Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Young Man's Mathematics Lessons

Pages of calculations and problem-solving in the lesson book of Daniel Toll. 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.

Among the manuscript treasures of the Grems-Doolittle Library lies an oft-overlooked gem: the Glen-Sanders Papers. Members of the Glen and Sanders families resided in Scotia's eponymous mansion for over 200 years. In the mid-twentieth century the estate was broken up and the remaining Glen-Sanders papers came into the possession of the New-York Historical Society. The Schenectady County Historical Society has a copy of the papers on eighteen reels of microfilm. The collection includes correspondence and notes (the earliest of which is dated 1674), account books, maps, wills, and genealogical records.

A careful reading of such papers can help us better understand what life was like in Schenectady in earlier times. While one could be excused for assuming that eighteenth century life was far simpler and much less sophisticated than it is today, a mathematics lesson book in the Glen-Sanders papers suggests otherwise. The book bears the name of Daniel Toll and is dated 1790. The mathematics taught were practical in nature and covered topics essential to every successful merchant.

The first exercise taught young Mr. Toll how to subtract the weight of a container, the “tare,” to determine the weight its contents. For example, flour was sold at the wholesale level in barrels. This sounds simple, but some goods were sold in units of “hundredweights” (or 112 pounds) and tare was sometimes set at a percentage of the whole rather than the actual weight of the container. Conversions were often necessary. Also covered was the calculation of “Brokage,” which Toll defined as “the percentage charge levied by those called Brokers who find customers and selling them the goods of other men whether strangers or natives.” A budding merchant needed to calculate “tret” as well. Tret was the amount (typically 4 pounds per hundredweight) allowed for the wastage of goods during shipment.

Page dealing with the subjects of tare and tret in the lesson book of Daniel Toll. Image from Glen-Sanders Papers, collection on microfilm in the Grems-Doolittle Library (originals at New-York Historical Society in New York City).

Both simple and compound interest were covered in Daniel Toll's subjects. He was taught how to compute interest when the percentage was not a whole number, and how to compute either the return, the term, the principal, or the percentage when the other three factors were given. Fractions, both “vulgar” and decimal, were covered, along with multiplication.

The lessons were taught using pounds, shillings, and pence. Instead of being a decimal system like today's dollar, this system was based on multiples of twelve. Twenty pennies made one shilling, and twelve shillings made a pound. Merchants' calculations required converting pounds to shillings and pence, and vice versa. Some problems required converting everything to pence, completing the calculation in pence, and then reconverting the answer to pounds, shillings and pence.

Complex computations were taught using a sort of algorithm. For example, to determine the present value of a amount due to be paid in the future, Toll wrote:

1. As 12 months are to the rate percent
So is the time proposed to a fourth number

2. Add that fourth number to ₤100

3. As that sum is to the fourth number
So is the given sum to the rebate

4. Subtract the rebate from the given sum
and the remainder is the present worth.”

Although this “answer” may be mystifying to modern eyes, a careful perusal of the Toll's sample problem shows that four steps above were easily translated into arithmetical calculations by students of the day.

Assuming the dates (1790 and 1793) in the lesson book are accurate, Daniel Toll would have been between 14 and 17 years old when learning the practical mathematics shown in this lesson book. The difficulty and complexity of Toll's math curriculum seems to compare favorably to that of today's students of the same age, suggesting that Schenectadians 224 years ago were not all that much different, in some respects, than we are today. Assuming that Jonathan Pearson's information is correct in his Genealogies of the Descendants of the First Settlers of Schenectady, Daniel Toll, it seems, grew up to be a physician, and not a merchant after all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas and the Erie Canal in Schenectady

Youngsters ice-skate on the frozen Erie Canal in this photograph taken circa 1910. The skating area, just south of State Street on what is now Erie Boulevard, was a popular place for children and families to have fun during the holidays. On the weekends before Christmas, lanterns and music were brought in to make skating an even jollier affair. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Larry Hart wrote in his "Tales of Old Dorp" newspaper column in 1980 that local resident Lew McCue, who grew up in Schenectady and worked on the canal in his younger days, "had a canal story or poem for almost any occasion." Christmas was no exception. McCue shared with Hart his memories of Christmas days during the canal era.

