Monday, November 19, 2012

Accidents, Fires, Openings, and Demolitions: News Negatives from the Larry Hart Collection

Police officers at scene of accident at intersection of Washington Avenue and bridge to Scotia, October 1956. A truck had collided with the traffic light stanchion. From Larry Hart Collection.

Larry Hart, Schenectady city and county historian, was also a long-time reporter and photographer for the local newspapers the Schenectady Union-Star and the Schenectady Gazette. Among his collection of personal papers are a number of photographic negatives that Hart had labeled "news negatives." Many of these photographs were taken during the late 1940s and early 1950s. They capture brief moments in Schenectady's history that might not be found elsewhere, such as accidents and fires, store openings, groundbreakings and building dedications, anniversary events, strikes, building demolitions, road construction, and storms. Below are just a few images from this collection of negatives.

Workmen inside the Hamilton Street Synagogue during the building's 1952 remodeling. The building was razed in 1960. From Larry Hart Collection.

Shoppers line up outside the Central Market on Eastern Avenue on the store's opening day in 1949. From Larry Hart Collection.

Fire at Stein's Food Market on State Street, 1955. From Larry Hart Collection.

View of Dutchman's Village homes on Nott Street, 1949. From Larry Hart Collection.

Shoppers throng to the cash registers at the Empire Market on Crane Street on the store's opening day in 1950. From Larry Hart Collection.

CIO Hall on Liberty Street in 1947. The building was razed in 1955. From Larry Hart Collection.  

Store window at Hall's Drugstore, 233 State Street, in 1950. From Larry Hart Collection.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

“The Nicest on the Whole Line”: A History of the Niskayuna Railroad Station

This blog entry is written by volunteer Hannah Hamilton.

Prior to the invention and development of “Iron Horses” in Europe, Americans as late as the early 19th century were still accustomed to travel by foot, wagon or waterway. Following the importation of this new technology to the Western Hemisphere, businessmen could not wait to see the popularization of the railroads. State governments, however, were not so keen to encourage the growth of the railroad, especially when it came to their funding!

As far back as 1811, Colonel John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey was petitioning for the institution of railroads as a means of transporting goods in the Americas. Caught up in the excitement of this new and, what he recognized as revolutionary, steam engine, he published pamphlets to enlighten the general public, as well as urging Congress to consider railroad construction as a national endeavour. Stevens even went so far as to build a small locomotive and a track to boot, and to the astonishment of all who saw it, he let it complete a number of trips around his Hoboken estate.

Such zeal for innovation was not widespread, however, especially in Schenectady County and New York State. “One of the last of the pioneer railroad enterprises to get started was the New York & Erie Railroad. The people of New York had the Erie Canal, with excellent facilities for water-borne traffic, and were consequently very apathetic toward Railroad construction,” (Alexander Norton, pg 34 Iron Horses).

Even after congress had approved of railroads and entrepreneurs had begun the national and interstate construction of the railroads around 1835, upstate New York was still rather late in adopting the new means of transportation.

The Niskayuna Train Station of the Troy-Schenectady Railroad was constructed in 1843, and ran between 10-12 trains, carrying tons of cargo and between 75-100 passengers daily for around one hundred years. Throughout the century and a half of its existence, it has seen great change following economic and social development.

Above: A group of passengers awaits the boarding of a train circa 1890 at the Niskayuna Aqueduct Train Station located above the Mohawk River on what is now the bike trail of River Road. The train’s tracks would once have serviced numerous such groups each day. (From the Niskayuna Train Station Photo File.)

The train station remained popular and well-used into the 20th century. However, as other industries such as that of the automobile became more fashionable, railroads slowly fell out of use as far as public transportation went.

Above: A view from the West of the Niskayuna Aqueduct Train Station taken before 1925. The image was captured in winter and depicts what appears to be a mother and two children with luggage in, waiting to board a train about 100 yards in the distance. (From the Niskayuna Railroad Station Photo File.)

The Niskayuna train station was described as “the nicest on the whole [Troy-Schenectady] line” by the late S.T. Gilroy, who was a New York Central Engineer that knew the station in its golden days. However, by the 1950s the tracks had been removed for the most part, and passenger traffic had come to a complete halt. The Niskayuna line was no longer the center of travel that it had once been for Niskayuna residents. Instead, it became a home.

In the early fall of 1953, a curious event took place when the Parks family moved into the Niskayuna Railroad Station and turned it into a tiny home for their family of four and pet dog, cuddles. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Park were described as “an enterprising couple from Carman” (Old Railroad Station Put to Modern Use, Niskayuna Railroad File), who turned the station into not only a home, but a boat livery and a lodge for hunters. The Parks resided here for a number of years, but inn-keeping must not have proved as ample a livelihood as they had imagined, for by the mid 1960s, the station was abandoned.

Above Left: An image of Mrs. Robert Parks standing in the doorway of the Railroad station, which she and her husband converted into a home summer of 1953. The tracks had been all but completely removed by this time. Above right: Mrs. Parks proudly shows off her original pot-belly stove while one of her sons, either Edward or Brenden, pets their dog Cuddles while watching “the only modern item in the house,” a television. Mrs. Parks humbly described their abode in the train station as “a compact but not crowded life.” (Niskayuna Railroad Station Photo File.)

After the departure of the Parks Family, The Niskayuna Aqueduct Train Station fell into a sorry state of overgrowth and disrepair. It was almost entirely forgotten, except for by the newly formed Niskayuna Historical Society, whom petitioned for state grants and strove to gain recognition for their cause of restoring the historical building, and having it added to the Historical Register in the 1970’s.

Above: Niskayuna Parks Commissioner Robert Kline overlooks the old railroad station. The rails themselves were now entirely gone. The building was overgrown and the slate roof a terrible mess, the doors blowing in the wind, paint peeling off the brick walls and windows boarded up. It was a sorry site of what had, at the turn of the century, been a delightful place bursting with life and commerce. (Niskayuna Railroad Station Photo File.)

Finally in the 1970’s, SETA acquired the funds to repair the roof, walls, and foundations. With a group of only 50 people, they hacked back the overgrowth and turned The Niskayuna Railroad Station building into a lovely historical landmark in a small, quiet park along the banks of the Mohawk. With the aid of the Niskayuna Historical Society as well as the dedication of Niskayuna inhabitants, the Niskayuna Aqueduct Railroad Station was saved from becoming a forgotten ruin and crumbling down the bank into the river.

Above Left: In August of 1977, teenagers Sean and Chris Hart work with project coordinator Linda Champagne Van Dyke to clean up the area on the bank below the Niskayuna Train Station. Above Right: A group of Niskayuna Historical Society members admire a plan for the new building while others in the background work to repair planking of the wrap-around porch and foundations in May of 1979. (Niskayuna Railroad Station Photo File.)

Today, the railroad station is a small historical museum which also occasionally serves as an art exhibit overlooking the Mohawk River. The surrounding park is enjoyed by the young and elderly alike, much as it was during the early days of the Iron Horses.

Above left: A recent image of the Niskayuna Railroad Station Museum in the Summer. Above left: Photo from the East of the Museum in the fall, overlooking the scenic Mohawk river and facing the Mohawk River bike trail. (Niskayuna Railroad Station Photo File.)