Thursday, January 30, 2014

Local Abolitionist Isaac Groot Duryee

Isaac Groot Duryee in 1860. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Isaac Groot Duryee (sometimes spelled Duryea) was born in Glenville in 1810 to William Duryee and Sarah Groot. As a young man, he first worked as a grocery clerk in Schenectady, then established his own grocery business. Duryee was attracted to religion during a revival held in the city in 1832. Following the revival, he became a member of the First Reformed Church.

As a young man, Duryee's devotion to the abolitionist cause became apparent. By the mid-1830s, he was contributing to the American Anti-Slavery Society. During his time as a student at Union College, from which he graduated in 1838, Duryee co-founded an Anti-Slavery Society at the college in 1836, and co-founded the Anti-Slavery Society of the City of Schenectady  in 1838. He also helped to found the first African-American church in Schenectady, known as the African Church (now the Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church), in 1837. As President of the Union College Anti-Slavery Society, Duryee wrote that the group would "cease not in every proper way to vindicate [slaves'] cause until their wrongs shall have been redressed and the last vestige of slavery be wiped from our beloved republic." In addition to his public agitation for the freedom of slaves and the rights of African-Americans, his granddaughter, Ruth M. Duryee, wrote in 1937 for a Union College alumni record that Duryee was active with the Underground Railroad, helping “many an escaping negro from Schenectady to the next stop, with the negro lying flat under hay in the back of the wagon.”

Present location of the Duryee Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church at 307 Hulett Street in Schenectady. The church is named on honor of Isaac Groot Duryee, who helped to establish the church's first building on Jay Street. August 2011 image obtained via Google Maps

In 1837, Duryee wrote to the Schenectady Cabinet about Schenectady's African-American community. He decried the racism that members of the community faced, writing that African-American Schenectadians were "represented as a mass of ignorant, slothful, miserable paupers - unable and unwilling to provide for themselves, and almost wholly incapable of moral and intellectual improvement." In contrast, Duryee wrote of the contributions that African-Americans made locally -- financially through their taxes to the public coffers, as well as in the works of African-American temperance and mutual relief societies, and in organizing ably to create a school and church. Duryee also noted that 13 of the 39 former slaves in the community had had to purchase their freedom. In comparison to these efforts, Duryee wrote, "we may safely challenge the [white] community to produce a like example of industry, perseverance, and generosity."

On the subject of education, Duryee remarked that "the cause of education among the people of colour has never received the least support from the school fund. They have paid their full proportion of taxes . .. but [those funds] have all been appropriated for the education of other children. Perhaps it will be said, that coloured children stand as good a chance as white children. It is not so. The doors of our public school are closed against the former, while they are open to the latter -- thereby excluding colored children even from the opportunity of receiving any advantage of the public fund." Duryee insisted that, barring integration of Schenectady's schools, African-Americans at the very least had a right to money from the public funds -- which they had contributed to -- to support a school their children could attend. "A greater outrage was never committed upon the rights of the poor," Duryee wrote in the conclusion of his letter.

Duryee left Schenectady for a period of fourteen years after graduating from Union College in 1838. He graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1841 and married Lydia Auger Budington in 1842, shortly before he became ordained as a minister. He served Reformed Church congregations in Fallsburg and Glenham before returning to Schenectady to serve as the first pastor of the Second Reformed Church, from 1852 to 1858. During his years in Schenectady, he continued to support rights and dignity for African-Americans in Schenectady. In 1854, he was selected as one of eight commissioners to serve of Schenectady's first Board of Education.

The Second Reformed Church was, during Duryee's tenure as pastor there, in this church building at the corner of Jay and Liberty Streets. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Duryee also spoke up among his fellows in the Reformed Church to denounce the institution of slavery. In a meeting of the Reformed Church General Synod in 1855, ministers met to discuss whether to form an ecclesiastical relationship with a North Carolina Classis of the German Reformed Church. During discussion of the resolution, Isaac Duryee objected to receiving the North Carolina Classis because, in his view, owning slaves was a sin. "The question of slavery is the great question of this nation," Duryee said in remarks printed in the New York Daily Tribune, "and when the line is to be drawn I shall not be slow to show which side I am on. Sir, I am on the side of Liberty - Freedom . . . I can say that my inmost soul shrinks from extending the fellowship of our church to slaveholding churches as I shrink from the touch of the torpedo." The Tribune praised Duryee's courage in standing firmly against slavery, given, as they put it, that "the predominant feeling in the Church has been adverse to talking any stand with reference to the great reforms of the day."

