Friday, August 26, 2016

New York Heritage Collection Highlight: Schenectady, NY Street Scenes

Our newest collection on New York Heritage is Schenectady Street Scenes which was funded by a grant from the Capital District Library Council. This collection is pretty self-explanatory in that it has photos of the offices, factories, residences, trains, and other buildings all along Schenectady's streets. These photos give a glimpse of Schenectady throughout the years and you can really get a sense of how the city changed over time. This post will highlight just a fraction of the photos in this collection. You can view all of the photos in this collection by following this link to our New York Heritage page. A special thanks goes out to library volunteer Angela Matyi. Angela did a great job scanning the photos and entering all the data into New York Heritage for this collection.

A hunter in the Bowery woods near Summit and Paige ca. 1890. These woods were a favorite spot for hunters, picnickers, walkers, and those who just wanted a nice view of the city.
How could I mention the view of Schenectady from the Bowery woods without actually showing the view? In this photo of Schenectady from Summit Avenue you can see the construction of the United Methodist Church close to the middle and the old Schenectady Armory on the right as well as smoke from the city's various industrial pursuits in the background.

Look close in the first photo and you can make out a familiar building. Finding out when and where this photo was taken is a bit tricky as neither Johnson Street, nor Terrace Place exist anymore and its is a bit more developed than it was in this photo. This area was redeveloped in the 1950s so we think the date of the photo is somewhere between the opening of City Hall in 1931 and the 1950s. We were able to figure out that it was taken close to where the Bechtel Plant currently is. This portion of the 1900 Sanborn map shows the intersection of Johnson and Terrace, as well was some of the buildings that were in the area.

Also in this collection are photos of storm damage around Schenectady. The first photo shows huge chunks of ice from a major ice storm in 1914. The second shows a battered silo on Maxon Road.
The raising of Schenectady's railroads was a great boon for public safety. These two photos show the before and after of the raising of the rails. In the early 1900s, pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by trains were steadily increasing and by 1907 the city decided to do something about it. State Street was one of the most dangerous and as seen in the first photo from the 1900s, very busy. Adding trains to the mix made the street dangerous and often congested. The second photo shows the opening of the rail bridge on State Street. Now pedestrians could freely cross State Street, all they had to worry about were trolleys, horses, and the ever increasing amount of cars on the roads.

Speaking of trolleys (and streets that don't exist anymore), this great photo from around 1915 shows a mix of trolleys, cars, and pedestrians on Villa Road. Villa Road was the portion of  current day Broadway that ran from Weaver Street to the top of Bellevue Hill.
Connected to the last photo is this peaceful scene on Bellevue Hill from the late 1800s. From dirt roads to cars andelectric trolleys, these two photos really shows how Schenectady progressed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elizabeth V. Glen, The "Little Woman"

This post was written by library volunteer, Gail Denisoff

Much is known about Henry Glen, the great-great grandson of Alexander Lindsay Glen, the first settler of Scotia.  Henry was born in Schenectady in 1739 and served the public in many capacities.  He was a successful trader, along with his brother John, and a member of the first Committee of Safety for Schenectady.  During the Revolutionary War he served as Deputy Quartermaster, in charge of all supplies for the region.  He was a representative of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Provisional Congress, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and a member of the 3rd, 4th and 6th Congresses of the United States from  1793-1802.  He also served as a judge and a member of the State Assembly in 1810.  Despite a successful career as a trader and many government positions, Henry Glen became impoverished after the Revolutionary War and spent most of the remainder of his life unsuccessfully trying to obtain payments he felt he was owed by the federal government for his war duties. 
Not as much is known about his wife, Elizabeth Visscher.  She was born in Schenectady, the daughter of Johannes Visscher and his wife Catharine Van Slyck, part of the large extended Visscher family of Dutch heritage.  She was baptized on October 9th 1743. 
Elizabeth (sometimes spelled Elesebat) married Henry Glen at the Schenectady Dutch Reformed Church on December 9th, 1762.  Between 1763 and 1785 she gave birth to seven children.  At least one child died in infancy.  Due to his many duties, Henry was away from home during much of their marriage.  According to records, Henry was a slave holder until at least 1802 so Elizabeth most certainly had help tending to the children, house and property.
What we can ascertain of Elizabeth’s life and personality comes from the one letter she wrote to her husband that is part of the collection of Henry Glen letters held in the Grems Doolittle Library. She was obviously well educated, with a quick wit and astute understanding of politics.  In the letter, written on Christmas Day 1800, she gently chides Henry for forgetting about “the little woman”, as she calls herself, and sarcastically gives him some political advice.  In reading her comments it seems that nothing much has changed in the way politics works!  (Spelling and punctuation are as they appear in the original letter)

