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Schenectady's train station clocks (new and old) have their own story to tell

Schenectady's train station clocks (new and old) have their own story to tell

New clocks part of Amtrak station under construction
Schenectady's train station clocks (new and old) have their own story to tell
The new clock at the Amtrak station under construction in Schenectady is pictured.
Photographer: Photo courtesy of David Giacalone

SCHENECTADY -- The city's new train station is starting to look like its old self, and that's the general idea.

A 6-foot clock added to the facade of the building earlier this month immediately evoked memories of the old Union Station, at least for those old enough to remember the structure before it closed in June of 1969 and was then demolished in July of 1971.

"A large traditional clock is featured prominently on the new station exterior, and another is featured over the station concourse," said Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani, who said construction is expected to be done by November. "The inclusion of both clocks, as well as their classic look, were inspired by aesthetics of the 1910 Union Station, which also featured proportionally placed, traditional clocks."

Construction of the original Union Station began in 1908, and the building dominated the downtown landscape for 60 years. While the new building, which will also be called Union Station, will have two large clocks, the original had four. There were two 6-foot-diameter clocks on the north and sound exteriors of the building, and there were two smaller pieces -- about 3 feet in diameter -- inside the structure. What happened to those four historic items, all of them double-faced, is an interesting story in itself, and a large part of that history is unknown.

Fortunately, when the building was demolished in 1971, two years after the last ticket was sold, not every item was left in the rubble. One of the large exterior clocks was moved to the Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church on Lake Hill Road, where it was placed in the tower of that 170-year-old building.

"The clock currently isn't working, but I have some guys looking into it," said the Rev. Gabriel Morrow, pastor at Calvary Episcopal. "Also, one of the hands on the east side was partially blown off, so it needs a little attention. It hasn't been a top priority, but over the next couple of years, we may do a major rehab of the whole bell tower."

Joyce Barrett came to the church in 1968 when her husband, the Rev. Richard Barrett, took over as pastor. Rev. Barrett died in 2003.

"I was working as a nurse with three little kids on my hands, so I was pretty busy back then," said Joyce Barrett, who now lives in Canajoharie. "I don't remember much about it, but I do remember that it happened and how excited everyone was. They were all talking about how they got the clock out of the train station and put it in the church tower. I also remember that The Gazette took a picture of it with my husband looking up at the clock."

Marjorie Hobday's 1999 book on the history of the church, "A History of Calvary," mentions the clock coming from the station in Schenectady.

"The tower clock, acquired through the efforts of Father Cartmell and Father Barrett, includes the clockworks from the demolished Union Railroad Station in Schenectady," wrote Hobday. "The face of the clock spans a full 6 feet."

While the whereabouts of the other large clock at Union Station is unknown, we do know a little something about the two clocks that were inside the building. One of them, at least one side anyway, is in Schenectady City Hall on the wall above the law offices. Former Schenectady Mayor Al Jurczynski thinks he knows the provenance of that clock, although he says he can't be sure. But what he's heard is a story familiar to many other city officials.

"Fred Bartz had been a finance director and had retired in 1995 but was still sticking around to help me in my first term," said Jurczynski, who was mayor from 1996-2003. "He had a penchant for little pet projects, and he found one of the clocks in a warehouse in downtown Schenectady. He had it refurbished, I think at his own expense, and he wanted to make sure it didn't get lost again. I think that's the clock that hangs in City Hall now."

In March of 1999 however, Maureen Gebert, then coordinator of the Schenectady Heritage Area, visited a train yard in the town of Bethlehem with three other city officials to inspect an abandoned railroad car with some Schenectady items in it. What they found was one of the three-foot clocks that used to be inside Union Station, and her story doesn't quite jive with Jurczynski's.

"Trusto paid to have it restored, and Troy Neon did the work and managed to find original hardware to make it functional," remembered Gebert. "It was supposed to go into the new train station, but the station kept getting delayed. Since there was no train station to put it in, the city hung one half on the third floor over the entrance to the law department where it still hangs. The other half stayed at Troy Neon."

Which clock actually hangs inside City Hall and which one has been lost we can't say. And what happened to the other half of the two-sided clock that is hanging in City Hall? Gebert thinks it might be in the Hudson Valley area somewhere, but she says she's only guessing. The Troy Neon business she mentioned was sold quite a while ago to the Saxton Sign Company, now located in Castleton-on-Hudson. A person in the office there said no one had any recollection of the clock, and that Michael Kellogg, the former owner of Troy Neon who dealt with Gebert, passed away years ago.

Chris Hunter, senior archivist at miSci, said he remembers the museum storing one of the 3-foot clocks for a time, along with a few other items from the original station, such as old ticket grates. But he said they were returned to the city years ago.

So, while many questions remain, at least the history of the clock in the Burnt Hills church tower seems sound. Or does it? Rev. Morrow says he has a few questions of his own.

"I'm the new kid here," said Morrow, who arrived at Calvary Episcopal less than a year ago. "But I wonder about the clock tower. You look at the face of the clock, and it looks like it's part of the tower -- like it was painted on. Did we get the inner clock workings and maybe not the clock face? I don't know, but we certainly got something from the Schenectady station back in 1969. A lot of people have passed, and people who are alive don't remember too many of the details, but they remember all the excitement about it."

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