Cudmore: Amsterdam soda fountain had wide appeal


With its marble soda fountain, polished oak booths and tin ceiling, Wilson’s Drug Store at 46 East Main St. in Amsterdam was a local institution.

Herbert Shuttleworth II, the last chief executive of Mohasco Carpet Company, told me he enjoyed the chocolate sauce Wilson’s used when making hot fudge sundaes.

Before Wilson’s closed in the 1960s, Shuttleworth, who died in 2010, procured the recipe, which called for a combination of Belgian and French chocolates. Shuttleworth said he lost the recipe and seemed genuinely sorry about that.

When drug store founder William Wilson, Jr. died at age 76 in December 1949 at his winter home in Florida, he was described in a Recorder story as “one of Amsterdam’s most esteemed citizens.”

A city native, he apprenticed at the Bradford and Lindsay drug store, located at 46 East Main in 1890.  After getting his pharmacy degree, Wilson opened his own drug store in 1898 on the other side of East Main. In 1914 Wilson moved his business to 46 East Main.

Wilson helped train young pharmacists.  His present and former employees surprised him with a banquet in 1948 to celebrate his half century in the business.

After his death, Wilson’s brothers, his son Floyd and other relatives continued to operate Wilson’s Drug Store for another two decades.

In a 2008 letter, James T. Hammond of Hagaman, who grew up on Glen Avenue and Greene Street in Amsterdam, recalled visiting Wilson’s in the 1940s with his grandmother.  It was also a regular stop for a chocolate ice cream soda after grade school trips to the city library on Church Street. Wilson’s was centrally located near the Church Street intersection.

Hammond said that Floyd and Tom Wilson were the pharmacists. “Jimmy Wilson was the chief cook and bottle washer who was responsible for preparing the richest, most mouth-watering homemade ice creams, syrups, and toppings known to mankind,” he recalled.

In the early 1950s, Hammond worked at Wilson’s after high school, making 65 cents an hour. The drugstore was open until 5 p.m., except on Friday nights when downtown stores were open until 9 p.m.

Hammond said the soda fountain was a magnet for teens, “Wilson’s was the headquarters for weekend planning over hot fudge sundaes and gallons of cherry Coke which might involve a Wilbur H. Lynch Dance, Hi-Y party or even an excursion to Johnstown’s Saint Anthony’s church hall, where Freddy Kluett’s big band held forth with the familiar melodic strains of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, Harlem Nocturne or Take the A Train.”

Hammond wrote, “The fifties was a period when hepcats dressed for Friday night’s tour of the local establishments — the Dom, Danny’s, the Muni, and Russo’s — capping off the evening with a visit to Brownies for the best late-night hot dogs and meat sauce.”

The Dom was what the teens called the Polish club at Amsterdam’s Church and Reid streets. Danny’s was run by Danny Fariello on West Main Street. The Muni is the municipal golf course on Van Dyke Avenue.  Russo’s tavern is still in operation on West Main. Brownie’s in the early 1950s was on Reid Street.

Hammond recalled, “Joe Kowalski was one of the hippy-dippy, ala mode soda jerks working [at Wilson’s].  Joe was always sporting a stylish haircut with just a little dab will do you, combed to a perfect D.A. [Duck’s Behind] in the back. With wing-tipped cordovans and tight pegged pants, he was Amsterdam’s answer to the Fonz.”

Kowalski was wounded in the Korean War and Hammond visited him at a Boston hospital.  Later, Kowalski worked for the Veteran’s Administration and lived in Morristown, New Jersey.

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