Walls Have Ears
- The Stockade Story
- Samuel Fuller: Master Builder of the Mohawk by Giles Yates van der Bogert
- Drawings by Werner L. Feibes, Cover by E. George Weinheimer
- End Papers, Map of the Stockade Area by James Schmitt.
Printed Version Copyright© 1981
Electronic Version Copyright© 2003
Both copyrighted by the Stockade Association
This volume has been assembled by his friends and neighbors in tribute to the memory of Giles Yates van der Bogert, and in the conviction that his occasional writings are worth preserving in permanent form. Cues, descendant of one of the oldest families in the Schenectady region, will be recognized as the “young architect” in his account of “The Stockade Story.” Born and brought up in the old Stockade district, Giles moved away long enough to complete his education at Williams College and the Architectural School of the University of Pennsylvania, then to set up an architectural practice in Albany with Henry Blatner. In the early 1940’s he came back to downtown Schenectady, establishing his own firm and a home at the renovated 27 N. Ferry St. with his wife, the former Mary Easton.
In his profession, Giles pioneered progressive design and construction techniques throughout the Capitol District. At the same time, he retained and developed his love for the early traditions of the Stockade in building and in community living. While he worked to organize a group of amateur painting enthusiasts, he was discussing, particularly with lawyer Ernest Cohen and Union Professor Philip Stanley, plans for rehabilitating the historic homes of the area. It is largely the story of these homes and these projects which he tells here.
The man we glimpse behind these pages is truly the Giles we knew in our living rooms and on our sidewalks: the forward-looking architect, the backward-looking historian, the raconteur, the genial and generous friend, the community leader. We miss only the cohesive principle which bound the strands of his activities together. The love of the old and the enthusiasm for the new did not exist in conflict within him. His historical sense provided him with a perspective, enabling him to see the Dutch pioneers, the encroaching English, and the following revolutions in taste and fortune as adding ever new contributions to the area’s heritage.
In this broad view, the Twentieth Century must inevitably add its insights and techniques if the heritage is to retain its vital continuity. The building of the new, which each previous era had insisted upon in its time, becomes the obligation of the present to the future. Therefore, to Giles restoration of the old was a prime interest; mere imitation, a dead end. He felt that tradition should be continually restored and re-animated, not artificially reproduced.
For Giles, the architecture of the Stockade district offered a live and vivid history of New York architecture from its earliest days. It held its interest for him, as it does for us, because it retains its vitality, because it is not an embalmed architecture, like that of Williamsburg. It lives, and we live in it; it moves with a constantly changing life, its renewed creativity enhancing its historic charm.
The pieces included in this volume are, in the main, those which enlivened issues of the community Association’s paper, The Stockade Spy, 1961-1965. There, as here, the columns were often illustrated with the line drawings of Werner Feibes, architectural associate in the firm of van der Bogert, Feibes and Schmitt. “The Stockade Story” appeared in the October, 1968 issue of The American Institute of Architects Journal, and we are indebted to the American Institute of Architects for permission to reprint it here. “Samuel Fuller, The Master Builder of the Mohawk” is taken from the manuscript of an address delivered to the Society of Architectural Historians.
2. The Stockade Story
OVER THE PAST FIFTEEN to twenty years an exciting urban renewal and historic preservation has been taking place in what is known as the “Stockade Area” of the city of Schenectady, New York. What started as a rather spontaneous, unorganized reclamation of historic buildings in the old downtown section of Schenectady has now become an organized and enthusiastic program of the residents of this four-block area, with the result that perhaps one of the most interesting groups of historic buildings in the country is being saved from further deterioration or possible total destruction.
Three hundred years ago Arent Van Curler, the founder of Schenectady, saw the Groote Vlachte, the Great Flats, that lay in the Valley of the Mohawk River, west of Fort Orange (Albany). It was land which he described as “the most beautiful the eye of man ever beheld.” At the convergence of the Mohawk and the Binne Kill, on the high land above the threat of floods, was an ideal spot for settlement. When in Manhattan, he discussed this with Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of New Netherlands. Either Stuyvesant was not very interested or the cares of his office were too pressing, for he took no action in the matter. Finally, on June 18, 1661, Van Curler wrote an urgent petition to the Director General. The Indians were willing to sell, and he and his followers were anxious to take possession of the land. Perhaps it was the postscript to this letter that caught the Governor’s eye:
“PS. If your Honor falls short of three or four muds of oats as feed for your Honor’s horses, please command me to supply your Honor with the same.
Your Honor’s Servant
A. V. Curler.”
Apparently Van Curler was wise to the Governor’s proclivity toward graft. In any event permission was granted. The lands were formally deeded to Van Curler by the Chiefs of the Bear, Wolf and Turtle tribes of the Mohawk Indians on July 27 of that year, and the founding of Schenectady had begun.
The location of the new town, the farthest western settlement of the Dutch, perforce rendered it a dangerous one. The western horizon of civilization dropped down at its border line and beyond this no white man had yet settled. Although the Mohawks were friendly, attack from unfriendly tribes from the north, the friends of the French, was no remote possibility. Therefore, a stockade, with a blockhouse at one corner, was built around the settlement. It is from this that the present section of the city derives its name. It is ironic that, alter the inhabitants had expended all this labor in self-protection, the stockade proved as useless as the Maginot Line.
Soon after the settlement of Schenectady, Peter Stuyvesant capitulated to the British. New Netherlands became the Royal Colony of New York, and the little Dorp town became embroiled with the ambitions of Louis XIV, the power of a Queen’s bedchamber, the schemes of Canadian Frenchmen, and the pros and cons of Leis!er’s policies—all to come to a hideous climax at eleven o’clock on Saturday night February 8, 1690.
Despite the warnings of Sanders Glen and others and the continual talk of attack at Douw Aucke’s Tavern, no one could conceive of an attack from Canada in the dead of winter. They were so confident that, almost in mockery; the North Gate was left open, guarded by two snowmen. The small contingent of Connecticut men who garrisoned the blockhouse, the Dutch and the few Scotch and English residents of the place went to bed. The French and Indians came silently through the new-fallen snow and stationed themselves at each doorway. Then at the signal, a blood-curdling war-whoop of the Indians, the holocaust began. The great majority of the inhabitants were brutally massacred. A few were taken off to Canada as prisoners and some twenty-five escaped. The French, in order to keep the Indians amused and to prevent a drunken orgy, ordered the town to be set to the torch.
Despite almost total destruction, it was decided not to abandon the outpost. By May 10, 1690, a new fort had been completed at the foot of present State Street. Another blockhouse was constructed about 100 feet north of St. George’s Church and a guardhouse at the corner of Church and Ferry Streets (see map). The settlement slowly recovered. Within twenty to thirty years the town had grown to some 400 dwellings and was a prosperous trading center. Although none of the buildings of the founding days remain, there still exist several houses constructed in the early eighteenth century during the time of reconstruction. In addition to these there are a score or more which also antedate the Revolution. In all there remain in the Stockade Area over forty-five buildings which are either marked by New York State plaques or upon which the Schenectady County Historical Society has placed date markers. The terminal date of this program of the Historical Society, which will be discussed later in this article, is 1825.
It is miraculous that so many dwellings of our early history remain in this cluster. For 150 years the Binne Kill was lined with wharves, warehouses and boat-building shops serving the traffic that moved up and down the Mohawk. Then, in 1819, a disastrous fire struck the city, wiping out most of these establishments, along with a large number of nearby houses. In all 200 structures were destroyed. Perhaps this disaster was truly a blessing. When the business buildings were rebuilt, it was in a new part of the city to the south and east of the Stockade Area. This left the old part almost entirely residential. Had this not been the case and had business redeveloped in the Stockade Area, it is more than probable that these treasures of the past would have been razed in the name of progress to make way for plate glass fronts.
Since most of the early settlers were Dutch, they built in the homeland fashion. So did the next generation—close to the street and on deep narrow lots. Among the buildings in the area there are some splendid examples of Dutch architecture, such as the Abraham Yates House, Ca. 1700. Although the windows and door of the Holland brick front have been enlarged and modified, the high-pitched gable facing the street with its decorative beam anchors, the butterfly brickwork along the rake of the gable, the brick finial at the peak, the clapboard side-walls and the flat-roofed dormers are all so -Dutch that a burgher out of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” or one of Breughel’s dancing peasants would feel at home here.
Another is the Adam Vrooman House. Adam was one of the original proprietors who, though he saw his wife dead at his feet and his infant child’s brains bashed out against the wall on that horrible February night in 1690, fought his way to freedom to come back to rebuild during the reconstruction. This house dates Ca. 1720. Although it is built entirely of wood with brick-filled walls, it like the Yates house has its high-pitched gable facing the street. Despite minor alterations to the exterior, it is pure Dutch in character. There are three others, built in the middle of the eighteenth century — the Van Slyck, the Isaac Vrooman and the Fonda Houses—which are built in this same Dutch style. Then there is the Johannes Teller House, ca. 1740, which, with its Holland brick walls in Flemish bond and its gambrel roof, could have been lifted from the Lowlands of the Netherlands and planted in Schenectady. It is as Dutch as Edam cheese.
Probably the oldest and in many respects one of the most interesting is the Hendrick Brouwer House, Ca. 1700. Tradition has it that, because Brouwer, the fur trader, was so fair, the Indians spared an earlier house of his during the massacre. It may be possible that some parts of the earlier structure have been incorporated in the present building, which is a combination of three buildings, two along the street and one in the rear. The latter has the typical steep-pitched roof of the Dutch, while the former have their gables parallel to the street. The walls of this frame structure are filled with sun baked brick. The interior has undergone far less change than most of the other residences in the area. Its beamed ceilings, large fireplaces, wide pine floors and several secret rooms make it a treasure of our historic past.
These Dutch-Gothic houses are not architect’s houses; rather they are monuments to guilds and morality plays, feudal Europe extended to the banks of the Mohawk and the Binne Kill. There are many more, too, which axe not architect’s buildings but which are an expression of Peter Stuyvesant’s surrender to the Duke of York. Though simple in style, these are English houses, England and New England blooming in the valley. The roof gables have been turned parallel to the street. The dormers have pitched roofs, and there is an occasional balustrade at the juncture of the roof and the street wall.
Then the Builder’s Handbook takes sway. The Tobias Ten Eyck House, 1760, and St. George’s Church, 1761, both designed by Samuel Fuller, who first came here from New England to repair the Fort and later returned to become the master builder of the Mohawk, have written all over them Fuller’s debt to the Handbook. The First Presbyterian Church, 1809, with its superb Palladian window over the pedimented Ionic entrance, whoever may have designed it is a further expression of the growing interest in the architecture of the old world which culminates in the Mohawk Club. Built originally for Schenectady’s first bank in 1816, this building is so orderly that it bespeaks the England of Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. Here and there is a Victorian mansard or a stately brownstone. And there is one excellent example of Carpenter Gothic practically taken in toto from Sloan’s “Model Architect.” This, in brief, is the architectural heritage that remains within the four blocks of the Stockade Area.
It is quite probable that much of the area, especially Union Street, Church Street, lower Front Street and Washington Avenue, would have remained reasonably preserved, since many of Schenectady’s oldest families lived in this section, but there was no assurance. Some fine old buildings had already given way to progress and to the four-wheeled monsters of Detroit. Even in this well-established area the trend could continue. However, what was more threatening was the “gray area” developing to the east on Perry, Green and Front Streets. In fact, on Front the area was “gray” enough in the early forties to be seriously considered for a low-rent housing project. Fortunately this never occurred.
What reversed the trend? Back in 1932 a college professor and an attorney jointly bought the Adam Vrooman House which lay in this “gray zone.” At this time it took real daring and courage. They were chided by their friends. Little did their friends realize that in not too many years, they would be eating their words and clamoring for a house or an apartment in the “slums.”
This one event is undoubtedly the most important in the history of the reclamation of the Stockade Area. The attorney, who is also a very astute business man, realized the potential of the area. He knew that no bank would help in financing because of its experience during the collapse in 1929. But he also knew that, if he could find the money, he could buy a number of the buildings for the cost of the HOLC mortgages. The banks would be only too glad to unload these poor risks. He found private money, bought several buildings which he converted into apartments, and the trend started to reverse.
Schenectady’s population is quite transient. Its major industry, the General Electric Company, brings many young engineers to the city for training, a large number of whom are later transferred to other plants. The demand for good apartments in a nice area is therefore constant. This situation became aggravated during World War II when housing became critical. With the advent of the NHA program, people saw the advantages of buying and converting more of the houses in the Stockade Area into apartments. In this way much of Ferry, Front (above the Indian Statue) and Green Streets was reclaimed. Some of these have now been reconverted into splendid private homes. Others remain well-kept apartment houses. During this critical shortage, other citizens who were more permanently situated in their employment in the city and yet who needed housing, learned that for $5,000 or less they could pay off an HOLC mortgage and become the owner of an historic building. Finding the money to rehabilitate i these almost substandard dwellings was no longer a problem. The banks now knew that i the area was becoming stable and were more than willing to take new mortgages and to make loans for alterations repairs and restoration. Without this financial support no reclamation or rehabilitation would have been possible.
Meanwhile, in the corner store, the old Public Market, ca. 1795, a new sort of organization was forming. The market was vacant for the first time in years. The owners lent the corner store to a group of men who had been getting together once a week to relax over their can-g vases. It was an interesting cross-section of men living in and having a stake in the area. There were the attorney, the general contractor and the seller of old and rare books, whose shop lay just outside the four blocks. There was the GE artist and there was the architect who had recently bought up an HOLC mortgage and had gutted and remodeled an old house.
As we criticized each others’ works of art and sipped our highballs, we also discussed the area. In complete egotism we decided to form a group called the ‘Villagers,” which would sponsor an outdoor art show, open to all, amateurs and professionals alike. In this way we could exhibit our own endeavors. The first year was a great success, and the show has now become a major cultural event in Schenectady. The Schenectady County Historical Society suggested a “walk-about.’ Some of the old homes were opened to the public for a day to let people see the interiors. This was welcomed with enthusiasm by the owners. Now annually, people of Schenectady and visitors to the city have an opportunity to become more familiar with these fascinating old buildings. However, there was still something lacking—my wife and I could not help but feel the need for a more formal organization. Finally, in 1957, six people sat down in the Abraham Yates House, and the Stockade Association was formed.
