Author Archives: carljohnson

Whatcha gonna do when the rent comes round?

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Rent receipt
My grandfather once, for a very short time, ran a drive-in restaurant on Aqueduct Road outside of Schenectady. it was right about where the bike path crosses Aqueduct Road, where there is now an auto parts business. His landlord (Ken Williams?) didn’t know how to spell my grandfather’s last name (he wasn’t the only one, though the spelling hints that perhaps he couldn’t pronounce it, either), but maybe it was okay because $65 a month, even in 1957, doesn’t seem like a lot of rent for a commercial property. On the other hand, Aqueduct Road was hardly a highway at the time, and even today doesn’t seem like the kind of place where you would plop down a drive-in restaurant and expect it to do any kind of trade. It didn’t.

If you don’t know, Aqueduct was named Aqueduct because it was once home to, what else, the Rexford Aqueduct. The Aqueduct carried the Erie Canal across the Mohawk River, from Rexford on the Saratoga County side. Remnants of the old structure still remain alongside the current Route 146 bridge.

Need your receipt?

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Wallace Armer receiptFor you youngsters out there who may never have seen one, this is what receipts used to look like. If they were to have any detail at all, they were handwritten, usually duplicated using a sheet of carbon paper tucked into the receipt pad. This one from Schenectady’s gone but not forgotten Wallace Armer Hardware is unusually legible.

Time’s devouring hand

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Weed Parsons 1905.png

Worst metaphor ever. Hands don’t devour. Considering the huge reputation of Thurlow Weed, publisher, kingmaker, party boss, whoever wrote this ad for his publishing firm (in 1905, years after his death in 1888) should have his hand slapped with a pica pole. Devour that.

The Weed-Parsons Printing Co. building still stands, as home of the Albany Center Gallery.

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How do you make a Venetian blind?

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Albany Venetian blind 2.png

Well, the makers of “Albany” Venetian Blinds may have been blind to the implications of unnecessary quotation marks, but at least they were fairly consistent in calling into question where their blinds were actually made. And this is another delightful example of old-school understatement and the mildest persuasion. “Perhaps you may want some for your windows. We’ll be very glad indeed to tell you all about them.”

Al Smith, standing tall

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Al Smith building

You know how you always hear the Corning Tower is the tallest building between New York City and Montreal? Well, before the 42-story tower at the Empire State Plaza opened in 1966, the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building held that honor. At 34 stories and 388 feet, it was not only fabulously tall, but when it opened in 1928, it was only 9 feet shorter than Montreal’s tallest, the Royal Bank Building that was completed in the same year. (At the time, the tallest building in New York City was the Woolworth Building; if you’d put the Smith Building on top of the Royal Bank, the Woolworth building would still have had seven feet on them.)

Al Smith was born in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1873. The son of working class parents and the product of Catholic school, Al was a newsboy who had to go to work fulltime as a fishmonger to help support his family when his father died. Witty and personable, he fell in with the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, picking up local political jobs and eventually becoming a member of the Assembly, where he became Speaker in 1913. He ran for Governor in 1918, winning four two-year terms (though not consecutively – the Harding landslide of 1920 put Governor Whitman in the Capitol). Starting in 1924, he took a number of stabs at the presidency, but being a “wet” Catholic from Tammany proved too much to overcome. He died in 1944.

The building wasn’t named for Al Smith until 1946, when another famous also-ran-to-be, Governor Dewey, dedicated the building to his predecessor. Prior to that, it was just the State Office Building. You know, the one where all the state offices were. Once upon a time, it had an observation deck on the 31st floor, but that closed in 1976 when the observation deck of the Tower Building (later the Corning Tower) opened.

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Albany: close to everything!

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Where in the United States of America is there a city from
which so many summer resorts can be reached so quickly, easily and cheaply as
from Albany? Did you ever think of it? Saratoga, Lake George, the Adirondacks,
the Catskills, the Helderbergs, Howe’s Cave, Cooperstown, Sharon Springs,
Ballston Spa, Round Lake, Kinderhook, the Berkshire Hills. Yes, and the great
seaside pleasure grounds at Coney Island, Rockaway and the Jersey coast are all
within a few hours of Albany, with perfect means of transportation; and there
is always the beautiful Hudson and beautiful Washington Park.

— The New Albany, 1891

And at that time, you could (in fact, almost had to) get to them all by public transportation.

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

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Bells, that is. Those words are Poe’s, these are Arthur Weise’s in 1886, describing Troy’s then world-famous bell industry:

The fame of having tens of thousands of church bells ringing round the earth made in her foundries is realized by Troy. In the distant missionary fields in Africa, along the fertile borders of the Nile, beyond the ruins of Ninevah, near the jungles of India, around the pagodas of China, over the heathen-inhabited islands of the Pacific, in every part of the wide extent of the United States, the sound-waves of Troy bells billow and break.

