Author Archives: carljohnson

Freihofer’s

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Freihofer's receipt

Everyone in the Capital District remembers Freihofer’s. In my mother’s day and before, they were the major home-delivery bakery. You put the Freihofer’s sign in your front window and the truck (and before that, the horse-drawn wagon) would stop and bring fresh bread, cookies and cakes right to your door. Even when I was a child in the early ’60s, the Freihofer truck still came by. At that time they were also famous for a local children’s television program featuring Freddie Freihofer. Every child dreamed of appearing on that show. Freihofer’s still exists, but no longer as a family owned bakery. Now the name may be as well known for the nationally prominent women’s 5K road race as for their breads and cookies. There’s no more home delivery, alas.

This receipt, like some of last week’s entries, was from my grandfather’s short-lived drive-in restaurant in Aqueduct.

The Silver Wrinkle is our finest receptacle

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Funeral receipts 001The contract (or, in its own parlance, “approval memorandum”) for my great grandmother’s casket, presumably supplied by the Mancini Funeral Home in Amsterdam. Mancini wasn’t big on branding his correspondence, apparently. The woman buried in it is something of a mystery to us, even though she was my mother’s grandmother and alive and living nearby until I was three. We don’t know her maiden name or even, for certain, her national origin. She apparently never learned much (or perhaps any) English, and wasn’t the warm and engaging old country grandmother type. More the scary old lady who sat in the corner and never said anything type, from what my mother can remember. This receipt is the only evidence we have for where she is buried.

Informal funeral home is informal.

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Funeral receipts 002
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the lovely and highly detailed receipt for my great grandfather’s funeral, from Schenectady’s Baxter Funeral Home.
 
In that same year, in a different line of the family, my great grandmother died. As seen here, the Mancini Funeral Home (presumably in Amsterdam, though I didn’t look it up), took a decidedly more casual approach to its receipting obligations. The “from the desk of” clip art is typical of its day. Forty dollars for a solemn high mass: bargain! But don’t be fooled by that total price. As we’ll see tomorrow, casket not included.

Schenectady Gazette

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Schenectady Gazette receipt 2
So while we’re enjoying a trip through my grandfather’s receipts folder, let’s have a look at this stylish invoice from the Schenectady Gazette. This is his second notice to pay for a classified ad in the Gazette in 1957. There’s a lovely cut of the Gazette building (alas, now gone), and the gentle but firm reminder that “This advertisement was charged to you as an accommodation, and prompt payment is expected. May we have your remittance in the next day or so. Thank you.” No business today asks for anything in the next day or so.

Schenectady Union-Star

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Schenectady Union receipt
Almost exactly 54 years ago, my grandfather took out a classified ad in the Union-Star, Schenectady’s evening newspaper Most likely the ad was for his drive-in restaurant near Aqueduct..
The Union-Star shut down in 1969, theoretically becoming part of the Albany Knickerbocker News (which became known as the Knickerbocker News-Union Star). I don’t think most Schenectadians cared much for getting their news from an Albany newspaper. The Knick News closed down in 1988. The Union-Star’s offices and printing plant, located on Clinton Street, right next to the Schenectady Savings Bank, were torn down almost immediately after the paper closed to make a parking lot for the bank.

Ter Bush and Powell

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Ter bush and powellTer Bush and Powell was once one of the most well-known insurance firms in Schenectady and surrounding areas. They had offices throughout New York State. No more. Whatever is left of it is now part of a company headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, just like everything else. (And if you think all that headquartering makes Wilmington a shining city on the Christina River, I can tell you different.) The Ter Bush and Powell name was unceremoniously dumped in 1984, after only 78 years of prominence. And this ghost sign, which for all I know may be gone by now too.

Gnadendorff. Again with the Gnadendorff.

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Gnadendorff stained glass 1Remember Hermann Gnadendorff, whose Schenectady apothecary was mentioned back in September? Well, sometime after he took an ad in the 1862 Schenectady directory, he removed to 14 Second Street in Troy, where he made an impression on the city that remains to this day, if you know to look for it. The handsome facade of the building, now occupied by Nicoll & McChesney Insurance, still includes a set of stained glass panels inset above the main windows on either side of the door celebrating the name of H. Gnadendorff. We know that he was working from this address by 1879, when he was listed as a member of the Rensselaer County Medical Society, and still there in 1884 when he was noted as a member of the New York State Pharmaceutical Association. He was still practicing pharmacy in 1895, when his visit to New York was mentioned in “The Pharmaceutical Era.” Hermann was a native of Prussia who was naturalized in 1856.

