Blood in the snow

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It was a cold February night, 322 years ago, that 200 French, Sault and Algonquin warriors descended on the stockaded village of Schenectady. It’s unlikely that the story of the stockade being guarded by snowmen was true, though that would be a lighthearted element of an otherwise heartrending story of death by musketball, hatchet and bashing on the frontier. It was a lesser event of a forgotten war, retaliation for an earlier massacre in Lachine, near Montreal. There were no snowmen or any other guards, and the attackers found the gate ajar. The massacre began about two hours before dawn, catching the villagers in their beds. In the next hours, 38 men, 10 women and 12 children were killed. Simon Schermerhorn, wounded, mounted a horse and rode the path through the woods to Fort Orange (Albany) to raise the alarm, but by the time they could respond prisoners were already being marched north.
Survivors were rounded up and marched across the frozen river to the home of Johannes Glen in what is now Scotia, whose previous kindnesses to the French were repaid as he was allowed to save his relatives, and the legend is that he claimed far more than were related by blood. The rest were marched to Canada; some escaped or died along the way.
A Van Eps family genealogy page has a complete list of the dead, here.
Prof. Pearson’s colorful recitation of the events of the massacre is available at the Schenectady County Historical Society page, here.
The village was rebuilt before long, despite on-going tensions with the residents of Albany, who were fiercely protective of the fur trade and did not want the residents of this agricultural outpost on the Mohawk River to cut into their trade.

Cluett, Peabody & Co.

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Cluett Peabody PostcardFor some time, Hannah Montague was forgotten, even as the industry she is now credited with creating boomed. Detachable collars (and then cuffs) proved all the rage, making laundering simpler, allowing shirts to last longer. In today’s world of cheap textiles, we don’t appreciate how few garments a denizen of the 19th century may have owned. Individual items of clothing were often listed in wills; even the wealthy didn’t have an overabundance of clothing. Hannah’s invention, along with the subsequent development of the industrial sewing machine, helped to change that, but for many years her contribution was forgotten.

As late as 1908, the advertising manager of Cluett, Peabody & Co., perhaps the largest shirt manufacturer in the country, was suggesting that there should be a memorial to “the revered memory of the founder of the collar industry, the Rev. Ebenezer Brown, who is said to have made the first collar ….”

Cluett, Peabody & Co. was the  company that lasted the longest. It produced a number of brands, of which Arrow Shirts was probably the most famous. For the longest time, Arrow Shirts were synonymous with Troy. the Troy plant was thought to be the largest shirt factory in the world, and it sprawled along the river. In 1912,  the New York Times would report that Cluett, Peabody & Co., “the largest manufacturers of collars, shirts, and cuffs in the world, is to become still larger.” At that time it had factories at Troy, Rochester, Corinth, and Waterford, NY; Leominster, MA; South Norwalk, CT; and St. Johns, Quebec. The combined annual output of those plants was then 7,000,000 dozen collars and 500,000 dozen shirts.

The company endured patent suits (John Van Heusen accused them and others of stealing his unstarched collar), and Asian-made counterfeits (in the 1960s, proving nothing is new). They navigated re-attachment of the collar and the move into synthetics. But local plants couldn’t survive the trend that moved manufacturing out of the Northeast. As all the local textile business moved south (before moving out of the country), by the late ’80s the only vestige of Cluett, Peabody was the Technical Services Headquarters of the Sanforized Company, and that was soon gone. (Sanforizing, a technique for preventing shrinkage, was developed by Sanford L. Cluett.) Most of the sprawling factories have been demolished, though a section has been preserved as Hedley Park Place.

In 1989, Cluett & Peabody moved its last offices out of Troy. Some smaller manufacturers remained, but the heyday of the Collar City was gone. Arrow Shirts still exist, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen, though I honestly haven’t seen one in some time.

How the Collar City got its name

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We now believe that Mrs. Hannah Montague of 139 Third Street, Troy, invented the concept of the detachable collar in 1827, snipping the collar from one of her husband’s shirts in order to wash it separately from the shirtwaist, stitching it back in place when she was done. At the time “The Americana” reference library was compiled in 1912,  Hannah’s name was thought lost to time: “It is unfortunate, from the point of view of the historian, that the name of this clever woman should have been lost, and it is to be hoped that her inventive genius was financially rewarded.” We don’t know whether she made any money from her invention, but we do know who got the credit: a man.

As “The Americana” reported, in 1829, “Rev. Ebenezer Brown, who had retired from the Methodist ministry to establish a dry goods store in Troy, opened a small factory that he might manufacture such collars in greater quantities.” It may well be that Brown came up with the idea of re-attaching collars with collar buttons, but no one seems to have recorded this important innovation’s first appearance. With his wife, Brown began turning out collars from his shop at 285 River Street, and soon engaged a number of additional women in the work.

