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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Introduction to our New Librarian, Michael Maloney

Hi everyone! My first few weeks as Librarian/Archivist at the Grems-Doolittle Library have been very exciting and interesting. I have been learning so much about the collection here and about the history of Schenectady County. I want to thank the excellent staff, board members and volunteers at the Schenectady County Historical Society for making my transition into my new position extremely smooth. They have all been so supportive and helpful as I find my way around the library.  I have also been happy to meet with the researchers and members of the Society, I’m learning as much from them as I hope they are learning from me.
Prior to this position, I worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Albany County Hall of Records, where I processed several collections relating to the history of Albany. This position also gave me the opportunity to create exhibits and provide reference services for the public. I have also worked as a clerk at the Howe Branch of the Albany Public Library, and as an Archives Partnership Intern at the New York State Archives. My internship gave me the opportunity to work with several different departments in the Archives, and to work on a wide range of projects. My projects at the State Archives included, describing a series of engineering survey maps of the Adirondacks made by engineer Verplanck Colvin, creating a container list for several collections and processed a collection of reports to New York State Governors. I received my Masters in Information Science in 2012 from SUNY Albany, and my Bachelor’s in History from New Paltz in 2009.
I’m looking forward to sharing the fun and interesting bits of Schenectady’s history from our collection in this blog. Let me know if there are any suggestions, comments, or blog topics that you would like me to address. I hope you will all come visit me soon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Melissa's Goodbye

From our Librarian/Archivist, Melissa Tacke: 

The Grems-Doolittle Library Blog will be quiet for a time, as I leave my position at the end of this month. The Schenectady County Historical Society will be welcoming a new Librarian/Archivist this spring.

I have thoroughly enjoyed highlighting aspects of the Grems-Doolittle Library's collections and Schenectady County's history on this blog. The stories I have uncovered in my time here are truly fascinating, and it has been a pleasure to share them.

I have greatly enjoyed my time at the Schenectady County Historical Society. My favorite aspects of my position as Librarian/Archivist have been assisting researchers and promoting the Library's collections. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing a researcher gasp at a discovery he or she has made! In putting finding aids and research guides on our website, we have been able to make our collections visible to the wider world. Speaking with community groups, school groups, and program audiences at SCHS to raise awareness about our collections and services has also been a pleasure.

In the time that I have been Librarian/Archivist, we have seen library visitation grow, and the number of research questions we receive has greatly increased. We have also watched our space transform with the installation of mobile compact shelving in our archives storage area and the restructuring of shelving in our reading room. The Library is a dynamic place that continues to grow and change.

I am also privileged to have worked with a crew of dedicated, motivated, and kind volunteers. The Library's 17 volunteers provide over 3,000 hours of work to the Library each year. Volunteers do the bulk of the indexing and data entry work that makes it possible to bring more information about our collections to the public. I extend my sincere thanks to all Library volunteers, past and present, who have helped to bring the Library to where it is today.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Early Railroads and a Canal...in Scotia?

Detail of map A Map of Scotia Estate, Late the property of John Sanders, Esquire, now deceased: According to a survey thereof, made preparatory to a partition between Robert, Jacob G., Peter, and Theodore W. Sanders, Sons and heirs of said deceased, Pursuant to his last Will & Testament by James Frost, Surveyor, dated December 13th, 1834.  Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

This blog entry is written by Schenectady County Historical Society Trustee John Gearing.

The Society is fortunate to have the Glen-Sanders Papers in its microfilm collection (comprising 18 reels, the original documents are in the collection of The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan). Toward the end of Reel 18, one finds a collection of maps and surveys that shed much light on a critical period in Scotia's history. The first item is a field book and survey map from 1834 made by James Frost, showing the lands of the Scotia Estate belonging to the late John Sanders, Jr. and their division between his heirs: Charles, Peter, and John. This is the earliest map of the Scotia Estate the Society possesses. The map not only shows which parcels were to go to which heirs, but the ownership of those Estate lots that had been conveyed prior to John Sanders Jr.'s death, which may make it interesting to those tracing their family history in Scotia.