Gnadendorff sign 2If only the merchant princes of today were so proud of their businesses that they would leave a legacy of lasting beauty. If only there were merchant princes.

Well, at least we have big box stores to sell us cheap plastic crap. That’s gotta be something.

Going to the poor house will cost ya extra

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From the 1905 Directory of the cities of Albany and Rensselaer, a detailed description of what were then called “hack fares,” the equivalent of taxi fares today, which applied to hackney coaches, cabs or other carriages for conveying passengers therein..

  • For each passenger for any distance, within the paved streets, not
    exceeding one mile, fifty cents. But no omnibus shall charge or receive
    more than twenty-five cents for the conveyance of each passenger within
    the paved streets, not exceeding one mile.
  • For each passenger for any distance within the paved streets over one mile and not exceeding two miles, seventy-five cents.
  • For each passenger for any distance over two miles, not exceeding three miles, one dollar.
  • For each passenger from any part of the paved streets to the Alms House and back with the privilege of detaining the carriage at said Alms House, two dollars. 
  • For each passenger from any part of the paved streets to the Penitentiary and back, with the privilege of detaining the carriage at said Penitentiary thirty minutes, seventy-five cents.
  • For attending a funeral from any part of the city east of Robin street, to any part of the public burial grounds of the city, for each carriage two dollars.
  • The owner or driver of any hackney coach, cab or other carriage, shall be allowed for every hour the same may be detained, except as aforesaid, for each carriage one dollar for the first hour, and for every additional hour seventy-five cents; or the passenger or passengers may have the privilege of keeping the carriage all day, between the hours of eight in the morning and six in the evening, for eight dollars. Such owner or driver shall also be allowed to charge for one hundred and twenty-eight pounds of baggage at the same rate as for a passenger.

Why a trip to the Alms House cost more than twice as much as a trip to the nearby Penitentiary is simply not explained. The Alms House was an institution that housed those who had no home. A history from 1857 notes: 

“Of the inmates seventy-three are lunatics, thirty-two
males and forty-one females, seventy are paupers, the remaining, three
cases pay from $3.00 to $4.50 per week . . . One half, at least, of the paupers are reduced to their
present position by reason of intemperate habits.”

Rensselaer, Rail Town

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Livingston Avenue Bridge

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

Today, Rensselaer is probably best known for being the home of the Albany Amtrak station. Since 1968, passengers have been unable to disembark on the capital city’s side of the river, but Rensselaer’s rail history goes way, way back, and once upon a time the rail yards were a massive employer here. Unfortunately I had to miss a recent talk by Ernie Mann, local rail historian, at the East Greenbush Community Library, which went along with his exhibit of artifacts. His Arcadia book “Railroads of Rensselaer” is highly recommended for fans of Rensselaer or rail.

The Rensselaer City Historian undertook a great railroad project last summer, transcribing and posting the diary of Walter Miller, a Rensselaer resident who worked the yards in the mid-1800s. Follow this link and scroll down to the Walter Miller diary link. His diary is a series of short entries describing the conditions that affected his job, which for a time at least was tending the upper bridge crossing (the Livingston Avenue Bridge). It also tells the tale of wrecks, fires, deaths and the time when “cold and high winds and blew the roof of the house of Doct. Wilson’s.” Highly worth reading.

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You young printers don’t even tread pelts!

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“My first employment as an apprentice, beside cutting wood
and making fires in the printing-office, was in ‘treading pelts,’ a duty of
which the present generation of printers is growing up in ignorance. The balls,
which have been succeeded by rollers, were made of green sheepskins, which had
to undergo a sort of tanning process between your feet and the floor. It was a
long and tedious operation, as every printer whose apprenticeship commenced
previous to 1812 will attest. In 1814 dressed deerskin began to be used instead
of pelts, but it required time to induce old printers to become reconciled to
this innovation.”

— The Life of Thurlow Weed, including his autobiography, 1883