The Association was composed of property owners in the area and dedicated itself to preservation, protection and beautification. This was a big commitment. Getting organized, of course, required time. In the interim the Schenectady County Historical Society came to the fore and instituted a program of placing date-markers on buildings whose construction could be authenticated as prior to 1825. This was a great stimulus. Already over forty-five buildings bear these markers. However, the true significance of the program lies in the fact that since its institution in 1957, only one building of early date has. been lost to the bulldozer. Although the program will be continuing and perhaps updated, it served as a true stop-gap in preservation prior to the recent enactment of an Historic Zoning Ordinance.
In 1961 architect James D. J. Schmitt was elected president of the Association, a post he held for two terms. Under his imaginative and dynamic leadership big things were accomplished. One program of importance has been tree-planting along the sidewalks. Due to the Dutch elm blight and street-widening, many of the beautiful trees, which once provided shade on the streets and sidewalks, have been lost. A committee studied the problem with a local nurseryman, with the result that two years ago property owners purchased and planted over $1,000 worth of trees to replace the lost ones. The Stockade Association helped in this program by subsidizing the cost of cutting the concrete sidewalk slabs with funds raised through the membership dues.
In the summer of 1961, in celebration of Schenectady’s tercentenary, owners of the dated houses were asked to purchase and fly the historic flag that flew over Schenectady at the time of the construction of their homes. Now, especially on national holidays, these historic flags proudly fly from their architectural counterparts. Two long-range programs are on the agenda, the elimination of overhead power and telephone lines and the cleaning up M the Mohawk River frontage.
However, the development of most consequence has been the adoption of an Historic Zoning Ordinance. For a full year a committee of Association members studied the problem. Working with the Corporation Counsel, this committee drafted an ordinance which was enacted into law by the City Council on May 14, 1962, to become the first Historic Zoning Ordinance to he adopted in New York State.
There are flaws in the ordinance which time will erase. For example, complete protection is afforded only to buildings erected prior to 1825, and contemporary architecture is, in effect, prohibited, the result being that this amazing continuum of American architecture could be destroyed. But it is a big step forward in a long, hard task of reclamation and renewal. It has been exciting to see the “gray zone” slowly recede without Federal, state or municipal aid. Nor has it been a rich man’s hobby. It has been possible only through the work of many, including the Friends of the Stockade, an organization of former residents who now live in five different states and who are willing to Finance various projects. They know, as we who live in the Stockade Area know, that here in the heart of Schenectady lies a true gem of our American heritage.
3. Which Is The Oldest?
“It is rather jolly to have two houses each claiming to be the oldest,” remarked Norman Thomas of Sir Percy Thomas and Son, Architects, from Cardiff and Shrewsbury, B. I. as he, his charming wife, and I walked through our Stockade Area. He was speaking about the Hendrick Brouwer House and the Abraham Yates House. Mr. Thomas asked me to explain this enigma. Here is the story.
Hendrick Brouwer was a Dutchman, son of a brewer, hence the name. One of his predecessors was among the original settlers, the one who reputedly started the boundary disputes. For, while out hunting duck in the “bouwlands,” he came upon one of Teller’s men plowing on his property. Instead of shooting duck he shot the plowman. Hendrick Brouwer was a fur trader, as was his wife after his death. He was a friend of the Indians. Traditionally it is said that because of this friendship part of his house was spared on that horrible February night in 1690. Well, a French account says, “None were spared in Town but one house belonging to Coudre (Major Glen) and that of a widow—whither M. de Montigny had been carried when wounded. All the rest were consumed.” The Albany accounts say, “Ye village was fyre and yt they had much adoe to escape for all ye streets were full of French and Indians.” From these accounts I, personally, can only conclude that Brouwer was lucky to have had his scalp saved and to have lived to come back to rebuild. Perhaps he built on old foundations. However, the house we now see at 14 Church St. seems too English in style for a Dutchman to have built. Yet we are told that he died here in 1707. Perhaps when he rebuilt around 1700, he built in the then popular New England style. Or maybe this is a later alteration to the house. Certainly the rear appears to be much older.
On the contrary, the Yates House at 109 Union St. seems too Dutch for an Englishman to have built. The Holland brick with the “butterfly” work in the gable, the decorative beam anchors, the high-pitched roof facing to the street are all so Dutch and so similar to what had been built prior to the Massacre.
Let’s talk about Yates for a moment. He was baptized in 1704 and married in 1726. If this house was built by him Ca. 1700, he must have been a very young man to undertake such a job, and why as an Englishman did he not build in an English style? I have never heard it said but I suggest possibly that the house was built by a Dutchman and was acquired by Yates when he bought the property from him. This could account for the Dutch style house.
In any event aren’t we fortunate to have these two houses in our midst? It doesn’t really matter which is older. We can be proud to say that in the Yates house we have the best example of Dutch Urban Architecture in existence in the State and in the Brouwer House a superb example of Early America.
4. One Nineteen Front St.
The Vrooman House
As you stroll up Front Street past 119 you know at a glance that this charming red house with its high-pitched gable, facing the street, was not built by an Englishman. You are quite right, for it was built by that indomitable Dutchman, Adam Vrooman. Before the Massacre Adam lived within the Stockade on the Northwest corner of “the Church Street” adjacent to the North Gate. This was a vulnerable spot should the French and Indians descend upon the little settlement, a fact that was pointed out to him as the men of the town sat over their tankards discussing Leisler and his promises and policies. But Adam was immovable. “No matter what, the French’ll not take me !“ he scoffed. How true these words!
On that horrible February night in 1690 he fought a courageous fight only to see his wife lying dead at his feet, the brains of his infant child bashed out against the wall, and two sons taken off to Canada as prisoners. Yet he escaped unscathed. Adam was made of sturdy stuff, and, despite this tragedy, he returned from Albany, with a new wife to rebuild on the ashes of the town he had known so well. In fact he was back here as early as July 9, 1715 when he wrote “in hast” to Governor Hunter concerning the lands in Schoharie which he had secured from the Indians in 1711 and later purchased from the “Five Partners.” On that day he wrote, “The Palatines threatened in rebellious manner, if I should build or manure the Land at Schore that your Excellency was pleased to grant me a patent for.” He continued, “I am ‘Building a stone house 23 feet square and so high, so I Layd the Beames of the Chamber, they had a contrivance to tie bells about horses’ necks and drive them to and fro. In which time they pulled my house, stones and all to the ground’.”
Perhaps this was written from 119 and the house with its sun-baked brick foundation, the fascinating enclosed stairway so typical of the old Dutch houses, was built earlier than we think, or perhaps he built 119 a few years later, which seems highly improbable. After all, we do know that he lived here and in 1726 deeded the dwelling and kitchen on the north side of Front St. near his Majesty’s Fort to his son Johannes, the one not so lucky as his father for he was killed at Buekendaal.
As you walk by take a look at the shed in back of the house. This is no mere out-building. It is truly old and presumably the kitchen referred to in the deed. What a treasure we have in this “dwelling and kitchen”!
5. Samuel Fuller, the Master
Builder of the Mohawk
You will remember that it was at the Great Council in Albany held in June of 1754 when the Mohawk Sachem King Hendrick blasted his British friends by saying: “You are like women, bare and open, without fortification.”
You will remember too that it was in July of the same year that Fort Necessity fell. No wonder the citizens of Schenectady had the jitters, for the defenses of the town were in deplorable condition. An urgent petition was sent to Governor Delancey:
“On the parade ground stands one nine pounder and one six pounder on carriages rotten and unfit for service. Nor is there any embrasure or rather Port-Hole in the curtain to fire them.
‘Above is a sort of Gallery Loophole but of little or no service. In each of the bastions or block houses chambers (chambered cannons or Howitzers) stand of three or four pounds, metal, very insignificant should the enemy make lodgement in any part of Town.
“And we further beg leave to represent to your Honour the Ruinous and Defenseless condition of the Town open and exposed.”
The citizens of Schenectady must have breathed a sigh of relief when finally four years later on May 28, 1758 a detachment of Ring Artificiers with Samuel Fuller, as Master, arrived to repair the fort and to make preparation for the army commanded by General Abercrombie.
Samuel Fuller came from the environs of Boston, probably Needham. I-fe served the Crown until the Fall of Quebec, when he returned to Boston. In the summer of 1761 he accepted a commission from his former commanding officer, John Duncan, to design and build the Captain’s new home, “The Hermitage,” here in Niskayuna. Apparently actual construction was not begun until the following year. Since Fuller did not arrive back in Schenectady until July 31, it is possible that Duncan and Fuller felt it would be advisable to postpone building until the following spring. There was much planning to he done. By the time all details were completed winter would have closed in. The site of the new house was on the vast estate of the wealthy merchant outside of town. Unfortunately, some years ago the residence was destroyed by fire. To date, I have been unable to uncover any picture or description of the original house, but it is reasonable to assume that it was designed in the Georgian Style, judging from Fuller’s later work. Also the Captain, who was one of our wealthiest merchants, would have insisted that his new home be done in the “Modem Taste.”
Samuel Fuller showed great judgment in accepting this assignment, for, if I may paraphrase the Judge in Gilbert and Sullivan’s-“Trial -by Jury,” soon the jobs came trouping gaily.
In 1762 he was not only working on the “Hermitage’ but he had received two other commissions, a residence for Daniel Campbell and St. George’s Church, both in Schenectady. These two commissions were of major importance to Mr. Fuller because of an important contract made as a result, a contract with Sir William Johnson, a contract which was to result in much future work for the Baronet. Although it is perfectly conceivable that Sir William and Fuller had met during the War, his Lordship would have had no way to judge the man’s ability to design anything but fortifications, boats, military housing, and the like. But here were first-hand examples of the man’s ability as a Master Builder and the Baronet could decide whether or not to employ him on the work he planned in the near future.
After all Sir William was such a good friend of the Campbell’s that when in Schenectady he stayed at their home. Also the Baronet had a deep interest in St. George’s Chapel both faithfully and financially.
The Campbell House has undergone changes in time to a point where it is hard to find traces of the original. Though recently remodeled to regain some of its original character one can see little of what this gracious mansion was. Fortunately a photograph still exists which gives us a picture of what this house was like, where Sir William dined, wined and slept.
Now to his other commission in this year of 1762, St. George’s Church. Construction had been started in 1759. That year Richard Oldrich and Reuben Horsford had been paid £4-lSs-9d for digging for the foundations and an additional sum of £7-ls-9d for laying the foundations. The year before a subscription had been set on foot for “erecting a publik Building in the Town, for the performance of Divine Worship therein agreeable to the Rules and Order of the Church by Law established in England.” For some time previously the English of Schenectady had felt that such a place of worship should be founded. There was only the Dutch Reformed Church. At last, through the efforts of John Brown, stimulated by the Reverend John Ogilvie, the building was taking form. Funds had been raised by diverse means. There is even record of a lucky lottery ticket bought for £14-16s which netted the infant Church £1200.
By 1762 the Master Builder, the Architect if you will, was hard at work. Apparently Mr. Fuller’s first move was to return to his native Needham to obtain carpenters capable of assisting him. The agreement was that, in addition to the wages to be paid while at work on the Church, they were to be allowed a specific sum for the seven days it would take them to reach Schenectady and a like sum for the return trip. A record of cost received from pew rent in 1763 would indicate that rapid progress was made during the first year of building. At least the Church must have been sufficiently completed to allow services to be held, which incidentally seem to have been rather sporadic. However, to date £1100 had been expended, which sadly enough was about £250 more than had been collected. To help make up the deficit, Sir William came to the fore in August of that year with a donation of £34-lOs and in 1764 eighty-six lottery tickets were purchased at a cost of £34-Ss. However, there is no indication that this piece of gambling was as successful as the earlier. The problem of money was a serious one and was not surmounted until 1769 when the church was finally completed in its original state.
From a rough sketch of the seating plan in the record books of the Church, the original structure was 36 ft. wide by 56 ft. deep. The walls were of undressed blue stone, thirty inches in thickness, except for a space of fifteen feet in the center at the front wall where the thickness was forty-three inches. The present front wall within the one supporting the Tower, which together with the transepts were added later, is without question the original and the present side walls back to the transepts can readily be distinguished as original by the manner in which the masonry is laid up. The Church had a steep pitched roof covered with wood shingles and was without a steeple when first completed.
A wood tower was added in 1792 and was, I believe, after designs by Fuller or inspired by his work, because judging from an old sketch it has a marked similarity to the cupola on the Tryon County Court House erected by Fuller in 1772.
Originally there were two doors, one at the front or West end, the other on the South. It was decided that liberty should be granted “to Protestants of every denomination to use the Chapel at such hours as should not interfere with the Service of the established Church.” The South door was for the purpose of those Englishmen who had not seen the light but who, incidentally, were willing to contribute financial]y to the erection of a Church for English speaking citizens. Of course, the scheme could not work. The Presbyterians felt that since they had contributed they could come and go as they saw fit. The Anglicans felt otherwise. Tension finally grew to such a point that Sir William personally paid back the money the outsiders had invested in order to get rid of them. As a result the Presbyterians founded a Church of their own, which was fortunate for Samuel Fuller since he later received the commission to design and erect it. The South door was closed up after the rift. If you look closely you can still see the outline of the opening. It was said that the plaster would never stay on that piece of wall for such was the wrath of God.
The interior, in general design, was much as it is today with nave and side aisles divided by attenuated Tuscan columns. The nave was barrel-vaulted and the side aisles flat ceilinged. In fact the present arch and side aisles for about twenty-five feet from the rear wall are as they stood upon completion. Only part of the Church was finished off with pews, extra benches being brought in as needed. Against the South wall near the Chancel was the pew of Sir William Johnson, “adorned with a handsome Canopy supported by Pilasters,” undoubtedly the design of Samuel Fuller. It was erected by one of his carpenters, Mr. Jesse Price, at a cost of £6-16s.
