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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 116: The City of Amsterdam.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1603-1617 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

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1738-1925 — Sir William Johnson its first settler — Amsterdam an important industrial center — "The Rug City" — Interesting civic statistics — The suburbs of Cranesville, Hagaman and Fort Johnson — Guy Park, 1766 — Notes on Sir William Johnson's residence at Amsterdam and Fort Johnson.

Amsterdam is pleasantly located on both sides of the picturesque Chuctanunda (a Mohawk word meaning "stony"), its hills sloping upward from the turnpike to a maximum city elevation of 380 feet above the Mohawk, 635 feet above sea level. This point is just where the street passes the city limits into the northern suburb of Rockton, in which the famous Sanford racehorse stock farm (1924) is located. Part of Amsterdam lies on the south shore on both sides of the South Chuctanunda.

A road to Saratoga leads cross-country from Amsterdam. Roads run south to the Schoharie.

Amsterdam — Industrial

Amsterdam was incorporated as a city in 1885. In 1910, 34 per cent of the inhabitants were of foreign birth and 32 per cent of foreign parentage, the peoples of southern and eastern Europe predominating. Amsterdam is situated in the valley of the Mohawk River, on the Barge Canal and the New York Central and West Shore Railroads. Trolleys connect with Schenectady, Albany, Fonda and Johnstown-Gloversville. The city is an important industrial center, with principal manufactures of rugs, carpets, knit goods, brooms, silk gloves, wool yarn, pearl buttons, box board and paper boxes, linseed oil and machinery. Amsterdam is an important trading center for the adjacent farming section. The city has 70 miles of streets, of which about 30 miles are improved, electric lighting service, a sewer system, municipal water works, two parks, playgrounds, homes for children and aged women, two public hospitals and a tuberculosis sanitarium. A bridge here crosses the Mohawk.

Amsterdam industries in 1912, employing over 1,000 operatives, were: Carpets and rugs, 4,116; hosiery and knit goods, 3,905. Broom making employed 801; silk and silk goods, 770; woolens and worsteds, 546. Amsterdam is a growingly important industrial center. — Its industries started here because of the water power furnished by the Chuctanunda Creek, which has been considerably developed since 1848.

Later statistics than 1912, as to numbers employed in each industry, are not available.

Amsterdam in 1909 had 97 factories with 10,776 employes, an annual manufactured product valued at $22,000,000, which value had doubled in ten years. It has the largest number of industrial operatives and output value of any of New York's 43 cities between 10,000 and 50,000 population. Its chief industry is rug manufacturing in which it is the second rug making city in the state, Yonkers being first. This is also the first city in broom making in New York State. Broom corn at one time largely covered the Mohawk Valley flatlands. This important crop is now grown in the West. Hagamans, village to the north, and Fort Johnson to the west are virtually parts of Amsterdam.

In 1919 Amsterdam had 117 factories, with 19,299 primary horsepower, capital of $10,449,000, 11,497 workers receiving $11,404,000 annually, and a total yearly manufactured production of $52,851,000 (1920 U. S. Census report).

Amsterdam is rapidly becoming the largest rug and carpet making city in America and the world. Amsterdam is not only an unusual and important manufacturing city but it is picturesquely situated on steep hills rising from the Mohawk River. The city has great historic interest as the site of Sir William Johnson's first (1738) valley location and the site of Guy Park, built here by Sir William in 1766. Fort Johnson (1749), just west of the (1924) city limits, is the site of Johnson's third valley location and his first baronial home. Fort Johnson village is in reality part of Amsterdam and will doubtless soon actually become so. It is so considered in this book.

The North Chuctanunda Creek enters the Mohawk on the north bank and the South Chuctanunda on the south shore directly opposite. Chuctanunda means "stony creek."

The Chuctanunda creeks are also said to have been named from an overhanging stony ledge on the north bank of the Mohawk, such stony points or projections being called "Chuctanunda" by the Mohawks.

Lock No. 11 and Dam No. 7, Barge Canal, Erie section, here located, are also known as the Amsterdam lock and dam. There is a river water level rise of 12 feet here, from 255 feet sea level below, to 267 feet above the dam. There is a Barge Canal terminal dock at Amsterdam. The Amsterdam level extends five miles westward to the Tribes Hill Dam.

