Tales of Old Dorp: Old horse cars went so slowly that walking was just as fast

Old horse cars in late 1800s were so slow, many people preferred to walk.

The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart’s long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Today, with 2008 off and running, Hart offers a potpourri of news stories from a column that originally was published Dec. 27, 1977.

Once upon a time in Schenectady, just before the turn of the century, people walked more than they do now.

Oh, they might have hopped a horse car in any of the four years before 1891, but it only went as far as Brandywine Avenue, where the horse barn was. The pot-bellied vehicle carried only 12 passengers and went so slowly the conductor often got out and walked alongside for the exercise. It stopped maybe 50 times from the foot of State Street up to Brandywine.

In those days, someone might say, “Let’s go out to Hildebrandt’s,” and a party of walkers would trek up State Street hill to between Steuben and Martin streets. That was Louie Hildebrandt’s place, a low wooden structure that was fronted on State Street by a curved driveway, which in earlier days had accommodated many carriages that plied between here and Albany.

Louie and his wife set a marvelous table for diners, and there was a bar for thirsty travelers. A wood-handled pump out in front supplied water for anyone who walked by.

u Before the carbon-arc streetlights made their appearance on State Street prior to the 1880s, gas lights were used on main streets, with oil lamps still in occasional use on some side streets. The chief lamplighter in those days was a man named John Douew, Dutch if we ever heard one, who lived on Veeder Avenue. He used to make the rounds just to let folks know it was officially night.

u In the spring of 1922, a Schenectady landmark was torn down on Franklin Street. It was the old St. John’s parish school building on the lot just east of the church, named St. John the Baptist Church the same year as St. John the Evangelist Church got its official name. Before that, from 1904, the churches were referred to simply as “old St. John’s” and “new St. John’s.”

The church school was being razed to make way for the three-story brick parsonage, which now stands on that spot. The contract for the parsonage construction was let to the John McDermott Co., of which the former Alderman Patrick H. McDermott was president.

The school was built in 1848, nine years after St. John’s was erected.

u An advertisement in the Schenectady Republican of 1859 had this to say about the kerosene lamp: “It furnishes a brilliant, cheap, clean and safe light at one-half the cost of candles.”

Also, the flapper of 1859 was given some good advice. She was told to dress in a neat, plain, modest attire without a single ornament on her person. She needed “no artificial rigging to enhance her value.” The paragraph began, “Girls, let us talk on a stubborn truth,” and went on to say that no young woman ever looked so good to a sensible man as when she was plainly dressed.

u In the Evening Star of March 12, 1864, there was this breezy police report:

“Police business — Charles Simpson last evening had no place to sleep, and having been in the company of someone who was intoxicated, became intoxicated himself and didn’t know his hat from a hole in the ground. About that time, he was endeavoring to throw a telegraph pole at an imaginary enemy and was arrested by Officer Van Epps. Brought out this morning and ordered to leave the city or enlist. At last accounts, he had not decided which course he would take.”

Among other “police business” was a statement that “the four amiable young ladies who were arrested on Friday for being naughty” were given jail sentences.

Categories: Life and Arts

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