Friday, February 28, 2014

Friends and Neighbors: The Sketchbook of Grace Buck

Drawings of Eugenie Des Jardins and Mrs. Mabel T. Buck. Eugenie Des Jardins was a classmate of Grace's who lived nearby on Oakwood Avenue. Mabel T. Buck was Grace's grandmother; she came to live in the home with Grace and her parents in the mid-1930s. Image from Grace Buck Sketchbook, collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

The library recently received a compelling sketchbook created by a local young woman, Grace Buck, in the early 1930s, when the artist was 13 and 14 years old. Among the drawings of cartoon characters and film stars from magazines are several pencil drawings of Grace's family members, friends, and neighbors. Grace Buck's sketchbook is interesting not only because it captures the work of a young woman in our area, but because she depicts in her drawings a number of people who lived around her. Images taken from her sketchbook are included here.

Photograph of Grace Buck from 1937 Mont Pleasant High School yearbook. As a young person, Grace was active in the A Capella Choir and the Art Club at Mont Pleasant. Image from the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Grace Augusta Buck was born in Schenectady in 1918 to Daisy (Gilbert) and William Buck. She attended Pleasant Valley School, then went on to Mont Pleasant High School, where she graduated in 1937. In the 1937 Mont Pleasant High School yearbook, she is listed as being involved in Art Club and the A Capella Choir. While it is unknown as to whether she continued to draw, she continued to sing for decades, as a soloist and in choirs. After she graduated from high school, Grace began to work for the General Electric Company. She was active in the First Methodist Church, Rotterdam Homeowners Association, the Schenectady Choral Society, Schenectady Floricultural Society, and in alumni activities for Mont Pleasant High School. She married Willard Roy Hunt in 1956; the couple resided at the same home on Flower Road in Rotterdam where Grace grew up. Grace Buck Hunt died in 2012. She is buried at Schenectady Memorial Park in Rotterdam.

Drawings of Virginia and Beatrice Rolfe, daughters of Floyd and Bertha Rolfe, who lived nearby on Lakeview Avenue. Image from Grace Buck Sketchbook, collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library.

Drawing of Grace's mother, Daisy (Gilbert) Buck. Image from Grace Buck Sketchbook, collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Several of the drawings in the sketchbook, like this image, depict actresses and models that Grace had drawn from photographs. Image from Grace Buck Sketchbook, collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

"A Street With a Past:" Images of Broadway

Aerial view showing a portion of Broadway near the railroad tracks. The large white building was the Schenectady Paint and Varnish Company. Image from Grems-Doolittle library Photograph Collection. 

Present-day Broadway begins just north of Union Street and extends to the Five Corners intersection in the town of Rotterdam. The street was originally known as Maiden Lane, before being renamed Centre/Center Street during the 1850s and finally named Broadway. In 1930, the different parts of Broadway were known by three different names: it was North Center Street from the short stretch of road between Warren Street and Pine Street down to Union Street, South Center Street from south of Union Street to State Street, and Broadway south of State Street. Industries lined up along Broadway, as did businesses and residences.

1914 image of Broadway looking north from the corner of Edison Avenue. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

The Broadway streetcar, 1903. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

European settlers lived along what is now Broadway during the community's earliest settlement; some of the people killed in the Schenectady Massacre of 1690 lived near the intersection of present-day Broadway and State Street. By the mid-nineteenth century, Broadway both north and south of State Street served as a busy commercial district as well as a residential area, and activity intensified as Schenectady's downtown developed through the turn of the 20th century as the General Electric Company drew thousands of people to Schenectady. Through the early decades of the 20th century, immigrants from Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Italy as well as African-Americans coming to Schenectady from the southern states settled along Broadway near the G.E. plant. Past the railroad underpass, the community of Bellevue developed. Included here are just a few images from days gone by from Broadway, particularly south of State Street.

This 1956 photograph of Broadway between Millard and Hamilton Streets shows buildings that were demolished as part of an urban renewal project in the late 1950s. The second building from the right was Detroy's Chicken Shack, a former jazz landmark. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

The illuminated window display at Star Furniture, 115 South Centre Street, in 1933. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Broadway looking south at Campbell Avenue in Bellevue. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

1895 image of businesses at 334 South Centre Street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Broadway just south of State Street, looking south. This photograph was taken in 1966. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Undated photograph of the public market bounded by Broadway, Hamilton Street, and Van Guysling Avenue. The public market space was established in the mid-1910s. The large white building at left is the Schenectady County Coal Company. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Blacksmith shop of Julius Zemke at 402 Broadway in 1918. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"If This Paper Trembles When You Read It:" A Mysterious Love Letter

Incomplete love letter written by unknown woman, ca. 1790 (M-Letters-4).  Image from Mabee Family Papers, Grems-Doolittle Library. 

There are very few love letters in the collections of our library; one of the few in our collections is a very interesting one from the Mabee Family Papers. It is not clear whether this letter was ever sent; it may possibly be an incomplete draft. We do not know the identities of the letter writer or the intended recipient. This letter was written from a woman to a man, and may have been written in the late 1700s (a clue given by the use of the long s). The letter includes a rare glimpse into how the woman regards herself, saying she is neither a "tawdy gay thing" useful only for making bone lace nor "bed [lain] old," but, rather, what the world calls "a good agreeable woman."

