A Century Ago, Kind Merchant was First Glens Falls Kiwanis Club President

Charles Gelman, a long-time downtown Glens Falls dry goods merchant, used to tell a story about when he was a boy growing up poor in Hungary.

He longed for a luscious apple from a display at a fruit stand, but he didn’t have a penny to buy one.

A smiling stranger noticed Gelman, and offered to buy the child an apple if he would eat it.

“We only partly believe the legend,” a Post-Star editorial quipped at the time of Gelman’s death in 1941. “Left to his own resources, he would have somehow earned the penny to buy the apple.”

 
Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of    The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library   .

Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

 

Gelman had built up a reputation for service and kindness in a quarter-of-a-century on the Glens Falls business scene, holding leadership positions at various times in about a dozen service, religious and philanthropic organizations.

“There was in the essence of his spirit the quiet, persistent urge to convert life, rather than be converted by it, to mold the years into kindness, considerateness and generosity, into the love of mankind and the will behind mankind,” the editorial stated.

A century ago, Gelman was the first president of the Glens Falls Kiwanis Club.

Max Stein, a national Kiwanis Club organizer, came to Glens Falls in August 1919, staying at the Rialto Apartments on Warren Street and setting up shop at the Elks Lodge at the corner of Glen and Ridge streets.

“It is a personal acquaintance, a friendly handshake, the weekly meetings which cause us to learn the qualities of heart and mind of our fellow members.”

It would seem these ideals fit with Gelman’s business slogan: “the store of cheerful service.”

Kiwanis, started in Detroit, had 179 clubs in United States and Canada, at the time, including clubs in Albany, Schenectady, Syracuse, Utica, Rochester and Buffalo.

Stein, the organizer, suggested a Kiwanis Club would give Glens Falls prominence.

“It is the purpose of this club to develop such a high standard of business certainty, integrity, probity (strong moral principles) that the fact that one is a member will be a badge of honor.”

By Aug. 29, Stein had recruited 18 prospective members, and he was confident of soon reaching the 50 members needed for a charter.

The current Glens Falls Kiwanis Club charter dates back to 1925.

Either the club disbanded and reorganized, or it took longer than expected to reach the 50-member mark.

On Sept. 29, 1919, the club met to elect officers and plan an initial social gathering for Oct. 2.

Gelman was elected president, Walter Shaw vice president, Fred N. Pulver, business manager of The Saratoga Sun, as secretary, and Dr. A. F. Mosher, a local physician, as treasurer.

The club held its first dinner meeting at Church of Messiah Parish Hall on Oct. 9, with Edward F. Kelly, secretary of the Schenectady Kiwanis Club, and Glens Falls acting Mayor Julius Jacobson as speakers.

“Kiwanians of the local club enjoyed a fine dinner. … It was a big gathering of good fellows and progressive business men at which there was nothing lacking in the way of enthusiasm,” The Post-Star reported.

Speakers at early luncheon meetings at the Glens Falls Y.M.C.A. on Glen Street, in the building that now houses Spot Coffee, included Rev. Charles O. Judkins, pastor of Christ Church Methodist, Rev. David Solly, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and J. Edward Singleton, a local lawyer.

Gelman, the first president, came to Glens Falls from Troy to partner with Louis Kempner and David Merkel of Plattsburgh to purchase Goodson’s, a long-standing dry goods and clothing store in downtown Glens Falls.

 
Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of    The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library   .

Merkel & Gelman - Glen Street, Glens Falls. Photo courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

 

“They are energetic and progressive business men with years of experience in the dry goods business,” The Post-Star reported at the time. “They believe they can make many innovations in the city which are sure to prove popular with local shoppers.”

A few years later Gelman purchased Kempner’s interest in the business, and in 1921 the name was changed to Merkel & Gelman.

In 1919, when Gelman was Kiwanis Club president, the partners had five stores in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Lake George, Troy and Wilmington, Del., and later grew to a chain of nine stores.

The Glens Falls store closed in 1982.

