bedsteads, a crib and a cradle in the fire at New York City’s Crystal Palace in 1858, where he was among the many exhibitors at the Fair of the American Institute.

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One of these things is not like the others

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Look for the symbol of the Troy Restaurant Association, your assurance that your food is properly selected and properly prepared. I mean it, just look for it – you won’t find it. You won’t find a lot of “lunch systems” anymore either, and I’m not sure we aren’t the poorer for it. But you will still find Manory’s Restaurant after all these years, perhaps the only survivor of the proud days of the TRA. Serving breakfast all day!

Beck’s Pocket Guide of Troy

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Beck's Pocket Guide of Troy 1935 cover.png

“Beck’s Pocket Guides are distributed each year to every Policeman and Fireman in the city, all offices in the Court House, City Hall, Jail, Troopers, Post Office Employees, Bus Drivers, Aldermen, Supervisors, Bank Employees, School Teachers and Business Houses in the City.” In 1935, Fred A. Beck’s Pocket Guide of Troy, N.Y. had grown to 96 pages and 5000 copies distributed. Filled with ads for places that no longer exist, lists of street names, elaborate intercity bus and rail schedules, and instructions on how to turn in a fire alarm, this kind of guide was once ubiquitous to any prosperous city and has completely disappeared from the landscape.

The Palace Lunch System, Architects of Appetites, is long, long gone. So are 5 digit phone numbers (or 3 if you were in the same exchange).

I like that in Fred Beck’s mind, a printing emergency was of just about the same import as the need for police or fire.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!

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Albany Frosted Foods receipt.jpgSometime in the late 1950s, for a very brief time, my grandfather ran a drive-in restaurant on Aqueduct Road in Schenectady, not far from the Aqueduct (Route 146) bridge, and now the site of an auto junkyard. A lot of his receipts from that business were saved. In this age when everything is computer-inventoried and printed out in tremendous detail, it’s refreshing to remember a time when receipts were handwritten, had varying levels of detail and legibility, and had a little bit of personality of their own. This receipt was for a bushel of oysters from the Albany Frosted Foods Company, and fans of giant warehouse fires will recognize the address of Colonie and Montgomery Streets. The business was long since bought by gargantuan food supplier Sysco; the building is just an empty shell, lined with cork to keep things cool and waiting for redevelopment.

(And we can’t talk about oysters without mentioning Lewis Carroll.)

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