By 1917, it was clear W. Garner Bee’s plan for an upscale neighborhood just east of the city was going to succeed, perhaps beyond his expectations. It was time to build a home where he and Mary Ida would be happy for the rest of their lives.
A year later the Bees, minus their two adult children, moved into their tudor-like, terra-cotta home at 2275 Grand Blvd. in Niskayuna. A decade earlier Bee was one of 14 charter members of the Grand Boulevard Association and president of the Boulevard Home Site Company, the principal force behind the establishment of Schenectady’s first major suburb. It was, an advertising brochure stated, “A place where one can enjoy a sense of restfulness, and at the same time possess all the advantages of modern city conveniences.”
According to family lore, Bee, an attorney and architect, was lured to the area by Thomas Edison. Dave Guest Jr., who along with his wife, Kristy, purchased the building in 2004, heard that story from Garner Bee’s grandson, W. Garner Bee II.
“They were both members of some boys club in New York City, and Edison told Garner Bee how he was building his business in Schenectady and how his workers were going to need new homes,” said Guest, relating the story. “Garner Bee was evidently a very good businessman and Edison told him, ‘You have to go to Schenectady.’ All these people Edison was hiring needed places to live.”
Bee, whose parents emigrated from England to Canada, was born in Toronto in June of 1868. He married Mary Ida Jameson in 1890 and the couple moved to New York City two years later, settling in the Bronx. In 1902, the Bees and their two children, 8-year-old Minnie Ida and 4-year-old George William Clifford, took Edison’s advice and moved to Schenectady. By this time, W. Garner Bee was 34 and quite successful.
The Bees originally lived at 26 Wendell Ave. in Schenectady, then moved to 1226 Union St. in 1909 before taking up residences in some of the new houses he was building along Grand Boulevard. It was in 1904 that Bee had purchased much of the land in that area, including the Schopmeier Farm.
Changed the town
“It was the creation of that development that basically changed Niskayuna from a rural area to a suburban community,” said former Niskayuna High School history teacher and principal Frank Taormina. “Niskayuna had been the smallest town in Schenectady County in terms of population. It was the development of Grand Boulevard that initiated the growth, and then it continued to grow very rapidly.”
Under Bee’s leadership, the Grand Boulevard Association got the Schenectady Railway Company to build a trolley line in 1915, running from Nott Street near Ellis Hospital all the way up the boulevard to Van Antwerp Road. By 1916, Grand Boulevard was paved while most of the side streets were still crushed stone.
It some ways, the neighborhood was an extension of the GE Realty Plot, an even more exclusive area in the city of Schenectady created a decade earlier than Grand Boulevard.
For GE’s second tier
“The homes on Grand Boulevard weren’t inexpensive homes, but they certainly weren’t as expensive as the homes in the Realty Plot,” said Taormina. “The plot was where GE presidents and vice-presidents lived. Garner Bee was building homes for people on the next strata down, guys who were managers and engineers. They were upscale jobs and these people had some money. They weren’t the richest people, but they were far from being poor.”
The house that the Guests moved into in 2004 required a few small repairs, and the new owners refurnished the place. However, the home still retains much of the grandeur Bee must have been proud of, including a large stonework chimney and plenty of exposed timber.
“He would sit at the table in the dining room with his back to the window so he could turn around and look at his boulevard,” said Guest, relating another Garner Bee II story about his grandfather. “When they were talking about naming the road his wife said, ‘let’s call it Garner Boulevard.’ But he said, ‘no, I want something grander,’ and it clicked. It became Grand Boulevard, and Garner Avenue just down the street was named by someone else much later in honor of Garner Bee.”
Bee died on Dec. 1, 1945 at the age of 77. His wife moved out of the house two years later and died in 1952.
Connecting with past
Guest got to know Garner Bee II in 2006 when he showed up to serve as grand marshal for the Niska-Day Parade. He died in 2010 at the age of 83 but not before sharing much of his knowledge about his grandfather with Guest.
A Niskayuna High graduate and a master plumber currently serving in the Air Force Reserve, Guest says he’s happy to feel a connection with every previous owner of the house. Since moving in 10 years ago, he has not only been visited by Bee’s descendents, but also by family members of other residents of the house, including Dr. Clayton Moravec, Elie B. Arwas and Christopher Feenan. Guest’s son, also named Dave, attends nearby Van Antwerp Middle School where Bee donated four lots in 1910, allowing a major expansion project to proceed.
“The school district wanted to sell the building a while ago but Garner Bee II wouldn’t let them,” said Guest. “The problem was that when Garner Bee deeded them the land, he stated that it had to be used for educational purposes. They asked Garner Bee II for permission to sell it and he said, ‘if it was my grandfather’s wish that it remain a school, then it’s going to have to remain a school.’”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org