Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Best Brooms in the World: The story of the Whitmyer Broom Factory

Broomcorn from Schenectady County's Flag.

The symbols on the Schenectady County flag represent industries that helped build Schenectady. The DeWitt Clinton and the Schenectady boat symbolize the railroad and canals that made Schenectady into a shipping hub. The lightning bolt and atom represent General Electric and American Locomotive, two of Schenectady’s most prominent industries. The last symbol on the flag has been confused with a sheaf of wheat, but is actually broomcorn. Before the rise of GE and ALCO, Schenectady County was known for farming broomcorn and manufacturing brooms. Schenectady County was the largest grower of broomcorn, and one of the largest producers of brooms in New York State in the 1800s. Much of the work on broomcorn farms was done by Germans who would also work in the broom factories during the winter months. This work prompted Germans to immigrate to the area in the 1840s through the 1860s.
The Whitmyer Broom Factory after a fire. The factory was located on Washington Avenue and Cucumber Alley.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The Whitmyer’s family immigrated to Schenectady from Germany in the mid-1800s and proceeded to find work in the broomcorn fields and factories. Brothers Charles, Christian and William all worked in Otis Smith’s broom factory who owned a broom factory on the corner of Washington Avenue and Cucumber Alley in Schenectady. Their wives, Louisa, Mary and Mary also worked for Smith as the broom industry brought opportunities for both men and women. According to Isaac Whitmyer, Christian Whitmyer’s son, Otis Smith employed about 120 men and 124 women. He also states that, in the corn fields, men would go through and break the stalks off while women would follow and cut the tops off for use in the manufacture of brooms. In the factories, women trimmed and sorted the corn according to the size of the cuts.
Inside of the Whitmyer Broom Factory. In 1947, Harvey Whitmyer was the sole operator of the factory. From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection
In the 1860s, the Whitmyers bought Otis Smith’s factory and started C. Whitmyer & Company. The Whitmyer brooms were considered some of the best in the United States and they even won 1st prize at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 for their exhibit. The city directories also show that a Henry Whitmyer owned a broom making factory on 19 North Street in Schenectady. C. Whitmyer & Company was still listed in the 1900 city directory, well past the decline of many other broom manufacturers in Schenectady. By 1902, C. Whitmyer & Company had gone out of business, but Whitmyer brooms were still being produced by Henry Whitmyer. The business stayed in the Whitmyer family until Henry’s grandson Harvey died in 1947. After Harvey’s death, the Whitemyre Broom Company was bought by George Kranick. Surprisingly, Kranick kept the broom making tradition alive and ran the factory as a one-man operation until the mid-1960s.
Close-up of a broom before it is "wound"  from the Whitmyer Broom Factory DVD. From Grems-Doolittle Library Video Collection

Screenshot of the label George Kranick used on his brooms from the Whitmyer Broom Factory DVD. From Grems-Doolittle Library Video Collection

The Grems-Doolittle Library recently received a video that shows George Kranick making his brooms in his factory on 150 Front Street in Schenectady. In the video, he’s using the same machinery, techniques and even the same labels that the Whitmyer’s would have used to make their brooms. It’s an interesting snapshot of a craft that is rarely practiced anymore.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pioneer of us All: The Story of Pasquale DeMarco

Photo of Pasquale DeMarco from 1899 taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files.
Between 1890 and 1930 immigration from Italy to Schenectady was booming. According to Robert Pascucci’s book Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930, the number of Italian immigrants in Schenectady increased from 221 in 1890 to 5,910 in 1930, and made up 29.3% of Schenectady’s population. Many of these immigrants came to America to escape the rural poverty they had known in Italy and to try and make a living in Schenectady. There was an increase in demand for laborers in Schenectady during this time due to the expansion of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. These jobs were a big draw for a variety of immigrant groups, including Italians. Italian Immigrants arriving in Schenectady would face a variety of challenges. Schenectady’s Pasquale DeMarco knew those challenges all too well and set out to help his fellow countrymen with the transition.
Born in Alvignano, Italy on September 9, 1862, Pasquale De Marco immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old. He bounced around New York State, living in New York City, Albany, and Ballston Spa before becoming one of the first permanent Italian residents of Schenectady. DeMarco would go on to open a barber shop on 109 Jay Street in 1895. In addition to cutting hair, DeMarco would assist other Italian immigrants in a number of other ways. He would translate for them, act as liaison with their jobs, and send letters to their families. He also began to go to the bank and exchange the immigrant’s dollars for lira to be sent to their families in Italy. Eventually, DeMarco expanded into the banking business, as he was able to buy Italian currency when the rates were low and offer better exchange rates to his fellow countrymen.

