Amsterdam Public Library – In 1902, a highly respected Amsterdam medical doctor named Saphronius French sat down and wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie, asking the Scottish born steel magnate to donate $25,000 to the city of Amsterdam for the erection of a public library building. Carnegie responded that he would grant the request only if the city government promised to fund the building’s maintenance in perpetuity. After some serious hemming and hawing by the Mayor and alderman at the time, the city finally agreed and in 1903 at the cornerstone ceremony for the new building, Dr. French chose to connect the new library’s location being smack in the middle of a what was back then a cluster of industrial knitting mills with the following words, “The whir of spindle and wheel will penetrate even the rooms set apart to reading and meditation, a constant reminder of the fact that thought and action must be inseparable. The toiler, not the idler is the one for whom libraries are founded.” The location he referenced was at the corner of Church and Livingston. Livingston Street was later renamed Grove St. The local contractor hired to do the building was Bernard Machold. The total construction cost was $20,775 and the official opening took place on November 2, 1903. One hundred and fourteen years later, that building remains my choice for the most famous landmark building in Amsterdam.
The Horigan Building – Whenever I cross the River bridge coming into Amsterdam from the south on Route 30 and reach the light at Main Street, I’m vividly reminded that the words “new” and “change” do not always mean “better”. I look to the right at that corner and see the Riverfront Center, which was built to ensure that the future of Amsterdam’s downtown business district would be a prosperous one but as of yet, it has failed to do so. Then I look to the left and see my favorite building in the city, one that elegantly represents all the greatest eras in downtown’s history. If only we could go back in time and do it all over again, right? My all-time favorite Amsterdam building was erected in 1875 on what was then the corner of East Main and Railroad Streets. It was the brand new home of the first and oldest financial institution in our community’s history, the Farmers’ National Bank which had originally been organized in 1839. The structure exudes elegance and supreme craftsmanship and the board of directors was so thrilled with the completed building they awarded the bank’s president at the time, David Demarest Cassidy a $1,000 bonus for successfully overseeing the building project. The most notable feature of the building was a huge copper topped promotional clock that hung out over the Railroad Street side of the Bank’s corner location and filled Amsterdam’s shopping district with the sounds of Westminster chimes for generations. The State Bank of Albany acquired the Farmer’s National Bank and the building in 1954 and remained on the Railroad Street corner until moving directly across the street when the new bridge was being built. The Horigan Law Firm then took over sole occupancy of the building and have kept it in pristine condition since.
The Amsterdam Armory – Amsterdam, NY officially formed the 46th Company of the New York State National Guard in 1888. Three months after that formation the state announced that Montgomery County would be responsible for providing the facilities necessary for that unit to conduct drills and store its equipment. The County Board of Supervisors then dragged their feet for four years hoping that testate would change their mind but finally authorized the expenditure of $32,000 for an Armory. The finished structure ended up costing the county’s taxpayers $45,000. The site selected was the South Side of Amsterdam, high up on a hill on Florida Avenue where it meets Bridge Street. The cornerstone was laid in September of 1894 and the finished structure, built by Isaac G. Perry resembled a medieval castle.It consisted of 36,000 square feet spread over 50 different rooms, Though the steep grade from the Florida Avenue street level to the Armory’s front door was anything but convenient, the expansive lawn and stone retaining wall created to deal with that slope added a natural beauty to the place that secured its status as one of Amsterdam’s most impressive structure. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, the same year it was decommissioned as an armory and sold to the Diana family who converted it into a private residence. In 2005 the Phemister family purchased it and in addition to living there, they ran their business family’s distribution business from it and also converted a portion of the facility to a bed and breakfast operation. It again changed hands a few years ago and the new owners were in the process of converting the gym space in the facility into several more rooms for bed and breakfast patrons.
Wilbur Lynch Middle School – I’ve always felt this classic building was placed in a perfect spot, high up on the top of a manicured hillside, requiring the tens of thousands of Amsterdam students who have attended it to figuratively if not always literally climb it’s 90 stairs to achieve a successful future. What makes it even more perfect is the fact that a long-ago local Amsterdam firm, the legendary J.J Turner Construction Company built this handsome-looking place. It’s time as this city’s public high school ended with the graduating class of 1976. The following year it began its new role as the school district’s only middle school. The Auditorium in this building is the single most beautiful performance venue in all of Amsterdam.
The Bank Building – On January 16, 1927, a downtown Amsterdam building known as Morris Hall, which once spanned the Chuctanunda Creek on the south side of East Main Street, was destroyed by fire. The historic structure had been a popular community gathering spot for generations since before the Civil War, hosting numerous public events. In its place was built Amsterdam’s first version of a skyscraper, the seven story First National Bank Building. It’s marble hewed first floor would serve as home to a series of different banks over the next seven decades while its upper stories became working offices to a progression of doctors, dentists and lawyers whose combined patient, client and employee flow would provide the building’s full-time elevator operator with more ups and downs in a typical workday than an NBA basketball. It has laid empty and dormant for years, its only perceived value is sadly supporting the cell tower and the promotional sign of the building’s current owner, Cranesville Block. But I’ve heard reports that plans are in place to bring this iconic structure back-to-life and I know the rest of Amsterdam joins me in hoping those plans come to fruition.
What are my other five all-time top ten landmark Amsterdam buildings? You’ll have to wait until my full Amsterdam All-Time Top Ten book comes out later this year to find out what they are.
Once a month, I will be sending out a newsletter that includes a portion of the All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists I happen to be working on at the time. I will also use this monthly newsletter to announce the topics for upcoming Top Ten Lists and welcoming readers to put forth their own nominations for these compilations. If you’d like be included, please add your e-mail address here.