Author Archives: carljohnson

The battle of the porch

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Newspaper used as insulation has been able to tell me what no civic records ever could: exactly when my house was built. For the most part, it was put together in 1939, by a family named Lodge that was living in Menands at the time. Mr. Lodge worked for the phone company, and parts of the house include some plywood sheets and pieces of crates stamped American Telephone and Telegraph. Because of the . . . interesting way our porch was put together, we had always assumed it started life as an open porch and was eventually enclosed, and we were never sure when the porch was added. Thanks to the miracle of newspaper insulation, we can now see that the porch was added shortly after “F.D.” (no room for that “R.” in that narrow column) repeated his no-war pledge, which was reported in the Knickerbocker News on September 12, 1940. Unfortunately, most of the papers were crumpled and ravaged by time, so there was very little to salvage. But now we know the porch came just about a year after the house.

Let your vital force flow

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1923: Patent medicines were still going strong, and the practice of chiropractic, often tinged with quackery, claims that nerve pressure prevents the all-important Vital Force from reaching your organs. It has a diagram, so it must be scientific.

The Friedman Building, where L.S. Blair practiced in Schenectady, is long since gone. It’s now the site of the MVP Health headquarters, across from Crescent Park, which is supposed to now be called Veterans Park. It was renamed after World War II, and yet the Crescent Park name just doesn’t seem to go away.

Bureaucracy, 1844

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Back in 1844, the Mayor of Albany was Friend Humphrey, a leather merchant whose home in Colonie still exists. The City Council was made up of two aldermen per ward. That much sounds pretty much like government today. But among the city officers were a number of positions that, for better or worse, no longer exist:

  • Chamberlain and Deputy Chamberlain — the Chamberlain was essentially the city treasurer.
  • Overseer of the Poor — who managed the Alms-House.
  • Dock Master — which was hugely important in the city that connected the Hudson to the rest of the country, by way of Erie Canal.
  • Captains of the Watch — From a time when citizens formed the night watch.
  • Measurers of Wood — when Albany was one of the lumber capitals of the country, there was much wood to be measured.
  • Keeper of the Powder-House — the old Powder-House was on the grounds of what is now Washington Park, well away from the houses of the city.
  • City Gauger — not sure how this was different from the Inspector of Weights and Measures, unless there was a forgotten fad for enlarging ear piercings in the 1840s.
  • Inspector of Bread — it was considered vital that the city’s bakers were selling honest weight.
  • Fence Viewer — to keep people honest about their property lines, which apparently was a constant problem.
  • Weigher of Hay — No idea why this was a city interest.

Mixed in were some positions we’d still recognize, such as Collectors of Taxes, Constables, Postmaster, and even Alms-House Physician. But let’s face it, we’d all rather be a Measurer of Wood or Weigher of Hay. i bet they even had fancy badges. 

The major offices were filled biennially, sent by the Mayor to the Common Council for confirmation at the next regular meeting after their appointment. Except, bewilderingly, the appointments of the Chamberlain and Receiver of Taxes, “which shall be made on the eve of the Fast-Day of St. Michael the Archangel.” Church/state separation notwithstanding, I’d love to know the reason for that.

What to Wear on the Head

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Apparently in 1894, what to wear on the head was a very important question with ladies, just at present. Frear, of Frear’s Troy Cash Bazaar, was quite willing to enlighten, if only you would pay a visit to his new and popular millinery department.

And with every purchase over $5: souvenir spoons!

A Google search will turn up images of several of these souvenir spoons.

Cooking with gas!

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Just imagine what it was to cook in the days before electric or gas stoves. Feeding wood or coal into a stove, cleaning out the ashes, never being able to control the temperature. Gas ranges must have seemed like a miracle. And made that “break-in” period on a new bride that much shorter.

This ad from the Schenectady Gazette in 1923 offering the direct action gas range was from the Adirondack Power and Light Company, which eventually would be subsumed into Niagara Mohawk.

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Woodward & Hill, Albany’s actual oldest business

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Here’s our final Hoxsie entry from the endlessly fascinating Biggert Collection of Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery, courtesy of Columbia University. This receipt from 1884 features a lovely rendition of their building at Broadway and Hamilton, and details the sale of a dozen salt rollers (?) to a George W. Clark of Salisbury, Connecticut; the articles were to travel by railroad to Rhinebeck, thence by “CtW” (Connecticut Western) railroad to Salisbury.

Amasa Parker, in his “Landmarks of Albany County,” informs us that John Woodward became prominent m the business circles of Albany because of his connection with the saddlery and harness business of Woodward & Hill. “This business was founded by Nathaniel Wright in 1819 and consequently is the third oldest established business in the city. In 1860 John Woodward together with Mr. W. W. Hill
bought the business from Mr. Wright and carried it on under the firm name of Woodward & Hill. . .  In 1888 Mr. Hill died and John and [son] Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the ownership of the business. In 1895, after his father’s death. Walter M. Woodward succeeded to the business and now conducts it under the original name of Woodward & Hill.” Well, guess what that means? It means I was wrong. By a lot.

A few months back I undertook to determine the oldest business in Albany, and came to the reasoned conclusion that Lodge’s store, often noted as the oldest store in the city, might also be its oldest business, having been established around 1848. But that was nearly 30 years after Woodward & Hill began selling carriages and saddles, hardware and trimmings. The carriages and saddles are gone, but The Woodward Company still sells hardware (fasteners, to be precise) from its location on Burdick Drive, off Sand Creek Road right near Corporate Woods. Sorry to have been so wrong, and delighted to have found a company that has continued in business here for nearly 193 years.

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Frear’s, before it became Bazaar

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Any sharp-eyed fan of the Collar City will recognize the landmark edifice of Frear’s Cash Bazaar, whose lovely marble facade still graces Third Street  . . . except of course that this billhead shows the just-as-landmarky Cannon Building in Monument Square. Yes, for a long while, Frear’s was not where Frear’s is. This billhead from 1876, again from The Biggert Collection, appears to be for a series of wholesale transactions. Either that, or someone named Tilley or Filley was laying in a substantial supply of “comfortables” (are these comforters? I have no clue). At that time, William H. Frear was a wholesaler and retailer of dry goods, shawls, curtain materials, underwear, and manufacturer of cloaks and suits. The enterprise began in  and was sold to an investment group in 1958; how much longer than that it survived I don’t know.

Just by coincidence, American Troyalty has a recent post about Frear’s as well, and links to the Frear’s 1894 catalog that I haven’t yet had a chance to scavenge from for Hoxsie.

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Where ya gonna get satinet warps?

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From an 1863 Albany directory, an ad for the previously mentioned R.M. Van Sickler & Forby. They dealt in the raw materials of fabric manufacture, and sold oil, belting, warps, spool tapes and the other things that Albany’s busy tailors, upholsterers, etc. would need.

Van Sickler & Forby

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I don’t find much about R.M. Van Sickler & Forby, other than that they were succeeded in the business by G.P. Morse. This lovely cut from the Biggert Collection shows not only Van Sickler & Forby but Albany’s legendary Delevan House, one of the premiere hotels of its day, a temperance hotel that ran from 1845 until it burned in 1894. Van Sickler & Forby were commission merchants in staple dry goods, including cotton and woolen manufacturers’ articles and supplies, and sellers of wool. This receipt from 1864 to Mr. Jacob Settle describes the sale of 15 pounds of wool twine. We’ve already seen a receipt Mr. Settle of Berne here on Hoxsie, when a year later he was looking for something a bit heavier than twine.