Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Odors of the Erie in Schenectady

A photo on our New York Heritage Digital Collections page prompted an interesting question, "What did the Erie Canal Smell Like?" The photo, seen below, shows part of the canal towards the end of its lifespan, probably in the late 1910s. The amount of trash and debris in the photo makes me think that it didn't smell all too great.

Photo of men on Dock Street by the Erie Canal. This photo gives a great idea of just how shallow the canal was, it was originally 4 feet deep and 7 feet after it was enlarged. Check out a zoom-able image on our NY Heritage page. Photo courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection. 
Former Schenectady City Historian William B. Efner wrote an account of his time as a cash boy in Barney's Department Store in the 1880s. Efner states that Canal would slow to a trickle in the fall as the water was let out. In the springtime, cleaners would go down into the canal and clear out any garbage, waste, and dead animals that had accumulated over the winter. Efner goes on to say that this was all thrown onto the towpath for days "until water was let into the canal and a scow could be run through on which the filth was deposited and hauled away, but the stench remained for days afterward."

Another photo of the drained canal. near the Union Street bridge Crossing. Check it out in our NY Heritage Collection.

No dock rats in sight in this picturesque postcard of Dock Street
and the Erie Canal. Check it out in our NY Heritage Collection.
Courtesy of the Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection.
Author Jeannette Niesuler wrote a six-part article on the Erie Canal from the Daily Gazette titled "When Schenectady and the Erie Canal Were Young Together." Niesuler describes the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy that many canalers abided by when disposing of their waste. There were also sewers that let out into the canal. Neisuler goes into a bit more detail about the type of waste found by the so-called "dock rats" which was the name for the men who cleaned out the canal. Neisuler writes a very vivid description of the type of debris the dock rats would find, "Waste of all description, and some that would defy description, gathered there -- no excepting carcasses of long dead, putrefying animals, even on occasion, a horse. Lying there on the towpath, fermenting in the hot sun..." Mike Rowe would have had a field day joining the dock rats for a Dirty Jobs: Erie Canal Edition.  

Schenectadian Benedict R. Hatmaker had quite a few ideas on how to improve the city he writes that "The canal should cease to be a cesspool and a stench and turned into a crosstown street,"
Testimony of Francis Tauriello in the case of Michael Crage v.
the City of Buffalo in 1933. Courtesy of Google Books.
 which it eventually turned out to be a true prediction. Other cities were dealing with the same problem. An article in the May 6, 1913 issue of the Utica Herald Dispatch states "Neither bar spices, perfume, or chloride of lime will sweeten canal's breath." In Buffalo, a possible solution to the offending odor of the Erie was found in diverting the sewers underneath the canal and into the Buffalo River. Which solves the problem of a polluted Erie Canal, but creates the problem of a polluted river. There was even a lawsuit brought against the City of Buffalo in 1933 by a Michael Crage. Crage claimed that a lack of sewers while Buffalo was filling in the Erie Canal drove tenants away from his building.

Filling in the canal meant that many of the first floors of buildings on Dock Street were covered up. Check this image out on our NY Heritage page. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Schenectady, like other cities in New York, found a solution to the stench by filling the canal in and creating a street. The canal in Schenectady was filled and paved in 1925, creating Erie Boulevard. The street that ran along the canal, Dock Street, is now the sidewalk of Erie Boulevard. Many of the remaining buildings along Erie Boulevard are reminders of the canal in the city although some have been demolished or destroyed over time (some very recently).

The Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives has many photos of what life was like on the Erie Canal and we have been working to digitize many of them on our New York Heritage Collection page. Images of the canal can be found in our Erie Canal Photograph Collection, Schenectady, NY Street Scenes Collection, and the Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection. For even more photos and information, stop by our library at Schenectady County Historical Society headquarters at 32 Washington Ave.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Murder Most Foul: The Killing of Etta Demascek

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff

Did Alexander Demascek pay to have his wife killed?  That question had Schenectady abuzz during the summer of 1892.

Around noon on June 14, 1892, "the comely" Mrs. Etta Demascek was murdered in her home on Rotterdam Street in Schenectady.  A 12 year old girl, Gussie Frisch, heard a blow, a scream and what she described as a crunching sound “like a butcher cutting meat”.  She saw a man run out of the house, past a group of men on the Scrafford Hotel stoop and escape. 

View of the Scrafford Hotel in 1905. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The first suspect was a former boarder in the Demascek house, John Feltheimer.  He was accused of
the murder but quickly cleared when he was able to prove he was at his job at the locomotive works.  He decided to take on the search for the killer and had himself sworn in as a special officer and headed to New York City.  He apparently was successful because a month later, on July 16th, his information led to the arrest of Cornelius (Cornel) Loth, a 25 year old Hungarian immigrant, for the crime.  Loth was living and working in New York although he had previously spent time in Schenectady.  From the information Feltheimer gave the police, Alexander Demascek was also arrested for complicity in the murder of his wife.  

Cornelius Loth, The Confessed Murderer. 
Cornel Loth at first protested his innocence but then made a full confession to District Attorney Naylor and Assistant Police Chief DeForest.  He said that since February of 1892, Demascek was imploring him to kill his wife.  He gave Loth money on several occasions and promised a larger amount after Etta was killed.  Loth said he refused to do it, but on June 13th took the midnight train out of New York to Schenectady.  He arrived at 7:55 am on the morning of the 14th and immediately went to the Demascek house.  Mrs. Demascek knew him from his previous time in Schenectady and invited him in.  Her husband wasn’t at home but they chatted all morning in the middle room while a plasterer was at work in the adjoining kitchen.  At noon the plasterer left the house.  Mrs. Demascek asked Loth if he would like some lunch and gave him some bread and butter.  She said she was tired and went into the front room to lie down on the lounge and told him he could wait for her husband.  He could see her from where he was seated.  After about five minutes, he picked up his club from the bed where he had placed it and went into the front room. The club, which he had brought with him, had a polished brass knob at the top the size of a doorknob and a handle about two feet long.  When he entered the room he ran at Etta and struck her on the head with the club two or three times.  She screamed and fell to the floor.  He then went into the kitchen, got a butcher knife, returned to the front room, cut her throat and then stabbed her once or twice in the breast, leaving the knife by her side.

