Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Schenectady Progress Exposition of 1924

This blog post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

Schenectady had a lot to be proud of in 1924. An intensive street lighting system had just been installed, the new Great Western Gateway Bridge was under construction, both the American Locomotive and General Electric Companies had expanded their works, Union College had built a new chapel, Erie Boulevard was being developed, the new Hotel Van Curler was set to open, the Community Chest had been established and the population of the city had passed the 100,000 mark. To celebrate these and other accomplishments, the Chamber of Commerce decided to hold an exposition to showcase Schenectady's progress in industry, education, mercantile, electricity and many other areas. The purpose of the exposition was “To inspire Schenectady with a perception of its growth in resources and ability and to prompt it to go forward to still further accomplishments in every field.

Rows of tents lined the streets of Erie Boulevard for the Schenectady Progress Exposition held from September 19-27, 1924. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
Local businesses, stores, civic organizations, manufacturers, schools, churches, hospitals, music, art and theater groups, and public health and service organizations were quick to jump on board to promise booths and activities for the exposition. The Women's Club of Schenectady was to oversee the exposition restaurant for special meals and “lunch at all times”. The food concession would benefit their organization and provide food service “consistent with the high quality of the exposition”. A parade would kick off the festivities and there would be fireworks, concerts, shows and competitions in addition to display booths by participants. Businesses advertised sales and special events to coincide with the exposition and the Schenectady Gazette followed the preparations with numerous articles. Requests for booth space far exceeded expectations and it was reported that thousands of people took part in decorating the booths and turning the exhibition tents into a "little city of interests and surprises". Cranes were used to bring in massive machinery to display in the large General Electric space.

View of Erie Boulevard during the Exposition. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
After a year of planning, the exposition opened to great fanfare on Friday night, September 19th, preceded by a huge parade. The Schenectady Gazette reported that the crowd lining State Street and Erie Boulevard was the largest to ever assemble in the city. State Street's new intensive ornamental street lighting system was turned on for the first time immediately prior to the start of the parade and two powerful search lights, mounted on top of GE's Building 31, swept Erie Boulevard. The parade kicked off at 7:30 from the Armory and proceeded down State street led and escorted by mounted police. Fireworks exploded above Erie Boulevard as the parade turned onto the street. Nearly 5000 people marched in the parade including 1600 members of the combined GE and ALCO Quarter Century Clubs. Led by parade organizers, three units of Schenectady's Militia marched in the first Division behind the 105th Regimental Band. Division two was comprised of Schenectady Police and Fire Department members. Boy Scouts marched in Division three followed by the Quarter Century Club members in Division four. Marching bands led each division.

The crowd was so large at the end of the parade that dignitaries had trouble getting through the gates of the exposition. When they finally got in, they proceeded through the mammoth 1400 foot-long exposition tent into the automobile tent where a speakers platform was set up. John F. Horman, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and William Dalton, the chairman of the Exposition Committee gave welcoming speeches followed by a lengthy speech by Schenectady Mayor William W. Campbell all which were broadcast by radio station WGY.

Photo of construction of the "million dollar Hotel Van Curler" and major point of pride for Schenectady mayor William W. Campbell. The hotel was constructed in 1924 and would be opened the following year in 1925. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
“The exposition is being held in celebration of an unprecedented era of growth and achievement that the city now finds itself”, the Mayor declared. He went on to expound on major areas of pride: Erie Boulevard development in which community enterprises took advantage of the abandoned canal to create the finest cross street in the city and the best lighted thoroughfare in the world; the new million dollar Hotel Van Curler which would open the following spring; the Union College Chapel, built with community contributions to honor the fallen of World War I; the American Locomotive Company which had completed the second of two new buildings; General Electric had also added new buildings to their works and purchased 260 acres on River Road to expand its operation; the creation of a community chest to handle welfare projects in a progressive fashion; widening and straightening of Washington Avenue to give the city a beautiful riverfront boulevard; and surpassing the 100,000 mark in population.

Due to the unprecedented crowd watching the parade, thousands of people had to be turned away from the exposition the first night. Every night for the following week, fireworks exploded over Erie Boulevard. Two concerts were held each day with many local bands and choral groups performing. Visitors enjoyed browsing the many booths and viewing the latest car models in the automotive tent. Several “style shows” were held with fashions from local department stores H.S. Barney Company, Carl Company and Wallace Company as well as smaller specialty shops. A dahlia show featuring rare varieties and creative arrangements was a highlight of week as well as a pet show, an amateur radio show and a perfect child health contest.

