One of my favorite stories in the new West End booklet put out by Historic Amsterdam League has to do with a garden hose and the Spanish American War.
Seven-year-old Harvey Chalmers lived on Amsterdam’s Division Street about a dozen houses west of Caroline Street in 1898 when America was at war with Spain. Young Chalmers, who was the offspring of a wealthy family who ran a pearl button mill, told his mother he wanted to “Join the Army, go to Cuba and shoot Spaniards.”
She convinced him to make believe he was shooting Spaniards and helping to free Cuba by using the hose on the side of the house to douse the dusty dirt street.
He soon found it was more fun to soak passengers on passing trolley cars. Eventually a motorman blew the whistle on young Chalmers to the boy’s mother, who took Harvey before his father that night for punishment.
His father concluded he couldn’t punish Harvey for being a boy. Chalmers quoted his father as saying the prank could even result in a civic improvement: “The Board of Trade has been trying for some time to persuade the Common Council to rule that Division Street should have a brick pavement. When the other boys on this street find out what our boy has done, they’ll all do it.”
Harvey Chalmers wrote books and articles on local history; he died in 1971. In later years he resided at 439 Guy Park Ave. among other movers and shakers who lived in fine homes along what was called the Boulevard.
When the Turner Construction Company built a new home on Guy Park Avenue for David Chalmers and his wife Emsie in 1912 it was said to be one of the finest residences in the Mohawk Valley. The third floor is a ballroom.
David Chalmers was the uncle of Harvey, the trolley car hoser, and a friend of Thomas Edison, who gave David one of his original electric lamps. David Chalmers founded the Chalmers Knitting Mill south of the Mohawk River. The factory was torn down in recent years.
In the early 20th century, Chalmers knitting made union suits — long cotton underwear for men, popular before central heating and indoor plumbing. Visitors to New York City’s Times Square a century ago saw a big ad for Chalmers underwear. Spelled out in electric lights was the following — Chalmers underwear, makers of Porosknit, Inrox and Kruco for summer and winter.
A rare treat for those on a recent Amsterdam history tour was a visit to the museum on the first floor of the former Station Number 5, built as a firehouse at Division and Henrietta streets in 1910.
The fire chief at the time, William Stichel, said there was a need for a firehouse there because of construction of new wooden residences in the neighborhood.
The fire station closed in 1973 when the department consolidated in one location at the public safety building downtown.
Retired Battalion Chief Walter Martin and Mary Beth Podolec purchased the building in 2000 for their home. They have restored the first floor to its days as a firehouse.
The building houses a 1932 Ford hose wagon that formerly was used to fight fires at Bigelow Sanford Carpets. Two women on the tour said their father used to drive the truck for the carpet company and occasionally would drive them to school in the vehicle.
The West End Story books cost $5 each and are available at Old Peddler’s Wagon on Church Street and Bookhound on Main Street.
They are also available on the Historic Amsterdam League website.
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 protected]