This image of Lewis "Lew" McCue, circa 1950, was taken by Schenectady Gazette photographer Ed Schultz. McCue, who shared his memories of the Erie Canal with local historian and newspaper reporter Larry Hart, died in 1965 at the age of 82. Image from McCue surname file.   

McCue shared his memories of his 1880s boyhood in Schenectady; he credited the canal with making the Christmas season brighter. Special and exotic goods arrived in Schenectady, brought to town by shippers operating on the canal, right before the November closing of the canal each winter. These shipments made fruits such as bananas, oranges, figs, grapefruits, and pineapples plentiful during the holiday season. The canal barges also brought wine, cheeses, nuts, ginger, molasses, books, hardware, cloth, and stationery from faraway places. While everyone appreciated these special goods flowing into town just in time for the holidays, McCue noted that those who remembered life in Schenectady before the canal opened in 1825 were especially awed by the range of goods that the canal made it possible to be brought into town.

In this image of the Erie Canal, taken from the State Street canal bridge sometime before 1887, barges can be seen lined up along the warehouses that lined the canal. Just before the closing of the canal each November, barges would bring large shipments of goods up from New York City wholesalers, just in time for the holiday season. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

The canal also offered a special holiday delight in the form of recreation. On the weekends just before Christmas, McCue remembered, Schenectady's merchants provided funds to have Japanese lanterns hung along the ice skating area of the canal (the area just south of State Street on what is now Erie Boulevard), and hired bands to perform music for the skaters. Wintertime horse races were also held along a mile length of the canal from the Washington Avenue bridge westward.

Local men bundle up to watch horses race on the frozen bed of the Erie Canal in this undated photograph. Horse racing and ice skating were popular wintertime pursuits along the canal; Lew McCue especially associated these activities with Christmastime in the area. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

While local kids used the canal for ice skating, they also imagined that the canal provided a means for Santa Claus to hasten his travels across New York State. McCue shared with Hart that the children in Schenectady in the late 1800s believed that, rather than traveling with flying reindeer in the sky, Santa Claus' reindeer drew his sled along the frozen canal.

While a youth working on the canal, McCue also learned a holiday song from other canal workers, the lyrics of which he passed along to Larry Hart, who published them in his "Tales of Old Dorp" column:

There was always a Santa Claus on the Erie Canal, 
Mrs. Claus powdered her nose and joined in as well. 
There were cargoes of spice, nuts and logwood for toys, 
And many other things for girls and boys, 
And tons and tons of molasses, with a Christmas smell. 
Yes, there was always a Santa Claus on the Erie Canal.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"The Shopping Center of the Mohawk Valley": Wallace's Department Store

This colorful 1924 postcard shows how well the 1911 addition to the Wallace Building, on the left, matched  the facade of the earlier building on the right. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Postcard Collection. 

This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor. 

Wallace's Department Store, a landmark at 413-417 State Street for many years, began as William McManus Dry Goods. The dry goods store first opened at 39 Ferry Street in 1822. It prospered and moved to what was then 101 State Street. In 1840, the McManus Building, constructed in brick, was erected at 137-143 State Street. At the time, it was considered one of the finest buildings in Schenectady; the building was razed in 1951 to make way for Schenectady Savings and Loan.

Taken circa 1919, this photo shows the Wallace Company store after the 1911 expansion which doubled its size. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

1875 saw the William T. McManus store sold to a group of partners led by Thomas H. Reeves. Among the partners were E.W. Veeder, Charles F. Veeder, and Charles Luffman. From 1875 until 1909 the store was known by various names -- T.H. Reeves, Reeves-Luffman, and Reeves-Veeder. Charles Veeder was responsible for moving the store "uptown" to 417 State Street. This was then the first large business to be located east of the railroad tracks, which were then at street level.

