Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Jersey Ice Cream Company

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

The Jersey Ice Cream Factory on the corner of Liberty and Yates Street. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.  
During the teens and twenties of the last century the familiar red and white sign of the Jersey Ice Cream Company beckoned to Schenectadians in search of a sweet treat.  Located on the corner of Liberty and Yates Streets, the Jersey Ice Cream Company was considered a state of the art facility providing “brick ice cream” and other novelty items. The building that the Jersey Ice Cream Company occupied was also notable for being the residence of President Chester A. Arthur during his time at Union College.

The former ice cream factory is looking good! It currently houses an antique store called The Katbird Shop. Courtesy of Google Maps.
The Jersey Ice Cream Company was formed in February of 1912, the successor of the old Staples Ice Cream Company that had been in operation for many years.  In May of 1912, an article in the Schenectady Gazette extolled the modern “cream making appliances” and the sanitary conditions of the plant due to daily scrubbing.  The facility had cold rooms that were kept at a constant temperature winter and summer to keep the ice cream frozen.  The silver lined freezers were surrounded by freezing liquids kept cold by blocks of ice harvested from the pond in what is now Steinmetz Park on Lenox Road.  Until it burned down in 1929, a large ice storehouse next to the pond was owned by the company to stock ice for its plant. 

The Jersey Ice Cream Factory's icehouse is seen in the background. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.   
The ice cream was made with only fresh cream, granulated sugar and fruit flavors which made for a pure rich product.  It was sold in one quart or one pint bricks. The “Jersey Bricks” employed modern packaging for the time: the ice cream was frozen into a brick shape and then wrapped in vegetable parchment, sterilized paper and then put into a cardboard carton.  This “Famous Jersey Tripl-Seal” promised a hygienic product for the protection of their customers.  They offered a variety of flavors; vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, Neapolitan which contained all three and other rotating flavors such as coffee, pistachio, maple walnut, orange, pineapple, cherry custard and coconut, depending on the season.  At Christmastime they also offered novelty items such as Jersey Frozen Pudding, Holiday Moulds, Holiday Mousse and Bisque Toroni.  Advertisements stated that Jersey Ice Cream “is the most economical dessert for a family.  It requires no time for preparation, no fire for cooking and no materials.  You buy it ready for eating.  Every member of the family enjoys it and it is good for all.”
An advertisement showing the various flavors of Jersey's Brick Ice Cream. Courtesy of

The company flourished under the leadership of F.T. Killeen, president and Lawrence M. McGinley, treasurer and general manager.  The company was very active in the community sponsoring baseball and bowling teams over the years and even had a checkers team that won the eastern regional championships.  They also donated ice cream for many civic events in Schenectady.  By August of 1929 the company had outgrown the Liberty and Yates Street plant and had purchased property on Brandywine Avenue for a new facility that would cost in the neighborhood of $200,000. The Schenectady Gazette reported that McGinley said the new plant “will be modern and sanitary in every respect and probably will take first rank among plants of its kind in the state. One of the features will be the predominance of electric refrigeration in the new plant. Mr. McGinley said that the growth of the business of the Jersey Company made it absolutely necessary to abandon the present quarters.”

Do you scream for ice cream? There's nothing that says Halloween more than a potato shaped ice cream mould. Courtesy of
The new plant was never built.  In October of 1930, the Jersey Ice Cream Company certified to the New York Secretary of State that it had changed its corporate name to the Schenectady Ice Cream Company.  In November, the General Ice Cream Company, which had is main offices in Schenectady, acquired the Lenox Road and Brandywine Avenue properties which had belonged to the Jersey Ice Cream Company. In the spring of 1931, the company was taken over by General Ice Cream Company, a subsidiary of National Dairy Products, Inc. and Lawrence McGinley was made General Manager of both companies and chief territorial representative for National Dairy Products.  In July of 1931 the Schenectady Ice Cream Company filed with the Secretary of State a certificate of voluntary dissolution.  Later, Sealtest Dairy had a presence in the area, providing milk and ice cream products.  It was owned by National Dairy Products.  Currently, Hershey’s Ice Cream has a distribution plant on Albany Street in Schenectady.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Armistice Day in Schenectady

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the very first Armistice Day parade in Schenectady. Armistice Day was originally a commemoration of the ceasefire on the Western Front of World War I. The act that made Armistice Day a national holiday was approved on May 13, 1938. It stated that November 11 was to be  "dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day." In 1954, after two wars that the United States were involved in, Armistice Day was changed to Veteran's Day to honor American veterans of all wars. Armistice Day is scarcely remembered today, but the relief and joy Schenectadians felt when the armistice was announced should not be forgotten.