Loth said he heard a rap at the kitchen door, grabbed his hat and club and ran from the house.  He ran through the streets, across the Glenville Bridge where he threw his club into the Mohawk and returned to the train station where he caught the 1:33 pm train back to New York.  DA Naylor reported that Loth told the story “as calmly as though he were reading a newspaper report of another man’s crime”.

In late July, a grand jury was convened to determine whether there was enough evidence to go forward with a trial for both Loth and Demascek.  Loth’s confession alone was was enough evidence for an indictment but there wasn’t as much evidence against Demascek. Demascek retained the Honorable A. A. Yates to defend him. 

Andrew A. Yates was one of Schenectady's leading attorneys in the 1800s. More information can be found about him at
Jacob Lockwood, who was one of the first to find Etta’s body, described Demascek’s demeanor when he returned to the house.  He said Demascek was called home from his job at the Edison Works where he was working as a machinist.  When he arrived he viewed the bloody body of his wife for about a minute and a half then turned around with a smile on his face.  Yates questioned whether he could be certain it was a smile or an expression of pain.  The witness said he could not swear to the point but the expression appeared to be a smile to him.

Other witnesses testified to abuse the 27 year old Alexander Demascek inflicted upon his wife.  Under questioning, Demascek admitted to beating his wife but only “two or three times”. He went on to describe numerous occasions of abuse. He said he whipped her two times but could swear it wasn’t six times as one of the witnesses described.  He also beat her once on Veeder Avenue with his hand to her face.  He threw her on a bed the previous summer and hit her on the face two or three times.  He beat her once in Europe and beat her once with a piece of iron which was “about a half pound”.  He beat her again on Centre Street and on Rotterdam Avenue.  He also beat her on Veeder Lane.  Demascek, who was German, was questioned through an interpreter and it was reported that he was “voluble and clever” in his answers.  A smile “rested on his lips almost constantly and he lit up with eagerness answering questions”.  He also testified that he wasn’t legally married and he and Etta just lived together.

Cornelius Loth testified that he came to Schenectady on October 6, 1891.  He knew Demascek and his wife and was in their house frequently.  He said that Demascek gave him money on several occasions and told him how his wife caused him trouble and stole his money.  He begged and cried on many occasions for Loth to kill his wife.  Loth said he left Schenectady on Easter, April 16th 1892, and didn’t hear from Demascek again except receiving a letter from him. The letter pleaded for Loth to kill his wife and promised to forgive his debts and give him a large sum of money.  Loth said that he burned the letter after he read it.  Under questioning, Loth could not say that the handwriting on the letter was definitely Demascek’s.  Demascek later said he could not have written the letter because he was illiterate and could only write his name.

Judge Yates successfully argued the case for Alexander Demascek saying all evidence, especially Loth’s confession, was third party and nothing could be proved.  Although the prosecutor felt there was enough evidence against Demascek to move forward, the grand jury refused to indict him and he was released from custody.  Loth was indicted and held for trial.

In mid-November Cornelius Loth was arraigned on the murder charge before Judge Kellogg.  He pled not guilty but did not have counsel.  He said he had no money and no friends in a position to help him.  Judge Kellogg advised the members of the Schenectady Bar Association to appoint someone to defend him.

By November 17th, attorney A. J. Thompson consented to act as counsel for Loth.  Thompson said that in view of his confession, there was no doubt to his guilt but there was some doubt as to his sanity.  He said that Loth was “unquestionably insane” and would like to have an examination of his sanity done as soon as possible.  He said that Loth substantiated his confession one day and denied it the next.  He reported that “if Loth did the murder at all, it was for plunder but the plan was spoiled by the arrival of the little Frisch girl who interrupted him at his deadly work”.   One of the stories Loth told Thompson was that John Feldheimer, the special officer, offered him $100 to confess to the murder.  Feldheimer promised he would obtain counsel for him to secure his acquittal and then would send him back to Hungary. 

Thompson felt the only plea left was insanity although there was no further mention of such a plea. It is unknown as to whether Loth had a mental examination.  Thompson and District Attorney Naylor arranged the trial to be held during a special session of circuit court on December 19th.  Subsequently, the trial was moved to the current session of the Schenectady Court of Oyer and Terminer (a state court that had criminal jurisdiction over felonious offenses) and began November 20th leaving little time for preparation.  With the honorable Justice Landon presiding, twelve men were selected for the jury, most from Glenville and Duanesburg. 

During the trial, five witnesses, including little Gussie Friesch identified Cornelius Loth as the man they saw running from the Demascek home.  It was reported “a lively time was expected when Alexander Demascek took the stand” but he only continued to deny any complicity in the murder and testified he was unaware of Loth’s plan. 

The only testimony on Loth’s behalf was his own.  He again accused Demascek of giving him money
to kill his wife.  He insisted he didn’t do it.  He testified that a man by the name of Leichman, who lived in New York City, committed the murder but had since fled to Hungary.  The jury didn’t buy his story and on November 29th, returned a verdict of murder in the first degree.   On December 3rd, 1892 Cornelius Loth was sentenced to death.

Electric Chair from Sing Sing Prison, similar to
the one used at Dannemora. Dannemora's electric
chair was decommissioned in 1970. Photo courtesy
of the New York History Blog,
Loth was moved to the Clinton Prison in Dannemora, NY where it was reported he was a model prisoner.  The day before his execution was passed quietly.  He retired early and slept fairly well.  He dressed in a new cutaway coat and trousers provided for him to die in.  Two French priests from the village arrived to confer with the prisoner and spent a half hour with him.  Loth ate little of his breakfast of eggs, meat, bread and coffee and showed signs of nervousness.  