A 1921 advertisement for an August fur sale appealed to the fashionable Schenectadian. Furs purchased during the sale could be kept in storage free of charge until November 1. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

The Wallace name first appears in 1909 when the store was purchased by Andrew Wallace of Springfield, Massachusetts. It then became part of Consolidated Dry Goods, which owned department stores in several cities in New York and Massachusetts. Under the new owners, the the store doubled in size. The house next door, once the residence of the former mayor T. Low Barhydt, was demolished. In its stead a building arose with a facade that duplicated that of the existing store. Thus was created the Wallace Building at 415-417 State Street. Among the attractions of the expanded Wallace's in 1911 were elevators to take you to the upper floors. It was said that "the long skirted, tight-waisted lady clerks of the day seemed thrilled to greet new and old customers."

The Wallace Company building took on a patriotic look, festooned with bunting and flags, in honor of the Liberty Loan Drive in Schenectady in 1917. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

An advertisement in October 8, 1919, offered satin blouses at $6.98, trimmed hats for dress wear starting at $7.98, and linoleum from $1.69-$3.50 per square yard. In 1925, Wallace's declared as their standard "Always Reliable" (meaning, no seconds or irregular merchandise). By 1941, they boasted "you can dress the family better for less at Wallace's." As suburbanization began to take its toll on downtown Schenectady, Wallace's reached out by declaring itself "The Shopping Center of the Mohawk Valley."

A modern facade was built in the 1950s, obscuring the classic Wallace Building. This photo shows the start of demolition, with the dismantling of the store's awning, in December 1977. 

Further modernization occurred in the 1950s, as three escalators capable of carrying 5,000 people per hour were added. A new, modern facade was also constructed. The 1960s saw the decline of downtown shopping throughout the country, and Schenectady was not immune. Wallace's closed its doors in 1973. The building's facade was demolished in 1977, restoring the classic look for the building. Today, you can find a CVS Pharmacy at the department store's former site.

This 1981 State Street scene shows a number of businesses, including the CVS Pharmacy located in the former Wallace Building. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Mystery of the Teddy Bear

The cartoon that led to the origin of the teddy bear. 

This blog entry is written by SCHS Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley.

The teddy bear is one of the most beloved toys all around the world, both with children and with adults. Some teddy bears are made to be cuddled and loved, while some designer teddy bears are created to be admired from afar. This familiar object has a surprisingly contentious beginning. The name “teddy bear” comes from a story about Teddy Roosevelt on a bear hunt in 1902 and the first teddy bear was invented the same year. The details of these events, however, are still a bit mysterious.

President Roosevelt traveled to Mississippi to settle a boundary dispute with Louisiana. During a break in negotiations, he was invited to go on a special hunting expedition organized by local sportsmen on the Mississippi Delta. Roosevelt was eager to shoot a bear during the hunt but no bears could be found. The organizers of the hunt finally used their dogs to chase down a bear and tied him to a tree for the President to shoot.

All sources agree that Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. What happened after, however, is debatable. Some sources say he refused because it was a very young bear and he did not want to take the life of a defenseless cub, and so he set the bear free.  Other sources reported that the bear was quite old, and Roosevelt did not feel the hunt was fair. He then ordered the bear killed by a knife and skinned.  Roosevelt’s decision to spare the life of a bear became famous when it was recreated in a cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman for the Washington Evening Star entitled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” Interestingly, early versions of the cartoon show a much larger and older bear, with later cartoons portraying the bear as younger and friendlier. It is this later version that has become famous for inspiring the birth of the teddy bear.

This teddy bear, on display in the exhibit The Teddy Bear: Celebrating the Bears in Our Lives, is modeled after the first teddy bears. Notice the long arms, pointed  nose, stooped back, and short fur. Early teddy bears had movable heads and limbs. Teddy bears today tend to have rounder faces, shorter unjointed limbs, and softer fur. 

Soon after the publication of the cartoon, stuffed toy bears called “Teddy’s Bears” began appearing in stores. The creation of the first teddy bear, however, is questionable. Inventors from both the United States and Germany claim to have originated the teddy bear at the same time.

