What to do with Amsterdam?

Natalie and I talk about York State quite a bit, which is probably pretty obvious to the regular reader of this website. We can share an appreciation for our quirky cities, beautiful landscapes, hardy people and picturesque villages. However, there is one subject on which we deeply disagree upon: the city of Amsterdam.

She is always a bit more of an optimist than I am and sees in that city the perfect heartland and springboard for an envisioned York State Renaissance. Now I must admit that I have not spent a decent amount of time in the city, but my impression was always that it was something of a hole, not exactly a spot to inspire hope. It was always my metaphor in our personal conversations for the collapse of the Upstate economy.

So, finally this thing came to a head last night and Natalie invited me to come to Amsterdam with her to see for our selves the "truth." But we need your help. I am willing to admit if I am wrong, but we don't know where to start. For those of you who know the city well, especially those who have lived there, we ask: what is it that makes Amsterdam special? What are its quirks? It's secrets? The places that serve the best food, that give the best entertainment, the niftiest buildings, the ghost stories or the historical personages? Is there a statue of Kirk Douglas in a heroic pose (he's from the area) or a giant silo painted to look like a rolled up rug (Amsterdam used to make carpets)?

I am looking forward to being proved wrong about Amsterdam, New York and anticipate your comments. Of course, after our excursion, we will make a full report on our adventures in this blog, so keep posted!

Posted by Jesse


Dan Weaver said...

I lived in Amsterdam from 1978 to this past year. I now live just across the river in the Town of Florida but am in Amsterdam everyday. In all the years I have lived in Amsterdam, little has changed. It was not the demise of the carpet mills that destroyed Amsterdam. It was the deliberate destruction of downtown Amsterdam by Urban Renewal and the building of a mall in the city's center which destroyed the city. A great master plan was created in the sixties under the administration of Mayor Frank Martuscello. It called for the revitalization of downtown, not its destruction. Under the next mayor, everything changed.

Amsterdam is going through a third stage of decay, the first being industrial and retail. Now Amsterdam's housing is going through a rough time, with boarded up houses all over the city. This started around ten years ago. Many houses have been torn down. There is some hope, however, as a private developer has moved here, bought some houses and fixed them up. These houses were slated for destruction.

There is no statue of Kirk Douglas. There is a park dedicated to him near the police station with a plaque. The house he grew up in still stands. It is privately owned.

Good places to eat include Europa on Forest Avenue and The Raindancer on Route 30 (actually in the Town of Amsterdam rather than the city). I don't know of any entertainment here. People usually go to Schenectady and Albany for that.

Places to see include the Walter Elwood Museum, the Noteworthy Indian Museum, some nice old houses on Guy Park Avenue, Guy Park Manor, and the Wrestling Hall of Fame on Main Street.

I love Amsterdam in spite of its plight, as well as the entire Mohawk Valley. I see glimmers of hope for Amsterdam, but it is going to take a lot to turn the city around.

Jeezub Marksman said...

The amsterdam free library on 28 church st. is something of value in amsterdam, ny.

Strikeslip said...

Assuming its still there (I left the area 5 years ago), the Windsor up on Rt 30 north of town always had the best breakfast, and Bottisti's on Vanderveer had the best pizza (especially the one with eggplant ... mmmm). The bicycle trail and the tow path between Amsterdam south side and Auriesville is really scenic and you can pass two original Erie Canal locks [ the best is Yankee Lock surrounded by a large picnic area]. Also interesting along the bike route is the aquaduct at Ft. Hunter. Unfortunately one of the arches collapsed about 10 years ago.

Natalie said...

Thanks for the information everyone...with this knowledge in hand, I think an investigation/adventure in Amsterdam is called for in the not too distant future.

wm murphy said...

