Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Melissa's Goodbye

From our Librarian/Archivist, Melissa Tacke: 

The Grems-Doolittle Library Blog will be quiet for a time, as I leave my position at the end of this month. The Schenectady County Historical Society will be welcoming a new Librarian/Archivist this spring.

I have thoroughly enjoyed highlighting aspects of the Grems-Doolittle Library's collections and Schenectady County's history on this blog. The stories I have uncovered in my time here are truly fascinating, and it has been a pleasure to share them.

I have greatly enjoyed my time at the Schenectady County Historical Society. My favorite aspects of my position as Librarian/Archivist have been assisting researchers and promoting the Library's collections. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing a researcher gasp at a discovery he or she has made! In putting finding aids and research guides on our website, we have been able to make our collections visible to the wider world. Speaking with community groups, school groups, and program audiences at SCHS to raise awareness about our collections and services has also been a pleasure.

In the time that I have been Librarian/Archivist, we have seen library visitation grow, and the number of research questions we receive has greatly increased. We have also watched our space transform with the installation of mobile compact shelving in our archives storage area and the restructuring of shelving in our reading room. The Library is a dynamic place that continues to grow and change.

I am also privileged to have worked with a crew of dedicated, motivated, and kind volunteers. The Library's 17 volunteers provide over 3,000 hours of work to the Library each year. Volunteers do the bulk of the indexing and data entry work that makes it possible to bring more information about our collections to the public. I extend my sincere thanks to all Library volunteers, past and present, who have helped to bring the Library to where it is today.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Early Railroads and a Scotia?

Detail of map A Map of Scotia Estate, Late the property of John Sanders, Esquire, now deceased: According to a survey thereof, made preparatory to a partition between Robert, Jacob G., Peter, and Theodore W. Sanders, Sons and heirs of said deceased, Pursuant to his last Will & Testament by James Frost, Surveyor, dated December 13th, 1834.  Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

This blog entry is written by Schenectady County Historical Society Trustee John Gearing.

The Society is fortunate to have the Glen-Sanders Papers in its microfilm collection (comprising 18 reels, the original documents are in the collection of The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan). Toward the end of Reel 18, one finds a collection of maps and surveys that shed much light on a critical period in Scotia's history. The first item is a field book and survey map from 1834 made by James Frost, showing the lands of the Scotia Estate belonging to the late John Sanders, Jr. and their division between his heirs: Charles, Peter, and John. This is the earliest map of the Scotia Estate the Society possesses. The map not only shows which parcels were to go to which heirs, but the ownership of those Estate lots that had been conveyed prior to John Sanders Jr.'s death, which may make it interesting to those tracing their family history in Scotia.

Overall view of Frost map of Scotia Estate, as seen on the microfilm reader. Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

Two of New York's early railroads are also shown: the Schenectady and Utica and the Ballston and Saratoga Railroad. There is an annotation on the map beneath this last-mentioned railroad noting that “the True nature and style of this is Saratoga and Schenectady Rail Road.” The Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad was New York's second line after the pioneering Mohawk-Hudson. Chartered in February 1831, the Saratoga and Schenectady line only reached as far as Ballston initially, which may have influenced Frost's label on the map. The rest of the line to Saratoga was quickly completed, and horse-drawn service between Schenectady and Saratoga began in the summer of 1832. The railroad's first steam engine, the Davy Crockett, was a revolutionary six-wheel design by the railroad company's chief engineer, John Jervis. It entered service in July of 1831. Because of the bridge's weight limitations, railroad cars were drawn by horses through Schenectady and across the bridge, where they were then coupled to the Davy Crockett. The Frost map shows the location of the engine house near the Scotia end of the bridge.

The other railroad shown on the map, the Schenectady and Utica, stands out in New York railroad history as the first line that posed a threat to the Erie Canal's freight business. Chartered in 1833, the line did not begin service until 1836. Its appearance on the 1834 Scotia Estate map likely indicates that construction from the Schenectady end was well underway by that time. Interestingly, although the map shows both of the rail lines sharing the Mohawk Bridge, it also appears to show a railroad right of way (unlabelled) departing from the Schenectady and Utica line in a graceful curve and terminating on the north bank of the Mohawk River roughly where the railroad bridge stands today. This may indicate that the construction engineers were planning on building a new bridge across the Mohawk, one that would have been strong enough to carry trains pulled by steam locomotives. The threat to the Erie Canal's freight business was such that the Schenectady and Utica was forbidden by law from carrying freight until 1844, and then it was only allowed to carry freight in the winter months and then only upon the railroad paying freight tolls to the canal company.

Detail of Frost map showing the labeling of Ballston-Saratoga Railroad, Warme Killtie, New Canal, and Lower Ferry Road. Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

Perhaps the most curious feature on Frost's Scotia Estate map is the structure labeled “New Canal.” The map shows a canal running easterly, parallel to and approximately 275 feet north of a road marked “Lower Ferry Road.” Sunnyside Road is the most likely candidate for this road today. The eastern end of the canal appears to end just slightly south of the intersection of today's Freeman's Bridge Road and Maple Avenue. The canal extends across both railroad lines, appearing to terminate slightly west of the Utica and Schenectady line. A stream labeled “Warme Killtie” runs south to a point about 200 feet north of the canal, and then turns easterly and runs roughly parallel to the canal. A short canal section branches from the New Canal and connects to the Warme Killtie at the point where it begins it's turn to the east, suggesting that the Warme Killite was at least a major source of water for the canal. Further up the Warme Killtie the map shows a millpond and mill, raising the likelihood that there was an intention to float the mill's products down the stream to the canal. Once on the canal, freight could have been carried west to the railroad crossings, or east to the highway junction. A map notation indicates that about 3,700 feet of the canal had been completed at the time the survey was made.

Contemporary image of portion of area shown on Frost map of Scotia Estate. Remnants of the "New Canal" can be seen running parallel to Sunnyside Road and along modern railroad  tracks. Image from Google Maps

Comparing this 1834 map with a contemporary Google map and satellite image, one finds a body of water that is almost certainly the canal, running parallel to and about 275 feet north of Sunnyside Road. The Warme Killtie can be made out, although now it no longer continues eastward. Instead, it now appears to connect to the surviving canal. Intriguingly, the Google map and images suggest that today the body of water that was the canal, continues westward, closely paralleling the modern railroad line (just to the north), nearly to the intersection of Route 5N and I-890. This raises a question: was there an attempt to build a canal system in Scotia prior to the development of railroads? Some accounts recall the disappointment felt by Scotia residents when the Erie Canal was routed through Schenectady instead of Scotia. The Scotia canal may have been intended to extend eastward as far as Rexford, and there connect with the Erie, or could have even been planned to cross the Mohawk River at Freeman's Bridge via aqueduct and connect with the Erie on the south shore. Consultation of Scotia histories and Google searches have so far failed to lead to any additional information about Scotia's canal, leaving a tantalizing subject for further research.