Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The East Front Street Neighborhood: A Family Remembrance

American Locomotive Company (ALCO) plant, ca. 1907. This view from across the canal (now Erie Boulevard) shows a number of houses on the eastern part of Front Street in addition to the ALCO plant. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Mary Ann Ruscitto.

Do you know where the East Front Street Neighborhood is? Well, most people don’t! This is a little neighborhood that is nestled between the Stockade and the old American Locomotive Company (ALCO) plant. It consists of the eastern part of Front Street, Jefferson Street, John Street, River Street, Monroe Street, Madison Street, and Mohawk Avenue. Here are my thoughts about our little neighborhood.

As I was surfing the web I came across a dissertation by Robert R. Pascucci titled Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, New York, 1880-1930. This dissertation is posted on the Schenectady Digital History Archive.

I often wondered what East Front Street was like when my great-grandparents settled here. My great-grandfather, Nicola Ruscitto, came to America on June 15, 1901 aboard the Nord America that departed from Naples, Italy. The manifest from Ellis Island shows that Nicola was 22 years old and single (I believe that his first wife, Tulia Pizulo, passed away in Italy). It also showed Nicola was a carpenter, and that he had $20 in his pocket. He was going to see his brother Giuseppe in Schenectady, who lived at 8 ½ Jefferson Street.

Nicola (my great-grandfather) and wife Christina (nee Listorti) lived at 210 Front Street with their son Achille and his wife Carmela. His daughter Tulia (Ruscitto) Villano lived at 214 Front St. Gaetano and Carmela (Nicola’s daughter) Ruscitto lived at 205 Front Street. Yes, a Ruscitto married a Ruscitto! But the family says that they were not related. The village Patrella Tifernina in Italy where they come from had a huge majority of people who were Ruscittos.

My ancestors gathered often for family parties and picnics. Music was a big part of their lives. Marching bands would go down Front Street and through the city and they would love to watch. At gatherings, there was always someone ready to play the mandolin or guitar.

The above picture is a Ruscitto family gathering from around 1917-1918 with all the living descendants at that time. The reunion was held at Dente Hall (Gioia Ottaviano’s grandfather’s building, located at the corner of Front Street and River Street). It is something to see how my family has grown (as of 2006, there are 658 names on the family tree, and since then many more were added!). Back row (left to right): Christine Villano (Carmine), Christine Ruscitto (Scovello), Frank Joseph Ruscitto (Sr.), Vitoria DiLallo Mastrianni), Anna Ruscitto (Pacelli), William J. Ruscitto. Second row from back: Anthony Miano, George Dilallo, Nick Ruscitto, Albert Villano, Patsy Villano. Third row from back:  Dominic Lewis, Louise Miano, Julia Ruscitto (Matricardi), Louise Ruscitto (Guerriero), Mary Villano (Prysmont). Fourth row from back:  Gaetano Ruscitto, Carmella Ruscitto, Cristina Listorti (Rucitto), Nicola Ruscitto, Achille Ruscitto, Carmella Listorti (Ruscitto), Frank John Ruscitto Tulia Ruscitto (Villano). Fifth row from back:  Guiseppina Ruscitto (Lewis), Mary Luise Ruscitto (Vergine), Andrea Vergine, Giuseppina (Peppinella) Ruscitto, Michaelangelo Ruscitto, Frances Ruscitto (DiLallo), Alexander Dilallo, Nicholas Villano, Vincenzo Villano, Vincenza (Jane) Villano, Concettine Lewis. Front row:  Frank Lewis, Robert Lewis, Nick Ruscitto, Frank Ruscitto (my father and Uncle), Lawrence DiLallo, Edith Ruscitto, Josephine Ruscitto (Rykowski), Josephine Dilallor (Foley), Edith Villano, Guy Ruscitto, Tullia (Tillie) Ruscitto (Pacelli). Photograph collection of the author. 

According to the 1920 census, my grandmother Carmela was living at 205 Front Street. She was the head of household, as my grandfather died in 1917. She had three children living with her. Julia was 23 years old, Leonard, age 16 years old, Frank who was 14 years old and my father Nicholas was 11 years old. My aunt Julia Ruscitto Matricardi was an Electrical helper (interesting!). I can remember the stories she would tell us about working in a factory on Foster Avenue. I remember teasing her because she would always start with, “way back when I was a kid ...”