When spring broke in the year of 1763, we find Samuel Fuller in the employ of the Baronet himself. On March 15th, according to Mr. Fuller’s own records, he left Schenectady with his men to work on a new house for Johnson’s son-in-law, Captain Claus, and to start construction later on the Baronial Mansion, Johnson Hall.
Previously on January 5th, 1763, Sir William had written to the Master Builder:
I here with send you a plan of the house I intend to build early in the spring, and shall be glad to have you send a Bill of Scantlin, or the dimensions of all the timber which will be requisite for it, and that in two or three days time if possible as I shall delay beginning to square the timber until then. Therefore I expect you will not fail sending it by that time, and very exact. The house is to be 55 feet long from outside to outside, four rooms on a floor about 18 feet square, with a hall in the middle of the house 18 feet thro the house, with a good staircase at ye end thereof on one side of the back door, as many windows in the rear as in the front of the house, the first story to be 12 feet high from beam to beam. The next, as it will not be a full story to be 8 feet from ye floor to the ceiling.
A large cellar under ye whole house with two fireplaces—I would not have the roof so heavy as that in the enclosed plan. As I imagine this description may sufficiently enable you to make out the quantity of timber necessary for such a house, I need not add further on that Head. I would willingly have a draft from you on the same plan with the best kind of roof you can make, also the lowest rate you will work for the whole season that is until next fall.
Pray let me have the Acctt of timber and yr. proposal as to pay before next Sunday if possible, as I intend to begin squaring next Monday—& yu. will oblidge.
Yr. Humble Servt.
Pray return my plans when Yu. write me.
Samuel Fuller must have obliged because on February 24th the two extended an agreement which reads:
This day I agreed with Mr. Samuel Fuller now of Schenectady, carpenter, in Ye. following manner Vizt.—He is to direct the building of my house at Johnson Hall and Assi’t to finish it agreeable to my plan, for which he is to receive from me Eight Shillings New York Currency P Day, meat, drink and lodging durring the time, in Case He finds tools for any of the rest of the Workmen dureing the time they are at work at said House, or any other for me and that they agree to allow bin, anything PP day for the use of the same, I will, on their order pay, to, said Samuel Fuller what they agree for the loan of the same.
Here we have an agreement for work on Johnson Hall as well as any other building which the Baronet might offer. On March 16th work was started on the Claus House, the house which Mr. Farrell Wade had begun to build. Everything seemed to have been going along well until the weekend of May 7. Samuel Fuller and his men went down to Schenectady on Saturday to retuim on Monday and be faced with a capital-labor dispute, perhaps one of the earliest in our history. Upon arriving back at the job they found the following note under the dateline of May 8th:
My reason for coming here this day was to agree with the workmen whom you intend taking into the woods with you, and as I had not the opportunity of seeing you or them, I leave this paper to let you know that I am determined to give no more than five shillings per day to any whom you employ for my works; if they will not agree to that, I desire you will not bring them with you. Neither will I give more to any (yourself excluded) who work at Captain Claus’ House. What I have promised you shal] he paid.
I am yrs.
Obviously the agreement was settled in Johnson’s favor because on the day after the note was received work was started on Johnson Hall.
Unfortunately, Captain Claus’ House has long since gone, destroyed by fire, with only the briefest of descriptions left to us by Richard Smith in his Journal of 1769—”Daniel Claus’ House was of stone and one story high”—but the Mansion of the Father-in-law stands in its
beautiful setting exquisitely restored with a complete record of its actual building written In Mr. Fuller’s own hand, still extant.
A description of the building itself seems unnecessary here as it is so familiar. However, it is of interest to realize the scope of the building operations which took place in the development of the estate. Originally the main house was flanked by two block-houses such as the one now restored. These served not only for defense but also for other purposes. To quote Jeptha R. Simms, “Trappers of New York,” published in 1871:
“Near the Hall he erected two detached wings of stone, the west one of which was used by his attorney Lafferty, for an office and the other contained a philosophical apparatus, of which he died possessed. The room, in which the apparatus was kept, was called his own private study. On seeing him enter it, Pontiock, his waiter, (half Negro, half Indian) used to say: ‘Now Massa gone into his study to tink of some sin me know not what’.”
Other than these two stone buildings there were small outbuildings to house the Indians while at the Hall for conferences. Also, there was the house of Thomas Flood, bow master or overseer of the farmer. There was the grist mill, the Shay House and barns. According to his account books, all of this work was executed under the guiding hand of Mr. Fuller, even to making some of the furniture. There is a record that the same Mr. Price who built the Baron’s pew, made a chest for the house.
Probably one of the most interesting architectural features of the house itself is the exterior treatment, the use of wood planks V-jointed to simulate dressed stone. I am convinced that Fuller was inspired by examples near Boston, such as the Royall louse at Mod-ford, Massachusetts, built in 1722.
It is also interesting to note that during construction of the Hall, Mr. Fuller’s apprentice boy was John Hall to whom he refers in his records as “my lad” and who on December 7, 1763 became his brother-in-law. Later when given the commission to erect the Presbyterian Church, this same John Hall was Mr. Fuller’s partner.
What with getting married and with handling this tremendous development for Sir William in the West, Samuel still found time to work on St. George’s and also to send Price down to Canghuwaga (Fonda) to work, I believe, on the Dutch Church then being erected,
The estate at Johnstown seems to have been virtually completed by the end of the year.
On December 5, 1763 William Marsh wrote to Sir William:
“It gives me great pleasure to hear your house is finished all but papering and of the riddance of the cursed hammerers—Your cellar will be fuller for it.”
It is rather surprising that six or seven men could accomplish so much in one year. Of course, they worked well into the winter but even then when one considers that all the material had to be manufactured at the site—all lumber cut and milled—all moulding hand run by hand, it is amazing. However, spring of the next year found the Master Builder moving farther to the west to work for another Great of the Mohawk Valley, Captain Nicholas Herkimer.
In 1760 Nicholas’ father had deeded to him a tract of land of five hundred acres lying east of Little Falls near the present town of Danube. It was here in 1764 that the Captain decided to erect a mansion second to none except that of Sir William. The house stands today much in its original form.
It is built of Holland brick, apparently burnt on the site except for the brick used in the chimneys. The General wrote an order which reads:
“Bles do led de berie half as manne brics for a schimle as hie wants and so duing ye will oblegs your humbel sv.
The house, which is now being restored, is credited to have cost the Captain $8,000.00.
In 1765 Fuller was generally occupied in completing St. George’s. The following year he had become a settled married man, having become father of a son Jeremiah and having bought a piece of property in Schenectady from John Duncan. However, I doubt very much if he was able to build himself a home at this time since he was called by the Baronet to work again for him on a house for his nephew, Guy, and unquestionably did considerable work on the Church erected that year in Johnstown. The Church is lost to us. A contemporary description of Guy’s house leads one to believe that full advantage was taken of the site now ruined by the “Iron Horses.”
“Guy Johnson’s house is of stone, 2 stories high, neat and handsome; the garden behind runs down to the river and is accommodated with a pretty pavilion erected over the water.”
The wings were added in, 1858.
For the next few years records concerning Fuller’s activity are scant. Of course, St. George’s progressed as funds allowed and it is highly probable that the architect was employed on the Fort Herkimer Church, which was constructed in 1767. He certainly had the contacts to get the job. As a matter of interest this Church has one of the few interiors that has been left almost untouched.
1770 found Mr. Fuller with another important contract in Schenectady, the Presbyterian Church which he executed with the aid of his brother-in-law, John Hall. We have only the Seal of the Church to give us an idea of the form of this building which was ton down in 1809.
Work had begun the year before, judging from an entry in the Church records under the date of October 12, 1769: “Two gal. West Indian Rum when cutting the timber for the Churches.”
The Church and lot are accredited with an expenditure of $1800.00. According to contemporary descriptions, the interior had a gallery and on the ground floor “21 wall and 22 Eddy Pews.” The Master Builder agreed “to do the work on the pulpit in the same manner as the English Church only it is to Jo~ the wall as to have a pillar for a support and to make a Clark’s Seat.”
By the end of 1778 the structure seems to have been completed and the bell in the new steeple with its leaded ball adorned with “6 bookes of gold leaf” no doubt called the congregation to a joyful service.
The last two commissions on record which Samuel Fuller executed were again for his friend, Sir William: the Fort and Court House in Johnstown, both important buildings in their day.
The Court House stands very much as when completed with its extremely interesting cupola, and bears the honor I believe of being the only Colonial courthouse in the United States still used as intended. Judging from old prints, the Fort or prison has been greatly altered, but the stone section is undoubtedly original. When first erected it was a simple rectangular stone building surrounded by a stockade with blockhouses in the four corners.
Whether Samuel Fuller died shortly after the completion of these works or whether he fled to Canada with his Tory friends, the Johnson, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter for he has left a mark on the Mohawk Valley that time will never erase and he has left a mark on Early American Architecture which justifies him a place among our Architectural Greats.
6. House Gossip
220 Union St.
As you walk up Union Street above Ferry, you cannot help but feel how the city grew. You come upon row houses, Gothic and Romanesque Revivals, and Victorian, all fitting into place because the Presbyterian Church, an old lady and an old gentleman give the street mellowness.
220 Union, the little frame and brick house of Jacobus Van Antwerp, Ca. 1740, sits there like a pristine little lady looking at all the Victorian youths around her and you can hear her say:
“Why do they call them Victorian? I was here when the Georges reigned. I fought the War of Independence. So I became free only to hear a bunch of intellectuals call the new buildings being built around me Victorian! What’s it all about? She never reigned here.
“It is sad that lots of my friends were torn down to be replaced by those things. Oh! I lost many good friends. But I must confess I bought a new hat. Look at my front porch, new for me but modest and nice. I think it becomes an old lady who is trying to keep up with the times.
“Now, if I may gossip, let me tell you about the gentleman down the street. I refer to the Abraham Grant House at 216. He is younger than I am, born about 1800. He is an old rascal but I like him even though he has bought a new suit to keep up with the Victorians.
“We two know so many secrets together. I shan’t divulge Them all. But that old rascal down the street! Oh goodness, what I could tell you about him! He did have his respectable days as we both have now. Yes, it was once the home and office of Dr. van der Bogert. In fact it was here that his son was born, the guy that writes this column. Then the Doctor moved to 111 Union Street and rented 216 to a group of G.E. Test men. I don’t know if you know what Test men were like in those days. They tested everything, including a Prohibition test of gin formulae: which proportions of water to alcohol to juniper juice got you there faster. As an old lady I won’t divulge who these young men were. Truly it would not be proper because they became some of our most respected citizens. However, I am glad to still be around to talk about it.”
7. A Baron and Lotteries
St. George’s Church
Finally in the year of 1758, a subscription had been set on foot for “Erecting a publik building in the town for the performance of Divine Worship therein agreeable to the Rules and Order of the Church by Law established in England.” For some time the English of Schenectady had felt that such a place of Worship should be founded. After all there was only the Reformed Dutch Church where services were conducted in the native tongue, so incomprehensible to the Englishmen. John Brown and the Reverend John Ogilvie had worked untiringly to accomplish the building of an English Church and Sir William Johnson, the Baron of the Valley, was in full support of the project both spiritually and financially. How successful the subscription was I don’t know, but funds were raised by other diverse means, including the purchase of a lottery ticket for £4-16S which netted the infant Church the large sum of £2OO. Also there were donations by Englishmen of other denominations.
It must have been a happy day when in 1759 the excavation and foundations were started by Richard Oldrick and Ruben Horsford. It had beeh a long struggle but at last there would be an English Church in the town. By ‘62 the Master Builder, Samuel Fuller, was hard at work. A record of cash received from pew rent in 1763 indicates that rapid progress was being made.
At least the building was sufficiently complete to allow services to be held. However, that demon “Money” raised its ugly head. To date £1000 had been expended which was about £200 more than had been collected. To help make up the deficit Sir William came to the fore with a donation of £34-1OS. The next year a lottery was held to raise funds by the Church. Eighty-six tickets were sold at £34-8S each. Quite a substantial sum! So work progressed, but the demon was ever present and progress toward final completion was slow. In October of ‘66 Reverend Ogilvie received a letter informing him of a contribution by Sir Henry Moore, Governor of the Province ‘The Governor has subscribed £30 and promised to send up the furniture to compleat the Church, and gave it the name of St. George’s Chapple.’ A year later a committee set out traveling as far as the German Flats to raise money to finish the arch and plaster the walls. They succeeded in collecting £30 but the cost of the arch alone was £40. Sir William came forth with £10, so that the arch could be completed, but as part of the bargain he refused to consent to the leasing of the land set aside for the parsonage. Finally in 1769 the Church was completed.
The original structure was about 86 feet wide by 56 feet deep and was constructed of rough hewn bluestone. There was no bell tower but in 1766 Reverend Ogilvie was informed that Fuller had contrived to hang a bell “until the steeple is erected.”
The general character of the interior was much as it is today with a Communion table in the middle of the east wall. The pulpit was ascended by a set of steps like the present one. Against the south wall, two pews from the door toward the Chancel, was the pew of the Baron, Sir William, “adorned with a handsome canopy supported by pilasters.” It was only right that this great benefactor of the Church be honored and, too, he was a Baron. Near him sat such historic figures as Colonel Butler. On a Sunday there, in those days you were among the hierarchy of the Crown in the Valley. Since then the old grey walls have been disturbed by changes. The nave was extended to the east and the transepts added in 1858. Then, in 1870, the present stone tower was added. All of this was the work of Edward Tuckerman Potter, Architect. The completeness of continuity with the original which he accomplished is beyond reproach. But I wonder how many of us know that we almost lost this monument to our heritage. The Church was nearing a state of collapse when in 1905 it was repaired and restored. And now, thanks to the recent magnificent restoration, we see it much as it must have looked when the Baron sat under his canopy.
