Posts Tagged Schenectady

The Mysterious Cherubs…

Cherub in the right hand corner of the painting of Ella and Charles

Staurring Family

In the dining room there are two paintings of Staurring family. The first painting is of Clarinda Dygert Staurring. The second painting is of her two children; Ella and Charles. In the second painting two small cherubs were painted below the portraits of Ella and Charles, this has always raised questions from visitors about whether the cherubs represented other childrenin the Staurring family that passed away or even if the painting was a memorial to Ella and Charles. Past guides thought that the cherubs indicated one of these scenarios. Ella and Charles both lived to be adults but there were other children in the family who either died young or there is no record of after their birth so there may be some truth to the cherubs depicting other family members.

Although no conclusive evidence could be found to link the cherubic paintings to a family tragedy the Staurrings do have an interesting past. Charles was born in 1817 and Clarinda was born in 1822. They lived; respectively; to past 1900 and to 1897. The couple had many children, although not uncommon for the mid 1800s. Charles first child was James but this was from a previous relationship and not from his marriage to Clarinda. James was born in 1834. Another son Joseph was born in 1840. Joseph only appears in one census account and may have died shortly after the 1855 census or he may have elected to move elsewhere when his family moved to Saratoga sometime between 1855 and 1860. After Joseph, Ella was born in 1844. Ellen’s birth was followed by Charles in 1846. The two painting subjects, Ella and Charles were followed by William. William was born in 1851 and only lived a few years. William’s death happened in May of 1857 when he was just seven years old. Two more children were born into the Dygert Starring family of Charles and Clarinda. Daniel was born in 1858 a year after William passed. Maud was born in 1864.

The Staurring family moved around frequently. Charles Staurring, was born in Little Falls, Herkimer, NY. Evidence also points to Clarinda being born within Herkimer County. The couple moved to Schenectady and lived there until sometime between 1855 and 1860 where Charles worked as a railroad conductor. By 1860 the family had moved to Saratoga where Charles was a hotel keeper. By 1865 the family relocated to New York City where Charles traded horses. Ella, still living at home, worked as a treasurer in the circus. Still in New York City in 1870 Charles stayed in the horse trading business. In 1880 the Staurrings were back in upstate New York, this time in Albany. Twenty years after his move back upstate, in 1900, Charles was a member of the Schenectady poor house.

After a year in Saratoga, the first son James moved back to Schenectady to board at the Fuller Hotel. James was a machinist who began boarding in 1862. From the Fuller Hotel James moved to 10 Quakenbush street in 1868. In 1871 James Staurring moved to 86 College Street where he appears to have stayed. James was married at 25 to Kate Schermerhorn in November of 1859. As was customary for the time Kate Schermerhorn’s name does not appear on any of the directory listings to clarify if she and James stayed together during his various moves.

Ella and Charles Stauring circa 1850, artist unknown

It is possible that the cherubic picture of Ella and Charles is a commemorative or memorial to the departed William but that means the artist would have been drawing Ella and Charles out of memory and not true to life. By the time William passed away in 1857 both Ella and Charles were more than 10 years old, while the painting suggests ages of no more than 2-5. Could the cherubs have been added later after William and possibly Joseph’s death? Without further research into the painting itself, it is purely speculation. The painting is a beautiful work and along with the paintings of Clarinda and Charles (whose painting is currently stored until it can be conserved) it is an amazing glimpse into one family’s life in Schenectady.

Charles born in 1817 and lived past 1900
Clarinda born 1822 and lived to 1897

Family locations
1850- Schenectady
1855- Schenectady
1860- Saratoga
1865- NYC
1870- NYC
1880- Albany
1900- Schenectady

1850
Charles 33
Clarinda 28
James 16
Ellen 6
Charles 4
1855
Charles 38 – railroad conductor
Clarinda 32
Joseph 15
Ellen 10
Charles 8
William 10
William died at 7 yrs old on May 24, 1857
1870
Charles 53
Clarinda 48
Ellen 25
Charles 22
Daniel 12
Maud 6

James marries Kate Schermerhorn on November 29, 1859 married by Rev Dr Backus

Typical family names
Staurring Dygert
Stauring Dygart
Storring Dagget (?)
Storing Diegert
Starring Diegart
Staring

Clarinda
Clarinda
Clorinda
Clarynda

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The USS Schenectady

Today I saw that the USS Schenectady has a facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=871615191#!/pages/USS-Schenectady/68478434203).