I can give you a little bit of an insider/outsider perspective on Adam since I was born in Amsterdam, went off to college and then NYC area to live, and thought I'd never look back. My family & I returned recently and bought an old Queen Anne Victorian home, and I'm still trying to answer many of the questions you bring up about the city. We are indeed a metaphor for upstate's rise and fall, and I'd like to think that we may be on the brink of a mini revival of sorts: A beautiful new Riverlink Park is reconnecting us with the Mohawk River (old Erie Canal), Shuttleworth Park has been refurbished reminding us what it may have felt like when Dimaggio and the Yankees played an exhibition game here in the 40s, Downtown (what's left of it) still has beautiful architecture waiting to be reclaimed, and there are many fine homes and historic architecture on Guy Park Avenue, Locust Avenue, and in the Vandyke Avenue area.
Oddly, Amsterdam can seem a ghostly city at times. In the heart of the city on Church Street is the carpet magnate and founding father Stephen Sanford's old mansion (now City Hall) down the street from his old factory and administrative buildings. The Sanford Clock tower in this area was recently re-lit and now casts an eerie, romantic glow visible from most parts of the city. Sanford was one of many industrial magnates who turned Amsterdam into one of the country's leading carpet and knit goods manufacturers. Situated in almost the dead center of NY on perhaps the busiest shipping corridor in the US, industrialists flocked here for opportunity, and the natural beauty of the Valley setting. Still evident today, even the grungiest sections of town often have million dollar views of the valley.
Herein lies your wife's suspicion that Amsterdam may indeed have a third act. We certainly won't approach the heyday of the carpet era, but slowly and surely folks like myself are reclaiming turn of the century estates for a fraction of what you'd pay in even the closest of capital district areas. And although the city lacks high profile cultural attractions and has its share of blighted streets, it sits in a beautiful pocket of the Valley, is part of the capital region, close to Saratoga and Cooperstown, and has very little crime. For folks who'd prefer a more cordoned off, cul de sac neighborhood like many of albany's suburbs, Amsterdam may not appeal, but for a more historic, walkable city with a haunting industrial feel to it, Amsterdam does have potential.
Tips: Visit in the Summer when there are events at Riverlink Park, Winter is a bit bleak in Amsterdam. Raindancer is Amsterdam’s best restaurant, good place for a cocktail. Crystal Bar on lyon st has slamming Pizza and Mineste (spelling) soup, good bar too. A new quirky little coffee/pierogi shop, Go Where I’ve Bean, on Church St., just opened. Another cool thing to do is catch a summer Bocce game at the Port Jackson Bocce club on the south side. The Bocce club now has a restaurant that sits in the shadow of the old Armory castle- the 36,000 sq. ft. castle was recently purchased by a young Brooklyn family who now use it as their residence. This area is also slated to receive a $16 million grant to redevelop Chalmers mill area and construct a beautiful pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River. Thanks for the interest in our city, if City Hall ever gets around to developing a simple website, you’ll be able to really see what we have to offer.

Natalie said...

Wow, thanks Murphy, that's quite a wealth of information!
You seem pretty optimistic about Amsterdams prospects for the future and know it well, unlike me who just has this undeniable but unsubstantiated feeling about it ;o)

(and while it's charming that you assume so, Jesse and I aren't married)

Brendan said...

Look at the large mills as they rise up the hills. Some, like Fownes, which is still in business, by the way, are on the flats near the railroad tracks, where rail service once facilitated a livelihood.
One mill has a castleated turret, adding a dignified, historic air to the building.
Could carpet manufacturing or distribution make a limited comeback in Amsterdam, using their massive old mills again? Would Mohawk come back, using old mills for regional distribution of carpets?

Amsterdam had a resurgence when Coleco made computer games there in the 1980's. When Coleco left it slipped, but it does have a lot of diversified manufacturing, some of it new. A few smaller companies are situated in the old mills, such as in technical glove manufacturing.

Editors note: Brendan wrote this in an email, with his permission I have added it to the comment string for discussion (Natalie)

Frederic Engels said...

That's correct, the two weblog proprietors are not married, however Jesse and me have been married since he read my Communist Manifesto in 2001. ;>

Sarah Viola said...

Check out the WMHT Documentary "Carpet City" -- lots of good info and made me proud to live in Amsterdam!

Nancy Robinson said...

I have never lived in Amsterdam, but some of my ancestors did as early as the 1600's. My grandfather was born in Florida Twp, as was his mother & her father before her. In course of my genealogical research, I had the occasion to visit Amsterdam several years ago. I have to admit that my first sight of it was rather depressing. However, I got lost and found in the cornfields of Florida Twp., visited my g-g-grandparents at Green Hill & Chuctanunda cemeteries. I stayed at a wonderful and historic B&B (built in 1790) which is now my second home whenever I visit. My visits have become an annual tradition and with each visit, I see a little more hope. I realize why my various ancestors, despite the hardships of living on the "frontier," chose to settle in such a beautiful place and I never fail to feel an enormous sense of history whenever I visit.
I can easily picture what downtown Amsterdam was; several of my ancestors had businesses in downtown Amsterdam. I can also envision what it could be again if the so-called urban development could be reversed to create a more downtown-friendly traffic flow.
The architecture, thankfully remains to be preserved & revitalized for local citizens and tourists alike. How wonderful it would be to see those neglected buildings come alive once more with antique shops, art galleries, bookstores, boutiques, museums, restaurants, ice cream parlours, small but elegant hotels and more B&Bs. With so much history, there would be a demand for tours of historical sites and homes.
So, I guess you can you tell that I have fallen in love with Amsterdam and though I've never lived there, each time I visit, I feel like I've come home.