[Photo: View of the City of Amsterdam]

The Amsterdam Barge Canal lock and dam afford travelers through the Mohawk Valley an unusually good opportunity to inspect the working of these feats of canal engineering. This is particularly so because tourists can visit historic Guy Park and then look over the Barge Canal lock and dam close by. These Mohawk River movable dams are unusual and can be seen only in the lower Mohawk Valley.

Amsterdam Historical — Sir William Johnson's First Location, 1738

The Mohican Tribe of Algonquin Indians were resident in the lower Mohawk Valley before 1600, when the Mohawk Tribe of Iroquois drove them out. Very few Mohican village sites have been found but one was unearthed in the township of Amsterdam in 1923.

Doubtless the first settler in the present limits of Amsterdam was William Johnson (Sir William Johnson, 1755), who located on the south shore road, in the present southeastern part of the city in 1738. He came here from Ireland to superintend the estate of his uncle, Sir Peter Warren, a retired admiral of the British navy, then resident in New York City. The admiral's lands lay in the present Town of Florida, opposite Amsterdam. Johnson, then 23 years old, built a log house (his first home) and a store and here began his momentous and influential career. In 1742 he removed to Mount Johnson. Thus Amsterdam can claim the young, vigorous figure of Johnson as a patron city father just as Johnstown has the wise and honored baronet, and Schenectady proclaims the great Van Curler as its founder. Likewise Utica has John Post, Rome has General Gansevoort (who defended Fort Stanwix at Rome, 1777), and Herkimer has General Herkimer, Fonda has Major Jelles Fonda, Fort Plain has Colonel Willett, Ilion has the later figure of Eliphalet Remington and so through most of the valley towns, which claim some figure as patron city father, as a representative symbol of the municipality.

[Photo: Mohawk Indians Trading at Fort Johnson]

Johnson's place at Amsterdam was known as "Johnson's Settlement." Here he married his first wife, Katherine Weisenberg, who was variously said to be a Dutch and German girl. Johnson paid his neighbor, Philips, 10 pounds for his housemaid, to reimburse him for the girl's passage money from the "old country." Sir William Johnson's son, John, was born here at Amsterdam in 1742, and in 1743 Colonel Johnson and his family removed to his newly erected buildings, on the north shore, about two and a half miles westward. He first occupied a small stone house about one-half mile east of Fort Johnson. He called this Mount Johnson from the steep hill just back of it. He later called Fort Johnson, Mount Johnson, up to 1755. Johnson willed this house to his daughter Anna, wife of Col. Daniel Claus.

Guy Park, 1766

[Photo: Guy Park, Amsterdam, N. Y.]

Another Johnson — Col. Guy Johnson — was one of Amsterdam's pioneer residents. Guy Johnson was a nephew of Sir William and married Mary, one of Sir William's daughters. In 1766 Sir William Johnson built here, on the north side of the river close to the turnpike, a low two-story stone house for his nephew and his daughter. With its adjoining estate it was known as Guy Park.

For ten years Guy Park was a brilliant social rendezvous of the small circle of pretentious Tory military aristocracy of Tryon County, of which Johnstown was the center. It was the scene of Tory conference and Tory plotting in the feverish years preceding the Revolution. On Sir William's death, in 1774, Col. Guy Johnson succeeded him as Indian Commissioner. Then Guy Park became a council house for the Iroquois and other Indian warriors who gathered here to confer with the Tory successor of the Great White Chief Warraghegagey, which was the Indian name of their beloved and respected Sir William Johnson.

The following is a brief sketch of the Guy Johnson occupancy of Guy Park: For his day Guy Johnson was a talented man of considerable education, who inherited much of his uncle's talent in his diplomatic dealings with the Indians. Johnson was skilled in map making and clever as an artist. His sketch of Fort Johnson, as it stood about 1756, shows his ability. In 1777 he is described as "a short, pursy man about forty years of age, of stern countenance and haughty demeanor, dressed in a British uniform, powdered locks and a cocked hat." He was born in Ireland about 1740. He was a lieutenant in the British service and about 1762 was appointed an Indian deputy after which he exchanged his commission for land in the Mohawk Valley. He was so successful on a mission to the Onondagas that the tribe gave him the title of U-ragh-quad-ir-ha, meaning "Rays of the Sun enlightening the Earth."

