Friday, August 21, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part III: From Taverns and Inns to Hotels and Saloons

This blog post was written by library volunteer George Wise

The nineteenth century US saw a change in the terms typically applied to places supplying drink, food and lodging. The early general use of the terms “inn” and “tavern” gave way to the later use of the terms “hotel” and “saloon”. This was not a mere vocabulary exercise. As Schenectady’s experience illustrates it reflects, though imperfectly, a changing role of the role of such establishments in the community’s experience of population growth, immigration, transportation, industrialization, and politics.


37 Front Street was the site of the Eleven O'clock House.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
In the first three decades after  Schenectady’s designation as a city in 1798, the role of public venues for the consumption of alcohol was viewed as an accepted, if somewhat disreputable, aspect of community life. This is best conveyed in descriptions given by the diaries of Harriet Mumford Paige, a socially prominent early 19th century resident of the Stockade neighborhood. She describes such taverns as the Eleven O’Clock House. The name referred to the custom of craftsmen and shopkeepers stopping work for a drink at that hour of the morning. The Pangborn Tavern served as headquarters for the three Glen brothers and First Reformed Church Minister Vrooman’s son. The four were “the cream of the Schenectady Rowdies”. The Schenectady Coffee House at the corner of Union and Ferry Streets became successively Platt’s Inn, Hudson’s Tavern, and ultimately by 1815 the first venture of the man who would become Schenectady’s most successful hotel entrepreneur, Resolved Givens.

Photograph of Platt's Inn.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection
Inns and taverns had important public roles as well. Albert A. Vedder’s tavern was a frequent location for caucusing to nominate candidates for political office, or for public meetings to discuss such matters as the need for a second Schenectady bank. Harvey Davis’ Inn served as a sort of extension of the county court. For example, when the farm of Catharine Kettle of Princetown was foreclosed, she was told via public notice that her “goods and chattels” would be “seized and taken and shall expose to public sale as the law directs at the house of Harvey Davis, innkeeper, in the 2nd Ward of the City of Schenectady. Hudson’s Tavern was the site, in April 1798, of the first meeting of the City of Schenectady’s Common Council.

An early change in the image of these establishments came with the rise of the temperance movement. The Schenectady County Temperance Society organized at a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in January, 1829. It set January 22, 1829 as “a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer with reference to the prevailing sin of intemperance.” Sin or not, alcohol indulgence was a growing social issue. Historian W.J. Rorabaugh estimated that per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. had increased from 2 gallons a year in 1710 to more than 5 gallons from by 1820. The formerly acceptable inns and taverns now became seen by some as dens of vice. Schenectady’s approach to this issue was more moderate than other locations. The figurehead and public face of Schenectady abstinence, minister and Union College president Eliphalet Nott, was a man described as “temperate in his temperance”. He preferred educational campaigns to Carrie Nation’s axe. 
Photograph of Given's Hotel.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The first quantitative estimate of Schenectady inns and taverns came in 1841, when the first occupational directory of Schenectady was published. It listed 14 innkeepers, 4 hotels, and the Eagle Lunch, which probably offered whiskey on the noon menu. Also included was Isaac Fowler, the first Schenectadian to list his occupation as “barkeeper.” The bar he kept was located at the Givens Hotel, Schenectady’s finest lodging house. Resolved Givens, and his one-time partner Isaac Ledyard, owner of the nearby City Hotel, had started buying up property in the vicinity of the modern intersection of State St. and Erie Boulevard as early as 1806. They correctly anticipated that the city’s downtown would move in that direction. Givens is credited in some accounts with not only predicting where the Erie Canal and the New York Central railroad would go, but also politically influencing the decisions that made them go there. Whatever his role, his somewhat ramshackle hotel did become the prime stop for travelers. He became one of Schenectady’s richest men.
 
Print of Ledyard's City Hotel.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection.
As that name “hotel” increasingly replaced “tavern”, the transportation revolution changed lodging location. Prime sites were no longer clearing or landings every fifteen miles or so along turnpikes or rivers. Now they were the center-city location of canal docks and railroad depots. The neologisms hotel and saloon, were of French origin. Perhaps this was an attempt to give some continental cachet to establishments that were increasingly, in an era of temperance agitation, seen as disreputable or even sinful.

Schenectady’s inns and hotels listed in that 1841 directory and the 1850 census were not evenly distributed throughout the city. Instead, they were concentrated along or near State Street. This route began at “Battle Ground” near the river, described by 1830s diarist Jonathan Pierson as “a filthy place”, and later given the more neutral nickname “Frog Alley”. At its other, eastern, end, State Street became the road to Albany near Schenectady’s first real factory, the Schenectady Manufacturing Co.’s cotton mill. It stood near where modern Craig St. meets I-890. There farmer and sometimes mill worker John Coss held the liquor license for an establishment that refreshed working men and women after 12 hour days of tending spindles and looms. In between those two extremes,  where the Erie Canal and the nearby New York Central Railroad both crossed State St.,  stood the city’s four most  respectable hotels: the Givens Hotel, the City Hotel, the Rail Road House, and, a bit later, a Temperance Hotel.