Boaters and waders deal with flood waters on Front Street at the ALCO plant in this photograph from the 1910s. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

In the 1930 census, it shows Achille and his wife Carmela living at 210 Front Street (this is now the parking lot for BL’s Tavern). Achille and his wife were 28 years old and Achille was a salesmen who sold fruits and vegetables. The 1915 city directory shows that my great-grandfather Nicola had a grocery store at 210 Front Street.

According to Pascucci, the decade of the 1880’s closed with the two immigrant communities, Italian and Polish, being similar in size. The count in the city of Schenectady contained 221 Italians and 196 Polish foreign-born residents. The city’s growing need for laborers was satisfied largely by immigrants. Large scale Polish immigration to Schenectady extended from 1890 to 1910. The peak of 4,315 foreign-born Poles was reached in 1890. That same year, the number of foreign-born Italians was 5,387. In 1930, Schenectady had 5,910 Italians and 3,648 Poles.

Interior of grocery store operated by Antonio Mele at 28 Jefferson Street, ca. 1910. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

Italians settled downtown when they came to Schenectady, primarily in the Third Ward (which included the East Front Street Neighborhood). 3/4 of the Italian population in 1899 lived in workers’ housing that had been built by the locomotive works in 1848. Almost 80% of Italians had an address in the Third Ward. Most lodged on Front Street, Monroe Street, Jefferson Street, and John Street.

Pascucci tells how there was a varnish factory on River Street where 177 individuals were “herded together” and how families struggled to survive on a father’s salary of seventy to eighty cents a day! It tells that in the early 1900’s male boarders were found in 20% of all Polish households, and Italian boarders were a part of almost half of all Italian families. This could explain why there were so many tenement houses in our neighborhood. These tenement houses were similar in style to Uncle Ben’s, BL’s Tavern, and the rehab house located at the corner of Front and River Streets. The apartments did not have hot water and the bathrooms were located in the halls and were shared by all.

1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing River Street. The varnish works can be seen at the intersection of River Street and Front Street. Broom factories could also be found on River Street at that time. Image from Collections of Grems-Doolittle Library.  

As I continued to read Pascucci, it gave me insight into how our families struggled to survive. It tells how hard it was being in a new country and living through the depression. By reading Pascucci I can understand why people who did not live in our neighborhood might form the impression that our area was dangerous and poor. What they do not realize is that these immigrants were strong, hard working, family oriented people who were determined to make a new life in a new country.

Quite often I run into people whose families lived in the East Front Street Neighborhood or who grew up in the neighborhood. They are reminiscing about the old days, they say that they are just driving through the old neighborhood, and they can notice the changes and how nice the area looks! It is hard to put into words how our neighborhood was when my father’s family was growing up. I know that everyone was family. If someone was sick or their children were sick, the neighbors would pitch in to help get them through their hard times. If someone needed work done on their house, everyone would pitch in to get the task done.

I would like to share my father’s last request to me. He was very sick; he had bladder cancer. We kept him home as long as we could until it was too hard for him and we brought him to the hospital. One of the last requests that he asked me to do for him was to bring him outside. I bundled him up and helped him out the front door. He asked if I could help him walk to my neighbor’s house. They always had a bench in front and he wanted to sit there. We slowly made it to the bench and he looked at me and said, “Let me sit here alone for a little bit -- you go inside.” I knew what he was doing. He was taking in the sights of his beloved neighborhood. The bench was situated so that he could look up and down Front Street and up John Street. He was saying goodbye to the place he called home for 76 years.

In closing, I urge everyone to read Dr. Pascucci’s dissertation, and see how our neighborhood was a stepping stone in the city of Schenectady’s history, and how 80% of the immigrants that settled in Schenectady stepped through the streets of the East Front Street Neighborhood on their journey!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Early Years of Professional Baseball in Schenectady

Photograph of the 1895 Schenectady team -- Schenectady's first professional baseball team. Image from Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection. 

"Professional ball in any city is one of the characteristics of a live, progressive people and is a desirable acquisition to any place, and of the best means of advertising a town. It furnishes an animating entertainment to people who are bored by the hot summer months ... it relieves you of that tired and weary feeling and puts you in good humor with yourself."
- Evening Star, between 1899 and 1900 baseball seasons.


