FOCUS ON HISTORY: The good old days?


The Chamber of Commerce published a booklet of essays submitted by local people for a city improvement contest in 1946 called “What I Don’t Like About Amsterdam.”

Few of us today actually remember 1946, but many who grew up in Amsterdam after World War II would probably regard that postwar year of 1946 as part of the good old days. 

The carpet mills, other Amsterdam factories and businesses were still thriving.  Downtown was busy.  People enjoyed bowling, softball and other amateur sports.  The war had ended.

Nonetheless Charles H. Schenck, Chamber Executive Secretary, said the essays submitted in the contest cited multiple complaints.

A lack of recreational facilities was mentioned in 230 essays.  The poor condition of streets was cited in 177 entries.  There were 139 ash and garbage collection complaints.  Seventy nine people wrote Amsterdam had too many bars and deplored the sale of alcohol to minors.  Some essays called for more hotel accommodations, transportation and theatrical facilities.

A numbering system enabled the Chamber judges to anonymously award cash prizes to individuals whose essays were deemed the best among the 850 entries.  The judges were also anonymous.

“We are quick to criticize those who make an honest effort to do something,” wrote the first prize winner, who was awarded $40.

Forty dollars in 1946 would translate into over $500 today because of inflation, making it a rather substantial prize.

The winning writer continued, “Misguided leadership has done a lot to put nationalism above civic responsibility and has tended to build up group interest with selfish motives.  We are all Americans and we should work together.”

The second place essay was awarded $20 and called for Sunday evening services in the churches and an end to competition among local veterans groups. The writer suggested city employees only get 10 days in sick leave each year, that the city buy sidewalk snow plows and that the proposed athletic field near the Lynch School be designated a World War II memorial.

The Recorder announced the conclusion of the contest on March 26, “The project to secure a self-portrait of Amsterdam by her own residents was started about one month ago when blanks were distributed through the public schools and mercantile establishments of the city.

“In expression of approximately 100 words, men, women and children were invited to say what they think about the city and its weak points.” 

The third place finisher, who was awarded $10, suggested a waste disposal system so that sewage would no longer be dumped into the Mohawk River.  The writer also called for beautification of the riverfront.

Here are more critiques from 1946:

“I don’t like the taste of city water. It has too much chlorine in it.  They admit the water looks bad and tastes bad but say it’s harmless.  It should be—the way it’s been drugged.”

“Amsterdam should have a curfew law for children up to 16 years, and it should be enforced, even if it means bringing parents into court.”

“The streets are a hodge-podge of houses, dinky little stores (often empty), gas stations, vacant lots (used as dumping grounds) and unoccupied buildings with broken windows.”

 “The characters that clutter up the streets in front of some of the downtown cigar stores are no ad for the police department.”

“Amsterdam needs a sort of night club just for us kids, with special attractions by kids who can sing, dance, play an instrument or perform.”

And a final complaint from over 75 years ago, “Have another contest entitled ‘What I do like about Amsterdam’ and limit the answers to one word. Mine would be ‘Nothing!’”

Categories: Opinion

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