In 1859, Duryee again left Schenectady to serve a congregation in Montgomery County. From 1862 to 1865, he served as a chaplain to the 81st New York State Volunteers during the Civil War. Duryee served with that regiment through the war, but became sick during the war and never fully recovered after his return to Schenectady. He died on February 8, 1866, at age 55, leaving his wife and eight children. He is buried in Vale Cemetery. An obituary published in the Schenectady Republican praised his "large experience," his "warm heart," and his "unselfish and elevated purposes." Duryee "was a great friend of the colored race," wrote Edward Corwin in A Manual of the Reformed Church in America in 1902. "He was an Abolitionist and not afraid to speak when it was yet unpopular to advocate the rights of a common humanity for all."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"First in Schenectady to Serve You Hot Dogs:" The New Way Lunch

Local photographer John Papp captured this image of the New Way Lunch in October 1966, soon before the building was demolished and a new building was constructed. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection. 

For over half a century, a lunch spot on Albany Street operated by the Stathis family served up hot dogs to Schenectady's residents and visitors. According to John E. Stathis, son of the founder of New Way Lunch and the business' proprietor from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s, the New Way Lunch was established in 1919 by his father, Evangel Stathis, who immigrated to Schenectady from Greece.

This photograph shows the process of constructing the new New Way Lunch building at 705 Albany Street in Schenectady in December 1966. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection. 

The younger Stathis claimed that the New Way Lunch was the first business to serve hot dogs in the city of Schenectady, and the first to serve them with a special secret sauce. "My father-in-law glorified the hot dog," said Irene Stathis, wife of John E. Stathis, in a 1967 newspaper interview. "He became famous for his sauce. It was his own recipe and he handed it down to John. John is the only one who makes the sauce. He puts the ingredients in a bag and shakes them up. It's all very secret. But the one thing that is not secret is that the hot dog is king here."

Portion of an advertisement for the New Way Lunch in a 1957 Schenectady Gazette. The advertisement touts the business' hot dogs, meat sauce, and coffee. To promote their anniversary, New Way Lunch offered hot dogs for sale at their 1919 price of 5 cents each. Image obtained via

The New Way Lunch first appears in the 1920 city directory, at 704 Albany Street, with Evangel Stathis listed as the proprietor. The business soon moved to 710 Albany Street, where it remained for a number of years until relocating to 705 Albany Street around 1942. The New Way Lunch is not be be confused with Newest Lunch, which operated nearby on the same block of Albany Street; the Newest Lunch opened just a few years after the New Way Lunch went into business.

These two images show the interior of the rebuilt New Way Lunch building soon after in opened in 1967. The seating capacity of the new building was nearly double of their prior building. Image from John Papp Photograph Collection.  

During the 1920s and 1930s, New Way Lunch had two locations in Schenectady. New Way Lunch, the Albany Street business, was operated by Evangel Stathis, while New Way Lunch #2, at 3 South Centre Street (now Broadway), was operated by his brother, Charles Stathis, and Charles' son Peter. In 1947, Evangel's son John assumed ownership of the business, and continued to run it until 1973. In 1973, the business was sold to Henry McCadden, Sr., who advertised the business as Hank's New Way Lunch. McCadden operated the New Way Lunch for several years before changing the business to the New Way Grocery and Deli in the early 1980s.

"Beat Inflation ... Eat at ... Hank's New Way Lunch," reads this 1974 advertisement that appeared in the Schenectady Gazette. After running the New Way Lunch as a family business for over 50 years, the Stathis family sold the business to Henry McCadden in 1973. Image obtained via

In addition to selling hot dogs in the restaurant, the New Way Lunch also catered parties and took orders for special events, providing hundreds of hot dogs and gallons of their secret sauce. At least once, the business conducted a hot dog eating contest. "One man ate 28 and we almost carried him out," Irene Stathis remembered. From time to time, John Stathis would celebrate anniversaries of the New Way Lunch by offering hot dogs for sale at their 1919 price - only 5 cents each.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Waterway Gone Underground: Schenectady's Cowhorn Creek

Local youths gather to watch workers pipe Cowhorn Creek, southeast of the present-day intersection of State Street and Broadway, in this photograph circa 1896. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

When we speak of Schenectady County waterways, the first that spring to mind are the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. But there are also a number of streams that flow -- and sometimes trickle -- throughout Schenectady County. In the city itself, a number of creeks were piped during the period of Schenectady's industrialization and large-scale expansion at the turn of the twentieth century. This is the case with Schenectady's Cowhorn Creek, which flowed out of Iroquois Lake in Central Park, through downtown Schenectady, and into Mill Creek, before emptying into the Mohawk River.

In this 1698 map of Schenectady by Wolfgang Roemer, reprinted and annotated in Susan Staffa's Colonial Maps of Schenectady, shows Mill Creek/Cowhorn Creek flowing off of the Binnekill south of present-day State Street.