8. Good Evening, Governor.
17 and 26 Front Street
Every school day I used to pedal my bike past the site of the former City flail, where the recently demolished Union Street School stood, and cross the Bridge over the Erie Canal. It was this bridge that often used to cause us kids in the Stockade Area great concern, because the elephants in the Circus Parade unfailingly balked at crossing it. We were held in suspense, never knowing for sure whether we would see the cautious pachyderms so gaily bedecked in riotous color with gorgeous ladies riding on their heads and turbaned trainers guiding them. Of course, if the elephants refused to make the crossing we would not see the cages of ferocious beasts drawn by plumed horses, and we would miss the music of the calliope.
There was no such concern as this when at 7 P.M. on the eve of June 11, 1825 the boats, carrying General Lafayette, his son and entourage, docked by the bridge and the gentlemen disembarked to be greeted by Mayor Schermerhoorn. The concern and suspense had occurred earlier in the week. The Hero and Friend of the United States was scheduled to arrive two days earlier. The City was in readiness, a pavilion having been built in front of the City Hall, arrangements made for a banquet at Givens Hotel, where Jay Jewelry now is, and the bridge at Union Street decorated with banners proclaiming, “Welcome Lafayette.” The banks of the Canal were lined with people. But where was the famous guest? The concern was such that a courier was sent out with orders to advise the City Fathers as to the whereabouts and progress of the General’s party. All were relieved when the report came back that Lafayette would arrive on Saturday evening.
After giving a welcoming address, His Honor, the Mayor, introduced the Marquis to the members of the Corporation, several other citizens and a number of Revolutionary heroes, some of whom the General recognized. Then a procession was formed and the party proceeded down Union Street across Church and up State to Givens’. Until quite recently this was always the line of march for any parade. But what a procession this must have been to see! It was headed by a Battalion of Horse Artillery. Then came a band, followed by Heavy Artillery, Light Infantry, the Schenectady Greys, the City Guard and the Union Guards; next the Band of the 57th Regiment, behind which were the officers of the 57th, then Revolutionary Veterans and now the General and “suit” in carriages followed by members of the Corporation and the Committee on Arrangements, also in carriages. Next in the line of march were the Free and Accepted Masons, Sheriff and Deputies, Judges and Magistrates, Gentlemen of the Bar, Medical Gentlemen, the Faculty and Students of Union College, and finally Citizens and Strangers. The banquet at Givens’ was lavish, starting with a toast to the honored guest; then to Washington, to the Cause of Freedom, on and on until before the evening was over a total of twenty-three toasts were drunk, if my count is correct. Perhaps the General wondered why his friend, the former Mayor and ~-Governor of the State, Joseph C. Yates, was not present at this affair, or maybe, since he was a shrewd politician himself, he realized that since the Clintonians were in, and since Governor Clinton and Yates had had a real battle about the course the new canal was to take at Schenectady, a battle which Yates lost, he would quite obviously not be invited. After all Yates did not want the Canal to cut the City in half. He wanted it to follow the banks of the River. Clinton’s “amateur” engineers thought differently. The proprietor of the new Hotel, Mr. Resolve Givens, of course, took the Clintonian side. What could be better than to have this waterway to the
West pass so near the doors of the best hotel in the City! He was a very influential citizen and his support of Clinton’s plan must have carried great weight. Joseph C. was undoubtedly still stewing about it. If you have ever attended a banquet like this, it is easy to visualize Lafayette whispering to the Mayor. Some nodding of heads and all is arranged. He and the Mayor would pay a call upon Yates as soon as the festivities were over. So at 10 o’clock a carriage drove up to the Ex-Governor’s home, now the University Club. Can’t you just hear the welcome? “Good evening, Governor.” “Good evening, General. Please come in.” There they sat talking together and having their nightcaps into the wee hours of the morning. It was 3 A.M. when Lafayette arrived at the tavern, near the present Ingersoll Home, for some rest, while en route to Albany for another great reception.
Politics, Palaver and Both the Houses
By the time this hits the press, it will all be over. A President will have been elected as well as Senators, Congressmen, State officials and all the rest. The mud will have been wiped off faces and the paperbacks burned.
Through it all, I could not help but think of the delightful political satire which Gilbert and Sullivan produced in “Iolanthe.” I could not help but think of Private Willis standing at his sentry box in the moonlight, alone on the stage, singing (in part) …
“I am an intellectual chap and think of things that would astonish you.
I often think it’s comical
That Nature always does continue
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into this world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative !”
Followed immediately by the wonderful chorus …
“Strephon’s a member of Parliament
Carries every Bill he chooses.
To his measure, all assent—
Showing that fairies have their uses.
Enough of current politics and palaver! Let’s talk about both the houses—the one where Schenectady’s greatest politician was born, the other where he later lived. They both stand on Front Street. One is No. 26; the other No. 17.
I have talked about No. 17 before. You will remember that it was here that Joseph C. Yates, Governor of the State of New York, received General Lafayette when the Erie Canal was opened.
Now I want to tell you about the second house where that great politician, Joseph C., was born.
After the Wars Col. Stoeffel Yates and his wife, Jane Bradt, settled down and lived in the much-altered gambrel roofed house at No. 26. Here they raised a large family, four sons (I don’t know how many daughters). Here, in 1785, Stoeffel died at the age of forty-eight. The executor of his will was his brother, Jillis, who farmed the family plantation out in Glenville. The executrix was his widow Jane. An argument arose, according to Austin A. Yates in his book, “Schenectady County, Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century.” Whether he is right or wrong it’s a delightful story and I quote:
“Dey shall work,” said the farmer, “I am the axaceter.”
“Dey shall be eddicated,” gave back the widow, “I am der axetrix.’
The widow won. The boys were “eddicated.’ Joseph C. became our first Mayor and later a Senator, a Judge of the Supreme Court, and finally Governor of New York State. Henry became Senator from Albany County, dying worth $2,000,000, the richest man in the State, according to the New York “Sun.” John B. was a member of Congress from Madison County and one of the builders of the Welland Canal. Andrew became a Doctor of Divinity and one of the first Professors at Union College.
Such was the “eddicated” brood that Jane Bradt Yates raised at No. 26.
9. The Joyful Bell
It’s a beautiful vista looking through the almost “Gothic” frame that the avenue of frees makes, that vista which is terminated by the pedimented Ionic entrance, the superb Palladian window and the stately tower of the First Presbyterian Church. Many of you must remember when the vista was so cramped by the non-conforming use next door on the right. Although the trees and walk were there, so were the unsightly lengths of pipes, the water closets and bathtubs, the trucks and all the rest that go to make up a plumbing shop. Remember Harrison’s? It’s not too many years ago. As a matter of fact I worked for Plumber Harrison one summer when I was in College, and I don’t like to think of that as being too long ago. What a blessing it is that the Church acquired this property and demolished it!
The building we now see is the second edifice that the Church erected. An earlier and smaller Chapel was razed around 1809 and replaced by the new and larger one. The first Church was designed and executed by Samuel Fuller. You will recall the name. I have mentioned him before as the Master Builder who executed St. George’s Church. He also did the Ten Eyck House and the Campbell Mansion right here in Schenectady, as well as most of the important buildings of the period up the Valley. Guy Johnson’s Manor, General Herkimer’s House, Sir William’s Baronial Hall, the Court House and Jail in Johnstown are among his works. To return to the Presbyterian Church, apparently Fuller started work on it in the fall of 1769. There is an entry in the Church records under the date of October 12, 1769 for:
“Two gal. West d Rum when cutting timber for the Church—us.”
The original Chapel and lot were credited with an expenditure of $1800.00. Fortunately there is left to us a contemporary description of the interior of this earlier building. It had a gallery and on the ground floor there were “21 wall and 22 Boddy Pews.” Fuller agreed “to do the work on the pulpit in the same manner as in the English Church only it is to Joyn the wall so as to have a pillar for Sopport and to make a Clark’s Seat.” Also we have some idea of the appearance of the exterior, which is on the Church Seal.
By the end of 1778 the Chapel seems to have been completed. The joyful bell in the new steeple with its leaded ball adorned with “6 bookes of gold leaf” called the congregation to worship.
10. The Widow
On the east side of North Ferry Street, not too far from the corner of Union, there is a charming little house which I walk by every day as I go to work. It is painted yellow and from early spring until winter it is graced by delightful flower boxes at each window. Over its rather incredible pedimented doorway “The Thirteen Star and Stripes” flies proudly. You guessed it! This is the Widow Kendall House. When you look at it you will note that it is slightly out of square, a little tipsy, expressing so well Anna Kendall herself.
If we can put credence in the Memoirs of Harriett Bowers Paige the story goes like this.
The Widow Kendall was flee Anna (or Annette) Hall. She first married Samuel Fuller, the same Samuel known as the “Master Builder of the Mohawk.” By him Annie had a son, Jeremiah, and a daughter, Ann, who fades completely out of the picture, as does her father. History has yet to tell us when Ann or her father died and when Anna Ball first became a Widow. In any event “some years later, in 1788” she married George Kendall. Kendall was a butcher who “kept his shop immediate south of Annie Kendall’s.” If I’m talking about the same house and these facts are true, the Date Marker, ca. 1790, must be wrong, and the tipsy yellow house must be older because apparently prior to 1788, the Widow kept a shop there, next door to Kendall’s, where she sold cakes and beer and probably meat The place was marked by a sign which depicted a bottle with the inscription, “Cakes and Beer.”
We must assume that Annie and George Kendall lived in relative marital bliss even though Mrs. Paige, whose Memoirs are filled with lots of gossipy notes, does recount one tiff. Jerry Fuller fell in love with his stepsister, Polly Kendall, and wanted to marry her. Over this Polly’s father became so incensed that he turned her out of the house. Jerry received her and afterwards came to his Mother asking,
“What should hinder me from marrying Polly ?”
Annie Kendall saw no reason why not. So he married her in 1791 to become the proud father of nine sons and three daughters.
About 1799 George Kendall died and Annie was once again widowed. Upon his demise she went to live with Jeremiah and Polly in the old Fuller House which I remember so well and which was torn down just a few years ago. It stood on the West corner of Front and Church Streets and was the house which his mother had assisted him in building in 1792. It was here that Annie Kendall died.
The gossip again, Annie Kendall, the purveyor of cakes and beer, would, in her old days, drink. On these occasions, “her son, Jerry, just bundled her up and took her home with him and kept her from any more of it.”
So goes the story in which that delightful, tipsy little yellow house plays such a part.
11. The Market Place
Since time immemorial the Market Place has been loved by Men, or should I say Women, for it is here that News—good, bad, or just plain gossip—is disseminated. This is true of Bombay, Calcutta, and Peking. It is true of Athens and of Rome. It is true of Rouen, Cologne, Rheims, and the Isle de la Cite. It is true of London and New York. And it is true of the Stockade? For here at Arthur’s the News— good, bad, or just plain gossip—is disseminated, not on the scale of the Roman Forum or of the Eastern Bazaar, not on the scale of the Great City, but on just the right scale to be in complete continuity with our little Village within the City. Need an apartment? Ask at Arthur’s. How is Joe? Ask at Arthur’s. When do they get back from Europe? Ask at Arthur’s. And while you’re asking or better yet, for Arthur’s sake, while you’re shopping, bend your ear and I’ll guarantee you’ll hear — “Do tell I” “Not really!” “She didn’t? I’m amazed I” “Now let ME tell YOU!” Yes, you’ll hear it all at Arthur’s.
What really intrigues me is that this has been going on in this same building, under different management, for over one hundred and sixty years with virtually no interruption. Back in 1795, when the building was built, it was owned and operated by the Town of Rotterdam as a public market and although the dress has changed—the men, not the women, wore the knee breeches then—the conversation was undoubtedly the same. I think it is safe for me to assume this, because the conversation of the Market Place does not vary in context. It varies only in detail. Had you been there you would have heard the News of the Time—good, bad, or just plain gossip.
A few years later, in 1799, a new attraction was added. On the same property, next to the Market, Walter Swits opened a blacksmith shop. I don’t know how many of you remember the “Smithy.” He was sort of like the barber. While his anvil rang and the sparks flew, he brought you up to date on the News. What a scoop in Town Planning! Two major news centers side by side—one for the men and one for the women! Well, Swits moved or retired, without the benefit of Social Socurity, because, in 1811, he leased his shop to Wemple and Spaulding who manufactured nails. Then, in 1821, the Town of Rotterdam sold the land and buildings to Christopher C. Peek, who subsequently sold to Adrian Van Slyck in 1835. At this time it was a grocery store.
At the turn of the century, Christian F. Brandhorst, Dealer in Beef, Pork, Lamb and Mutton, Ham, Lard, Sausage, and Poultry, was proprietor of the place. Just when the lovely graying couple, the Garands, took over, I don’t know. Many of you remember them. They sold to Arthur and retired.
Many of you also remember the interval when the place was vacant while Arthur lived out his lease across the street. It was then that the artists met in the empty store each week to relax around the potbellied stove and paint. Here the Art Show was conceived and instituted. Where else could we show our own paintings except in our own show?
These were only brief interruptions in a continuing career of service to our Community. I think we can take pride in the fact that we are privileged to buy our victuals at the same spot as many of our forefathers did, while hearing the News—good, bad, or just plain gossip. I doubt if many other cities, if any, in this Great Country can boast of this!
12. Ears But No Mouth
As I sit here under the beautiful beams and the planked ceiling and as I look at the magnificent horizontal beaded paneling, all of which have been here since John Peek built the house in 1795, I can’t help but think what a story it would be if these walls, like so many others nearby, could speak and tell us of the loves, the pains, problems and the shocks that these old walls have undergone. Well, let’s have fun while I interview this house and report to you.
“John Peek acquired this lovely piece of land across from St. George’s Church in 1795 and in that season he and other workers started to put me together. I’m glad that he selected this particular location. What a privilege it is to stand opposite the Church designed and built by Samuel Fuller, that Church built on property that my owner’s family let the Church have. It was nice, too, to be on a street named after my owner up until the upper ferry went into operation. Of course, then the name was logically changed to Ferry Street.
‘Now to talk about how they put me together and some of what has happened to me since.
“The men came and dug a hole. I knew then that I was to be built in a contemporary style rather than in the old manner. My roof would pitch toward the street. I would not be a replica of the Dutch houses near me!
