Cudmore: Fourth of July through the years

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Horses owned by carpet maker Stephen Sanford of Amsterdam became fixtures at the nearby Saratoga racetrack in the late 1800s. From 1903 through 1907, the Sanfords invited the people of Amsterdam to the Matinee Races at the family’s Hurricana Farm on the Sunday closest to Fourth of July. Some 15,000 attended the event during its last year.

“I read in the papers about General Sanford, the sporting man,” Stephen Sanford told a reporter in 1906. “I never presumed to be a sporting man, but I am proud of it. Call me a sporting man if you like.”

FOURTH OF JULY TRAGEDY

A steep grade, human error and a wet night contributed to an appalling accident on the Mountain Lake Electric Railroad near Gloversville on July 4, 1902.

Fourteen people died and sixty were injured. Most victims were Gloversville excursionists who had traveled up Bleecker Mountain to Mountain Lake for a day of fun capped by fireworks. The lake had a resort hotel.
Two trolleys, an open car and a heavier enclosed vehicle, collided. Both trolleys hurtled down the tracks on the steep hill. Brakes were applied to no avail. One car was put into reverse. That blew circuit breakers plunging both cars into darkness.

People jumped from the open trolley car as it left the tracks. Others were thrown beneath the car as it landed on its side. As the rails separated the larger trolley also left the tracks but remained upright.
Thrown from one of the cars, 17-year old F. Willi Berghoff ran up the hill and stopped the next car coming down the mountain by shouting and waving his hat.

It took two hours before power was restored and help arrived. Victims were taken to Nathan Littauer Hospital by trolley car. 

The Mountain Lake Electric Railroad had opened in 1901. After the accident, lawsuits bankrupted the company and it was reorganized as Adirondack Lakes Traction. The Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad then bought the company.

The hotel at Mountain Lake was destroyed by fire in 1908. The trolley line closed in 1918.

According to historian Jerry Snyder, a railroad history group went up the route some years ago. Members found brackets used to hold overhead wire supports after all these years.

CONEY ISLAND NORTH

The Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad’s Sacandaga Park lasted much longer than Mountain Lake,
The heyday of that amusement facility near Northville was 1902 to 1920. Nicknamed Coney Island North, the park featured a golf course, bowling alleys, midway, donkey and pony rides, roller coaster, Kinescope Theater, water rides, miniature train rides, boats, swimming and a carousel.

John Philip Sousa played Sacandaga Park as did Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and W.C. Fields. Baseball teams from Johnstown, Amsterdam and Gloversville drew crowds to the park’s Sport Island.

The amusement park was torn down in 1930, when the area was flooded to create the flood mitigation reservoir today called Great Sacandaga Lake. The carousel was moved to a museum called Shelburne Village, Vermont.

MUSIC AND TRAINS

Summertime in the 1940s in Amsterdam meant concerts by Mohawk Mills Band, formed mainly from employees of the carpet mill and directed by Frank Musolff or his brother Harry.

The band played the overture to “Oklahoma” one year and had the tune down pat. A long freight train rumbled by making it impossible for the musicians to hear each other. When the train passed, the trumpets had finished but the trombones were still playing.

The rumble of passing trains also affected concerts this century at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam. Concerts are not being held this year because of the pandemic.

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