Mary or Polly Johnson, daughter of Sir William, was courted by John Carden but Guy Johnson won her. February 4, 1763, they were married. Sir William presented them with Guy Park, a property a mile square, where he built a frame house for them, which was struck by lightning and burned. Great attention was given to the gardens and fruit trees of the place. In 1764 little Polly Johnson, a daughter, arrived. In 1766, the new stone house was completed and beautifully fitted out with furnishings from London and an organ from New York. All these goods came by sloop up the Hudson to Albany, from whence they were portaged to Schenectady by wagon and from thence came by boat up the Mohawk, which was then the valley freight route. In 1767 Guy Johnson was made a colonel in Sir William Johnson's New York Colonial Militia forces. In 1770 Guy became master of St. Patrick's Masonic Lodge of Johnstown. In 1772, on the formation of Tryon County, he was made county judge and, on the death of his uncle, Sir William, in the same year, he was made British agent for the Northern Indians, including the Mohawks and Iroquois. He was closely watched by American patriotic authorities on the outbreak of the Revolution, because of his strong Tory leanings. Before this time Johnson had strongly fortified Guy Park.

At Guy Park, May 25, 1775, Johnson held a council with the Indians and the neighborhood magistrates, after which he immediately called another council at Canajoharie (present Indian Castle). To this place Johnson went with his entire following, including his negro slaves, Joseph Brant and the two Butlers. Without stopping there they went to Fort Oswego and there the party joined the British forces at Oswego. Mary or Polly, wife of Guy Johnson, died July 11, 1775, at Oswego.

Colonel Johnson fought with the British forces in the Revolution and on several occasions was with raiding parties against his old valley neighbors.

Col. Guy Johnson died later in London March 5, 1788. His daughter, Mary or "Polly," later married the British Field Marshal Lord Clyde.

After Johnson's flight Guy Park was confiscated by the American Revolutionary authorities and later was sold. After a career as a tavern and a handsome private residence, the property had a varied career. The building was altered and the roof raised about 1846 and the two wings were added in 1858. About 1905 the State bought it for Barge Canal engineering purposes, It was restored and turned over to a State Commission of five members of the Amsterdam Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. Guy Park is now a public historical museum and the home of the Chapter. This result was brought about through the efforts of a member of this Chapter. See "Fort Johnson and Guy Park," a pamphlet by C. F. McClumpha and Elma Strong Morris.

See "[The Story of] Old Fort Johnson" by W. Max Reid of Amsterdam, which contains much relative to Guy Park. See Reid's "Mohawk Valley." [i.e., The Mohawk Valley: Its Legends and Its History]

The Ghost of Guy Park

After Col. Johnson's flight to Canada in 1775, Guy Park was confiscated by the Tryon County Committee of Safety, and leased to Henry Kennedy, who occupied it with his family. The Kennedys affirmed that the specter of Mary Johnson, then deceased, revisited her old home much to their discomfiture.

The Johnson lady's apparition was said to have appeared in the northwest room just off the hall entrance. These ghostly visitations were later explained by the supposition that they were attempts by female agents or spies, employed by the Johnsons, to secure valuables and papers which had been placed in secret closets alongside the fireplace in this "ghost chamber." The Guy Park ghost is said to have been "laid" by a spy in the guise of a German traveler, who secured the desired articles, after which the visitations ceased. This German awoke the family by a pistol shot in the dark hours of the early morning. He said the ghost appeared and he fired his pistol point blank at it, whereupon it disappeared immediately. The man mounted his horse and rode away, telling the Kennedys the ghost would not reappear and it is said from that time on that the spirit of Mary Johnson was never again seen in or about Guy Park.

In the busy days of the old Mohawk Turnpike, Guy Park was a famous turnpike inn and stopping place for large freight wagons.