The Armistice Day Parade on Dock Street. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.
Schenectady was alight with activity starting with the Schenectady Gazette's announcement that the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 at 5:00 am in Paris (2:50 am EST), stating that the end of hostilities would occur at 11:00 am (6:00 am EST). The celebrations were to began early in the morning and would end up going through midnight. With a population nearing 90,000 people, the Armistice Day celebration was the biggest the city had ever seen. An impromptu parade began at 3:30 am when a young man collected a group of people and started the parade. This group snowballed and soon enough, hundreds of people joined in on the festivities. The Newsboy Association's bugle, fife, and drum corps. kept the marchers in line. As the group marched along the canal down Dock Street, they decided to make a stop at General Electric to try and entice some GE workers into joining. Their plan worked, and the group grew even larger. By 9:00, the group was so large that little progress could be made down the streets.

This 1916 photo shows the members of the Schenectady Newsboys' Association Fife and Drum Corps. The Fife and Drum Corps was first organized in April 1916 with 35 boys from the Newsboys' Association. By the following year, the group had grown to 58. During World War I, the Schenectady Newsboys' Association Fife and Drums Corps marched in uniform in patriotic and military parades. Image from the Larry Hart Collection. 
 Small groups would make their way downtown as well. Children grabbed pots, pans, whistles, and anything they could make noise while older teens whitened their faces with feather dusters and talcum powder. All sorts of vehicles were enlisted into the parade and groups of Union students were seen driving an ash collectors truck. The Gazette wrote about a young boy that they dubbed "The modern Paul Revere." This young boy rode a horse through the streets of downtown blowing a bugle and yelling at people to wake up.

Yet another parade was formed in the afternoon. This parade was just as wild and raucous as the early morning parades, although this one was slightly more organized according to the Gazette. The paraders marched through dinner time and those too exhausted to march stood to the side to anxiously wait for the troops to arrive. The Gazette commented upon "the new position of women acquired during the war" as the women of the Schenectady Motor Corps. arrived "khaki-clad with bright brown leather belts and straps and military caps places at just the right angle."

Merrymakers celebrating in the streets of Schenectady. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.
Shortly after the Schenectady motor corps. passed, the Schenectady County soldiers of World War I marched down State Street. They stood "straight and staunch" and the first to arrive were the warehouse corps, then the New York State Guard. The Army Depot also brought its trucks and ambulances down State Street to show off. The greatest applause was held for the black troops as they marched together without a break in their lines. Next in line were the Red Cross nurses to which the crowd yelled "You've done your share and we're proud of you." Other notable members of the parade was Major John E. McKerracher. McKerracher was in charge of the warehouses in South Schenectady/Rotterdam and was responsible for housing and moving troops as well as transporting equipment. 

The celebrations weren't just for early risers though and a massive nighttime parade formed around 8:00 pm. Marchers organized at Jay and Union and were led over to Washington Ave, back up State, up Albany Street to Hulett and finally disbanding at Nott Terrace. This parade included many bands, including the inexhaustible newsboys' association who were some of the first marchers of the day. Thirteen different military units joined the parade as well as the police, firemen, and just about every fraternal and ethnic organization in the area. Other features of the parade included many large American flags, a poster carried by the Jewish organization which read "Jewish Flag Recognized by the Allies", the Kaiser's coffin which read "The Kaiser is dead," and an armor clad Schenectadian with a sign that read "To Hell With The Kaiser."

The parade marching down State Street in 1918. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives. 
The festivities carried on with only only a few cases of "misguided energy." Throughout the day, people placed "torpedoes" on the trolley tracks that would explode when the trolley car ran over them. A piece of steel struck a spectator waiting by the side of State Street, causing a large gash in her cheek. More mischievous members of the crowd found pleasure in throwing talcum powder and other powdery substances in the faces of spectators. The Gazette also expressed displeasure at the late-night intoxicated crowds who contributed to much of the bad behavior. Despite this mischief, the police reported that there were no more arrests than on an average day and most of the work of Schenectady's police force consisted of confiscating talcum powder.

