Thursday, October 30, 2014

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Girls from Schenectady High School laugh with delight after riding the Shoot-the-Chute at Rexford Park during a senior class trip to the amusement park in 1908. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

The invention of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900 revolutionized photography. Its low cost and the ease of using the camera not only made photography more accessible to everyone, including young people; it also led to the creation of the snapshot. From the Brownie era to the iPhone era, young people have enjoyed casually snapping photos of themselves and their friends, and sharing them with each other.

A number of photographs of Schenectady County girls and young ladies, simply having fun, are presented here. Enjoy them!

Interested in exploring the Schenectady County's past through photographs? Visit our Library or contact our Librarian.

Two teenage girls dress up in 1890s-era clothing and pose as a "Gay Nineties" bicycling gentleman and lady in this 1939 photo. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Girls play basketball in gym glass at Van Corlaer Junior High School in this 1956 photo. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Nott Terrace High School cheerleaders huddle up for this 1949 photo snapped in a school corridor. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

A group of Schenectady High School girls pose at a trolley stop in this photo, ca. 1910. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Girls enjoy a lunchtime chat by their lockers at Mont Pleasant High School in this 1942 photograph. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

Margaret Hoffman laughs as Kathleen McElroy fits her into the Cinderella slipper at the 1948 Nott Terrace High School Junior Prom. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Schenectady's Wall Street

This 1850 Schenectady city map shows the single block of Wall Street, running parallel to the Erie Canal between State Street and Liberty Street. The Givens Hotel was located on the east side of the street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Map Collection. 

Schenectady's Wall Street has its origin from around the time that the "third stockade" was constructed in Schenectady around 1776. The street ran along the inside of the eastern wall of the stockade, connecting Front Street and State Street. In the street's early years, the entire stretch of street was called Wall Street. After Union College established its building on the street, the section between Union Street and Green Street became known as College Street. The part of the street north of Union Street was briefly named Elbow Street before becoming a part of College Street as well.

This map shows the locations of three stockades built around the settlement at Schenectady, overlaid on a modern map of the modern Stockade Historic District. The location of Wall Street can be found along the eastern edge of the third stockade, built around 1776. Image from Colonial Schenectady in Maps by Susan Staffa (1983). 

In 1825, the construction of the Erie Canal cut Wall Street down even further. The section of Wall Street west of the canal also became a part of College Street, and Wall Street was reduced to a single block, running between State Street and Liberty Street. Although the street was small, its proximity to the railroad tracks and the Erie Canal made it a bustling little street. Businesses along that section of the canal set their storefronts on Wall Street and drew merchandise from barges on the canal side. The early 1840s saw the construction of a railroad station and the Givens Hotel there.

This view of State Street from the 1880s shows railroad tracks in Schenectady when they were at the street level. In the center of the photograph is Givens Hotel, which stood on State Street between the railroad tracks to the east and Wall Street to the west. The entrance to Wall Street can be seen behind the Givens Hotel in this image. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Although it was busy, its proximity to the railroad and canal did not make it a pretty place to do business. Historian Larry Hart wrote that by the late 1870s, "the east side of Wall Street was not too pleasant a sight. Clustered near the grade level crossing at State Street were a shabby little restaurant and saloon, weatherbeaten sheds and wood fences, grimy with wood soot." Wall Street blossomed in the 1880s. The a new railroad depot opened there in 1882; the Givens Hotel was demolished and the Edison Hotel was erected in its place in 1889. A right-of-way along the railroad tracks north of Liberty Street was tacked on to the end of Wall Street to accommodate the Central Arcade, a complex of 20 shops and offices.

This 1889 photograph shows the area once occupied by the Givens Hotel at the corner of Wall Street and State Street, before the Edison Hotel was constructed in its place. The row of businesses that ran along Wall Street can be seen at left, and Schenectady's train station can be seen in the rear center of the photograph. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

However, changes in the community changed the fate of Wall Street. The elevation of the city's railroad tracks in 1905 affected Wall Street profoundly, as it went from being a bustling street to a side street. Wall Street suffered another blow as Erie Boulevard replaced the Erie Canal in 1925. Businesses which had formerly had their storefronts on Wall Street now changed to face Erie Boulevard. In the early 1970s, the buildings which once ran along Wall Street were demolished to make room for additional downtown parking. Today, the street no longer exists.