In the United States, Morris Michtom and his wife Rose owned a small candy store in Brooklyn.  Inspired by Berryman’s cartoon of Roosevelt and the bear, Rose made a toy bear out of brown plush and stuffing with movable arms and legs. She placed the bear in the store window next to a copy of the cartoon and called the bear “Teddy’s Bear.” The bear quickly sold, and soon they had orders for a dozen more.  From this success Morris and Rose formed the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company in 1907, a toy company that lives on today as part of Mattel.

Across the Atlantic in Giengen, Germany, Margarete Steiff had been making and selling stuffed animals for decades before she created her first teddy bear in 1902. Confined to a wheelchair at a young age by polio, she had become an accomplished seamstress and by 1880 established her own company that sold felt elephants, monkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, cats, and dogs.  After observing brown bears in the Zoological Gardens in Stuttgart, her eldest nephew, Richard Steiff, suggested that she try making a toy bear with movable head and limbs. Margarete was skeptical at first, but when an American toy buyer from George Borgfeldt & Co. ordered 3,000 bears at the 1903 Leipzig Toy Fair, she was convinced of the potential of the stuffed bear.  The Margarete Steiff brand quickly grew into an international leader in teddy bear production that continues to produce a vast array of teddy bears and other stuffed animals for children and collectors alike. The Steiff Company maintains today that they created the teddy bear first.

In spite of the mysterious details surrounding Roosevelt’s bear hunt and the origins of the stuffed bear, the teddy bear only continues to gain in popularity worldwide. For play, comfort, or collecting, the teddy bear is like no other.

You can learn more about teddy bears and see some special bears on display by visiting our exhibit, The Teddy Bear: Celebrating the Bears in Our Lives. The exhibit is on display during the Festival of Trees through December 14, 2014. Admission to the Festival of Trees is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children ages 5-12. Children under 5 years of age are admitted free. For more information about the exhibit, or about the Festival of Trees, please contact Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley or call 518-374-0263, option 4.

Image from last year's Festival of Trees. The Festival is held annually as a joint fundraiser for the Schenectady County Historical Society and the YWCA of Northeastern New York.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Dash of Thanksgiving Humor

Local readers chuckled at this Thanksgiving illustration that appeared in the Quaker Street Review on November 17, 1892. Image obtained via

The holiday of Thanksgiving, during its long years of tradition, has been an occasion for giving solemn thanks and enjoying communion with family. However, Thanksgiving does have its lighter side. In celebration of Thanksgiving - and with tongue firmly in cheek - we offer humorous bits about Thanksgiving, gleaned from 19th-century Schenectady newspapers. Even 150 years ago, local residents had plenty of funny tidbits to share about Thanksgiving.

The most common, of course, is turkey humor:

"The most unhappy man we saw on Thanksgiving eve was a grocer. He had sold his last turkey, and company was coming. He had sold his last turkey, but he could get another, you know. And so, shutting up his store, he started off for the other turkey. He not only started, but he travelled. He went to Johnson's. He went to Stavers'. He went to Bronk's. He went to the head of State Street and down again to Frog Alley. He traveled Union Street to the extent of the College thereof, and he went in every other direction; but not a turkey could he find. And not a turkey had he - had he - all for Thanksgiving day. We expect our grocer said the usual thanks at his bountiful table, next day, but there was lacking a bit of heart in the matter. That's what comes from having too many customers. It's pretty bad when company comes."
 - Schenectady Daily Evening Star, 9 December 1865

"Never mind about the mythical raid on Cuba! There is no doubt of our citizens being extensively engaged in perfecting arrangements for a universal war on Turkey."
- Schenectady Daily Evening Star, 14 November 1863

"There was once a turkey ... But Thanksgiving day arrived by order of the Governor. And, as if the Governor had ordered the sacrifice, that turkey was beheaded ... we hope it will not be deemed immodest when we say, that the turkey adorned our table. He 'came on' dripping with fatness and 'extreme' with dressing. He was greasy with gravy and delicious as to smell. He was white and tender at the breast and savory at the bowels. His limbs were done to a nicety, and his wings emphatically good. In fact, He made the meal of the year, that turkey, and we shall never recur to the fact without regret that he didn't have a brother or a sister, or a dozen of both."
- Schenectady Evening Star and Times, 21 November 1862