The all-day armistice parade was a release from the stress caused by four years of worldwide uncertainty and fear from the largest war up until that point. As the war went on, neutrality became more and more difficult to maintain and many men and women from Schenectady County joined to help with the war efforts. World War I was a war unlike any other before it, but unfortunately it was not "the war to end all wars." The sentiment expressed by the Schenectady Gazette that "such a day only comes once in the history of a nation" proved to be false as many of the people who celebrated Armistice Day in 1918 would still be alive during V-E Day just 27 years later. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Pastor's Ledger

How would a pastor in the 19th century keep track of, well, everything a 19th century pastor has to keep track of? I'm sure each pastor had their own way of organizing hymns, psalms, sermons, baptisms and marriages, but Herbert B. Roberts used The Pastor's Ledger, A Private Record Book For The Pastor's Study, Arranged Upon A Convenient And Original Plan by F.A. Blackmer, With The Aid of Many Pastors. For The Recording Of All Pastorial Labor,  Also A Church Directory. This ledger was published by Bardwell, Blackmer, & Co. in 1889 and sold for $2.25. Herbert B. Roberts served as pastor for the Scotia First Reformed Church from 1901 to 1923, before that he was the pastor at the Berne Reformed Church. His ledger documents much of his time at Berne.

The ledger was arranged into six different sections, sermons, prayer meetings, baptisms, church accessions, marriages, and funerals. It also has a useful church directory that lists church members along with their address, when and for what reason they saw the pastor, age (usually confession or a certificate) and remarks which often state when the parish member died. In Herbert B. Robert's ledger, he crosses out the address and uses the space for the maiden name of female parishioners which is potentially more useful than address. Images of the ledger can be seen below.

The title page of The Pastor's Ledger

Pastor Roberts' sermons during his first few months at Scotia Reformed.

The pages listing funerals has information on the cause of death, where the funeral took place as well as where the deceased was buried making it a useful genealogy resource.

Part of the pastor's church directory from his time at Berne.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Historian and His Dogs

The front of the Walton's house at 26 Front Street.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
In the July 1925 issue of the The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association Alonzo Paige Walton  was described as having "one of the most interesting collections of historical resources in the state." His collection included newspapers, clippings files, broadsides, and two letters from Sir William Johnson. Mr. Walton was known for his penchant for history and especially liked houses in the Stockade District of Schenectady. The Stockade was colloquially known as "Waltonville" due to his ownership of many of the houses in the neighborhood. The Waltons owned and renovated the historic Christopher Yates house on 26 Front Street. Mr. Walton was also involved in the Schenectady County Historical Society where he served as president from 1915-1916 and was a life member. Parts of his collection were donated to the Schenectady County Historical Society after he died in 1937. In addition to his love of history, Alonzo Paige Walton also had a fondness for Old English Sheepdogs.

Alonzo Paige Walton Jr. staring intently at one of his dogs. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection. 

Ramsrock Defender (left) and Mistress Merrie O'Merriedip (right) were photographed at the White Studio of Schenectady.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection. 
Alonzo passed his love of history and Old English Sheepdogs down to his son Alonzo Paige Walton Jr. Alonzo Jr. and his wife Ettie owned several exceptionally cute Old English Sheepdogs and entered them in dog shows throughout the state. Ettie was voted to be the president of the New England Old Sheepdog club in 1943 and they were the heads of the Wildwood Kennel Club which was located in Saratoga Springs. We are lucky enough to have a few photos of the Walton's sheepdogs, Mistress Merrie O'Merriedip and Ramsrock Defender.

More shots of the Walton's sheepdogs. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection. 
Mistress Merrie even had a rival in her brother Master Pantaloons who was owned by a family from Great Barrington, MA. They went up against each other in a 1941 dog show at the Wildwood Kennel Club but unfortunately for Mistress Merrie, she was defeated by her brother. Despite this defeat, she would have been proud of Master Pantaloons as he reached the finals of the working breed and eventually won best in show by beating a "snappy, well-conditioned boxer." Mistress Merrie, Ramsrock Defender, as well as the Walton's other sheepdogs would go on to win various competitions throughout the state.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rotterdam Sesquicentennial Parade

Rotterdam and Glenville have an almost 200 year old rivalry. This rivalry was based on which town was officially created first. Both towns broke off from Schenectady in 1820, but there is no official record as to the exact date. This rivalry was stoked during a match of tug of war over the Mohawk during the sesquicentennial (150 year) anniversary for both towns in 1970. Glenville won, but accusations of cheating have blemished their mighty feat of strength (read more about this match in a recent Gazette article by Stephen Williams:

While Rotterdam was left dripping and injured (2 Rotterdam residents were treated for rope burn and one for a broken wrist) we like to think that they had some other successes, such as their celebration of facial hair (read more in a previous blog post: and their Sesquicentennial Parade).