Hannah did benefit in some way at least. By 1834 her husband, Orlando Montague (who was previously said to be either a blacksmith or a shoemaker) went into the collar business with Austin Granger, at 222 River Street. Other collar factories started popping up, and suddenly Troy had a booming business and a large, well-trained female workforce. Around 1845, someone thought to have the cuffs match the collar, and detachable cuffs were added to Troy’s manufactures. Sewing machines began to be used in the 1850s, despite initial resistance; the firm of Wheeler and Wilson focused its efforts on the industry and eventually provided perhaps thousands of machines, driven by steam. Far from putting women out of work, historian A.J. Weise reported that “The women who, before the use of sewing machines in the factories, had been earning fifty cents a day in stitching collars and cuffs by hand, were enabled to earn with sewing machines, from two dollars to two dollars and fifty cents a day.” Once a machine could make a button-hole (1875), the entire operation could be done by machine. In addition to collars and cuffs, Troy manufacturers made shirtwaists as well, beginning in 1845.

There were many, many collar and shirt manufacturers in Troy. You couldn’t have thrown a rock on River Street without hitting one. Arthur Weise, writing in 1889, said that seven thousand girls and women obtained work from 22 manufactories in Troy, including Earl & Wilson; Cluett, Coon & Co.,; George P. Ide & Co.; Miller, Hall & Hartwell; Corliss Brothers & Co.; United Shirt and Collar Company; H.C. Curtis & Co.; Holmes & Ide; Tim & Co.; Tim, Wallerstein & Co.; Joseph Bowman & Sons; William Barker; Wilbur, Miller & Wilbur; Fellows & Co.; Gunnison & Marvin; Ball Brothers; Wood & Lewis; C.H. McClellan; J. Stettheimer, Jr. & Co.; J.H. Osterhout; Emigh & Lobdell; and Van Zandt, Jacobs & Co.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the most famous of them all, Cluett & Peabody.

Second floor, ladies’ underwear!

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Shout that out on an elevator today, and the kids won’t understand what you’re talking about. Literally. I’ve done it with my kids, and they thought I was insane. So, here’s the deal: We used to build up, instead of sprawling across the earth. The invention of stairs allowed this. Mr. Otis’s invention of the elevator let us build a little higher. This allows stores to have multiple floors. Elevators used to have operators, people who pulled levers, aligned the car with the floor and worked the doors. In department stores, these operators were also responsible for telling you what floor you were on, and what was available on that floor. And so if, for example, you were in Schenectady’s H.S. Barney store in, oh, say, 1935, when the elevator achieved the second floor the operator would open the doors and cry out, “Second floor! Women’s wear, children’s apparel, ladies’ underwear! Beauty parlor on your left! Watch your step! Coming out!” And so on. Nowadays, if you can find an elevator in a department store, it’s usually tucked into the scariest corner of the store, is self-operating, and does not warn people that you’re coming out.

The last elevators with operators that I knew of were in the New York State Capitol, but even they were automated sometime in 2006. As a result, “elevator operator” is no longer on the PSAT career aptitude list.

Norman’s Kill Farm Dairy

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Many of us who grew up in the Capital District in the 1950s and 1960s remember our class field trips to the Norman’s Kill Dairy, right down on the Normans Kill just on the edge of Albany. (The dairy favored the possessive apostrophe; the creek does not.) The school bus had to stop and we walked across the Whipple truss bridge that crossed the kill; the bus was too heavy. And so, knowing where the farm was, I was surprised to run across this ad in a mid-1930s city directory, with delightful mascot Normie saying something that could have stood a little punctuation, and to see an oddly familiar and yet out-of-place address: 120 S. Swan Street. That’s not on the edge of town, that’s right in the middle of it, just a block or two from where I work. Well, then, it turns out that Norman’s Kill Farm Dairy actually had its processing operations right downtown. Where is 120 South Swan? Today you’d recognize it as the mysterious Empire State Plaza turnaround, a legacy of the South Mall Arterial’s planned connection to a highway under Washington Park, which I wrote about last year at All Over Albany.

Having a dairy in the middle of a highway wasn’t really going to work, so as it did with hundreds of other buildings that were in the way of the South Mall (eventually re-monikered as the Empire State Plaza), the State used its powers of eminent domain to take the dairy’s property. The State tried to get the property on the cheap, claiming the plant was obsolete and demolition was imminent. A court did not agree, and granted the dairy $1.16 million for the property in 1966, which was quite a chunk of change. Whether the dairy ever really replaced the sizeable and apparently very profitable operations it had on Swan Street, I don’t know. If you take a look at eBay, you will find Norman’s Kill Farm Dairy milk bottles from time to time.