Sources: The Post-Star Feb. 10, March 5, 1917; July 23, Aug. 16, 22, Sept. 29, 30, Oct. 10, 16, 1919; April 19, 1941; Dec. 15, 2006.

Speaking of Kiwanis, their 29th annual Duck Race and Family Fun Day is coming up on July 27 - get the details here.

 
Glens Falls NY
 
 
Maury Thompson
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.

From Humble Beginnings to Mainstream American Culture - The Incredible Journey of the Lunch Wagon

In recent years, food trucks have been all the rage. Turn on the Food Network or The Travel Channel with any frequency and you’re bound to come across a show about them. While the idea of food trucks may seem pretty novel, the concept is one that goes back over a century. During the boom of the manufacturing age in the late 19th century, factory workers needed hearty, affordable meals at all hours of the day. To answer the demand, small wagons were converted into moveable restaurants. The “lunch wagon” was born.

 
Courtesy of    The Chapman Museum   , from the 1897-98 Glens Falls Business Directory.

Courtesy of The Chapman Museum, from the 1897-98 Glens Falls Business Directory.

 

The very first lunch wagon is credited to Walter Scott in 1872, Providence, Rhode Island. But did you realize that Glens Falls played a part in this early food revolution? In 1897, Albert Closson of Glens Falls, built his first lunch wagon. Closson named his wagon the “Crystal Palace” and from 1895-1900 it was located on Fountain Square (the site of the roundabout today). By 1905, he had patented his design and went into full production at his home on Second St. Numerous local lunch wagons were of his design, including two in Whitehall and two in Glens Falls, the “Kenmore” and the “Ondawa”.

 
Courtesy of    The Chapman Museum   , from the 1916 Glens Falls Business Directory.

Courtesy of The Chapman Museum, from the 1916 Glens Falls Business Directory.

 

During his years in business, Closson built approximately 50 wagons. In 1912, he sold his patent and formed a stock company called The Closson Wagon Company. The newly organized firm relocated to Westfield, NY. Though officially retired, Closson maintained stock in the company and seemed to stay involved by acting as a consultant and making sales trips. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt in 1916.

Between 1895 and 1930, there were collectively at least 14 lunch wagons in use throughout Glens Falls. They could be found on South St., Park St., Warren, Ridge and even Glenwood Ave.

One story of an early Ward and Dickinson lunch wagon is particularly amazing. A 1927 version that was in use here in Glens Falls, was purchased by Will and Grace Tario in 1932. The couple had it moved to Port Henry via rail car to Ticonderoga and then pulled by horse team the rest of the way. It reopened on Labor Day in 1933. Remarkably, this lunch wagon is still in operation! It is known today as Foote’s Port Henry Diner, and has been recognized for its historical significance. In 2000, it won an Adirondack Architectural Heritage Award. Many of the original features are intact, including the wooden wheels, marble counter tops and wooden cabinetry.

So, the next time you want to have a meal with a side of history, check out Foote’s Port Henry Diner. It’s definitely a bucket-list worthy adventure, and a tasty one at that.

 
Glens Falls NY Living
 
 
Jillian Mulder, Chapman Museum, Glens Falls NY
 

Jillian Mulder has been the curator at the Chapman Historical Museum for the past eleven years. She had previously worked for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at the Crown Point State Historic Site. Her background is in both the fine arts and history. Jillian enjoys photographing old advertising signage and visiting diners, movie theaters, and roadside attractions (and documenting them on her Instagram account @followthebreadcrumbs2). She is passionate about documenting America’s cultural landscape before it vanishes; and wishes she could earn a living by taste testing ice cream at every stand from Upstate New York to New England.

Putting Glens Falls on the Aviation Map

The Boston Chamber of Commerce turned to the Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce in December 1919 for advice about how to develop an aviation landing field.

The local chamber was a trend setter, having earlier that year developed the Miller Hill Landing Field, near where the Queensbury school campus on Aviation Road is now.

 
 

“Glens Falls is not to be behind the times for one minute if its enterprising chamber of commerce has anything to say about it,” The Lake George Mirror editorialized on July 12, 1919. “As soon as the war was over and they realized just what steps aviation was to take in peace terms, they got busy discussing what Glens Falls ought to do toward stimulating interest in this new means of transportation.”