He was led to the death chamber by guards with the priests following.  He was taken into a room with
an electric chair at one end surrounded by three guards and three physicians.  At the other end of the room were the twenty witnesses allowed by law.  It was reported he knelt down in front of the chair and murmured a few broken words of prayer.  A priest raised and kissed him before he was lowered into the chair.  As the guards strapped him in he said “Take it easy” which were thought to be his last words.  1725 volts of electricity was administered.  His body stiffened against the straps then relaxed.  Loth was declared dead at 11:57 am on January 16, 1893.  He was 26.  It was only the second electrocution at Clinton Prison. 

At some point after the trial, Loth was reported to have acknowledged his accusation of Alexander Demascek was untrue. Martin Frobiski, who was a witness at Loth's trial later reported to police he had known Loth for many years in and that he had killed a twelve year old girl "in the old country".   Police were of the opinion that the Demascek murder was not the first committed by Loth.

On October 31, 1892, Alexander Demascek was appointed administrator of his wife’s estate.  He later moved to New York City where he married Margaret Lensch on January 31, 1895.  They had a son, Alexander, in December of 1895 followed by four other children.  By the 1900 census they were living in Newark New Jersey where Alexander was working as a watchmaker.  Nothing is known of the elder Alexander after that time.  Margaret appears on later censuses remarried and living in California with her children. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Riding in Style: The Campbells and their Chariot

The Campbell Mansion on State Street. This mansion was designed by famed architect Samuel Fuller. The mansion still exists and can be seen at 101 State Street. It currently houses the Campbell House Psychological Associates. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.  
Schenectady resident Daniel Campbell immigrated from Ireland to Schenectady sometime around 1754. According to historian Austin A. Yates, Campbell was "possessed of small means but on his arrival, he commenced as an Indian trader, with a pack upon his back, and by his native shrewdness, great industry and remarkable economy." He built his fortune by trading with local Native Americans, Schenectadians, and by purchasing soldier's rights to land after the American Revolution. Campbell married Engeltie "Angelica" Bratt after he immigrated to Schenectady. Campbell made quite a name for himself as a trader in Schenectady and by 1762 was able to construct his mansion on State Street. Campbell was also a close associate of William Johnson who was known for commanding Iroquois and colonial forces during the French and Indian Wars in the mid-1700s. Campbell would often entertain Johnson at his State Street mansion when he visited Schenectady.

Possible portraits of Angelica and Daniel Campbell. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.  
How Daniel Campbell gained his wealth is evident from his letter books which we have at the Grems-Doolittle library. He traded animal skins and furs, liquor, shrub (the fruit and vinegar based drink, not the foliage), various other goods, and most importantly, land. He had contacts with prominent merchants in Detroit, Montreal and London, among other places. There are several letters in his letter book that deal with people trespassing on his land, one biting letter from December 16, 1773 to William Brisby shows that Daniel Campbell was not a man you would want to cross. An image of the letter with a transcription can be seen below:

"Sir, I have sufficient proof that you have this winter cut 150 saw loggs of my land about a mile from your house for which villainy you may be assured I will prosecute you as the law directs if you do not immediately come and make me payment for the full value of every logg you have cut or caus'd to be cut for your deceiving me in this manner you shant have one acre of land from me altho I was determin'd to have given you a lease. If I don't see you or have proper satisfaction from you soon  you may expect the consequences for go where you will I shall have you taken. I am, D.C." 
Other letters refer to Campbell suing people who owed him money (sometimes threatening to arrest them), invoices for various goods, and letters about general business matters. There are very few letters of a personal nature, but from letters like the one shown above, you can get a sense of Daniel Campbell's personality. These letters show how shrewd Campbell could be in his business dealings and give an indication as to how he amassed his fortune. The letter shown on the left gives an example of the types of items Campbell was selling in 1774. They include, men's shoes, Jamican Spirits, pipes, salt, rifles, black wampum (the best sort), sugar, tea, pork and tobacco.

Campbell's wealth allowed him to buy a carriage for his wife Angelica in the 1792. Owning a personal carriage was a pretty big deal in the 18th Century. Carriages were heavily taxed as a luxury items and you had the added expense of hiring a coachman and maintaining a couple horses. Campbell's carriage was quite the luxury item. The carriage had two seats and a red Russian leather interior. It's build was similar to the European carriages that were fashionable at the time. Angelica's monogram was on both sides of the carriage, as well as the Campbell coat of arms and coronet. The carriage stayed in the Campbell family well after Daniel and Angelica died. The Campbell's had one child, David, who died in 1801. Without a direct heir, Angelica left much of the land to her nephew Daniel David Schermerhorn with the catch that he change his last name to Campbell which he did.
The Campbell Chariot in 1925. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.  
The Campbell Chariot at the Henry Ford Museum. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.  

Before the carriage was sold it had a brief theater career, showing up on the stage of the Van Curler Opera House in 1918. It played the role of "carriage" in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
The carriage was kept by Daniel David Schermerhorn Campbell at the Campbell property in Rotterdam (the current site of Viaport Rotterdam) along with a 26 bedroom mansion that D.D. Campbell built. It was said that the Marquis de Lafayette rode in the carriage when he visited Schenectady in the 1820s. It passed from through the Campbell family until 1929 when it was offered to the historical society. The historical society declined due to a lack of space, the carriage simply wouldn't fit in the rooms of 13 Union Street where the SCHS used to reside. The carriage made its way to the Henry Ford's museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it was recently renovated by B.R. Howard & Associates.

The Henry Ford Museum has some very detailed photos of the carriage on their digital collections website. B.R. Howard & Associates also keep an online portfolio of projects they worked on. You can see before and after photos, and find out more about the Campbell Chariot at their website,

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jeanne Robert Foster

This post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone.

