Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Life of Mordecai Myers

Portrait of Mordecai Myers in uniform, painted ca. 1810 by John Wesley Jarvis. The original painting is in the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio. 

The life of Mordecai Myers (1776-1871) intersected with the history of Schenectady for the last 23 years of Myers' life. Before coming to Schenectady, Myers had already had a full and interesting life. In his years as a young man in New York City, he was active with the Society of Tammany and the Freemasons, served in the New York Militia, and founded a brokerage and auctioneering firm. He had also been a military hero during the War of 1812. During his service in the War of 1812, me married Charlotte Bailey, who had nursed him to health after he was wounded in battle. The couple went on to have ten children. Myers first took public office in 1828 in the New York State Legislature. He served five terms. In 1836, Myers and his family moved to Kinderhook, New York, where he would serve as the mayor and as vice president of a local bank. In 1848, Myers moved to Schenectady.

Although Myers was already 72 when he moved to Schenectady, he did not slow down. He would serve as the first -- and, to date, only -- Jewish mayor of the city, elected in 1851 as a Democrat and again in 1854 as a Whig. "He was from the start a dedicated official," writes Neil Yetwin, a local educator and historian who has researched Myers' life extensively and who has recently produced the first annotated edition of Myers’ posthumous memoirs, "whose accomplishments ranged from authorizing a physician to vaccinate Schenectady's poorer citizens to persuading New York Central Railroad President Erastus Corning to slow the speeding trains from Albany that were causing safety hazards on Schenectady's main arteries." After Myers' second mayoral term was finished, he ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, in 1860 at the age of 84. Mordecai Myers died in 1871 at the age of 95. In his will, he left a $400 bequest to the city of Schenectady toward purchasing land for a hospital. Myers was buried in Vale Cemetery.

To learn more about the life of Mordecai Myers that spanned nearly a century, join us for a lecture by Neil Yetwin this Saturday, March 29. Details are below.

Major Mordecai Myers: An American-Jewish Hero of the War of 1812 

Presented by Neil Yetwin

Date: Saturday, March 29, 2014

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305

Admission: Free and open to the public. This event is sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities Speakers in the Humanities Program

In addition to speaking, Neil Yetwin will be signing and selling copies of Mordecai Myers’ posthumous memoirs, edited and annotated by Yetwin, entitled “To My Son...”: The Life and War Remembrances of Captain Mordecai Myers, 13th United States Infantry, 1812-1815.

For more information, please contact Librarian Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Schenectady from the Sky: Aerial Photographs

Scores of two-family homes can be seen in this residential aerial view of Schenectady, taken in 1918. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Aerial photographs -- photographs taken from an elevated position -- can be taken from airplanes and helicopters, hot-air balloons and blimps, and even from tall buildings. Aerial photography of cities and towns began in the late 1850s, but did not become widespread until after World War I. Aerial photographs in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library depict the city from 1918 through the 1980s. Here are just a few of the aerial photographs from our collections that show Schenectady County from above.

View of Clinton Street, looking west, in 1928. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

The village of Scotia and the Mohawk River feature prominently in this 1935 aerial view. The original Great Western Gateway Bridge (center) connected Scotia to Schenectady. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Aerial view of State Street in Schenectady, looking west, in 1952. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Aerial view of the newly-established Coldbrook housing development in Rotterdam, ca. 1950. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

This 1968 view shows Schenectady's riverfront, bounded by a railroad bridge on the left and the old Great Western Gateway bridge on the right. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Veteran's Park (formerly Crescent Park) is seen in this 1981 aerial view of State Street. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Volunteer Opportunities in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Researchers and volunteers at work in the Grems-Doolittle Library's reading room.

Are you interesting in volunteering in our library? Come join us! The Grems-Doolittle Library is currently seeking volunteers to assist with a number of projects, including:

  • Data entry and cataloging
  • Indexing
  • Rehousing collections
  • Scanning projects
  • Customer service
  • Research work (for research guides and bibliographies, finding aids, and blog entries)
  • Clerical duties (photocopying, shelving, filing)
  • Shelf reading
  • Creating inventories

Library volunteers in the stacks in our reading room. 

If you are interested in volunteering, you are encouraged to attend the upcoming Volunteer College informational session to be held this Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Event: Volunteer College: Volunteer Opportunities in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Date: Saturday, March 15, 2014

Time: 10:30 a.m.

Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305

There is no need to pre-register if you plan to attend. If you cannot attend, but are interested in volunteering, please contact our Librarian/Archivist, Melissa Tacke, by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or send an email to

This informational session is part of an ongoing Volunteer College series of programs open to all who are interested in volunteering for all sites of the Schenectady County Historical Society. Volunteer College sessions are generally held the third Saturday of every month at 10:30 a.m. For more information about the Volunteer College series, contact our Educator/Assistant Curator, Jenna Peterson, by phone at 518-887-5073, ext. 104, or send an email to

Friday, March 7, 2014

Happy Birthday, Schenectady County!

This basic county map depicts Schenectady County today. Image from

Today marks the date the Schenectady County was established. On March 7, 1809, Schenectady County split off of Albany County. Albany County was one of the original counties in the colony of New York created in November 1683 by colonial governor Thomas Dongan. The act creating Albany County defined the territory of the county "to containe the Towns of Albany, the Collony Rensselaerwyck, Schonecteda, and all the villages, neighborhoods, and Christian Planta├žons on the east side of Hudson River from Roelef's Creek, and on the west side from Sawyer's Creek (Saugerties) to the Sarraghtoga." Although the boundaries of Albany County changed many times over the next 125 years, Schenectady and the surrounding towns remained part of Albany County. When Schenectady County was created in 1809, it was the last change made to the boundaries of Albany County.

Portion of map of New York Province, 1776, showing Albany County, which at that time included the area that would later become Schenectady County. Image from People of Colonial Albany Live Here site, New York State Museum (

Portion of 1808 New York State map showing Albany County, one year before Schenectady County split from Albany County. Image from collections of Grems-Doolittle Library.

When Schenectady County was created, it consisted of the city of Schenectady and the towns of Duanesburg, Princetown, and Niskayuna (Niskayuna itself being newly incorporated from Watervliet on the same date). Glenville and Rotterdam would be incorporated from the city of Schenectady several years later, in 1820. The act that created Schenectady County charged the county with its new responsibilities to prepare a court house and jail, record deeds, maintain records of election returns, collect taxes, and to appoint a county clerk and county treasurer. The city of Schenectady was chosen as the county seat. The History of the County of Schenectady, authored by George Rogers Howell and John H. Munsell, listed that in 1809 the total valuation of real and personal estate of the county was $1,841,728.

Portion of 1824 New York State map showing Schenectady County. Image from collections of Grems-Doolittle Library.