The parade was assembled at Mohonasen High and went down a 2 mile stretch of Curry Road to Westcott Road and disassembled at the former Army Depot. The Gazette estimated that around 4,000 people lined up to participate in the parade, including bands, dancers, people on floats and others.  A wide variety of organizations throughout Schenectady County were represented such as the Rotterdam Blue Jays, Rotterdam Republican Club,  the Schenectady "Electric City" Chorus, General Electric, Freihofers, and more.

We recently received a donation of photos of the parade that show the parade in all it's glory with creative floats, sharp looking marching bands, and cool vintage cars. Check some of them out below:

The Rotterdam Republican Club won an award for "Most Beautiful Float".

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Same Schenectady Street Scene Over Time

At the Grems-Doolittle Library we probably have more historic photos of State Street than any other street in Schenectady. This makes sense as State is Schenectady's main street and commercial hub and has been for quite a while. As such, there are a number of advertisements that have popped up on buildings over the years and it seems that one building in particular that would get plastered with ads for local businesses. 322 State Street housed several businesses over the years including the Boston One Price Clothing House, Evelyn Dress Shop, German newspaper the Deutsche Journal, the Schenectady Business College and various other businesses. This building is right by the train tracks, making it a perfect space to advertise. We've chosen some photos that show just how this area changed over the years. Some of these are undated, but a good way to get an approximate date is that if there is no railroad bridge over state, then it was taken prior to 1906.

Looking down State Street from the railroad crossing in 1888. This may be the earliest view of this corner that we have. 

Schenectady celebrated Washington's birthday with a big parade in 1892. 

This photo is from the mid-1890s.
This damaged photo from a glass plate negative also shows an advertisement for the Charleroi Plate Glass Company on a handcar. 

 A busy street scene taken on State Street from the Canal Bridge, 1910
One big change that occurred in 1906 was raising the grade of the railroad tracks. This was a notoriously deadly intersection and building the rail bridge greatly increased safety in the city. 

It's a bit difficult to read, but we think the street says "Stop, Let's Go Smilin' Thru Schenectady." This may have been referring to a play called "Smilin Thru" which was playing at the Hudson Theater in 1927. 
A 1966 view from the opposite side shows an ad for the Gazette.

A bit of a later view from 1977 and it's very difficult to see what they're advertising on 322 State. 

Looking down State in 1984. Zooming in, we can see that the ad on 324 State is the same as it was in 1977 for Nelson's Slenderizing Fashions.
Although there aren't quite as many ads, 324 still had an ad on it in August, 2017. Courtesy of Google Maps.
For more photos from our collection, check out our New York Heritage page at

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Mabee Farm's Great Fires - Revealed in Documents and by Trowel

This post was written by SCHS and Mabee Farm Archaeologist Ronald F. Kingsley.

Since the settlement by Europeans in New Netherlands in the 17th century, great fires have occurred in the Dutch village of Schenectady. It was burned in 1690 by a raiding party of French and Indians from Canada with the physical loss of buildings and lives, and again in 1819 when a fire burned a large section of the village between the Binnekill and Church Street (1). Even the Mabee Farm, only eight miles west of the village, has had its share of tragic fires over its more than three hundred year history. This article addresses the story of two known barnyard fires at the Farm.

Historical Context

To visit the Mabee Farm today the visitor would sense a pastoral landscape with a Dutch architectural style stone farmhouse with attached buildings nestled among trees, open fields, and a scatter of outbuildings in the barnyard along the Mohawk River. The historic Farm is located in Rotterdam Junction. It is now owned and operated by the Schenectady County Historical Society (SCHS) after it being donated in January 1993 by the last family owner, George Franchere. Generations of Mabees resided at the Farm until the end of 19th century when tenants lived and farmed the land. The last resident was the caretaker and Town historian, Scott Haefner.

