Author Archives: carljohnson

Stove Capital of the Country

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Buswell Durant stoves

Before collars, Troy’s fortune was made in iron works. The old forests of the Adirondacks fueled iron forges up and down the Champlain valley and beyond, but Troy emerged as the major iron manufacturing center in the state in the mid-1800s. And for a time Troy and nearby foundries were putting out huge proportion of the stoves in use in the country. This Rootsweb page excerpts the story of the industry from “Troy’s One Hundred Years,” and it’s notable that there were so many stove manufacturers that Buswell and Durant, who took this ad in the 1870 Rensselaer County Directory, don’t even make the list. (For those who are interested, this research paper lists literally dozens of stove manufacturers that set up shop in Troy, Albany and in between.)

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Colonial Ice Cream

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Colonial Ice Cream 1920s.png

There was a time when all ice cream was local, and Colonial Ice Cream was a prominent ice cream maker in Schenectady and Scotia, supplying  many local restaurants and stores. The last Colonial factory was in the former Mohawk School on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia; the building was demolished in 1962 and has been a parking lot next to the Baptist Church ever since.

Mrs. Smith was my great grandmother, but I don’t know that she ever played bridge or offered Colonial ice cream for dessert.

Weeber Bicycles

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Weeber's Cycle Works Albany 1899.png
Weeber Cycle Works 1907.pngChristian Weeber was an inventor and tinkerer who built a variety of things in his Albany shop in the early part of the last century: handbuilt automobiles, some of the earliest automobile mufflers, gasoline-powered electric generators, a type of railroad rail. And with his brother Emil, he made and sold bicycles. Weeber had a variety of locations for all his ventures, which were going on at the same time: 170-172 Central Ave., 47-53 Bradford Street, 250 Sherman Street.
Unfortunately, this jack of all trades is forgotten today.

Hate Albany? Blame it on the Dutch.

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Albany plan map 1758.jpg

In Dr. Morse’s American Geography published in 1789, he says, “Albany is said to be an unsociable place … To form a just idea of the manners and customs of the inhabitants, we must confine ourselves to the Dutch, who being much the most numerous, give the tone to the manners of the place.”

in 1795, the Duke de la Rochefoucault-Liancourt visited Albany, and gave his views of the inhabitants as follows: “I was by no means displeased at leaving Albany. The Albanians, to speak generally … are the most disagreeable beings, I have hitherto met with in the United States.”

In 1800 Gorham A. Worth writes, “Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch – Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch.”

(Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Volume 10: “Real Burial Place of Lord Howe” 1911)

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Mourning goods

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Betts & Medbury Dry Goods in Troy

I don’t know where I’d go for mourning goods today, but in 1870, I’d have gone to Betts & Medbury, in the Mansion House Block in Troy. Dry goods of every description, but mourning goods were their specialty. Mourning was big business in those days.

When you need bar belt dressing

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Stephenson Bar Belt Dressing.png

We’ve seen ads where the advertiser begs leave to inform you of the availability of his humble product. That may be good enough for the other guys, but Stephenson Bar Belt Dressing didn’t go in for that namby-pamby stuff. Every mill suppliers should carry it. There’s something wrong with him if he doesn’t. And if he won’t give you a free sample,  just let Stephenson know, and they’ll send around a couple of the boys to convince him. Oh, he’ll carry it, all right.

Wells & Coverly

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Wells & Coverly Troy 1895.pngThe first time I became aware of Wells & Coverly, a pretty high-end gentlemen’s clothing store, was when I moved to Syracuse in the late ’70s, where I believe they had a store in Shoppingtown Mall and may have still had their South Salina Street location. It was a top name for quality and service, and pops up in a number of Syracuse-related searches; people were proud of their Wells & Coverly clothes and their Nettleton shoes. So I was surprised to find that in fact, Wells & Coverly was from Troy.

Weise’s “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889” says that in 1890,  Frederick Wells and James Coverly, took over the men’s and boys’ clothing business of Morris Gross at 336-338 River Street and 13-17 Fourth Street in Troy. (Curiously, there was also a Boston hardware concern some years earlier by the name of Wells, Coverly & Co. It was around in the 1850s, and other variations including the Coverly name continued through 1864, when it became Frye, Phipps & Co. I can’t find the connection between the hardware and the clothes.) In 1907 they added to their location in Troy, had a location in Hoosick Falls, two stores in Oswego, and opened their Syracuse store in the Betts Block on South Salina Street (it still stands).

With the renovations, their store in Troy had 80 feet of frontage on both River and Front streets. “The showcase equipment of the store commands admiration. Another innovation is the most modern type of the electric cash carrier system with six stations. The electric lighting is provided for by an entirely new plant formed by Nernst lamps. Large mirrors on all sides enable customers to get a full view of their new suits from head to foot. Toilet rooms are also among the conveniences provided for patrons. The room set aside for children is a very handsome apartment. The doors and drawers of the cabinets and cases require no more than the touch of a little finger to move them.”

I suspect its location was probably where the Uncle Sam Atrium parking garage is today, directly across from Frear’s Cash Bazaar; I’d love to hear from someone who knows.

Thanks to a posting over at the Nostalgic Syracuse Facebook page, we were twigged to another piece of the Massachusetts connection. George B. Dowley, who began with a clothing store in Hyde Park, went to Worcester, Mass., and bought out the venerable Ware-Pratt Company, Worcester’s oldest and largest clothing store. According to the “History of Worcester and Its People,” Dowley “bought the Wells-Coverly company and incorporated the business, April 1, 1914. This company operates stores in Troy, Syracuse, and Oswego, New York. George B. Dowley is the president of this corporation and his son is treasurer. Mr. Dowley added to his strong of clothing stores by purchase, May 2, 1918, another place in Springfield, Massachusetts, which will be run by the Ware-Pratt Company of Springfield.”

Of interest, here in 2015, we happened across an antiques shop in New Hope, PA, that had a number of printing related items, and among some cast-off lead type cuts was this logotype for Wells & Coverly:
Wells & Coverly logo cut