This view of Wall Street in January 1971 looks south toward State Street. The Crown Hotel, at left, was demolished later that year, along with a number of other buildings along Wall Street. The side of the former railroad station, which had closed in 1969, can be seen at the far left. It was also demolished in 1971. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Exploring the Haunted Past of Schenectady's Stockade

This ghoulish group of skeletons was unearthed in the backyard of a home on Front Street in Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood in 1902. The skeletons were thought at the time to be remains of some of the people killed in the 1690 Schenectady Massacre. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

This blog entry is written by SCHS's Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley.

The Stockade Historic District is full of stories, some of them documented and some passed down over time. As the Halloween season is upon us, we’ve been researching stories of a haunted nature for our Candlelight Walking Tours. Here are some stories of ghosts from the past.

Late at night at 4 South Church Street, some say the sound of pacing footsteps can be heard. The number of paces is always the same – 22. In the 1870s Henry Horstmyer owned this house and every night around midnight, he would hear someone pacing back and forth in the living room. He counted 22 paces, but when he examined the room, found that it was only 18 paces wide. He hired carpenters to find an explanation but they could find none. Older inhabitants were able to provide the answer. During the Civil War a sixteen year old boy was hoping to enlist. He was afraid he would be rejected because of his small size, and so on the night before he was to report for duty he spent the night awake, pacing the floor back and forth. He was accepted into the army and later died at Gettysburg, but it is said that his spirit returned to the house to pace his small 22 paces for eternity.

Image of 4 South Church Street, where Henry Horstmyer heard mysterious pacing footsteps. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

In the 1700s Riverside Park was lined with small fishing docks and natives would routinely sell fish to settlers. One of these natives was an old Mohawk who was well-known in the area for his fishing and hunting knowledge. One day he visited the Stockade and gave a large present of fish to one of the townspeople without asking for any money in return. "The Great Spirit calls me," was his response when asked why. He returned to the river in his canoe. Boys swimming in the river reported that though his canoe was traveling against the current, they could not figure out how, for the Indian sat erect with his arms folded, not touching the paddles. His canoe was found floating in the river without him, and no body was ever found. A Dutchman traveling down the river thought he saw his friend on the shore, but as soon as his boat touched the bank, the Mohawk turned his head and disappeared. For some time after the Mohawk was seen sitting near the river, his knees pulled up to his chin, but whenever someone spoke to him, he disappeared.

A spooky moonlit image of the Mohawk River near Riverside park. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Some ghosts are uneasy, some mysterious, and some, apparently, are rather generous. A poor shoemaker and his wife lived in an old house where the Erie Canal used to run. One evening as the shoemaker sat out on his porch as the sun was setting, an old man dressed in a gray coat passed by and motioned for the man to follow. The shoemaker was afraid and stayed on the porch, and then the man disappeared. The shoemaker told his wife the story, and she determined they would sit on the porch the next night and this time, they would follow the man if he appeared. The next evening they sat together as the sun went down, and again the man in the gray coat appeared. He beckoned to them, and this time the shoemaker and his wife followed. He led them through a garden gate to the back yard by an apple tree, then pointed to the ground and disappeared. The shoemaker’s wife marked the spot and the shoemaker found a shovel and started to dig. To their astonishment they dug up a pot of gold coins, buried long ago. It was the lost treasure of one of the victims of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, and now the ghost could rest in peace knowing his lost gold was now found.

Interested hearing more tales of the supernatural and spooky in the Stockade? Register for one of our Candlelight Walking Tours on Friday, October 17 and Friday, October 24. Tours are held at 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (a 7:15 p.m. tour will be added to both dates if demand requires). Cost is $10.00 per person, which includes refreshments after the tour. Pre-registration is required and spots for the tour are filling up fast! To register, purchase your ticket online, email our Assistant Curator, Kaitlin Morton-Bentley, or call 518-374-0263, option 4. Proceeds from the Candlelight Walking Tours benefit the Schenectady Heritage Foundation and the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pulaski Day in Schenectady

Monument to Revolutionary War Hero Polish Count Casimir Pulaski, friend of America in the Revolutionary War. The monument can be found near the intersection of State Street and Nott Terrace in Schenectady. Photograph from the private collection of Phyllis Zych Budka.  