Susie Q said...

I am unsure if this website is still active, but I came upon this site by somewhat of an accident when researching a old funeral parlor. I felt compelled to leave a comment here for any future dwellers of the internet that may happen upon the "What to do with Amsterdam".

I have lived here all my life. (Since 1963)I have seen so much changes most for the worse. The 'park to nowhere' on the river, hopefully that will 'come alive' somehow. The Mall being placed in the middle of the city's most historical part, the little brown bridge being torn down for the major bridge we have now. The building of Best Western, the McDonalds on Market Street, the coming alive of Route 30, the now defunct ghost town mills, the multiple homes crying out in pain that need either restoration or complete tear down. Now the Walter Elwood Museum being closed because of 'bats' and it's broken down condition. The Bacon School being closed, the other schools being over crowded.

What has caused the demise of Amsterdam? In my opinion it was the Mall in the middle of our historical strip, and the leaving of Mohawk Mills, Coleco, and Esquire. The only true 'mill' that is left is Noteworthy. Then we cannot forget the buildings that have decayed around us, the people who are out of towners that buy the buildings, fix them up and rent them out to people who are basic transients. I could take multiple photo's of this in action. It would make you sick.

Here are some interesting facts about Amsterdam during it's 'hey day' back in 1912:

Amsterdam has three national banks with combined deposit of $1,704,875.00, also one savings bank having 13,452 open accounts, with assets of $5,173,816.20 and surplus of $313,831.38. The deposits for the year of 1911 show an increase of $250,000.00 over the year of 1910. The total number of transactions for the year were 46,212, an average of 3,851 per month, or 143 per day, or eighteen every hour, or one every three minutes and twenty seconds.

Amsterdam is the first city in the United States in the manufacture of carpets and rugs, having three mills, giving employment to about 5,000 hands, whose annual output is 12,2500,000 yards, equal to 6,960 miles, and consuming 50,000 tons of coal and combined power of steam, electric and water of 5,500 H.P., and whose annual output sums up over $11,000,000.

Amsterdam has two silk mills, whose yearly output is $1,509,000, and who turn out 460,000 pairs of gloves.

Amsterdam has nine broom manufacturing plants, and turns out more brooms than any other city in the world, having a yearly output of $1,750,000.

Amsterdam is the second city in the United States in the manufacture of knit goods, having over thirty knitting mills, giving employment to 6,000 hands, whose output is over $10,000,000 annually.

Amsterdam is the largest in the manufacturing of mesh underwear in the world, giving employment to 750 people, using 4,450,000 lbs. of cotton yarn, and paying out in wages annually $500,000.

Amsterdam has the largest pearl button factory in the world, whose output amounts to $1,590,000 annually.

Amsterdam's linseed oil mill consumes over 1,000,000 bushels of flaxseed annually, which entails the expenditure of from $2,000,000 to $2,500,000, and uses about 50,000 barrels per year for the shipment of these oils, and about 9,000 flour and sugar barrels for shipment of cleaned and ground flaxseed, and over 100,000 bags for the shipment of oil cake and oil meal; the coal consumption is approximately 3,000 tons.

Amsterdam has one brick yard, whose annual output for 1911 was 3,000,000 bricks.

Amsterdam has other important industries, such as the paper mills, needle manufacturers, four machine shops, seven planing mills, two button machine factories, two dyeing works, one spring shop, boiler shop, paper box factories and many other industries giving employment to many thousands of hands, having a yearly output of about $25,000,000.

The amount of soft coal consumed annually is 110,000 tons, and 50,000 tons of hard coal, making a total of 160,000 tons.

It would take 4,000 cars, with a capacity of forty tons each, or a train of cards about thirty-two miles long, reaching from Amsterdam to Albany.