Two of the entrants in the Perfect Child Health Contest held at the Schenectady Progress Exposition. Courtesy of
The “Perfect Child Health Contest” was promoted in the Schenectady Gazette during the week of the exposition. Photos of some of the children who were entered in the contest were featured each day. The contest was advertised not as a beauty or popularity contest but a contest to find the city's healthiest child. More than 230 children participated and were examined by a committee headed by Dr. John Collins, Commissioner of Health. This group was narrowed to 45 who were reexamined by a committee consisting of five medical doctors, one eye specialist, one dentist, two nurses and two artists. That group was narrowed to 9 children from whom the top three winners were chosen. Major consideration in the contest was given to “physical form and physique”. Elizabeth Draisey was judged to be Schenectady's most perfect child with Jeanne Bonnar coming in second and Thomas Corrigan, the only boy to make it into the final round, earning third place.  All three children were four years old.

Many other awards were given at the conclusion of the exposition. Prizes were awarded in several categories of the Dahlia exhibition, a black and white pony won the first-place medal in the pet contest, an award of $5.00 in gold was given to the best homemade radio set and medals were awarded in a typewriting contest. Booth displays were also judged in various categories. General Electric removed itself from consideration due to their displays being "an exposition in itself and the greatest display ever put on by the company". Among the winners were the Mica Insulating Company, Ellis Hospital, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Jay Jewelry Company, White Studios, Photo-Lab, the Maqua Company and Standard Oil Company. Special mention was given to the Boy Scout, Girl Scout and public school booths.  Individual booths also had raffles for prizes.  Over 50,000 people registered to win ten tons of coal in the booth sponsored by the Association of Coal Retailers.  James Beverley of Marshall Ave. was the lucky winner.

Installing the lights for the "best lighted street in the world." Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
In addition to the Chamber of Commerce committee, two well-known men were instrumental in the overall success of the exposition.  World renowned General Electric lighting engineer, Walter D'Arcy Ryan, planned the lighting design which included much of the ornamental street lighting that became a permanent installation on Erie Boulevard and State Street as well as the floodlights that swept over Erie Boulevard during the week of the exposition. His lighting design for Erie Boulevard made it the best lighted street in the world, a distinction it held for many years.  William A. Hart, was the director of the event.  He had directed numerous expositions throughout the country and proclaimed Schenectady's was the best event of its kind he ever had the privilege of conducting. Hart also directed a successful campaign the year before to fund the building of the new Hotel Van Curler.

Although this photo was taken a bit later in 1947, it gives a good idea of what Erie Boulevard might have looked like at night during the Exposition. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
In the week following the close of the exposition, the tents, booths and displays were dismantled and removed. The streets were swept clean, nails were picked up by hand and the streets washed by fire hose at the expense of the exposition committee. Due to the success of the exposition, civic groups were refunded expenses they incurred for their booths and $100 was donated to both the police and fire department pension funds in thanks for "the excellent protection provided". When the accounting was completed it was announced there were over 76,000 paid admissions in addition to almost two thousand people entering with free passes. The Chamber of Commerce was pleased with their $10,000 profit after expenses which they planned to use to promote Schenectady in the future. In an editorial, the Gazette noted "From the standpoint of the city, the exposition has done more than any one thing in Schenectady's history to 'sell' the city to its own people. It has shown them in compact form what Schenectady is, and has actually resulted in arousing civic pride."  Schenectady has hosted other expositions, trade shows and Metrofairs over the years but none could match the Progress Exposition of 1924.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Battle of Beukendaal

Translated to English from Dutch, Beukendaal means Beech Dale and that area around Sacandaga and Spring Road in Glenville was known for the number of Beech trees growing. The area is notable for being the only battle of King George's War to occur in the Mohawk Valley, the Battle of Beukendaal in 1748. The Battle of Beukendaal is often referred to as the Beukendaal Massacre (I mistakenly referred to it as a massacre in the last post), but this gives the wrong image of what actually happened at Beukendaal. It was more of a failed Schenectady militia campaign than a massacre.