Photograph of Frog Alley circa 1890. A.K. Scrafford's Hotel is shown on the left.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection.
As a political issue, temperance typically ran against the tide. It had, however, occasional successes. In 1855 the American Party, popularly known as the “Know Nothings” swept into control of Schenectady’s city government. The party’s platform proclaimed that “slavery, like papacy is a moral evil”, and that no immigrant should be allowed to vote until he had been in the U.S. for 21 years. The Know Nothings also came out for free schools, the Bible, and sobriety. Not much could be done on a local scale about slavery and the Pope. Schenectady’s Know-Nothing mayor Abel Smith, could, however, do something about sobriety. Since the city’s founding in 1798, the Mayor had the power to appoint three excise commissioners, who issued liquor licenses. In 1855, Smith announced that he had instructed the commissioners to issue no more licenses.


Schenectady's "Know Nothing" Mayor, Abel Smith.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
This effort, like the Know Nothing Party itself, was short lived. By 1857 the Schenectady County Government took over from the major the power to appoint the excise commissioners. It would not be returned to the city until 1870.  This change likely recognized the unstoppable advance of saloons. More generally, the Know Nothing episode reflected the growing unease among “American” residents about the rising tide of first Irish and then German immigration. Both groups were accurately perceived as having permissive attitudes toward alcohol use. The temperance movement continued to be entwined with anti-immigrant sentiment. In Schenectady this evolved into a minor political party. This Prohibition Party sometimes ran candidates for city office, but never successfully. It achieved limited successes when it became a swing vote between two evenly balanced major parties.



Saloon of Henry Vonderahe.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection
The 1860 Census marked the emergence into common use of that term saloon. That Census listed 13 saloons, alongside 20 inns. In the previous, 1850, Census, the word saloon had not appeared at all. The word tavern went unmentioned both in both censuses, and in the 1857 occupation directory, which listed 6 hotels. The total of 39 such establishments is somewhat less than the 53 liquor licenses issued in 1859. This is because many of the licenses went to grocers, whose stores both sold liquor, and occasionally served as informal saloons or even boarding houses. Unlike the inns of 1841, the saloons were distributed in clusters in each of the city’s five wards. The saloon descriptions even became specialized. Three were listed as “billiard saloons” and two were listed as “oyster saloons”. Clara Clute, one of the few female saloonkeepers, ran an “ice cream saloon.” Michael Hearndon, located nearby, titled his more tersely and directly: “drinking saloon.”   Over the last third of the century the number of saloons soared. Judging from occupational directories and newspaper estimates, and therefore probably an underestimate, there were 30 saloons in Schenectady in 1870 and 200 in 1900. This rate of growth was twice as fast as the growth rate of Schenectady’s population. An 1892 temperance reformer estimated that Schenectady had one saloon for every 150 residents, while even the “wicked city of Chicago” had only one for every 200.  A related number, the annual arrests for intoxication, nearly doubled from 269 in 1881 to 522 in 1892. Again, this was significantly higher than the growth rate of city population.

These statistics, however, miss the social and political role of saloons. This was often positive, and always interesting. It can be illustrated with three stories.

Matthais Treis was born in Prussia in 1821, and came to the U.S. in 1856 with his brother Nicholas. Employed initially as a laborer, and for a while as a broom maker, he saved his money. By 1865 he was able to open a saloon at 502 State Street. This was still a disreputable neighborhood, featuring the ruins and still occupied worker tenements of the now-defunct cotton mill. It was also the site of the County Poorhouse. It was quickly becoming, however, the preferred residential area of industrious and upwardly mobile German immigrants such as Treis.

Adopting a time honored role, on March 31, 1869, Matthias Treis’s Tavern was the location for the election of the 5th Ward’s nomination of 5 delegates to the City Democratic Party Convention. Treis himself earned one of those delegate posts.  At those City Conventions, over the subsequent years, delegates from the Albany Hill portion of the 5th Ward, mainly German, and delegates from the 3rd Ward, mostly Irish, battled against the older and more socially prominent Dutch or English descended for control of the Democratic Party.

In 1885, those older ethnic elements got the upper hand. Democrat Mayor Henry S. DeForest chose to follow the policy of his Republican, but similarly upper-class predecessor John Young and seek “higher licenses and fewer saloons.” When Matthias Treis arrived to renew his liquor license on May 19, 1885, he was told that “the majority of the board does not feel disposed to grant a license in your district, Mr. Treis” (Quotes here are from newspaper reports at the time. Be warned that such reports typically were slanted in a direction unfavorable to, and often ridiculing of, immigrants). Treis answered: “well, I don’t see why not. I have kept a good place for 20 years.” He then, according to the reporter, “turned sorrowfully away.”

His sorrow quickly turned to action. He banded together with some 30 other rejected saloon keepers to create a defense fund variously described in amount as somewhere from $600 to $2000. The participants proceeded to violate the law, to continue to sell liquor, and to use the defense fund to pay their fines. They also recruited the legal services of A.A. Yates, former judge, mainstay of the city’s Republican Party, and grandson of a New York State governor. Mayor DeForest, like his anti-liquor predecessor, Dr. Nott, was a committed but temperate advocate of temperance. He quickly saw the light and found room for compromise. “Now that a less fanatical board of commissioners has been appointed,” a reporter wrote in April, 1886, agreement had been reached. The “higher fees” remained, but the “fewer saloons” part was abandoned.  The victorious saloonkeepers association disbanded. Matthias Treis paid his $75 fee and received his renewed liquor license.