The origins of professional baseball in Schenectady came about during the winter of 1894-1895. On January 25, 1895, the Evening Star reported that a Schenectady team would be established to play in the New York State League. Manager P.M. "Hawker" Shea led the team throughout the season. The team had an overall 24-26 record when the State League folded, coming in fourth place out of the eight teams in the league. Despite a so-so record, enthusiasm ran high in Schenectady for the city's first professional baseball team; chants such as "Who are we? Who are we? Rooters from Sche-nec-ta-dy!" rang in the air during games.

During 1896, 1897, and 1898, Schenectady did not have a professional team. In 1899, the decision was made to again form a team. Unfortunately, that decision came in the spring, shortly before the season was to begin, and when most of the good players were already signed to other teams. The local team came in last place that year, with a record of 29 wins and 77 losses, earning the epithet "Schenectady the Booby." The team fared better over the next few years, again ranking in the mid-range of the league. In the seasons of 1900, 1901, and 1902, the team started the season strong, but fumbled later in the season. In 1901, a new ballpark was established for the team. Island Park, as it was known, was on Van Slyck Island (later Iroquois Island) in the Mohawk River. Prior to 1901, the team had played on Driving Park, located in what is now the Hamilton Hill neighborhood. The Schenectady team was known by a few nicknames, such as the Dorps, the Electrics, and the Frog Alley Bunch.


A baseball crowd at Island Park, around the turn of the century. Image from Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection. 


The 1903 season was to be the peak of the turn-of-the-century years of professional baseball in Schenectady. Facing fears that the team might disappear, team owners organized a new association of supporters, and managerial duties were handed off to Ben Ellis, a minor league veteran and a player on the Schenectady team in the 1902 season. "There is not a fan in the State League who has not a warm feeling for Ben Ellis and his associates," wrote Sporting News. The roster of players was all experienced players; the most popular player was Fred "Old Reliable" Betts, who played for three and a half seasons with the team. None of the men on the 1903 team were locals.

In the 1903 season, Schenectady won its opening game. The scrappy team played an exciting season, often coming from behind to beat their opponents in the final innings of the game. A number of players on the team were also injured during the season. Schenectadians rallied around their team, which they thought of as "courageous," "crippled and overworked;" its players who "displayed grit" deserved the public's "credit and support." A fund was established for injured Schenectady players, and benefit amateur ballgames and concerts were held to raise money for the fund. As the season came to a close, crowds of 2,000 people at Island Park watched the home team win the season's final games, against Johnstown. Schenectady narrowly won the State League championship that year, with a record of 80 wins and 52 losses. As Schenectady won its final game, cheers could be heard in downtown Schenectady and in Scotia. A celebratory parade and fireworks preceded a banquet held for the team at the Hotel Vendome on State Street.

Cover of April 9, 1904 issue of Sporting Life, showing the New York State League Champions. Image from Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection. 

Despite the thrill of winning the pennant, the owners of the Schenectady team had still lost money in the 1903 season. The next season, the team simply unraveled. In beginning the 1904 season, the team's best pitchers, Del Mason and Arthur Goodwin, had left the team. The team played poorly, attendance at games was low, and the owners continued to lose money. Following losses at a July 4th doubleheader, and with the team already at 19 wins and 34 losses, the team's owners abruptly terminated the Schenectady franchise. It was transferred to the State League, where it was picked up by Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the first out-of-state New York State League team. The team ended in seventh place that year, with a record of 40-85. There would be no professional baseball team in Schenectady again until an all-African-American team, the Mohawk Giants, was established in 1913.

To learn more about the early years of professional baseball in Schenectady, join us for a lecture by Frank Keetz this Saturday, April 12. Details are below.


Professional Baseball in Schenectady, 1895-1904: A Fascinating Footnote in Local History 

Presented by Frank Keetz

Date: Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305

Admission: $5.00; Free for members of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Frank Keetz has written several publications about sports in the Schenectady area, including They, Too, Were ‘Boys of Summer:’ A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Eastern League 1951-1957, Class ‘C’ Baseball: A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Canadian-American League 1946-1950, and The Mohawk Colored Giants of Schenectady.

