Friday, September 7, 2012

Klondike Ramp and Klondike Stairs

Photograph of the Klondike Ramp taken in March 1958, just a few months before its demolition in August of that year. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

One of the curiosities in Schenectady's history is the Klondike Ramp, the remnants of which can still be seen when traveling on I-890 near the Broadway exit. The ramp (and its predecessor, the Klondike Stairs) were built to accommodate workers traveling between the hill section east of Pleasant Valley down to Broadway and the GE plant. First, an informal footpath was created, referred to as the "Klondike Path," by 1903, beginning near the intersection of Mumford Street and Strong Street and extending down to Broadway, ending between the buildings of Veeder's flour mill and warehouse. After receiving a petition asking for the construction of a iron or stone stairway be built, the city's Common Council authorized the city engineer to present estimates for the cost of constructing an uncovered set of stairs and railings, and the Klondike Stairs were in use by 1905.

Postcard depicting the original Klondike Stairs, looking up from Broadway, around 1910. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.  

Almost immediately after being constructed, the stairs required frequent repairs. The construction of the stairs brought a host of other maintenance issues, including lighting, cleaning, and ice and snow removal. In December 1914, a man named Oscar Klein wrote in to the Schenectady Gazette's "Everybody's Column" decrying the city's neglect of the stairs in winter. "The landings are very bad; neither has the ice been cleaned off, nor has it been covered with sand," he wrote. "Some consideration should be shown to the workingmen who have to walk the path twice a day." Problems increased as the stairs aged. During the 1920s, newspaper articles described the poor and unsafe condition of the stairs, and calls for the replacement of the stairs increased during the latter part of the decade. At the February 18, 1930 meeting of the city's Common Council, Mayor Henry Fagal addressed the condition of the Klondike Stairs in his mayor's message: "the concrete side and retaining walls are crushed in many places and show evidence of sliding and partial overturning. The concrete surfaces have very generally disintegrated and in two or three places the footings have been undermined by surface water wash . . . there are several places where there are not hand-rails whatever."

This image from a 1930 Sanborn map shows the original Klondike Stairs and, on a paste-down, the circular Klondike Ramp. 

In the same address, the Mayor announced plans for the construction of a circular pedestrian ramp, which was completed by early in 1931. The iron and concrete structure was an eight-sided ramp that spiraled upward in seven tiers. Historian Larry Hart compared the look of the structure to a birthday cake -- "metal curved-neck light stanchions on top supported the cake illusion since they looked like candles when lighted at night." The ramp structure was an improvement over the stairs, allowing for easier access for elderly and disabled people and making for much easier maintenance in winter.

However, the spiraling ramp also made for a more time-consuming journey home. Arthur Seymour lived on Duane Avenue and worked at GE during the life of the Klondike Stairs as well as the Klondike Ramp. In 1978, he recalled both to historian Larry Hart: "It was easier to run up the stairs than walk as the treads were only five or six inches apart," Seymour said. "If you were tired and had to walk up, it seemed like you would never get home. I was glad when the circular ramp was built to replace the stairs but found it more tiresome and longer to make it to Strong Street." As more people used trolleys, buses, and cars to travel to work, the ramp was used less and less. By 1948, an article in the Union-Star reported that in watching the ramp during its "rush hour," from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., only 51 people used the ramp, including children riding down the ramp in wagons. The ramp also began to deteriorate as time passed. In January 1958, the ramp was closed to foot traffic due to safety concerned. It was demolished in August of that year. 

Photograph of the closed Klondike Ramp in 1958. Photo from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Why were the stairs and ramp called "Klondike" or "Klondyke"? Historian Larry Hart posits two possibilities: one is that in winter the ice-cold wind rushing through Pleasant Valley made it "cold enough to be another Klondike." Another is that the name "Klondike" came from the workers who traveled down to work every day at GE, who each morning went to "dig for gold" -- meaning, to work for their weekly paycheck.

While the ramp was usually known as the Klondike Ramp, it was also known by other names or nicknames. Martin Marciniak, who grew up in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood in the 1950s, remembered the Klondike Ramp being referred to by the nickname "Seven Heavens," for its seven tiers. Newspaper articles also frequently referred to the ramp as the "Pleasant Valley Ramp" for its location.

1 comment:

  1. If you look at the birds eye view you can see the foundation and the path of the old Klondike Stairs !! How cool is that?!,-73.944703,42.803907,-73.94709_rect/18_zm/1_fr/