Tag Archives: Schenectady County

The Communist Party in Schenectady, 1930s-1950s


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Communist Party Recruitment PosterUtilizing oral history excerpts, union and corporate archival documents, state police files, and newspapers, Dr. Gerald Zahavi will explore the beginning of aggressive communist organizing in Schenectady during the Great Depression and afterward.

Zahavi will focus on the men and women in the party as well as those who actively fought it — opponents in state and local government, unions and corporations (especially General Electric), religious organizations, and civil rights groups. Continue reading

Celebrating Lake George Conservationist John Apperson


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C VW 228This year marks fifty years since the passing of John S. Apperson, Jr., a celebrated Lake George conservationist. To honor his memory and accomplishments, the Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) held a gathering on July 21 hosted by LGLC Director Debbie Hoffman and her husband Bill, at their Bolton Landing home in the heart of “Apperson Territory”.

Over 60 people joined together for the casual event. Guests were able to walk around the property, which neighbored Bill and Kathleen Horne’s home known as the Annex, and enjoy the lakefront views. Continue reading

Schenectady Baseball History: The Mohawk Giants


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MohawkGiantsTalk-007When you discuss Negro baseball, most people think of names like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.  These were some of the biggest stars in the professional Negro leagues.  However, this was not the only place where you could see Negro teams play.  Throughout the country there were independent teams, like the Mohawk Colored Giants.

The Giants got their start in 1913 under the organization of Bill Wernecke.  Although this was seasonal work for these ball players, they were full time paid players.  By offering full time jobs, Wernecke was able to lure players into Schenectady from all over the country.  The Giants would play their home games at the nicest ball field in Schenectady, Island Park.
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The Leadership Role of Municipal Historians


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19120822As the new year gets underway, it is appropriate to pause and reflect on open issues from years gone by. I am referring now to the role in 2013 of the county historian as a custodian for New York State history as we forge ahead with our Path through History Project.

The starting point for this investigation is an article which appeared on September 12, 2012 just after the summer launch in August entitled “New York State’s Curious, Century-Old Law Requiring Every City and Town to Have a Historian” by Amanda Erickson in The Atlantic Cities. Continue reading

Saving Cities: Learning from Melanie Griffith


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One of my favorite movie scenes is from Working Girl when Melanie Griffith explains while riding up the elevator with Trask and Indiana, how she came up with the idea for the corporate merger. It wasn’t as if she had been thinking about anything even remotely related to it. Her insight derived from a chance juxtaposition perceived by a mind willing to learn and open to new possibilities. Continue reading

Bob Weible: Making History in Difficult Times


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I was disappointed to hear the recent news that Schenectady County officials have chosen to cut funding for their county historian. This decision appears to have less to do with the historian than it did with the county’s fiscal problems.

Many of us are familiar with the state law that requires municipalities to appoint historians, and as Gerry Smith has pointed out, NYS County Law, section 400, also requires counties to make similar appointments. Many counties and many municipalities comply with these laws. Many don’t. But that’s not what’s at stake here. Continue reading

1960: The Campaign that Forged Three Presidents


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Join the Schenectady County historical Society and award winning author David Pietrusza just days after the election of 2012 to discuss the campaign for President in 1960. It was the election that would ultimately give America “Camelot” and its tragic aftermath, a momentous contest when three giants who each would have a chance to shape the nation battled to win the presidency. Continue reading

Mabee Farm: Len Tantillo Lecture, Book Signing


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On November 10th at 2 pm historic artist Len F. Tantillo will speak about his new book, The Edge of New Netherland, at the Mabee Farm Historic Site’s George E. Franchere Education Center. The book, a uniquely illustrated history of New Netherland, New Sweden, early North American fortification design, and the construction of Fort Cashmir (New Castle, Delaware) has been published for the New Netherland Institute.

