Tag Archives: Schenectady

The Last Amateur: The Life of William J. Stillman


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The Last Amatuer - Life of William StillmanIn a new biography being released in October by SUNY Press, The Last Amateur: The Life of William J. Stillman, author Stephen L. Dyson tells the story of William J. Stillman (1828–1901), a nineteenth-century polymath. Born and raised in Schenectady, NY, Stillman attended Union College and began his career as a Hudson River School painter after an apprenticeship with Frederic Edwin Church.

In the 1850s, he was editor of The Crayon, the most important journal of art criticism in antebellum America. Later, after a stint as an explorer-promoter of the Adirondacks, he became the American consul in Rome during the Civil War. When his diplomatic career brought him to Crete, he developed an interest in archaeology and later produced photographs of the Acropolis, for which he is best known today. Continue reading

Bob Cudmore: How ‘The Historians’ Came to WVTL Radio


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Bob Cudmore on WVTLWhat follows is a guest essay by Bob Cudmore, who writes “Focus on History” every Saturday in Schenectady’s Gazette newspaper and also hosts the morning radio show on WVTL AM-FM in Amsterdam which includes weekly interviews about history called “The Historians”. The New York History Blog asked Bob to explain how ‘”The Historians” was developed.

My first foray into local history was in 2000 when Steve Dunn and I co-produced the WMHT television documentary “Historic Views of the Carpet City: Amsterdam, N.Y.” Amsterdam is my home town. That same year my first book came out, self published. “You Can’t Go Wrong: Stories from Nero, N.Y. and Other Tales” was a compilation of satirical newspaper columns I had written for the Troy Record and Daily Gazette of Schenectady about Nero, a mythical Upstate New York city settled after all the good classical names such as Troy, Utica and Syracuse had been taken. Nero is a place so negative that “I don’t blame you” is a compliment.

In 2000 I pitched the Daily Gazette on doing “Focus on History”, stories from Montgomery and Fulton Counties. The column ran every other week until 2004 when it became a weekly fixture of the Saturday paper. Until his death last year, the column was edited by the Gazette’s incisive city editor Irv Dean. Continue reading

New Book: Capital Region Radio 1920-2011


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9780738598468John Gabriel and Rick Kelly, two cousins who grew up together listening to radio in the Capital Region, have written one of Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series books entitled Capital Region Radio 1920-2011. The book tells the history of Albany region radio programs and personalities from its early days to recent years through more than 200 vintage images.

The General Electric Company, with one of its main plants in Schenectady, began experimental broadcasts in conjunction with Union College in the early 1900s. Using many culled from the miSci Museum in Schenectady, and others, this new pictorial history shares the story of when WGY officially began broadcasting in February 1922 and General Electric started a long and storied history of pioneering radio technology and programming, which ultimately set the pace for worldwide broadcast development. Capital Region Radio pioneer WGY provided entertainment and news nationally during World War II, WTRY kept listeners updated during the blackout of 1965 and WOKO introduced rock and roll to the area. Continue reading

Professional Baseball in Schenectady, 1895-1904


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Schectady Baseball HistoryAt 2 pm on Saturday, April 12, 2014 the Schenectady County Historical Society will present a talk by Frank Keetz, “Professional Baseball in Schenectady, 1895-1904: A Fascinating Footnote in Local History”

Frank 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. Continue reading

Lecture: Abductees From The North Sold Into Slavery


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Kidnapped into SlaveryIn the 1800s, free blacks were sometimes lured from the safety of their hometowns, abducted, and sold into slavery. This happened to Solomon Northup, whose story is told in the film “12 Years a Slave.”

But several other black New Yorkers, from various parts of the state, were also kidnapped. Once they were taken to a slave state, their chances of returning home were small. But some victims, like Northup, were rescued from slavery, and their kidnappers were held accountable for their deeds. This presentation will tell their stories. Continue reading

Lecture Series: ‘Who Were the Adirondackers?’


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Entering Adirondack Park“Who Were the Adirondackers?” a five-part “lunch and learn” series exploring the social history of the Adirondacks with Hallie Bond, will be held at Union College’s Kelly Adirondack Center in Schenectady, beginning Monday, Jan. 13.

Bond was a staff member of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake for 30 years. Her writing on regional history and material culture has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, magazines and books. She lives in Long Lake with her husband, author and boat builder Mason Smith. Continue reading

ALCO WWII History Program Planned For Schenectady


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Army Navy PosterSarah Jones will present and discuss her National History Day website, “‘The City that Kept a Secret’: How ALCO’s M7 Turned the Tide in North Africa” on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.at the Schenectady County Historical Society in Schenectady.

ALCO was an important producer of locomotives and tanks for the war. During the first four years of the war, ALCO produced more product than it had in the first twenty-five years of the 20th century. In 1940, the Schenectady plant received a contract to build medium tanks and the company become the first to produce a satisfactory M3 “General Lee” for the army. Continue reading

Program on Women Soldiers in the American Civil War


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Female Civil War SoldierThe American Civil War represents the first time that a staggering number of women, from both the North and the South, disguised themselves as soldiers to fight for their country. Lisa Potocar present a program about these women and their motivations at Schenectady County Historical Society September 12th.

Lisa Potocar was born and raised in Upstate New York. Potocar’s historical novel about female Civil War soldiers, Sweet Glory, won First Place in the Young Adult category of the 2009 Maryland Writers’ Association’s and SouthWest Writers’ Novel Contests. It also advanced as a semi-finalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough (YA) Novel Awards. 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

Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism


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The Schenectady County Historical Society will host photographer Geoffrey Gross as he discusses his latest book, which features hidden jewels by the masters of twentieth-century modernist architecture in New England.

Tomorrow’s Houses is a richly photographed presentation of the best modernist houses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, built during the early twentieth century through the 1960s. 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

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.

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.

World War II Veterans Sought to Share Stories


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On Wednesday, December 7, 2011, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the Schenectady County Historical Society invites local World War II veterans to share memories of their wartime experiences with the public. This event will be structured as a roundtable, with veterans sharing their stories and audience members having an opportunity to ask questions.

Of the 16,112,566 Americans who served in the armed forces during WWII, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in November 2011 that only 1,711,000 nationwide are still living. This event provides us, as a community, with a valuable opportunity to honor and appreciate the WWII veterans that are still living among us.

In addition to the event on Wednesday, December 7, participating veterans are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Librarian Melissa Tacke for an individual oral history interview. One-on-one interviews allow time for veterans to tell their stories in greater detail and preserve veterans’ recollections for generations to come. Veterans may choose to come to the Schenectady County Historical Society for an interview, or an interviewer can arrange to interview the veteran at his or her home. An audio recording of the interview will become part of the Schenectady County Historical Society’s Grems-Doolittle Library collection of oral history interviews. Recordings of the interview will also be provided to the veteran and his or her family.

This event is free and open to the public; WWII veterans who would like to attend are encouraged to RSVP for this event. Veterans who cannot attend the December 7 event, but who are interested in participating in an oral history interview, are welcome to contact the Schenectady County Historical Society to schedule an oral history interview.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Melissa Tacke at 518-374-0263, option 3, or librarian@schist.org. The 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.