"We would advise turkeys to roost high, if they expect to pass over the day unmolested."
- Quaker Street Review, 8 November 1894

And there's also, of course, humor about those who overindulge in drink when making merry on Thanksgiving:

"We are without a promised report of the temperance lecture last evening. Our reporter was invited out to a thanksgiving dinner and we haven't seen him since. We understand that he was seen about eleven o'clock last night in the neighborhood of the dry dock inquiring where the lecture was to be held. He stated that he had eaten so much turkey that he was obliged to take an overdose of the 'green seal' to quiet the squakings [sic] of the biped inside and that the medicine had got the better of him. Any information of his whereabouts will be thankfully received at this office, and no questions asked."
- Schenectady Daily Evening Star, 29 November 1867

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Early Schenectady Newspaper: The Western Spectator

Masthead of the Western Spectator newspaper. This particular issue is dated April 21, 1803; it is the earliest issue our library has on microfilm. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The Western Spectator, or, Schenectady Weekly Advertiser was an early newspaper published in Schenectady from 1802 to 1807. The Western Spectator is the one of the earliest known newspapers known to be published in Schenectady; the first was the Mohawk Mercury (1795-1798).

A cluster of notices from the April 21, 1803 Western Spectator. The notices include an advertisement seeking "a sober industrious man" to work in the beer brewing business, a house and lot for sale on Green Street in Schenectady, a notice of a 15-year-old enslaved girl for sale, and a notice offering a one-cent reward for the return of a runaway indentured apprentice. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

Our library has seven issues of Western Spectator, from the years 1803-1805 and 1807, on microfilm. Although only a few issues of the newspaper have survived, the issues provide an interesting look at the local community. A local printer, John L. Stevenson, established a weekly paper titled the Schenectady Gazette in 1799. In December 1802, Stevenson changed the name of the Schenectady Gazette to the Western Spectator, or, Schenectady Weekly Advertiser. Publication of the Western Spectator ceased in 1807.

The Western Spectator contains numerous advertisements for local businesses. This advertisement announces the new general store of P. Brower at the corner of Washington Street (now Avenue) and Front Street, selling liquors, meats, dry goods, and dishes. Brower notes that he will "dispose of low for Cash or country produce." Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Notice of John P. Whitbeck of Niskayuna in the February 17, 1804 Western Spectator offering five dollars for the return of Jack, a slave who had escaped. Like many runaway slave notices of the time period, the notice includes an extensive description of the enslaved person. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

The Western Spectator was published weekly. Issues of the paper were four pages in length and contained lengthy articles on national, international, and occasionally statewide news. The newspapers also included a number of local news items and notices. Local notices included advertisements for local businesses, legal notices, notices about mail service, notices listing property and slaves for sale, and notices of local elections. Local notices also included notices for the return of runaway slaves and apprentices. Rarely, a death notice of a local person was printed; no marriage notices appear in the newspaper.

Advertisement of the Western Mail Stage, operated by Moses Beal, which ran from Albany to Utica. This notice is rare, as it includes a small illustration; most notices of the time period did not. This notice appeared in the Western Spectator on February 17, 1804. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

An index of local people, businesses, and organizations mentioned in the Western Spectator has been compiled by one of our dedicated volunteers in the library. This index makes it possible to easily and quickly locate articles of interest to local history and genealogy researchers. An index to the issues of the Western Spectator in the library's holdings can be found by clicking this link. Have questions? Visit our library or contact our Librarian.

This cluster of notices from the November 22, 1805 Western Spectator includes a notice of the opening of a dancing school conducted by Gimbrede and Guey at the Schenectady home of James Rogers, the opening of Dr. John Dodge's medical practice on Ferry Street, and notices regarding the estates of local residents John McIntire and James Adair.

