Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"A Gateway to Better Things:" The Opening of the Original Great Western Gateway Bridge

Rendering of proposed Great Western Gateway Bridge. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

"East side, west side,
From city to the town.
Now at last we have a bridge,
We know it won't fall down.
An aid to bigger business,
Our enterprise will pay;
Our gift to all posterity,
The Great Western Gateway."
 - Excerpt from song "The Great Western Gateway," words by Scotia High School student Joseph Foley, from Great Western Gateway Bridge opening brochure, 1925.

On December 19, 1925, the original Great Western Gateway Bridge was opened to traffic. After four long years of construction, the bridge was finally complete. The bridge, which comprised 24 spans and measured 4420 feet in length, cost about $2,500,000 to construct.

Original Great Western Gateway Bridge under construction, 1925. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

New York State officials, local leaders, and members of the general public participated in a celebratory lunch, held at the Hotel Van Curler the day of the bridge's opening. Following the luncheon, an estimated 2,500 cars lined up in Scotia in anticipation of participating in an "automobile parade" to open the bridge at 1:15 p.m. Curtains of American flags hung at the Scotia end of the bridge, and fireworks were exploded to mark the parting of the curtains and the bridge's unveiling. The bridge's first moments of being used included both ceremonial and regular traffic. "A parade . . . had hardly started from from the Scotia to the Schenectady end of the bridge, when an actual traffic stream, made up of cars and tourists, commercial travelers and business trucks, began flowing in the opposite direction -- an immediate utilization of the new transportation lane."

Photographs of opening ceremonies for the Great Western Gateway Bridge on December 19, 1925 from Knickerbocker News. Image from clipping file.  

The village of Scotia was the focal point of the celebration, where in addition to a parade, the Scotia Methodist Church sponsored a dinner and a reception was held at Scotia High School. In the local press, village President Alvin Spitzer "expressed his hope that Schenectadians generally will visit Scotia for the afternoon and note the improvement throughout the community." Every household and business along Mohawk Avenue between the new bridge and Reynolds Street was encouraged to decorate their business or home.

Program for the opening of the Great Western Gateway Bridge in Scotia. From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection. 

Local press hailed the opening of the new bridge. An editorial in Albany's Knickerbocker Press touted the new bridge as being "a gateway to better things," praised the beauty of the structure, and claimed that "nothing to equal this restoration of the earliest commercial center of Schenectady has occurred in three centuries." It was hailed as a safer and more efficient means of traveling between Schenectady and Scotia than the old toll bridge that extended from the foot of Washington Avenue.

Image of the completed Great Western Gateway Bridge, ca. 1930. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Although the opening of the bridge to traffic was certainly a significant event for the denizens of Schenectady and Scotia, it was dwarfed by an even larger public celebration for the bridge was held several months later, when the bridge was celebrated with a nine-day exposition from June 11-19, 1926, and dedicated on June 26. Decades later, the bridge was considered to be structurally unsound, and the curve of the bridge was sometimes referred to as "Dead Man's Curve," due to the accidents which frequently occurred there. A new Western Gateway Bridge was constructed to replace the original, and the original Great Western Gateway Bridge was demolished in 1974.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Aloha Schenectady: Local Hawaiian Connections

North shore beach, Hawaii, photographed in 2005 by Carol Highsmith. Image from Library of Congress (, reproduction number LC-DIG-highsm-04487. 

During the cold winter months, when Schenectadians must sidestep slush and shovel out snow-buried cars, it's nice to daydream about spending time in a warm and sunny tropical paradise. Take a brief respite from the realities of winter in the northeast to explore the lives of a people that share a connection with Schenectady and with our fiftieth state, Hawaii.

One fascinating figure whose personal history touches Schenectady and Hawaii is Anthony D. Allen (1775-1835). Allen was born as a slave to a man named Dougal/McDougall in Schenectady. Following Dougal's death, Allen was sold to a Mr. Kelly of Schenectady. Allen escaped slavery in May 1800, and made his way to the Atlantic coast, where he found work on ships. He traveled to France, China, India, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest, earning enough money to purchase his freedom before finding his home in Hawaii in 1810. He was granted a six-acre parcel of land in Waikiki from Hawaiian royalty. Allen soon became a prosperous and prominent entrepreneur and farmer. He also opened a boarding house, bowling alley, a small hospital, and is credited with building one of the first schools in Hawaii. Allen was also known to be very generous to the missionaries who came to the islands. "There are many white residents here -- the most pay an outward respect, sending us little present of fresh pork, corn, beans, and the like," wrote missionary Sybil Bingham in 1820. "There is one black man, Anthony Allen, brought up in Schenectady, New York, who I believe lives the most comfortably of any on the island . . . He has been very kind to us, sending us potatoes, squashes, etc. As often as once in two weeks, a goat or kid neatly dressed, -- every morning, two bottles of goat's milk, and many things I cannot mention." Allen's connection to Schenectady was renewed in 1822 when, following an article about Allen that appeared in the June 23, 1821 issue of the Missionary Herald, Daniel Dougal, the son of the man who had once held Allen as a slave, wrote to Allen and asked about his life in Hawaii. Allen did reply, dictating a lengthy and detailed letter about his life. He also sent gifts and money to a sister, Diana, who remained in Schenectady. The Reverend Charles S. Stewart also remembered a few prominent Schenectady men meeting with Allen during their travels to Hawaii following the Missionary Herald article. Allen died in 1835.