For more information, please contact Librarian Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scenes and Sites of Scotia

The Teddy Building, located at the intersection of Mohawk Avenue and Sacandaga Road, as it appeared in 1920. The building was demolished in the 1990s. Note the businesses on the ground floor and apartments on the second and third floors. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 


These images, selected and captioned by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor, show scenes from days gone by in Scotia. Interested in seeing more? Visit our Library to see more of our photograph collections or to learn more about the history of the village of Scotia.

In 1954, Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In opened. When it opens for business on the last Thursday of March each year, spring has officially arrived -- whether Mother Nature agrees or not. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

This 1916 photo was taken near Mohawk Avenue and Toll Street. The trolley allowed workers in Schenectady to move across the river to Scotia. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

This view of Scotia High School and the surrounding area was taken from the water tower on Second Street around 1910. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

The Abraham Glen House was built in 1730. In 1842, the house and acreage were purchased by the Collins family. The house now serves as the Scotia branch of the Schenectady County Public Library. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

The C.H. Smith blacksmith shop was located on Schonowe Avenue, just off of the old Mohawk Bridge, in the early 1900s. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

This photograph shows Mohawk Avenue as it appeared in 1949. How many of these businesses do you remember? Image from Larry Hart Collection.

The Glen-Sanders Mansion as it appeared in April 1987, before additions were built to make the site a restaurant and inn. The building seen here was constructed in 1713. The Glen family were among the earliest settlers of Scotia. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

Scotia Bowling Palace was located at 115 Mohawk Avenue. As early as 1912, the building was a bowling alley and skating rink. This photograph was likely taken around 1930. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

The family of Daniel Henry Slover at his home, 212 Mohawk Avenue, posed for this photograph around 1910. Dan Slover (in carriage) loved racing his friends down Mohawk Avenue. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

J.H. Buhrmaster Co. was established in the early 1900s and incorporated in 1927. Today's energy company sold coal, feed, cement, brick, and lime in its early days. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Life of Mordecai Myers

Portrait of Mordecai Myers in uniform, painted ca. 1810 by John Wesley Jarvis. The original painting is in the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio. 


The life of Mordecai Myers (1776-1871) intersected with the history of Schenectady for the last 23 years of Myers' life. Before coming to Schenectady, Myers had already had a full and interesting life. In his years as a young man in New York City, he was active with the Society of Tammany and the Freemasons, served in the New York Militia, and founded a brokerage and auctioneering firm. He had also been a military hero during the War of 1812. During his service in the War of 1812, me married Charlotte Bailey, who had nursed him to health after he was wounded in battle. The couple went on to have ten children. Myers first took public office in 1828 in the New York State Legislature. He served five terms. In 1836, Myers and his family moved to Kinderhook, New York, where he would serve as the mayor and as vice president of a local bank. In 1848, Myers moved to Schenectady.

Although Myers was already 72 when he moved to Schenectady, he did not slow down. He would serve as the first -- and, to date, only -- Jewish mayor of the city, elected in 1851 as a Democrat and again in 1854 as a Whig. "He was from the start a dedicated official," writes Neil Yetwin, a local educator and historian who has researched Myers' life extensively and who has recently produced the first annotated edition of Myers’ posthumous memoirs, "whose accomplishments ranged from authorizing a physician to vaccinate Schenectady's poorer citizens to persuading New York Central Railroad President Erastus Corning to slow the speeding trains from Albany that were causing safety hazards on Schenectady's main arteries." After Myers' second mayoral term was finished, he ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, in 1860 at the age of 84. Mordecai Myers died in 1871 at the age of 95. In his will, he left a $400 bequest to the city of Schenectady toward purchasing land for a hospital. Myers was buried in Vale Cemetery.

To learn more about the life of Mordecai Myers that spanned nearly a century, join us for a lecture by Neil Yetwin this Saturday, March 29. Details are below.


Major Mordecai Myers: An American-Jewish Hero of the War of 1812 

Presented by Neil Yetwin

Date: Saturday, March 29, 2014

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305

Admission: Free and open to the public. This event is sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities Speakers in the Humanities Program

In addition to speaking, Neil Yetwin will be signing and selling copies of Mordecai Myers’ posthumous memoirs, edited and annotated by Yetwin, entitled “To My Son...”: The Life and War Remembrances of Captain Mordecai Myers, 13th United States Infantry, 1812-1815.