The Norman for whom the Normans Kill is named, Albert Andriessen Bradt (“Norman” refers to his place of origin, Norway, rather than a name), is my 10th great grandfather.

Troy, Before and After (the fire of 1862)

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Troy from photographic room windows

Here is another view of Troy, taken from the photographic room windows (presumably within the main building of the short-lived Troy University, though perhaps in another building) by the Rev. Edwin Emerson, professor of English literature and avid amateur photographer. This is one shot of a stereograph (“lenses 9-1/2 feet apart) that Prof. Emerson of the Amateur Photographic Exchange Club took on Nov. 17, 1861. In the distance you can see the Hudson River and the extension of Starbuck Island, where the Starbuck brothers had their iron works. Few if any of the buildings in this view still stand today, at least not in their original form, for in just a few months fire would sweep this section of Troy.

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Troy, NY after 5-10-1862 fire

While not identified as such by the Library of Congress, this photograph is almost certainly another work of Prof. Emerson. In this his stereographic camera was pointed just to the north of the 1861 photograph; the ruin of the building in the foreground, the original Troy Union Station,  is just at the right edge in the earlier shot. (The railroad tracks, from the days when trains ran through the streets, were along what is now Sixth Avenue.) This was taken shortly after the May 10, 1862 fire that burned most of Troy.

The fire began from a locomotive spark on the covered wooden railroad bridge over the Hudson to Center Island on Saturday, May 10. Driven by a strong wind, more than 500 buildings were destroyed, though it is thought that only eight lives were lost. Pretty much everything between Jacob Street to the north and Congress Street to the south was destroyed. Among the structures lost were the Troy Union Depot, which had been built in 1854, the Sixth-street Presbyterian Church, the Fifth-street Baptist Church, the Scotch Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Free Chapel, the Troy Orphan Asylum, the Children’s Asylum, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (which had not yet moved up the hill), the Troy Academy, Mrs. Warren’s Female Charity School, the Union House hotel, the Washington Hall hotel, the Fulton House hotel and Troy City Bank, as well as the W. & L.E. Gurley company and the Sheldon & Greene stove works. Among the dead were “Dr. Carey, physician; Ransom Haight, merchant; Mrs. Dunlap and child, aged 20 months; Mrs. Catharine Murray; Mr. O’Donnell, a blind man; a child named Dooley.”

Troy had burned before, in 1820 and 1854, and would suffer a number of smaller fires in later years, but 1862 would be the fire that most changed the city.


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Troy University

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It’s likely no one from Troy would recognize this as a picture of their fair city, but this picture shows a prominent feature of the landscape for more than 100 years. (The building, not the man.)

The University Quarterly (1862) reported that “In the year 1852, an attempt was made to establish at Charlotteville, Schoharie Co., N.Y., an Institution to be called the ‘College for the People.’ The enterprise had progressed to some considerable extent, when it was thought necessary to change the location to a place more accessible and of more general eligibility. The proposition was therefore made to the citizens of Troy to remove the College to that city . . . There were those who believed that the establishment of such an Institution in their midst, ‘bringing half a dozen second or third rate Professors, and three or fourscore verdant, unkempt youths, would result in little substantial good to the city.'”

Despite these doubts, the industrialists of Troy raised $500,000 to endow the university, and laid the cornerstone of a magnificent building in the Autumn of 1856, with the Troy University opening September 9th, 1858 with 60 students. “The Faculty numbered only four, but they were men of thorough scholarship, and amply answered the wants of the infant University.” It departed from the concept of a “cheaply organized” college of the people, but sought to establish a Christian but not sectarian institution. At first it would only embrace “the branches commonly taught in Europe under the name of the Faculty of Philosophy, or Arts; but it will be easy to add the remaining Faculties when the resources of the University will allow it.”

“The location is one of the most eligible that could be found in the Northern States. The immediate site of the University is on a height called Mt. Ida, over-looking the city, and commanding a prospect unrivalled for beauty and extent. On this spot it is proposed to erect three large buildings. The center structure, now completed is two hundred and sixty feet in length, and of the Byzantine style of architecture.”

It is this Byzantine structure we see in the distance in this photograph. The Troy University didn’t last long. It is reported that it was foreclosed upon in 1862, and St. Mary’s Church of Albany bought the property, which became St. Joseph’s Theological Seminary of the State of New York in 1864. The seminary closed sometime in the 1890s, and the University Building drifted through various uses. The Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the property in 1908, and established a chapel, classrooms, and dormitory rooms for novices, teachers and retirees. The University Building was purchased by the adjacent Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1958, and originally housed the School of Management, the public relations department and part of the Physics department. Those tenants used only the first two floors; the upper floors were closed off out of fear of structural instability, and the building was torn down in 1969. RPI’s Folsom Library currently sits on the site, so what now seems like a central part of campus was in fact adjacent property half a century ago. (RPI’s brief page on the University Building is here.)