“They laid up beautiful two-and-a-half-foot thick foundations of Schenectady ‘Greywych’, (Blue stone to you) and a foundation for a fireplace, the chimney arch of which is not an arch such as the Dutch constructed. Rather than by an arch, it is supported by a heavy wood lintel. Then they set rough hewn beams to support the first floor upon which they placed wide planks, finished on the exposed side to make the first floor. Unfortunately, these were later covered with narrow strips of oak in order ‘to keep up with the Jones’. They did the same thing to the second floor too. This rather shocked me because I had seen the work and care that the men had expended to make me look beautiful. For my hat, the roof, they built simple ‘A’ frame trusses, carefully mortised and tenoned, sheathed with thick wide planks. I knew that I could withstand heavy snow, wind, and all the other rigors of weather. Also, they filled try walls with brick. I’ll be warm and fairly fireproof.
“Such was my birth. Now let me tell you some things about my later years, tho’ memory may fail me here and there. Simple and diminutive, I stood proudly across from the Church watching it grow until finally the old wooden bell tower was razed and the gorgeous spire designed by Potter, was built. I remember so well too when the Victorian Mansion, now called the Stockade Apartments, was built next door to me. Oh! There was so much talk about this new style. I heard it often around my fireplace. Then what do you suppose happened! I’11 tell you. I doubted it all, because over the years I have heard so often, ‘I would like to move this partition’, or ‘if we do so-and-so, the house will look much better.” How wrong I was this time! In walked a crew of workmen. They went to work with saw and hatchet to cut away the depth of some of my beams. They were making the Living Room ceiling higher. Then they put on lath and plaster with heavy plaster moldings and ornaments. It was a strain to hold this up, but I did. However, when they finished, I looked Victorian with false mantels and all.
“Well, this was not too bad. What really was a shock was when they started work outside. Up went a false front to make me look flat-roofed. On went a heavy bracketed cornice, a bay window, and ‘eyebrows’ over all the windows. I felt ashamed of myself. Here I stood, an old man, trying by dress to be a contemporary of my neighbor and the Carmichael House down at the corner.
“As people lived within my walls, additions were made. Do you remember the one that filled up the space between me and the house next door? There were others attached to my rear, bustles if you will. Well, although I felt myself to be a Victorian sham, I housed love and sadness. I’m old and forget a lot of the past, but I do remember the Hichens. I don’t remember what he did but she was ‘Ma’ Hichens, the school teacher. It was a privilege to house such a wonderful couple and Oh! What a rose garden they had out in back!
“It was sad when ‘Pa’ passed away and ‘Ma’ and I went down hill together. I was divided up with beaverboard into so~called apartments. Let’s be frank. I was nothing more than a rooming house. My coal furnace was no longer fired. Instead, people put in some kerosene space heaters. Sometimes I got so hot I thought surely I would burn down. Then along came some young people with babies. They stripped off the Victorian frosting and again exposed the beams, the horizontal paneling, and the planked ceiling that John Peek’s workmen had so carefully wrought. They stripped Victoria off my front and did some things to me that you all know. Such has been my life to date.”
It has been fun to interview this old house. May it and all the others around us continue to live to tell us of the loves, shocks and sadness of past and future years.
13. Crossing the River
Van Epps and Hershey Houses
Down at the foot of Washington Avenue there are two houses standing almost opposite one another. On the left side as you walk toward the River there is No. 4, the Van Epps House (c. 1810) and across the street stands No. 1, the David Hershey House (c. 1820). The people who lived in both of these houses played a great part in getting across the River to go West and North from Schenectady.
John Baptist Van Epps was a man of several interests. He was a fur trader. This is probably where he really made his living. However, he also operated a fleet of boats. After all, this was the primary means of transportation back then to go East or West. But on top of these activities he ran the “Upper Ferry” to get you across to Glenville. It was at his ferry dock that George Washington landed on one of his visits foot of Ferry St., I assume, because of the name of the street. You don’t name something for nothing.
Then, in the progress of time, a bridge was built to span the Mohawk and to make crossing the River easier, It was built at the foot of Washington Avenue. The first one was a covered bridge. Perhaps you have seen old photographs of it. It looks like any covered bridge in Vermont, and I am willing to bet that it, like its prototypes in Vermont, bore a sign: “Don’t Trot Your Horse.” This was sensible. The rhythmic beat of the trot might set up a vibration that would collapse the bridge.
The construction of this bridge brings the David Hershey House into the story. A bridge across the River was the property of the Town of Glenville. Therefore toll was charged and the resident of the Hershey House was the Toll-keeper. Yes, it’s not too many years ago when you still paid toll going over the iron bridge. Some of its abutments are still there. But if you had much business to do in Scotia, you bought a tiny piece of land in the Town of Glenville. You were then a taxpayer and could cross the bridge for free, sort of like a Thruway license.
I remember the old Iron Bridge so well, the Toll Bridge. Hack then there was a row of buildings at the foot of State Street where you now cross on the “Great Western Gateway Bridge.” The trolley cars came down State Street over Washington Avenue and across the bridge to take you North or West via the Saratoga BR. or the Johnstown, Gloversville R.R. These trolleys were a wonderful means of transportation, casual and comfortable. In the winter they were reasonably warm and luscious with the aroma of cigars. In the summer they were air-conditioned, if you will, with completely open sides through which the breeze of Summer and Speed flowed. A wonderful way to get across the River, except for once, I am told, when a trolley got out of control on State Street hill, jumped the tracks, ending up in a front parlor at the foot of State Street. The residents weren’t expecting guests that night!
14. George Comes Back
In the February 22nd issue of the Union-Star there was a full page spread devoted to George Washington’s visits here, staying with his close and esteemed friend John Glen, Deputy Quartermaster of the Army, at his home at 58 Washington Avenue. Probably most of you read this article, in which the historical facts, as far as I know, are correct. However, I doubt the statement that if George came back he would easily find his way around the Stockade area. Of course, he would recognize some of the buildings. But in general I think he would be surprised and perhaps shocked by the changes that have taken place since his last visit here in 1786 while he was touring the country.
Let’s pretend that George comes back to visit his old friend John Glen and let’s listen to his reactions.
“I must say that my trip up from New York was certainly different from the boat I used to know. I confess I was a little frightened flying like a bird up the Hudson in that thing you call an airplane. I also confess that the ride from the Albany Airport was just as frightening with all those Jaguars, Chevys, Fords and Continentals whizzing by. I really prefer boats and horses!
“I got out of the machine, limousine you call it?, at the Van Curler. I remember the name, but not the building. In fact I was lost. ‘Can you direct me to Quartermaster Glen’s home?’ I asked.
“After a conference the hotel personnel gave me directions and I walked up a street which I was surprised and complimented to learn bore my name. I recognized none of the buildings, and when I reached Glen’s house, I was surprised to see how much it had been changed. I remember it as a handsome two story house rather than the three stories which it now has.
“John greeted rue at the door and offered a refreshing toddy which rather helped to steady my nerves which had been quite frayed by my experience of 20th century travel. I felt quite at home, remembering much of the fine paneling that still remains in Jon’s much altered house. When we had finished our drinks, John suggested that we take a walk about what people now call the Stockade area. I was glad to hear him say walk! We strolled up the street. Frankly I didn’t recognize a thing. Then I looked up Union Street, as you call it.
“‘Where is the Dutch Church?’ I queried.
‘On yonder corner,’ replied John. “The one you know, which stood in the intersection, the one with the gambrel roof, has long since gone, destroyed by fire.’
‘Oh, but there is the Yates House. I remember that,’ I said. ‘It has not changed much, though its door and windows are different, but
what on earth is that Greek temple across from it?’ I learned that this was built as the County Court House. Thus my tour of the Stockade area went. I recognized several buildings. I knew St. George’s Church, although it has been enlarged. I knew the Brower House. I knew the Fonda and Isaac Vrooman houses. I knew and recognized many more. Forgive me if I left yours out.
“I can only say this. I traveled the country in 1786 and as I travel it today, there are few places where so many buildings remain which I remember.”
15. Number Two Union
If you, who are interested in and love the Stockade Area, have never read that charming book of “Cody” Hislop’s, “The Mohawk,” one of the River Series, I recommend it as mandatory reading. If your time is crowded, at least read the chapter entitled, “Union Street.” Having been consulted by “Cody” on the contents of this chapter, I think it is particularly good. All of which brings me right to the start of Union St., to Number Two, now the Headquarters of the Boy Scouts. Have you bothered to stop, as you come out of the YW’s cafeteria, to take a good look at this stately Greek Revival building, built in the late 1830’s and occupied by Isaac I. Yates? Stop and look. Look at the beautiful detail of the doorway flanked by Ionic columns. Look at the window heads. Look at the iron stair rails of the high stoop which terminate in squares rather than volutes. Look at the brass doorbell. Then let me take you inside on a cold Christmas morning for a wonderful breakfast prepared by that superb Irish cook, Annie O’Hagen; sausages, waffles with maple syrup, and all the rest.
Oh! I have been waiting so long! I got up early at home up the street at One Eleven to see what Santa Claus had brought and I’m hungry. However, it was custom that we have Christmas Breakfast with my Aunt Anna and Uncle Herman Erben at Number Two. Our cook, Mary Foy, who was Annie O’Hagen’s cousin, would have her innings later. By custom Christmas Dinner would be served at our House. Incidentally, the rivalry between these two superb Irish cooks, who made the basement kitchens smell so delicious, is a story in itself.
But I digress! It’s a cold Christmas morning. I have been dressed in my long woolen underwear, which itches. My leggings have been put on; the kind some of you remember, like spats at your shoes and then buttons, buttons, buttons all the way up to your waist! There were no zippers back then. My overcoat, earmuffs, and cap are on. I won’t get cold as we walk down to a sort of second Christmas at Number Two. I dash up the high stoop and pull the brass bell. The door swings open to a scene of delight which I observe, as adults undo the buttons, buttons, buttons. During this undressing operation, I stand in the gracious hallway with its superb stairway curving up to the Second Floor. To the left through the Greek detail of the doorway I see the Sheraton table so beautifully set. To the right the fireplace in the front parlour burns gaily. At long last my leggings are off and I go traipsing in to the rear parlour through the cased opening flanked by Ionic columns. Here another fire burns brightly. Both fires are framed by dark marble mantles, beautiful in their refined simplicity, Greek Re-viva! at its height.
As I start to sit down, Aunt Anna says, “Don’t sit in that chair! It’s Chippendale. Sit over there on the sofa.” The sofa was only Duncan Phyffe. What furniture my aunt had. I sat there as patiently as a youngster could, diverting myself by looking in the tall gilded mirror on the end wall. You know the kind which Victoria brought. It sits on a little marble-topped pedestal. I could see my front in the one in the rear parlour and my rear in the one in the front parlour. This whiled away the time until the gifts were brought out. The beautiful lead soldiem from Schwartz for me and a lovely doll for Bin, all mixed with teasing from our older cousin Van, replete in his magnificent sailor suit. Finally into the Dining Room for Annie’s
delicious breakfast, and then back home. And so I leave No. 2 with a wonderful memory of the Yuletide.
16. SOLD! To the Highest Bidder!
A Great Piece of Schenectady’s History!
I am sure you all know the building about which I am talking, that building down on Union Street which, with the possible exception of 108, can tell more stories about legal goings on in our earlier history than any other building I know.
This noble building at No. 13 has many attributes. No. 1, it is a superlative example of a particular period of American Architecture, the period of Romanticism. It is probably the best we have in Schenectady. It expresses Ruskin in Literature, and Upjohn, Lef ever and Renwick in Architecture, those great men who held sway over the design of buildings in America between 1820 and 1850, the period in which No. 13 was built.
Perhaps, dear reader, you don’t admire buildings of these times. At one point in my career I didn’t either. I once thought that the only good Architecture was the truly old or the shocking new. I have learned differently. I have learned that Architecture is an expression in static form, of Man’s tastes and aspirations and should be appreciated as such. I have also leaned that buildings, whether good or bad
aesthetically, become friends through our personal associations with them and their particular place in society.
No. 13 fills such a place for me. Yes, as I reminisce, this building is truly part of my !ife, truly an old friend. It was on those steps that I often tightened up my roller skates. It was behind her walls that I hid while playing “cops and robbers.” Many times while Surrogates Court was being held, we kids, playing outside, were told to “Shut 11pM,’ It was here, too, that I took dancing lessons. When the Surrogates Court moved to other quarters, that great Master of Choreography, Mr. Van Aarnum, rented the great hall upstairs. Here he conducted a sort of Quaker meeting. Girls on one side of the house, boys on the other.
“Boys come over. No running! Bow to your partner! Dance! 1-2-1-2.”
Later the County Board of Supervisors let the Historical Society use the place. While No. 18 served in this stead, I spent numerous hours within these gracious walls doing research on the Architectural history of the Mohawk Valley. What fabulous documents were housed there!
In more recent years the County Planning Board had offices there. Many are the times that I walked through the welcoming doors to talk with Jim Hughes, County Director of Planning, to discuss preservation in Schenectady County. Our discussions included historic sites, forest areas, buildings worth saving throughout the County, including No. 18. Jim has gone on to broader fields. I wish him “success.” And I hope for his sake, mine (to be selfish) and many others including generations to come that the new owners of No. 13 will respect these walls as a great heritage.
17. From Door to Door
Have you ever noticed that the “Men in Blue,” who, each day, “Come, Hell or High Water” to bring us our mail, wear the numeral One on their caps? If you have, do you know why? This No. I signifies the first route of free delivery of mail in the City of Schenectady. This route basically covered the Stockade Area and was established One Hundred years ago this year! So we have cause to celebrate another Historical event. Yet we must celebrate this Centennial with some sorrow in our hearts for during the past winter we lost an old familiar face. We lost a man dedicated to the axiom of the Postal Department since the days of the Pony Express, “The Mail must get through
Walter Carmichael, born and bred in the Stockade, died with his boots on while going from door to door in the ice and snow this winter. Over the one hundred years there are many more too numerous to mention. All were familiar faces to their contemporaries. All were devoted to their task. And just think of the changes these Postmen have seen in the Stockade Area over one hundred years. Walter Carmichael, for example, was the son of the Deputy Sheriff when 108 Union was the County Courthouse and Jail. I used to play with him as a kid. Think what changes he saw! One of our Postmen saw Governor Yate’s Birthplace remodeled from its original Georgian to the then prevailing style of Victorian. Others have seen old familiar landmarks rated and replaced by more modern buildings or by parking lots. And some have known such delightful characters as Moses Viney and “Jim”’ Cuff.