Women’s History Month usually calls to mind the achievements of luminaries such as Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman.  While these seminal figures rightly continue to be honored, other lesser-known women have made important contributions to society.  One such local individual is Jeanne Robert Foster. She escaped a poverty-stricken childhood in the Adirondack Mountains to pursue a varied career as a poet, journalist, model, art and literary critic, literary agent, municipal employee, and advocate for the Adirondack wilderness, before dying at the advanced age of ninety-one in 1970.  Mrs. Foster undoubtedly deserves the appellation of “Renaissance Woman.”

Early Life

Foster's mother, Lucia Newell
Oliviere was a staunch supporter
of women's suffrage. Find out
more in our previous blog post:
That Jeanne was to defy expectations was clear even at birth.  Born Julia Elizabeth Oliver on March 10, 1879, she was the first child of Frank and Lucia Oliver.  The infant was declared stillborn by the attending doctor and left on the windowsill while he took care of the new mother.  To his surprise, upon returning to the newborn a bit later, she was alive. 

Today, the Adirondacks are viewed as a scenic getaway destination.  In the latter part of the nineteenth century, although the monied class enjoyed the mountain resorts and camps, life for the residents was anything but easy.  They were a hardy sort, many of them immigrants, who eked out a hardscrabble life logging, farming, and mining.  Jeanne recalled that hers was the only family with deep American roots in the region; most settlers had ancestors from France, Canada and Northern Ireland’s Protestant population.  Born in Johnsburg, she spent her early years in the town of Minerva, in Essex County, where her father farmed.  When she was seven, the family pulled up roots again, moving southeast to Chestertown, where Mr. Oliver was a lumberjack and carpenter. As a poor family with four young mouths to feed, the Oliver's tried to reduce their financial strain by sending their oldest child to live with relatives for a period of about four years.  From the ages of eight to twelve, Jeanne stayed with several members of her extended family, returning home in 1892.

Jeanne’s early life was an indicator of her intelligence and will to succeed.   Her father, a religious man, was uneducated, whereas her mother was a graduate of the Albany Normal School and taught in Chestertown.  An extraordinary student, Jeanne was interested in writing, and several of her articles were published in the local newspaper.  Her first foray into that arena was the article “Autumn Leaves,” describing the seasonal foliage of her beloved Panther Mountain.  With her strong academics, Jeanne was permitted to take the teaching examination at age fifteen.  The following year she was teaching school and helping supplement her family’s limited income.  Unlike uneducated women whose lives were severely limited, Jeanne would use this initial opportunity to improve her prospects.

Marriage and Expanding Career

Jeanne Robert Foster as drawn by
Harrison Fisher. 
 What changed life her immediately, however, was Jeanne’s marriage on August 25, 1897, at age Vanity Fair, who asked her to pose for the magazine.  The December 1900 issue included a photo spread featuring his new find.  Her connection with Dodge led to an introduction to noted illustrator Harrison Fisher, who chose Jeanne to be the Harrison Fisher Girl of 1903, an archetype of the beautiful American woman.  Her modeling career led to a job as an assistant to the fashion editor of the Hearst newspapers.
eighteen, to 46-year-old Matlack Foster, a local man.  In 1968, she gave her reason: “I feared the usual life.  I did not want it.  I married a man older than my father so that I would be protected from –real—life” (Londraville 18).   The couple moved to Rochester, where Matlack was in the insurance business; they also traveled quite often to New York City for extended stays.  During this period, Jeanne graduated from Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) and took classes at New York City’s Stanhope-Wheatcroft Dramatic School, landing several acting roles in the American Stock Company.  Considered quite attractive, Jeanne had a fortuitous meeting with David Dodge, the editor of

Photograph of Jeanne Robert
Foster taken in 1900. 
Many young women of the time would have viewed this position as the pinnacle of success.  Jeanne’s career trajectory, however, was on the rise.  Her sister Francesca’s bout with typhoid led Jeanne to travel to Boston in 1905 to help nurse her back to health.  Fortunately, her new situation allowed her to attend classes at Boston University and Harvard, with a particular focus on literature and writing.   Her literary talent led to a job with the Boston American, where, among other subjects, she wrote about the problems of the poor, a topic of lifelong interest.  Jeanne remained in the city until 1910, her husband eventually joining her.  A meeting with journalist Albert Shaw at a party led to a job with the American Review of Reviews, of which he was the editor in chief.  Her assignments were varied, requiring her to review books, critique poetry, and write about art, literature, theater, education, and topics of interest to women.  Her work took her to Europe several times, and gave her entrĂ©e to famous figures, particularly men, who were to play important roles in Jeanne’s life.


As noted earlier, Jeanne’s love for writing began in childhood.  In 1916, she published two books of poetry: Wild Apples and Neighbors of Yesterday.  The former is a collection of lyric poems. Neighbors of Yesterday consists of narrative verse, the poems telling stories about the people of her beloved Adirondacks. The idea for an important poem in that collection, “Union Blue,” was sparked by Jeanne’s editorial work on a photographic history of the Civil War.  In the poignant lines below (qtd. in Londraville 37-38), a father who joined the Union forces with his son tells his neighbor about his fallen son’s jacket, which he saved from a robber:

               It’s mostly tatters now, the pocket tore
               A dozen times; I always mended it.
               I couldn’t let those robbers lay their hands
               On Sonny’s coat.  I’ll have it laid at last
               Inside my coffin, when I come to die. 
                                                            (70, lines 97-101)

 A third volume of poetry, Rock Flower—like Wild Apples, traditional in form—was released in 1923 to positive reviews.  A versatile writer, Jeanne even penned a one-act play, Marthe, which won the Drama League Prize of 1926.  In 1986, Noel Riedinger-Johnson edited Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time, a posthumous anthology of Foster’s unpublished poetry and prose.  As Riedinger-Johnson notes, along with Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett, Foster was considered the best of an “American feminine literary tradition,” highlighting “…universal human values and the self-reliant spirit of American pioneers” (xxxii).