The social and political role of saloons proved important in controversies within, as well as between, the city’s ethnic communities. This role became especially important after the 1886 arrival of the Edison Machine Works. This was followed by the addition of Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, as well as Southern Europeans, especially Italians, to the ethnic mix.

In 1893 Stanislaus Kowalski, owner of the Washington House Saloon on Edison Avenue, was seen as “one of the pioneers of the Polish settlement in this city…. piloting his countrymen through the difficulties of naturalization, befriending them in entanglements of the  law… president of the Parish, captain of the Polish laborers.”

He also became entangled in a dispute with a recently arrived priest of Schenectady’s first Polish parish, St. Mary’s. Father Dersezewski was also a champion of the social and economic needs of his community, involved especially in gaining for his parishioner’s employment and relief during the deep economic depression of 1893. These meritorious activities invaded Kowalski’s turf. Some accused Kowalski of going to the Bishop in Albany and trying to get Father Dersezewski fired.

Matters came to a head at a meeting of 300 people at Kowalski’s saloon on Oct 21, 1893. The avowed purpose was creating a Polish-American Political Club. Foes of Kowalski accused him of demanding future political loyalty in exchange for his citizenship aid. Sticks and stones were brandished. Officer Flanigan intervened in time to prevent the breaking of any bones. He was, however, unable to prevent throwing of the stones and demolition of the glass front of the saloon. Kowalski subsequently retreated from direct political involvement into the role of publisher of the area’s first Polish newspaper.

A story more directly relating the saloon saga to the arrival of the town's new dominant employer also occurred in 1894. Kruesi Avenue, named after the first superintendent of the Edison Works, was one of the new neighborhoods that bloomed because of proximity to the General Electric Plant. It quickly gained such nicknames as “Crazy Avenue” and “the Bowery”, after the similarly notorious district in New York City. While admitting that “not all the saloons on Kruesi Avenue are disreputable,” newspapers had a field day describing the goings-on in those saloons, as well as in Kreusi Avenue’s other “objectionable houses.”

According to A.A. Yates, who now wrote as a defender of family values rather than of saloons, it was GE’s tender concern for the morals of its workers that led the company to launch an 1894 campaign to clean up Kruesi Avenue.  This claim is both implausible and inaccurate. As GE Vice President Joseph P. Ord explained, GE needed the land which bordered the plant in order to extend the length of its main factory buildings. This extension would make possible the efficient construction of bigger electrical generators, using overhead cranes powered by the very electricity that the new generators would produce.

His explanation was also an ultimatum. If the city did not close down and demolish Kruesi Avenue, GE would begin to look more favorably on the offers of other communities. Some were offering up to 100 acres of land and a million dollars in subsidies, for the privilege of being the new home to the greatly expanded main plant of the General Electric Company.

Schenectady’s newly created Board of Trade got the message. Acting with the alacrity previously shown by Treis and the saloonkeepers, the Board of Trade convinced 140 Schenectady merchants to make contributions that ranged in size from $1500 down to $20, and totaled $35,000. This sufficed to pay off the Kruesi Avenue landowners. A pleased Joseph P. Ord told the board that Schenectady would soon be the home of the greatest electrical machinery works in the world. The Schenectady Works of the General Electric Company would soon fulfill Ord's prophecy.

The cleanup of Kruesi Avenue only diffused, rather than eliminate, the activities that the street had housed. Newspaper accounts now turned to the activities of new notorious dens of vice opening up nearby, such as “The Crow’s Nest”, “313 Broadway”, and “Jenee Scott’s”.

This incident, along with the parallel replacement of the Givens Hotel with a brand new Edison Hotel, does however provide a fitting end to the 19th century transition from an era of inns and taverns to an era of hotels and saloons. Little visual evidence of that era can be seen today. The surviving tip of the avenue, the part that GE did not need, can still be found outside a now sealed-up GE Plant gate under a sign that reads Lower Broadway. That very short street is, appropriately, now the home of the city’s most notorious adult bookstore, as well as of at least one tavern and one pub. The latter, thanks to a proprietor with a fine sense of history, is called the Kruesi Ave Pub.



Friday, August 7, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part II: Tapsters in a Time of Crisis


This post was written by library volunteer Victoria Bohm
As the 18th century came and progressed, the ever increasing rules, regulations, and taxes imposed on the British Colonies by King George II and III, including those on tapsters and liquor, incited the revolutionary spirit. Taverns and inns were more than pre-Motel 6 accommodations for travelers, they were meeting places and conference centers for business, economics, and politics. As the fateful decade of the 1770s rolled around, various taverns took center stage in Schenectady.
Engraving of "Washington's Farewell to His Officers" by Alonzo Chappel. After the British evacuated New York, Fraunces Tavern in New York City hosted a dinner where General George Washington bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army.  
Though laws had been passed from the mid-17th century on forbidding the sale of trade of liquor to the Native Americans, such statutes were not always followed or enforced. With the French and Indian Wars a memory very much alive, the Committee of Correspondence feted the Oneida Tribe at the William White Tavern in Schenectady in order to curry favor and keep the Oneida from joining or aiding the British. The party favors must have worked because most of the Oneida with the Colonists while other Indian Nations sided with the British. After the War, two treaties were signed by Chief Shenendoah in 1794: the Veteran’s Treaty which acknowledged the Oneida as fighting allies of the Americans, and the Canandaigua Treaty which recognized sovereignty, land rights, and tax freedoms of the Oneida.