Moses Viney was born in slavery on a plantation in Maryland. As a small boy he dreamt of freedom. Saving up what pennies he came by, at the age of twenty-three, or in 1840, he made his escape, finally ending in Schenectady where Dr. Nott came to know him and take a great interest in him. Dr. Nott made him his valet and coachman. Monroe in his “Schenectady—Ancient and Modem” says,
“He was even closer to Dr. Nott than would be implied by these relations. Dr. Nott was his friend, while Moses acted as counselor and companion to his employer and benefactor.”
After Dr. and Mrs. Nott died, Moses Viney, the dignified colored gentleman, drove a cab and did it gracefully, always courteous, kind, punctual and honest. Of course our Postman knew this esteemed Schenectadian.
And, of course, he knew Viney’s contemporary “Jim” Cuff, an Indian, so claimed, living in the glory of being “The last of the Mo-hawks.” lie is described as being tall, straight and angular with a mat of long black hair, usually hatless and shoeless as he strode the streets “practicing” his profession of “herb Doctor.” When out on “professional” work he carried a market basket filled with herbs to cure all human ills. These, together with his “professional” advice, he gladly sold to customers, or, if you’d rather, he had special compounds bearing his name.
But, if I may parody Gilbert and Sullivan, a Postman’s lot is not always an appy one. Charged with getting the mail through, “Come Hell or High Water,” the Bliz2ard of ‘88 must have been completely frustrating, to say nothing of the flood of 1914, which many of us remember. On March 28th of that year the Mohawk rose twenty-three and five-tenths feet. Water ran over the now gone steel bridge at the foot of Washington Avenue dislodging one of the great stone piers. A large section of the Stock-
ade was inundated. People living on streets run-fling from Front to the River were rescued in boats.
Yet we expect our mail each day, and, with a few pardonable exceptions, we in the Stockade have gotten it at our door from day to day for one hundred years. Let’s pay tribute to these “men in blue” who give us this service.
18. “Cops and Robbers”
108 Union Street
When Clinton dug his “Ditch” across the State things began to happen. With the Erie Canal two things came to Schenectady, first those harbingers of Spring, the “Long Eared Robins,” and second, “The Greek Revival.” Many of you remember the “Long Eared Robins,” the mules that hauled the barges on the Canal. Yes, when you saw them Spring was here. Many of you also remember when the Greek Temple at 108 Union Street, that almost “Paesteum’ in wood and brick, was the County Court House and Jail. I do because I lived across the street at One Eleven.
There are probably three reasons why, as a child, I remember so well. In retrospect I really don’t know how to classify their importance. Just because it was a hot summer’s day and all the windows were open, it was annoying to have my parents receive a call asking that the children be quiet. “Court is in session!” It was exciting to watch the horse-drawn “paddy-wagon” pull up with a new criminal. This was TV, a live show!
It was fun to have ice cream with the jailor’s daughter and the inmates of the Jail. Most assuredly the rumble of roller skates on flagstone sidewalks and the screams of laughter from kids playing -“Cops and Robbers” must have been annoying -to Judges and Attorneys who were playing the game for real. And, of course, in a child’s life ice cream is a treat no matter when or where, hut it was a special treat to have it with the “Bad Men.” It was thoughtful of the County to serve the inmates this treat so appreciated by I those picked up the night before for misconduct. It must have helped to quench the fire of last night’s debauchery. The Jailor was also most thoughtful in the disposition of the cells down in the basement, now lost to eternity since the recent remodeling of the building. I am told that, when two gay “young men about town” were impounded for having too good a time one night, they were placed in the cells facing Union Street so that they could wave and talk to their “Peacock Plumed” friends as they walked by. Nonetheless, there were problems, like the Jail Break!
The culprit, dashing across the street, jumped the then wooden gate between 109 and 111 with the not so agile cops in hot pursuit. Plants and hedges suffered that night but the escapee was apprehended. Then there was the night when my sister and I were drawn to the window by the drunk shouting, “Police, Police as he jumped from the paddy-wagon and ran up Union Street. Such was the Greek Temple. May it stand as a symbol of justice done in the past.
19. Design Third
39 Front Street
You find “Design Third” on page 22 of Volume I of Sloan’s “Model Architect” and you find a modification of “Design Third” at 39 Front Street.
I don’t know exactly when Thirty-nine was built. However, I do know that it must have been sometime around 1860, when Sloan’s volumes came off the press to influence the architect and builder alike. It is the period when Architecture was becoming a recognized profession, the period when men like Sloan felt the need for the development of an American Architecture.
“We Americans are not ashamed that we have nothing now venerable in years, but we may fear that our descendants will have cause so to be, and have few buildings to point out, saying ‘this is the work of our fathers’”
I don’t know whether an architect or builder designed this charming “Wedding Cake.” Nor do I know who had it built. But there is no question that it is the only building in the Stockade to point out, saying, “This is the work of our fathers.”
Apparently Sloan did not have much love for our earlier heritage which we of the Stockade Area seek to preserve and proudly point to as the work of our forefathers. Well, it was a free country then, as now, when in 1860, Samuel Sloan, Architect, published his new and revised edition of— “The Model Architect. A series of “Original Designs for Cottages, Villas, Suburban Residences, etc. Accompanied by Explanations, Specifications, Estimates, and Elaborate Details. Prepared expressly for the Use of Projectors and Artisans Throughout the United States.”
Architect Samuel Sloan was entitled to his opinion of our Architectural past, and he certainly did something about it. In his two volumes you can find almost any building type from the ornamental outhouse, the cottage and the villa, to the school and the church, all done in the time-honored styles of Gothic, Norman, and Italian with more Sloan thrown in than Architectural History.
The little house at 39 Front is done in “Debased Gothic.” In his essay which precedes the perspectives, plans, elevations, and details, Mr. Sloan is quick to point out that
“The term must not be understood in a bad sense, as depreciating the style, hut simply as referring to the fact, that during the time mentioned, i.e., from the last of the Perpendicular style until the total extinction of this species of architecture, there was a constant change being wrought in the principles of the general style, and a rejection of the abundance of exterior ornament which had previously prevailed.”
He further points out that this style is much more adaptable to domestic structures. Pure Gothic Architecture is admirably fitted for ecclesiastical purposes, but not for much else, he says. He continues by pointing out that the Debased style is principally characterized by its comparative plainness.
I sincerely hope that you will all rest easier now with the knowledge that within our cluster of historic buildings there is at least one which, by Sloan’s formula, is worth preserving.
20. 101 State Street
Some Facts and Fiction
Let’s go back 200 years ago this last Fall and imagine a flotilla of bateaux and canoes plying down the River. It was a clear sunny day with crisp wisps of snow-white clouds drifting casually across the sky. The riffles of the clear water sparkled like diamonds. And the reds, yellows and russets of the hardwoods which populated the hills beyond the “Vlachte” stood in sharp contrast to their neighbors, the evergreens. Here and there on the fertile fiats, which line the Mohawk, were patches of golden grain, ripe for harvest, beyond which stood an old house that had withstood the ravages of War or a new one rebuilt on the foundations of another destroyed by the French and Indians during the recent conflict. Peace now reigned in the Valley and the day expressed the Peace.
The flotilla was led by a large bateaux partially covered by a crimson canopy under which Sir William Johnson and Molly, “the Brown Lady Johnson,” sat. They had left Fort Johnson some hours ago. Now the boats were approaching Schenectady where the Baronet had much work to do. Among other things he wanted to see what progress had been made on Saint George’s “Chappelle” in which he had a great interest. Be also wanted to see the new home of his friend, Daniel Campbell, where he and Lady Johnson would spend the night. If satisfied with both, he would sit down with Samuel Fuller, the designer and builder of these buildings, and discuss his dream of a Baronial Hall up on the hill above the River and his plans for building an entire new city on his great tracts in the West.
Yes, he and Molly would have dinner and spend the night with the Daniel Campbells. So let’s switch the scene to 101 State Street. Engeltjie Campbell, the mistress of the house, had been in a tizzy all day making sure that the house was in order and that the roast was done to a turn. Daniel, the Town’s prominent merchant, had returned home after doing some trading. He had ordered the best horses and carriage sent to the wharf. He had ordered that the best Jamaica be placed out, and he had personally selected the wines to be served at dinner.
As the flotilla came into the dock, the sun was sinking behind the hills, spreading a fiery glow on the Autumn foliage and tipping the lazy clouds with gold. The Baronet and his Lady stepped out of their boats into a carriage to be taken to the new residence of Daniel Campbell. As they arrived at the completely ordered building where they would dine and sleep, they must have felt the incongruity between this Georgian, (or shall I say Handbook?), Mansion standing beside the more Gothic Dutch houses which were its neighbors. Sir William’s son, John, would understand this better. He learned of the charm of Architectural Periods living well together when his father sent him to London to become a “Gentleman.” Nonetheless, the stately edifice with its porticoed doorway, dormers, and chimneyed end walls pleased the Baronet. It was entirely in the modem style brought over from Boston and exquisitely executed. Yes, seeing this and knowing the design of St. George’s, Sir William would employ this man on his project. He was even more impressed by the interior; beautiful fireplaces and mantles, silver sconces and chandeliers whose flickering light made the ladies look so beautiful. For sure he never saw, nor did Daniel Campbell ever see, the solid gold gasolier, (brass or bronze, possibly gold plated?). But he might have seen the stairway which now graces the front entrance.
The old Mansion has since undergone many changes.
An old map of 1895 shows it with its Victorian cupola and detail but the original dormers have gone. At some time the first floor was dropped to street level and the building was put to commercial use. Most of us remember how it looked when occupied by the Soda Fountain. Now, thanks to the vision and courage of a young Real Estate man it has again regained a feeling of its original splendor to make a fitting entrance to the Stockade Area.
21. Of Romance
215-217 UNION ST.
As you drive down Washington Avenue in Albany past the colonnaded Education Building, past the State Office Building, that monstrous beacon conceived by Al Smith, past the charming old “Boys’ Academy” designed by Philip Hooker, sitting so placidly in the little park, then past the montage, Our State Capitol, you see directly ahead a superb building. If you don’t make a turn you’ll be right in the office of my friend Erastus Corning, Mayor of our Capital City, for this is the City Hail of Albany, designed by that great Romanticist, H. H. Richardson, the reviver of the Romanesque Style. Take a good look at it when you’re next in Albany. Look particularly at the Arcade which finds an especial fondness hi my heart. It was here one night that we took shelter during a sudden shower as we walked back from the Ten Eyck to her house on Elk Street. It was here, as the rain fell softly, that I said, “Will you?” and was accepted. How thoughtful of Richardson to provide such a romantic spot for a later confrere to propose I No wonder this later architect finds romance in the period that Richardson so greatly influenced, the period of Romanticism. All of which brings me back here to Union Street.
At 215 and 217 Union stand those un-identical twins, the Apartment House and Amity Hall. Though far from being Richardson, they are rife with his influence. Take a good look at the Romanesque arches of sandstone, the fascinating brickwork. Notice the romance of the turrets and especially look at the little balcony way up in the eaves on the front of 217. Can’t you see a fair lady standing there waving to her lover? Can’t you imagine the men of the house pouring boiling oil from here upon an adversary or a housemaid dumping a chamber pot?
Enough of this! Let’s cross the street and go up to 242, the house from which my grandmother was married. Obviously this is not Richardsonian Romanesque. It is an even more romantic style of this whole period of Romance. If you know the building, I hardly need say that here is an almost perfect example of the Gothic Revival. The pointed arches of the tall windows with their tracery and cuspeds, the battlements at the roof line, all the details could almost have been lifted from Henry the Eighth’s England, except it’s all wood. But who can deny the romance. I almost wonder if my grandfather rode up in “Suit-of-mail,’ mounted on a prancing white charger, to receive his love scarf as he went on to the joust.
Let’s hope that time will be as gracious to these as it has been to others in the Area of earlier dates, so that Romance may not die!
22. Elegant Buildings
217 Union St.
How many of you have had the fun of jumping from a high perch in the hayloft into the soft hay below? Probably many of you have when, as a kid, you were out on some farm. But how many of you have enjoyed this thrill, so seldom allowed the youth of today, right in your own back yard in the middle of the City. I am one of those fortunates who has been afforded this pleasure.
At the end of the driveway between 109 and 111 Union Street there used to stand two handsome stables complete with hayloft and coachman’s quarters. It was there that we used to jump into soft hay. In one, “Toasty” was stabled, to be aroused in the middle of the night and harnessed to the buggy to take my father, the Doctor, to some sick child. Yes, these were handsome buildings done in the best style of the time, but they gave way to the new mode of transportation, the “Horseless Carriage.”
A garage was built. The two stables were razed and a tennis court was built where they stood’. This was back when tennis was as popular as golf, back when Bill Tilden was at his prime and back when the Davis Cup was almost as important as the World Series.
Well, time and the goggle-eyed and finned monsters from Detroit have not erased all of these buildings. Up at 217 Union Street, the former residence of Senator James Yelverton, now Amity Hall, there remains a superb example of one of these elegant structures. It is almost as elegant as the pseudo-Romanesque house. This was quite fitting and proper when you think of the elegance housed within these outbuildings.
