New York - Schenectady
Schenectady (220 alt.,61,821 pop.), on the Mohawk River, retains, with its modern industries and educational institutions, many evidences of its Dutch and English background.
The business section, clustered between State Street hill and the Mohawk River, is housed in severe brick and granite buildings three and four stories high, varied by the ornateness of theater and modern store fronts. Eric Boulevard, the filled and macadamized bed of the old Eric Canal, crosses State Street in the heart of the business district. Two blocks south looms the General Electric plant, a separate city, so to speak, of red brick and concrete buildings stretching away for more than a mile, with blue and gold and purple lights playing from a thousand windows; of long, highceilinged workshops, of aerials, steel masts, and giant stacks, with the GE Sian, its 20-foot scrolled initials in a gold-lit circle, a bold crest against the night sky. North from the same intersection, extending to the northwest water front, lie the half dozen short, shaded streets of Colonial Schenectady, where old elms cast fretworks of shadow on yellow brick and white clapboarded houses with high gables and dormer window's. Along the cross streets of the upper State Street section two-family houses huddle in regimented rows, monuments of the rapid industrial expansion between 1886 and 1920. East on Union Street, the sedate, parklike campus of Union College forms the boundary of a salaried middle-class residential section extending eastward beyond the city line.
Two of Schenectady's racial groups occupy separate districts. The Italians are concentrated around the locomotive works at the northern end of Erie Boulevard. The Poles are settled principally on Mont Pleasant in a tight community with its own social life, language, religion, and customs. Even the second and third generations cling to this transplanted culture while they rise in the city's business and professional life. The large German population, although held together by fraternal organizations and a Turnverein widely recognized for the excellence of its athletic units and its choral society, lacks the geographical homogeneity of the Italians and the Poles.
The economic life of the city is principally dependent upon the plants of the General Electric Company and the American Locomotive Company. Print shops, themanufacture of ice cream and of athletic equipment, insulator factories, and Union College play a lesser role. Emphasis on scientific research in the General Electric laboratories, among other factors, results in an exceptionally high percentage—about 6 per cent—of college graduates in the population, among them men of national and international repute.
The Mohawk Indians called the present city site Schonowe (big flats). The Indian original of the name Schenectady (at the end of the pine plains) referred to the sites of both Albany and Schenectady as the termini of the aboriginal portage between the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. In 1662 Arent Van Curler, with a small group of Dutchmen, emigrated from Albany to the Groote Vlachte (Dutch, big flats) and made formal application to the governor for permission to purchase the land from the Indians. The application made its final appeal for the necessary permission in its postscript: 'P. S. If your Honor falls short three or four Muds [2-75 bushels] of oats as feed for your Honor's horses, please command me to supply your Honor with the same from my small store.'
In order to preserve for the residents of Beverwyck ( Albany) their monopoly of the lucrative fur trade, Peter Stuyvesant granted the right to purchase land but coupled with it the restriction that none of the settlers should trade with the Indians. The prohibition failed to work: the villagers developed the art of 'bushrunning,' i.e., journeying upstream to bargain with the Indians for their best furs, thereby beating Albany traders to the market; and this illegal trade flourished for nearly 70 years.
The English seizure of the colony in 1664 had little effect on the village.
The communal plan of living was followed, with garden lands along the river shore and on the islands held in common fief. In 1670 the magistrates purchased from the Indians the remainder of the valley flat lands, paying them 2,400 guilders' worth of white wampum, 6 coats, 30 bars of lead, and 9 bags of powder, with a rundlet of brandy thrown in. Later the Indians contended that though 'there are writings made of a sale of land,' yet 'it was never sold, but only the grasse . . . they have only bought the Grasse and now are going to live upon it, but they ought to pay for the land as well as the Grasse.' The governor, however, upheld the villagers, informing the chiefs that it is the custom of the Government and amongst Christians when they sell the Grasse to sell the land allso.'
