The last great store in Schenectady to carry just about everything was Wallace Armer Hardware, which gracefully closed its doors about 20 years ago. But Armer was clearly descended from a long tradition of general stores in canal towns that carried a little bit of everything. In the case of James Walker’s store on State Street in 1862, that everything ranged from groceries to agricultural implements, house furnishing goods to wood and willow ware, rope, twine and cordage, coal oil and lamps, bird cages, fishing tackle, brushes, and who knows what else.
The Albany Journal printed an article in August, 1884 titled “The Railroad Fireman’s Dream”:
“A remarkable accident occurred to Mr. Douglass M. Irish, a resident of No. 49 Colonie-street, about 10:30 o’clock Wednesday night. He is employed as a fireman on the Central Railroad, and as he sat asleep by an open window he dreamed that he heard a shrill whistle of danger from a locomotive, which was blowing for a signal to cross the upper bridge. Instantly, without awakening, he leaped forward through the window, dreaming that it was his own engine, and that he was to reverse its motion. He landed about 10 feet below upon the sidewalk, at the very edge of an embankment 10 feet high. Several persons who resided down stairs were sitting upon the piazza near by and saw the man fall. When they reached him he was unable to rise. He sustained serious injuries both to his knee-pan and internally.”
Just a note for those who don’t know — a railroad fireman makes fires, he doesn’t put them out. The “upper bridge” is the Livingston Avenue Bridge, which features prominently in local history and my psyche. And the thought that there could be anything that would be described as a “piazza” on Colonie Street is a little mind-bending.
I originally posted this on My Non-Urban Life back in 2010.
The folks at All Over Albany dug up an amazing test of the knowledge of eighth-graders in Albany in 1882. Not least amazing, besides the assumption that schoolchildren should know how to divide opium to the smallest scruple, was this instruction: “Write an exercise of 15 lines on the pass time of bobsledding.”
Several years ago, it was asserted that scenic Albany, New York, and not scenic St. Moritz, Switzerland, was the original home of the bobsleigh. Writing on the debate back in 2002, the Times Union’s Tim Farkas said a report from Albany City Historian Virginia Bowers listed the year of origin as 1885. This test would make it clear it was on the minds of Albanians at least three years earlier than that. The story goes that the earliest bob sleds were adapted from their use as lumber sleds, where two short (“bobbed”) sleds were linked together and hitched to teams of horses that could carry enormous loads of lumber.
It certainly makes sense –
(A version of this was previously published at All Over Albany.)
So, what is a Menand?
Well, the question really is, who was Menand?
For the answer, you’d have to look back to the late 1800s, when everyone from well-to-do collectors of exotic flora, to prosperous homeowners with gardens, to cemetery visitors who wanted to pay tribute
to a loved one — would go to Menand’s.
Louis Menand was the son of a gardener in Chalons, Burgundy, France. As early as he could remember, he was fascinated by horticulture. “I was eight or nine years old,” he later wrote, “when I began to try to grow plants from cuttings. I have always been fond of cutting, properly or figuratively speaking, except cutting my fingers.”
Eventually Louis became an estate gardener in Paris and later in the Champagne region. In 1837 he came to New York and went to work at nurseries in Halett’s Cove, which would later become Astoria. There he met a young piano teacher from Albany named Adelaide Jackson. They fell in love and were married in her family home on Park Place in Albany, and soon took up residence in what they called “the haunted house” on the Albany-Troy Road (Broadway). Louis began selling plants. After a rough first year (“more than modest, that is to say meagre, I might say miserable!!”), things began to pick up.
Menand had a fair collection of “hardy perennial plants,” which had become pretty popular in the Albany/Troy area. Later he sold Norway spruces, balsam firs and other popular trees and shrubs. In 1847 he was able to buy several acres of land on what is now Menand Road, where Ganser-Smith Park is now located, for his greenhouses and nursery.
He cultivated plants that, no doubt, had never before been seen in this old Dutch town – camellias, palm ferns, cacti, and orchids, among others. Forty years later, an article in The Gardeners’ Monthly and Horticulturist would proclaim:
“It is Mr. Menand’s aim to exhibit at least one specimen of every known variety ; and whenever a new one is produced in any quarter of the world, it will not be long before it may be found at Menand’s. Thus it often happens that persons who search in vain for rare specimens in New York and elsewhere, are generally directed to ‘a crazy Frenchman at Albany,’ where they are sure to find what they want and carry it away, provided their purse is long enough. In fact, it is Mr. Menand’s aim to furnish anything from a strawberry to a tree.”
He was noted for importing exotic plants from Europe, and commanded an impressive price for his best camellias: “a little plant four inches high would sell for $25.”
Menand won significant awards for his plants through the years, and continued to grow. He bought 31 acres near the entrance to Albany Rural Cemetery, where he set up his son with a half dozen hot houses devoted to growing cut flowers, roses, carnations, pansies, geraniums and “an almost endless variety of other species suitable for cemetery decoration.” These included all manner of shrubs, which no doubt still influence the scenery in the cemetery.
His greenhouses were so popular that the Albany and Northern Railroad added a stop there in 1856, named “Menand’s Crossing,” which the succeeding Delaware and Hudson Railroad renamed “Menand’s Station.”
Louis set about telling the story of his life in an autobiography, with the snappy title, Autobiography and Recollections of Incidents Connected With Horticultural Affairs, Etc., From 1807 up to this day 1898 With Portrait and Allegorical Figures. ‘By an ever practical wisdom seeker,’ L. Menand. With an appendix of retrospective incidents omitted or forgotten.
The title is about as direct as the rest of the book, originally published in 1892 and then updated in 1898. The ramblings of this “crazy Frenchman at Albany” shed very little light on the actual events of his life but give an incredible sense of the energetic character of Louis Menand. There are exuberant paeans to his wife Adelaide, whom he
calls “Phanerogyne,” meaning “remarkable woman,” who died in 1890. There are rambling thoughts on the various revolutions and republics in France, a scathing appraisal of his arrival in a free land “where slavery was flourishing as carnations,” and tales of intrigues at flower exhibitions, all told in the least linear style imaginable. (The version available here on Google Books includes several handwritten notes by Louis.)
Louis Menand died in 1900 at the age of 94. It wasn’t until 1924 that the apostrophe-free name of Menands became official, when the village was incorporated.