For the second quarter of the 19th century, American turned left at Troy and floated west toward Buffalo,Cleveland, and the frontier beyond. As the Erie Canal lowered the price of freight from $100 to $10 per ton, manufacturing towns grew up along the canal, and prospered even as the railroad lines that paralleled the canal drained away its business.

The easternmost stretch of the canal strung together industrial towns, each of which evolved into a national center for producing a particular product. In their time, these towns sported all the trappings of success, from mansions to "opera houses" to neat blocks of two flat houses with wide porches to "scientific" red brick mills shown on postcards.

But in time, the industrial revolution which made these towns humbled them. Far from developing markets and losing competitive advantage as cheaply-transmitted electricity replaced water power, these towns began to fade as early as the 1920s, took a body blow from the depression, and absorbed 50 years' pummeling during the post-World War II decline of the rust belt.

What's left of all the grandeur today? Actually a great deal, beneath the tarnish. But you have to look fast...

Gloversville abuts the canal town of Amsterdam. Adirondack deerskin and tamarack bark once made Gloversville the national center of the industry which provided its name. In the early 1900s, when young Sam Goldwyn was rising from cutter to become the greatest glove drummer in the town's history, wealth from the "skin trade" supported a network of trolley car amusement parks and an opera house called "The Glove". But the town faded after the lowering of tariffs on foreign competitors in the late 1920s.

Recently a state grant paid for a first class restoration of The Glove. But the more common fate of buildings from Gloversville's heyday is that of the plain but substantial workingman's house above. In August, 2002, it was one of four circa 1900 downtown houses demolished for (of course) a parking lot. Before that, it had stored used appliances.

Gloversville at work, circa 1910.

The nine miles from Amsterdam to Schenectady was once an afternoon's journey by canalboat. But, by the 1920s, it took just 25 minutes to ride the trolley from the Carpet City to the Electric City. In 1920, Schenectady was a near-metropolis of 90,000, with a diversified industrial base including the General Electric Works that employed 20,000 workers and the ALCO plant that built over 30,000 locamotives. The city was a technology center; in 1928, the site of the first television broadcast to combine picture and sound. State Street was a boulevard of department stores and theatres that drew crowds from across the Capital District. But by the 1970s, much of the industry left town.

By 2000, the State Street shopping district was named one of the most imperiled historic neighborhoods in New York State. The Hough Block at State and Erie started life as a fashionable hotel with fancy shops at street level. One hundred years later, the glamor was gone, but the building still served as office space until shortly before this picture was taken in July, 2001. A few days later, its corner lot became a pit.

Troy's earliest claim to fame was being the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal. The city made paper boats, pre-fabricated cast-iron building facades, and the first Bessemer furnace steel in the United States. But the industrial nickname that is immortalized in the name of its Hudson River bridge is "The Collar City". The detachable collar and cuff, fashion necessities in the day when a shirt couldn't easily be washed after each wearing, were invented here and, in the 1890s, when almost 15,000 Trojans were turning them out, the city dominated the world market. But this proved just an early chapter of an old story. Detachable collars went the way of deerskin dress gloves and today the industry, like the iron foundry trade, is extinct in the city.

These stylish flats stood on Sixth Avenue and Jay Street, an area with many vacant storefronts and row houses just north of the Collar City Bridge. The white square on the boarded windows was a placard reading "All buildings are created equal", suggesting that these buildings had an anonymous guardian angel. But in 2006, they were suddenly replaced by a grassy lot.


I invite anyone with a Mohawk Valley/Tri-cities area building photo to send me a scan and the story behind the picture. I know that these towns have a less dilapidated side, but I prefer structures that are vacant, abandoned, distressed, imperiled. or just desperately in need of love.

My e-mail address is psefton@crosslink.net