Overall view of Frost map of Scotia Estate, as seen on the microfilm reader. Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

Two of New York's early railroads are also shown: the Schenectady and Utica and the Ballston and Saratoga Railroad. There is an annotation on the map beneath this last-mentioned railroad noting that “the True nature and style of this is Saratoga and Schenectady Rail Road.” The Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad was New York's second line after the pioneering Mohawk-Hudson. Chartered in February 1831, the Saratoga and Schenectady line only reached as far as Ballston initially, which may have influenced Frost's label on the map. The rest of the line to Saratoga was quickly completed, and horse-drawn service between Schenectady and Saratoga began in the summer of 1832. The railroad's first steam engine, the Davy Crockett, was a revolutionary six-wheel design by the railroad company's chief engineer, John Jervis. It entered service in July of 1831. Because of the bridge's weight limitations, railroad cars were drawn by horses through Schenectady and across the bridge, where they were then coupled to the Davy Crockett. The Frost map shows the location of the engine house near the Scotia end of the bridge.

The other railroad shown on the map, the Schenectady and Utica, stands out in New York railroad history as the first line that posed a threat to the Erie Canal's freight business. Chartered in 1833, the line did not begin service until 1836. Its appearance on the 1834 Scotia Estate map likely indicates that construction from the Schenectady end was well underway by that time. Interestingly, although the map shows both of the rail lines sharing the Mohawk Bridge, it also appears to show a railroad right of way (unlabelled) departing from the Schenectady and Utica line in a graceful curve and terminating on the north bank of the Mohawk River roughly where the railroad bridge stands today. This may indicate that the construction engineers were planning on building a new bridge across the Mohawk, one that would have been strong enough to carry trains pulled by steam locomotives. The threat to the Erie Canal's freight business was such that the Schenectady and Utica was forbidden by law from carrying freight until 1844, and then it was only allowed to carry freight in the winter months and then only upon the railroad paying freight tolls to the canal company.

Detail of Frost map showing the labeling of Ballston-Saratoga Railroad, Warme Killtie, New Canal, and Lower Ferry Road. Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

Perhaps the most curious feature on Frost's Scotia Estate map is the structure labeled “New Canal.” The map shows a canal running easterly, parallel to and approximately 275 feet north of a road marked “Lower Ferry Road.” Sunnyside Road is the most likely candidate for this road today. The eastern end of the canal appears to end just slightly south of the intersection of today's Freeman's Bridge Road and Maple Avenue. The canal extends across both railroad lines, appearing to terminate slightly west of the Utica and Schenectady line. A stream labeled “Warme Killtie” runs south to a point about 200 feet north of the canal, and then turns easterly and runs roughly parallel to the canal. A short canal section branches from the New Canal and connects to the Warme Killtie at the point where it begins it's turn to the east, suggesting that the Warme Killite was at least a major source of water for the canal. Further up the Warme Killtie the map shows a millpond and mill, raising the likelihood that there was an intention to float the mill's products down the stream to the canal. Once on the canal, freight could have been carried west to the railroad crossings, or east to the highway junction. A map notation indicates that about 3,700 feet of the canal had been completed at the time the survey was made.

Contemporary image of portion of area shown on Frost map of Scotia Estate. Remnants of the "New Canal" can be seen running parallel to Sunnyside Road and along modern railroad  tracks. Image from Google Maps

Comparing this 1834 map with a contemporary Google map and satellite image, one finds a body of water that is almost certainly the canal, running parallel to and about 275 feet north of Sunnyside Road. The Warme Killtie can be made out, although now it no longer continues eastward. Instead, it now appears to connect to the surviving canal. Intriguingly, the Google map and images suggest that today the body of water that was the canal, continues westward, closely paralleling the modern railroad line (just to the north), nearly to the intersection of Route 5N and I-890. This raises a question: was there an attempt to build a canal system in Scotia prior to the development of railroads? Some accounts recall the disappointment felt by Scotia residents when the Erie Canal was routed through Schenectady instead of Scotia. The Scotia canal may have been intended to extend eastward as far as Rexford, and there connect with the Erie, or could have even been planned to cross the Mohawk River at Freeman's Bridge via aqueduct and connect with the Erie on the south shore. Consultation of Scotia histories and Google searches have so far failed to lead to any additional information about Scotia's canal, leaving a tantalizing subject for further research.