The property, situated on the Third Flat or Woestyne (Wilderness), was acquired from three Mohawk representatives by the Dutch on 28 May 1670 in the presence of interpreters Robert Sanders, Jacques Cornelius [Van Slyck], and a schout (sheriff) J.G.V. Marcken. (2) In 1680 Governor Andros designated it a Patent and gave the land to Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen, for his service. He was an early resident of Schenectady and formerly from Beverwyck (today, Albany). On 22 January 1706 Daniel Johnson [Daniel Janse Van Anterpen], an English name among others associated with him, conveyed the western section of the property containing 63 acres and 79 rods to Jan Pieterse Mebie, then a resident of the village. (3) Over the centuries the property became a productive working farm. Cows and other domesticated animals along with a variety of agricultural products (grains, fruits, vegetables), poultry, and broom corn were raised for sale in the marketplace. (4)

Recollections Of Times Past for the Present

A single photo in the SCHS’s photographic collection, taken in latter part of the 19th century (circa 1880), furnishes us with a rare glimpse of the barnyard of the Farm. The outbuildings (a carriage house, shed, Dutch style barn, and English style barn) in the barnyard vary in size and orientation. Nearby the buildings dairy cows graze peacefully. (5)

While these outbuildings are no longer visible on the landscape, an exact positioning and size of two buried stone foundations were discovered in August 2015. A summer drought created a cover of yellow grass over their buried stone foundations. Members of our SCHS/Mabee Farm’s Archaeological Services Program (ASP) team and some staff of the Farm were able to witness this event. The larger of the two outlines (60’x35’) was just north of the presently situated English carriage barn/restroom. The structure was moved and repaired in 2000 from the former Bradt Farm which was the adjacent property on the west. It is southwest of and nearby the reconstructed ca. 1760 Dutch style Nilson Barn from Johnstown. The ASP team measured and recorded the position on a large sheet of graph paper which provides the Farm an archaeological record. The general position was familiar to our team. This location had been found covered with the charred debris of a barn fire, believed to have occurred sometime in the 1970s.

Hartgen Associates and students and staff from the Community Archaeology Program-Schenectady County Community College (CAP-SCCC) had shovel tested various locations in the charred remains and adjacent areas from 1998 to 2003 in preparation for determining an apprropriate location for the reconstruction of the Nilson Barn and other buildings. As part of the Hartgen 1998-99 survey, staff had dug a small trench (TU-1) across an exposed section located on the north side of the former stone foundation. They determined that the foundation had served two barns from different eras, one barn built upon the other.

A second outline of a buried barn foundation (30’x25’) was exposed, that of the former Carriage Barn, 36 feet to the west of the buried burned Dutch style barn foundation. Both of these buildings appear on Chiamulera’s interpretative landscape drawing of the mid 19th century (1823-1885) farm. A subsurface ground survey was conducted in preparation for the location of the former Bradt’s Carriage Barn and now with a restroom currently in the barnyard. Also the study revealed a portion of a buried foundation of an English style barn to the southeast of the Dutch style barn and east of the proposed Carriage Barn, all seen in the photo above and also depicted in Chiamulera’s drawing. (6)

The 19th Century Yard Fire Revealed

On December 6, 1883 The Schenectady Reflector reported that a great fire had occurred on November 21, destroying the outbuildings of the Mabee farm with a loss of $2,000. According to resident, Jacob S. Mabee, the buildings contained crops. (7) The loss was also reported in the Troy Daily Times on November 30 as being $9,000. (6) Family records now held in the SCHS archives (M-INS-2) revealed that they had insurance but only a portion of the loss was covered by a payment of $1,600. A copy of the insurance policy (No. 1178), purchased with the Agricultural Insurance Company of Watertown, New York, showed that it had been issued on March 26, 1873. The policy identified coverage for a dwelling house and attachments, a brick house, and three barns, one identified as a carriage house. The former company’s office building still stands in Watertown. Personal communication in May 2016 with the Jefferson County Historical Society in May revealed that only recently that the firm’s business records had been donated to the society.

