Christmas memories in the Mohawk Valley

Fulton County children wrote letters to Santa addressed to the local newspaper over a hundred years

Fulton County children wrote letters to Santa addressed to the local newspaper over a hundred years ago. Historian Peter Betz has made a study of these letters and found that ice skates and sleds were the most desired gifts.

Amsterdam retail sales records were broken in the 1902 Christmas season. The post office was deluged with so many packages and letters that employees had problems finding places to stand to do their jobs. Newspaper carrier boys were guests of their publisher that Christmas afternoon, boisterously enjoying the melodrama “A Hidden Crime” at the East Main Street Opera House.

The Sassafras Bird Sanctuary opened in 1931 and was a popular spot in spring, summer and fall for several decades. In winter, children of New East Main Street School in Amsterdam prepared a Christmas tree for the Sassafras with food for the birds.

The city had a big Christmas parade on November 22, 1947 featuring a balloon train. A picture shows a large crowd spilling onto East Main Street to get a view as the engine of the balloon train passed in front of Lindsay’s Shoes.

The Mohawk Mills Chorus from Amsterdam, predecessor of today’s Mohawk Valley Chorus, appeared on NBC television in 1949 singing Christmas tunes with Roberta Quinlan on her Mohawk Carpet Showroom program. The next day the chorus recorded an album at the RCA Victor studio in Manhattan.

One of the sights in Amsterdam during the heyday of carpet manufacturing was the lighted outline of a Christmas tree on the front of the Clock Building on Prospect Street, then headquarters of Bigelow-Sanford. The building is still there.

Shirley Spurles Baroody of Greensboro, North Carolina, spent eleven years of her childhood at the Children’s Home at 81 Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam. The matrons asked each child for a list of three things wanted for Christmas. Baroody remembered getting paper dolls and white socks. The women’s clubs of Amsterdam put on a Christmas party every year for the home, which closed in 1957.

In the late 1950s Amsterdam held a Christmas Festival at Coessens Park, organized by Mayor Thomas F. Gregg. Santa Claus talked to children and animals were brought in from an Adirondack tourist attraction.

Amsterdam had its share of toy stores. The Toy Tent, founded by Hyman and Vera Gordon, was on East Main Street until the 1960s. The Gordons’ son David recalled the store’s name derived from a product they sold, a tent made to go over a card table that children could use as a playhouse. The tents were made by Nelson Taylor and Company of Gloversville, an awning maker.

In the 1950s John E. Larrabee Company hardware store on Market Street in Amsterdam sold Lionel and American Flyer model trains at Christmas. Each brand installed a model railroad layout in the store. A 1958 ad offered an American Flyer guided missile train that fired toy rockets.

When public high school social life was dominated by sororities and fraternities, a high point of the season was Phi Delta sorority’s Christmas formal. In 1963 the event was held at the Century Club on Guy Park Avenue and called Mistletoe and Music. The girls of the sorority asked boys to attend.

In the 1950s Alberta Zierak Fondacaro’s aunts lived next door to Kiddo’s, then the family tavern, on Reid Street in Amsterdam. The aunts kept the traditional Polish vigil with an elaborate meatless feast. They kept an empty chair at the table. Fondacaro’s father, tending bar next door, would send lonely people from the tavern to the house to enjoy the festive meal.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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