The book explores life in the Dutch colony and competition between European powers by focusing on the construction of regional forts, and the trade they engendered. Tantillo’s work has appeared in books, periodicals, and television documentaries in the US and abroad and exhibited in numerous galleries across the country. Continue reading

Schenectady: The Life of Clarissa Putman


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Clarissa Putman, the jilted lover of Sir John Johnson, son of William Johnson, has been the subject of much Mohawk Valley mythology over the years.

The Schenectady County Historical Society (SCHS, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady) will host a talk on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. by Peter Betz entitled The Life of Clarissa Putman to sort out fact from fiction by providing a non-fictional mini-biography of her life based on reliable sources. Continue reading

Longshore Soldiers: Life in a WWII Port Battalion


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The Schenectady County Historical Society will host a book talk and signing entitled “Longshore Soldiers: Life in a WWII Port Battalion” by Andrew Brozyna on Saturday, October 13, 2012, at 2 pm.

Brozyna will discuss the World War Two experiences of Schenectady native Cortland Hopkins and other area GIs who served with him – from welding tanks at ALCO, to storming the beach in Normandy, to braving V-bombs in Antwerp.

Brozyna’s book, Longshore Soldiers, chronicles the wartime experiences of port battalion veterans, part of the US Army’s Transportation Corps, responsible for ensuring military were delivered to the front line. Longshore Soldiers offers a compelling narrative, packed with first-hand accounts and personal histories, of an overlooked aspect of World War Two. The author examines how these veterans kept the Allied armies moving as they marched into the Reich.

Brozyna works in book publishing and is the grandson of Cortland Hopkins, a veteran of the 519th Port Battalion.

The cost is $5.00; Free for SCHS Members. For more information, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian / Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society (SCHS), located at 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY, is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Schenectady County Historical Hosts Genealogy Day


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Who are we? Where do we come from? These are questions that genealogists, new and experienced alike, love to reflect upon and research. By collecting family stories and photographs, following the paper trails left behind across generations, and learning about the history of communities and nations, you can discover your lineage, develop awareness about the lives of your ancestors, and better understand your place in history and in your family.

On Saturday, October 27, participants in Genealogy Day at the Schenectady County Historical Society will explore many possible ways to uncover your family history.

Genealogy Day will feature four speakers. Joan Parslow, Director of the Albany Family History Center, will discuss the genealogy resources available at the Family History Center and talk about recent changes in the www.familysearch.org website. Attorney John Gearing will examine legal records as a resource for genealogy researchers. Michael Aikey, Director of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs, will focus on the genealogy resources available at the NYS Military Museum and the museum’s website, with an emphasis on researching New York State Civil War ancestors. Brian Kasler, Division Chairperson for the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service and a member of the Capital District Funeral Directors Association, will speak about funeral homes as a resource for genealogists.

Genealogy Day also offers participants the opportunity to explore the resources available at the Grems-Doolittle Library. The Librarian and library volunteers will be on hand to field questions, assist researchers, help participants get started in their genealogy research, or brainstorm strategies to overcome “brick wall” genealogical research problems that appear too difficult to solve.

Pre-registration for Genealogy Day is suggested, due to limited seating. The cost of admission for the day is $5.00; admission is free for members of the Schenectady County Historical Society. There will be a break for lunch for attendees to eat off-site; a list of nearby restaurants will be provided. For a detailed schedule for Genealogy Day, or to pre-register, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option “3”, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Lecture: 19th-Cent African-Americans in Schenectady


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At a lecture this Saturday in Schenectady, Marsha Mortimore will highlight the relationship of Union College with the African-American community and discuss some early notable African-American residents, including abolitionist Richard P.G. Wright; Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the first African-American to graduate from an American Theological seminary; and Bartlett Jackson, the first African-American hired by the Schenectady Police Department.

Mortimore has been active in a wide range of organizations that help her community and tell the stories of African-Americans’ impact on the community, including the YWCA of Schenectady and the League of Women Voters.

She is a founder/organizer of Women of Color for Change, is the current vice-president of the Schenectady Silhouettes, and was instrumental in establishing the monthly Dr. Jesse T. Henderson Black History Series in September 2010 due to her love of history and sharing the stories she uncovers. Mortimore recently developed a website and fact sheet about the Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in June 2012.