Schenectady tavern owner Robert Clench came to America to work under British General Braddock. During the French and Indian War, Clench got to know a certain soldier well during the French and Indian Wars, one George Washington. After the War, Clench married Hannah Vernon in Pennsylvania, had six children, moved to Schenectady in the late 1760’s, bought a tavern names the “Sign of the Crossed Keys”, became a church warden for St. George’s Episcopal Church, and made himself a prominent and respected citizen. Clench’s tavern hosted town meetings, assembly meetings, and saw the St. George Lodge of the Masonic Order formed there in 1774. But all was not well or properly patriotic in the Clench family. In 1776, Robert Clench was reported to the Committee of Safety for statements unbecoming a truly patriotic American. In 1777, he was branded a “dangerous person,” though he declared himself ready to fight in the face of an invasion. When he failed to show up to take the Oath of Allegiance, the Commissioner of Conspiracies went after him. The Committee of Correspondence and the Masons of St. George Lodge decided to move their meetings out of Clench’s Tavern. Finally, in mid-1778, Robert Clench took the Oath. Robert’s son Robert’s son, Ralph, on the other hand, joined the British forces, seeing action under General Burgoyne and with Butler’s Rangers.

New York State Historic Marker showing the location of Clench's Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.
Robert Clench died in 1781. His widow Hannah ran the business for a while, then his son Thomas Barton Clench took over. George Washington even visited the tavern in 1782 and 1783, and the Masons thought the tavern once again patriotically respectable enough to resume their meetings there in 1782. After the tavern burned in 1819, Thomas Clench ran a tavern out of the old Arendt Bradt House.
The Revolutionary War did not curtail the tavern/inn business. Records of the Schenectady Committee of Safety from 1777 show a list of those called upon to make sure their licenses were valid and to pay their excise taxes. Reuben Simonds was among those names. Simonds took over the tavern on Church Street from Jonathan Odgen in 1762, already known as a gathering place for patriots. Simonds duly answered the Committee’s summons and paid for his license. The Simonds Tavern continued to be partial to patriots. Reuben himself enlisted and served in the 2nd Albany County Militia. When a fire in 1807 burned Simonds tavern, Theodore Burr’s Mohawk Engineers each gave a day’s work in order to rebuild Simonds’ tavern, allowing Simonds to move back in the day after the fire.
List of Schenectady residents allowed to keep a tavern. From the "Minutes of the Schenectady Committee, 1775-1779." Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.

Between 1762 and 1772, Charles Doyle ran a tavern on Union Street frequented by those known to have Loyalist sympathies. The tavern was next to the Colonial Barracks which housed English Militia men. By the time the Revolutionary War began in earnest, the place had been bought by John Duncan. John and his son Richard Duncan were known to have Loyalist sympathies. Richard was a captain under Sir John Johnson, and after the War both John and Richard managed to remain in Schenectady and hold on to their property. When Duncan’s tavern was demolished, it was discovered to be riddled with secret doors, stairways, and partitions which made it perfect for the comings and goings spies and couriers.

Though most taverns in Schenectady and its surrounding area boast no documented historic even or person during the Revolutionary War, some may simply and proudly boast of their historic standing by standing the test of time. Built in colonial times, surviving the tumult of the Revolution, and still standing through the change of hands and purpose into the 20th century, two are well worth mentioning, the Swart and the Vedder taverns.

Painting of Swart House and Tavern in Glenville. Courtesy of the Schenectady History Museum.
Josias Swart obtained a land grant in 1713 near the Mohawk River in Glenville and proceeded to build a large brick structure which was to be both home and tavern in 1735. One entrance served the tavern, another served the private home. Teunis Swart served as an ensign in the 2nd Regiment of the Albany County Militia, with a great many more family members serving as enlisted men. Swart’s tavern survived the war and into the 20th century as one of the oldest remaining structures of the region. The name-dropping event for the Swart Tavern was the visit by Dewitt Clinton in 1810 on an inspection trip prior to the building of the Erie Canal.

Wine Barrel found in the cellar of the Swart Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Clinton would also visit a nearby tavern owned by the Vedder family. The long-standing tavern run by the long-standing Schenectady family Vedder stood on the Amsterdam-Schenectady Road a few miles outside of Schenectady.  Even older than the Swart Tavern, the original structure, built of brick in Dutch fashion, saw at least two additions and a stucco overlay.  The tavern was also known to quarter slaves in two large rooms in the cellar. Many of Schenectady’s first (and second) families owned slaves well into the 1800s. The Vedder family supplied the American troops with many soldiers, their names in the New York State Militia Rolls as enlisted men and with Lieutenants A.S. Vedder, Philip Vedder, Albert Vedder, and Francis Vedder. Revolutionary War hero Albert A. Vedder is buried in the Vedder burial site on the former family homestead.