Notices related to unsettled debts, defaults on mortgages, and notices regarding money owed to or from an estate were very frequent in the Western Spectator. In this example, which appeared in the November 22, 1805 issue, Henry Corl, Jr., of Charlton, requests that any debts owed to him be paid at his store in Schenectady by March 1. Remaining unsettled debts were to be turned over to an attorney for collection after that date. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Notice of opening of school of architecture in Schenectady that appeared in the Western Spectator on December 14, 1804. The first part of the notice had originally appeared in a previous issue of the newspaper. The second part of the notice was added in this issue to confirm that the school opened on December 1 and that they were still accepting students. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Advertisement for sale of lottery tickets at the Schenectady post office, from the January 11, 1805 Western Spectator. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Man's Best Friend: Dogs in the Collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library

Dorothea Godfrey of Schenectady and her canine friend Zev enjoy some outdoor reading in this photograph, taken in the early 1930s. Image from Godfrey Family Collection.

Dogs have been reliable workers and companions for humans for many thousands of years. In Schenectady County, as is the case around the world, humans have loved and shared their lives with canine friends throughout history. Dogs pop up in city, suburb, and rural scenes in Schenectady County, and are found especially frequently among family photographs and with children.

Enjoy these images of dogs found in our library's collections. Interested in learning more? Visit our Library or contact our Librarian.

An unidentified dog noses around the Duane Mansion in Duanesburg in this undated photo. Image from Larry Hart Collection

A young Katharine Furman poses with the family dog in this photograph taken at a Schenectady studio in the 1880s. Image from Godfrey Family Collection.

A curious neighborhood dog follows a Schenectady mailman on his route, circa 1950. Image from Larry Hart Collection

Bonnie and Alan Hart, the children of local historian Larry Hart, cuddle at home with their new puppy in 1951. Larry Hart's notes on the back of the photograph read, "Corky's first day at home ... he was 4 weeks and a day old at the time." Image from Larry Hart Collection

A dog comes along for a ride with owner Lucas W. Devenpeck and an unidentified driver. Image from Devenpeck photograph file, Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

At the 1949 cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Schenectady Animal Protective Foundation's new animal shelter on Maple Avenue in Glenville, a local dog was honored with a special role. The homeless dog was found the day before the ceremony on Rosendale Road, and was enlisted to help lay the cornerstone of the new shelter that would house animals like him on their way to finding new homes. The humans in the photo are, left to right: Alfred Nicholaus, life member of the Animal Protective Foundation (APF); Harry R. Summerhayes, Jr., President of the APF; Donald Wait, the humane officer of the APF who found the dog; Hazel Eddy, Vice President of APF. Image from Larry Hart Collection

Members of the Van Vranken family pose with their dog outside their home in West Glenville. Image from Van Vranken photograph file, Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Mont Pleasant High School principal George Spaine shakes hands with a dog outside of the high school in 1942. Image from Larry Hart Collection

Three dogs join their companions, unidentified members of the Van Horn family, for relaxation on a sunlit stoop. Image from Van Horne photograph file, Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Barracks, Brewhouses, and Burial Grounds: The Jonathan Pearson Street Books

This undated hand-drawn map by Lawrence Vrooman is an example of one of the rare original documents pasted into the Street Books. The map illustrates the intersection of Front Street, Ferry Street, and Green Street in Schenectady. Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 3, portion of Page 7, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The Jonathan Pearson Street Books are a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in the history of Schenectady from the early Dutch settlement through the mid-nineteenth century, or in researching genealogy and people of Schenectady from that time period. The Street Books are also a valuable resource for people researching the history of homes in the Stockade Historic District and in or near downtown Schenectady.

This page from the Street Books includes notes from an 1816 deed and illustrates property owned at the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street south of Mill Creek. Mill Creek, which ran off of the Binnekill, was piped in the 1880s. Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 3, Page 150a, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The Jonathan Pearson Street Books consist of four scrapbook volumes of notes and sketch maps regarding property ownership in Schenectady, created and compiled by nineteenth-century Schenectady historian Jonathan Pearson. Pearson was born in New Hampshire, but moved to Schenectady as a young man and attended Union College. After graduating, Pearson taught at Union and served as the college's librarian for nearly fifty years. He developed a keen interest in the history of his adopted city and became a prominent historian of Schenectady. Pearson wrote a number of works about the history of Schenectady, including Contributions for the Genealogies of the Descendants of the First Settlers of the Patent and City of Schenectady, 1662-1800 (1873), History of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Schenectady (1880), and History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times (1883). Pearson also learned Dutch to be able to translate early records that documented the history of Schenectady and Albany.

