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

Dying ain’t getting any cheaper, either

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Funeral receipts 005
While we’re plowing through piles of bills, receipts and credit cards, let’s have a look at this invoice for my great grandfather’s funeral expenses. Today the Baxter Funeral Home is part of a chain, but in 1963 it was still being run by Eugene Baxter. Why did they choose Baxter when my great grandfather lived in Scotia (in one of the older buildings in the village, still standing) at the time? No clue.
The font of the typewriter used to type up this invoice was quite unusual, by the way. There were very few typewriter fonts back then (it wasn’t until the IBM Selectric came along with its ball head that changing fonts became practical on a typewriter), and most of them were some variation on a standard oldstyle (meaning evenly weighted) serif.

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.”