The earliest European settlers used the area's creeks to power mills. A 1698 map of the settlement at Schenectady shows a mill on the creek, very near a brewhouse constructed on the north side of the creek. As Schenectady expanded and its population grew, creeks that ran through the city became increasingly polluted by garbage and waste and presented a public health concern. Robert V. Wells, in his book Facing the "King of Terrors:" Death and Society in An American Community, 1750-1990, refers to the creeks that ran through the city as being "little better than open sewers" at the close of the nineteenth century. Initially, the city tried to make property owners along Cowhorn Creek responsible for keeping the creek clean, before taking responsibility for piping and covering Cowhorn Creek in 1896.

Cowhorn Creek comes to the surface inside scenic Vale Cemetery, as seen in this photograph by Paula Lemire in 2013. A portion of Cowhorn Creek was dammed to create a pond in the cemetery. Image obtained from

Today, the Cowhorn Creek still flows, but it flows in pipes underground, beneath businesses on State Street. Cowhorn Creek does make an above-ground appearance in Vale Cemetery, where it enhances the beauty of this historic cemetery. Visit our Library or send an email to our Librarian to find other resources to explore the history of Schenectady County's waterways.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Radical Life and Tragic Decline of Warren Starr Van Valkenburgh

Image of front page of the anarchist newspaper Road to Freedom while under the editorship of Warren Starr Van Valkenburgh. 

Schenectady’s association with radical politics in the first quarter of the twentieth century is perhaps most associated with George Lunn, Schenectady’s first and only Socialist mayor. Another of Schenectady’s radicals of the period, Warren Starr Van Valkenburgh, is much less well known. A Socialist-turned-anarchist, critic of Lunn, and friend of the famous anarchist Emma Goldman, Van Valkenburgh experienced his political awakening in Schenectady and brought his perspective about local events to a broader audience through articles in Goldman’s magazine, Mother Earth. After relocating to the New York City area, Van Valkenburgh achieved some prominence as the editor of Road to Freedom, the most prominent anarchist periodical of the 1920s. However, the last ten years of Van Valkenburgh’s life were a struggle, marred by spotty employment and heavy drinking. This article serves as but a scant sketch of the life of a man whose personal history intersected with the history of Schenectady for about a decade.

Warren Starr Van Valkenburgh was born in 1884 in Albany. Van Valkenburgh first appears in the 1909 city directory, living at 10 Duane Avenue and working for General Electric as a bookkeeper. By 1914 he and his wife had moved to Scotia, where the couple and their two children would live until the family relocated to Staten Island around 1918.

The 1910s were a dynamic time in Schenectady. Between 1900 and 1920, the city’s population nearly tripled, as workers flocked to Schenectady to work at G.E. and the American Locomotive Company. The voices of reformers, suffragists, labor organizers, and Socialists were growing in volume and in number throughout the decade. Van Valkenburgh became involved with the Socialist Party soon after moving to the city. On September 19, 1912, he wrote a letter officially resigning from the party in favor of anarchism. He served as secretary of the Economic Club (soon renamed the Sociology Club), a group organized to study and debate social problems, from 1914 to 1918. One of his associates in the Sociology Club, Shankar Gokhale, was also active with Van Valkenburgh in co-founding the Schenectady Free Thought Society, an organization formed for the study and discussion of religious thought, in 1915.

Downtown Schenectady in 1910. This view shows State Street from Centre Street (now Broadway) looking toward Jay Street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Although Van Valkenburgh was somewhat politically active locally, his connections outside of Schenectady proved to be of more consequence in his life. Around 1912, he began corresponding with Emma Goldman, the anarchist orator who was branded “the most hated woman in America” after being accused of complicity in the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. Van Valkenburgh would become one of Goldman’s lifelong friends and correspondents and, in later years, helped to raise funds to support her financially while she wrote her memoirs. He also organized three speaking engagements for her in Schenectady in the early part of 1915.

Goldman’s local lectures provided a focus for Van Valkenburgh’s criticisms of Mayor George Lunn in what would be his first article for Mother Earth. In addition to anarchist luminaries such as Peter Kropotkin and Lucy Parsons, Mother Earth featured articles by Margaret Sanger, Leo Tolstoy, Margaret Anderson, and Helen Keller, and featured cover art by Man Ray and Robert Minor. Its subscribers numbered about 10,000. Van Valkenburgh’s article, “Schenectady Socialism,” appeared in the May 1915 issue. In it, he charged that The Citizen’s refusal to accept a paid advertisement for one of Goldman’s lectures, the paper’s insinuation that Goldman’s lectures were organized by the Democrats, and Lunn’s refusal to debate Goldman on the grounds that “debates settle nothing” -- while he engaged in a series of debates with other politicians -- amounted to hypocrisy on Lunn’s part. “There was a time when I believed Dr. Lunn as a sincere man,” he wrote. “Now I know he is an unscrupulous charlatan ... As a politician he can operate the steam roller with the dexterity of Elihu Root ... If he believes in a free press, as he says he does, it is in the other fellow’s paper, not his own. It would be a treat to hear him wax warm in his verbosity if only he could be induced to take as his theme some Sunday night, ‘Why I preach one thing and practice another.’” Van Valkenburgh closed by stating his hope that Schenectadians would soon realize that the city was the victim of “too much Socialist politics and too little social conscience.”