Troy university edwin emerson data tag.jpgOh, the guy in the picture? That’s Edwin Emerson of the Amateur Photographic Exchange Club of Troy, and professor of English literature at Troy University. He made this picture (part of a stereograph) with a tannin negative on April 25, 1862, and printed it May 7, 1862. It is preserved at the Library of Congress.

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And what a City Hall it was

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Troy City Hall sign.png As I mentioned not too long ago, Troy did once have a magnificent City Hall. It was located at the corner of Third and State, where Barker Park is today, across from St. Paul’s and Pfeil’s Hardware. At the time I had only a drawing, but now have found a magnificent glass negative photograph that purports to be from 1905. Like many glass negatives, it is absolutely full of stunning details. Here is the bell tower, which proudly proclaims it to be City Hall, and dates it to 1875. (It actually didn’t open until October, 1876.)

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In one of the elegant windows, with their striped awnings drawn back, we can see the back of a man in suspenders and a sleeve garter. There was also a lovely iron fountain.

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On the State Street stairs, a dapper gent featuring a straw boater peers out. 

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Just east on State Street, the Hotel Lovelock, which prominently offered Piel Bros. Real German Beer (German by way of Brooklyn, that is), and offered “All The Comfort’s of Home,” proving that our forebears were not free of struggles with the apostrophe. 

Thumbnail image for Troy City Hall ladies in waiting.pngAcross Third Street, our photographer (for the Detroit Publishing Company, whose importance in the preservation of historic views across the country cannot be overstated) captured these ladies, waiting.

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There were also other ladies, waiting, perhaps for their husbands, engaged in a confab while holding up the corner of Edwards Department Store. I always knew Edwards as one of the most prominent stores in Syracuse, which was just fading into nothingness when I lived there in the 1980s. I was unaware they had a Troy location. That corner is now taken up by Pfeil’s Hardware (and before that, Stanley’s). The building itself is now called The Conservatory, and if it was built in 1903 that was pretty fresh work these gents were leaning up against.

Want the whole photo from the Library of Congress, in all its magnificence? After the jump:

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Doric, historic, available!

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Schenectady County Courthouse

I’ve always been vaguely aware of this classic Greek revival building on the lower block of Union Street in Schenectady’s Stockade. For as long as I could remember, it housed offices of the Schenectady City School District, and I guess I never gave any thought to what it had been, if anything, before that. Turns out that it was an early (perhaps first) Schenectady County Courthouse. According to the Historic American Building Survey, it was erected from 1831 to 1833. Offices were on the first floor, the courthouse was on the second floor, and the county jail was in the basement of the rear wing. HABS took note of its two-story portico with pediment and Greek Doric columns (20 flutes, low Attic base with round plinth. And, of course, Doric entablatures. The walls are of brick, Flemish bond on the main portion, American bond on the rear wing. The building was constructed by John W. Teller for $9,964. It was used as a courthouse until about 1915, and then by the school district.

And guess what? It’s for sale. Where else but Schenectady could you find a piece of history like this for under half a million?

Things that aren’t there anymore

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PembertonsThis is a view of the corner of North Pearl and Columbia streets, sometime in the late 1800s. I presume it’s the northwest corner, across Columbia from the Kenmore. None of these buildings are there today.  The building on the corner, which housed Pemberton’s groceries (“Erected 1710. Established 1818”), is the Lansing-Pemberton house. It was built around 1810 by a man named Lansing, then sold to Pemberton. At one time it was occupied by the Widow Visscher. The information card accompanying it in the Library of Congress, written in 1937, says, “It was especially distinguished as the lodging place for Indians who came to Albany for the purpose of trading their furs, too often for rum and worthless ornaments. Here in this building many stirring scenes transpired when the Indians held their powwows and became uproarious under the influence of strong drink. At such times the widow would use her broomstick freely. It was a potent scepter in her hands and never failed to restore order, for the most stalwart Indian who had ever felt its power looked upon it with awe.”

The building, and likely its neighbors, appears to have been demolished in the 1890s. It was made of yellow brick, one and a half stories. The upper half was originally left unfinished and used for the storage of skins and furs. No two rooms were on the same level. The ceilings were not plastered, “but the beams and sleepers were polished and the jambs of the fireplace faced with porcelain, ornamented with Scripture scenes.”

In the photo are 10 or 11 boys, gathered outside Pemberton’s on a winter’s day.