Influential Relationships

Jeanne’s affairs of the heart were complicated. She was married to a much older man, who was not particularly successful in business. As he aged, he had heart problems, and spent a good deal of time away from his wife, residing at the Schenectady home that Jeanne had helped purchase for her parents in 1901. Meanwhile, Jeanne traveled widely, meeting many people. She became very close with several men, including journalist Albert Shaw; art connoisseur John Quinn; and the eccentric Aleister Crowley, noted as a spiritualist, philosopher, poet and mountaineer. As the authors note in Dear Yates, Dear Pound, Dear Ford, she denied being unfaithful with these men, but her diaries throw into question her denials (Londraville XXVII). In spite of these unconventional relationships, Jeanne was a product of her times, when it was not acceptable for a woman to be altogether independent. She wrote in a 1970 letter that “genius is male” (qtd. in Londraville 138), and commented in her diary that “ order to reach her potential she needed to be attached to a superior man (Londraville XXVII).

Drawing of Foster by John Butler Yeats in 1917.
John Butler Yeats, portrait artist and father of the great poet William Butler Yeats, was a major influence in her life. From their initial meeting in a New York City restaurant in 1911 until his death in 1922, they were the closest of friends. At the center of literary and artistic circles, Yeats mentored Jeanne as a writer and encouraged her to focus on dramatic poetry. He considered Neighbors of Yesterday to be her best work. His death was a great loss to Jeanne. Since his family did not have the financial means to transport his body to Ireland, Jeanne offered to have him interred in the local cemetery in Chestertown, New York, where he lies today next to her.

Art collector and love interest
of Jeanne Robert Foster.
Of singular importance was art connoisseur John Quinn, whom Jeanne considered the great love of her life. During their six-year relationship, from 1918 to 1924, when he died of cancer, Jeanne was indispensable to Quinn, renowned for his collection of modern art. Acting as his companion as well as his assistant, Jeanne used her journalism skills and appreciation of art to serve as “combination secretary, art buyer, and literary liaison” (Londraville, Dear Yates 172) for Quinn. In that capacity, she traveled to Europe and met important writers, such as Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce, as well as the art world’s Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Before his death, Quinn entrusted Jeanne with the task of selecting some of his prolific correspondence for donation to the New York Public Library.
Two other important relationships were with with British novelist Ford Maddox Ford and American poet Ezra Pound, who lived as an expatriate in Europe. In 1923, Ford, Quinn, and Pound cofounded the transatlantic review, a monthly literary magazine based in Paris. Jeanne served as the American editor of the periodical, which folded after only one year. Friendships endured, however, with Jeanne promoting Ford and his works on this side of the Atlantic. They exchanged letters until his death in 1939. Ezra Pound, a towering figure in 20th century modernist poetry, was generous in promoting promising writers, including Jeanne. He critiqued her poetry and supported her continued efforts at writing dramatic Adirondack verse, which both he and Yeats praised highly.

Later Years

With Quinn’s death, Jeanne focused more on her family. Following her resignation from the American Review of Reviews in 1927, she shuttled between New York City and Schenectady, caring for her father, husband and brother, who all died over the next few years. Now middle aged, with limited resources, she was about to embark on still another career. For about a decade beginning in 1928, Jeanne engaged in research on the New York State Constitutional Convention for Dr. George R. Lunn, a previous Schenectady mayor. From 1938 to 1955, she was the tenant relations counselor for the city’s Municipal Housing Authority. In that capacity, she advocated for affordable housing for seniors, and founded the Golden Age Club at Schonowee Village, which eventually morphed into the Schenectady Senior Citizen Center.

Finally retiring in 1955, this dynamo of a woman described her new burst of energy as a “Renaissance” (Londraville, Dear Yeats 226), writing poetry again and even teaching poetry writing to senior citizens. Now in her twilight years, Jeanne’s Neighbors of Yesterday was reprinted in 1963, increasing an awareness of Jeanne’s work and the early days of the Adirondacks. Although Jeanne died before completing a new book on Adirondack verse, she often corresponded with, and drew inspiration from, noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer. Below is a poem in Adirondack Portraits (Foster 145), celebrating a mountain beloved by both:

Crane Mountain (for Paul Schaefer)   
How can I lift my mountain before your eyes,
Tear it out of my heart, my hands, my sinews,
Lift it before you—its trees, its rocks,
Its thrust heavenward;
The basic cliffs, the quartz of the outcrop,
The wide water in the cup of the lower summit,
The high peak lifting above the timberline
Gathering the mist of fifty lakes at sunrise;
The waterfall tumbling a thousand feet,
White with foam, white with rock-flower in summer;
The wreathing of dark spruce and hemlock,
The blood splashes of mountain ash,
The long spur to the north golden with poplars;
A porcupine drinking, bending without fear
To his image?
When darkness shall be my home,
Eternal mountain, do not leave my heart;
Remain with me in my sleep,
In my dreams, in my resurrection.
Crane Mountain
Jeanne received official recognition for her contributions to Schenectady. In 1959, she was named Schenectady Senior Citizen of the Year, and two years later named an honorary Patroon by the mayor. After suffering two heart attacks in the 1960s, Jeanne died on September 22, 1970 at the advanced age of 91. She is buried in Chestertown Rural Cemetery, nestled between the graves of Matlack Foster and John Butler Yeats.

As her biographers, Richard and Janis Londraville, aptly state, “…Foster literally walked out of the woods and into a brave new world (249).” Clearly, she left some very large footprints.

Works Cited

Foster, Jeanne Robert.  Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time.  Edited by Noel Riedinger-Johnson,          Syracuse, Syracuse UP, 1986.
Londraville, Richard, and Janis Londraville.  Dear Yeats, Dear Pound, Dear Ford: Jeanne Robert   
     and Her Circle of Friends. Syracuse, Syracuse UP, 2001.
Riedinger-Johnson, Noel. "Jeanne Robert Foster." Adirondack Portraits:  A Piece of Time, by Jeanne Robert Foster, edited by Riedinger-Johnson, Syracuse University Press, 1986, pp. xxi-xli.