Another of Van Valkenburgh’s articles, in the November 1915 issue of Mother Earth, discussed a strike at General Electric for an eight-hour workday. By the evening of the second day of the strike, 12,000 workers were participating. “The most illustrious feature, aside from the unity of the strikers, was the total absence of violence,” wrote Van Valkenburgh. “The parade of more than twelve thousand men, women and girls, peacefully walking into a struck factory for their pay without a policeman in sight was a wonderfully majestic spectacle.”  The latter half of the article stressed the importance of including office workers in the future of labor organizing, a view perhaps influenced by Van Valkenburgh’s own position as a bookkeeper. In the end, the workers returned to their jobs after five weeks, not having won their demands. Despite this loss, Van Valkenburgh stated that the result of the strike should not discourage the workers, citing their courage in taking on G.E. as “ample proof that they will not long remain in servitude without protest.” Alongside this championing of the striking workers, Van Valkenburgh could not resist taking some digs at Lunn, implying that the support voiced for the strike in the pages of The Citizen was a cynical ploy to secure votes for Lunn that fall: “for his paper to do anything else,” he wrote, “would eventuate in political suicide, and the crafty Dr. Lunn has no such good intentions.”

Aside from the articles written with a local focus, Van Valkenburgh wrote many other short pieces on a variety of topics during his time in Schenectady, including militarism, the execution of labor activist Joseph Hillstrom, and a championing of the birth control movement as led by Margaret Sanger. In addition to writing articles for Mother Earth, he also contributed to The Blast, edited by Alexander Berkman, Revolt and Road to Freedom, both edited by Hippolyte Havel, and Instead of a Magazine, edited by Herman Kuehn.

Around 1918, Van Valkenburgh moved to the New York City area, where he would live for the remainder of his life. He was hired to work in advertising for the Elliott-Fisher Company, a manufacturer of typewriters. In 1927 he was fired from his position following his active and public involvement on behalf of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrant anarchists accused of murder in one of America’s most notorious trials. Van Valkenburgh’s statements about the case made the New York papers, and he was convinced that this was the reason for his termination. Following his dismissal, he found it very difficult to find lasting employment and was convinced that he had been blacklisted. In late 1934, he wrote to anarchist printer Joseph Ishill: “Since that fateful year [1927] I have held about six jobs at different times, from each of which I was removed either because of some indescretion [sic] regarding my opinions ... or because of some reason which the boss was ‘not at liberty to divulge.’ That infamous black-list ... does, in fact, exist ... In the last 7 years, I have possibly worked three.” He had tried to salvage his professional career by assuming a pseudonym, Walter Starrett, for his political writing and activity after he was fired.

Van Valkenburgh’s compatriots in New York City remembered him as a fiery speaker with a sharp tongue. Jack Frager recalled him as “an acid critic of his opponents [who] refused to show tact or pull punches.” Franz Fleigler characterized Van Valkenburgh as having “the native flavor of American sharpness and a good manner of talking and making sense at the same time.” Louis Slater recalled him being knocked off of the speaker’s platform in Union Square by his Communist opponents. A 1931 New York Times article describes a rally where Van Valkenburgh drew boos for comparing the United States favorably to the Soviet Union, saying that politicians “are all alike, whether in New York, Centralia, or Moscow, and you can’t hold a protest meeting in Moscow, but in capitalist America you can at least speak.” When booed, he retorted, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” and characterized those heckling him as “the children of Jesuits in Moscow.”

Along with his speeches, Van Valkenburgh’s friends in New York also remembered his heavy drinking following his dismissal from Elliott-Fisher. “He drank very heavily,” Sarah Taback remembered. “One day while walking to a meeting I saw him lying in the gutter on 14th Street, drunk and dirty and mumbling to himself.” Arnold Leonard Ross recalled that Van Valkenburgh “never got over” his firing. “He took to drink and fell heavily into debt and finally separated from his wife.” After Road to Freedom ceased publication in 1932, Van Valkenburgh became less prominent in anarchist circles, although during the last years of his life he remained active, bringing speakers to New York City and editing the periodical Spanish Revolution in support of the anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. He died on May 22, 1938, at the age of 53. Following his death, Challenge: A Libertarian Weekly remembered him as “a man who willingly gave up position, career and personal security out of devotion to an Ideal.”