Pilots also praised the chamber.

“Aviators who have visited Glens Falls during the last several weeks are warm in praise of the landing field which the Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce has secured at Miller Hill,” The Post-Star editorialized on July 26, 1919. “According to these aviators, the landing field is one of the best in this part of the country. They assert it is much better than the field at Albany, about which we have heard so much.”

The chamber secured rights from Cornelius Brownell, owner of the property, to establish the landing field.

The chamber installed fuel pumps and hired Brownell to supervise the selling of gasoline and oil.

The operation was expanded over the years, and was renamed Floyd Bennett Field in 1928, in memory of the local aviator who flew with Richard Byrd over the North Pole, said Glens Falls City Historian Wayne Wright.

The Miller Hill airport closed in 1947, after the current Floyd Bennett Memorial-Warren County Airport on Queensbury Avenue opened.

A century ago, developing the Miller Hill landing field bode well for local economic development and tourism, and provided a new form of recreation for area residents.

Ralph M. Mann, president of Park Trust Co, of Worcestor, Mass., made local headlines when he and pilot C.S. Jones landed Mann’s private plane overnight en route from Curtiss Field on Long Island to Middlebury, Vt. to attend a Middlebury College alumni reunion.

Jones had difficulty finding the landing strip and landed on Bay Road, near the Seaman farm, but found the Miller Hill field OK on the return trip.

Mann stayed overnight at Hotel Cunningham in Hudson Falls because no hotel rooms were available in Glens Falls.

Miss Gladys E. Peters, daughter of merchant C.V. Peters, was the first Glens Falls resident to fly over the city.

The flight that took off from Miller Hill was on Sunday morning June 30, 1919. Peters, wearing an aviation hood and goggles, was a passenger in a Curtis airplane that Lt. O.S. Palmer flew at 2,000 feet above ground for 15 minutes.

“Upon landing the young woman expressed herself as greatly delighted with the experience and said that she at no time had fear of harm befalling her,” The Post-Star reported.

 
 

Birch Aircraft Co. of Albany established a local recreational flight service at Miller Hill in July 1919.

“Glens Falls people have always been proud of this beautiful city and justly so, but until the city has been seen from an airplane they will never know how beautiful it is,” The Post-Star reported.

Stewart McFarland, an insurance agent, was the first passenger. Other passengers the first day were Homer Dailey, manager of the Tichnor Cigar Co. store, Robert W. Bayle, a merchant, Thomas Steele, a Hudson Falls farm implement dealer, Michael Moynehan, and H.A. Weinge, who was representing The Post-Star.

In the fall, Weinge again took a flight, this time with a stunt pilot, and wrote about it for The Post-Star.

“As I had been up in an airplane before, I didn’t think there would be any sensation to just going up,” Weinge wrote.

Things got interesting when Allen S. Moody, the pilot, performed a loop the loop, four reverses and four vertical reverses at about 1,500 feet above the ground.

“The first sensation was to that experienced when riding in one of the roller coasters and then suddenly the earth seemed to rush right up at me and before I realized it we had flipped completely over and the earth was back in its proper place,” Weinge wrote.

Early on, some pilots had trouble finding the landing field.

These included Mr. Palmer, sales manager for Curtis Company, an aviation manufacturer, who stopped in Glens Falls for the night en route to Burlington.

“Not having a map to aid him in locating the Miller Hill field, Mr. Palmer first made a landing to the west of Crandall Park, and in getting back into the air again he had a narrow escape from crashing into several trees, a fence and a barn.”

Another pilot that landed near Crandall Park was not so fortunate.

A crowd that gathered helped the pilot push his plane into the park, where he thought it was safe to take off.

But the field was too short and the plane crashed into trees, resulting in an extended stay in Glens Falls while the plane was being repaired.

Sources: The Post-Star, June 20, 30, July 1, 4, 12, 26, Oct. 13, Dec. 18, 1919; The Lake George Mirror, July 12, 1919.