A much more detailed description of November 1883 fire appears in the Schenectady Daily Union. The reporter provides his readers a detailed story of an extensive fire, a possible cause, losses, and the kind and a successful response made by Italian laborers living in the vicinity to save the house by use of what appears to have been a bucket brigade which transported water from the river to the terrace above to dose the embers. (8)

Sometime before 1886, the Mabees built another barn on the stone foundation of the former barn. A property survey of 1886 by William Dorn shows a single building at the same location as a former barn. Other outbuildings were likely constructed to support the activities of the farm in the barnyard, but Dorn’s survey in that year shows only a barn. (9)

A Twentieth Century Barn Fire

The second great fire occurred 87 years later on the evening of October 10, 1970. An article in the Schenectady Gazette on October 12 provides information about the circumstances of the fire, suggesting possible arson. There is no mention of insurance in the newspaper account nor could a record be found among family papers. (10)

During the years following the fire and the discontinuation of agriculture at the farm, the barnyard became overgrown with trees and brush, east of the former white picket fence that had extended north and south between the boundary of the farmhouse yard and barnyard. Trees with extensive roots and brush were gradually removed starting in 1996 in anticipation of proposed reconstruction of a Dutch style barn in the barnyard. The task exposed the extent of the 1970 barn fire. Debris extended from the remnants of the stone foundation to the embankment overlooking the river.

From 1998 to 2003 the site of the burned barn location and an area adjacent and north were periodically shovel tested for buried evidence in preparation for the reconstruction of the Dutch style Nilson Barn from Johnstown. Staff from Hartgen Associates, Inc. and members of the Community Archaeology Program-Schenectady County Community College (CAP-SCCC) worked together to investigate this section of the barnyard. A wide variety of artifacts, including pottery, farming equipment, auto parts, tools, glass, and a portion of a melted weather vane (perhaps which once was mounted on the roof), were recovered confirming newspaper accounts of the former barns. (11) The surface of the site of the burned barns was covered with a protective soil fabric and covered by topsoil in 2010 to preserve the site for possible future study. (12) Since the construction of the Nilson barn other outbuildings have been added to the barnyard. Today with the Franchere Educational Center and all the buildings at the Farm constitute a public presentation by the historical society of an 18th -19th century agricultural teaching/learning educational setting and resource for the community and New York State.

Undoubtedly there have been other fires or close calls unknown to us today, often caused by lightning or sparks from a fireplace or stove upon a vulnerable surface. Their evidence may be uncovered in the future.

Looking Ahead from the Present

However, people of resiliency regroup and move on, often with different objectives but based on values they hold. The historic landscape changes, each reflecting opportunities taken with available resources. Today the barnyard offers the visitor a sense of order and purpose but formed by many events maybe never to be known. While documents are helpful to understanding the recorded past, archaeology continues to provide researchers with unwritten and sometimes unknown evidence that will continue to enhance knowledge of the past, dispel legends and reveal evidence of the lifeways along the Mohawk.


I would like to acknowledge and thank the following: Laurel Conrad, CAP graduate, Norm Aldrich and Chris Dorando, ASP volunteers; Mike Maloney librarian, Schenectady County Historical Society; Bob Sullivan, librarian, Schenectady County Public Library; Cynthia Seacord, Efner History Center; the Rotterdam Junction and Thomas Corners Volunteer Fire Departments; Jefferson County Historical Society; Bill Buell, reporter, Schenectady Gazette; Bill Whelen, local historian, Rotterdam Junction; Ron Rathford, local photographer; and students and staff of the Community Archaeology Program/Schenectady County Community College.


1. Thomas Burke. The Mohawk Frontier. A Dutch Community of Schenectady, New York, 1661-1710. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1991; Susan Staffa. Schenectady Genesis. How A Dutch Village Became an American City, Ca. 1661-1800. Vol. 1. The Colonial Crucible, Ca. 1661-1774. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2004.; Victoria Bohm. The Most Destructive We Have Ever Witnessed”: Schenectady’s Great Fire of 1819. Grems-Doolittle Library Collection blog. July 24, 2014. SCHS.

2. Original document held by the SCHS.

3. Copy of deed (M-Deed-6) held by the SCHS.

4. Eva Chiamulera. The Van Antwerp-Mabee Farm, 1684-2000. Analysis and Proposal for Its Construction to a Museum Accompanied by a Historical Account of the Residents, Buildings, and Landscape of a Dutch-American Farm. A Thesis, Cornell University, Masters of Arts Degree, August 2000, pp. 129-133.

5. Barnyard, unknown photographer, in the photo/slide collection of the SCHS; the image appears in Chiamulera’s thesis, p. 143.