Inspiration for USS Schenectady

The USS Schenectady was a Newport Class Tank Landing Ship named after Schenectady, New York. As part of a class-wide writing assignment, a letter, written by Franklin School fourth-grader Kimberly Duto in 1968 asked “Would it be possible to name one of the ships – Schenectady” after the students learned that a new series of ships were being constructed for the NAVY. This letter began a 34-year connection between the ship and the community it was named after.

Schenectady’s Industries Help to Build Ships

According to “On the Line with MAC Motors (v2,n15 May 1, 1970),” a newsletter for employees in the Medium AC Motor Department of General Electric, the name of the ship was not the only thing Schenectady contributed, “…the locomotive and engine products division of Alco Products, with headquarters in Schenectady, was manufacturing 153 engines for LST’s (Landing Ship-Tanks) in their Auburn Plant and General Electric was manufacturing part of the mechanism to propel the crafts.” GE’s SAC (small AC motor department) made motors for deck machinery and the MAC (medium AC motor department) manufactured 51 750 kw service generators according to “Schenectady GE News, v53, n18, 1790”. Also constructed by General Electric for the LSTs were:
* winch controllers and motors
* electrical pump controllers
* a bow thruster motor
* propeller pitch control hydraulic pump
* reduction gear standing lube oil pump
* main reduction gears
* a reduction gear-shaft turning gear
* a reduction gear-salt water circulating pump

The USS Schenectady Launched 1969

The USS Schenectady was built by National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, California. The keel was laid on August 2, 1968, and launched May 24, 1969. Schenectady Mayor Malcolm E. Ellis was the principal speaker at the commissioning ceremonies of the USS Schenectady on June 13, 1970, in San Diego. He recounted the 300 year history of our city. He alongside commanding officer Cdr. David Sigsworth, offered a proclamation to the crew. Many gifts from the citizens of this area were presented to the ship and her crew. Recreation equipment, books, flags, a bronze plaque, a silver tea service and other presents were donated to the USS Schenectady.

LST’s (Landing Ship-Tanks)

LST’s, Landing Ship-Tanks, were ocean-going ships which could be beached to discharge heavy equipment and troops. They were first used in the Solomon Islands during World War II. There were 1052 built during the war. The USS Schenectady was an entirely revolutionary design in amphibious landing ships. A 35 ton bow ramp supported by two derrick arms replaced the traditional bow doors of WWII LSTs. A stern gate permitted back loading, and the new destroyer type bow allowed speeds over 20 knots. Seventeen of these newly designed ships were built in San Diego in the early 1970s.

USS Schenectady’s Career of Service

The USS Schenectady had an active career of service. Early in its career it escorted NAVY ships to the Panama Canal. During the Vietnam War, the USS Schenectady served in the following campaigns:

Vietnamese Counter offensive – Phase VII
23 to 26 May 1971

Consolidation II
12 to 9 December 1971
5 to 7 January 1972
6 to 10 February 1972
15 to 17 February 1972
21 March 1972
24 to 26 March 1972

Vietnam Ceasefire
1 April to 7 May 1972
22 May to 11 June 1972
23 June to 15 July 1972

Earning three campaign stars for its efforts during the war.

(http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/161185.htm)

T-shirt from the decommissioning of the USS Schenectady

USS Schenectady’s Final Mission

The USS Schenectady was decommissioned on December 15, 1993. Struck from the Naval Register on July 13, 2001, the USS Schenectady’s final mission was its sinking as a target by by B-52’s, B-1’s, F-15’s along with FA-18’s during SINEX – Exercise Resultant Fury 19, 21-22 November 2004.

The former Navy landing ship (tank) USS Schenectady is seen in the waters of the Pacific Ocean just west of Hawaii Tuesday just prior to her sinking by B-52 bombers, including one that flew directly from Barksdale Air Force Base, in Operation Resultant Fury.