 
Glens Falls NY Living
 
 
Maury Thompson
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.

End of the Line for Mile Track

There was a hint of grief in The Post-Star report on Nov. 21, 1919, that work would begin that day on demolition of the barns and grand stand at the old Mile Track on Upper Coolidge Avenue, between Dixon Road and Sherman Avenue, in Glens Falls. “The passing of the Mile Track will bring many memories … to sporting men in this section and in fact the whole country.”

 
The old One-Mile Track at Broadacres, west of Kensington Road in Glens Falls, where harness racing was held in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photo courtesy of    The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library   .

The old One-Mile Track at Broadacres, west of Kensington Road in Glens Falls, where harness racing was held in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photo courtesy of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

 

In its heyday, it was known outside Glens Falls in the harness racing world as the “Billiard Table Track,” for its smooth surface and speed. “The horses whose feet graced the track were the very peers of their species in this form of sport.”

Sixty-seven trotting horses set records at the track, “universally considered to be the fastest one-mile track in existence,” according to the 1908 book “Glens Falls – The Empire City.”

In 1897 – 1901, the Mile Track was a stop on the Grand Circuit of racing, putting Glens Falls in an elite league of cities that included Detroit, Cleveland, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Buffalo and the Bronx.

There was excitement when George Finch, president of the Northern New York Horse Breeders Association, received a letter that Glens Falls would be accepted into the Grand Circuit, provided necessary purses could be raised.

“A grand circuit meeting would bring a great crowd of money spenders to Glens Falls, and the town would be benefited financially,” The Morning Star reported on Feb. 10, 1897. “There is every reason to believe that the breeder’s association would also realize a handsome profit from the venture.”

Anticipation turned to reality and 335 horses were entered in the debut meet Aug. 17-20, 1897.

“Promptly at two o’clock starter Frank Walker of Chicago will ring up the horses for the opening event,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 17, 1897.

Admission was $1 for “gentlemen” and 50 cents for “ladies.”

By 1901, the meet was losing momentum, and in 1902 local organizers pulled the plug when the Glens Falls meet was moved on the schedule from August to mid-September, coinciding with another prominent meet at the Empire Track in New York City.

Local organizers feared they would not be able to draw enough entries for the local meet to be feasible.

“This news will be received with extreme regret in town, since there was no one thing which advertised this place more extremely than the annual circuit meeting. It brought visitors from the length and breadth of the country,” The Morning Star reported on May 20, 1902. The track was not used and fell into disrepair. A Post-Star editorial on June 11, 1918 urged the community to brainstorm to come up with a new use for the Mile Track.

“Glens Falls, noted for its civic pride, ought not to allow these grounds and grandstand to fall into decay,” the editorial stated. “Grand Circuit racing may never return here, but this track would make an ideal place for athletic events of school or municipal nature.”

The grandstand was still structurally sound, and with a little work could be put back in good condition.

“Too many of us are prone to forget, as we dream of the glories of some bygone days, what it is possible to do in the present. … Glens Falls should find some way to save them for the use of the younger generation.”

But a way was not found, and the barns and grand stand were demolished, and the land eventually redeveloped for housing.

All that is left are antiquated newspaper reports of trotting horse John R. Gentry setting a world record and of M.J. Cassidy of Colorado, a man with no arms or hands, driving trotting horse Raymond M.

“Other famous horses of the day that won great laurels and who will go down in history of trackdom as among greatest of the great and who competed at the old Mile Track are Star Pointer, Royal R. Sheldon, Indiana, Bingin and many other too numerous to mention,” The Post-Star reported on Nov. 21, 1919.

 
Glens Falls Living
 
 
Maury Thompson
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.

Dinner for the Win

Late 19th-century baseball booster George Pardo could be a sore loser. Pardo, owner of the American House Hotel at the northwest corner of South and Glen Streets in downtown Glens Falls, sponsored the local amateur baseball team, The Pardos, from 1875 to 1883.

The American House c. 1875. Photo courtesy of    The Chapman Museum   .

