Friday, August 21, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part III: From Taverns and Inns to Hotels and Saloons

This blog post was written by library volunteer George Wise

The nineteenth century US saw a change in the terms typically applied to places supplying drink, food and lodging. The early general use of the terms “inn” and “tavern” gave way to the later use of the terms “hotel” and “saloon”. This was not a mere vocabulary exercise. As Schenectady’s experience illustrates it reflects, though imperfectly, a changing role of the role of such establishments in the community’s experience of population growth, immigration, transportation, industrialization, and politics.

37 Front Street was the site of the Eleven O'clock House.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
In the first three decades after  Schenectady’s designation as a city in 1798, the role of public venues for the consumption of alcohol was viewed as an accepted, if somewhat disreputable, aspect of community life. This is best conveyed in descriptions given by the diaries of Harriet Mumford Paige, a socially prominent early 19th century resident of the Stockade neighborhood. She describes such taverns as the Eleven O’Clock House. The name referred to the custom of craftsmen and shopkeepers stopping work for a drink at that hour of the morning. The Pangborn Tavern served as headquarters for the three Glen brothers and First Reformed Church Minister Vrooman’s son. The four were “the cream of the Schenectady Rowdies”. The Schenectady Coffee House at the corner of Union and Ferry Streets became successively Platt’s Inn, Hudson’s Tavern, and ultimately by 1815 the first venture of the man who would become Schenectady’s most successful hotel entrepreneur, Resolved Givens.

Photograph of Platt's Inn.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection
Inns and taverns had important public roles as well. Albert A. Vedder’s tavern was a frequent location for caucusing to nominate candidates for political office, or for public meetings to discuss such matters as the need for a second Schenectady bank. Harvey Davis’ Inn served as a sort of extension of the county court. For example, when the farm of Catharine Kettle of Princetown was foreclosed, she was told via public notice that her “goods and chattels” would be “seized and taken and shall expose to public sale as the law directs at the house of Harvey Davis, innkeeper, in the 2nd Ward of the City of Schenectady. Hudson’s Tavern was the site, in April 1798, of the first meeting of the City of Schenectady’s Common Council.

An early change in the image of these establishments came with the rise of the temperance movement. The Schenectady County Temperance Society organized at a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in January, 1829. It set January 22, 1829 as “a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer with reference to the prevailing sin of intemperance.” Sin or not, alcohol indulgence was a growing social issue. Historian W.J. Rorabaugh estimated that per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. had increased from 2 gallons a year in 1710 to more than 5 gallons from by 1820. The formerly acceptable inns and taverns now became seen by some as dens of vice. Schenectady’s approach to this issue was more moderate than other locations. The figurehead and public face of Schenectady abstinence, minister and Union College president Eliphalet Nott, was a man described as “temperate in his temperance”. He preferred educational campaigns to Carrie Nation’s axe. 
Photograph of Given's Hotel.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The first quantitative estimate of Schenectady inns and taverns came in 1841, when the first occupational directory of Schenectady was published. It listed 14 innkeepers, 4 hotels, and the Eagle Lunch, which probably offered whiskey on the noon menu. Also included was Isaac Fowler, the first Schenectadian to list his occupation as “barkeeper.” The bar he kept was located at the Givens Hotel, Schenectady’s finest lodging house. Resolved Givens, and his one-time partner Isaac Ledyard, owner of the nearby City Hotel, had started buying up property in the vicinity of the modern intersection of State St. and Erie Boulevard as early as 1806. They correctly anticipated that the city’s downtown would move in that direction. Givens is credited in some accounts with not only predicting where the Erie Canal and the New York Central railroad would go, but also politically influencing the decisions that made them go there. Whatever his role, his somewhat ramshackle hotel did become the prime stop for travelers. He became one of Schenectady’s richest men.
Print of Ledyard's City Hotel.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection.
As that name “hotel” increasingly replaced “tavern”, the transportation revolution changed lodging location. Prime sites were no longer clearing or landings every fifteen miles or so along turnpikes or rivers. Now they were the center-city location of canal docks and railroad depots. The neologisms hotel and saloon, were of French origin. Perhaps this was an attempt to give some continental cachet to establishments that were increasingly, in an era of temperance agitation, seen as disreputable or even sinful.

