Tag Archives: Schenectady County

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.

The History of Medicine in Schenectady County


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On Thursday, November 17, from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., the Schenectady County Historical Society will host an evening of talks and a book signing highlighting the history of medicine in Schenectady County. This event is free and open to the public.

Dr. James Strosberg, MD will discuss the history of the Schenectady County Medical Society and the role of physicians in caring for Schenectady’s population. Dr. Strosberg is the Historian and a past President of the Schenectady County Medical Society. He is the principal author of Two Centuries: Caring for a Community: The Medical Society of the County of Schenectady Bicentennial, 1810-2010, a bicentennial history of the Schenectady County Medical Society. Copies of Dr. Strosberg’s book will be available for sale and signing.

Frank Taormina will speak about the life of Dr. Daniel Toll, an original member and second President of the Schenectady County Medical Society. Frank Taormina is a retired teacher and school administrator and a frequent speaker at Schenectady County Historical Society events.

For more information, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone 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.

A Flood of History: New York’s History in Peril


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In recent months New York State has been the victim of horrendous flooding and devastation as the result of both Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The path of devastation is both wide and long – reaching from Maryland and New Jersey up to Vermont.

Centuries of disaster records have fallen. We have seen the evacuation of major areas of New York City and entire towns cut off from contact with neighboring communities and the outside world. As news crews rush to film the spectacular scenes of water rushing through main streets as buildings rush toward certain destruction, there are other stories that are lost in the immediacy of the event. Continue reading

Genealogy Day at Schenectady Co Historical


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The Schenectady County Historical Society (SCHS) will be hosting a Genealogy Day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 29, 2011 at SCHS, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady. 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. The morning speakers, Phyllis Budka and Alan Horbal, will focus on their experiences in researching Polish and Polish-American genealogy. Genealogist Nancy Curran will discuss using New York State vital records in tracing your genealogy. Chris Hunter, Curator at the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, will speak about the resources available for researching your GE ancestor.

The afternoon portion of Genealogy Day 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. Attendees are asked to bring their own bag lunch. Beverages and desserts will be provided by Grems-Doolittle Library volunteers.

Genealogy Day Schedule for Saturday, October 29

9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.
Pieces of Me
Speaker: Phyllis Budka

“To me it is a mystery why I must study history” – Those cheeky words form the opening line of Phyllis’ poem that appeared in “The Watchtower,” the Mont Pleasant High School student newspaper, over 50 years ago. Her recent research in family genealogy has awakened her interest in European history and she suddenly feels like a human archeological dig. Phyllis Rita Zych Budka was born in Schenectady and attended St. Adalbert’s School, McKinley Junior High and Mont Pleasant High School. She received a degree in Russian Language from the University of Rochester. In 1964, she married Alfred Budka, also a native Schenectadian. Phyllis earned a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Union College in 1982. Phyllis and Al owned a welding supplies firm at that time. In 1991, Phyllis became a GE employee and retired in 2008. She has three children and seven grandchildren.

10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Research in Southern Poland and Hints for You in Doing Research in Poland
Speaker: Alan Horbal

Alan Horbal will share his experience in doing genealogical research in Poland and present strategies and tips for learning about your ancestors from Poland. He has worked as a volunteer at the National Archives and Record Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts since 2001, where he instructs users on how to use government records in their research. He has also taught courses on genealogy research at Williams College.

11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Vital Records in New York State
Speaker: Nancy Johnsen Curran

This talk will concentrate on the valuable Department of Health vital records indexes at the NYS Archives in Albany. Nancy Johnsen Curran is an experienced genealogist who focuses on the capital region of New York State. Her research takes her to the NYS Library and Archives in Albany as well as to repositories such as courthouses, historical societies and cemeteries in the area. In the fall 2011 semester Curran will teach a course on genealogy research at Schenectady County Community College. Curran is a member of the board of trustees of the New Netherland Institute and has served on the board of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Lunch Break – Please bring your own bag lunch; drinks and desserts will be provided.

12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Using the GE Archives for Genealogy Research
Speaker: Chris Hunter

Learn about the variety of resources that are available for researching your GE ancestor, and about digital initiatives that will improve accessibility to valuable sources like the GE Schenectady Works News employee newsletters. Chris Hunter is Curator at the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, and has overseen the Museum’s industrial history archive since 2000.

