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What you need to know for 08/23/2017

Discover Downtown: Edison Plaza was home of fire department in 1929

Discover Downtown: Edison Plaza was home of fire department in 1929

On May 1, 1929, the Schenectady Fire Department opened its new headquarters at 155 Erie Blvd., givin
Discover Downtown: Edison Plaza was home of fire department in 1929
This photograph of the central fire station, now Edison Plaza, was taken shortly after the building was opened on Erie Boulevard in 1929. (Schenectady County Historical Society)

On May 1, 1929, the Schenectady Fire Department opened its new headquarters at 155 Erie Blvd., giving the “city that lights and hauls the world” a new central fire station worthy of its nickname.

Edison Plaza, as it is now called, is no longer connected to the fire department, but the majestic building and its intriguing facade clearly remind passers-by of its historic past.

“The owners did a lot of renovations back in 1986, and we also had to do some work when we bought the place,” said Chris Spraragen, whose family company, Schenectady Hardware and Electric Co., bought the building in foreclosure in 1998. “You can tell it was a historic building, and it still looks a lot like it did when they first built it.”

Professional department

Schenectady’s firefighters had been working as an organized volunteer force since before the Civil War, but on Jan. 1, 1900, Chief Henry R. Yates became head of the city’s first professional department with eight full-time paid employees. There was also one horse-drawn wagon, one horse, a steam fire engine, one hook-and-ladder truck, and five hand-drawn carts.

The first central station house was on State Street opposite Veterans Park. When that site was deemed too small, the city built a much bigger building at 155 Erie Blvd., and by May 1, 1929, it was ready to go. The structure, built in the Georgian style, consisted of three floors and a basement, and was marked by five arched doorways that are still clearly visible but have been replaced by windows where Schenectady Hardware and Electric has its office space.

“It’s a classic building that represents Schenectady at the height of its prowess,” said Dr. Lyle Barlyn, a retired Schenectady physician and contributor to Carl Derwig’s 1982 book “The History of the Schenectady Fire Department. “The Depression hadn’t hit yet, and Schenectady was a wealthy town. It was an elegant town, and that building is still certainly an elegant building.”

Barlyn said Schenectady’s firefighters would have been equipped with the newest technology of the day, including LaFrance fire trucks.

“They would have had the American LaFrance trucks at that time, and they also would have had the best equipment available during World War II,” he said. “Schenectady was an essential area because of GE and ALCO, so they would have had the privilege of buying the newest trucks during the war.”

The station remained open through the 1960s and well into the 1970s. Itwas replaced by the Veeder Avenue facility when that station opened on July 15, 1981. The Niagara-Mohawk Power Corp. moved into the facility in the 1980s and remained there until 1995.

Schenectady Hardware and Electric moved in soon after buying the building in 1998. That business had been started back in 1923 on Albany Street by Benjamin Spraragen, Chris’ great-grandfather. Although that area of Erie Boulevard is currently undergoing plenty of construction, Spraragen said his family is happy with the location. The building has three other tenants and Spraragen is looking for more.

“We love being downtown, and we love the view we get from the top of our roof,” he said. “We just have to be patient with the construction. It’s going to look much better, it’s going to benefit the city, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

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