The historical notes that Pearson makes about the history of how streets were named or referred to is a particularly interesting feature of the Street Books. The images included here is one of two pages about names once used to refer to Ferry Street, including "New Street," "Market Street," and "The street that leads directly up to the Fort Gate." Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 3, Page 2a, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The Street Books focus primarily on Schenectady’s original settlement area, now defined as the Stockade Historic District; to a lesser extent, the Street Books also cover the areas east and south of the original settlement. Source records referenced in Pearson’s handwritten notes include deeds, mortgages, wills, and other documents. Some notes appear to refer to documents held in private ownership. Occasionally, Pearson includes full transcribed copies of documents in addition to his notes. He also includes notes relative to the history of particular streets and alternate names the streets may have been known by before Schenectady streets were first given official names in 1799.

The Street Books occasionally include original documents pasted in among Pearson's note, such as this broadside advertising Jay Street properties up for auction in 1871. Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 3, Page 82, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

The original arrangement of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books has been maintained. Each volume contains a section dedicated to a specific street. Streets covered by the Street Books include Amanda Street (now Chapel Street), Barrett Street, Church Street, College Street, Ferry Street, Fonda Street (now the portion of Jay Street north of Union Street), Front Street, Green Street, Jay Street, Jefferson Street, Liberty Street, Maiden Lane (now Broadway), Mill Lane, North Street, Pine Street, Rotterdam Street (once a portion of Washington Avenue south of State Street), State Street, Union Street, Washington Street (now Avenue), and Water Street (now the closed portion of street between Washington Avenue and South Church Street that runs just south of present-day Liberty Park).

This page from the Street Books includes Pearson's notes from the will of Harmanus Peek and a sketch map based on information from the will. Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 3, Page 72b, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The physical volumes of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books are very fragile, as they are often composed of very thin paper pasted in layers on acidic scrapbook paper. To minimize damage to the original volumes, volunteers in the Grems-Doolittle Library have created high-quality digital scans of each page of the Street Books for general access.

Although small sketch maps are usually included at the bottom of a page of notes, some of Pearson's sketch maps are more elaborate, such as this piece of a map showing property ownership near the intersection of Liberty Street and College Street. Pearson also indicates how the construction of the Erie Canal transformed the interection. Image from Jonathan Pearson Street Books, Book 4, portion of Page 84, in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

Volunteers also indexed all instances of names of people, street names, landmarks, waterways, and other features found in the Street Books. The index to the Street Books makes it possible to quickly and easily find references to a variety of pieces of information. Genealogy researchers can locate where their ancestors owned property in Schenectady. Researchers of military history and fortification in Schenectady can quickly find references to forts, garrisons, palisades, and blockhouses. Researchers interested in occupations and industry can easily find references to mills, taverns, breweries, blacksmiths, hotels, restaurants, and tanneries. Those interested in transportation can find information related to bridges, ferries, railroads, and the Erie Canal. There are myriad possible research uses of this information-rich resource.

Some images from the Jonathan Pearson Street Books are included here. Researchers can gain full access to the scanned images of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books by visiting our Library or contacting our Librarian. A master index and guide to the Jonathan Pearson Street Books can be found by clicking this link.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Girls from Schenectady High School laugh with delight after riding the Shoot-the-Chute at Rexford Park during a senior class trip to the amusement park in 1908. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

The invention of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900 revolutionized photography. Its low cost and the ease of using the camera not only made photography more accessible to everyone, including young people; it also led to the creation of the snapshot. From the Brownie era to the iPhone era, young people have enjoyed casually snapping photos of themselves and their friends, and sharing them with each other.

A number of photographs of Schenectady County girls and young ladies, simply having fun, are presented here. Enjoy them!