Image of the front page of an 1822 letter dictated from Anthony D. Allen to a Dr. Dougal of Schenectady, son of his former slave owner. The letter was sold at auction in 2009; this image comes from the British auction house Bonhams. 

Another notable person in Hawaii's history with a connection to Schenectady is John Owen Dominis (1832–1891), a statesman and the husband of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. Dominis, the son of Captain John Dominis and Mary Lambert Jones, was born in Schenectady and spent his earliest years living on Front Street in the Stockade. The Dominis family was close to the family of Dr. Andrew Yates and lived in his home. When Dominis was five years old, he arrived in Hawaii with his parents. His sisters, Mary and Frances, stayed behind in Schenectady to complete their educations; unfortunately, both died very young, in 1838 and 1842, respectively. Around 1853, Dominis was appointed the private secretary to Prince Lot, who would later become King Kamehameha V. In 1862, Dominis married Lili'uokalani (also known as Lydia Paki). The marriage was, unfortunately, not a happy one. Dominis had many affairs and chose to socialize without his wife. In her memoirs, Lili'uokalani also notes that Dominis' mother disliked her and initially saw her as an "intruder," but warmed to her a bit more in later years. Dominis' connection to Hawaiian royalty afforded him a number of honors and responsibilities. Dominis served as Governor of Oahu and Maui, served in the House of Nobles, on the Board of Health, Board of Education, and Bureau of Immigration. He also served as Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the Hawaiian Army. When Lili'uokalani became Queen in January 1891, Dominis became Prince Consort. He died later that year in Hawaii and is buried in the Royal Mausoleum. Dominis fathered one son with Mary Purdy Lamiki Aimoku, a servant of Lili'uokalani.

This 1870s image shows Schenectady native John Dominis with his wife Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch. Seated, left to right: Queen Liliuokalani, Miriam Likelike (Princess of Hawaii), and Elizabeth Sumner. Standing, left to right: John Dominis and Archibald Cleghorn, respectively the husbands of Liliuokalani and Likelike. Image from the collections of the Hawaii State Archives, call no. PP-98-9-014 ( 

Last but not least is Emma Theodora Paty Yates (1850-1933). She was born in 1850 in Honolulu to John Paty and Mary Ann Jefferson. She married Isaac I. Yates in San Francisco in 1873, and the couple moved to Schenectady, where Emma Yates would live for over 60 years. Yates was active in the local chapter of the YWCA, serving as the organization's first treasurer. At the time of her death in 1933, she was one of the YWCA's oldest members. Yates was also active in Christ Episcopal Church in Duanesburg. She had five children: Jennie Ormsby Yates, Emma Theodora Yates, William C. Yates, Isaac I. Yates, and John Henry Yates. Emma Yates died in 1933 and is buried in Vale Cemetery. The Grems-Doolittle Library holds a collection of her personal papers. Yates also penned a document entitled Reminiscences of Honolulu, which is in the holdings of the Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Schenectady in the 1970s and 1980s through the Eyes of John Papp

An undated wintertime view of State Street through the railroad overpass, circa 1970s. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection.  

The Library recently received a significant addition of material to our John Papp Photograph Collection. John Papp, who has been referred to as "a photographer by trade but a history buff by desire and avocation," was very interested not only in collecting and reprinting historic photographs, but also in documenting Schenectady in his time. He photographed numerous street scenes, construction and demolition projects, aerial views, and local events from the 1960s through the 1980s. He took a number of photographs of the city of Schenectady, as well as many photographs of Rotterdam. Papp lived many years in Rotterdam and served as the town's historian for a number of years. Here we have included just a few images that show Papp's documentation of downtown Schenectady from the 1970s and 1980s.

One of two featured views of Jay Street between State Street and Franklin Street as it was transformed into a pedestrian-only block. This photograph, taken from State Street in March 1984, illustrates this process. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection. 

This view of Jay Street, taken from Franklin Street in July 1984, shows the transition to a pedestrian-only block near completion. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection. 

Once processed, this recently-acquired addition to the Papp collection will add approximately 3-4 cubic feet of materials to the existing collection. An updated finding aid will be featured in an upcoming Grems-Doolittle Library Blog entry and be made available on our website. If you are interested in viewing photographs in this collection, please visit us or contact our Librarian.

Exterior view of Peggy's Restaurant at 426 State Street, ca. 1980. The collection includes a number of photographs of local businesses in downtown Schenectady as well as in Rotterdam. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection. 

Aerial view of downtown Schenectady, taken April 1981. State Street runs down the center of the photograph, from Erie Boulevard near the top of the image to Nott Terrace just past Veterans Park near the bottom. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection.

Corner of State Street and Clinton Street. This photograph was taken in February 1984. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection.