Cudmore: Amsterdam officer Andy Nelson was a tough cop

He started out on motorcycle patrol
Downtown Amsterdam in October 1941.
Downtown Amsterdam in October 1941.

People used to say that Amsterdam police Officer Andrew C. Nelson would give his own mother a traffic ticket. According to one of his relatives, Officer Nelson did attach a ticket to a car owned by the police chief, illegally parked near the chief’s home.

Nelson was born in Amsterdam in 1893, the son of Andrew and Minnie Coons Nelson. He attended West Spring Street School and lived in the city’s West End most of his life.

He served in the U.S. Navy in World War I. After the war he worked at Bigelow-Sanford carpet mill. He married Edith Townsend of Tribes Hill in 1926.

Nelson joined the city police force in 1927. At first he was a motorcycle cop. One of the cycles that Nelson used was a three-wheeler, another had a sidecar.

Nelson’s obituary stated, “Assigned to enforce the Motor Vehicle Law in the days prior to tire-screeching, mufflerless and public thoroughfare drag racing, Nelson was considered a tough cop who knew the law and enforced it without regard to his personal welfare.”

Nelson’s niece Florence Orlando, who later lived in Gloversville, recalled her aunt and uncle came to visit her family in Mount Kisco, New York, with Andy in the driver’s seat of an Indian motorcycle and Edith behind him. Orlando at one time possessed Nelson’s nightstick.

Orlando, who died in 2012, said, “He was a big man, very gruff. You listened to him when he talked and were kind of scared of him. But he wasn’t going to harm you.”

Nelson protected children crossing the busy street to get to the former Guy Park Avenue elementary school, now a housing complex. One of those children was Peter Betz. Retired Fulton County historian, Betz said there was the time Nelson arrested a yo-yo salesman at Guy Park Avenue School’s playground.  Nelson once tamed a gray squirrel to eat from his hand for the amusement of the children, according to Betz.

Guy Park alumnus Lawrence Spagnola lived near the Nelsons on Carmichael Street. Spagnola said neighborhood kids played football in front of Nelson’s home but he never chased them away.

“I don’t like admitting that from time to time we actually challenged him,” Spagnola said. “He was always understanding and just knew that it was nothing personal and he understood that we didn’t mean anything against him.”

Amsterdam native Eugene Leonard of Garden Grove, California, said Nelson was a father figure who made sure he played it straight. One day Leonard questioned the accuracy of the speedometer on his car. Officer Nelson proposed a test.

Leonard set off down Guy Park Avenue with his window open and Nelson following on his motorcycle yelling out instructions, such as “Bring it up to 30 miles per hour.”  Leonard was sure people thought he was a miscreant being pursued by the diligent cop.

Nelson’s brother-in-law, Louis Townsend of Fort Johnson, said Nelson was very strict on the police force but in reality was a gentle man who loved children.  Nelson and his wife had no children of their own. Nelson enjoyed holidays and sometimes played Santa Claus.

Nelson retired in 1958 and enjoyed hunting and especially fishing, often accompanied by his wife. He died in 1965 while on a fishing trip at Lake Pleasant.  He and his wife were Methodists who worshipped at churches in Tribes Hill and at First Methodist on Division Street in Amsterdam.

Recorder police reporter Wallace McBride Kimball once said if the city had four officers like Andy Nelson and Stanley Bush, another highly regarded Amsterdam cop, the rest of the police force could be dismissed.

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].

Categories: Life and Arts, News, Opinion

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