“The USS Schenectady has been shot at, bombed, been beached a thousand times, and she’s been there on time ready for work. Schenectady is a dependable, trustworthy work horse of the fleet. She’s hauled thousands of Marines hundreds of thousands of miles, with hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment aboard, and she’s done so admirably…many countries have special memories of Schenectady, sailors coming to orphanages and working hard to bring happiness to homeless crippled children. Our men have told the story of your area more times then we can count to people from around the world…we have been proud to represent your city”

Ltgj L.M. Barney, Public Affairs Officer, USS Schenectady
1984

USS Schenectady’s Awards

Combat Action Ribbon, NAVY “E” ribbon, NAVY Expeditionary Ribbon
National Defense Service Medal (2)
Vietnam Service Medal (2)
Southwest Asia Service Medal (2)
Humanitarian Service Medal
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
(Gold Star)
Republic of Viet Nam Campaign Medal

For more information on the ship and its history check out:
http://www.ussschenectadylst1185.org/4-Epilog.htm
http://www.ussschenectadylst1185.org/History%20of%20the%20USS%20Schenectady.pdf

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Early Travelers’ Account of Schenectady

* We will be reprinting articles from our past newsletters. This article appeared in March 1966. It has not been updated or altered in anyway.*

By Jean H. O’Hara

Descriptions of America have been recorded in letters, newspapers and books since Captain John Smith sent his impressions of the new lands home to England where they were published in 1608. Through complimentary or derogatory comments, these impressions of native or foreign travelers are especially valuable in any study of the early communities of our country. In many instances they provide the only insight into the past of areas on which no other records are available.

Most of the earliest writers were transients, and through their words it is possible to trace the growth of Schenectady from a frontier trading village into a thriving commercial town long before the Civil War and the industrialization which transformed it into a city of the twentieth century.

Missionaries and explorers, the earliest of non-native visitors, were moved to remark on this beautiful and fertile valley even before Arendt Van Curler envisaged a settlement on these flatlands. Others obviously shared their enthusiasm, for in 1661 a courageous few agreed to build homes in the wilderness. By 1680 travelers to “Schoonechtendeel” found a village of thirty houses and one of these, Jasper Danckaerts, was enthusiastic in his praise of its rich soil and wheat crops but critical of its religious atmosphere. He noted in his Journal that “…this place is a godless one, being without a minister and having only a homily read on Sundays…”

Little more than a decade had passed when the shocking massacre of its inhabitants made Schenectady a topic for discussion throughout the colonies and abroad. Reports on the holocaust promoted visits from the curious and those on official business, including Governor Henry Slaughter, who viewed the village on June 30, 1691 and later reported that he “…found that place in great disorder, our plantations and Schenectady almost ruined and destroyed by the enemys during (sic) the time of the late confusions here. I have garrisoned Schenectady…”.

With the advent of resident troops, the village advanced from being little more than a trading settlement to a frontier military post, worth of being mentioned in official reports to England. The importance of this northern frontier focused ever- increasing attention on this area. In 1698 Col. William Romar was commissioned by Governor Bellomont to inspect the northern fortififications, and he reported that Schenectady was “…neglected, built of wood and palisades of poor defense…”.

Because of its strategic locations, the village on the banks of the Mohawk became the center for early negotiations with the Indians, and was often visited by emissaries from the Sachems and the Royal Governors. Drawn by Conferences with the Five Nations, Governor Edward Lord Cornbury honored Schenectady with a visit in July of 1702, and Governor Robert Hunter arrived in August of 1710.

In November of 1710, Governor Hunter returned with on John Bridger, who had been commissioned to seek wood for His Majesty’s ships. England drew upon the natural resources of her colonies to supply naval stores for the vessels of the Royal Navy. Aside from their importance to the colonists, the vast forests along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers attracted the attention of the Royal authorities. Mr. Bridger reported a successful journey by writing to his superiors that”…I have with the Governor been up Hudson’s River at Albany and Schinectedy (sic) and have seen and viewed several great Tracts of Pitch Pine proper for making Tar, Pitch…”.

