Focus on History: Where to put historic signs in Amsterdam
The Historic Amsterdam League is planning to put up more historic markers in the city.
At one time the familiar blue and gold markers were placed by the state but that is no longer the case. League president and city historian Robert von Hasseln asked for a top 10 list of potential marker locations based on Focus on History columns.
My list begins with the intersection of Federal and Chuctanunda streets downtown, the location of a busy private parking lot operated by Harrison Wilson from the 1940s through urban renewal. An African-American who came to Amsterdam in 1910, Wilson became maintenance supervisor for builder Thomas McGibbon. In 1943 Wilson heroically saved people from a fire in a downtown building owned by McGibbon. McGibbon died that year and left the parking lot to Wilson. All eight children and now many grandchildren of Harrison and Marguerite Wilson pursued successful careers in health care, industry, media and education, thanks to that parking lot.
Another marker could be placed at 26 Cornell St., once the home of Michael Wytrwal. A Polish immigrant and entrepreneur, Wytrwal was sometimes called the Polish mayor of Amsterdam. He headed New Deal economic programs in Montgomery County for President Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression. Wytrwal was a mentor to his granddaughter, Mary Anne Krupsak, who became lieutenant governor of New York state.
There is no marker at Petrone Square, the corner of Church and Main streets. Rocco Petrone was born in Amsterdam in 1926 to Italian immigrant parents. Petrone went to West Point where he played defensive tackle on Army’s 1945 national championship football team. Petrone was launch director at the Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida and was what The New York Times called a “driving force” in the Apollo moon program. He died in 2006.
El Palacio Musicale was a music store and meeting place in Amsterdam’s East End operated by musician and community leader Alex Torres. Torres and His Latin Orchestra have played for President Bill Clinton, at New York gubernatorial inaugurations and hundreds of venues. Torres was a founder of Centro Civico.
Bridge Street was the original location of a tavern/restaurant owned by Luigi Lanzi and his family. A blue and gold sign at the South Side location also could note that boxing matches in the 1930s took place behind the tavern. Lanzi’s descendants are still restaurateurs.
Shuttleworth Park deserves a marker. The recreational facility on the North Chuctanunda Creek was called Crescent Park in 1914 and renamed Jollyland in 1923. It became Mohawk Mills Park in 1934. In 1939 the park became the home of the Amsterdam Rugmakers, a New York Yankees farm team. In 1977, the park was renamed to honor Herbert Shuttleworth II, former executive of the carpet company. Today the Amsterdam Mohawks baseball team plays at Shuttleworth Park, the city’s most visited location.
Another sign could describe how the Best Value Inn on Market Street is built on land once occupied by the home of Amsterdam’s Benedict Arnold. Our Benedict Arnold was not a traitor but a major general, congressman and Amsterdam village board president in 1832.
A marker could be placed at Market and Main streets, old Amsterdam’s best known intersection. Many markers could be used to pay attention to former mills. Perhaps the best location would be at Church and Prospect Streets where the Sanford carpet mill began in the 1840s.
And then there is native son, actor Kirk Douglas, born as Issur Danielovich. There already is a Kirk Douglas Park on the Chuctanunda Creek but a marker could be placed to note the actor’s birthplace at 46 Eagle St. in the East End.