The caption on this photo of DeMarco's business reads: "Located at 106-108 Jay Street is the attractive and well equipped office and store of Pasquale DeMarco, who has been established in business ten years,  and during this period has done a large and increasing business and earned for himself an enviable reputation in commercial circles." - Taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files
The services DeMarco offered went above and beyond any regular bank. He would often go to New York City to meet Italian immigrants that were coming to Schenectady, help them get through immigration and bring them to Schenectady by train. He also assisted new immigrants with finding lodging and jobs if they didn’t have anything lined up. DeMarco also played a large part in founding the first St. Anthony’s Church. Up until 1902, there was no church for the growing Italian population of Schenectady. DeMarco brought Father Bencivenga from Italy to Schenectady in order to start a church where Italian was spoken. The original church was built on the corner of Nott Street and Park Place, int was

Location of St. Anthony's marked as "Italian Ch." on Nott Street and Park Place from the 1905 Atlas of Schenectady, New York.  
Demarco’s wife, Julia Mackay DeMarco also helped with DeMarco’s business.  Julia was instrumental in helping Pasquale with the Italian immigrant women. She went back to school to learn Italian, and acted as a translator and English teacher for Italian immigrants. In addition to their 7 children, Julia and Pasquale were so respected in the community that many Italian parents named them as godparents to their children.
Pasquale DeMarco was recognized for his accomplishments by local, federal, and even the Italian government. In 1902, he received a medal for his work from the Italian government for his work with Italian immigrants. Also in 1902, DeMarco and other prominent Italian residents  petitioned  Schenectady's Common Council to donate a piece of land in Crescent Park (now Veteran's Park) for a bust of recently deceased President William McKinley. The bust was a gift from the Italian residents to Schenectady and was "intended to show the high regard in which that illustrious statesman is held by the people of Italian birth and also to attest the love and admiration they cherish for the land of their adoption." De Marco also received a commendation and medal from the U.S. Treasury Department for running Liberty Loan drives during World War I.

De Marco died on August 26, 1930 of a ruptured appendix and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery after a funeral at St. Anthony's. Respectfully referred to as the “pioneer of us all”, Pasquale DeMarco was held in high regard by many in Schenectady. He knew about the struggles of immigrating to a new place because he worked through those struggles, and decided to help others in a similar position.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Introduction to our New Librarian, Michael Maloney

Hi everyone! My first few weeks as Librarian/Archivist at the Grems-Doolittle Library have been very exciting and interesting. I have been learning so much about the collection here and about the history of Schenectady County. I want to thank the excellent staff, board members and volunteers at the Schenectady County Historical Society for making my transition into my new position extremely smooth. They have all been so supportive and helpful as I find my way around the library.  I have also been happy to meet with the researchers and members of the Society, I’m learning as much from them as I hope they are learning from me.
Prior to this position, I worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Albany County Hall of Records, where I processed several collections relating to the history of Albany. This position also gave me the opportunity to create exhibits and provide reference services for the public. I have also worked as a clerk at the Howe Branch of the Albany Public Library, and as an Archives Partnership Intern at the New York State Archives. My internship gave me the opportunity to work with several different departments in the Archives, and to work on a wide range of projects. My projects at the State Archives included, describing a series of engineering survey maps of the Adirondacks made by engineer Verplanck Colvin, creating a container list for several collections and processed a collection of reports to New York State Governors. I received my Masters in Information Science in 2012 from SUNY Albany, and my Bachelor’s in History from New Paltz in 2009.
I’m looking forward to sharing the fun and interesting bits of Schenectady’s history from our collection in this blog. Let me know if there are any suggestions, comments, or blog topics that you would like me to address. I hope you will all come visit me soon!