Visitors during these early years of the 18th century were confined mainly to the above mentioned officials, courageous pioneers migrating westward into the wilderness, and military personnel passing through to engage the enemy during the French and Indian Wars. But interest in exploring America encouraged both native and foreign travelers to visit the northern frontier. Scientific studies brought Europeans such as Peter Kalm into the area around Albany, while an inquisitive nature prompted a physician from Maryland, Dr. Alexander Hamilton, to accompany an Albanian surveyor to Schenectady on June 28, 1744. His description of the approach to the village from the Albany Road is most poetic:
“…(Schenectady) is a trading village, the people carrying on a traffic with the Indians – their chief commoditys (sick) wampum, Knives, needles and other such pedlary ware. This village is pretty (sic) near as large as Albany and consists chiefly of brick houses, built upon a pleasant plain, inclosed all round att (sic) about a Mile’s distance with thick pine woods. These woods form a copse above your head almost all the way betwixt Albany and Schenectady, and you ride over a plain, level, sandy road till (sic), coming out of the covert of the woods, all att (sic) once the village strikes surprisingly (sic) your eye, which I can compare to nothing but the curtain rising in a play and displaying a beautiful scene.”

The end of the Seven Years War brought resumed migration of settlers along the Mohawk and an increase in visitors, including many distinguished persons on their way to confer with Sir William Johnson. In the winter of 1760, Sir William’s brother Warren, passed through – apparently amazed that the Mohawk river was frozen enough to permit crossing on foot at Schenectady. He was not favorably impressed with the settlement, for he referred to it as “…a little dirty village…”.

A more complimentary description of the village and its growing commercialism is found in the comments of Col. Thatcher T. P. Luquer on his arrival in 1767 – when there were approximately 300 houses and about 3000 inhabitants. His words also illustrate that the growing British influence in New York had also reached this outpost of civilization-
“…The houses, which are mostly of wood, are built in the Dutch taste, there are some good edifices, lately built, after the English manner. Along the river are storehouses from which the goods for the upper trade are shipped in bateaus…Here are built all the bateaus for the transportation up the Mohawk River, and a number of the inhabitants of the towns and settlements on the banks of the river are employed, and get their livelihood by navigating them. Three men are commonly in each bateau, they are paid from Schenectady to Oswego 5 pounds a man…”

Despite such lucrative sources of income, a lively trade with settlers and Indians up river, and fertile soil for crops, villagers at this period were still dependent on older settlements to the East for some items. Richard Smith, traveling through in 1769, mentions in hi Journal that “…The Tounspeople are supplied altogether with Beef and Pork from New England most of the Meadows being used for Wheat, Peas and other Grain…”

In the following year the inhabitants of Schenectady were exposed to the religious experience which affected all colonies in the years prior to the Revolution. The Reverend George Whitefield, harbinger of the Great Awakening, honored villagers with a visit in July of 1770. He in turn “…was struck with the the delightful situation of the place…” and his enthusiastic reception.

The American Revolution transformed the quiet village into a rendezvous for militia and regulars marching westward and a haven for refugees fleeing from Tory and Indian raiders. During this period General George Washington was certainly the most distinguished visitor, but there were others of importance including the Marquis de Chastelux, one of the many Frenchmen who gave assistance to the American cause. The Marquis was particularly interested in colonial life and inspected the Oneida encampment while in Schenectady in 1780.

He recorded a sympathetic view of the state of these Indians for he found the settlement”…nothing but an assemblage of miserable huts in the woods along the Road to Albany. The Framework consists of only two uprights and one cross pole, this covered with a matted roof, but is well lined with a quantity of bark…”. This encampment was destined to be an eyesore for both residents and transients for many years.

With the coming of peace the movement of settlers westward began again, with the Mohawk valley a natural passageway to Ohio and beyond. Schenectady prospered through trade and reached new importance as a transportation center. One of the many making use of its facilities in 1793 was John Heckewelder, who travelled in the interests of the Moravian Church. He found a village which had grown to include almost 400 houses, 3 churches and an Academy. His description illustrates a vigorous atmosphere:
“…The Inhabitants of this place (seemingly generally pretty Industrious) are likewise chiefly Low Dutch, and appear pretty Sociable. The keep up a Number of light Waggons to transport the Produce brought down the River to this place, to Albany, to which place they go and return the same day. The 8 new boats made here for the purpose of transporting our Baggage, and for our Use to Niagara being loaded we sat (sic) off at 3 in the Afternoon, with 30 hands from hence to work the boats.”