Schenectady’s inns and hotels listed in that 1841 directory and the 1850 census were not evenly distributed throughout the city. Instead, they were concentrated along or near State Street. This route began at “Battle Ground” near the river, described by 1830s diarist Jonathan Pierson as “a filthy place”, and later given the more neutral nickname “Frog Alley”. At its other, eastern, end, State Street became the road to Albany near Schenectady’s first real factory, the Schenectady Manufacturing Co.’s cotton mill. It stood near where modern Craig St. meets I-890. There farmer and sometimes mill worker John Coss held the liquor license for an establishment that refreshed working men and women after 12 hour days of tending spindles and looms. In between those two extremes,  where the Erie Canal and the nearby New York Central Railroad both crossed State St.,  stood the city’s four most  respectable hotels: the Givens Hotel, the City Hotel, the Rail Road House, and, a bit later, a Temperance Hotel.

Photograph of Frog Alley circa 1890. A.K. Scrafford's Hotel is shown on the left.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection.
As a political issue, temperance typically ran against the tide. It had, however, occasional successes. In 1855 the American Party, popularly known as the “Know Nothings” swept into control of Schenectady’s city government. The party’s platform proclaimed that “slavery, like papacy is a moral evil”, and that no immigrant should be allowed to vote until he had been in the U.S. for 21 years. The Know Nothings also came out for free schools, the Bible, and sobriety. Not much could be done on a local scale about slavery and the Pope. Schenectady’s Know-Nothing mayor Abel Smith, could, however, do something about sobriety. Since the city’s founding in 1798, the Mayor had the power to appoint three excise commissioners, who issued liquor licenses. In 1855, Smith announced that he had instructed the commissioners to issue no more licenses.

Schenectady's "Know Nothing" Mayor, Abel Smith.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
This effort, like the Know Nothing Party itself, was short lived. By 1857 the Schenectady County Government took over from the major the power to appoint the excise commissioners. It would not be returned to the city until 1870.  This change likely recognized the unstoppable advance of saloons. More generally, the Know Nothing episode reflected the growing unease among “American” residents about the rising tide of first Irish and then German immigration. Both groups were accurately perceived as having permissive attitudes toward alcohol use. The temperance movement continued to be entwined with anti-immigrant sentiment. In Schenectady this evolved into a minor political party. This Prohibition Party sometimes ran candidates for city office, but never successfully. It achieved limited successes when it became a swing vote between two evenly balanced major parties.

Saloon of Henry Vonderahe.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection
The 1860 Census marked the emergence into common use of that term saloon. That Census listed 13 saloons, alongside 20 inns. In the previous, 1850, Census, the word saloon had not appeared at all. The word tavern went unmentioned both in both censuses, and in the 1857 occupation directory, which listed 6 hotels. The total of 39 such establishments is somewhat less than the 53 liquor licenses issued in 1859. This is because many of the licenses went to grocers, whose stores both sold liquor, and occasionally served as informal saloons or even boarding houses. Unlike the inns of 1841, the saloons were distributed in clusters in each of the city’s five wards. The saloon descriptions even became specialized. Three were listed as “billiard saloons” and two were listed as “oyster saloons”. Clara Clute, one of the few female saloonkeepers, ran an “ice cream saloon.” Michael Hearndon, located nearby, titled his more tersely and directly: “drinking saloon.”   Over the last third of the century the number of saloons soared. Judging from occupational directories and newspaper estimates, and therefore probably an underestimate, there were 30 saloons in Schenectady in 1870 and 200 in 1900. This rate of growth was twice as fast as the growth rate of Schenectady’s population. An 1892 temperance reformer estimated that Schenectady had one saloon for every 150 residents, while even the “wicked city of Chicago” had only one for every 200.  A related number, the annual arrests for intoxication, nearly doubled from 269 in 1881 to 522 in 1892. Again, this was significantly higher than the growth rate of city population.

These statistics, however, miss the social and political role of saloons. This was often positive, and always interesting. It can be illustrated with three stories.

Matthais Treis was born in Prussia in 1821, and came to the U.S. in 1856 with his brother Nicholas. Employed initially as a laborer, and for a while as a broom maker, he saved his money. By 1865 he was able to open a saloon at 502 State Street. This was still a disreputable neighborhood, featuring the ruins and still occupied worker tenements of the now-defunct cotton mill. It was also the site of the County Poorhouse. It was quickly becoming, however, the preferred residential area of industrious and upwardly mobile German immigrants such as Treis.