Photo of the Vedder Tavern in Glenville, NY. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Whether slaking the thirst of the British or the Americans, the taverns of Schenectady and its environs provided food, drink, shelter, rest, and company for centuries in war time as well as peace time. More information about the taverns, inns, brews, and breweries of the Schenectady region, as well as the families involved with all such activities, may be found in Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society

Stay tuned for our next installment of the taverns and inns of Schenectady where we cover some of Schenectady’s popular taverns during the 1800s.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part I

The 1698 Romer Map of Schenectady shows many important landmarks and buildings in Schenectady. The Brewhouse is outlined in yellow. Courtesy of Grems-Doolittle Map Collection




The 1698 Romer Map is one of the earliest and most detailed maps of Schenectady. This map shows some of the more important buildings and features in Schenectady, including the church, the mill, the King’s Fort, and the brewhouse. Beer and heartier beverages were an important part of Colonial life and some of the more prominent original settlers of Schenectady brewed and sold these beverages in their taverns and inns. Alcohol was not just limited to the men in New Netherlands, women and children were also known to drink. Early Dutch settlers were so fond of imbibing that when Peter Stuyvesant became director-general of New Netherland, he passed several restrictions on drinking and selling alcohol. Stuyvesant believed that excessive drinking “causes not only the neglect of honest handicraft and business, but also the debauching of the common man," and set out to try and create some order among the Dutch settlers. Among the restrictions were rules on reporting bar fights, the banning of the sale of alcohol to Indians, and rules against “unseasonable night tippling”. Despite these restrictions, the tavern remained very important part of colonial life and served several functions for the settlers in Schenectady. In addition to the obvious function of quaffing beer and harder drinks, taverns allowed people to gather and spread news, discuss and debate politics, trade furs and other items, and provided means of entertainment.

Dutch artist Jan Steen painted many scenes of drunken revelry. This painting from 1654 titled "Peasants before an Inn" shows Dutch farmers dancing and drinking outside of a tavern. Similar scenes would probably take place in Schenectady and throughout New Netherland. Courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH.
One of the first innkeepers in Schenectady was Douwe Aukes De Freeze who settled here in 1663. His inn was located on the corner of Mill Lane and State Street, close to the first church in Schenectady. The first licensed tapster on record in Schenectady was Jacques Cornelise Gautsch Van Slyck who was licensed in 1671. The exact location of Van Slyck’s tavern is unknown, but is suspected to be between State and Water Street.  Van Slyck’s rival tapster was Cornelis Cornelise Viele. Viele applied for his license in 1672. The root of their rivalry was that Van Slyck believed he was given privilege to be the only innkeeper in Schenectady, and that Viele’s license would interfere with the business of his tavern. It was decided by the Executive Council that both men could have a license as long as “one should not in any way molest or hinder the other.” A third license was given to Antonia Van Curler, the widow of Schenectady founder Arendt Van Curler, in 1673. Governor Lovelace granted her the license partially in order to quell the quarrels between Viele and Van Slyck, but also for the loss of her husband and for the fire which destroyed her house and farm. The selling of liquor to Indians was normally forbidden, but Antonia’s license allowed her to sell a limited amount of rum to Indians, which neither Van Slyke nor Viele had.
Not to say that the law always dissuaded tavern owners from serving local Indians. Maria Du Trieux settled in Schenectady later in life and was quite familiar with the laws against selling liquor to Indians, having violated them a few times. Maria, along with husband Jan Peek, operated a popular inn in New Amsterdam that was known for late night and Sunday tappings. These tappings cost Jan Peek his license for a short time, his license was reinstated in November 1654 on account of being “burdened with a houseful of children.”  After Jan died, Maria was prosecuted for selling liquor to Indians. She was sentenced to pay 500 guilders and was to be banished from the island of Manhattan. Maria requested that her fine be forgiven on the grounds that she was “one of the oldest inhabitants of New Amsterdam.” Her request was granted and she ended up moving to Albany. From Albany, she moved to Schenectady to live closer to her children on the corner of Front and Church Streets.
Anna Kendall's house on North Ferry Street. Missing from the house is the "Cakes and Beer" sign. Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey
Women in 17th Century New Netherland had some freedom compared to their counterparts in New England. Dutch Women were allowed to engage freely in business and wives of innkeepers, like Maria Du Trieux, would often continue the business after their husband had died. This practice seemed to continue even after the British took control of New Netherland in 1664. Innkeeper Caleb Beck died in 1733 and his widow Ann continued to run the hotel and dry goods shop on Church and Union Street. Other female tavern owners included Anna Kendall who owned a shop on North Ferry Street. A sign outside of her shop advertised “Cakes and Beer”, with an image of a bottle behind the lettering. When Anna’s second husband George Kendall died, she continued to run the shop. In addition to selling beer, she would partake in drinking and when she drank too much her son would bundle her up and take her home.

Captain Arent Bradt’s house was an important meeting place for many of Schenectady’s residents. Arent Bradt was a brewer and a member of the Provincial Assembly in 1745. Arent owned a lot of land bounded by State, Washington, Union, and Church Streets in Schenectady. It was on this lot that he opened a tavern. Schenectady's town government would sometimes hold meetings at Bradt's tavern. According to Ona Curran’s article “Tapsters and Taverns” in the June 1963 issue of the Schenectady County Historical Society's newsletter, records for April 1751 show that “the town of Schenectady paid two pounds to Bradt for troubles in his house and board for councilmen.” 
View of State Street from the late 1800s showing J.W. McMullen Marble Works, formerly the Bradt Tavern. This building was located on the site of the former YMCA at 13 State Street. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.

