CARS HOMES JOBS

Rockton was growing in early 1900s

Saturday, June 7, 2014
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Historic Amsterdam League is conducting tours Saturday of Rockton, a section of north Amsterdam with a rich industrial, business and recreational history.

The free excursions will start at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. from the pavilion in Shuttleworth Park, the summer home of the Amsterdam Mohawks baseball team.

Now named for the late Herbert Shuttleworth II of Mohawk Carpets, the recreational area began as Crescent Park, was renamed Jollyland and for many years was operated by the carpet factory’s employees association and called Mohawk Mills Park. In the 1940s, the New York Yankees played two baseball games there against their farm team, the Amsterdam Rugmakers.

Mohawk Mills was created with the 1920 combination of the Shuttleworth family’s mill along the Mohawk River and the McCleary, Wallin and Crouse rug factory on Lyon Street and Forest Avenue in Rockton. That complex — started by some of Stephen Sanford’s former employees — was known as the Upper Mill.

The last carpet mill facility in Amsterdam closed in 1987. In 1992 and 1994, arson fires gutted the former Upper Mill. The damaged buildings have been torn down.

Rockton, originally called Rock City, was an independent village settled in the late 1700s or early 1800s. League President Gerald Snyder said, “The name came from the rock quarries and lime kilns being operated there.”

The name of the village was changed to Rockton in the late 1880s and the village was annexed by the growing city of Amsterdam in 1901.

It became Amsterdam’s 8th Ward. As the city population declined, the number of wards decreased from eight to five with Rockton split between the 1st and 2nd Wards. The League has subtitled today’s event “The search for the lost ward.”

In 1908, Rockton was growing, according to a Board of Trade manual. Carpet mill executive William McCleary and others founded the Rockton Realty Company to develop “a large addition to the city.”

The development was in walking distance of the carpet mill then headed by McCleary on Lyon Street. Building lots on new streets off Clizbe Avenue had been put up for sale. The streets were named for prominent figures in the carpet industry — Sanford, McCleary, McNeir, Cochrane, Sloane, Clark, Bigelow and Law.

Rockton natives over the years formed their own association to meet and reminisce about the old days. A popular winter activity was ice skating at Hasenfuss Field on Midline Road just beyond Locust Avenue. The field was named for PFC William E. Hasenfuss Jr., killed at Hickham Field near Pearl Harbor, the first Amsterdam native to die in World War II.

Gail Buchner Breen, who grew up in Rockton, remembers using a scabbard from her skate to hold onto a friend while skating. Scabbards are rubber protectors that fit over the blades of the skates.

“We skated in long chains of kids, frequently snapping the whip, which could be terrifying if you were on the end,” Breen said. “The person on the end of the whip frequently landed in a snow bank.”

Rockton had its own taverns, restaurants, markets, auto repair shops and candy stores. Ann Firth Torgusen said her father, William David Firth, owned Firth’s Finer Foods at 379 Locust Ave. between Lindsay and Ellsworth streets until the 1970s. Her mother was Nan Ferguson Firth.

Torgusen said Firth’s provided fine foods to the executive dining room at Mohawk Carpet and to Herbert Shuttleworth’s home, then on Brookside Avenue.

The family of onetime 8th Ward Alderman John Haas operated a variety store on Lindsay Street and an auto repair garage on Lyon Street, across from the carpet mill. The alderman’s son, Sgt. John L. Haas. Jr., died in 1943 when his plane went down over Germany.

 
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