Adopting a time honored role, on March 31, 1869, Matthias Treis’s Tavern was the location for the election of the 5th Ward’s nomination of 5 delegates to the City Democratic Party Convention. Treis himself earned one of those delegate posts.  At those City Conventions, over the subsequent years, delegates from the Albany Hill portion of the 5th Ward, mainly German, and delegates from the 3rd Ward, mostly Irish, battled against the older and more socially prominent Dutch or English descended for control of the Democratic Party.

In 1885, those older ethnic elements got the upper hand. Democrat Mayor Henry S. DeForest chose to follow the policy of his Republican, but similarly upper-class predecessor John Young and seek “higher licenses and fewer saloons.” When Matthias Treis arrived to renew his liquor license on May 19, 1885, he was told that “the majority of the board does not feel disposed to grant a license in your district, Mr. Treis” (Quotes here are from newspaper reports at the time. Be warned that such reports typically were slanted in a direction unfavorable to, and often ridiculing of, immigrants). Treis answered: “well, I don’t see why not. I have kept a good place for 20 years.” He then, according to the reporter, “turned sorrowfully away.”

His sorrow quickly turned to action. He banded together with some 30 other rejected saloon keepers to create a defense fund variously described in amount as somewhere from $600 to $2000. The participants proceeded to violate the law, to continue to sell liquor, and to use the defense fund to pay their fines. They also recruited the legal services of A.A. Yates, former judge, mainstay of the city’s Republican Party, and grandson of a New York State governor. Mayor DeForest, like his anti-liquor predecessor, Dr. Nott, was a committed but temperate advocate of temperance. He quickly saw the light and found room for compromise. “Now that a less fanatical board of commissioners has been appointed,” a reporter wrote in April, 1886, agreement had been reached. The “higher fees” remained, but the “fewer saloons” part was abandoned.  The victorious saloonkeepers association disbanded. Matthias Treis paid his $75 fee and received his renewed liquor license.

The social and political role of saloons proved important in controversies within, as well as between, the city’s ethnic communities. This role became especially important after the 1886 arrival of the Edison Machine Works. This was followed by the addition of Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, as well as Southern Europeans, especially Italians, to the ethnic mix.

In 1893 Stanislaus Kowalski, owner of the Washington House Saloon on Edison Avenue, was seen as “one of the pioneers of the Polish settlement in this city…. piloting his countrymen through the difficulties of naturalization, befriending them in entanglements of the  law… president of the Parish, captain of the Polish laborers.”

He also became entangled in a dispute with a recently arrived priest of Schenectady’s first Polish parish, St. Mary’s. Father Dersezewski was also a champion of the social and economic needs of his community, involved especially in gaining for his parishioner’s employment and relief during the deep economic depression of 1893. These meritorious activities invaded Kowalski’s turf. Some accused Kowalski of going to the Bishop in Albany and trying to get Father Dersezewski fired.

Matters came to a head at a meeting of 300 people at Kowalski’s saloon on Oct 21, 1893. The avowed purpose was creating a Polish-American Political Club. Foes of Kowalski accused him of demanding future political loyalty in exchange for his citizenship aid. Sticks and stones were brandished. Officer Flanigan intervened in time to prevent the breaking of any bones. He was, however, unable to prevent throwing of the stones and demolition of the glass front of the saloon. Kowalski subsequently retreated from direct political involvement into the role of publisher of the area’s first Polish newspaper.

A story more directly relating the saloon saga to the arrival of the town's new dominant employer also occurred in 1894. Kruesi Avenue, named after the first superintendent of the Edison Works, was one of the new neighborhoods that bloomed because of proximity to the General Electric Plant. It quickly gained such nicknames as “Crazy Avenue” and “the Bowery”, after the similarly notorious district in New York City. While admitting that “not all the saloons on Kruesi Avenue are disreputable,” newspapers had a field day describing the goings-on in those saloons, as well as in Kreusi Avenue’s other “objectionable houses.”

