Focus on History: Amsterdam Christmas memories


Amsterdam retail sales records were broken in the 1902 Christmas shopping season.  Receipts were up for department stores, dry goods and clothing. Merchants reported a week’s worth of banner shopping days leading up to Christmas. 

So many packages and letters crowded the post office, then at East Main and Church streets, that employees had problems finding places to stand to do their jobs.

On Christmas day in 1902, the Salvation Army fed 500 people.  Amsterdam Recorder newspaper carrier boys were guests of the publisher Christmas afternoon, seeing the melodrama “A Hidden Crime” at the East Main Street opera house.

While the boisterous boys aroused attention before the play started, the newspaper reported the lads settled down to watch the show, “The hearts of the auditors kept going bumpety-bump through the nearly three hours of the play.”

In 1918, 70 soldiers from an Army truck train were entertained at Christmas dinner at the YMCA in Amsterdam by the Red Cross. In 1920, Amsterdam Police enjoyed a Christmas tree and supper at police headquarters. 

The Sassafras Bird Sanctuary opened in 1931 and was a popular spot. In the winter, children of New East Main Street School prepared a Christmas tree for the Sassafras with food for the birds.

One of the sights in Amsterdam during the heyday of carpet manufacturing was the lighted outline of a Christmas tree on the front of the Clock Building on Prospect Street, then headquarters of Bigelow-Sanford carpets.

Amsterdam had a Christmas parade on Nov. 22, 1947 featuring a large balloon train. The parade was covered in the Mohawk Carpets employees’ publication, Tomohawk.

A picture shows a large crowd spilling onto East Main Street to get a view as the engine of the balloon train passed in front of Lindsay’s Shoes. It looks as if the train barely cleared the Christmas decorations hung across the street. The parade began at what was Coessens Park in the East End and traveled down East and West Main streets.

Santa arrived by helicopter at the parking lot behind Lurie’s Department Store in downtown Amsterdam on December 6, 1958.

Santa proceeded on an armored personnel carrier (on loan from the National Guard) to Coessens Park.

A Christmas village had been built at the park and Santa took up residence for three weeks in his workshop as part of Amsterdam’s Christmas Festival.

Mayor Thomas F. Gregg said a Christmas Festival was one of his dreams to boost the reputation of Amsterdam. Gregg operated a butcher shop on Railroad Street downtown. A Democrat, he was mayor for one, two-year term in 1958-59.

Attractions in the festival included a life-size 15-piece Nativity scene. A miniature fire truck from Boston gave rides to children. There was a cafeteria with refreshments and Santa’s reindeer were on display.

The reindeer were eight English fallow deer rented from Catskill Game Farm. The game farm also provided six llamas, eight sheep and several donkeys. Closed in 2006, Catskill Game Farm was one of the biggest private zoos in America.

A large organ operated by an animated Santa Claus played holiday music at the festival.

The next year, 1959, Coessens Park apparently featured some holiday decorations installed by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. But there was no Christmas Festival in 1959, nor in subsequent years. Mayor Gregg died in 1960.

A large lighted sign proclaimed “Seasons Greetings” during the 1958 festival. Jerry Snyder of Historic Amsterdam League said the sign was found in the carriage house at City Hall on Church Street.

The sign was refurbished and has been displayed outside City Hall in recent years.

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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