Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Horses of Schenectady County

An account book from Edward Ellis made us think about just how entwined horses were with life in Schenectady County. Whether for transport, work, or recreation, horses were an inseparable part of daily life and photos from our collection show just how important they were. Edward Ellis was the third son of John and Mary Ellis. Edward succeeded to the presidency of the Schenectady Locomotive Works after the death of his brother Charles. He was also one of the residents responsible for bringing the Edison Machine Works to Schenectady. The account book runs from 1865 to 1896 and is a list of horses that Ellis bought and sold throughout his life. Towards the end of the account book, we found a few pages of newspaper clippings that explain why Edward was so interested in horses, horse racing. One of Edward's prized horses was named Ambulator. Ambulator is described as "not only a highly bred colt, but he is a race horse of the highest quality...He is not only fast, but he is game, and his owners believe that it will be no trouble for him to go a mile in 2:15 the coming season."

A listing for Edward Ellis' horse Ambulator. This seemed to be a pretty fair price as he was offered $3,000 at a later date. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
Ambassador was the mother of Ambulator and also a fine race horse. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.

A photo from the Barden family file showing a young girl riding a pony. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library photo collection.
The Hathaway Livery was located at 324-26 South Center Street (now Broadway). Hathaway's, started in 1890, was one of the premier livery services in Schenectady. The horses seen above were pure whites used mainly for funerals and parades, in the case of this photo, a parade. Hathaway Livery was not just used to haul people and Edward Hathaway hauled scenery for the Van Curler Opera Company. The mass production of cars sounded the death knell for many livery businesses. Hathaway's survived until shortly before World War I. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library photo collection.

A horse drawn hearse on the frozen Mohawk River showing the iron bridge to Scotia in the background. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.

This photo shows an interesting view a horse drawn plow on restricted land on an island in the Mohawk. This land is possibly the Isle of Cayugas which can be seen on Google Maps. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection and Google Maps.

An interesting colorized image from 1912 showing two horses in front of the Schenectady County Coal Company. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library photo collection.
A horse and dog combo from our collection. Unfortunately, not much else is known about this photo. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library photo collection.




Of course, where you have horses, you have horseshoes. The two photos above show some of the blacksmiths in the area. The first photos is of Lynch's Blacksmith Shop on Broadway and the second is the Glenville Village Blacksmith. Courtesy of Doolittle Library photo collection.

Found in a 1917 issue of the Daily Gazette, you can't help but feel a bit sorry for this mate-less horse. Courtesy of fultonhistory.com

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dressing a Future President: The Good Luck Shirt Company in Schenectady

Headline from Shutts' obituary in the
July 27, 1929 issue of The Morning
Herald, Gloversville and Johnstown.
Courtesy of fultonhistory.com.
The subheading of Edward D. Shutts' obituary states that he was "Born of Poor Parents, Has Interesting History." The headline is even more interesting "Former Local Man's Estate Near Million." That's over $14 Million today. So, just how did a poor boy from Gloversville become a millionaire in Schenectady? Hard work, networking, fearlessness in the stock market, and to a lesser extent, pre-POTUS Calvin Coolidge.

As a young boy, Edward Shutts would assist his father in making deerskin mittens and gloves. This life was not for Edward though and instead, he chose to work as a traveling salesman where he flourished. Edward was very business savvy and soon enough, he ventured out into business ownership. Shutts moved to Schenectady to start his own business, the Good Luck Shirt Company.

Shutts started out his shirt business with business partner Charles E. Vedder on 320 State Street (upstairs). From there the factory bounced around to a few different locations, mostly around the State/Jay Street area. The final location was at 102 State Street, which was previously the Carley building. By the 1890s, Shutts was listed as the sole proprietor of his shirt company. He would eventually called his company the Good Luck Shirt Company. Shutts apparently never advertised in newspapers or city directories and I have not been able to locate an ad for his company. He traveled quite a bit and his goal was to interest prominent men in his shirts.
Announcement for remodeling of 102 State Street from the Good Luck Shirt Company to apartments. Courtesy of fultonhistory.com
One of those prominent men happened to be Calvin Coolidge who was a lawyer at the time he met
Shutts. Coolidge was also listed on the buyers' lists in the business files of the company, unfortunately, we do not hold the records of the Good Luck Shirt Company. Coolidge bought Good Luck shirts throughout his term as governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge stopped buying Shutts' shirts when he was elected president. The reason behind Coolidge cooling down on Good Luck shirts was probably that Shutts stopped trying to meet up with the president. Shutts stated that "It's a long way to Washington and he probably would not be easy to see now that he's a great man."

Similar to his dislike of advertising his company, Shutts also tried to keep his personal life out of the spotlight. He was known as a recluse who lived in the shirt factory and his wealth came as a surprise to many. In addition to being a successful businessman, Shutts was adept at playing the stock market. Those who knew him described his ability to find profitable stocks as uncanny, associates also admired his ability to hold onto unprofitable stocks until they came back around to make him money. After Shutts died, he left several bequests, but the most prominent one was $250,000 to his nephew Roscoe S. Powell of Gloversville. Powell credited his uncle's fortune to being thrifty and saving something each week.



Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Schenectady County's Lustron Home

This blog post was written by SCHS volunteer Gail Denisoff.

