Tour of Upper Union Street neighborhood to take participants back to bustling era

For those living in the eastern section of Schenectady just before World War II, the Upper Union Str

For those living in the eastern section of Schenectady just before World War II, the Upper Union Street neighborhood provided just about anything a family might need.

“We had supermarkets, we had a theater, we had a bunch of stores and they were all locally owned family businesses,” said Bob Sweet, who ran Tiemann’s Cleaners on Union Street from 1961 to 1984, before starting up Mailbox Etc. in the same neighborhood. “When I was growing up during the war, there was gas rationing, nobody had a car to go anyplace anyway, and everything we needed was right there.”

Sweet will give a tour of the Upper Union Street neighborhood Saturday at 11 a.m. as part of Schenectady County History and Heritage Day. Sweet’s group will meet near Woodland Avenue behind Trustco Bank, walk in an easterly direction to Fehr Avenue, cross Union Street and head west to Aperture Media on Keyes Avenue, where an exhibit of historic photographs of the area will be on display. This will be Sweet’s second time doing the tour, having originated it at last year’s History and Heritage Day.

Schenectady County History and Heritage Day

Lineup of events taking place on Saturday:

— Kids Arts Fest (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) will be held outdoors on Jay Street near City Hall. In case of rain, the event will move inside City Hall.

— Schenectady County Historical Society (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) will have 17th century interpreters on hand as well as other events.

— Upper Union Street Walking Tour (11 a.m.) will meet at the Farmers’ Market on Woodland Avenue between Union Street and Eastern Parkway.

— Vale Cemetery (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) office will be open to dispense information about the historic burial grounds, and a Vale nature walk will be held on Sunday.

— Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) will have free admission to the museum before noon. The Fetch! Lab program will be held between 2:30 and 4 p.m.

— Union College Nott Memorial/Mandeville Gallery (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) will be open to the public.

— Green’s Corner School (2-4 p.m.) will be holding tours of the 18th century one-room schoolhouse and offer kids’ games and puzzles.

— Empire State Aerosciences Museum (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) will have half-price admission for adults.

— Glen Sanders Mansion (3 p.m.) will have a guided tour of the historic mansion. Call 374-7262 to sign up for tour.

— Alexander Glen House/Scotia Public Library (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) will have arts and crafts activities, and family story time.

— Flint House (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) will hold house tours and have crafts activities for kids with Mrs. Red Shoes.

— Rotterdam Square (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) will have crafts activities for kids at the guest services booth.

“It will take between 45 minutes to an hour, and I’ll take them down one side of Union Street, up the other, and then we’ll end it by looking at a display of historic photographs,” said Sweet. “I’ll talk a lot about the stores that used to be where new stores are now, and I’ll try to point out how most of them were two-story homes. The businesses were created by people who lived upstairs and had started their business downstairs.”

According to city and county historian Don Rittner, development of the area started soon after nearby Central Park was created in 1914.

“Housing development moved east along Union Street and Eastern Parkway during the 1920s and 1930s,” said Rittner. “While Eastern Parkway remained residential, Union Street became commercial, because it was the end of the city line, and the nearest shopping districts were further downtown.”

According to Rittner, the Rivoli Theatre, on the north side of Union Street on the block between Baker and Keyes, seated about 500. It opened in 1926 and closed in 1950, and Sweet was a regular customer as a young boy.

“It was owned by Mr. Swanker, a retired fireman, and he was the boss,” said Sweet, who also gives ghost tours of the Stockade Neighborhood in the fall. “If us kids got out of line or got in trouble he’d yell at us. But I had a lot of fun in that place. I can remember going to Saturday matinees and watching ‘Superman’ and Gene Autry.”

While there is no longer a movie theater or a supermarket, the

Upper Union Street area has just about everything else.

“It still represents the end of the city line, and it has a nice eclectic group of more than 80 commercial entities from art galleries like Sow’s Ear to 19 different eateries,” said Rittner. “You can buy jewelry, get your land surveyed, buy real estate, get your hair done, buy a wedding gown, get your car insured, or do your banking all within a couple of blocks.”

Plenty of things to do

There will be several events scheduled throughout Schenectady County on Saturday, including a Kids Arts Fest on Jay Street near City Hall. The Puppet People will perform a series of shows, while other acts include magician Merdwin the Mediocre and the Hamilton Hill Steel Band.

The Schenectady County

Historical Society is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and will offer a special program by 17th century re-enactors and tours of the Dora Jackson House at 32 Washington Ave., while the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia will also offer a tour of that historic structure at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Categories: Life and Arts

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