This blog entry is written by SCHS Member Phyllis Zych Budka.

Driving past Pulaski Plaza at the intersection of Nott Terrace with State and Albany Streets in Schenectady, my thoughts do not turn to the military exploits of Revolutionary War hero Kazimierz Pulaski honored in a granite monument, but rather to a lost era in my own cultural heritage, Schenectady’s citizens of Polish descent. The monument, erected in the fall of 1953, was the location of annual October ceremonies honoring this Polish hero who fought for freedom in both Europe and the fledgling America, ceremonies that my family and I participated in as I was growing up.

Pulaski Day Essay Contest Winners, October 1955: Phyllis Zych (Budka), 8th grade, St. Adalbert’s School, and Lawrence Ott, 8th grade, St. Mary’s School. Left to Right: Rev. John Harzynski, Assistant Pastor, St. Adalbert’s Church; Lawrence Ott; Schenectady Mayor Archibald Wemple; Phyllis Zych; Unknown; Rev. Ladislaus Guzielek, Pastor, St. Adalbert’s Church; Unknown. The photograph was published in the Schenectady Gazette. Photograph from the private collection of Phyllis Zych Budka.

The discovery among my mother’s keepsakes of the photo of the Pulaski Day Essay Contest I won in the fall of 1955 brought a flood of memories. Luckily, the Schenectady Gazette caption reminded me of the long-forgotten contest topic, the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz. My sister, Elizabeth Zych Kislinger, provided another, slightly later, photo of ceremonies at Pulaski Plaza.

These photos gave me a sense of loss for my cultural heritage that cannot be shared with my children and grandchildren. They also made me curious about the history behind the Schenectady Polish American community’s efforts to commemorate Casimir Pulaski in such a prominent place in the city.

Pulaski Day Celebration, ca. 1956. Pictured are Schenectady city and Polish community dignitaries as well as my sister (first row, far right), my cousin Marjorie Norris Brophy (2nd from left) and my grandmother Victoria Korycinski (back row, right, between flags). Photograph from the private collection of Elizabeth Zych Kislinger. 

In researching the origins of Schenectady's Pulaski Day celebrations on the historical newspaper website, I was surprised to find a Gazette entry from 1929:

Anniversary of Pulaski’s Death Celebrated in School Auditorium, Large Crowd Attends Exercises Honoring Polish Patriot

A fitting climax to the exercises commemorating the 150 anniversary of the death of Count Casimir Pulaski, which have been in progress here since Thursday when Schenectadians filled the big Schenectady High School Auditorium to capacity to pay tribute to the Revolutionary War hero. (Gazette 10/14/1929, p. 11)

According to a 11/16/53 Gazette article, the Polish Welfare Council petition to the Schenectady City Council to erect the Pulaski monument was adopted on November 15, 1948. The city of Schenectady donated $2,000 toward the nearly $15,000 cost of the monument. The monument is 34 feet long and 14 feet 6 inches high at the center. The General’s statue is 7 feet high.

The Pulaski monument was dedicated on November 18, 1953, complete with a parade from the Polish National Alliance Home on Crane Street to the Pulaski Plaza. Representatives from Syracuse, Utica, Amsterdam, Watervliet, Cohoes, Troy, Albany and Poughkeepsie participated in the festivities, which also included a banquet.

Below are the words inscribed on the monument, words which ring true even today:

Union makes valor stronger

Count Casimir Pulaski, friend of America in the Revolutionary War, distinguished himself on General George Washington’s staff in the Battle of Brandywine, commissioned Brigadier General. Fought at Germantown and other battles in winter 1777-78. By resolution of Congress was authorized to form the Pulaski Legion. Mortally wounded at Savannah, Georgia, and died October 11, 1779.