But work was intermingled with pleasure along the banks of the Mohawk, and villagers joined with the rest of America in annually celebrating the anniversary of its Declaration of Independence. In the early days of the 19th century a new awareness of nationalism swept the country, and a Scotsman, J.B. Dunlop arrived in Schenectady on July 4th, 1810 – in time to witness its celebration of the holiday. With glowing words he wrote:
“…There was a grand display of fire works on the Mohawk river, the banks of which, as well as the beautiful bridge over it, were crowded with people, whilst innumerable boats, filled with the genteel class, moved upon the smooth surface of the river to the reverberating echo of a band of music which filled up the intervals between each fire rocket with martial music. The moon shone beautifully bright on all…”

The bridge mention above, which was built in 1809, attracted an even greater number of visitors who wished to view the latest and, in the opinion of many, the great greatest accomplishment of its designer Theodore Burr. Another attraction was Union College and one typical traveler of 1818 who expressed interest in the institution was William Darby, who passed through the town on his way from New York City to Detroit. He made special note of Schenectady’s buildings and its college by commenting that “…Many of the buildings are large, expensive and elegant…For my own part, I viewed the buildings composing the three colleges which bear the name of Union in Schenectady, with a similar reverence, with which I had formerly felt passing Cambridge, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Dickinson. Those, and other such edifices, are the true temples of reason.” During the following year many of the town’s buildings were destroyed in the disastrous fire of 1819.

Mr. Darby also found exceptional the regularity with which properties and streets were laid out. Its design gave credit to the first proprietors, whose orderly division of lands avoided the haphazard growth found in most other early settlements in New York.

While construction of the Erie Canal made it possible for boats to navigate eastward to Albany, most travelers found it easier and quicker to ride by stage or carriage to Schenectady for embarkation. This meant additional income for the coffers of local businesses, as the importance of canal transportation advanced. Typical of the many who chose this method of moving westward was the notorious Mrs. Frances Trollope, who wrote”…The first sixteen miles from Albany we travelled in a stage, to avoid a multitude of locks at the entrance of the Erie canal; but at Schenectady we got on board one of the canal packet-boats for Utica…”

Some comments on the American scene were written for private viewing while others were produced for their commercial value, and by the 19th century any publication containing information on America was guaranteed to experience immediate popularity abroad. Mrs. Trollope found it even more profitable in 1831 to produce a scathing report of her travels in the “Domestic Manners of the Americans”, a book which made her name an infamous one for many generations.

Old Union College Building N.E. corner of Union and College Sts.

A fello-countryman and admirer, Asa Greene, an ex-barber to the King, followed Mrs. Trollope’s example within two years. Among his uncomplimentary remarks about America, he wrote of Schenectady: “…The only thing worthy of note here, is a college, as it is dominated in America; which means nothing more than a school where a parcel of boys learn Latin and Greek, and a few other things; but as I am credibly informed, are never whipped, as the boys are in England…”.

First Schenectady Railroad Depot (Destroyed by fire 1842)

But Mr. Green had the exciting experience of riding on the newly opened railroad between Albany and Schenectady, the western terminus of which was the imposing Roman-style depot on a bill east of the town. The traveler, who rode at the rate of fifty miles an hour, had mixed emotions about the journey, and commented; “…To tell the truth, this is quite an easy mode of traveling; and were it not for the vile republican company with which the rail-road cars are continually crowded, would be a very agreeable one…”.

But the “republican” atmosphere in America by this time constituted one of largest elements in the formula which produced national growth and democratization. The railroad on which Mr. Green travelled was soon to change the complexion of Schenectady, and by the time of the Civil War the town had grown to the point where it was ready for the industrialization which was to follow – ready to retain its importance in a modern world.