Halfway between Albany and Schenectady on the King’s Highway was the “Halfway House”, which was owned by Isaac Truax. Truax was described as a “jolly good tavern keeper and a good friend,” but his inn may not have been the safest. The King’s Highway was notorious for smugglers, thieves and others of ill repute. It was so dangerous that in 1756, a group of militiamen would escort travelers to and from Schenectady. A rumor of guests being murdered at Truax’s inn cropped up, and many years later an excavation at the site of the inn revealed human skeletons under the floor.
Painting of Issac Truax's Halfway House by K.C. Reynolds. Courtesy of the Schenectady History Museum.
As Schenectady’s population continued to rise during the mid-1700s, so does the number of taverns in the town. The taverns also become increasingly more political as tensions between the colonists and British heat up. Find out more in our next blog post on the taverns and inn of Schenectady.




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Legacy of the Mystic Order of the True Blues

Illustration of the Second Annual Carnival of the True Blues published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. This illustration features King Neptune's float, the human steam engine, a giraffe, along with other attractions in the parade. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library photograph collection.
Schenectady has historically been the recipient of some less than favorable reviews. Dating back to 1810, Dewitt Clinton wrote in his diary that “Schenectady, although dignified with the name of a city, does little business…it does not appear pleasing.” While he was still a student at Union College, Jonathan Pearson wrote that Schenectady was a city “only fit for hogs and Dutchmen.” Apparently Pearson’s opinion on both Schenectady and the Dutch would soon change. He learned to read Dutch, wrote extensively about Schenectady’s history, and lived in Schenectady until his death in 1887, so he must have found something about Schenectady that he liked. Along with the disparaging of Schenectady comes a history of people willing promote the city. Similar to the website The Schenectady Project or @schenectadydoesn’tsuck on Instagram, The Mystic Order of the True Blues was established to promote business and civic pride in Schenectady.

Flier for the first chartered meeting of the True Blues. President William J. Van Horne would be elected mayor of Schenectady in 1871 and was the first person in Schenectady to own a telephone. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
Formed in 1867, the True Blues promoted Schenectady through grand, lavish parades. The second parade of the True Blues took place on September 3, 1868 and it attracted 20,000 visitors to Schenectady. Newspaper reports described knights in period garb, people dressed as King Lear, Hamlet and Ophelia, a division of Zouaves from the War of 1812 who “won continued applause by their precise military movements,” and an animal section which contained a baby elephant named Ho-Olah, bears and other beasts. The True Blues also lampooned many Schenectady institutions. There were caricatures of Postmaster John Veeder, and one of the Schenectady Daily Union Editor Welton Stanford who was caricatured as “one who tried to rid two horses at one time, - one horse marked ‘Republican’ and the other ‘Democrat’.” The music was a highlight of the parade, especially Sullivan’s marching band from Troy. According to former Schenectady County Historian Larry Hart, Sullivan’s band was “regally uniformed and led by a giant drum major, which got the greatest applause along the route.”
Model of King Neptune's float from the second True Blues parade. From the Schenectady History Museum. 
A fictitious history and an illustration of the True Blues was published in an issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper after the parade. It states that “Sixteen thousand years ago, according to the tradition of Munchausen, the valley of the Mohawk was an extensive and magnificent lake. The hills which enclose the vast level, now luxuriant with the toil of the honest husbandman, were dotted with castles, palaces, and prisons, the former inhabited by the founders of the True Blues and the latter by degenerate and unworthy Sons of Malta.” This account goes on to say that the lake dried up leaving nothing but a few seeds of broomcorn. The ancestors of the True Blues cultivated this crop in order to send brooms around the world, but an “unworthy scion of a noble sire” made whisky from the harvest and emigrated to Ireland to form the Free Masons while.
Ticket to the Grand Carnival of the Mysterious True Blues. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
 In 1869 the True Blues decided to hold a carnival at the Schenectady’s first armory. The armory had been completed in 1868 and the True Blues organized the “Grand Carnival and Bazaar” in order to celebrate its opening. To promote the week-long bazaar, the True Blues circulated a newsletter called The True Blue Bazaar. The newsletter contained humorous poems, jokes, cartoons, lists of contributors to the bazaar and advertisements for local businesses. One of my favorite jokes comes from the January 30th issue, “When are skipping lambs like library volumes? When they are boundin’ sheep.”
Advertisements of attractions at the
Grand Carnival and Bazaar
from the February 8, 1869 issue
 of the "True Blue Bazaar."
Image from the Grems-Doolittle
Library Collection. 
 
The list of contributors in these newsletters feature some prominent residents of New York and Schenectady including, former New York State Governor John T. Hoffman, several members of the 83rd Regiment of Volunteers, H.S. Barney of Barney’s department store fame and former Albany Mayor Michael Nolan. The bazaar boasted a wide variety of activities, music, portraits, poultry shows, a five foot cucumber and a velocipede. I could list more, but as the Albany Express newspaper wrote, “no description could do it justice.” The carnival cost $4,000 to run, a considerable amount in 1869, but the True Blues managed to raise $1,000 for charity.