The Schenectady Patent covering this purchase, granted by Governor Thomas Dongan in 1684, was so framed that it became a source of trouble, discontent, and mismanagement for more than 100 years. Three of the five trustees were killed in the massacre of 1690; one left Schenectady; and the fifth, who controlled the lands for a quarter of a century, was an early dictator, acting as trustee for the town land but refusing to account for his actions.
Despite the insecurity of existence on the edge of a territory open to attack by the Indians and French and subject to the humors of Iroquois allies and English overlords, new settlers came and a few were bold enough to build their cabins farther west in the wilderness, beyond the protection of the stockade. A Dutch Reformed church society was organized in 1670; in 1682 Alexander Glen financed the building of the first church edifice, the sixth in the province, at the junction of State, Church, and Water Streets. The first resident minister, Domine Petrus Thessehenmaecker, arrived in 1683.
On the night of February 8, 1690, Schenectady suffered its worst disaster. A French and Indian force arrived at the settlement before midnight. According to local tradition, they found the stockade gate swung open with crude snowmen propped in the center of the passageway. Within an hour 60 of the inhabitants were slain, among them Domine Thessehenmaecker and three of the trustees. Seventy-eight of the 80 houses were burned. Twenty-seven villagers were dragged off to Canada. Forty horses were loaded and driven off. As Peter Schuyler, mayor of Albany, wrote a few days after the event, 'the cruelties committed at sd. Place no Penn can write nor Tongue expresse.' Symon Schermerhorn, wounded in one leg, hurried down the valley warning the other settlers, and reached Albany in six hours. The French escaped with only two men killed, though during the long hurried dash through the northern wilderness they abandoned much of the booty.
The massacre sent a shiver of fear through the English Colonies. Entire abandonment of the settlement at Schenectady was seriously considered. In accordance with the advice of the Mohawk, a new fort was built at the edge of the river (now the eastern end of the Western Gateway Bridge), but many of the survivors had lost heart and moved back to Albany or New York. In 1695 there were only 28 houses within the stockade and only 215 people in the district between Niskayuna and Hoffmans, a stretch of 15 miles. In 1705 Queen's Fort, named for Queen Anne, was erected at what is now' the junction of Front, Ferry, and Green Streets, on the site of two earlier forts. In 1727 the settlers were granted free trade with the Indians; Albany's long monopoly of the fur market was ended, and the Schenectady bushrunners became honest fur-traders.
The first major migration of English into Schenectady began about 1700. In 1710 an Anglican congregation was formed, with infrequent sermons by the Reverend Thomas Barclay of Albany. In 1711 Fort Hunter was built 20 miles upstream. Settlement gradually spread west and north, and Schenectady ceased to be the western outpost of empire and became the eastern trading center of a new frontier. Local boatbuilders began constructing square, flat-bottomed bateaux, which were poled or towed upstream carrying one to five tons of cargo. With warehouses built along its bank, the Binne Kill, a branch of the Mohawk River (now used as the Barge Canal basin), became the center of activity.
In the middle years of the eighteenth century Schenectady had 300 houses in the area which includes the present State, Ferry, Church, Water, Jefferson, Center, and North Streets, and Washington Avenue. Most of the houses were built in the solid Dutch style. The Dutch Reformed Church tower held aloft the town clock. The Presbyterians rented a meeting house. The English began construction of St.George's Episcopal, Church in 1759. Indian huts still stood within the stockade, but their domesticated inhabitants were reduced to a social level little better than that of slaves.
The shadow of French and Indian raids vanished with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. In 1765 the village was granted a borough charter and its dependence on Albany was ended. Expanding trade created a new aristocracy. When the Revolution came, most of the tenant farmers sided with the rebels; the majority of the landowners joined the Tory ranks, serving beside the loyal Iroquois in periodic raids on the Mohawk and Schoharie. Valleys. Schenectady again became a center of warfare. A Committee of Safety was organized in 1775, and five local companies of Minute Men were formed to become units of the First New York Regiment of the Line, one of the best outfits in Washington's army.