The woman who wrote the letter was very frank in expressing her desire for her beloved, telling him that his form "strikes the eyes of your beholders with ideas more moving and forcible than ever were inspired by music, painting, or eloquence." Having not heard from the man for some time, she reaches out to him overcome with emotion and pleading for him to reply. "Pray, Sir, speak peace to a troubled heart," she writes. "Be pleased to excuse my blushes, for if this paper trembles when you read it, it then best expresses its author." In closing, she reveals "at this rate I am panting" and hopes to hear from him, "otherwise I am inevitably lost."

The original letter is fully transcribed below, with the line breaks, punctuation, and underlining of the original maintained.

it is now along time as I account it Since you and I have had any
mututal Converse by letters or any other way. which to me is a great
uneasyness but possybell you might not no where I am for to direct
any letter or wrighting and on that account I Shall not insist
on your infringment of frind Ship. Sir I formerly had avery
good Opinion of my Self but it is now withdrawn and plased on
you for whom I am not ashamed to declare and I am not without
hopes be Caus I am not like the tawdy gay thing that are fit only
to make bone Lace I am nither bed lani old nor yet yong and
Childish, but as the world Says a good agreable woman
pray Sir speak peace to a troubled heart. troubled only for you
be pleas'd to Ex Cuse my blushes for if this paper trembles when
you read it. it then best expresses its author for a Smile Set on
your lips prefaces your expressions before you utter them and
your aspect prevented you all you Can say tho you have an infinant
deal of wit is but a repitition of what is expressed by your form
which Strikes the eyes of your beholders with ideas more moveing
and forcable than ever were inspird by musick painting or eloquince
at this Rate I am panting who expeels Som Sivil thing
in retirn otherwise I am inevitably lost

Friday, February 7, 2014

Remembering the Schenectady Massacre

Schenectady Massacre by Samuel Sexton. Sexton focused primarily on portraiture, but this painting depicts the Massacre.  It portrays the atrocities committed against the people of Schenectady (such as the child's head being dashed against a wall), but also takes a number of inaccurate artistic liberties. In Sexton’s rendition, “Indians,” not French soldiers, attacked Schenectady. He also depicts a Schenectady that he was familiar with during his lifetime; brick, step-gabled homes insinuate a well-established community. The painting is part of Schenectady’s history as a fabricated romantic image of the past from the nineteenth century and as an artistic work by one of Schenectady’s most well-known artists. Image from collections of Schenectady County Historical Society.

This weekend marks the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre. Late at night on February 8, 1690, a group of French and their Native American allies attacked the small Dutch and English settlement at Schenectady. The raiders silently entered the gates while many were sleeping, and at a signal, began to sack and burn the town. The attack came in retaliation for a series of Iroquois raids on Canada, including the Lachine Massacre. The original objective of the raiders was to attack Albany; however, an attack Schenectady offered a more feasible and easy means to "punish the English" and strike fear into the hearts of those in the frontier communities.

Nineteenth-century illustration depicting people fleeing Schenectady as it burns. Image from Schenectady Massacre clipping file. 

A document written by Robert Livingston recounts the horrors of the attack:

"They divided themselves into three troops and after they had everything well spied out and found that the gates were open and that nowhere there was any sentinel on duty and that on account of the heavy snow which had fallen the day before no one had been in the woods by whom they could have been detected, the full wrath of God was poured out over us. Having posted three or four men before every house, they attacked simultaneously at the signal of a gun. They first set fire to the house of Adam Vroman, who when he offered resistance was shot through the hand. After several shots had been fired, his wife, hoping to find an opportunity to get away, opened the back door, whereupon she was immediately shot dead and devoured by the flames.... His eldest daughter...had her mother's child on her arm.... Asked...whether the child was heavy...she said yes, whereupon [one of the invaders]...took the child form her and taking it by the legs dashed its head against the sill of the house, so that the brains scattered over the bystanders....

"The women and children fled mostly into the woods, almost naked and there many froze to death.... Oh, we poor, miserable people, how we were scattered during that dreadful night, the husband being separated from his wife and the children from both, one hiding for 2 or 3 days in the woods and in swampy and marshy land, where God in His mercy nevertheless did not forget them....

"The rest, then, who escaped the bloody sword, were condemned to be prisoners, but here again God's guiding hand clearly appears, for many sorrowful women and children and some old men, seeing this dreadful journey ahead of them, which meant practically death, doubtless offered up their prayers to God, who from the depths of their woe granted them delivery.... Considering that the old men and children and also the women would be a hindrance to them in their flight, they [the French and their allies] discharged them from their place of confinement to the great joy of all...." (Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. More excerpts from this document can be read by visiting Digital History).

List of people killed in the Schenectady Massacre, from Documentary History of the State of New York by E.B. O'Callaghan. 

The men who invaded Schenectady burned nearly all the homes and barns in the community, and killed 60 people -- 38 men, 10 women and 12 children. 27 men and boys were taken prisoner to Canada, along with 50 horses. By morning (February 9), the settlement was in ruins. Many who were not killed or taken prisoner fled as refugees to Albany. Symon Schermerhorn famously rode while wounded to Albany to warn that community's denizens of possible attack. Following the Massacre, some fled the community never to return. Others remained at Schenectady to slowly rebuild the town.

This Dutch-language document was penned on behalf of the inhabitants of Schenectady following the Schenectady Massacre. Many of the survivors of the Massacre fled the settlement, but a small group of survivors began to rebuild the town, and in this document they offer a plan of attack, advising a “march to Canada with six hundred or more christians and as many savages as may be obtained” to bring ammunition and provisions “in order to do as much damage to the enemy as possible.” By May 1690, a Colonial Congress met at New York City to organize an attack on Canada, and the survivors at Schenectady had constructed a fort at the intersection of Washington Avenue and State Street for protection. Image from Historic Manuscripts Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library.