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Historic league holds tour of the “lost ward” of Amsterdam

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The Historic Amsterdam League sponsored a guided bus tour of the Rockton area of Amsterdam last Saturday, June 7th, 2014. The emphasis of the tour was on the historic significance of the Rockton area and included such sites as the Hasenfuss Memorial, the Collettes Manufacturing site, and the Amsterdam Water Treatment Plant. The staging area was Shuttleworth Park, and by the time I arrived, Jacqueline Murphy, former Fulton County Historian, was setting up some of her hand crafted displays about the local history of the Rockton area. Jerry Snyder, President of HAL, was hanging up more displays. I spoke to him briefly about the day’s events.

I asked if there was a more ambitious attempt this year to add historical information than with previous tours.

“It was a little more ambitious from the standpoint that we did the whole pavilion thing this year, with the pictures and the displays and everything. So there was a little bit more to it. Last year, we worked with the Century Club, and we did the lunch. There was a different kind of work last year. There seems to be a little more work this year. This is the fourth time we’ve done it and I don’t know if we are just looking at the details more now,” he said.

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“It seems like, in Amsterdam, you have a never-ending artifact to look at,” I said.

“Yes. We still haven’t run out of areas to look at. There are still parts of the city we haven’t done yet,” he replied.

Tom Sorbero was there to demonstrate how to tie a weaver’s knot, so named because the carpet weavers used them to connect the next spool of yarn as the previous one ran out. “As these bobbins ran down, you have to replace them, so we had to tie that knot. When you got hired, they gave you three days to learn it before they let you work on the looms, because this is what holds the carpet together,” he said. He worked at the lower mill on Elk St. for three years before moving on to another job.

Jerry Snyder led my bus tour through the former 8th ward and before our first stop, Snyder mentioned that the South Side and Rockton were both independent villages before becoming a part of Amsterdam. Rockton was named Rock City due to an abundance of limestone deposits within its boundaries.

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“Rock City was started as a village, either in the late 1700 or early 1800’s . In the late 1880’s the name was changed to the village of Rockton. In 1901 it was annexed by the City of Amsterdam and became the 8th Ward of Amsterdam,” he said.

We stopped at the memorial to William Hasenfuss, Jr. at what is now Isabel’s field. Hasenfuss was the first Amsterdam serviceman killed in World War Two.

“He was killed by a Japanese bomb that was dropped on Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. He was working on a B-24 bomber at the time the bomb was dropped. This field was named in his honor…but years later, it was renamed to honor a Recreation Department chairman here in the city,” said Snyder.

“The building behind us is Amsterdam’s first radio station, WCSS. Bob, did you ever work there?” said Snyder to Bob Cudmore who was among the group.

“Yes, in the sixties,” said Cudmore. “It was called ‘the little red mansion on the hill.’ Obviously they changed the color.”

The tour took us down Rockton Street, where passengers chimed in with facts, filling in Snyder’s knowledge, down to Locust and finally to the Amsterdam Waterworks.

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The facility had its beginnings in 1820 with the formation of the Amsterdam Aqueduct Association, for the purpose of supplying water to the village of Amsterdam. According to Synder, the fall of 1882 was “the first time you could turn the taps on and get water from a municipal supply. The fact that Gloversville and Johnstown had theirs a couple of years ahead of Amsterdam forced them to do something,” Snyder said.

We drove down Lyon St., past Crystal Bar and what is believed to be the first stone house built in Rockton.

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We then went past the Rockton “Y” to the former District 9 School on Clizbe Avenue, which Collete’s Manufacturing bought in May 1916.

“Mr. Maxwell’s son sold this building to Collette’s, the manufacturing company. Collette’s was up here from 1916 to 1976…Collette’s Manufacturing started in 1907. Clarence Collette invented a little gadget called Mendets. Basically it’s a little metal patch. If you’ve got a hole in a pot or a pan…it’s like a large-headed screw, with a washer and a little cork gasket, and a nut, and you buy them and stick them in the hole in your pot, tighten the screw up and away you go. You don’t throw your pot away, you just repair it,” Snyder said.

Eventually, Collette’s got into sporting goods, producing baseballs and bladders for footballs. At one point they produced a million baseballs a year. In 1935 they received a patent for a process to sew baseballs by machine rather than by hand. “Eventually, they were driven out of business by foreign competition,” said Snyder. “They stopped making baseballs and started making footballs. During the Second World War, they manufactured canteen covers, cot covers, backpacks and things for the government. That continued through the fifties and the Korean War and through the Vietnam War.”

“After 1976 the company was sold twice, first to an officer of the company, then to an investment firm. In 1989 they were foreclosed on by their [financiers]. They were about $700,000 in debt. Interestingly, the company went out of business in November of ’89, but their trademark on Mendets continued to be in effect until 1992. The one little thing that made them a success actually outlived the company itself,” said Snyder.

We also stopped and toured the former Noteworthy Christmas Center, now Jubilee Fellowship Church on Forest Avenue. Pastor Harlow Gordon and his wife allowed us a chance to go inside and view the many changes they have made.

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For detailed essays and excerpts pertaining to the history of Rockton, the lost 8th Ward, the tour booklet is available from either The Old Peddler’s Wagon, or at the Book Hound Bookstore.

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(Photos by Tim Becker)

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About Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.

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