Saturday, September 23, 2023

Still Here

In view of Google's announced policy to delete inactive blogs under some circumstances (more information), this is merely a reminder that I'm still here.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Greeting from Lockport

This Rotograph, number G 5632, is similar to the company's C 5630a, which I included in an earlier post about the Erie Canal. It shows a cascade of five locks on the canal in the aptly named Lockport, New York. Wheatlet, advertised at left, was a cereal manufactured by the Franklin Mills Co., which was based in Lockport.

The card was addressed to a Mr. Edwin W. Scott at 33 Elberon Place, Albany, New York, and the "Papa Will" referred to in the message was probably William M. Scott, a watchmaker who resided at that address in 1901 according to an Albany city directory. The Lester Greff (and Mary) mentioned may be the same couple who feature in legal documents regarding an ugly probate dispute adjudicated by the New York Supreme Court (Appellate Division, Third Department) in 1947. The decedent was Joseph Charles Greff of Albany, who had been judged "insane" and committed to the State Mental Institution, where he married a nurse. Lester Greff contended that his father had not been "of sound mind" at the time of his will, which established the wife, Ella Havens Greff, as his sole legatee.

If Edwin Scott was a relatively young child when this card was mailed, he may be the Edwin W. Scott whose automobile was struck by a trolley car in 1922, and who subsequently sued the trolley company (the United Traction Company) in a case heard before the same Appellate Division court. That Edwin Scott was twenty-two at the time of the accident, and thus would have been born around 1900.

The sender and date of mailing are unknown.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Recent updates

I haven't created any new posts so far this year, but I've added the above closeup of Plymouth Rock to "Monumenta America," and the image of Gallows Hill below to the post on Salem.

Friday, September 9, 2016

High Rock

Rotograph's scenic view cards don't typically emphasize recognizable human figures, although they occasionally include a few for scale or as an indication of local color. If nothing else, to the extent that these postcards were intended as evidence of having visited a landmark, it might have been considered distracting to have other people depicted in one's souvenirs. This view of Sacandaga Park in the Adirondacks is a bit of an exception. Its aesthetic is more reminiscent of the Real Photo postcards that amateur photographers captured of their own family and friends, except that the group in this case is made up of people who were strangers to the sender and recipient. Perhaps the photographer just liked the composition.

The geological feature shown here lent its name to a popular inn, the High Rock Lodge. Donald R. Williams provides the lodge's history in his book Adirondack Hotels and Inns:
High Rock Lodge owed its popularity to the Sacandaga Amusement Park, the "Coney Island of the Adirondacks." Built on a hillside overlooking the park, it attracted hikers, tourists, parkgoers, and entertainers over its 50-year history. The lodge, operating as a farmhouse inn, was built in 1901 by James Hull for Reuben D. Buckingham. The large rock... located on the site, became a popular hiking destination for the thousands who came to enjoy the Sacandaga Park attractions. In 1940, Ashley and Mildred Dawes purchased the three-story, 54-room hostelry and operated it as a summer lodge and cottages, along with a restaurant. It burned on August 22, 1951.
This particular copy was mailed in 1905 to a Rural Delivery address in Olean, NY.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


The photographer who captured this image of the intersection of Ann and Nassau Streets in lower Manhattan managed to include a wealth of detail in the frame, from the advertisement for the "Oak Rooms" of the clothier Cohen & Co. to the ornate column surmounted by an eagle, the newsboy on the corner, and the whole bustle of signs, pedestrians, and horse-drawn carts.

This was a long-established commercial neighborhood, favored by the printing and publishing trades from the late 18th century on. In the 1840s the Evening Mirror, to which Poe contributed "The Raven" and much else besides, was published at the address of the building at left. Later in the century Peck & Snyder operated a thriving business selling baseballs and other sporting goods from this block of Nassau, until they were bought out by A. G. Spaulding. There's a sign advertising sporting goods in this postcard (it's on the right side of Nassau Street, below the one advertising "Artists Materials"), but I haven't been able to determine if it was a successor to the earlier business.

My copy of this card was mailed to a Mrs. Moses Benn of Houlton, Maine, a town along the New Brunswick border that at the time was home to some 5,000 people. The inscription, in pencil, reads:
Dear Aunt Lottie; We are on our way home. Now sitting in Grand Central Station N. Y. waiting for train. [Illegible] received your letter. We were so glad to hear. — G. G. — Will write later.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Watkins Glen

Here's how Bradford Van Diver, in Roadside Geology of New York, describes Watkins Glen in western New York State:
This is the best known of the Finger Lakes glens and certainly one of the most beautiful places in Eastern North America. Here, Glen Creek has cut a deep and unusually narrow gorge into the thin-bedded Enfield siltstones and shales belonging to the late Devonian Sonyea group that overlies the Genesee group. Because of the relatively uniform resistance of the rocks to erosion, the gorge does not have large falls... The stream twists and turns in a tortuous manner, leaving overhanging walls where meanders have drifted sideways as they cut rapidly downward.
The unnumbered Rotograph postcard at the top of this post shows an evocative (if not quite convincingly colored) view of the gorge, but the one below (5082 a.) may be of special interest for the postcard historian. Depicting a feature called "the Card-Rack," it appears to document a practice of leaving postcards and letters at a selected location in the glen.