For more information, please contact Librarian Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Schenectady from the Sky: Aerial Photographs

Scores of two-family homes can be seen in this residential aerial view of Schenectady, taken in 1918. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Aerial photographs -- photographs taken from an elevated position -- can be taken from airplanes and helicopters, hot-air balloons and blimps, and even from tall buildings. Aerial photography of cities and towns began in the late 1850s, but did not become widespread until after World War I. Aerial photographs in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library depict the city from 1918 through the 1980s. Here are just a few of the aerial photographs from our collections that show Schenectady County from above.

View of Clinton Street, looking west, in 1928. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

The village of Scotia and the Mohawk River feature prominently in this 1935 aerial view. The original Great Western Gateway Bridge (center) connected Scotia to Schenectady. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Aerial view of State Street in Schenectady, looking west, in 1952. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Aerial view of the newly-established Coldbrook housing development in Rotterdam, ca. 1950. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

This 1968 view shows Schenectady's riverfront, bounded by a railroad bridge on the left and the old Great Western Gateway bridge on the right. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Veteran's Park (formerly Crescent Park) is seen in this 1981 aerial view of State Street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Volunteer Opportunities in the Grems-Doolittle Library


Researchers and volunteers at work in the Grems-Doolittle Library's reading room.


Are you interesting in volunteering in our library? Come join us! The Grems-Doolittle Library is currently seeking volunteers to assist with a number of projects, including:

  • Data entry and cataloging
  • Indexing
  • Rehousing collections
  • Scanning projects
  • Customer service
  • Research work (for research guides and bibliographies, finding aids, and blog entries)
  • Clerical duties (photocopying, shelving, filing)
  • Shelf reading
  • Creating inventories


Library volunteers in the stacks in our reading room. 

If you are interested in volunteering, you are encouraged to attend the upcoming Volunteer College informational session to be held this Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Event: Volunteer College: Volunteer Opportunities in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Date: Saturday, March 15, 2014

Time: 10:30 a.m.

Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305

There is no need to pre-register if you plan to attend. If you cannot attend, but are interested in volunteering, please contact our Librarian/Archivist, Melissa Tacke, by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or send an email to librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org.

This informational session is part of an ongoing Volunteer College series of programs open to all who are interested in volunteering for all sites of the Schenectady County Historical Society. Volunteer College sessions are generally held the third Saturday of every month at 10:30 a.m. For more information about the Volunteer College series, contact our Educator/Assistant Curator, Jenna Peterson, by phone at 518-887-5073, ext. 104, or send an email to educator@schenectadyhistorical.org.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Happy Birthday, Schenectady County!

This basic county map depicts Schenectady County today. Image from http://www.nysegov.com.


Today marks the date the Schenectady County was established. On March 7, 1809, Schenectady County split off of Albany County. Albany County was one of the original counties in the colony of New York created in November 1683 by colonial governor Thomas Dongan. The act creating Albany County defined the territory of the county "to containe the Towns of Albany, the Collony Rensselaerwyck, Schonecteda, and all the villages, neighborhoods, and Christian Planta├žons on the east side of Hudson River from Roelef's Creek, and on the west side from Sawyer's Creek (Saugerties) to the Sarraghtoga." Although the boundaries of Albany County changed many times over the next 125 years, Schenectady and the surrounding towns remained part of Albany County. When Schenectady County was created in 1809, it was the last change made to the boundaries of Albany County.


Portion of map of New York Province, 1776, showing Albany County, which at that time included the area that would later become Schenectady County. Image from People of Colonial Albany Live Here site, New York State Museum (https://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/index.html)

Portion of 1808 New York State map showing Albany County, one year before Schenectady County split from Albany County. Image from collections of Grems-Doolittle Library.


When Schenectady County was created, it consisted of the city of Schenectady and the towns of Duanesburg, Princetown, and Niskayuna (Niskayuna itself being newly incorporated from Watervliet on the same date). Glenville and Rotterdam would be incorporated from the city of Schenectady several years later, in 1820. The act that created Schenectady County charged the county with its new responsibilities to prepare a court house and jail, record deeds, maintain records of election returns, collect taxes, and to appoint a county clerk and county treasurer. The city of Schenectady was chosen as the county seat. The History of the County of Schenectady, authored by George Rogers Howell and John H. Munsell, listed that in 1809 the total valuation of real and personal estate of the county was $1,841,728.


Portion of 1824 New York State map showing Schenectady County. Image from collections of Grems-Doolittle Library.