Remember the superbly groomed and curried horses? Of course they should be bedded in stalls of matched oak boarding with black iron and polished brass trim. They were the pride and joy of the Master of the House. Of course the Surreys, Ransoms, Buggies and Sleighs, each masterpieces of craftsmanship in themselves, should be housed in a building worthy of them; so should the beautiful leather-work of the reins and halters and the handsome metalwork of the bits and sleigh bells. And, of course, the quarters of the coachman should befit the importance and dignity of his position and dress, his polished boots, his greatcoat and his high silk hat. Yes, it was fitting and proper that the stable be elegant, for men loved these horses. We kids did too! Especially when, on a December morning, we were awakened by the jingle of sleigh bells. It had snowed last night. Now our worries were over. Old St. Nick would be able to get through with his sleigh and reindeer, his bag full of toys and his Merry Christmas to All!
23. “Not A Damned Thing Between Meals”
111 Union St.
Lower Union Street is graced with a number of houses which could be called Victorian but which are more exactly classed by architectural historians as of the General Grant Period. They are all about ninety years old and were built during the Post Bellum Presidency of General Grant.
Many of these houses have lost their original character through sand blasting and having their trim painted white. However, one eleven, though now converted into apartments, retains almost completely, outside and in, the true characteristics of the General Grant Period. This makes me wonder how observant you are. Have you noticed the sandstone base upon which this building rests? It is rusticated and expresses so strongly the demarcation between the English basement and the first floor: up half a flight, down half a flight. Today we call it split level! Have you looked at the sandstone steps which bring you up to the first floor? If you have, have you taken notice of the cast-iron stair rails? They are moulded, painted, and sprinkled with sand to simulate the gracious sandstone steps upon which they sit. Look at the rather Baroque doorway and window trim all painted to imitate the stone. Then, if you look real carefully, you will see the two lions’ heads tucked under the front door of bold mouldings and etched glass.
Now having seen the outside, let’s walk up the steps and pull the handsome brass door bell. The year is 1873. We are going to see the interior of this fine new home of Giles Yates van der Bogert, and also congratulate him on the recent birth of his son, Frank, born in the front bedroom upstairs. A maid answers the door; as we walk in we see the fourteen-foot ceilings of the hall with its modern lighting, two beautiful cut glass globes suspended in brass hangers. Up until quite recently these charming sources of light were lit every night by tapers. To the left is the dining room and to the right the formal parlours. Farther down the hall, on the left, there is the stairway, made handsome by a window at the landing which soars on up to the ceiling of the second floor. At the end of the hall, closed off by etched glass doors is the library or more exactly the living room looking out upon the garden and opening out upon the semi-circular porch. We find everything as it should be; the heavy plaster rnouldings, the gas fixtures, the parquet floors. Yes, it is a beautiful modern house done in the best of taste.
Now let’s visit the house again after that baby, Frank, has grown up and has become the first pediatrician in Schenectady. It’s a little different from that day in 1873 when we walked in dressed in our morning coats and high collars. Now, what used to be the formal parlours are the Doctor’s waiting room and office. Now mothers are sitting waiting for the Doctor and, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear him say, as he gives a mother a diet for her child, “…and not a damned thing between meals except water!”
24. Let’s Go Down to the Corner
Mohawk Club: 1 North Church
Spring! The dance of the skip-rope, the rumble of roller skates, the click of marbles, and the snap of the top string, now replaced by the whirr of the Yo-Yo! These were and still are the sighs and sounds of Spring. Sleds, skis, ice skates and galoshes have found their spot down cellar, or in the attic, to hibernate. Snow suits have been sent off to the cleaners, all to be replaced by their rightful heirs.
This year the young ladies are emerging in a dress not un-similar to what the girls wore back when we used to get out our “ball bearings” tops and all, and say, “Let’s go down to the corner,” the corner where that stately building, the Old Mohawk Bank, now the Club, stands, and where the old flagstone sidewalk had been replaced with concrete, making the corner’’ the only really good roller skating spot in the Stockade. Yes, back then the girls wore long black stockings and short skiffs. But how different the dress of the boys. We wore no slacks or zippered jackets. In fact we did not wear long pants until Graduation Day from Grade School. That day we were men and wore our first pair of white flannels. Up until then we had worn “Buster Brown” shoes, not quite knee-length socks and shorts or perhaps long socks and knickers whose buckles slipped incessantly so that one pant-leg invariably was drooping. And until we were quite old, our hair was “Dutch cut” a Ia “fluster Brown.”
But what matters our dress! The snow has gone; the crocuses are up; Spring is here so “let’s go down to the corner,” and take a good look at that grand building around which we used to play, sometimes becoming so boisterous that we were told in polite but certain terms to quiet down or “vamoose.” Built in 1816, the building has been somewhat altered over the years. The pedimented entrance for the customers of the Bank which was on the Union Street side of the building has gone, the only original
entrance left being the one on Church which was used by David Boyd, the cashier, who occupied the upper floor as his home. The circle head windows on Union Street have been changed. Additions have been added on both streets. Gone is the classic balustrade that hid the juncture of the roof and the street wall. However, despite these alterations and changes, the Old Bank building stands as a monument to the growing interest among the citizens of this little Dorp Town in building “in the best style.” The Old Bank is an expression of the London of Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, the Boston of Bulflnch, the “Builder’s Handbook” of Asher Benjamin. The ordered lines of this dignified building are far removed from the almost Gothic character of its neighbor up the Street, the Abram Yates House, with its gay butterfly brickwork, decorative beam anchors and brick finial. Truly this is what makes this cluster of houses in the Stockade Area so priceless, “Taste” expressed in Architecture from 1700 to 1962. But enough of this. Let me tell a little of the story that the walls of this Classic building have to tell.
For thirty-seven years the coins of the residents of Schenectady clinked within this edifice. Then the Bank moved. Chauncey Vibbard, superintendent and one of the organizers of the New York Central Railroad bought the place and converted it into an elegant residence. It was he who closed up the Union Street door. Later the building was sold to Henry Crane and then to Edward Delavan, organizer of the New York Temperance Society. This makes me feel rather guilty since shortly after the repeal of the Volstead Act I was commissioned by the Club to design a barroom for them. Well, I think I can forget the guilt because in 1871 the building was owned by my grandfather who, judging from the cellar that I am told he kept, did not agree with Mr. Delavan. Subsequently it became the Union Classical Institute, Schenectady’s High School. Voices of youngsters rang through the halls. Probably Mr. Halsey, the principal, and his successors often said “quiet down” just as the steward of the Club sometimes said to us some years later when in the Spring we went “down to the corner.”
25. Flood Party
3-5 Washington Avenue
The flood of 1914 was a record-breaker, but high water used to be quite customary and it was exciting to have the word go around, “The River is coming up I” This meant Spring was “a comin’ in,” but it also meant that friends living down by the River were going to need help. This has all changed considerably since the Sacandaga Reservoir. We still have some ice jams and occasional high water that concerns the Army Engineers and Town Officials up and down River. But I haven’t heard of a “Flood Party” in years. The last one I attended was about 30 years ago.
It took place in a fascinating old house down at the end of Washington Avenue, #3 and #5, the house owned by that great Schenectadian, historian and author, the late John Vrooman. At the time Mr. Bevis Coulson and his daughter, Janet, were living in a part of this sort of duplex house. Janet was charming and her father’s Scotch was the very best. This would pin my story down to a date shortly after the Repeal of the Volstead Act (one of the best things Roosevelt did). Excuse me! I have sworn that in writing this column I would not get involved in Politics. But Republican or Democrat we must all thank F.D.R. for the blessing of drink. Had it not been for this, the story which I am telling would not have been such fun. (Bathtub Gin. Ugh!)
The word went out. “The River is a coming up.” Down we went, lured by Scotch and Daughter, to help, if need be, to put the furniture up on the second floor of that old house by the river that has withstood so many floods. I say “if need be” advisedly. At a flood party you didn’t immediately exert your strength by carrying furniture up stairs. This might be a needless expenditure of energy. Instead you sat rather casually over your cup waiting to see what the River was going to do. It was almost a matter of Man vs. Nature. As the River reached its peak the party became gayer. Now it was obvious that we would not have to move things up stairs. We could truly relax and enjoy the drinks which we so well deserved for the hard work we had put in. Now we could truly enjoy the company of our gracious host and hostess and the charming old house.
I have no authority, but I am told that the building dates around 1830. Its architecture seems to fit this period. The whole proportion of the building is quite Classic and the details are a sort of carpenter’s Greek Revival. The pilasters are made up of narrow boarding with no base or capital. The strong lintels over the doors and windows, and the more diminutive mutules at the cornice make you feel that here is a homemade transition from the Georgian to the Greek. Take a look at it now while the Lilacs, the Wisteria and the Horse Chestnut are in bloom. Could any place be more charming for a Flood Party?
26. The Play Is the Thing
The Civic Players have just completed another production which calls to mind the histrionics of latter years. It calls to mind the “Tableaux’ held at Yates Boat House, which stood by the River in back of that charming Dutch House at 29 Front. Some of you remember the Hall above the boat storage space. It was here that a great picture frame was built with its gilt and all. And it was here that I remember as a youngster seeing the curtains draw. There was my Sister, posed as the Infanta Maria, and there was my Mother representing Madame Recamier. Then I remember a more elaborate production, a bit of Shakespeare played at my own home at Ill Union. Houses such as this one, built by my grandfather, adapted themselves quite readily to the theater. There was always the front and rear parlor separated by a large archway, which made a perfect proscenium. As a matter of fact people living in such houses used to take turns having plays at their homes. But to return to that evening at my house, an evening which I will never forget. I was peeking over the banister, as kids were wont to do, absorbing the goings on of the adults, when suddenly the President of our leading morning newspaper, Mr. John Green, came bounding up the stairs. He was dressed as Puck, complete with feathered hat, doublet pantaloons, and tights. Believe me, I scooted to my bed and under the covers. What an apparition! Need I say I peeked no more?
Such was the amateur stage in our Stockade Area in times gone by. Then came the Little Theater, now the Civic Players. St. George’s Lodge of the Masonic Order had completed their new building on the corner of Erie and State. Their former temple, that fascinating Neo-Gothic building on Church Street was up for sale. However, their moving was a disappointment to the young people living nearby. When there was going to be a parade you would no longer be able to stand around looking starry-eyed while the Knight Templars with their gorgeous uniforms, their white plumed hats and their silver swords fell-in to march to the place of formation. You would no longer see the Shriners in their fezzes, Turkish doublets and pantaloons, carrying their scimitars as they prepared for the march. But there is good in all things. A group of farsighted people bought the old Temple and converted it into the Playhouse. And so the show goes on in the Area as it has for many years.
27. How Does Your Garden Grow?
23 Church Street
On the corner of Union and Church Streets next to the beautifully rehabilitated Red Cross Building there stands an interesting edifice with some rather outlandish tales to tell.
The house was built by Mr. Horstmeyer, a partner in the H. S. Barney Co. Here he resided with his wife and family and the Church Street Ghost!
Now I don’t want to frighten the present occupants, so may I assure you that the Ghost left a number of years ago when Dr. Gross, the dentist, owned and occupied the place. It was here that he maintained his office. You can hardly blame the Ghost for leaving. Had I been as ethereal I would have flown the Doctor’s chair and drill, too!
Before he left, the Ghost is reputed to have lived up on the third floor in the unfinished Billiard Room. It is not entirely clear why this room was unfinished. My personal belief is that when the Ghost took over Mr. Horstmeyer left the room incomplete because he refused to subject his friends to the kibitzing of a Ghost as the ivories clicked.
I am told that Mr. Horstmeyer maintained a charming garden to the rear of the house—a garden which competed with that of another outstanding citizen of Schenectady, Dr. Steinnietz. At this time Dr. Steimnetz lived on Liberty Street. Each year these two men entered a violent competition wagering on whose tulips, roses, etc. would bloom first. One year an event occurred which today would call for a Congressional Investigation.
As the story goes, Mr. Horstmeyer was in New York City on a buying trip when he ran across some superbly wrought artificial tulips. An idea flashed through his mind! He bought the proper quantity. Upon his return home, under the protection of darkness, he planted his garden. The next day he contacted the “Little Wizard” who immediately got into his electric auto and drove to Horstmeyer’s. On the way the thought kept running through the Master Mind: “This is impossible! He can’t have blooms so far ahead of me!”
Upon his arrival Mr. Horstmeyer ushered him through the house out into the garden where the two good friends enjoyed a hearty laugh!
28. Election Night
I remember so well the air being filled with the phosphorous smell of the red torches. I remember so well the thumps of the big bass drum beating to the blare of trumpets and trombones playing Sousa slightly off key. The “boom, boom” made your whole insides throb, and the torches made the sky glow red. The City was on fire. It was Election Night.
The paraders with banners flying high were stimulating the voters to go to the polls and vote for the party of their choice. There was the free lunch at all the bars and it was generally a gay evening.
This was before “Suffrage” and “Volstead and ladies stayed off the streets. Then a little later Lillian Russell “wrestled with an Ant, Suffragette.” Remember the song? Things changed a little. Women had the right of franchise too. So they got into the act! At the head of the torchlight procession behind the flag of our country but ahead of Sousa, “off key,” marched buxom babes carrying a banner which reached from sidewalk to sidewalk, a banner which proclaimed the name of the leading candidate of their particular party—President, Governor, Mayor, whichever was up for election The skies were still red with flares and the an still reeked of phosphorous and booze; then came Volstead and the whole picture changed completely. No more free lunch, no more torch lights. Election night became dull, as it is now, only to he interrupted by a sound truck with a recording of Sousa running down and then being revived and a loud-speaker blaring.
“Vote for the man who will give you an honest government!”
The same old theme with less color. It’s too bad the color and smells have gone. It was all so exciting.
29. Let’s Go Shopping
Back around 1787 if you wanted to buy something you probably went to Mercer’s Variety Store at 10 North Church Street. This is an interesting building, being a fine example of late Dutch Architecture carefully modernized to become Greek Revival.
I don’t know what Mercer sold in this building but I suspect from the name that he sold almost everything you desired, probably varying from a spool of thread to a jug of rum. That’s what I call “Variety” and may the supermarkets take note! Of course, the old store has long since gone and now this splendid building is converted to a residence. I will tell you more of this story some other time. Right now I am only using Mercer’s as a theme for shopping. We’re going to shop over on Ferry Street in much more recent times, say five or six decades ago.