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KADDISH FOR PRESIDENT GARFIELD

Mordecai Myers

Throughout American history Jewish immigrants sought to identify with their new homeland and sought acceptance as Americans. When Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield in 1881, Schenectady’s Jews held a special prayer service at Gates of Heaven, and when he died they joined with their fellow Americans in mourning his death, and owners of businesses on State Street, like Isaac Levy, wholesale liquor dealer, and Lewis Behr, tailor, draped their shops in black for the fallen president. In times of national tragedy, Jews showed their loyalty as Americans.
Public service provided another means of showing loyalty and their acceptance by non-Jews as Americans. Mordecai Myers, native born, got elected mayor as a Democrat in 1851 and 1854. Fifty years later, Louis M. King, the son of a German Jewish immigrant, served as City Clerk from 1899-1902. Members of the Jewish community, like S. Levy, got elected to the post of city councilman. By the early 20th Century, Jews were well integrated into the civic and political life of the city—even forming a Jewish Republican Club in the 1920s. Jews also served on school boards, hospital boards, and city planning commissions. Integration into the social life of the city was evident in the membership of the Odd Fellows.
Jews served in every war since the Civil War. During World War I, the local Jewish newspaper published a list of every Jewish resident who volunteered or was drafted for military service. Members of the community organized a Jewish Welfare Board to support men in service and help Jewish soldiers from outside the area stationed in South Schenectady during the war. Men from the area wrote they missed the baseball games sponsored by the Y with their co-religionists from Albany, another sign of the Americanization of the sons of immigrants. Similarly, in World War II, the Jewish Welfare Board was recreated in 1943 to help the troops and encourage women to assist in war related events, like bond drives. Members of the community served on civilian groups aiding the war effort, like the county War Council. In 1935, veterans of World War I organized a chapter of the Jewish War Veterans. In May 1948, the community dedicated a plaque to the Jewish men from Schenectady who died in World War II. Jewish War Veterans Post 106 conducted a special memorial service that month at Ohab Sholom-Bnai Abraham. This service reinforced the community’s identity as Jews and Americans.

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BETH ISRAEL AND ORTHODOX CONGREGATIONS

The immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and Hungary created the need to establish additional Orthodox congregations. When immigrants arrived in the 1880s and 1890s all of Schenectady’s congregations were Orthodox, but differences based on ritual and country of origin created splits and the demand for new congregations. Hungarian Jews after initially joining Agudas Achim (Agudat Achim) split off for good in March 1902. The congregation met on South Center Street until the construction of a new synagogue on Hamilton Street in April 1907. The Mont Pleasant section of Schenectady attracted Jewish immigrants and many of the Hungarians worked as craftsmen at General Electric. Within the Jewish community, Ohab Zedek became the Hungarian synagogue and Agudas Achim the Russian synagogue. In 1937 the congregation constructed a new building on State Street which is now a theater.
Another group of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe did not feel comfortable in either Agudas Achim or Gates of Heaven and formed Ohab Sholom in 1894. A group of small dealers and peddlers formed an Independent Verein as a separate religious community in 1907, but merged into Ohab Sholom by World War I. The congregation did not formally incorporate until January 1924 with a synagogue on 419 Broadway. It previously met on South Center Street. In April 1931, the cornerstones for the new building were laid on Hamilton Street.
A split in Agudas Achim in 1914 led Rabbi Solomon Hinden and his supporters to break away and form Adath Israel. Rabbi Hinden and his supporters formally incorporated their congregation on June 26, 1916 with the congregation meeting at 832 Albany Street. In 1925, the congregation built a new synagogue on the 800 block of Albany Street where they remained until the congregation disbanded in the late 1960s.
Yet another faction of Orthodox Jews organized a separate congregation, Bnei Abraham, that met on 526 South Center Street. It incorporated in 1916. The congregation later moved to Broadway before merging into Ohab Sholom sometime between 1936-1943. In 1955 Ohab Sholom-Bnai Abraham merged with Ohab Zedek to become Beth Israel. The new congregation met at the Ohab Zedek building. The congregation built a new building in 1964 on Eastern Parkway which it used as a Hebrew School until it was expanded into the current synagogue in 1971. Today, Beth Israel is only remaining Orthodox congregation in the city