The American House c. 1875. Photo courtesy of The Chapman Museum.

When the team was playing on the road, Pardo would sit on the hotel porch, overlooking South Street, and wait for the players to return to Glens Falls.

“Late at night, when we would return from Corinth, Lake George or some adjacent place, the old man (Pardo) would be up on the front porch to know what success we had met with,” Addison B. Colvin, the team’s manager, recalled decades later. “If the team lost, Pardo would swear and sic his dog on the players,” Colvin said. “If we won, as we frequently did, a fine dinner was served to us.”

More than a century after Pardo’s death in 1898, the historic red brick building where Pardo operated the American House is getting a face lift.

Developer Chris Patten is renovating the building for a mixed-use, new urbanist complex with Craft on 9 restaurant and other commercial tenants on the ground floor. Craft on 9 is relocating from Moreau. The upper floors will be renovated for about 20 apartments.

The existing red brick building replaced a previous hotel structure that burned in 1879. Pardo, who operated the hotel for 38 years, was among a string of operators over the decades of the hotel known at different times as the American House, Hotel Ruliff and Plaza Hotel.

The re-built American House c. 1880. Photo courtesy of  The Chapman Museum .

The re-built American House c. 1880. Photo courtesy of The Chapman Museum.

In 1895, rooms with steam heat rented for $2 a night – the equivalent of about $61 in current dollars.

Daniel Robertson, a former pitcher for the Pardos, told a similar version of Colvin’s story about Pardo and baseball in a speech to the Glens Falls Rotary Club on Sept. 27, 1923. “Occasionally we would have a game and Uncle George would ask us how it came out, and if we told him, ‘We licked them today,’ he would say, ‘That is right. Come in and get supper,’” Robertson said. “But sometimes when we got the worst of it he would say, ‘Get out of here. I won’t have any damned dirty ball players hanging around my hotel.’”

Other players on the team were Dudley Ferguson, James McGrievey, Ed Reed, later a Glens Falls mayor, George Aiken, Will Wing, Will Capron, later a Glens Falls assistant fire chief, and H.A. Hurtubis.

Pardo also enjoyed fishing. In 1897, Pardo and his nephew brought back to the hotel about twenty “good-sized” pickerel from a fishing trip at Katskill Bay on Lake George. “The entire catch was exhibited in the hotel office during the evening and attracted the curiosity of visitors,” The Morning Star reported.

In 1896, Pardo sent back to the hotel 12 black bass, the largest of which weighed five-and-one-half pounds, that he caught on the east side of Lake George. In 1889, Pardo offered sage culinary advice to a Morning Star reporter. “Broil a black bass, and I would rather have it than a salmon prepared in the same manner, but the bass is not so good boiled.”

Pardo died of a heart condition on March 17, 1898 in his room at the hotel. The Morning Star said of him: “Mr. Pardo had long been an honored and prominent citizen of Glens Falls. He was a man of rugged and sterling integrity, positive of his likes and dislikes, but beneath a stern exterior he carried a warm and charitable heart.”

Pardo, the oldest of eight brothers, was born in Burlington, VT on Feb. 9, 1819. As a boy, he moved to Whitehall to learn the bakery trade from his uncle. He then worked as a baker in Troy for several years before returning to Whitehall, where he worked as a general agent for the packet lines until he entered the hotel business.

Sources: Letter from Addison B. Colvin to Roy Akins, Aug. 5, 1937; The Morning Star, Oct. 30, 1896; Jan. 18, 1897; May 28, 1889; March 18, 1898; The Post-Star, April 12, 1922; Sept. 29, 1923; Nov. 19, 1926; Oct. 1, 1964; The Lake George Mirror, June 5, 1895.

Glens Falls Living
 
 

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Join Maury on April 10th 2019, 7pm, at the Crandall Public Library Folklife Center Community Room for a preview of Snarky Aardvark’s film, Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, focusing on the Glens Falls/Sandy Hill segments. Maury, producer/co-director, will be providing an update on research and the status of the entire documentary, expected to be released in 2020. See the trailer here.