Men—and boys—from Schenectady fought at Saratoga, at Newtown, at Stony Point, and at Yorktown. With the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys forming the principal granary of the Colonial Army, Schenectady itself was of strategic importance in the war and became an important shipping center. The Durham boat, with a capacity of 15 to 20 tons, a strong, broad, flat-bottomed craft with straight sides, decks fore and aft, and sail rigging, was developed during the war period and was built exclusively in shipyards that sprang up along the town's water front. The first packet boats, similar to the Durhams but fitted out for 30 passengers and a little cargo, began trips up-river in the last year of the war: 'two days to Utica;. 13 hours back.'
After the Revolutionary War, Schenectady remained a shipping center for the great western migration. The improved cart road between Schenectady and Albany was used for a daily stagecoach service after 1793, and other roads were extended westward. In the heyday of the turnpike era 300 people were engaged in carting goods to and from Albany.
In 1795, mainly as the result of the efforts of Philip Schuyler of Albany and the Reverend Dirck Romeyn of Schenectady, a charter was granted to Union College, the name symbolizing the joining of several religious denominations in a common effort forhigher education. On March 26, 1798, Schenectady was granted a city charter. Joseph C. Yates, son of the chairman of the Committee of Safety, was appointed the first mayor. The aldermen organized a fire department, passed laws controlling wood-cutting on common lands and regulating the behavior of Negro slaves, and ordained that pigs should wear rings in their noses to prevent them from tearing up the streets.
After the completion of the Eric Canal in 1825, Schenectady lost much of its importance as a river port; the day of the Binne Kill was over. In 1831 the city, with a population of 8,900, was an aggregation of streets three and four blocks long, with square frame hotels along the towpath, a half dozen saloons for 'canawlers,' the Dutch Colonial houses in their river corner, and the gray stone buildings of Union College 'on the hill.' For years Schenectady was affectionately called 'Old Dorp.' Its chief occupation was the growing of broom corn and the manufacture of brooms.
On September 24, 1831, the De Witt Clinton made its first trip from Albany to Schenectady on the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad. For several years thereafter Schenectady was an important railroad center, with short lines branching out to Saratoga, Utica, and Troy. But as soon as most of these roads were combined with others westward to form the New York Central, Schenectady became just another stop on the New York Buffalo run.
It was during this early period of railroad development, in 1848, that the first locomotive factory, financed by local capital, was organized. Under the influence of three generations of the Ellis family, the plant became one of the largest locomotive works in the United States. For half a century it was Schenectady's largest industry, familiarly known as 'The Big Shop.' In 1901 the plant was taken over by the American Locomotive Company.
In 1886 Thomas A. Edison bought the two uncompleted and abandoned factory buildings of the McQueen locomotive plant in Schenectady and moved his small electric machine works from New York City. With this event Schenectady entered upon its modern phase as an industrial city. In 1892 the Edison Company was consolidated with the Thompson-Huston Company of Lynn, Massachusetts, to form the General Electric Company. Schenectady was designated as the headquarters of the new corporation in 1894. In 1907, with a population of 65,000, it was granted a second-class city charter. Schenectady became the city that 'lights and hauls the world.' It has remained primarily a two-industry town.
Irish settled in the city after the construction of the Erie Canal. Italian laborers were imported in the 1870's to build the West Shore Railroad. The first Polish families to settle here were refugees from the Polish nationalist revolution of 1879. The rapid increase in population after 1886 consisted in large part of further additions to these three immigrant groups.
In 1911 Schenectady caught the attention of students of economics and politics by electing George R. Lunn, pastor of the First Reformed Church, mayor on a Socialist ticket. Under his administration Charles P. Steinmetz, the electrical wizard, served as member of the Board of Education and president of the Common Council. In 1935 Schenectady adopted the city manager form of government.