Were these missives votive offerings, or love charms like the locks on Paris's Pont des Arts, or just mementos recording that "So-and-so was here"? I haven't been able to find any other record of the practice or when it was discontinued; I suspect that park authorities would frown on it today. Any information would be appreciated.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The German Hostelries of Battery Place

The two Rotographs on this page date from around 1905, but the architecture seen in them echoes backwards and forwards across a span of Manhattan history at least 160 years in duration. Walter B. Chambers's 1882 Washington Building (the red structure above) still stands along Battery Place between Broadway and Greenwich Street, though it has been greatly modified and is now known as the International Mercantile Marine Company Building or as One Broadway. The Bowling Green Building, which dates from the 1890s and was formerly associated with the White Star Line, is likewise still extent; its address is 11 Broadway.

On the other hand, the three low buildings to the left of the Washington Building, two of which can be seen more clearly in the card below, are long gone, as are, of course, the elevated railway tracks and station seen in the background. (I'm not quite sure why the Bowling Green Building is not visible from this angle.)

Those three buildings can be dated to at least 1853, when they were captured by Victor Prevost in one of the earliest photographic city views of Manhattan, shown below. They stand on the right side, clustered in front of the steeple of Trinity Church.

It's possible that the buildings even predate the great fires of 1835 and 1845, which destroyed much of what is now lower Manhattan but seem to have skirted Battery Place. In any case, in the early years of the 20th century the tallest of the three was Reinhardt's Hotel, an establishment that appears to have catered to the city's large German immigrant community. It was already Reinhardt's in 1879, when the New York Times recorded the suicide in his room of one Albert Sattler, 45, a recent immigrant from Coln (that is, Cologne). The building to its immediate left was the Battery Park Concert Garden, which also may have catered to Germans, while the third building (only partly visible in the second postcard) was the Lion Brewery. The roughly contemporary images below show greater detail, including the doorway of an Exchange Office with a German inscription.

The three buildings were still standing at least as late as 1930 (below), but they looked a bit the worse for wear. They were apparently demolished around 1947.

Sources: Scouting New York has a nicely illustrated post about One Broadway. The German-language blog New York - History - Geschichte has a long (but somewhat difficult to navigate — scroll down to Part 3) article on "The Lost Houses of Battery Place," from which several of the above images were taken. The melancholy account of the death of Albert Sattler can be found in the New York Times of May 3, 1879.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Mission

This Rotograph depicts Manhattan's Five Points Mission, founded in 1853 just off the complex intersection that gave its name to one of the city's most notorious slums. It does not, however, show the original mission building, which itself had been constructed on the footprint of the squalid Old Brewery tenement that the Police Gazette once proclaimed "the wickedest house on the wickedest street that ever existed in New York, yes, and in all the country and possibly all the world."

Standing across from a tiny triangular plot of land called Paradise Square (later Paradise Park), the Old Brewery, true to is name, had been a working brewery until around 1837. It served as a tenement for only about fifteen years, but that was long enough for it to establish a reputation as a warren of depravity like no other. Tyler Anbinder, the author of the definitive book on the Five Points neighborhood, is understandably skeptical of some of the more lurid accounts of the building, such as Herbert Asbury's "ridiculous" contention that an average of one murder a night occurred there throughout its occupancy, but the important point is that contemporary New Yorkers — or at least some of them — regarded it as an intolerable carbuncle on the body politic. It was demolished in 1852 at the instigation of the New-York Ladies' Home Missionary Society, a Methodist organization that seemed to be at least as interested in converting the Catholic heathen of the neighborhood to Protestantism as it was in helping the poor, and replaced with a four-story complex (shown below) that included a chapel, a parsonage, school rooms, and apartments.

The Five Points Mission remained active throughout the second half of the 19th century, hosting an elaborate annual Thanksgiving dinner for the local poor, but it eventually outgrew its building, which was torn down in 1894 and replaced with the more expansive structure shown in the postcard, which was designed to incorporate, among other things, a choir loft that could accommodate 150 and enough classroom space for 900 children. It would serve its purpose for only one generation, however, before succumbing to the wrecker's ball in 1915 in order to make way for New York City's Civic Center district, which largely obliterated the original topography of the Five Points.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Washington Bridge

Not to be confused with the more famous George Washington Bridge, this older structure, which spans the Harlem River, was opened in 1888 and still stands. The postcard was mailed on August 9, 1907 to Miss Georgia Pratt in Essex, Connecticut.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

American Holiday Postcards

McFarland & Company in North Carolina has just published Daniel Gifford's American Holiday Postcards, 1905-1915: Imagery and Context, which promises to be an invaluable resource for the study of the production and dissemination of postcards during the Golden Age. I have drawn on Gifford's related doctoral dissertation as background material for this project. The book can be ordered from independent booksellers, from the usual sources, or directly from McFarland.