The fame came from a number of companies, including Julius Hanks (succeeded by his brothers and then his son), who first cast bells, surveying instruments and cannon in Gibbonsville, which became West Troy, which became Watervliet, before moving to Fifth and Elbow (now Fulton) in Troy in 1825. There his firm cast church-bells ranging from 100 to 3,000 pounds. Then in 1852 Jones & Hitchcock began manufacturing church bells at First and Adams streets, becoming the Jones & Co. Troy Bell Foundry in 1873. But by far the most famous was the Meneely Bell Company, which was on the east side of River Street between Washington and Adams. It was originally formed in 1869. Weise writes:

The company’s constant reception of orders from different parts of the world for church-bells is an honoring attestation of their excellence. Their shape, weight and tone are based upon the combination of so many essentials that the business is one which obtains its distinction from the adaptation of bells to the places and purposes for which they are intended. The company’s foundry is fitted with all the necessary appliances for moulding and casting bells of different weight and size. The quality of a bell’s sound or sonorousness depends on its shape as well as on the metal used in casting it. Copper and tin are the best materials for making clear-toned bells. The most approved proportions are 78 parts of copper and 22 of tin. Not unfrequently the company receives jewelry to be melted to form a part of the composition of gift-bells . . . The company have recently sent chimes to churches in Boston, Worcester, Salem, Mass., Darien, Conn., Albany, Geneva, Chautauqua, Mamaroneck, N.Y., Montgomery, Ala., Gambier, Ohio, Chicago, Ill., St. Louis, Mo. and other cities. Two bells were sent to the west coast of Africa, twelve to missioner schools in the interior of that country, four to Constantinople, three to Shang-Hai, China, and several to England, Bulgaria, Persia and India. Many of the bells sent to foreign lands bear inscriptions in the language of their inhabitants.

It really makes me want to know if any Troy-made bells still ring in Constantinople. Oh wait, it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. If you’ve a bell in Constantinople, it’ll be ringing in Istanbul.
 

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Bath-on-the-Hudson (on, not in)

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Arthur Weise has one of the few descriptions I’ve found of the former village of Bath-on-the-Hudson:

“Bath-on-the-Hudson, the first station on the Troy and Greenbush Railroad, three miles south of the city [of Troy]. It derived its name from several mineral springs, discovered about the close of the last century, near the village. John Maude, an English traveller, in June, 1800, visited the place; which he described as a ‘town lately laid out by the patroon,’ and having ‘about thirty houses,’ ‘The medicinal springs and baths, at one time so much vaunted, are now shut up and neglected; yet, as a watering place, it was to have rivaled Ballstown, and, as a trading place, Lansingburgh and Troy.’ The manor-house, north of the village, was built about the year 1839, by William P. Van Rensselaer. The village was incorporated May 5, 1874.”

Weise wrote that in 1888. The City of Rensselaer was incorporated in 1897, absorbing Bath, Greenbush, and East Albany. Rensselaer’s website describes the boundaries of the old Village of Bath-on-the-Hudson as “Hudson River (west); Washington Avenue and peripheral street (north);
Quackenderry Creek gorge (east); Catherine Street vicinity (south).”

The other Troy Armory, and the undetected corpse

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New York State Armory Troy.png

If you think of the old State Armory in Troy, you probably think of the one on the RPI campus, which is now known as the Alumni Sports & Recreation Center. It’s a big old brick pile in a fortress style, somewhat less decorative than some other armories of its day. But it had a much grander predecessor, down on the southeast corner of Ferry and River Streets. I don’t know when it was torn down, though today its location is a ’60s-vintage public housing project and a ramp to the Congress Street Bridge.

This beauty’s cornerstone was laid July 4, 1884 on the former International Hotel property. Arthur Weise reports, “The metallic box placed in the cavity of the corner-stone contained histories of the military companies present, a copy of the act appropriating the money to erect the armory, a lithograph of the building, a history of its site, copies of the city newspapers, and a volume of the History of the city of Troy, 1876, by A.J. Weise . . . . The building was completed and occupied in March, 1886.”

Weise goes on to give the history of the site, once the homestead of Jacob D. Van der Heyden and passed on to his son, Derick, in 1803, who removed the old ferry-house and built a two-story dwelling. Derick moved to the island of Santa Cruz in the West Indies “to recuperate his failing health, but he was not benefited by the change of residence, and died there, February 1, 1818. To transport the body to Troy on a vessel without detection, the corpse was suspended in a hogshead filled with rum. It reached its destination, and was transferred in one of the rooms of the dwelling to a coffin.”

That wouldn’t be the last corpse on the site. A third story was added to the dwelling and it took the name of the National Hotel. “A man and a woman, representing themselves as married, took rooms and board in the house. A week afterward they were found dead in bed with their throats cut. The unknown people explained in a note that extreme poverty had caused them to commit suicide.” Some years later, in 1866, it was renamed the International Hotel, and so it remained until was demolished in 1884 to make room for the new Armory.