Veddersburg, 1783-1804

During the Revolutionary war Aaron Vedder settled at the mouth of the Chuctanunda, and built a saw mill and grist mill. Here he was captured by Indians but escaped. Other early settlers were E. E. DeGraff, Nicholas Wilcox and William Kline. A ford was here located at Stanton Island, below Amsterdam. Ross' and Butler's British-Canadian-Indian regiment of raiders crossed the Mohawk to the north shore on the morning of October 25, 1781, on their way to defeat on the battlefield of Johnstown. The beginnings of Amsterdam date from the close of the Revolution (1783) when settlers began to locate on and at the mouth of the Chuctanunda. The little hamlet was called Veddersburg from Aaron Vedder, its first permanent settler. In 1800 the Reformed Dutch Church of Veddersburg (now Amsterdam) was built here. A map of 1807 shows about fifteen houses, five mills, a hotel and the Dutch Church. The Chuctanunda is thereon called "Tjoughtenoonda, a never-failing stream."

In 1804, by popular vote, the hamlet's name was changed to Amsterdam in honor of the chief city of Holland, from which came the ancestors of many of the residents of this section. In 1813 there were some forty-odd buildings here, of which twenty-five were dwellings. In 1821 a bridge was erected across the Mohawk and in 1831 the growing settlement was incorporated as a village.

In 1840 Amsterdam is described as having a toll bridge over the Mohawk, 4 churches, 1 bank, 1 academy, 1 female seminary, 14 stores, 2 grist mills, 2 furnaces, 1 carpet manufactory, 1 printing office, 1 scythe factory and "various other manufactories," with 250 dwellings and a population of about 1,700.

The south side village grew up after the Erie Canal was built in 1825, and was called Port Jackson, prior to its incorporation in the City of Amsterdam in 1885.

The following dates regarding Amsterdam are of commercial and manufacturing interest: 1840, carpet manufacture begun at Hagaman; 1842, William K. Greene carpet factory started at Amsterdam; 1848, manufacture of linseed oil started; 1857, knit goods manufacture begun; 1860, first Chuctanunda water power reservoir constructed; 1868, first broom factory; 1876, second Chuctanunda water power reservoir built; 1885, Amsterdam chartered as a city.

Birth of Amsterdam Carpet Industry, 1840

The story of the carpet industry's location and growth at Amsterdam forms an absorbing chapter in the romance of American business. In 1836 William K. Greene, Sr., met with business reverses in Connecticut and removed to Poughkeepsie, where he met a Scotchman named Douglas, who was a dyer and whose father was a manufacturer of ingrain carpets in Scotland. Mr. Greene thus became interested in carpet manufacture. One day in looking through the New York Herald he saw an advertisement of an old mill and dwelling at Hagaman (north of Amsterdam). Mr. Greene and Mr. Douglas came to Hagaman and rented the property for $100 a year. They purchased six hand looms, loaded them on a sloop for Albany, brought them to Hagaman, and so this great Amsterdam industry began in the year 1840 in this northern suburb — as the result of advertising and of a keen man's eye happening to scan that advertisement. The business was removed in 1842 to Amsterdam and there grew rapidly.

The armory of Company G, 105th Infantry, 27th Division, National Guard of the State of New York, is located at Florida Avenue, corner of Dewitt Street.

See "Chapter 92A — Company G, 105th Infantry, N. G. S. N. Y., Amsterdam," by Capt. T. Forrest Brown, Amsterdam.

The following information regarding the City of Amsterdam has been furnished for this work by Mr. Earl O. Stowitts, secretary of the Amsterdam Board of Trade.

The 1920 census showed a city population of 33,524; the 1925 estimate is 38,000. The villages of Cranesville, Hagaman (on the northern limits) and Fort Johnson are all integral parts of the City of Amsterdam. Their 1920 population was as follows: Hagaman, 855; Cranesville, about 300; Fort Johnson, 680; Amsterdam, 33,524. Total 1920 Amsterdam City district, 35,259. 1925 estimate, 40,000.

The 1923 assessed valuation of the city was $23,617,167.

