Historical Society looks at growing up in Schenectady

Opening reception to feature tales from four local storytellers
The exhibit features a collection of antique toys.
The exhibit features a collection of antique toys.

The Schenectady County Historical Society will celebrate its first exhibit of 2019, “Back in My Day: Childhood, Play, and Schenectady,” with an opening reception Saturday at 2 p.m. at the society’s headquarters at 32 Washington Ave. in the Stockade.

The exhibit, on display in the Vrooman Gallery in the Dora Jackson House, will be up through November. Saturday’s opening reception will include four members of the Story Circle of the Capital Region, who will talk about their childhood days in the Capital Region.

Glenville’s Joe Doolittle will talk about growing up in the Stanford Heights section of Schenectady, near what is today Mohawk Commons. Also presenting stories will be Schenectady’s Barbara Palumbo, Saratoga Springs’ Christie Keegan and Berne’s Nancy Marie Payne. Each of the storytellers will speak for 10 minutes.

“We’re hoping to keep each story to 10 minutes because we also want to harvest some stories from the audience,” said Doolittle. “We’re hoping we get some questions and we’re hoping to find people there who will be eager to tell their own story.”

Doolittle said he grew up working for former Stanford Golf Club pro Hap Duval, whose grandson, David, was the PGA’s top money winner in 1998. Also in the area was the Ingersoll Residence, originally home to the Stanfords, one of Schenectady’s most prominent families throughout the 19th century. It is now home to Berkshire Bank.

“When I was a kid growing up, there was an old man we called Grampa Harpinger, and his grandfather was a coachman for the Stanford family,” said Doolittle. “We were always afraid of him, but then we got to know him a little and he started telling us these fascinating stories about the Stanford Mansion and the neighborhood. He told us stories that involved the Stanfords, horse racing and Saratoga. I’m going to share some of what he told us, and also some stories about walking to the bus stop at the old Ingersoll Residence.”

Palumbo, who grew up on Nott Terrace in Schenectady, will talk about her father, a former reporter with the Schenectady Union-Star. Payne, who grew up on Altamont Avenue and attended what is now Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School, will tell stories about the German-American community in Schenectady. And Keegan will talk about riding on her sled as a young girl during some very snowy winters.

As for the exhibit itself, SCHS curator Susanna Fout collected contributions from more than 100 Schenectadians responding to a questionnaire about growing up in Schenectady. The idea for the exhibit came to her when she was looking into the SCHS collection of antique toys.

“When looking at the antique toys, I noticed how similar they were to toys that I grew up playing with,” said Fout. “I wondered, ‘What else was similar. What else was different? How has childhood changed throughout the century?’ We received over 100 responses from people of all ages and backgrounds, and many of these stories are featured throughout the exhibit.”

With various artifacts and photographs, the exhibit examines the differences and similarities of childhood over a number of generations, and explores the importance of outdoors, home life, school, toys, technology and rule-breaking.

All of the stories contributed by the public will be available for the public at the Grems-Doolittle Library at the historical society.

“We received great responses to the ‘Back in My Day’ survey, and those responses will be kept in our library and archives so the community’s childhood memories will become a steadfast part of Schenectady County’s memory,” said Grems-Doolittle Librarian/Archivist Michael Maloney.

Talk on prohibition

The historical society’s series of winter programs will continue Thursday at 7 p.m. with a presentation by city historian Chris Leonard.

Leonard’s talk, “A Toast to Temperance,” will mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of Prohibition in the U.S., which began in 1920 and ended in 1933. Leonard will examine the impact of the 18th and 21st amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and how they effected the business of brewing and distilling in New York state.

At 8 p.m., Leonard and his audience will raise their glasses and toast the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. Refreshments will be provided by the Schenectady Distilling Company.

The program is free.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. the historical society will have another opening reception, this one at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction, for a new traveling exhibit, “A Dishonorable Trade: Human Trafficking in the Dutch Atlantic World.”

The exhibit is curated by the state Department of Parks and Recreation. The opening reception on Jan. 26 will include a presentation by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region.

‘Back in My Day: Childhood, Play, and Schenectady’

WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $5 for adults, free for members

MORE INFO:, or call (518) 374-0263











Categories: Life and Arts, News

Leave a Reply