To the memory of an immortal hero who gave his life in the cause of freedom and thereby left a living message to all Americans. May God grant that the liberty of mankind, which only brave souls win and only vigilance can guard, shall live on with greater vitality. Dedicated by the people of Schenectady.

This memorial made possible by Americans of Polish descent.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our New Mobile Compact Shelving

Row of mobile compact shelving units seen from the center of the library's storage area. 

The Grems-Doolittle Library is proud to announce that we recently received a donation of mobile compact shelving, with a maximum storage capacity of over 1,500 cubic feet, from Legere Restorations in Schenectady.

Opening up an aisle in the mobile compact shelving. 

The addition of the mobile compact shelving, which has been installed on one side of the Library’s archives storage area, has increased the maximum storage capacity of the area by over 40%. Prior to the installation of the shelving, the maximum storage capacity of the library's archives storage area was 1,800 feet. Now, with the addition of the compact shelving, we have that much storage capacity on just one side of the storage area -- a huge increase in storage space!

The new shelving allows us lots of room to grow! Our Librarian/Archivist, Melissa Tacke, smiles across the empty shelving units, a few days after the install was completed. 

The additional space provided by the mobile compact shelving allows for the library to better care for its unique collections of personal papers, photograph collections, organizational records, and business records, and makes room for new acquisitions. The reconfiguration of the archival storage area also provides a work area for processing incoming acquisitions and storage space for paintings.

A hand-powered crank moves the shelving units to create an aisle where needed. 

Mobile compact shelving consists of shelving that is mounted on wheeled carriages that travel on rails that have been installed onto the floor. With mobile compact shelving, fixed aisles are not required between every stack; the stacks can be compressed into a smaller space and a single aisle is created as needed by rolling the stacks apart to access a specific section. The shelving, which had previously been used for document storage by Legere Restorations, was donated to the Schenectady County Historical Society in September. Legere Restorations also installed the shelving.

The reconfiguration of our archives storage area also created space for a work area. This is where collections will be processed and rehoused for archival storage.

The Library has sorely needed mobile compact shelving for our archives storage area for at least a decade, but the cost of such shelving is far out of our reach. To have it donated to us is truly a dream come true!

Another view of the rows of mobile compact shelving. 

Do you have questions about the library's mobile compact shelving or our collections? Contact our Librarian at 518-374-09263, ext. 3, or by email at

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Art of City Directory Advertisements

In this advertisement for a tailor in the 1882 Schenectady City Directory, the entrepreneur boasts that he is "the" tailor in town. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

City directories are commercially published compilations of the names, addresses, and professions of people in a city. For history enthusiasts, directories provide a treasure trove of information about a community at a specific time. They are a tremendous resource for a number of research purposes, from genealogical and biographical research, to house history research, to a researching the history of a community, neighborhood, or ethnic enclave.

This page of advertisements from the 1862 Schenectady directory features a variety of typefaces, in addition to illustrations, to draw the eye. Advertisers in nineteenth-century directories were more apt to use a variety of dramatic typefaces, rather than images, to promote businesses. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Advertisement for the Schenectady Lyceum and Academy, a school for boys, in the 1842 Schenectady directory. the 1842 directory was the first directory to be produced for the city. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

The advertisements featured in city directories are also useful. They not only document the businesses and services that existed in a community -- sometimes highlighting long-gone industries; advertisements in directories also provide a look at the art and style of advertising during a particular era.

This advertisement from the 1925 city directory is an early example of a directory illustration that uses a cartoonish drawing style, in contrast to more realistic drawing styles. Cartoon images are infrequent in the directories, but can be found starting in the 1920s. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

While many advertisements in directories focus on sellers of goods, advertisements also focused on services in the community. One example is this advertisement in the 1933 Schenectady directory for the insurance company Ter Bush & Powell. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

The iconic style of the 1950s can be seen in this advertisement for the Schenectady Engraving Company, from the 1952 Schenectady directory. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

This blog entry features a number of advertisements from Schenectady city directories from the mid-nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. In their language and imagery, they give modern viewers a peek into Schenectady's past, and we can compare the advertising of yesteryear to the advertising of today.