This event will take place on Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady. The cost is $5.00 admission – Free for SCHS members.

For more information, please contact Librarian Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

NY Sports History Lecture: The Schenectady Blue Jays


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Local baseball historian Frank Keetz will present a lecture entitled “The Schenectady Blue Jays, 1946-1957″ on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady.

The Schenectady Blue Jays baseball team, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, originated in 1946. The team played their home games at McNearney Stadium in Schenectady until disbanding in 1957. Frank Keetz, local baseball historian and author, will trace the history of the team and its impact in the area.

Keetz has written several publications about sports in the Schenectady area, including They, Too, Were ‘Boys of Summer:’ A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Eastern League 1951-1957, Class ‘C’ Baseball: A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Canadian-American League 1946-1950, and The Mohawk Colored Giants of Schenectady.

The cost of admission is $5.00, or free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, at 518-374-0263 or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Photo: Tommy Lasorda, member of the 1948 Schenectady Blue Jays team (courtesy ‘Cats Corner)

Schenectady Civilian Conservation Corps Reunion


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On Saturday, June 16, 2012, the Schenectady County Historical Society will host a reunion of Civilian Conservation Corps alumni, family, & friends from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady. Marty Podskoch, author of Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: Their History, Memories and Legacy, will give a short presentation and will invite participants to share their memories of the camps.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began on March 31, 1933 under President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to relieve the poverty and unemployment of the Depression. Camps were set up in many New York towns, state parks, and forests. Workers built trails, roads, campsites and dams, stocked fish, built and maintained fire tower observer’s cabins and telephone lines, fought fires, and planted millions of trees. The CCC disbanded in 1942 due to the need for men in World War II.
Marty Podskoch is a retired teacher and is the author of six books: Fire Towers of the Catskills: Their History and Lore, two volumes of Adirondack fire tower books: Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts, and Northern Districts and two other books, Adirondack Stories: Historical Sketches and Adirondack Stories II: Historical Sketches, from his weekly illustrated newspaper column.

After 5 years of research and interviews, Marty Podskoch has completed his new book, Adirondack Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: Their History, Memories and Legacy. The 344-page book contains over 500 pictures and illustrations, 26 maps, and 25 charts. The author will have all of his books available after the presentation for sale and signing.

For more information on the reunion or to RSVP, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option “3”, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Introduction to Schenectady Genealogy Resources


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The Schenectady County Historical Society will offer a workshop entitled “Introduction to Genealogy Resources in the Grems-Doolittle Library” on Saturday, April 28, 2012, from 2 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady.

Participants will explore the resources available for genealogical research in the Grems-Doolittle Library and learn to develop strategies for best utilizing the library’s collections in researching Schenectady-area ancestors from the 17th through the 20th century. The workshop will also include time to conduct research in the library.

Registration is required; limit of 16 participants per workshop. The cost is $5.00; free for Schenectady County Historical Society members.

For more information, or to register, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Hendrick Vrooman Family Being Celebrated


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The Schenectady County Historical Society (32 Washington Ave., Schenectady), will hold a celebrate the life and legacy of Hendrick Meese Vrooman, a Dutch settler who came to Schenectady in 1664 and was ultimately killed in the 1690 Massacre. Vrooman was the father of Adam and Jan Vrooman, who came with their father from Holland and many of whose descendants still live in the Schenectady and Schoharie County area.

A letter written by Vrooman in 1664, along with many other letters, were seized by the English from Dutch ships during the 17th-century Anglo–Dutch wars. These seized letters were recently discovered in the archives in Kew, England. In Vrooman’s letter, he comments on the changing rule in the colonies from Dutch to English, and describes his life in Schenectady: “It has been a good summer there. Very fine corn has grown there and the cultivation was good and the land still pleases me. At snechtendeel [Schenectady and the surrounding area] the land is more beautiful than I have ever seen in Holland.”