6. R. Kingsley, Field Investigation, mapping subsurface barns, Archaeological Notes, Mabee Farm File, ASP, 2015; Eva Chiamulera, masters thesis, The Mabee Farm , 1823-1885, p. 151.

7. Schenectady Reflector, “Rotterdam Rough-Notes”, Vol. XLIX, No. 4, p. 4; Troy Daily Times, a notice, "November 21. Buildings of Jacob Mabee at Rotterdam. Loss $9,000; insured."

8. Schenectady Daily Union, “Large Fire in Rotterdam”, Vol. XIX, No. 22, p.1.

9. Robert Dorn’s Survey map, 1886, Map Collection, SCHS library.

10. Schenectady Gazette. “Arson Suspected in Mabee Barn Blaze.” Vol. LXXVII, No. 323. October 12, 1970, p. 15.

11. R. Kingsley and L. Basa, Miscellaneous field notes, burned barn area, CAP, no report, 1998-2000; Hartgen Archaeological Associates, Inc., August 1999. Report. Archaeological Investigations. Barn Area, Mabee Farm, Town of Rotterdam, Schenectady County, NY.

12. R. Kingsley and L. Basa, recommendation to the Mabee Farm Committee. May 1, 2002, Mabee Farm Committee Meeting Notes.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Grand Theft Auto: Schenectady

Arrested in 1927, Louis Sulzer (aka Louis Sulsona)of 19 Eagle Street in Schenectady was quite a prolific car thief. It was estimated that Sulzer and his ne'er-do-well associates stole well over 100 cars during their criminal career. An article from the March 16, 1928 issue of the Beacon News described how Sulzer stole that many cars. The article profiled Arthur Davis, the head of the stolen car department of the NYS motor vehicle department, on a new technique where car thieves manage to register cars weeks before they steal them. The thieves would dupe motorists into giving them their motor number (probably similar to a modern VIN). They would also take the tags from cars, cut them in half, and solder different parts together. Unwary automobile buyers would have no clue that anything was wrong. Davis was the first to suspect that Sulzer was selling stolen cars and mentions that he was found with 94 cars registered in just three weeks.

Sulzer would travel to New York City and New Jersey to steal the cars, then drive them back to Schenectady to sell them. Sulzer was fond of Fords and mainly stole Ford Coupes and Tudor Sedans. He was arrested in Albany on May 9 and it was alleged that over 2 years, Sulzer sold more than $100,000 (almost $1.5 million today) worth of stolen cars. He and his associates would advertise in local and out of town papers. This turned out to be his downfall as he was arrested in the office of Albany's Knickerbocker Press while waiting to place an advertisement. An article in the May 16, 1927 Schenectady Gazette stated that "Agents of the detective agency...declare that the changing of the motor numbers on the machines Sulzer is alleged to have stolen is one of the cleverest pieces of work in this line that they have ever seen." Agents from the Automobile Underwriters Detective Agency were called to process the engine blocks in order to figure out the actual motor numbers of the stolen cars. This wasn't the first time Sulzer had been caught either, he served a two-year term in the Great Meadow Prison in Comstock for stealing cars in New York City. After skipping bail and missing his court date, Sulzer was found in Atlantic City and sent to Albany County Jail without bail.

An illustration of Sulzer and Deere's
daring escape from the Albany
County Jail. From the August
25, 1927 issue of the Albany
Evening News, courtesy of
Sulzer's saga wasn't finished when he was sentenced though. About 3 months after being sent to Albany County Jail, Mr. Sulzer and fellow inmate Wray Deere decided they had enough and flew the coop. The guards came back from chapel services to find the inmates missing and bars from the window sawed off. How Sulzer and Deere managed to get hacksaws into the jail is up to some speculation. It was suspected that hacksaws were thrown through the window of the recreation room at some point prior and collected by Sulzer. They would then cut through the bars of a window in the recreation cell every Sunday as they skipped chapel servies. The window was nine feet from the floor and had "massive inch-and-a-quarter rods." Heating pipes ran along the wall and it was suspected that they climbed the pipes to gain access to the window. Ten minutes before they escaped, everything seemed normal and guards noted that Sulzer and Deere were seated on a bench underneath the window, a bench that they would use to help them escape.

