Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Barney's Department Store

The Barney Block, completed in 1873, as it appeared in the 1880s. The staff is posed in front, along with the two hand carts used to move merchandise. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor. 

Howland Swain Barney, originally of Minaville in Montgomery County, was a young man on the move. Arriving in Schenectady in 1833, he took a job clerking in the John Ohlen and Company store. He became a partner in 1849, and in 1855 he took over as sole proprietor. By 1856, he was well established as a Schenectady businessman and married Sarah Horsfall of the city. H. S. Barney continued to lead the store until his death in 1904.

Howland Swain Barney, the original proprietor of H.S. Barney Company. This photograph of Barney was taken around 1900. Image from Larry Hart Collection.  

The original Barney’s was 700 square feet. With constant expansion, the H. S. Barney Company occupied 100,000 square feet at its peak in 1958. The Barney Block was completed in 1873 and a new facade uniting the three separate store fronts was added in 1923, creating the H.S. Barney’s that many people remember.

An early interior photograph of Barney's taken by White Studios of Schenectady. Note the elaborate tin ceiling and the elevator in the foreground. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Barney’s was known to carry “high class” merchandise. In the early 1900s it had purchasing offices in London and Paris. After a 1904 makeover, the store displayed ribbon, knit underwear, men’s furnishings, and more on the first floor. The second floor, which sold carpets and draperies, was well-lit and airy. The well-dressed woman could purchase a complete wardrobe including “silk petticoats in dainty shades.” Once purchased, items could be delivered to your home – first by horse and wagon, later by truck.

The Barney Company's stylish delivery wagon, ca. 1880. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

Barney’s continued to prosper throughout the first half of the twentieth century until the growth of suburbia and the appearance of shopping malls doomed the city department store. In late 1973 Barney’s, as well as Wallace’s, went out of business, marking the beginning of the end of the department store as a fixture on State Street.

The prosperous Barney's department store on State Street, circa 1950. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 


  1. Howland S. Barney's 2x gr. granddaughter, Barbara Cox Emanuelson just passed away this month at the age of 88. She particularly enjoyed the pictures & info on this blog. Here's the link to the obituary.

  2. Interesting. Do you have any info on how/when John F. Horman became associated with the store. He is my Grandfather. Thanks, any other info on him would be appreciated. Bill Harryman