Wednesday, April 30, 2014

History in Our Soles: The Story of Shoes Exhibit

Image of exhibit The Story of Shoes, open now through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site.

Shoes carry us through the world. A farmer pulls on his wooden clogs to head out into his field, a bride steps into a pair of satin heels on her wedding day, businesspeople slip on their shoes before going to work. What we put on our feet varies based on our age, occupation, and activities. Shoes can tell the people around us our occupations, our fashion sense, or our status in society. They may lace, tie, or Velcro, but each one of them has a story hidden in their sole. We invite you to step into the exhibit and experience pieces of our past, as told by these wonderful shoes.

You can learn more about what shoes tell us about history and daily life at the exhibit The Story of Shoes, now on exhibit through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center at the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction. A sneak peek at the exhibit and some of the artifacts on display are included here. For more information about the exhibit, please contact our Educator/Assistant Curator Jenna Peterson or call 518-887-5073.

The shoes of Deborah Glen of Scotia -- made from satin and careful, slow stitches -- are indicative of clothing and accessories of a wealthy woman. Glen's matching dress is also on display. Image of exhibit The Story of Shoes, open now through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site.

Image of exhibit The Story of Shoes, open now through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site.

One of a number of pairs of women's wooden clogs on display. In the Netherlands, much of the country sits in low, damp ground. It is great for tulips, but not so good for your feet! As a result, many people wore clogs. When Dutch immigrants came to the New World, they brought the idea of clogs with them. Clogs keep the feet dry and warm, and keep your regular shoes from falling apart. Image of exhibit The Story of Shoes, open now through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site.

Shoes from H.S. Barney & Company in Schenectady. During the Industrial Revolution, shoe-making became quick and easy, and shoe sizes became standardized. The first American department stores opened in the late 1840s. Everything a family needed, in multiple styles, all in one place. Howlain Swain (H.S.) Barney arrived in Schenectady in 1836 and began to work in the dry goods business. In 1855, he purchased interest in Barringer & Company dry goods. By 1858, he bought out his partners and became the owner of the company, which he renamed H.S. Barney & Company. Barney’s remained in business through 1974. Image of exhibit The Story of Shoes, open now through June 2014 at the Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Schenectady's Armories

Schenectady's second armory building, looking very inch the architectural bastion of strength and security. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Victoria Bohm. 

There is a list of the arsenals and armories built in the State of New York from the Republican era through the Antebellum and Civil War eras in N.L. Todd’s book on New York’s Historic Armories. Albany had already two arsenals (1799, 1858) and Troy had the Fulton Market Armory (1830s) before the construction of Schenectady’s first armory. The first Armory was finished in 1868 for the 5th Division after the Civil War. Schenectady’s second Armory was built in 1898/99 for the 36th and 37th Companies. The third Armory, built in 1936, was used by both companies and the National Guard until it was sold in 2012.

Schenectady's first armory, constructed in 1868. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Plans and fund-raising efforts for the construction of new arsenals/armories in New York State was interrupted by the Civil War. Following the Civil War, Schenectady’s first Armory was authorized in 1866. The name of the architect is not known. Constructed to house Schenectady’s “Washington Continentals,” which, from 1859 through the Civil War was part of the 83rd Regiment, the first Armory found its champion in post-Civil-War Company Commander and State Assemblyman Robert Furman. He convinced the State to finance an armory for the Schenectady with $30,000 (a little less than half a million dollars in today’s account) approved on January 19, 1866. Furman, along with John W. Veeder and Judson S. Landon, were appointed commissioners to choose the site and get the armory built. They chose the rise above Crescent Park (now Veterans’ Park) near Nott Terrace and bought up the property of Civil Engineer Henry Ramsey in the process. The Schenectady Armory, completed in 1868 with its red-brick walls and slate roof, in overall design resembled the Utica 1862 Armory. In 1873/4, the Washington Continentals/83rd Regiment were joined by the new Citizens’ Corps; during the 1880s, both units were disbanded, separately mustered into the National Guard, and renamed the 36th and 37th Companies. They shared the Armory until its demolition for a new Armory, built in 1898.

Lobbying for a new, larger Armory began around 1880 and continued through the 1890s. State Assemblyman and then Commander of the 36th and 37th Companies, Austin A. Yates, managed at first to obtain only $5,000 for repairs to the existing Armory, but by 1897, he was granted $60,000 for a new Armory to be constructed by Barnes, Butts & Ingalls with architect Isaac G. Perry, who designed twenty-six arsenals and armories during the 1890s throughout New York State. This Armory was completed by 1898 and accommodated the troops from the Spanish-American War, specifically the 36th and 37th Companies, which had again been re-formed and re-named this time as Companies E and F in the 2nd Regiment (re-named the 105th Regiment). The building was also used for community activities, exhibitions, concerts, clothing and furniture sales, sports events such as wrestling, auto shows, and Boy Scout-o-ramas through the 1920s and 1930s. As early as 1913, there were recommendations from Federal Offices to demolish this second Armory for a third, even larger construction. However, nothing was realized until 1936.

The 1936 Armory under construction. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

Schenectady’s third Armory, the cornerstone of which was laid at 125 Washington Avenue in 1936, was completed in the Art Deco style and was 65,000 square feet. The interior was designed in what was them termed the “Tudorbethan” style. The Armory was designed by William E. Haugaard (1889-1948), New York State Architect from 1924-1944. Haugaard designed eleven other armories in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the headquarters for Companies E and F and the National Guard. The Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Eventually the Washington Street Armory was closed, given over to the State Office of General Services. It was purchased by Legere Restorations in 2012. The company hopes to give the historic building a new life as a venue for concerts, trade shows, expos, and sporting events.

Aerial view of the third Armory, ca. 1980. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

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 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.