Soon after the prisoners were suspected missing, Schenectady and Albany police searched Sulzer's house, as well as every known place that he associated with. Schenectady police soon found out that not only was Sulzer and his wife, Eva, not at their Eagle Street home, but apparently never resided there according to the owner. Days passed and the prisoners were still nowhere to be seen. Reports came in that the men were seen walking around Lincoln Park and Myrtle Ave. in Albany but these reports were discounted. What seemed more likely to the police is that they had help from the outside and were transported across state lines shortly after their escape.
Picture of Wray Deere (top-left) and Louis Sulzer (bottom-right) as well as their path from prisoner to escapee. From the August  25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News, courtesy of
In the August 25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News, Sheriff Claude C. Tibbets stated that Sulzer was a model prisoner and went on to describe him as "A brainy man...He appears capable and shrewd, never giving me any trouble. always genial, sometimes smiling, but ever on the alert for the main chance." Sulzer's choice for a companion didn't make sense to Tibbets and offers that Sulzer may have just wanted some company, or possibly needed Deere's help to escape. Deere was declared mentally insane and had previously escaped while serving an indefinite sentence at Matteawan State Hospital. He was caught in Philadelphia and brought back to Albany and declared sane.
The August 25, 1927 issue of the Albany Evening News described Sulzer as 39 years old, 5'7" and weighed 170 pounds. He wore a striped green suit, blue hat with a light blue band, and tan shoes. Courtesy of
By August 26, Sheriff Tibbets had offered a $200 reward for Sulzer's capture (along with $50 for Deere). Tibbets called off the investigation of the jail and the guards, convinced that the guards took every precaution to prevent an escape. Police continued to search in New York City, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia, all prior hangouts for either Sulzer or Deere. Tibbets made capturing the two men his sole purpose before his term as sheriff was over. By the 27th, private detectives all over the country engaged in a nation-wide search for Sulzer and Deere with the search focusing on Mrs. Sulzer. Details about what Sulzer was up to during his time as an escapee were scarce, but Deere had quite an interesting time while on vacation.

Deere was supposedly seen in Middleburg, NY and was believed to have separated from Sulzer. The sighting was reported by a mechanic in Middleburg who said that Deere headed out towards Catskill after asking how to get to Preston Hollow. The mechanic noticed the photo of Deere in the Albany Times-Union and was positive that the man he saw was Wray Deere. This sighting led authorities to believe that Deere did not have a car waiting for him after his escape. Despite this sighting, no sign was found of Deere in Catskill.

The Times-Union poked a bit of fun at the situation with a humorous article, calling Deere a lothario and saying that Mabel Elder "is down-right 'mad with' Wray while Daddy Elder "says: I told you so." From the October 18, 1927 issue of the Albany Times-Union, courtesy of
It wasn't until mid-October that Wray Deere was found all the way over in Gettysburg, PA where he assumed the identity of Wray Kane. Deere kept himself occupied, even managing to get married while on the lam. After a whirlwind month-long romance, Deere married 20 year old Mabel Irene Elder on October 6th against the wished of Mabel's father. Although he was busy courting Mabel Elder, he wasn't doing much else of consequence besides passing worthless checks in local stores. He was about to be arrested on this charge when authorities saw a clipping from the Albany Evening News describing Deere and he was "snatched from the side of his bride" according to the Albany Evening News.Of course, Deere denied that he was the "Wray Deere" However, his alias folded after being threatened with fingerprint and Bertillion records. Deere was sent back to his "little room" at the Albany County Jail.
Lewis Sulzer's Inmate Admission Ledger from the Clinton Prison Admission Ledgers, 1851-1866, 1926-1939. Courtesy of
As for Sulzer, the details on his capture were hard to track down and might take some deeper digging. It seems like Sulzer enjoyed a bit of time away from the Albany County Jail as the most we could find was an article in the April 19, 1931 issue of the Times-Union stating that Louis Sulzer's trial was set for "Wednesday." Library volunteer Erin Hill-Burns found an inmate admission ledger for Clinton Prison with Sulzer's signature as well as a wealth of personal information about Sulzer. Interestingly, it looks like he is just doing 40 days for one of the car thefts. Erin also found out that he spent some time in Sing-Sing in 1913 for burglary.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find much about Sulzer's capture. Send our librarian an email at if you can find anything about Sulzer that we haven't mentioned. We can't offer a cash prize, but you'll be acknowledged in our blog.