A final parade took place on September 8, 1870 and according to the Daily Star it drew 30,000 visitors to Schenectady from. Special trains ran from major cities in New York and thirteen coaches ran from Albany loaded with people wanting to see the parade. Bands from Schenectady, New York, Troy and Poughkeepsie were invited to march alongside horse-drawn floats, armored knights and a model of the Cardiff Giant.

The last meeting of the True Blues occurred on October 2nd 1871 and King’s Cornet Band played “lively music to salute a job well done.” In addition to promoting the city, the parades and bazaars of the True Blues provided a much needed distraction from the horrors of the  Civil War and  Lincoln's assassination for the residents of Schenectady.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Band of Brothers: The Correspondence of Charles and Douglas Snell

Envelope of a letter from Charles Snell to his parents.
The envelopes in this collection have a variety of different stamps. 
The 71st anniversary of D-Day was on Saturday, June 6th 2015. Although I’m a little late writing this blog post I would like to highlight a part of our collection that commemorates World War II, the Charles and Douglas Snell Collection. This collection comprises letters that were written by Charles and Douglas to family and friends during the last two years of World War II.



Diagram of Charles' living quarters in the South Pacific which he calls his "home".

Charles and Douglas Snell were the sons of William A. and Kathryn Snell of 418 Plymouth Avenue, Schenectady, NY.  Both Charles and Douglas enlisted in the Army in 1943, but they were sent to different theaters. Charles was sent to California and fought in the South Pacific while Douglas was sent to England. While the bulk of this collection is correspondence, there are also a few political cartoons, newspaper articles, postcards, and pictures.
The letters are usually short on specific combat information as they were heavily censored by the government. Some of the letters have pieces cut out of them due to this censorship or words redacted. The brothers often “self-censor” their letters and an example of this can be seen in Charles’ correspondence. In the heading of his letters he will describe his location as “Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean Area.” Both brothers were vague in saying exactly where they were located as this information would definitely be censored. There is some general information about what the brothers are working on, they mention classes or lectures that they go to and in the letter displayed below Charles states that he “heard his first radar today.”



Letter from Charles Snell to his parents.
The letters also contain a lot of information about military life. They talk about training routines, food, entertainment, inspections, life on the home front and items they might need from their family. Charles goes into great detail about his time spent in the California before he was deployed. He gives descriptions of national parks, talks about his love of gardening and classical music and his work with the Chaplain. Douglas describes his time in England and discusses the people, places and things he encountered there. Douglas’ sense of humor is also on display in the correspondence. Accompanying the newspaper clipping below was a note from Douglas stating that he “wasn’t as bald as the picture made him out to be.” He also calls notice to a particularly painful pun that he uses in one of his letters by saying he was “short on shorts (ouch).”

Clipping from the Schenectady Union-Star showing Douglas Snell in the jeep
 that he drove for the chaplains in his unit.
There is also some discussion about political views and the 1944 presidential election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey. Charles, a Roosevelt supporter writes to his parent that “I suppose you heard about the election by now Ha! The Dewey men on ship made a lot of noise but won’t bet a cent on the election.” Douglas also mentions that he supports Roosevelt and was happy when he was elected.

Many of the letters in this collection were written using “V-Mail”. These letters were written on small sheets of paper and after going through the mail censors they would be photographed onto microfilm and transported. When the microfilm arrived, the letters would be blown up and printed.
Example of a V-Mail letter sent by Douglas.
These letters give us a very personal connection to the authors as the brothers write about their family and friends in Schenectady. After returning from his tour in the Pacific, Charles married Julie Kamerer and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. Douglas enrolled in Union College and eventually moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania. Both brothers died in 1997 and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A finding aid for the Charles and Douglas Snell Collection can be found here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Best Brooms in the World: The story of the Whitmyer Broom Factory


Broomcorn from Schenectady County's Flag.

The symbols on the Schenectady County flag represent industries that helped build Schenectady. The DeWitt Clinton and the Schenectady boat symbolize the railroad and canals that made Schenectady into a shipping hub. The lightning bolt and atom represent General Electric and American Locomotive, two of Schenectady’s most prominent industries. The last symbol on the flag has been confused with a sheaf of wheat, but is actually broomcorn. Before the rise of GE and ALCO, Schenectady County was known for farming broomcorn and manufacturing brooms. Schenectady County was the largest grower of broomcorn, and one of the largest producers of brooms in New York State in the 1800s. Much of the work on broomcorn farms was done by Germans who would also work in the broom factories during the winter months. This work prompted Germans to immigrate to the area in the 1840s through the 1860s.
The Whitmyer Broom Factory after a fire. The factory was located on Washington Avenue and Cucumber Alley.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The Whitmyer’s family immigrated to Schenectady from Germany in the mid-1800s and proceeded to find work in the broomcorn fields and factories. Brothers Charles, Christian and William all worked in Otis Smith’s broom factory who owned a broom factory on the corner of Washington Avenue and Cucumber Alley in Schenectady. Their wives, Louisa, Mary and Mary also worked for Smith as the broom industry brought opportunities for both men and women. According to Isaac Whitmyer, Christian Whitmyer’s son, Otis Smith employed about 120 men and 124 women. He also states that, in the corn fields, men would go through and break the stalks off while women would follow and cut the tops off for use in the manufacture of brooms. In the factories, women trimmed and sorted the corn according to the size of the cuts.
Inside of the Whitmyer Broom Factory. In 1947, Harvey Whitmyer was the sole operator of the factory. From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection
In the 1860s, the Whitmyers bought Otis Smith’s factory and started C. Whitmyer & Company. The Whitmyer brooms were considered some of the best in the United States and they even won 1st prize at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 for their exhibit. The city directories also show that a Henry Whitmyer owned a broom making factory on 19 North Street in Schenectady. C. Whitmyer & Company was still listed in the 1900 city directory, well past the decline of many other broom manufacturers in Schenectady. By 1902, C. Whitmyer & Company had gone out of business, but Whitmyer brooms were still being produced by Henry Whitmyer. The business stayed in the Whitmyer family until Henry’s grandson Harvey died in 1947. After Harvey’s death, the Whitemyre Broom Company was bought by George Kranick. Surprisingly, Kranick kept the broom making tradition alive and ran the factory as a one-man operation until the mid-1960s.
Close-up of a broom before it is "wound"  from the Whitmyer Broom Factory DVD. From Grems-Doolittle Library Video Collection
 

Screenshot of the label George Kranick used on his brooms from the Whitmyer Broom Factory DVD. From Grems-Doolittle Library Video Collection

The Grems-Doolittle Library recently received a video that shows George Kranick making his brooms in his factory on 150 Front Street in Schenectady. In the video, he’s using the same machinery, techniques and even the same labels that the Whitmyer’s would have used to make their brooms. It’s an interesting snapshot of a craft that is rarely practiced anymore.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pioneer of us All: The Story of Pasquale DeMarco



Photo of Pasquale DeMarco from 1899 taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files.
Between 1890 and 1930 immigration from Italy to Schenectady was booming. According to Robert Pascucci’s book Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930, the number of Italian immigrants in Schenectady increased from 221 in 1890 to 5,910 in 1930, and made up 29.3% of Schenectady’s population. Many of these immigrants came to America to escape the rural poverty they had known in Italy and to try and make a living in Schenectady. There was an increase in demand for laborers in Schenectady during this time due to the expansion of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. These jobs were a big draw for a variety of immigrant groups, including Italians. Italian Immigrants arriving in Schenectady would face a variety of challenges. Schenectady’s Pasquale DeMarco knew those challenges all too well and set out to help his fellow countrymen with the transition.
Born in Alvignano, Italy on September 9, 1862, Pasquale De Marco immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old. He bounced around New York State, living in New York City, Albany, and Ballston Spa before becoming one of the first permanent Italian residents of Schenectady. DeMarco would go on to open a barber shop on 109 Jay Street in 1895. In addition to cutting hair, DeMarco would assist other Italian immigrants in a number of other ways. He would translate for them, act as liaison with their jobs, and send letters to their families. He also began to go to the bank and exchange the immigrant’s dollars for lira to be sent to their families in Italy. Eventually, DeMarco expanded into the banking business, as he was able to buy Italian currency when the rates were low and offer better exchange rates to his fellow countrymen.



The caption on this photo of DeMarco's business reads: "Located at 106-108 Jay Street is the attractive and well equipped office and store of Pasquale DeMarco, who has been established in business ten years,  and during this period has done a large and increasing business and earned for himself an enviable reputation in commercial circles." - Taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files
The services DeMarco offered went above and beyond any regular bank. He would often go to New York City to meet Italian immigrants that were coming to Schenectady, help them get through immigration and bring them to Schenectady by train. He also assisted new immigrants with finding lodging and jobs if they didn’t have anything lined up. DeMarco also played a large part in founding the first St. Anthony’s Church. Up until 1902, there was no church for the growing Italian population of Schenectady. DeMarco brought Father Bencivenga from Italy to Schenectady in order to start a church where Italian was spoken. The original church was built on the corner of Nott Street and Park Place, int was


Location of St. Anthony's marked as "Italian Ch." on Nott Street and Park Place from the 1905 Atlas of Schenectady, New York.  
Demarco’s wife, Julia Mackay DeMarco also helped with DeMarco’s business.  Julia was instrumental in helping Pasquale with the Italian immigrant women. She went back to school to learn Italian, and acted as a translator and English teacher for Italian immigrants. In addition to their 7 children, Julia and Pasquale were so respected in the community that many Italian parents named them as godparents to their children.
Pasquale DeMarco was recognized for his accomplishments by local, federal, and even the Italian government. In 1902, he received a medal for his work from the Italian government for his work with Italian immigrants. Also in 1902, DeMarco and other prominent Italian residents  petitioned  Schenectady's Common Council to donate a piece of land in Crescent Park (now Veteran's Park) for a bust of recently deceased President William McKinley. The bust was a gift from the Italian residents to Schenectady and was "intended to show the high regard in which that illustrious statesman is held by the people of Italian birth and also to attest the love and admiration they cherish for the land of their adoption." De Marco also received a commendation and medal from the U.S. Treasury Department for running Liberty Loan drives during World War I.

De Marco died on August 26, 1930 of a ruptured appendix and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery after a funeral at St. Anthony's. Respectfully referred to as the “pioneer of us all”, Pasquale DeMarco was held in high regard by many in Schenectady. He knew about the struggles of immigrating to a new place because he worked through those struggles, and decided to help others in a similar position.