Your great great grandma’s pottery

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Today Troy’s Pottery District is a combination of history and artisans, and there are a number of people in the area creating distinctive works for sale in the River Street shops. But in 1870, “Troy Pottery” meant something else entirely. We’re talking sewage. But clearly W.J. Seymour’s yard at the corner of Ferry and William in Troy was the place to go for drain pipe of all shapes and sizes, and had been since 1809.

The Carl Company

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Well of course I couldn’t talk about Wallace’s without mentioning its across-the-street complement, The Carl Company. One of Schenectady’s home-grown department stores, it opened in 1906 and was owned by the Carl family until 1984. Defying the trend of amalgamations and consolidations, it managed to survive into the early ’90s with a number of suburban locations adding to its downtown flagship store, immediately adjacent to Proctor’s Theatre. When the company decided to close down, it was done with typical class and many of us were sad to see the last of the local department stores disappear.

This ad was from 1914, when Carl’s already had another location in Troy – people didn’t travel very far to do their shopping in those days. Carl’s was also one of the stores that had a stamp-collecting premium program, Gold Bond Stamps, which were given with every purchase. Every now and then my mother would pull out all the Gold Bond Stamps she had collected and we would paste them into the redemption books, which could then be turned in for discounts against purchases. This was what entertained kids when there were only three channels. I only wish there were a picture of the Uncle Sam hats they were giving away this August Saturday, and can’t help but wonder if their supplier had missed the Fourth of July rush.

Today, its space has been taken over the Proctor’s, which uses it for its iWerks theatre and coffee shop, the 8th Step performance space, and Underground at Proctor’s.

In some sense, the Carl Company is still doing good things for Schenectady – its Carlilian Foundation supports grants to promote child health and welfare in Schenectady County, and is a major supporter of the Central Park Rose Garden.

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Where to go for Bosoms of Superior Quality?

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Why, Ketchum’s Gentlemen’s Furnishing Store, of course. In case you thought he was going to up and quit the business at any minute, A.M. Ketchum “would respectfully inform the citizens of Schenectady and vicinity that he will continue the manufacture of shirts, collars, bosoms of superior quality, and keep constantly on hand a general assortment of gentlemen’s furnishing goods.” From the age when collars and cuffs were detachable and replaceable (much to the benefit of our own Collar City, Troy), I’ve always heard the term “shirt waist.” But apparently “shirt bosom” was also in use and did not provide the kind of grade-school tittering that such a phrase would occasion today (and Google and Zemanta are essentially fifth-grade boys, because it’s being suggested that a related article to this would be “Chest Vibrator Increases Breast Size.” That’s quantity, not quality, Zemanta).

Ketchum was located on State Street just below South Ferry. He was also an agent for Wheeler & Wilson, one of the earliest sewing machine companies, at a time when that domestic miracle was still relatively new.

Wallace Company Department Store

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Wallace department store postcard.jpgWallace Company was a downtown Schenectady mainstay from 1892 until 1973, when all the great downtown department stores (H.S. Barney, W.T. Grant, S.S. Kresge) seemed to collapse within a few years of each other, leaving only Woolworth’s and the venerable Carl Company behind. Wallace’s was owned by Forbes & Wallace of Springfield, Massachusetts, and also had branches in Poughkeepsie and Kingston. It loomed large in my childhood, not only because I spent endless hours as a bored little boy stuck waiting for my mother in the fabric department (remember when there were fabric departments?), but because Wallace’s may have been the reason I exist in the first place. My grandmother was a waitress in the luncheonette (every department store of any kind of class had a luncheonette), and she noticed a young man who was working in the parking lot – they parked your car for you in those days, in the lot that opened onto Liberty Street – and somehow thought that her daughter should meet this young man. I can’t imagine why she thought that a young man who had never been to high school and was parking cars for a living, two years older than her possibly college-bound daughter, should be a good catch; maybe the only explanation is that it was the ’50s. My father graduated to delivering furniture for Wallace’s, and my mother worked there, too, making clothes for the mannequins (I know that makes no sense in the modern age, but back when people made their own clothes and pattern sales were huge, the stores would have someone make sample clothes and put them on the mannequins). Eventually (or about two months after she graduated high school), they married, and a couple of years later, both working at Wallace’s, they had me. My mother stopped working full-time because that’s what was done then, though she still sewed on the side and sometimes waitressed at the drugstore a few blocks from our home (yes, drugstores had waitresses then). My father went on working for Wallace’s until maybe 1967 or ’68, when he went to work for Central Markets as a local delivery truck driver. (Later on, Central Markets would change their name to Price Chopper.)

The Wallace Co. building, constructed in 1892 and expanded in 1910, still stands on Schenectady’s main commercial block.

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Steam Planing!

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Steam was all the rage in the 1860s. Like electricity would be in just a few decades, “steam” became a symbol of modern industry, a sign of a business that could produce a lot and quickly. In this time we see ads for steam printing presses (the first in the country was in Albany), mills, and even cracker production. Van Vorst and Vedder, just a block or so from the Erie Canal, were justifiably proud of their steam planing mill.
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You can order your coal by telephone! Imagine: no more dispatching orphans down to the coal yards, crying for anthracite and striking a less than advantageous bargain with the local collier. No more waiting to learn of the bargain while the orphan is distracted by games of pitch-penny or roving tobacco gangs. You simply pick up the telephonic instrument, scream the complicated three-digit calling number at the girl, and in minutes you’re connected with the main office. Will the wonders of this new century never cease?

Yes, there is an They don’t give out their phone number.

Some firsts we don’t talk about much

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Jessica Pasko at All Over Albany wrote last year about how Albany is the home of rolled, perforated toilet paper. She didn’t, however, investigate whether our hometown was also the pioneer in toilet paper holders, but it seems likely. Now you’ve got a roll where you used to have a pile of papers; it couldn’t have taken long to realize that toilet paper wanted to be hung up. A year’s worth of toilet paper and a nickel-plated holder for only a dollar may have seemed a tremendous deal in 1907, but then again, the Sears catalog was free. Apparently, if you didn’t live east of South Dakota, you’d better hope you got the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s catalogs, because the Albany Perforated Wrapping Company’s offer was not for you.

38 Colonie Street, by the way, is currently as dead-end as a dead-end can be.


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You don’t hear the word “bedstead” much anymore, which could be why Albany is so shamefully bereft of bedstead factories. Not so in 1862.

But when you Google “bedstead,” one of the top entries is from the Albany Institute of History and Art, which features a magnificent example that belonged to Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

No doubt this factory on the edge of the lumber district produced slightly more modest bedsteads. Rufus Viele was president of the Albany Mechanics Institute, and of the YMCA. He lost ten bedsteads, a crib and a cradle in the fire at New York City’s Crystal Palace in 1858, where he was among the many exhibitors at the Fair of the American Institute.

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