When millions of GIs returned home from World War II, they faced the biggest housing shortage in US history.  Veterans and their young families were desperate for homes of their own and wanted to take advantage of the low interest rates guaranteed by the GI Bill.  Construction companies were frantically trying to meet the need as suburbs were springing up around cities nationwide.   Wilson Wyatt, the federal government's new Housing Expediter, estimated that 3 million houses needed to be built between 1946 and 1947 and the demand for most of these homes was among low and middle income families.

Prefabricated houses were proposed as a remedy for the crisis with nearly 300 companies entering the industry in the late 1940’s.   It was believed that manufacturing and technical advances generated by the war would result in homes rolling off production lines by the millions. This never happened. In 1946 and 1947, only 37,000 prefabricated houses were put up.  For many prospective buyers, prefabricated housing still carried the stigma of the shoddy emergency housing built during the war. Some had aesthetic objections to visible joints between panels and thin painted plywood walls. Local building codes and the opposition of labor unions were also obstacles.

Enter the technologically sophisticated Lustron House - “The House America Has Been Waiting For”.  Of all the companies joining the prefab market, Lustron was one of only three to receive a direct federal loan. Led by Chicago industrialist and inventor Carl Strandlund, who had worked with constructing prefabricated gas stations, Lustron offered a home that would "defy weather, wear, and time."

Advertisement for the Lustron Home in Life Magazine.
Strandlund's Lustron Corporation set out to construct 15,000 homes in 1947 and 30,000 in 1948. However, the corporation eventually constructed just 2,498 homes between 1948 and 1950.  Lustron homes were built entirely of steel in a former airplane factory using materials and technology developed during the war. Interior and exterior surfaces were steel with a porcelain enamel finish baked onto panels. The roof shingles and all framing were also made of steel. The houses, which sold for $6,000 to $10,000, arrived in 3000 pieces on a specially designed truck.

Homeowners had a choice of three models -  Westchester, Newport and Meadowbrook; the most
popular being the Westchester Deluxe with approximately 78 built in New York State.  Most homes were built on concrete slabs by local Lustron dealer/builders following a factory manual which estimated they could be completed in 360 man-hours.   Owners also had a choice of two or three bedrooms and could choose from four exterior colors; surf blue, dove gray, maize yellow and desert tan.  Interior colors were neutral gray, ivory, blue, yellow and pink. Local dealers supplied flooring options. In 1949 Lustron also offered garage packages

The Lustron Corporation declared bankruptcy in 1950, despite being an extremely well-funded, well-
publicized, government-supported enterprise that was manufacturing a desperately needed product. Production delays, the lack of a viable distribution strategy, and the escalating prices for the finished product all contributed to the failure. Additionally, local zoning codes also played a part. Some accounts suggest an organized effort from the existing housing industry to stop Strandlund.  Another issue was that dealerships had to pay for homes in advance and needed to order in quantity to make a profit.  When Lustron closed, dealerships had paid for thousands of homes that were never manufactured and many lost a great deal of money. 

Although builders reported a strong interest in the homes, locally only 18 homes were built by Albany builder Upstate Construction Corp. and 21 by Amsterdam/Schenectady builder Wilson Bartlett Taylor by the end of 1949.  Both companies were undoubtedly hurt financially when Lustron ceased production.  Dealerships nationwide submitted testimony to a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance stating their confidence to sell the homes if manufacture continued.  Upstate Construction Corp. of Albany reported by telegram: 

“Have been a Lustron dealer for 8 months and have erected and sold 20 Lustron houses without use of a sales force or sales effort.  Have used this time (8 months) to train crews.  Now can turn out a Lustron house ever 3 days in 350 erection hours.  Have just employed large sales staff and can sell 100 houses in matter of weeks.  Am prepared to erect 100 houses in next 4 months and 300 houses in year.  Have 18 years as leading builder in our area.  Lustron is best value ever offered.  All dealers this section in similar position having spent months training crews.  None employed any sales effort during training period.  We’re all ready now to meet tremendous demand for Lustron.  If Lustron permitted to continue this year, success is assured.”  Despite the efforts of the 221 dealerships who testified to the Senate, Lustron ceased production in March of 1950.

One Lustron home that has been preserved in near original condition is on Slater Drive in Glenville. Built in 1949, it was the Westchester Deluxe 2 bedroom model in dove gray built on a slab foundation.  When inspected, only two changes to the original home were noted – the outside trim had been painted and the bathroom door replaced. It was added to the National Register in 2008 and at that time was still occupied by the original owners.  The home has steel panels inside and out with built in closets, original metal kitchen cabinets, built in vanity and dining room hutch.  It also retains the original bay window and aluminum casement windows, signature gutters and zigzag downspout, entry porch, steel rooftiles and chimney and inside wall panels and trim elements. Photos of this home were taken as part of the New York State Lustron Home Survey in 2007 and some can be seen below. 




As a testament to the durability of Lustron homes, today almost 2000 are still standing although many have been modified over the years.  A good number enjoy official protection through the National Register of Historic Places.  Even though many owners are trying to preserve the original integrity of the homes, existing Lustron homes face an uncertain future.  Because of their small size and the changing demands of modern living the homes do not appeal to young buyers. Only time will tell if these homes can sustain modern family life or if alternative uses for them can be found.