Works by Jeanne Robert Foster

Foster, Jeanne Robert.  Marthe.  Boston, Sherman, French and Co., 1927.  This work is included in                Riedinger-Johnson’s Adirondack Portraits:  A Piece of Time.
---. Neighbors of Yesterday. Boston, Sherman, French and Co., 1916.
---. Rock Flower. New York, Boni and Liveright, 1923.
---. Wild Apples. Boston, Sherman, French and Co., 1916.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Schenectady Progress Exposition of 1924

This blog post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

Schenectady had a lot to be proud of in 1924. An intensive street lighting system had just been installed, the new Great Western Gateway Bridge was under construction, both the American Locomotive and General Electric Companies had expanded their works, Union College had built a new chapel, Erie Boulevard was being developed, the new Hotel Van Curler was set to open, the Community Chest had been established and the population of the city had passed the 100,000 mark. To celebrate these and other accomplishments, the Chamber of Commerce decided to hold an exposition to showcase Schenectady's progress in industry, education, mercantile, electricity and many other areas. The purpose of the exposition was “To inspire Schenectady with a perception of its growth in resources and ability and to prompt it to go forward to still further accomplishments in every field.

Rows of tents lined the streets of Erie Boulevard for the Schenectady Progress Exposition held from September 19-27, 1924. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
Local businesses, stores, civic organizations, manufacturers, schools, churches, hospitals, music, art and theater groups, and public health and service organizations were quick to jump on board to promise booths and activities for the exposition. The Women's Club of Schenectady was to oversee the exposition restaurant for special meals and “lunch at all times”. The food concession would benefit their organization and provide food service “consistent with the high quality of the exposition”. A parade would kick off the festivities and there would be fireworks, concerts, shows and competitions in addition to display booths by participants. Businesses advertised sales and special events to coincide with the exposition and the Schenectady Gazette followed the preparations with numerous articles. Requests for booth space far exceeded expectations and it was reported that thousands of people took part in decorating the booths and turning the exhibition tents into a "little city of interests and surprises". Cranes were used to bring in massive machinery to display in the large General Electric space.

View of Erie Boulevard during the Exposition. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
After a year of planning, the exposition opened to great fanfare on Friday night, September 19th, preceded by a huge parade. The Schenectady Gazette reported that the crowd lining State Street and Erie Boulevard was the largest to ever assemble in the city. State Street's new intensive ornamental street lighting system was turned on for the first time immediately prior to the start of the parade and two powerful search lights, mounted on top of GE's Building 31, swept Erie Boulevard. The parade kicked off at 7:30 from the Armory and proceeded down State street led and escorted by mounted police. Fireworks exploded above Erie Boulevard as the parade turned onto the street. Nearly 5000 people marched in the parade including 1600 members of the combined GE and ALCO Quarter Century Clubs. Led by parade organizers, three units of Schenectady's Militia marched in the first Division behind the 105th Regimental Band. Division two was comprised of Schenectady Police and Fire Department members. Boy Scouts marched in Division three followed by the Quarter Century Club members in Division four. Marching bands led each division.

The crowd was so large at the end of the parade that dignitaries had trouble getting through the gates of the exposition. When they finally got in, they proceeded through the mammoth 1400 foot-long exposition tent into the automobile tent where a speakers platform was set up. John F. Horman, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and William Dalton, the chairman of the Exposition Committee gave welcoming speeches followed by a lengthy speech by Schenectady Mayor William W. Campbell all which were broadcast by radio station WGY.

Photo of construction of the "million dollar Hotel Van Curler" and major point of pride for Schenectady mayor William W. Campbell. The hotel was constructed in 1924 and would be opened the following year in 1925. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
“The exposition is being held in celebration of an unprecedented era of growth and achievement that the city now finds itself”, the Mayor declared. He went on to expound on major areas of pride: Erie Boulevard development in which community enterprises took advantage of the abandoned canal to create the finest cross street in the city and the best lighted thoroughfare in the world; the new million dollar Hotel Van Curler which would open the following spring; the Union College Chapel, built with community contributions to honor the fallen of World War I; the American Locomotive Company which had completed the second of two new buildings; General Electric had also added new buildings to their works and purchased 260 acres on River Road to expand its operation; the creation of a community chest to handle welfare projects in a progressive fashion; widening and straightening of Washington Avenue to give the city a beautiful riverfront boulevard; and surpassing the 100,000 mark in population.

Due to the unprecedented crowd watching the parade, thousands of people had to be turned away from the exposition the first night. Every night for the following week, fireworks exploded over Erie Boulevard. Two concerts were held each day with many local bands and choral groups performing. Visitors enjoyed browsing the many booths and viewing the latest car models in the automotive tent. Several “style shows” were held with fashions from local department stores H.S. Barney Company, Carl Company and Wallace Company as well as smaller specialty shops. A dahlia show featuring rare varieties and creative arrangements was a highlight of week as well as a pet show, an amateur radio show and a perfect child health contest.

Two of the entrants in the Perfect Child Health Contest held at the Schenectady Progress Exposition. Courtesy of
The “Perfect Child Health Contest” was promoted in the Schenectady Gazette during the week of the exposition. Photos of some of the children who were entered in the contest were featured each day. The contest was advertised not as a beauty or popularity contest but a contest to find the city's healthiest child. More than 230 children participated and were examined by a committee headed by Dr. John Collins, Commissioner of Health. This group was narrowed to 45 who were reexamined by a committee consisting of five medical doctors, one eye specialist, one dentist, two nurses and two artists. That group was narrowed to 9 children from whom the top three winners were chosen. Major consideration in the contest was given to “physical form and physique”. Elizabeth Draisey was judged to be Schenectady's most perfect child with Jeanne Bonnar coming in second and Thomas Corrigan, the only boy to make it into the final round, earning third place.  All three children were four years old.

