O’Neil’s Grocery was on the north side of Amsterdam’s East Main Street in the late 19th century, opposite the Opera House.
According to historian Hugh Donlon, Opera House patrons sometimes loaded up on discarded vegetables before curtain time and showed disapproval by hurling rotten tomatoes at performers on the stage. In his book “Annals of a Mill Town,” Donlon wrote that the hard-to-please playgoers made Amsterdam a prime spot to try out Broadway shows.
The Opera House was part of the Warner Hotel and was first called the Neff Opera House in 1882. Andrew Neff managed the facility. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was seen there, featuring a street parade with real bloodhounds. John Philip Sousa’s band played the house, as did presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and boxer John L. Sullivan. In 1887, George H. McClumpha took over management of the facility.
Amsterdam’s Morning Sentinel newspaper in 1896 described the Warner Hotel as a handsome brick and stone structure. It was on East Main Street at the corner of Walnut Street. There were 79 rooms, and the dining room could seat 100 people. The cuisine was said to equal any $2 hotel in the state.
The Warner had its own electric generator and an “electric annunciator,” described as a way to connect hotel rooms to a telephone switchboard. The hotel boasted a billiard room and a bar stocked with wine, liquor and cigars. It had three large sample rooms so commercial travelers could display their wares.
A fourth floor was added to the Warner in 1902 and its name was changed to the Amsterdam Hotel in the 1930s. Before demolition in the 1970s, part of the building was the location of Lurie’s Department Store. When Lurie’s was torn down in the 1970s, a chandelier from the Opera House was found along with theatrical posters “still glued to the stairways.”
Rockton was growing
In 1908, Amsterdam’s Rockton neighborhood was growing, according to a Board of Trade publication that year.
Carpet mill executive William McCleary and others founded the Rockton Realty Company “for the purpose of laying out and developing a large addition to the city.”
The development was within walking distance of the McCleary, Wallin and Crouse mill, which became the upper mill of Mohawk Carpets. The upper mill was destroyed by fires in the 1990s.
Building lots on new streets off Clizbe Avenue had been put up for sale in 1907, and lots worth $30,000 were sold. New streets were named for prominent figures in the carpet industry—Sanford, McCleary, McNeir, Cochrane, Sloane, Clark, Bigelow and Law.
Contractor Kuno Schotte said, “This addition is destined to be one of the most attractive parts of the city.” Schotte added that the developers were offering property on “easy terms.”
All was not good in the good old days, of course.
In 1908, Amsterdam city engineer Francis Crane reported garbage pickup and ash collection from the many coal-burning furnaces were causing complaints.
Crane said, “The ash collection by open wagon and the garbage collection by covered wagons leave much to be desired at the point of transfer from the receptacles to the wagons in the street. It is here that our citizens are subject to a shower of dust or a wave of bad odor, and it is from this feature that most complaints arise.”
Crane also reported on health problems in Amsterdam in 1908, including 216 cases of contagious diseases, a fourfold increase in one year.
The greatest increase was in diphtheria.
“In neither of the hospitals in our city is there a ward for patients suffering from contagious disease,” Crane said.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.