According to A.A. Yates, who now wrote as a defender of family values rather than of saloons, it was GE’s tender concern for the morals of its workers that led the company to launch an 1894 campaign to clean up Kruesi Avenue.  This claim is both implausible and inaccurate. As GE Vice President Joseph P. Ord explained, GE needed the land which bordered the plant in order to extend the length of its main factory buildings. This extension would make possible the efficient construction of bigger electrical generators, using overhead cranes powered by the very electricity that the new generators would produce.

His explanation was also an ultimatum. If the city did not close down and demolish Kruesi Avenue, GE would begin to look more favorably on the offers of other communities. Some were offering up to 100 acres of land and a million dollars in subsidies, for the privilege of being the new home to the greatly expanded main plant of the General Electric Company.

Schenectady’s newly created Board of Trade got the message. Acting with the alacrity previously shown by Treis and the saloonkeepers, the Board of Trade convinced 140 Schenectady merchants to make contributions that ranged in size from $1500 down to $20, and totaled $35,000. This sufficed to pay off the Kruesi Avenue landowners. A pleased Joseph P. Ord told the board that Schenectady would soon be the home of the greatest electrical machinery works in the world. The Schenectady Works of the General Electric Company would soon fulfill Ord's prophecy.

The cleanup of Kruesi Avenue only diffused, rather than eliminate, the activities that the street had housed. Newspaper accounts now turned to the activities of new notorious dens of vice opening up nearby, such as “The Crow’s Nest”, “313 Broadway”, and “Jenee Scott’s”.

This incident, along with the parallel replacement of the Givens Hotel with a brand new Edison Hotel, does however provide a fitting end to the 19th century transition from an era of inns and taverns to an era of hotels and saloons. Little visual evidence of that era can be seen today. The surviving tip of the avenue, the part that GE did not need, can still be found outside a now sealed-up GE Plant gate under a sign that reads Lower Broadway. That very short street is, appropriately, now the home of the city’s most notorious adult bookstore, as well as of at least one tavern and one pub. The latter, thanks to a proprietor with a fine sense of history, is called the Kruesi Ave Pub.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part II: Tapsters in a Time of Crisis

This post was written by library volunteer Victoria Bohm
As the 18th century came and progressed, the ever increasing rules, regulations, and taxes imposed on the British Colonies by King George II and III, including those on tapsters and liquor, incited the revolutionary spirit. Taverns and inns were more than pre-Motel 6 accommodations for travelers, they were meeting places and conference centers for business, economics, and politics. As the fateful decade of the 1770s rolled around, various taverns took center stage in Schenectady.
Engraving of "Washington's Farewell to His Officers" by Alonzo Chappel. After the British evacuated New York, Fraunces Tavern in New York City hosted a dinner where General George Washington bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army.  
Though laws had been passed from the mid-17th century on forbidding the sale of trade of liquor to the Native Americans, such statutes were not always followed or enforced. With the French and Indian Wars a memory very much alive, the Committee of Correspondence feted the Oneida Tribe at the William White Tavern in Schenectady in order to curry favor and keep the Oneida from joining or aiding the British. The party favors must have worked because most of the Oneida with the Colonists while other Indian Nations sided with the British. After the War, two treaties were signed by Chief Shenendoah in 1794: the Veteran’s Treaty which acknowledged the Oneida as fighting allies of the Americans, and the Canandaigua Treaty which recognized sovereignty, land rights, and tax freedoms of the Oneida.

Schenectady tavern owner Robert Clench came to America to work under British General Braddock. During the French and Indian War, Clench got to know a certain soldier well during the French and Indian Wars, one George Washington. After the War, Clench married Hannah Vernor in Pennsylvania, had six children, moved to Schenectady in the late 1760’s, bought a tavern named the “Sign of the Crossed Keys”, became a church warden for St. George’s Episcopal Church, and made himself a prominent and respected citizen. Clench’s tavern hosted town meetings, assembly meetings, and saw the St. George Lodge of the Masonic Order formed there in 1774. But all was not well or properly patriotic in the Clench family. In 1776, Robert Clench was reported to the Committee of Safety for statements unbecoming a truly patriotic American. In 1777, he was branded a “dangerous person,” though he declared himself ready to fight in the face of an invasion. When he failed to show up to take the Oath of Allegiance, the Commissioner of Conspiracies went after him. The Committee of Correspondence and the Masons of St. George Lodge decided to move their meetings out of Clench’s Tavern. Finally, in mid-1778, Robert Clench took the Oath. Robert’s son Robert’s son, Ralph, on the other hand, joined the British forces, seeing action under General Burgoyne and with Butler’s Rangers.