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AGUDAT ACHIM

Jews from the Russian Empire arrived in Schenectady in the 1880s, as they did in the neighboring communities of Albany and Troy, leading to a sudden growth in the number of synagogues. While most accounts suggest that Congregation Agudat Achim formed in 1890 it appears to have begun in 1888 when the first minyan met and became a formal congregation in 1889 with the drafting of a constitution. The congregation made it clear that its members would follow the minhag Polin, the ritual followed by Jews of Poland and Lithuania, similar to that of Congregation Beth El Jacob in Albany. Although Orthodox, like the members of Gates of Heaven in the 1880s, that congregation followed a German ritual, that recent immigrants from the Russian Empire found foreign and unacceptable. In addition, this new congregation insisted that all congregational business be conducted in Yiddish, reflecting the mother tongue of most East European Jews, and all officers must have fluency in Yiddish. Ironically, the constitution included words in German to make it sound high class, and not the work of recent immigrants with limited education. Founding members agreed to expel congregants who did not marry according to Jewish custom, meaning if they married Gentiles, and those who did not follow Orthodox ritual and laws.
Initially, the congregation met in a hall on State and Jay streets, and later at the Center Street Opera House. A group of Hungarian Jews joined the congregation but they split off to form Ohab Zedek in 1893, rejoined and left for good in March 1902. Differences in ritual and country of origin led to frequent synagogue splits making “Jewish unity an oxymoron,” according to historian Hasia Diner. By 1903, the congregation bought a site on Nott Terrace and began construction of a new synagogue in 1907. The laying of the cornerstone made front page news in June 1908. In 1910, the congregation had 1,200 people show for the High Holidays, and Gentiles called it the Nott Terrace synagogue and the “leading orthodox congregation in the city.” Conflict over Rabbi Solomon Hinden led him and his followers to leave in 1914 to form Orthodox Adath Israel. By the 1920s, Americanization of the second generation led to a decision to modernize services by affiliating with Conservative Judaism in 1927, similar to the emergence of Conservative congregations in Albany and Troy. Some older members dissented and left Agudat Achim to join Orthodox congregations. Just as Gates of Heaven became the only Reform community in Schenectady, Agudat Achim remains the only Conservative congregation in Schenectady County. Growth of membership and the movement of the Jewish community from downtown to the suburbs led to the construction of a new building in 1971 on the Troy-Schenectady Road.

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Gates of Heaven

The first Jews who settled in Schenectady, primarily peddlers, tailors, and minor merchants in clothing, liquor, and groceries, organized a congregation in 1854. The congregation formally incorporated on October 20, 1856 as Sharei Shomajim. Initially, the members came from Germany, and lived in the area near Union, Liberty, College, Front, and Ferry streets. The establishment of the first congregation in Schenectady paralleled the organization of synagogues in Albany, Troy, and other parts of upstate New York. Members of this “Israelitish Church” used German, Yiddish, and Hebrew and prayed according to Orthodox German ritual, probably similar to Beth El in Albany. At first, members met in homes but began to meet in a building on 6 Liberty Street and later 206 Liberty Street. In 1859, the congregation became one of the founding members of the first national Jewish body, Board of Delegates of American Israelites. By 1865, it acquired a new building on 7-9 Ferry Street. Most accounts suggest that it was the only congregation in Schenectady until the late 1880s, but a report in 1910 suggested it may have merged with another congregation on Ferry Street.
In 1891 the congregation began work on a new building on College Street where the synagogue remained from 1892 to 1920. Members of Gates of Heaven established the first Jewish cemetery in 1857, and by the late 19th Century, the first Jewish associations, not directly connected to a synagogue, actually consisted of members from the congregation. By this point, the Gentile community called the congregation the College Street temple or synagogue. Between 1890-1907 the congregation altered its religious ritual formally joining the Reform body, Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1907. The growth of the congregation and the movement of its members led to plans to move the synagogue to what the press called the upper part of the city in 1910. However, it took a decade before the congregation purchased a church on Rugby Road and Parkwood Boulevard, converted into a synagogue and moved to its new structure in 1920. The College Street building opened as a Catholic Church in 1922. Reflecting the suburbanization of the Jewish community after World War II, Gates of Heaven relocated to present location on Eastern Parkway and Ashmore Ave in 1956.

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