Interested in exploring the Schenectady County's past through photographs? Visit our Library or contact our Librarian.

Two teenage girls dress up in 1890s-era clothing and pose as a "Gay Nineties" bicycling gentleman and lady in this 1939 photo. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Girls play basketball in gym glass at Van Corlaer Junior High School in this 1956 photo. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Nott Terrace High School cheerleaders huddle up for this 1949 photo snapped in a school corridor. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

A group of Schenectady High School girls pose at a trolley stop in this photo, ca. 1910. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Girls enjoy a lunchtime chat by their lockers at Mont Pleasant High School in this 1942 photograph. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

Margaret Hoffman laughs as Kathleen McElroy fits her into the Cinderella slipper at the 1948 Nott Terrace High School Junior Prom. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Schenectady's Wall Street

This 1850 Schenectady city map shows the single block of Wall Street, running parallel to the Erie Canal between State Street and Liberty Street. The Givens Hotel was located on the east side of the street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Map Collection. 

Schenectady's Wall Street has its origin from around the time that the "third stockade" was constructed in Schenectady around 1776. The street ran along the inside of the eastern wall of the stockade, connecting Front Street and State Street. In the street's early years, the entire stretch of street was called Wall Street. After Union College established its building on the street, the section between Union Street and Green Street became known as College Street. The part of the street north of Union Street was briefly named Elbow Street before becoming a part of College Street as well.

This map shows the locations of three stockades built around the settlement at Schenectady, overlaid on a modern map of the modern Stockade Historic District. The location of Wall Street can be found along the eastern edge of the third stockade, built around 1776. Image from Colonial Schenectady in Maps by Susan Staffa (1983). 

In 1825, the construction of the Erie Canal cut Wall Street down even further. The section of Wall Street west of the canal also became a part of College Street, and Wall Street was reduced to a single block, running between State Street and Liberty Street. Although the street was small, its proximity to the railroad tracks and the Erie Canal made it a bustling little street. Businesses along that section of the canal set their storefronts on Wall Street and drew merchandise from barges on the canal side. The early 1840s saw the construction of a railroad station and the Givens Hotel there.

This view of State Street from the 1880s shows railroad tracks in Schenectady when they were at the street level. In the center of the photograph is Givens Hotel, which stood on State Street between the railroad tracks to the east and Wall Street to the west. The entrance to Wall Street can be seen behind the Givens Hotel in this image. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Although it was busy, its proximity to the railroad and canal did not make it a pretty place to do business. Historian Larry Hart wrote that by the late 1870s, "the east side of Wall Street was not too pleasant a sight. Clustered near the grade level crossing at State Street were a shabby little restaurant and saloon, weatherbeaten sheds and wood fences, grimy with wood soot." Wall Street blossomed in the 1880s. The a new railroad depot opened there in 1882; the Givens Hotel was demolished and the Edison Hotel was erected in its place in 1889. A right-of-way along the railroad tracks north of Liberty Street was tacked on to the end of Wall Street to accommodate the Central Arcade, a complex of 20 shops and offices.

This 1889 photograph shows the area once occupied by the Givens Hotel at the corner of Wall Street and State Street, before the Edison Hotel was constructed in its place. The row of businesses that ran along Wall Street can be seen at left, and Schenectady's train station can be seen in the rear center of the photograph. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

However, changes in the community changed the fate of Wall Street. The elevation of the city's railroad tracks in 1905 affected Wall Street profoundly, as it went from being a bustling street to a side street. Wall Street suffered another blow as Erie Boulevard replaced the Erie Canal in 1925. Businesses which had formerly had their storefronts on Wall Street now changed to face Erie Boulevard. In the early 1970s, the buildings which once ran along Wall Street were demolished to make room for additional downtown parking. Today, the street no longer exists.

This view of Wall Street in January 1971 looks south toward State Street. The Crown Hotel, at left, was demolished later that year, along with a number of other buildings along Wall Street. The side of the former railroad station, which had closed in 1969, can be seen at the far left. It was also demolished in 1971. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.