Cudmore: William Currie’s Erie Canal skating rink

Canal's demise ended skating

One of the side benefits of the construction of the Erie Canal in the 19th century was that Gov. Dewitt Clinton’s ditch was a dandy place for ice skating when the water froze during the winter months.

In 1887 John Burns was granted permission to have a skating rink at the Port Jackson basin on the canal.  The next year the city of Amsterdam, north of Port Jackson, annexed the Erie Canal village.

As was the canal, the basin was man-made and gave boats the ability to maneuver and dock in warm weather months and provided a good expanse for skating in winter.

In 1893 the newspapers reported that “the annual fight for possession of the canal basin is already on.”  P. Donovan and W.L. Hammond were contending for the skating contract.

In 1897 the firm of Noonan & Currie flooded the canal basin for skating and would do so for the next 20 years.

Noonan & Currie was a livery stable, a combination rent-a-car and taxi service of the horse-drawn era.  William J. Currie was born in 1857 in Little Falls.  He had come to Amsterdam with his family as a small child and lived on High Street, north of the canal and Mohawk River.  He was active in Republican politics.

In 1900 Currie was considering holding a race between an Amsterdam champion named Thomas and a skater from Gloversville.

The Gloversville Leader reported that skaters in the region thought there was “considerable money” to be made in defeating Thomas.

In 1902 Fred Hoffman, the “boy wonder” of Cohoes, and Rensselaer County champion Peter Connors took part in a two-mile race in Amsterdam before a big crowd.  The “boy wonder” prevailed.  Carbonelli’s Band entertained and a carnival was held after the race.

In December 1902 the newspapers printed the rules for Currie’s canal basin skating rink.  Long skates and shinny sticks, used as hockey sticks for street games, were not allowed.

During regular skating sessions, no racing or speeding was permitted.  Also “positively” banned were “boisterous actions and profane language.”  That year Currie held a skating carnival on Christmas afternoon and evening.

In 1904 the Erie Basin Skating Rink advertised it was open every afternoon and evening with a carnival each Wednesday and Saturday.

Currie used an old house boat as a warming hut.  It was towed to the skating rink each year from its summer resting place near Fort Hunter.

“Currie, the skating rink man, has had a hard time of it this winter,” wrote the Recorder in 1907.  Changeable weather kept him from opening the rink until the end of January.  By 1909 he had installed a phone at the rink and again was open Christmas Day with music by the Colonial Band. The rink was also used in 1916.

But its days were numbered.  The Erie Canal was closed by 1918 as the new Barge Canal was put into the banks of the Mohawk River.  Currie died in December 1923.

A 1944 Recorder nostalgia column by Frank Engel recalled the Erie Canal basin skating rink when prizes were awarded to the “most graceful skaters.”
 The site of the old skating rink was filled in and is now the Fifth Ward Memorial Park.

This story was researched by Amsterdam historian and post card collector Jerry Snyder, who has what’s called a real photo postcard depicting the skating rink.
The post card shot shows tastefully attired women skaters lined up wearing coats and even some fancy hats.  A young boy is off to the left and one man is in front of the women. William Currie perhaps?

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: News, Schenectady County

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