Today’s South Side neighborhood in Amsterdam started out as a few homes near the Mohawk River before growing into a vibrant Erie Canal village named “Port Jackson.”
Expansion of the canal, the addition of a railroad, then the rise of industrial carpet-making has overshadowed and in some cases buried the neighborhood’s rich history. But remnants of the South Side’s role in local history still remain.
The Historic Amsterdam League is conducting guided bus tours Saturday in hopes of bringing people closer to that history — because changes under way are again expected to put another new face on the area that was also called “Stillwellville.”
Over the past year, Bridge Street on the South Side underwent a major rehabilitation and the towering Chalmers Knitting Mill buildings have been reduced to a pile of rubble.
A new pedestrian bridge planned to connect the South Side to the north is in the planning stages and Amsterdam Historian and HAL president Robert von Hasseln said now is the time to check out the neighborhood before it changes again.
“Especially now that we’ve made all these improvements, you can’t kind of get your hands around the real history of it. There have been so many changes down there,” von Hasseln said.
The old Sweet’s Canal store still stands not far from the Mohawk River, one of few remaining pieces of the port that grew due to the Erie Canal and became a critical stop for travelers, von Hasseln said.
“The port is the real key. This was the first, or the last place depending on where you were traveling, where you could actually put your canal boat in, make repairs, buy supplies, offload cargo and take on passengers,” von Hasseln said.
The original Erie Canal, dug by hand in the early 1800s, is now mostly buried in the ground.
Prior to engineering advances that led to today’s Erie Canal, which uses the Mohawk River, there were roughly 20 locks people had to travel through on their way east, von Hasseln said.
“This was the last place where you could take care of business, any kind of business, before you had to deal with all of those stepping down locks,” he said.
By the 1830s, there was a boat going through the canal every 10.5 minutes during the open season, 24 hours a day.
“It becomes a booming town,” von Hasseln said.
More than 300 people attended last year’s Heart of Amsterdam tour, the first in a series the Historic Amsterdam League intends to sponsor each year.
Saturday’s tours, to be directed by local historians and authors, will include a special, one-day “Port Jackson” cancellation from the U.S. Postal Service at the Mount Carmel Church and six South Side postcards that will be available for purchase.
A South Side history booklet of 32 pages without commercial advertisements will be for sale for $5. Tours are free and will start at 10 a.m. Guests are asked to meet at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on state Route 5S, right off Thruway Exit 27.
Sites to be highlighted include the Amsterdam Armory, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Erie Canal and West Shore Railroad, among other features.
Details are at www.historicamsterdam.org/.
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