Many other awards were given at the conclusion of the exposition. Prizes were awarded in several categories of the Dahlia exhibition, a black and white pony won the first-place medal in the pet contest, an award of $5.00 in gold was given to the best homemade radio set and medals were awarded in a typewriting contest. Booth displays were also judged in various categories. General Electric removed itself from consideration due to their displays being "an exposition in itself and the greatest display ever put on by the company". Among the winners were the Mica Insulating Company, Ellis Hospital, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Jay Jewelry Company, White Studios, Photo-Lab, the Maqua Company and Standard Oil Company. Special mention was given to the Boy Scout, Girl Scout and public school booths.  Individual booths also had raffles for prizes.  Over 50,000 people registered to win ten tons of coal in the booth sponsored by the Association of Coal Retailers.  James Beverley of Marshall Ave. was the lucky winner.

Installing the lights for the "best lighted street in the world." Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
In addition to the Chamber of Commerce committee, two well-known men were instrumental in the overall success of the exposition.  World renowned General Electric lighting engineer, Walter D'Arcy Ryan, planned the lighting design which included much of the ornamental street lighting that became a permanent installation on Erie Boulevard and State Street as well as the floodlights that swept over Erie Boulevard during the week of the exposition. His lighting design for Erie Boulevard made it the best lighted street in the world, a distinction it held for many years.  William A. Hart, was the director of the event.  He had directed numerous expositions throughout the country and proclaimed Schenectady's was the best event of its kind he ever had the privilege of conducting. Hart also directed a successful campaign the year before to fund the building of the new Hotel Van Curler.

Although this photo was taken a bit later in 1947, it gives a good idea of what Erie Boulevard might have looked like at night during the Exposition. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.
In the week following the close of the exposition, the tents, booths and displays were dismantled and removed. The streets were swept clean, nails were picked up by hand and the streets washed by fire hose at the expense of the exposition committee. Due to the success of the exposition, civic groups were refunded expenses they incurred for their booths and $100 was donated to both the police and fire department pension funds in thanks for "the excellent protection provided". When the accounting was completed it was announced there were over 76,000 paid admissions in addition to almost two thousand people entering with free passes. The Chamber of Commerce was pleased with their $10,000 profit after expenses which they planned to use to promote Schenectady in the future. In an editorial, the Gazette noted "From the standpoint of the city, the exposition has done more than any one thing in Schenectady's history to 'sell' the city to its own people. It has shown them in compact form what Schenectady is, and has actually resulted in arousing civic pride."  Schenectady has hosted other expositions, trade shows and Metrofairs over the years but none could match the Progress Exposition of 1924.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Battle of Beukendaal

Translated to English from Dutch, Beukendaal means Beech Dale and that area around Sacandaga and Spring Road in Glenville was known for the number of Beech trees growing. The area is notable for being the only battle of King George's War to occur in the Mohawk Valley, the Battle of Beukendaal in 1748. The Battle of Beukendaal is often referred to as the Beukendaal Massacre (I mistakenly referred to it as a massacre in the last post), but this gives the wrong image of what actually happened at Beukendaal. It was more of a failed Schenectady militia campaign than a massacre.

The main cause of the King George's war had to do with events that occurred in Europe, the War of Jenkin's Ear and the War of the Austrian Succession. The conflicts of the War would eventually spread to the colonies in the form of territorial disputes between the British and their Indian allies and the French and their Indian allies. It was the third of four French and Indian Wars and took place mainly in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia.
The British siege of the French fortress at Louisburg in Nova Scotia was one of the hallmarks of King George's War. British forces captured the fort in 1745 after a six week siege. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
A precursor to the Battle of Beukendaal came dangerously close to Schenectady. On November 16, 1745 the settlement of Saratoga was raided by the French and their Indian allies. Over 100 inhabitants were either killed or captured during this attack. This attack caused many of the settlements north of Albany to be abandoned. The attack on Saratoga worried many in New York and a draft of 200 men were sent to Albany and Schenectady from the militias of Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Westchester, Queens, and Suffolk.

Another scare came to Schenectady in 1746 when two slaves were captured by a party of French Indians.  A party of men from Albany and Schenectady pursued the raiding party and came upon the house of Simon Groot. The raiding party had set fire to Groot's house, taken a prisoner, murdered and scalped a boy, and shot a man who was attempting to escape. The militia was unable to further track the raiding party. The raid on Groot's house and the increasing amounts of violence in the area was likely a cause of Abraham Glen requesting permission to raise a company of 100 volunteers for the defense of Schenectady and the frontier. There wouldn't be any battles near Schenectady until July 18, 1748 when three Schenectady men were attacked by French Indians in Glenville. This would spark the events of the Battle of Beukendaal.

Much of what we know about the Battle of Beukendaal comes from a letter to William Johnson from Albert Van Slyck who who fought in the battle, but there have been several other accounts. Van Slyck wrote that a group of men gathered to raise the frame for a barn by the Mohawk River in Scotia on July 18, 1748. Three of the men, Captain Daniel Toll, Dirk Van Vorst, and Toll's slave, Rykert departed to gather some horses that wandered off. Shortly afterward, the others raising the barn heard gunshots and Albert's brother, Adrian, sent his slave to Schenectady to warn the residents there and to try to gather men.
The DeGraaf Barn that Toll, Van Vorst and Rykert were working on was eventually raised after the Battle of Beukendaal. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
A group of Connecticut Militia members were stationed at Schenectady and upon getting the news, immediately crossed the river. Others in Schenectady joined making the total around 60-70 to the 100 French and Indians who made the attack. Unfortunately, the Schenectadians were too unorganized and gathered in four small groups who attacked at separate times. The first group reached the Kleykuil, a clay pit lying between Sacandaga and Spring Roads, and found Daniel Toll propped against a tree waving to the group. As they approached Toll, they supposedly found him lifeless with a crow tethered to his arm (this story has been unverified and doesn't show up in Albert Van Slyck's letter). This group was then ambushed and fired upon from the nearby woods. The second group met up with the first and retreated to the nearby DeGraaf house to stage their defense.