Amsterdam stands first in the manufacture of brooms in America. It is the second city in the United States in the manufacture of rugs, carpets and pearl buttons. It stands sixth in the manufacture of knit goods. In 1920 Amsterdam stood fifth among the cities of New York State in the value of its manufactures. The 1925 estimate of the value of its manufactures is $60,000,000. The city has a large jobbing trade.

Amsterdam's estimated annual freight tonnage is, outbound, 195,451 tons; inbound (estimated), 695,983. Amsterdam is located on the New York Central and West Shore Railroads, the Mohawk River (State Barge Canal), the Old Mohawk Turnpike, south shore highway. By the Schenectady Railways Company electric road it has westward connections with Fort Johnson, Tribes Hill, Johnstown, Gloversville and Fonda; eastward, with Cranesville, Hoffmans, Scotia, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga Springs, etc. Amsterdam is the only city in Montgomery County.

Amsterdam is served with power, light and heat by the Adirondack Power and Light Corporation and the Chuctanunda Gas Light Company. The steam power plant of the Adirondack Power and Light Corporation is located west of the southern and eastern limits of Amsterdam. This is one of the Adirondack's main plants and its chief steam plant which will largely figure in future super-power systems.

There are 18 schools in Amsterdam, besides one business and two night schools, 25 churches and 40 fraternal organizations. Several of the latter have buildings of their own. Civic commercial-social organizations include the Amsterdam Board of Trade, the Rotary, Kiwanis and Century Clubs and the Amsterdam Automobile Club.

Amsterdam is a Mohawk Valley banking center of much importance. There are three national banks with interest departments, one savings bank, one trust company, and two private banks.

Amsterdam has two fine hospitals, the City and St. Mary's; a large and well conducted library in a beautiful building; Y. M. C. A., the Century and Good Will Clubs for women and young girls, in addition to active troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and two strong posts of the American Legion. A World War memorial statue was in process of erection at the time of this writing (1925). Amsterdam furnished about 2,500 men to the American forces during the World War. The city went over the top with all its drives during the war.

In 1925 Amsterdam was in the 30th Congressional and the 39th Senatorial districts. In 1925 the chairman of the Republican State Committee was Mr. George K. Morris, of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam's area in 1925 was 3,869.4 acres. The city is establishing a system of beautiful parks and well-arranged and popular playgrounds. Green Hill Cemetery occupies a most sightly location, overlooking the city and valley.

Amsterdam has 75 miles of water mains; 650 fire hydrants; a very efficient fire and police department; fine waterworks system with one of the best services in the state; 70 miles of gas mains; 70 miles of sewer system; 150 miles of permanent sidewalks; 18 miles of electric railway; all night street electric lighting services; four hotels; four theatres; two telegraph companies; one local telephone line and several rural lines; one daily newspaper, the "Amsterdam Recorder," and one weekly newspaper; a home for elderly women; a children's home; a day nursery.

The United States Department of Commerce has furnished the following interesting statistics regarding the City of Amsterdam:

The total payments for expenses, interest, and outlays for the city government of Amsterdam, New York, for the fiscal year ending December 31, 1923, including the independent school district of Amsterdam for the fiscal year ending July 31, 1923, and the independent county supervisors' fund for the fiscal year ending October 31, 1923, amounted to $1,396,953, or $40.68 per capita. Of this total $777,829 represents the expenses of operating the general departments of the city government; $58,822, expenses of operating the public service enterprises, such as water works, markets and similar enterprises; $58,426, interest on debt; and $501,876, outlays for permanent improvements, including those for public service enterprises. In 1922 the total payments for the city were $981,916, and in 1917, $694,604, a per capita of $28.79 and $21.09, respectively. The totals include all payments for the year, whether made from current revenues or from the proceeds of bond issues.

