Thousands went to shows of outdoor life
March and April were the months for the annual Sportsmen’s Shows put on by the Amsterdam Fish and Game League from the 1930s into the 1950s.
The shows were held in the gymnasium and auditorium of the former Theodore Roosevelt Junior High on Guy Park Avenue during the school’s Easter vacation.
“It was a big thing,” said city resident Mario Checca. “They chopped wood, sawed wood and rolled logs on the water.”
The league formed in 1931 and the annual shows began in 1933, first at the South Side armory then the junior high school. Some years were missed during and after World War II, but the event resumed with an entire week of activities in the late 1940s, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. Proceeds went for fish stocking and other conservation work.
The men of the league became famous for hearty pancake suppers served in the junior high cafeteria. There were canoe tipping, ax wielding, fly-casting and sharp shooting competitions and demonstrations, along with professional exhibits. In 1937, the show featured the world’s biggest snowshoe, sent by a Maine manufacturer.
Entertainers were brought in. One local native recalled a performance by a young Minnie Pearl. In 1938 league members put on a skit called “Trappers’ Justice” in which local marksman W.H. Jacoby hit the bull’s-eye on a card held by Robert Knapp, while Art Grass played the harmonica. Leyman and Arnold Watson of Hope Falls won the men’s log sawing contest that year while Mildred Moore and Sarah Colson won the women’s competition.
In 1946, the show featured state lumberjack championship events. There was no show in 1947 but in 1948, the event ran for eight days, featuring live bears and trick log rollers from Michigan. An estimated 25,000 attended. There was a live radio broadcast by Gloversville station WENT.
Local banker Charles Wharton, who died in 2004 at the age of 97, was founding treasurer of the fish and game league and a prime mover in organizing the annual shows. Wharton said people came from all over the state on buses and up from New York City to “see how we did things.”
“Real pine logs right out of the woods,” Wharton said, were used for the log rolling competition. So many pine boughs decorated the junior high, he said, that, “The place smelled like the north woods.”
Adirondack hermit Noah John Rondeau used to put on a demonstration, setting up a camp inside the school. Rondeau came out of his hermitage in the Cold River area of the western high peaks, sometimes with help from a state helicopter, to appear in many New York sportsmen’s shows in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Amsterdam shows ended sometime in the 1950s, after professional entertainment companies that competed with the volunteer event asked the State Education Department to rule if it was proper to hold the shows in a public school.
Historian Hugh Donlon said the answer from the state was “an official frown,” adding, “That brought an end to one of the most ambitious and successful community undertakings ever recorded in the valley.”
Florida formed as a Montgomery County township on March 12, 1793. One explanation for using that name is that March 12 was the anniversary of explorer Ponce de Leon’s Easter Day landing on the coast of what he named Florida down south. The explorer derived the name from a Spanish phrase meaning feast of flowers.
An unusual name in the town of Florida is the hamlet of Minaville. According to Kelly Farquhar’s book “Montgomery County,” Minaville was named in honor of Mexican-American war hero, General Francis Mina.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or email@example.com.