SCHENECTADY – Schenectady’s long and fascinating past will be looked at from a variety of different perspectives this month when the Local History Series begins Monday at noon in the McChesney Room at the Karen B. Johnson Library.
City historian Chris Leonard will open the series with a presentation on various landmark legal cases in Schenectady’s history. On Nov. 21, county historian Bill Buell will sit down for a conversation with former WGY-Radio personality Bob Cudmore, and on Nov. 28 Buell will interview town of Rotterdam historian Jim Schaefer. Buell will conclude the series on Dec. 5 with a presentation on Schenectady during the 1920s. Each program will run about an hour.
Leonard, who was appointed city historian in February of 2018, will tell the story of Meeuwes Pitersz, a Schenectady resident who was arrested for working on the sabbath in 1668. Other topics will include the fur trade in the Albany and Schenectady area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the story of Morton Sobell, a former General Electric employee and Schenectady native who was arrested for his involvement in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy case during the Red Scare of the 1950s.
A native of Hamden, Connecticut and a graduate of the University at Albany, Leonard also serves as the historian for the GE Realty Plot.
Cudmore, an Amsterdam native and long-time Glenville resident, began his radio career at WCSS in Amsterdam in 1962 while still in high school. While a student at Boston University, he was on the air at the college radio station when president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. He also worked as a reporter and morning anchor at WBEC in Pittsfield from 1968-1980 before moving to WGY in Schenectady.
His popular night-time talk show, “Contact,” aired on WGY from 1980 to 1993, and he also served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years in the Department of Communications at The College of Saint Rose.
Cudmore has been involved in producing television documentaries, has authored four books on local history and continues to host a podcast on local history called “The Historians.” His voice was also heard on Amsterdam radio station WVTL from 2004-2014, and he produces a weekly column for the Daily Gazette, “Focus on History.”
Schaefer, who was appointed the town historian for Rotterdam in January of 2020, is the son of former GE atmospheric scientist Vincent Schaefer and the nephew of master home builder Paul Schaefer. The brothers were long-time advocates for the Adirondacks and were also instrumental in the formation of the Mohawk Hiking Club and the Schenectady Wintersports Club.
Jim Schaefer grew up in Rotterdam, went to Christian Brothers Academy and then headed west to the University of Montana where he got a degree in anthropology. Schaefer, who went on to get a masters and doctorate in cultural anthropology at SUNY-Buffalo, taught that subject at the University of Montana, University of Minnesota and Union College. He also had a long career at SUNY Central, creating abuse prevention programs. He and his wife, Kim, currently run an estate sale business.
Buell, a long-time reporter with the Daily Gazette before being appointed county historian in May of 2019, will conclude the series with his presentation on Schenectady in the 1920s.
A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate who got a history degree from the University at Albany, Buell will talk about Schenectady’s changing scene in the 1920s, including the creation of the Western Gateway Bridge, the Hotel Van Curler and Proctors.