New York State Historic Marker showing the location of Clench's Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.
Robert Clench died in 1781. His widow Hannah ran the business for a while, then his son Thomas Barton Clench took over. George Washington even visited the tavern in 1782 and 1783, and the Masons thought the tavern once again patriotically respectable enough to resume their meetings there in 1782. After the tavern burned in 1819, Thomas Clench ran a tavern out of the old Arendt Bradt House.
The Revolutionary War did not curtail the tavern/inn business. Records of the Schenectady Committee of Safety from 1777 show a list of those called upon to make sure their licenses were valid and to pay their excise taxes. Reuben Simonds was among those names. Simonds took over the tavern on Church Street from Jonathan Odgen in 1762, already known as a gathering place for patriots. Simonds duly answered the Committee’s summons and paid for his license. The Simonds Tavern continued to be partial to patriots. Reuben himself enlisted and served in the 2nd Albany County Militia. When a fire in 1807 burned Simonds tavern, Theodore Burr’s Mohawk Engineers each gave a day’s work in order to rebuild Simonds’ tavern, allowing Simonds to move back in the day after the fire.
List of Schenectady residents allowed to keep a tavern. From the "Minutes of the Schenectady Committee, 1775-1779." Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.

Between 1762 and 1772, Charles Doyle ran a tavern on Union Street frequented by those known to have Loyalist sympathies. The tavern was next to the Colonial Barracks which housed English Militia men. By the time the Revolutionary War began in earnest, the place had been bought by John Duncan. John and his son Richard Duncan were known to have Loyalist sympathies. Richard was a captain under Sir John Johnson, and after the War both John and Richard managed to remain in Schenectady and hold on to their property. When Duncan’s tavern was demolished, it was discovered to be riddled with secret doors, stairways, and partitions which made it perfect for the comings and goings spies and couriers.

Though most taverns in Schenectady and its surrounding area boast no documented historic even or person during the Revolutionary War, some may simply and proudly boast of their historic standing by standing the test of time. Built in colonial times, surviving the tumult of the Revolution, and still standing through the change of hands and purpose into the 20th century, two are well worth mentioning, the Swart and the Vedder taverns.

Painting of Swart House and Tavern in Glenville. Courtesy of the Schenectady History Museum.
Josias Swart obtained a land grant in 1713 near the Mohawk River in Glenville and proceeded to build a large brick structure which was to be both home and tavern in 1735. One entrance served the tavern, another served the private home. Teunis Swart served as an ensign in the 2nd Regiment of the Albany County Militia, with a great many more family members serving as enlisted men. Swart’s tavern survived the war and into the 20th century as one of the oldest remaining structures of the region. The name-dropping event for the Swart Tavern was the visit by Dewitt Clinton in 1810 on an inspection trip prior to the building of the Erie Canal.

Wine Barrel found in the cellar of the Swart Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Clinton would also visit a nearby tavern owned by the Vedder family. The long-standing tavern run by the long-standing Schenectady family Vedder stood on the Amsterdam-Schenectady Road a few miles outside of Schenectady.  Even older than the Swart Tavern, the original structure, built of brick in Dutch fashion, saw at least two additions and a stucco overlay.  The tavern was also known to quarter slaves in two large rooms in the cellar. Many of Schenectady’s first (and second) families owned slaves well into the 1800s. The Vedder family supplied the American troops with many soldiers, their names in the New York State Militia Rolls as enlisted men and with Lieutenants A.S. Vedder, Philip Vedder, Albert Vedder, and Francis Vedder. Revolutionary War hero Albert A. Vedder is buried in the Vedder burial site on the former family homestead.

Photo of the Vedder Tavern in Glenville, NY. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Whether slaking the thirst of the British or the Americans, the taverns of Schenectady and its environs provided food, drink, shelter, rest, and company for centuries in war time as well as peace time. More information about the taverns, inns, brews, and breweries of the Schenectady region, as well as the families involved with all such activities, may be found in Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society

Stay tuned for our next installment of the taverns and inns of Schenectady where we cover some of Schenectady’s popular taverns during the 1800s.