Before the Roosevelt Apartments were built on the corner of Union and Ferry, some charming buildings stood between the Old County Court House at 108 Union and the corner. There was concern among the old timers when these were razed, some of which was due to the fact that the store on the corner would go. Oh well, there were others around the corner on Ferry to serve us. Although everything was not under one roof as at Mercer’s you certainly could find variety and you didn’t have to go much past Liberty Street. The Stockade had its own little shopping center right there, Of course, if you wanted dry goods, thread or a new dress, you would have to go up Liberty to Barney’s back door, but no further. Virtually the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and all the rest were there. Just what do you need? Hanson’s “Pink Pills for Pale People,” fresh fish, a roast of beef, fresh baked buns, an extra key, your stiff collars cleaned and starched? You name it. We’ve got it.
On the corner where Dr. Senn now has his office, there was Ball’s, the Cleaner; next door was the Chinaman, who did your stiff shirts and collars so beautifully and who sent you Liche Nuts every Christmas in appreciation of your trade. Across the Street was Keller, the Druggist. Opposite him was Rosenfelt, the Tailor, and Mr. Sitterly, the Butcher. Of course Krueger’s has always stood there on the corner of Liberty, and where Liberty now cuts through to Church stood Mr. Swatling’s Fish Market. There was the shoemaker and Mr. Wesson, the Keyman. There was the Fakery and if you needed a haircut there was Bozzi’s.
I know I have forgotten some who have come and gone or who have remained there over the decades. However, I think I have given you some idea of our little shopping center.
You name it! We have it!
30. Stoep Settin’ and Window Watchin’
Some of the delightful descriptions of the early Stockade Area, prior to the Massacre of 1690, depict the charm of a warm summer’s evening. The picture is one of cobbled streets, steep pitched roofs with their gables turned toward the street and gracious stoeps leading up to the door, stoeps with benches designed for “stoep settin’.” You can hear Dame Neetje saying to Dame Margriete,
“It looks like a match. That van der Boogaert goy, Frans, is certainly courting Annetje.’
How right the ladies were! The two later became husband and wife.
And so, as in the cinemascope, the picture fades and upon the screen we see the Stockade in a new light, the light of “window watchin’.” We see an innovation in the Stockade which would be unfamiliar to Dame Neetje and Dame Margriete: namely the bay window. Here we have a spot where you and I can watch and talk without being overheard. We can “window watch” because when you sit in a bay you are really in a three-sided observatory. Look at Green Street to see how this can be exploited! You see all that is going on and you can say to your fellow observer what you wish and you won’t be overheard.
“John and Sara have been going out a lot recently. It looks like a match, but I don’t think it’s a good one. Do you?”
You can even talk about things more shocking.
“Look at that dress and hat! How could any respectable woman be seen in that outfit? She looks like you know what!”
Another scene fades from the screen and memories of “stoep settin’” and “window watchin’” of a later date are conjured up.
I have favorite bays and stoeps that are far removed from each of the pictures we have just seen. Yet there is a relationship. There is 23 N. Ferry Street where Aunt Anna lived and which has recently been so beautifully restored. This building boasts a splendid bay window, where Aunt Anna used to sit and survey all of the “goings on” on Ferry Street as well as who went to Church! She was always there to wave to me as I went by. There is the stoep at 111 Union Street which when I was a kid was like a grandstand when the parades used to come down Union, over Church and up State.
What is really wonderful is that these pictures of the past are coming to life again on summer evenings. Though the times and names have changed, stoep settin’ and window watchin are regaining the popularity they deserve in this little village.
31. Tube Talk
I hope that you are in the “Set” and know what the “Tube” is. I didn’t until we broke down this past Christmas and bought one. Having had a small one some years ago which burred out, I swore I would never own another. I have acquiesced! And now I find myself hypnotized by the “Tube.” I am a little disappointed by the quality of what I see. Then I recall some of the early programs which originated from WRGB when G.E’s TV Station was located in the Stockade Area at the corner of Washington Avenue and the Bridge. On this score I am an expert. Why? Because I played in many!
Before I tell you about some of the fun and “corn” that I was a part of in those early programs, let me tell about an evening in the late ‘20’s when I was privileged to see one of the first “Telecasts.” I was invited by my parents to go to a “Fortnightly Club” meeting to be held at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Alexanderson. Dr. Alexanderson was going to demonstrate “TELEVISION.” He also had two lovely daughters. So what could I lose? We drove up to the “Realty Plot.” You know where I mean, Rugby, Avon, Adams, that section which, like the Stockade Area, should be preserved, not for its old houses but as the homes of geniuses. Most of G.E.’s greats have lived or still live there; men like
Steinmetz, Coolidge, Alexanderson, Beale, Scudder and many others, who made the Electrical Industry what it is today.
That night at the Alexanderson’s the lights were dimmed and on a tiny little screen we saw warships at sea. Five miles or so away men down at the G.E. were sailing toy boats on a toy ocean while Dr. Alexanderson told us about what the “Tube” could mean to Man’s Future! Even though static and technical difficulties blacked out some of the show, I will never forget that night. Truly I was looking into the future.
Subsequently I went off to College to come back to an established G.E. TV Station down by the Bridge. It was still in its formative years, like a child starting to walk. I was a bachelor, a complete extrovert and not a bad actor, with the result that I got mixed up with a bunch of Troupers who played radio over WGY once a week, played the Playhouse in many productions and tried a hand at TV. Other than myself, there were great Thespians like Doug Mc-Mullen and his sister Marjorie Featherstonehaugh, Dave Smart, the Lloyd sisters, Bob Stone, et al. What a Troupe? Perhaps some of you remember us as the “WOY Players.” I admit we were good! But how desperate TV must have been in those days! They put us on the “Tube” and paid us! Whereby we lost our amateur standing. Ten bucks a show after taxes! Little did we realize that we were on the ground floor of something great. We should have formed a Union. Then Ring, Hope, Danny Kaye and the rest would have to play for ten bucks or vice versa. However, I truly believe that when we “guys and gals” of the WGY Players tried Shakespeare on TV we were through.
Nonetheless sometime later, after I was married and when skiing was a little known sport, my wife and I were invited to appear on a program entitled, “How Did You Meet Your Husband ?“
The MC. had all the comeback quips up his sleeve except for Mary’s answer, “On the ski slope I”
He stuttered and stammered, not knowing a thing about skis and snow and so Mary stole the show!
It takes a lot of things to make up a neighborhood. It takes people, buildings and, above all, lovely familiar sounds. Of course over the decades these familiar sounds change. We no longer hear the cattle lowing in the commons as the settlers did, although, until quite recently, we used to hear the harbinger of a good day, John Bureh’s rooster. These sounds are gone as is the sound of the horn of a barge on the Erie Canal asking that the bridge up on Union Street be raised. I could go on in this vein and become completely nostalgic telling you of historic sounds like sleigh bells in the silence of a new fallen snow. Hut this is not my purpose. I want to listen to our current sounds with you.
There is one sound that we hear in the Stockade that has come down to us through history. That is the sonorous toll of the bell in the Tower of the Dutch Church which strikes out the hours. Throughout our history the bell in the Dutch Church has been the official time piece of our City and is still maintained by the City
There is another sound which time may soon erase. This is a sound which has particular significance to me. It is a passing Sound in more senses than one. It is the sound of the railroad trains. Many years ago when the New York Central was big and I was small, my Mother told me that when you hear the railroad trains, it will rain. Infallibly correct! I advise you now that, if you hear a train or if you hear the chimes at Union College, don’t plan a barbeque in the garden. You’ll be rained out!
I suppose that all sounds have significance and that is why they become a part of the neighborhood and part of us. The church bells ringing on Sunday morning, the far-off moan of “Scotia Cow’ our own fire siren on Erie Boulevard, the horms of the boats on the Barge Canal, and the whirr of outboards on the River are all part of the Stockade. So are the sounds of bark-big dogs, the scream of the Blue Jay, and the song of the Robin. But, there is one confusion of sounds. Is it a Cardinal, or is it Judge Quinn whistling for his dog?
33. The Lamplighter
As I flicked the switch to turn on the reproduction of an antique lamp that hangs on the wall by the steps of my house, I remarked to Mary and Ed,
“Where is the Lamplighter?”
Suddenly it occurred to me that for anybody of my age this was not such a foolish remark to make. We of my generation should remember the Lamplighter. All of which makes me recall a statement made by the lion. Austin A. Yates, Counselor-at-Law Historian and Editor-in-Chief of his book, published in 1902, “Schenectady County, New York, Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century.”
The Judge quotes an extract from the City Council meeting of August 8, 1812 which estabfished the Town Criers, who “every hour with an audible voice call the hour of the night at the intersection of one street with another.”
“Every man of sixty can remember the Town Crier,” says Judge Yates.
Well, I don’t qualify for that one, but as I approach sixty I do qualify to remember the Lamplighter.
I remember his ladder and his taper. When we grew up, we would be Lamplighters, just as kids today will all be Policemen.
Even in my own home this lamp lighting went on. The great chandeliers, or should I
say gasoliers, were lit every night. And when I was old enough and tall enough I was allowed to light the gorgeous cut-glass globes that still hang in the hall of 111 Union Street. You had to be careful not to touch the mantle because it would fall apart. I learned the intricacies of how the taper was installed in its handsome holder with the little thumb piece to push it up further into place. I learned, too, as I listened to some of the young G.E. men, like Steinmetz and Whitney, while they dined with my parents, that lamp lighting would not be a good profession to pursue. Soon it would all be electricity for street lighting and house lighting.
It is wonderful that the Historical Society has saved an old gas street light. It is also wonderful that in some houses these splendid lighting fixtures still remain, though electrified. I it is wonderful that, during the remodeling of the Campbell Mansion such a splendid example of a 19th Century gasolier was found up in the attic. And let’s face it. It is wonderful to have electric street lights controlled by time clocks.
It would be a dull profession to be a Lamp-lighter these days, wouldn’t it!
34. This and That and Dancing
This is a rather broad title, isn’t it? I intend it to be just that. It seems so all-inclusive and yet so indefinite.
Let me start by thanking all of the people who have been reading my column and have told me how much they enjoy my reminiscence. I especially thank those who called me, like the naughty young (?) girl, who after she had read my last story about the Lamplighter, phoned to tell me this:
“Giles, I remember so well the Lamplighter and the gas lights which you described so well. I remember them particularly because as a child I was forbidden to read when I went to bed. My family didn’t realize it, but outside of my bedroom window there was a gas light which each night the Lamplighter lit and which he turned out each morning. It shone through my window and, if I arranged myself properly, I could read by it and no one was the wiser.”
I shan’t divulge her name or age, but I know that she remembers some dancing classes and cotillions better than I. Yes, I can just remember when she and my parents went dancing down at Yates Boat House.
I also remember dancing classes held there for youngsters older than I. Then I recall that there were the classes at the Arcade Hall of the Edison Hotel, at the corner of Wall and State Streets. As I remember, Mr. Van Araman of Troy conducted these dancing classes. Mabel Hall (now Mabel Thompson) also held classes. However, I remember best a Cotillion held at 13 Union Street. I can’t remember who our dancing teacher was. It makes little difference because it was all pretty much the same.
Yes, it was like this. Once a week we boys had to be scrubbed up and put in our best clothes complete with patent leather pumps. It was Horrible. No football, baseball or snow balls that afternoon. However, the girls seemed to love it. They were in their prettiest frocks They were all coy and giggly. They sat on their side of the room. We boys sat on the other, sort of like a Quaker Meeting. The piano started to play and the teacher said:
“Select your partner.”
Then came the mad rush toward the prettiest girls, but the instructor took care of the situation. We each bowed politely to a girl saying, “May I have this dance?” Thus we all ended up with a partner whether we liked her or not, and we started to dance. If it was a waltz it was,
“One, two, skip. One two, skip.’
If it was a fox trot, it was, “One, two, three, skip. One, two, three, skip.” lit was terrible if you didn’t get the right girl. But as someone once said, “Good cometh from all things.” The “good” that came from dancing school was the Cotillion, like the one I remember at 13 Union Street up on the second floor. You invited the girl of your choice to go with you. You gave her a bouquet which your parents paid for. You went “One, two, skip or one, two, three, skip” with her until the wee hours of the morning (9 P.M.). It really had been worth a bath and dressing up once a week.
35. Spring in Schenectady
I first want to clear up a little matter which has resulted from my last story.
I hear, on good authority, that the girls did not like dancing class any more than we boys did. Write about something and the truth comes out!
I am told that the girls hated the way their Mothers dressed them. I am also told that in the mad rush to select a partner some tricks were involved which only a woman would think of.
‘Trip him up as he goes by and he is mine.
Having cleared this matter up, let me now tell you about Spring in Schenectady as I remember it as a boy.
The snow has gone, the birds, who have been with us all Winter, chirp with a lustier sound. Those more fortunate ones who, like some of our friends, could afford a Winter in Florida, have returned. For example, the proud, red-breasted robin is back singing.
“Tiddle on, tiddle ey, tiddle ey, tiddle eu.’
You hear this charming song and you hear his mate reply. Her song is a little more complex because women are like that.
The air is full of the aroma of lilacs. It’s spring and within a few days it will be commencement up at the College on the Hill. With this there will be Reunions. There will be parties and a parade.
Yes, there will be parties in lots of houses here in the Stockade. But the best will be at Paige House, No. 17, Washington Avenue. This is where Nicholas Franchot, Class of 1875 and later a Life Trustee of the College, was greeted by his sister, Janet Franchot Paige, and all of his friends, a tradition which Alonzo Paige carried on. I remember my Father, Class of ‘95, and his spouse, my Mother, going down to the Paige’s: I remember old grads coming to our house at 111 Union. It was a great round of parties which I was too young to attend.
Then, I remember these Alumni going over to St. George’s Church where Dr. Pendleton lent them the Parish House. Here they dressed in their class costumes and formed for the Parade. Oh! and what a parade it was up the cobblestone pavement of Union Street to the College on the Hill.
Like the song of the robin and the scent of the lilac, this was all part of Spring when I was a boy.