1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Q&A in the Library and Open Research Time with Library Volunteers

Explore the resources available in Schenectady County Historical Society’s Grems-Doolittle Library, including family files, photographs, family genealogies and lineages, church records, cemetery records, vital records indexes, wills, deeds, local and New York State histories, maps, collections of personal papers and organizational records, genealogy publications, and more. The librarian and library volunteers will be on hand to assist researchers and answer questions.

For more information about 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.

Exhibit Highlights Len Tantillo’s Historical Work


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The Schenectady County Historical Society has opened their newest exhibit “A Journey through History: The Artistic Works of Len Tantillo” at the newly opened George Franchere Education Center at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction.

According to a recent press release: “The artwork by Len Tantillo included in this exhibit has the power to bring the visitor back in time. These very well researched paintings help in our understanding of history, especially locally, at a basic level. Len Tantillo is able to display often overlooked aspects of history, especially in everyday life, that are actually the real foundations of our local area, state, and country.” Continue reading

Peter Feinman: Irene and New York State History


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This past July, a group of educators toured the historic Mohawk Valley. The group consisted of teachers from the region, particularly the Utica school district, people from historical societies, and cultural heritage tourists. The program was described as an “immersion experience”into the history of the Mohawk Valley. Little did we know that the metaphorical image soon would become a literal one. Continue reading

Mohawk Valley History Summer TeacherHostel


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The Institute for History, Archaeology, and Education has announced that a Mohawk Valley History TeacherHostel will take place Monday, July 18 through Friday, July 22 at historical sites and attractions throughout the Mohawk Valley (Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton, Schoharie and Herkimer counties)

In an effort to bring the riches of the Mohawk Valley experience to the classroom, this five day intensive program will bring to life many aspects that make the Mohawk Valley truly unique.

Discover the stories of the Iroquois, the Palatine Germans, the Dutch, the Erie Canal, the Valley’s Revolutionary history and ties to the Civil War and Industrial Revolution.

Explore how these topics of local history and heritage can be related to the American history story as a whole, along with the New York State Social Studies Standards for Learning. After these five days in the Mohawk Valley, you will feel that you have had a little taste of everything the Valley has to offer.

This history hostel is not just for teachers; however, anyone interested in the rich history of this area is welcome to join us for one or two days or for the full week. The fee for the entire week is $275, which includes meals.

See www.ihare.org for more information and a registration form.

Schenectady/Nijkerk Council’s Colonial Festival Dinner


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The Schenectady/Nijkerk Council Invites you to this year’s Colonial Festival Dinner Tuesday, February 8, 2011 with Historical and Marine Artist Len F. Tantillo
Bob Cudmore, Master of Ceremonies at the Glen Sanders Mansion, One Glen Avenue – Scotia, New York

The Schenectady/Nijkerk Council has roots to about 1630, when Arendt Van Curler from Nijkerk established the trading outpost that would become the City of Schenectady. In 1909 the Dutch churches in Nijkerk and Schenectady exchanged tablets memorializing this connection. City-to-City exchanges between inhabitants of the City of Schenectady and the City of Nijkerk have been in existence since 1984.

3:30 p.m. – Throughout Evening, Exhibit
Tantillo’s Works with Maps of Early Schenectady & Latest Findings from Archaeological Excavations in the Stockade Historic District Select works by Len Tantillo available for purchase.

4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Heritage Seminar – Conversation with Len Tantillo
Bill Buell, Facilitator, Developing Schenectady’s Historical Legacy

6:00 p.m. Cocktail Hour, Hors D’oeuveres, Cash Bar

7:00 p.m. Dinner
Len Tantillo, Illustrator of life and places in early New York Historical Painting: Schenectady Works

Individual Seminar/Dinner combination ticket $60
Seminar only ticket $20
Dinner only ticket $50

Become a Sponsor of the Colonial Festival Dinner with Seminar/Dinner combination tickets & recognition in the program

A Patroon’s Table: $1000 for 10 tickets and the host receives an unframed Tantillo print

An Old Dorp Table: $750 for 10 tickets and a 10% discount on up to two Tantillo prints

Stockade Settlers: $150 for 2 tickets and reserved seating (Yes a single person may be a Settler at $75)

For more information call Laura Lee Linder at 518-882-6866