The main cause of the King George's war had to do with events that occurred in Europe, the War of Jenkin's Ear and the War of the Austrian Succession. The conflicts of the War would eventually spread to the colonies in the form of territorial disputes between the British and their Indian allies and the French and their Indian allies. It was the third of four French and Indian Wars and took place mainly in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia.
The British siege of the French fortress at Louisburg in Nova Scotia was one of the hallmarks of King George's War. British forces captured the fort in 1745 after a six week siege. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
A precursor to the Battle of Beukendaal came dangerously close to Schenectady. On November 16, 1745 the settlement of Saratoga was raided by the French and their Indian allies. Over 100 inhabitants were either killed or captured during this attack. This attack caused many of the settlements north of Albany to be abandoned. The attack on Saratoga worried many in New York and a draft of 200 men were sent to Albany and Schenectady from the militias of Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Westchester, Queens, and Suffolk.

Another scare came to Schenectady in 1746 when two slaves were captured by a party of French Indians.  A party of men from Albany and Schenectady pursued the raiding party and came upon the house of Simon Groot. The raiding party had set fire to Groot's house, taken a prisoner, murdered and scalped a boy, and shot a man who was attempting to escape. The militia was unable to further track the raiding party. The raid on Groot's house and the increasing amounts of violence in the area was likely a cause of Abraham Glen requesting permission to raise a company of 100 volunteers for the defense of Schenectady and the frontier. There wouldn't be any battles near Schenectady until July 18, 1748 when three Schenectady men were attacked by French Indians in Glenville. This would spark the events of the Battle of Beukendaal.

Much of what we know about the Battle of Beukendaal comes from a letter to William Johnson from Albert Van Slyck who who fought in the battle, but there have been several other accounts. Van Slyck wrote that a group of men gathered to raise the frame for a barn by the Mohawk River in Scotia on July 18, 1748. Three of the men, Captain Daniel Toll, Dirk Van Vorst, and Toll's slave, Rykert departed to gather some horses that wandered off. Shortly afterward, the others raising the barn heard gunshots and Albert's brother, Adrian, sent his slave to Schenectady to warn the residents there and to try to gather men.
The DeGraaf Barn that Toll, Van Vorst and Rykert were working on was eventually raised after the Battle of Beukendaal. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
A group of Connecticut Militia members were stationed at Schenectady and upon getting the news, immediately crossed the river. Others in Schenectady joined making the total around 60-70 to the 100 French and Indians who made the attack. Unfortunately, the Schenectadians were too unorganized and gathered in four small groups who attacked at separate times. The first group reached the Kleykuil, a clay pit lying between Sacandaga and Spring Roads, and found Daniel Toll propped against a tree waving to the group. As they approached Toll, they supposedly found him lifeless with a crow tethered to his arm (this story has been unverified and doesn't show up in Albert Van Slyck's letter). This group was then ambushed and fired upon from the nearby woods. The second group met up with the first and retreated to the nearby DeGraaf house to stage their defense.

Corn growing at the site of the Beukendaal Battle in 1997. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The men in the DeGraaf House pried of the clapboards and fired on their enemies from the house. The attackers allegedly tried to set the house on fire a few times, but nothing succeeded in driving them from their defense. The third group eventually arrived, took a good look at the situation, and decided that battle wasn't for them so they turned around and retreated.  Those in the DeGraaf house managed to hold off the attack until the fourth group joined and drove off their attackers.

Photo of the DeGraaf house where the Schenectady Militia defended themselves against the French Indian attackers. The house was demolished in 1915. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Twelve Schenectadians were killed along with seven Connecticut soldiers, including their commander Lieutenant John Darling. Thirteen others were captured and taken to Canada. Dirk Van Vorst had managed to escape captivity and joined up with the third group (Van Vorst's reluctance at being recaptured, or killed after escaping the first time may have played a role in the third group's unwillingness to join the battle.) With the battle over, the bodies of the dead were brought back to Schenectady and placed in Abraham Mabee's barn which was located at present day 10 and 12 North Church Street. The number of French and Indian casualties were never confirmed, but are thought to be minimal.

In 1929, the Schenectady Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed this monument to those who were killed during the Beukendaal Battle. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection
It's tough to visualize now, but Schenectady County was once on the frontier. Attacks like the Battle of Beukendaal highlight the danger that settlers were constantly in and how difficult it was to protect residents in the area.