The rise of Amsterdam over the past two plus centuries and the quality of life it helped provide can be traced to a series of good decisions made by all sorts of people for all sorts of different reasons and motivations. In today’s post I’ve attempted to identify five of the most important of those decisions. The complete list of ten will appear in my new book; 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists, which will be released later this year. I’m also preparing a list for the top ten worst decisions ever made for Amsterdam, which will also be included in the book. If you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter, you will receive a special offer that will permit you to reserve one of the first signed copies of the book at a special discounted price. You can subscribe to the free newsletter here.
1. Sir William Johnson decides to ignore his uncle’s explicit instructions and move his base of operations from the south side of the Mohawk River to its north side. In 1738, his British Admiral uncle sent him to settle a tract of land he had purchased on the south side of the Mohawk River in today’s town of Florida with instructions to initiate a fur trading relationship with the Indians in this area. When Johnson arrived and began those tasks, he quickly took note of the fact that the most popular Indian trading routes were north of the Mohawk so he took the initiative and moved to the opposite bank which today constitutes the very western portion of the city of Amsterdam and the village of Fort Johnson. So the question is if Johnson had remained on the south side would the existing downtown mall now be on Bridge Street instead of Main Street?
3. John Sanford decides to change careers. The patriarch of Amsterdam’s Sanford family moved from his birthplace of Roxbury, Connecticut to Amsterdam in 1821. Interestingly, this guy made the move not to start a factory but instead to become a teacher, first in Amsterdam for a few school terms and then in Mayfield. It was in that hamlet that he opened a store, which he later moved down to Amsterdam. It was as a merchant that he became well known and respected, so respected that by 1840 he was a successful candidate for US Congress. He served just one term in Washington before returning to Amsterdam and at last, opening and operating the first ever Sanford-run carpet mill in this city.
5. In 1880, the Amsterdam Common Council decides to authorize the construction of an 18-mile long water delivery system from three reservoirs at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Saratoga County. Total capacity of the three reservoirs is 2.4 billion gallons, enough water to provide safe yield of 10 million gallons per day. The raw water travels through 18 miles of pipe to the City of Amsterdam. Two Amsterdam physicians, Dr. Charles Stover and Dr. William Robb lobbied the Council hard for the new water system, emphasizing that the two creeks from which the community had been drawing its water were unsanitary and harmful to the health of its citizens. It also helped that local industrialists like John Kellogg and Stephen Sanford needed more water for their thriving mills’ power and processes.
7. Lou Gorski decides to move his Gloversville pro baseball team to Amsterdam. Gorski was the “Charley Finley” of the 1930’s, willing to move his Canadian American League Class C baseball franchise to any New York State community willing to make him a better deal. He had just moved from Watertown to Gloversville in 1937 and then one season later in 1938 he was headed to Amsterdam, where his Gloversville Glovers would be renamed the Amsterdam Rugmakers. What made this such a huge and historic deal for Amsterdam was that during the winter of 1937-38, Gorski had negotiated a deal with the New York Yankees to become an affiliate of the legendary Bronx Bombers.
9. Sidney Grossman decides to bet on Amsterdam. He wasn’t born in Amsterdam and he never actually resided here either but if it wasn’t for this son of a Russian immigrant, our town’s decline as a northeast industrial center would have followed a much steeper and more rapid ride downward than it actually did. Grossman became a familiar figure to Rug City residents in 1955, a year after the Bigelow Sanford carpet mill moved out taking 1,500 jobs with it. The company left behind two million square feet of empty space spread out over 40 different buildings of every shape and size imaginable. While most residents of our community saw those empty buildings as a disaster, all Grossman saw was opportunity. Grossman gained national notoriety when he started salvaging entire communities left in desperate conditions when huge employers abandoned them for better deals elsewhere. Grossman’s efforts here began with a $330,000 winning bid at the public auction for the abandoned Sanford buildings in 1955. Between 1955 and 1962, a parade of prospective industrial tenants uncovered by Grossman were welcomed, pitched, wined and dined by a who’s who of Amsterdam community members and the results were a diversified group of companies with names like Bayshore, Consolidated Novelty, Fiberglass Products, Noteworthy, Esquire, Coleco etc. that gave jobs to many former Sanford workers, filled those vast empty spaces with new machines and materials and kept the gas stations, coffee shops, bars and downtown stores in business for another thirty-to-forty years.
Honorable Mentions: Whitey Murray decides to start a youth football league so his sons can play the game: The old Amsterdam City School Board decides to authorize the formation of a Marching Band: Amsterdam physician, Saphronius French decides to write 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: Nadia Tuman decides to become the driving force behind a softball league for girls: Thanks to Brian Spagnola, the owner of the Schenectady franchise in the New York State Collegiate Baseball League decides to move the team to Shuttleworth Park and the Amsterdam Mohawks are born. Paul Gavry decides that he will lead the effort to bring free concerts to Amsterdam’s waterfront park.