The Dutch national television station KRO will be filming this event for its program “Brieven Boven Water” (roughly translated as “Surfacing Letters”). The program attempts to make contact with living descendants of people who wrote the seized letters.

Descendants of Hendrick Meese Vrooman are especially encouraged to attend this event; the Grems-Doolittle Library staff and volunteers can help trace lineages back to the Vroomans. Please contact the Librarian for assistance.

The event will be held at the Historical Society on Thursday, February 9, at 2:00 p.m. The cost is $5.00 for the general public; Free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information, please contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian, 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org.

Illustration: Map of Schenectady in 1690, courtesy Brown and Wheeler Family History.

Mabee Farm to Host 1700s Colonial Festival Dinner


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The Mabee Farm’s in Rotterdam Junction will play host to prominent 18th century citizens of the Schenectady area during a Colonial Festival Dinner, the featured event of the Schenectady Heritage Area’s Annual Schenectady Colonial Festival.

Participants are likely to meet General Schuyler, soldiers on campaign, a Sachem of the Mohawk Wolf Clan, merchants or land speculators working for the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, and several members of the Mabee Family and their household. Part of the Mabee’s farm in Rotterdam Junction, the inn was frequented by military leaders, Native American traders, bateau men and many others traveling the Mohawk River. Continue reading

Radical Schenectady:Industrial Workers of the World at G.E.


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Dr. Gerald Zahavi, professor of History and Director of the Documentary Studies Program at the University at Albany and also Director of the Schenectady General Electric in the 20th Century Oral History and Documentation Project, will present a talk entitled “Radical Schenectady: Industrial Workers of the World at G.E.” on Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 6:00 p.m., at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305.

The cost of the program is $5.00, free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information, please contact Librarian Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or by email at librarian@schist.org.

The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

An Early Schenectady Communications Experiment


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In late 1932, on a dark mountainside in the far southern Adirondacks, a group of scientists prepared for a groundbreaking effort in the world of communications. The plan was to conduct a long-distance, telephone-style conversation with their counterparts stationed 24 miles away on the roof of the General Electric Company in Schenectady. No wires were involved. The voices of those on GE’s rooftop would be carried by a searchlight beam aimed directly at a concave, 30-inch mirror on a hillside near Lake Desolation.

This particular effort was the brainchild of GE research engineer John Bellamy Taylor. It involved a unique process he called “narrowcasting” because the tight focus of the beam differed substantially from the growing technology known widely as “broadcasting.”

Earlier in the year, Taylor had likewise communicated from the navy blimp Los Angeles floating high above the GE buildings. The effect was accomplished by making a light source flicker in unison with voice fluctuations. A photoelectric cell received the flickers, or pulsations, and converted them to electrical impulses, which were then amplified by a loudspeaker. The term narrowcasting was apt—any interruption of the narrow light beam halted the transmission.

This new attempt in the Adirondacks challenged Taylor’s abilities, covering more than ten times the distance of the dirigible effort and spanning some rough terrain. While trying to place the mirror in the Lake Desolation area, engineering crews twice buried their vehicles in the mud. Another technology—the shortwave radio— was used to effect a rescue.

A second issue arose involving the visibility of the large light beam. From 24 miles away, the searchlight blended among the stars on the horizon. Instructions were radioed to blink the light, which immediately solved the problem. Further communications by radio allowed the proper alignment of the light and mirror. With everything in place, the big moment was at hand.

A member of the extensive media coverage took part in the experiment. As Taylor waited on the distant hillside, famed newspaper columnist Heywood Broun began to interview him from atop the GE roof in Schenectady: “Do you suppose it might be possible in 50 or 100 years to communicate with Mars over a light ray?” Taylor’s reply included a bit of humor. “It might be within the range of possibility, but one difficulty would be how to inform the Martians what apparatus to set up.”

While Broun’s voice rode the light beam, Taylor’s end of the conversation was sent by shortwave radio back to Broun at Schenectady, where it was received and then rebroadcast on AM radio stations. The two-way conversation was the first ever of its kind.

