Amsterdam’s 150th birthday celebration — or sesquicentennial — was a joyous and raucous event that took place at the beginning of the end of the city’s reign as one of the nation’s top carpet-manufacturing centers.
Bigelow-Sanford, one of two carpet makers in Amsterdam in 1954, sponsored a “flying carpet” float in the 150th anniversary parade. The next year the “flying carpet” became all too real. Bigelow-Sanford announced it was moving out of town.
The anniversary commemorated by the 1954 celebration was a meeting that may have taken place in 1804 changing the name of the settlement at the confluence of the North Chuctanunda Creek and Mohawk River from Veddersburg to Amsterdam. In about 1783, Revolutionary War veteran Albert Vedder had built a gristmill in what at first was called Vedder’s Mills then Veddersburg.
Historian Hugh Donlon in “Annals of a Mill Town” said he did not know the exact date of the name-changing meeting. Donlon said the meeting took place sometime between 1804 and 1809. Adding more confusion, the city celebrated its 100th birthday in 1910. The celebrations that followed the 1954 sesquicentennial have stuck to that festival’s arithmetic. Amsterdam observed its 175th anniversary in 1979 and its bicentennial parade was in 2004.
The 1954 festivities were based at local taverns and social clubs, which had chapters of the Brothers of the Brush (who did not shave) and Sisters of the Swish (who wore long dresses). Harriet DePaulo was chairwoman of the Sisters citywide and the chairman of the Brothers was Clement Ciulik.
In May, Mayor Burtiss Deal ordered men to grow enough facial hair to be seen at eight paces. Deal forbade women from using cosmetics unless they purchased membership certificates that cost one dollar.
In his history book “Past and Present” Tony Pacelli wrote, “If any member broke a rule such as shaving or change of costume, they went before a judge and jury and were fined. I recall a friend of mine was to buy a keg of ale, another bought candy for the youngsters.”
Buckman’s Dairy donated a milk wagon to the Lying Brothers of the Brush chapter at Louie Grum’s Grill on Park Hill. The horse-drawn wagon was outfitted with broom handles for bars. Named “The Marauder,” the wagon toured the city looking for Brothers or Sisters who broke the rules.
Dorothy Wozniak was chosen Miss Amsterdam Sesquicentennial and Nancy O’Meara was selected as Miss Mohawk Valley by popular vote. Wozniak lived at 6 Crane St. and worked at the offices of Mohawk Carpet Mills. O’Meara was a native of Ireland. When Sesqui Week got under way Friday, July 2, the queens and their courts cut slices of a huge birthday cake in a noon ceremony.
That night at Mohawk Mills Park, today’s Shuttleworth Park, the queens were crowned and the amplified voice of Amsterdam native and movie star Kirk Douglas was heard calling by telephone from Hollywood to congratulate them. There were fireworks at the park that night and for six more nights.
On Saturday night, Rogers Producing Company and director Harry Miller staged a 700-person dramatic and historical spectacle called “Horizons” to tell what it called “the Amsterdam story.” “Horizons” ran for six nights at Mohawk Mills Park.
Ten divisions marched in a huge parade Monday, July 5, led by grand marshal and sesquicentennial chairman Joseph A. Janeski. Hugh Donlon, writing in the Recorder, called the parade “the longest and most colorful in city history.” Donlon reported, “It was the parade of parades that the youngsters will be telling their descendants about for years to come.”
The Vail Mills Drive-in float featuring young women in bikinis was a crowd favorite.