This advertisement for the Chamber of Commerce in Schenectady from the 1952 Schenectady directory is unusual in its use of two colors of ink. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Photographs included in advertisements in directories are useful. Many images show the front of local businesses; a few show the interiors of businesses, such as this interesting image from the interior of Alling Rubber Company in State Street in Schenectady. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Interested in exploring city directories in the holdings of the Grems-Doolittle Library? You can find a complete list of the directories in our holdings by clicking this link. To begin your research, visit our Library or contact our Librarian.

This ad for the Schenectady Gazette appeared in the 1980 directory. Many of the ads in the 1980s directories target advertisers in addition to consumers. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Full-page advertisement for the Teller & Sanford hardware store in downtown Schenectady in the 1906 Schenectady directory. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Schenectady County Cemetery Records

Undated photograph of Vale Cemetery in Schenectady, taken from a glass plate negative. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Schenectady County contains a number of cemeteries and burial grounds, from large cemeteries such as Vale Cemetery to small family burial plots that were once part of local farms.

The earliest known burial ground in the area appears on a 1698 map of Schenectady by Wolfgang Romer. The small plot was situated just east of the intersection of Front Street and Church Street, and ran along the south side of Front Street. This plot may have also been where bodies were buried after the Schenectady Massacre in 1690. Unfortunately, records of the people buried in this earliest cemetery have not survived.

These skeletons were unearthed from the grounds of a Front Street home in 1902, in an area were the earliest known burial ground in Schenectady was once located. Newspapers of the time suggested that the skeletons were the remains of some of the victims of the Schenectady Massacre. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

During the 18th and early 19th century, most burial grounds in American towns and cities were located in churchyards (such as the cemetery of St. George's Church on Ferry Street in the Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady) or near the center of town (such as the Green Street Cemetery in Schenectady, which was situated between Front Street and Green Street in Schenectady). Meanwhile, in rural areas, church burial grounds were common, as were family burial plots on local farms.

The graveyard at First Presbyterian Church in Schenectady can be found on the church's property, next to the church building. Another early Schenectady church, St. George's, is also home to a small graveyard. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.  

Over time, the overcrowding of graves and emerging sanitation laws in cities and towns led to the rural cemetery movement. Instead of graveyards placed in city centers, new cemeteries were established on the outskirts of communities. In contrast to the simple design of graveyards, these "garden cemeteries" often featured meandering paths, creeks, art and statuary, and areas for picnicking. Cemeteries were intended not only as places to bury the dead, but also as a place for recreation. In line with these developments, Vale Cemetery was established in 1857. Burials in the Green Street Cemetery were soon after disinterred and were transferred to Vale, and the former cemetery land between Front and Green Streets was developed as residential property.

Colorful postcards promoting Vale Cemetery as a pleasant, peaceful place for recreation and relaxation were popular in the early years of the twentieth century. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Postcard Collection. 

Cemetery records can be helpful to genealogy researchers in establishing dates of birth, marriage, and death, and in connecting the generations of a family. Epitaphs and designs on a headstone can also give a genealogy researcher information about an ancestor's religious background, military service, membership in fraternal organizations, or even his or her occupation.  By studying the names, epitaphs, and ages of people buried, and by examining the placement, landscape, and architecture of cemeteries and burial grounds, local history researchers can learn about epidemics and disease, lifespans, wealth and status, ethnic groups, cultural practices, and a number of other topics related to a community's history. Analyzing the information found on headstones and monuments can also illuminate a community's beliefs regarding death, religion, family, childhood, and old age.

A tree has grown up close between headstones in a small family cemetery in Duanesburg. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

The Grems-Doolittle Library has several printed collections of cemetery records. These records, usually compiled from information on headstones, focuses on information about individuals. Headstone inscriptions are generally included in these records. A complete list of Schenectady County cemetery records in our holdings can be found by clicking this link. Clipping files, photographs, maps, city directories, and postcard collections in our holdings also provide contextual information about local cemeteries and burial grounds. If you have questions about using cemetery records for your research or are seeking information about local cemeteries, please visit our library or contact our Librarian.