Last page letter from Elizabeth to Henry, December 25, 1800.
From the Glen Family Letters Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library.
                                                                  December 25th 1800
I am very happy my good friend.  You have at last concluded to write to me.  I heard amidst the multitude of new acquaintainces the little woman had been forgot but from the melancholy tenor of your letter you are not engaged in so large a circle as I had imagined.  I fear most gallant Judge you are in a bad way.  Polliticks day and night will never agree with you.  For Heaven’s sake then take the first opportunity of laying your case before the House.  I once heard you make or second a motion very ably before the Honorable body.  Try to again, something in the following manner I would recommend.  …as I am so much interested I cannot refrain from intruding my ideas upon this momentous occasion.  Suppose then my good Judge you rise give a stout hem, and begin with , -
Thursday 1801
I must for a few moments claim the attention of his Honorable body, in behalf of one of its most distinguished Members (never mind puffing yourself a little they all do it) who from change of air, diet, and want of proper associates, feels himself enervated to such a degree as to be perfectly inadequate to either public or private business.  I do therefore recommend, as a preservation for the whole body politick, that we immediately adjourn, to meet in Phila on the 15th of Jan’y in the year 1801.  I fix this early removal Gentlemen, as I have but a short time to remain with you; having devoted my best days to my Country’s service I shall soon withdraw myself from the noise and tumult of a publick life and in a peaceful domestic retirement pass the last hours of this scene of mortality.
If you find freedom, you can in your own expressive language tell the Honorable Gentlemen how much ground you have gone over, taking care to conduct them over only the clean paths you have trod, as some of them might perhaps offend the delicacy of the pure body of your address.  A speech so consonant with the general feelings and wishes of the House will doubtless be received with universal applause, and the business will be done with all legislative dispatch that is to say, your motion will be seconded, referd to a general committee, turned over to a special one, reported upon in about a year; the report amended and referrd back to the same committee, who not agreeing on the proposed amendment, are discharged, a new committee is appointed who after a proper time report something quite foreign to the subject which gives rise to new debates.  If you live to be a good old age you may probably hear of its being laid upon the table which may be considered as a tolerable state of forwardness.  In the mean time ask leave of absence and visit your friends in Philadelphia who most ardently desire to see you.
All your friends and acquaintainces are well.  Miss Peters getting better.  We had a large party to supper last night .  we fairly saw the new year introduced wished each other the compliment of the season (as I now do you) and broke up in very good time. 
Dear, dear Judge what shall we all be about the first day of the new Century.  It makes me creep to think about it.  Some of us may not be in in a chilly condition neither. 
I have made this letter so long you will never wish for another as long as you live from the
Little Woman
Because of Henry’s financial situation and many debts, he was forced to sell the house where they lived for many years on the south corner of Union Street and Washington Avenue as well as most of their furnishings in 1802.  They moved to a house on Front Street that was partially owned by Elizabeth, left in her father’s will.  Elizabeth died on May 17th, 1809.  In a letter to Henry dated May 21st 1809, their son, Cornelius, writes of Elizabeth’s death “By the will of the Lord (which must be obeyed) you have been deprived of an affectionate Wife & I of a dear & Loving Mother.  Words can scarcely express my feelings.  I feel down hearted & am very sorry.  Oh what shall I say what can I do.  She is no more.  May She be received into the Society above then to enjoy eternal happiness.  Oh She was near & dear to me a Loving & Affectionate Mother.” 
Henry’s brother, Cornelius, died the following year, leaving him a trust that eased his financial difficulties substantially before his death on January 6th, 1814.