Meet Schenectady’s new historian, Chris Leonard

Part-time job offers no salary
Chris Leonard stands next to the city's GE Realty Plot historical marker.
Chris Leonard stands next to the city's GE Realty Plot historical marker.

SCHENECTADY — Chris Leonard, a Hamden, Connecticut, native and a Schenectady resident for the past 14 years, has been appointed the city of Schenectady historian, Mayor Gary R. McCarthy announced Friday.

Leonard takes over a post that has been vacant since former city and county historian Don Rittner lost the position five years ago, after his $20,000 salary was cut from the city’s budget. Leonard will start the job Monday at the Efner History Center on the third floor of City Hall. The position is currently a part-time one with no salary.

“I haven’t decided on official office hours yet, but the Efner Center will be open a lot more than it is now,” said Leonard, who just last year was named by the GE Realty Plot Neighborhood Association as its first official historian. “I was born the son of two history professors, so it’s always been in my blood. I’m going to do all the specific things that a city historian does, and I’m going to try to find some ways to partner with some businesses and generate a little income so we can do some advertising.”

The Efner History Center, named after former city historian William Efner, houses many of Schenectady’s historical records and has been maintained by Schenectady County Historical Society volunteer Cindy Seacord. Seacord has been filing and cataloging various records and artifacts for the past 10 years.

“Cindy has done a great job, and there’s no reason for that to stop,” Leonard said. “I’m going to be working toward getting us some grants so we can do more with the material we have up there. It’s a great collection.”

Leonard, who owns and operates his own marketing firm, Wordsmith Promotions, graduated from the University at Albany with a double major in history and English.

“My wife and I moved here 14 years ago, and when we moved to the GE Realty Plot four years ago, I really started digging into Schenectady’s history,” he said. “I started out by researching my own house, and then I started researching other houses and their owners, and that led to other things, like General Electric. Many topics became of interest to me, and that took me to the historical society where I did a lot of research.”


Leonard volunteers at the historical society’s Grems-Doolittle Library at least once a week and has also made presentations on the history of local baseball in Schenectady. He’s also planning to produce a book on the history of food in Schenectady.

“This city has been named as having some of the best food in upstate New York, so we have to start taking advantage of that,” he said. “So, I’ve been looking at food trends in the city, from as far back as the Native Americans here and the first Dutch settlers, to the much more recent waves of immigration.”

McCarthy said Leonard is a perfect fit for the city’s needs.

“We’ve been looking for a while, and Chris has a level of enthusiasm that is exactly what we’re looking for in the position,” McCarthy said. “He appreciates some of the challenges we’re facing right now and that we don’t have the money to pay for it. He understands that and was still quite willing to come on board. I think he will be a valuable asset to our city.”

Mike Maloney, archivist/librarian at Grems-Doolittle Library, said Maloney’s appointment should work well for the city.

“He’s been volunteering here for a little under a year, but he’s done a great job scanning historical photos and creating an index of Charles Steinmetz’s correspondence,” Maloney said. “When I have a question about General Electric or the city in general, he’s usually able to help me out. I think he’s going to do a great job.”

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