[section discussing power consumption and tons of freight forwarded omitted here]

Amsterdam covers five and one-half square miles, and has a population of 32,000, has fifty miles of permanent sidewalks, fifty miles of gas mains, ten miles of paved streets, two electric light plants, fifteen miles of electric railroads, one telephone company, twenty-one churches, five hotels, two daily papers, an immense jobbing trade, a free library, a new federal building, several theatres, Home for Elderly Women, Children's Home, and several fraternal organizations.

Amsterdam's assessed valuation is $12,645,545.57, and property exempted from taxation of $1,335,755.00, and indebtness of $1,090,500.00, a tax rate of $19.18.

Can you IMAGINE it being so full of life and such great promise and only end up a ghost town?

I research genealogy and a lot is concentrated in my mohawk valley, Montgomery County. Amsterdam is a huge interest to me because I still live here.

I will say there IS a promise of hope in all of this. I am not a political person, didn't even register to vote until Ann Thane came on board. She is the new mayor of Amsterdam. In the very short time she has been in office, I have seen some great actions.

The police department which was a virtual joke has actually becoming more active. They patrol more often, they react faster, and they take care of the problems. It used to be you felt like you were 'bothering them' if you made a phone call.

The houses that scream out in pain from being such eye sores are now being either fixed up or mowed down. She is calling out to the owners of the buildings on the only historical part of Amsterdam left on Main street and wants them to dress up their store fronts so that they don't look empty. It's a start, she is trying her best to get it back on it's feet again, and I really applaud her.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting blog topic~I stumbled upon it looking for the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Minaville. I have relatives from the late 1700's buried there. I feel linked to the people who spoke of ancestry and genealogy in Amsterdam as my family has a rich history in the Mohawk Valley. Our lineage can be traced to the early settlers in Beverwyck (Albany)in the 1620's and Amsterdam. I was born in Amsterdam in 1952. My mother spent her childhood there and moved to Alaska where she delivered two older siblings. When the economy grew weak, she and my father moved to Amsterdam for 6 years where I spent my early childhood. I have lived in so many places during my life and suffer from wanderlust, but whenever I return to Amsterdam, I feel it is the only place that ever really feels like home. My youngest sister and I make annual trips to Amsterdam to research genealogy and are just now planning this year's trip for one full week that we shall leave for in less than a week. We are bringing our 83 year old mother from Alaska. My mother remembers Amsterdam as a "dirty mill town". I do not have that vision. She claims the desolation of Amsterdam happened when the mall was constructed downtown~I have no opinion on the subject. My maternal grandmother lived most of her life in Amsterdam and was the overseer at the "old" ladies home on Guy Park Avenue where her sister lived out her life. I simply remember the place through a child's eyes; how exciting it was to play hide-and-seek on the many floors and in all the rooms. The ladies were always happy to see me and I loved visiting with them. The architecture is in my blood to this day. I have visited 3 of the 4 houses I lived in as a young girl. The 4th one was torn down to make room for the "one-way" street improvements. My great,grandfather worked in a pharmacy in the 1920's and 30's that my great, great Uncle owned on Main Street. He later owned a bicycle shop next door. Both of these shops are still visible. I did not know who Kirk Douglas was in my early youth nor did I realize he had grown up in Amsterdam until I read his book in the 80's. My mother doesn't have much of an opinion of him as she knew of him in her youth, but I was delighted to read a story about the city that I felt such a connection with. I was baptized in St Anne's Episcopal Church and recently realized that the priest Thomas Barclay, who served in the 1700's at St Anne's Chappel in Fort Hunter (the forerunner to St Anne's in Amsterdam), was related through my father's mother who was raised in Washington and lived most of her life in Alaska. It appears to me that life has made a full circle for my family in this small city. I have no ideas on how to restore what I believe is a beautiful city, but the thought of losing this place that has such a connection to my heritage is a sad one indeed. I recently saw my oldest sister from Alaska who I hadn't seen for 6 years. We were in Burlington, VT driving up some rather steep city streets. She remarked that it reminded her of living in Amsterdam when she was 2 to 8 yrs of age. She is now 59 and has never been back. Some memories live on forever. I pray there is a solution for Amsterdam for there are too many people who can tell a similar story to mine. Amsterdam has a rich history and has earned her right to be alive and well. (Granddaughter of Fannie Adele Barkhuff)

Alice Manzi said...

RE Amsterdam, NY
I am currently involved in a large project to re-create a historical landmark in the (mentioned here) Riverlink Park. If this blog is still active, anyone can reach me at Manzisculpture@aol.com. Many of us are hoping this could turn the tide...
Alice Manzi