Corn growing at the site of the Beukendaal Battle in 1997. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The men in the DeGraaf House pried of the clapboards and fired on their enemies from the house. The attackers allegedly tried to set the house on fire a few times, but nothing succeeded in driving them from their defense. The third group eventually arrived, took a good look at the situation, and decided that battle wasn't for them so they turned around and retreated.  Those in the DeGraaf house managed to hold off the attack until the fourth group joined and drove off their attackers.

Photo of the DeGraaf house where the Schenectady Militia defended themselves against the French Indian attackers. The house was demolished in 1915. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Twelve Schenectadians were killed along with seven Connecticut soldiers, including their commander Lieutenant John Darling. Thirteen others were captured and taken to Canada. Dirk Van Vorst had managed to escape captivity and joined up with the third group (Van Vorst's reluctance at being recaptured, or killed after escaping the first time may have played a role in the third group's unwillingness to join the battle.) With the battle over, the bodies of the dead were brought back to Schenectady and placed in Abraham Mabee's barn which was located at present day 10 and 12 North Church Street. The number of French and Indian casualties were never confirmed, but are thought to be minimal.

In 1929, the Schenectady Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed this monument to those who were killed during the Beukendaal Battle. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection
It's tough to visualize now, but Schenectady County was once on the frontier. Attacks like the Battle of Beukendaal highlight the danger that settlers were constantly in and how difficult it was to protect residents in the area.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hardin's Crossing: What's in a Place Name

Finding the origin of place names can be a tricky business sometimes. In Schenectady County, the origin of some place names are more apparent than others. Glenville, Duanesburg, and Princetown were named after prominent people who lived there, namely Alexander Lindsay Glen, James Duane, and John Prince. Scotia and Rotterdam were named after places. Scotia, after the home country of Alexander Lindsay Glen, and Rotterdam after the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Schenectady and Niskayuna are both forms of place names given to them by Native Americans in the area. Schenectady means "beyond the pines" or "over the pine plains" and Niskayuna means "extensive corn flats."

Checking out some of the hamlets in the area and we have Alplaus. Alplaus derived from the Dutch Aal Plaats which means place of the eels. Carman in Rotterdam was originally named Athens Junction after the junction of the New York Central and a railroad from Athens, NY. It was eventually renamed after Will Carman who opened a general store at the crossing. This all leads to a research question that I received recently. What was Hardin's Crossing, and where was it located? Was it a ferry or railroad crossing? Who was this enigmatic Hardin who had a crossing named after him? Some of these questions were easier to answer than others.

This map shows the lands of Hardin as well as the Fitchburg and New York Central railroads that crossed Sacandaga Road. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Map Collection.
Specifics about Hardin's Crossing were difficult to come by. I quickly came to find out that it wasn't listed on any modern maps and articles that I found would refer to Hardin's Crossing, but often had no background as to why it was called that. We are lucky to have former Don Keefer's research files on Glenville and Scotia. Keefer was the Glenville town historian as well as the Schenectady County historian for a while and his research is very valuable when researching anything about Glenville.

Photos of the DeGraff House on what is now Sacandaga Road. The DeGraff House marked
the site of the Beukendaal Massacre where 20 men from Schenectady were killed and 13 were
captured by French and Indian attackers after a viscous battle.
Keefer's research binder on the Beukendaal Massacre had a few article on Hardin's Crossing. It turns
out that in 1915 both the schoolhouse and the area of Hardin's Crossing were changed to Beukendaal to commemorate the Beukendaal Massacre. The charge to change the name was led by none other than the Schenectady County Historical Society, little did they know that they would cause a bit of confusion to their librarian 102 years down the road. So that article solved the "where" of Hardin's Crossing which was very close to the site of the Beukendaal Massacre near Sacandaga Road.

I then went to our map files to see if there were any maps that might show the site so I could learn what the crossing part of Hardin's Crossing referred to. An undated map of the 10th School District of Glenville shows two railroads that cross Sacandaga Road, the Fitchburg and the New York Central Railroad. This map gave me some more definitive proof that an Hardin (unknown first name) owned property in the area and I also found out that the crossing was a railroad crossing.

This page from the  U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 shows the wealth of Sidney Hardin (outlined in yellow). He owned 200 acres of land and the cash value of his farm was $8,000 which would put it at over $200,000 today. This made him one of the more wealthy landowners in the area. A separate census page puts his personal estate at $2,166. Courtesy of
The "who" was a bit more difficult to find out, I knew it was a Hardin, but finding out which one was tricky as none of the articles mentioned which Hardin the crossing was named after. The Hardins lived in Schenectady since the mid-1700s, but there weren't a ton of Hardins in the area. The Hardin family file in our library had a page from Cuyler Reynolds' Hudson and Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs which gave a short history of the Hardin family and listed many of the Schenectady County Hardins. It turns out that there were two Hardins that had farms in Glenville, Sidney and Jonathan Tripp Hardin. The 1866 Beer's Atlas lists many of the property owners in Glenville and sure enough J. & S. Hardin were both shown on the map right near the crossing of Sacandaga Road and the New York Central Railroad. Jonathan Tripp Hardin would go on to live in Schenectady, but Sidney stayed in Glenville.

Sidney died in 1880 at the young age of 54. In a 1965 Raw Materials of History column from the Schenectady Gazette, Neil Reynolds states that even though the Hardin's Crossing was changed to Beukendaal, "the name Hardin's Crossing still persists." So Sidney Hardin's memory lasted a while after he died. Not being a native to Schenectady County, I wonder if anyone Glenville natives still call this area of Sacandaga Road Hardin's Crossing.