In an area where few people had ever used or even seen a telephone, locals were suddenly talking across a beam of light. Old trapper James Link of Lake Desolation shared that “it’s getting mighty cold up here,” and two young women also spoke with Broun. It was a public relations coup for GE, and a powerful advertisement for Taylor’s wonderful innovation. The experiment was a resounding success, followed soon by other intriguing demonstrations.

A few months later, an orchestra played before a sole microphone high in New York City’s Chrysler Building. Pointing a beam of light at a lens in the window of a broadcast studio half a mile away, Taylor transmitted the performance to an audience of shocked listeners. Stunning successes like that would influence all future communications efforts in a variety of fields.

Among his many achievements, John Bellamy Taylor is credited with being the first ever to make light audible and sound visible, and with developing the first portable radio. Just how important was his work? The effects his discoveries had on radio, television, telephone, and other technologies are immeasurable. Due to the work of Taylor, Thomas Edison, and their contemporaries, the world was forever changed.

Top Photo: John Bellamy Taylor in Popular Mechanics magazine, 1931; Middle, map of the historic “narrowcast” area; Below, Taylor’s New York City experiment transmitting music.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Schenectady Reformed Church Archives Talk


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Dirk Mouw, winner of the New Netherland Institute’s (NNI) 2010 Annual Hendricks Award and featured speaker at NNI’s 24th Annual Meeting, will return to the northernmost part of New Netherland Sunday, November 13, 2011.

He will speak at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady’s weekly Forum, following the 10:00am worship service. The Forum is held in the Poling Chapel, 11:15am – noon. Mouw will speak about Archives of the First Reformed Church: Stories they Illuminate, Facts they Reveal, and Mysteries they Still Hold. Original 17th and 18th century church records, written by founders of Schenectady and the Church, will be shown.

After the Forum there will be a Brunch at the Stockade Inn – 12:15pm, $20/person, across the street from the church. An afternoon Workshop will follow at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue – a block’s walk around the corner from the Inn. Dr. Mouw invites anyone having early colonial documents, especially any in Dutch, to bring them for a “Show, Translate & Tell” session. Documents in the historical society’s collection will also be part of the program.

Mouw is translator of the De Hooges Memorandum Book for the New Netherland Institute, and he is an authority on the history of the Dutch Reformed Church. Currently a Fellow of the Reformed Church Center, he received the 2002 Albert A Smith Fellowship for Research in Reformed Church History. He is the author of a short biography of Schenectady’s first minister, Petrus Tesschenmaecker, who was killed in the 1690 Schenectady Massacre. Mouw is co-editor with two Dutch historians of Transatlantic Pieties: Dutch Clergy in Colonial America, which includes his Tesschenmaecker biography and will be in print by early 2012.

Mouw’s writing that won the Hendricks Award, Moederkerk and Vaderland: Religion and Ethnic Identity in the Middle Colonies, 1690-1772, rejects the myth prevalent in histories of the Middle Colonies, that the inhabitants of what had been New Netherland and their descendents quickly abandoned their churches and cultural identity, melting into the society and ways of English or American rule. Records in the Archives of Schenectady Reformed shed light on the people of the northernmost part of New Netherland Colony, showing how they remained faithful to their heritage and churches despite the changing colonial linguistic, governmental and religious environment around them.

Mouw earned his doctorate at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, following a master’s degree in history at the University of Iowa and a bachelor of arts in history and philosophy from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Mouw’s work involving Schenectady is of special interest this year as it is the 350th anniversary of Arendt van Curler’s 1661 founding of Schenectady. As Mouw rejects certain historical accounts, scholars, historians, archaeologists and artists in this area have been making discoveries that are leading to new interpretations of Schenectady’s history.

The Forum is open to the public. First Reformed Church of Schenectady, 8 North Church Street in the Historic Stockade, Schenectady, NY 12305 Two church parking lots, Stockade Inn parking lot, and street parking; one block from Bus Station.