The total revenue receipts of Amsterdam for 1923 were $1,109,854, or $32.32 per capita. This was $214,777 more than the total payments of the year exclusive of the payments for permanent improvements, but $287,099 less than the total payments including those for permanent improvements. These payments in excess of revenue receipts were met from the proceeds of debt obligations. Property taxes represented 59.0 per cent of the total revenue for 1923, 58.2 per cent for 1922, and 70.6 per cent for 1917. The increase in the amount of property taxes collected was 38.4 per cent from 1917 to 1922 and 11.2 per cent from 1922 to 1923. The per capita property taxes were $19.08 in 1923, $17.27 in 1922, and $12.92 in 1917.

Earnings of public service enterprises operated by the city represented 13.6 per cent of the total revenue for 1923, 14.3 per cent for 1922, and 15.4 per cent for 1917.

The net indebtedness (funded and floating debt less sinking fund assets) of Amsterdam on December 31, 1923, was $1,310,281, or $38.16 per capita. In 1922 the per capita debt was $32.07, and in 1917, $33.60.

* * * * *

[Photo: On The Evaskill]

Cranesville, three miles east of the center of Amsterdam, is a suburban part of the eastern city district. It was originally called "Willegas," the Holland-Dutch name for Willows, and is one of the oldest settled sections in the Mohawk Valley, Dutch farmers having located here prior to 1690. The picturesque Evaskill flows through Cranesville.

Fort Johnson, on the Mohawk Turnpike, is a postoffice and railway station of the New York Central Railroad (with prepaid freight office). It was known for some years as Akin. Knit goods are made here.

Fort Johnson is a village, which is virtually a western part of the neighboring City of Amsterdam. It takes its name from Fort Johnson, on the north side of the Turnpike near the Central Station. It was built in 1749 by Sir William Johnson, who, for a quarter century before the Revolution, was perhaps the most prominent figure in the British Province of New York.

In the great French-Indian war (1754-1760) Fort Johnson was valley British army and militia headquarters. Here at one time Colonel Johnson had 1,100 Indians (300 of them warriors) camped on his plantation. Johnson kept the Mohawks true to England. At one time, in this war, all the other Iroquois deserted to France, but came back with later English military success.

Johnson built Fort Johnson in 1749 and then moved into it, coming from the stone house one-half mile east, which he occupied after he came to the north side of the Mohawk from his first location on the eastern limits of south side Amsterdam. Sir William Johnson's life is fully covered in the several chapters devoted to him and to the Mohawk Valley in the period from his arrival at present South Amsterdam, in 1738, until his death at Johnson Hall, Johnstown, in 1774.

Mr. John Fea, the historian of Amsterdam, says that Johnson came to his first location on the north side when he bought lands at Fort Johnson in 1739, and that he occupied a stone house built here by one of the Phillips brothers. The Phillips family originally settled about 1680 to the east of where Sir William Johnson located when he came into the Mohawk Valley, in 1738, and built a house and store in south side Amsterdam. When Johnson moved over to the north shore of the Mohawk, he located in this stone house. Most historians date his removal to the north side in 1742, but Mr. Fea puts it at 1739.

Johnson called his new location Mount Johnson, naming the abrupt hill, which runs westward to present Fort Johnson Creek, by that title. This name referred to the locality rather than to the house. So when Johnson moved to his new stone house at present Fort Johnson he called this new dwelling Mount Johnson. It continued to bear that name after it was fortified and until December, 1755. In that month General Johnson returned home with a wound in his leg received at Lake George where the army he commanded had won a decided victory. Then Johnson changed the name from Mount Johnson to Fort Johnson, which name it continued to bear to this day. The history of Fort Johnson, in Sir William's day, is fully and completely covered in the general historical chapters of this work dealing with the Colonial period.

After Johnson built Fort Johnson he may have occupied it as an official residence while he "kept house" first in the first north side stone house with his wife, Katherine Weisenberg, second with Catherine, niece of King Hendrick, and third with Molly Brant, whom he probably installed there on or before 1755. He brought his white children up in Fort Johnson apart from his Indian family in Mount Johnson No. 1. Up to a few years ago the cellar and foundation of the first Mount Johnson was visible, but it has now been filled in by building operations and its stone has been used for foundation walls in new adjacent buildings.

All of Johnson's activities at Mount Johnson, Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall are covered at length in the Colonial chapters of this work.

[Photo: St. Ann's Church, Amsterdam]

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