'Recollection of Rome' draws on newsman's memory of city's early days

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 1 of a two-part excerpt of an article which appeared in the Daily Sentinel’s Friday evening Feb. 24, 1888 edition with the heading “Recollection of Rome: Danbury news man draws on his memory.” Part 1 appears in today’s Seven-Day Sentinel, courtesy of Michael Colangelo, Sr., City of Rome Historian. 

The Daily Sentinel is publishing a special section on the City of Rome’s 150th anniversary of incorporation on Wednesday, July 29. Part 2 of the excerpt will be published on Sunday, Aug. 2.

Feb. 22, 1888

My dear Sentinel when I was in Rome a year and a half ago you asked me to give a few of my memories of the Village as it was when I was a boy there, I said I would but didn’t I will try to do it now. I went to Rome in 1847 when I was a mere child. I lived in either Rome or Albany from that time until 1860. The greater part of the time I lived in Rome.

My stepfather was Daniel E. Smith. And the best of fathers he was. He belonged in Rome, but was at work in Albany when he met my mother. Our journey from Albany to Rome was on a canal boat the style of bolt called a “liner”. I have a faint recollection of the arrival in Rome; of a large warehouse which stood by the canal in rear of what was then called the Armstrong block, a few rods west of the James Street bridge. My stepfather’s family owned this warehouse into dwellings near it. One of these, in which we made our home, was connected with the rear of the warehouse, and fronted on what is now called front Street, but which had no name then, being simply a road running from James to Washington Street, with a lumber yard on one side and a turnip field on the other. The New York Central Road was in operation at that time, but the fares were much higher than those by canal, and time was not so much an object as it is now.

At the station there was a hotel which was built and was owned by father’s family. It was called the Railroad Hotel, and once did a prosperous business. It is now occupied as a passenger station by the Ontario & Western Railway company. One of the oldest hotels that I remember, was the “Putnam Tavern” , on the corner of James and Dominick streets, west of where Sinks Opera house now is, on the site of the building now occupied by C.H. Saulpaugh. I remember when this large building was put up there, and a dry goods store occupied the corner. A feature of this corner store was a set of iron shutters that moved up and down by a crank which was operated in the morning and at night.

The Putnam Tavern was a weather-beaten building, with a roof that slanted way down in the rear and a part way down in the front. And a portion of the front slant made a roof for the front porch. This fronted on James Street. The front door was near the corner. It led into the booking room where passage was taken for several stage lines, and where wines and liquors were sold. Everybody drank in those days, and wine and liquor were common enough. It was before the days of temperance societies and inebriate asylums.

On the canal the chief passage was by” passenger boats. “ They were long and narrow. Somebody on board of them blew a bugle and started from and at arriving at each place. Three horses were hitched to them. These horses were at a trot. At intervals they were taking off and another trio put in their place. The rate of traveling was about 3 miles an hour.

That portion of town south of the railroad station was known and always spoken of as the “old canal,” from the fact that the Erie Canal was originally laid out there. When I was a boy the old ditch, filled here and there with pools of slimy water, was a feature of the landscape, and may be yet. Where the S. James St. bridge crossed it there was standing, when I was a boy, a weather-beaten warehouse, which had been a storehouse for canal freight before the world was lightenedup by my presence.

I took a stroll over portions of the “old canal” one evening in November last when I was in Rome. The place has change some in 35 years, of course, but far less than I expected. I went down James Street to what you now call Depeyster Street. On the corner stood then a German Catholic church. There were lots of Germans in the old canal in those days, and I knew most of them. The German Protestant church was farther up the street, and stands there now.

Where Depeyster Street took a turn so as to run back to the Erie Canal there stood a schoolhouse. I never went to school there, but a lot of my cronies did, and when I was not going to my own school I was hanging around their and distracting the attention of the students. Although streets down there, and many of the houses, are familiar to me. But the streets then either had no names or were not generally known by their title. I never heard them mentioned. It was all the old canal in those days. The Eagle Tavern, a stone building stood on a corner a few rods below the railroad, on the left of James Street. Between the railroad and it was a vacant lot, and there most of the circus companies visiting Rome exhibited. It was there I first saw Dan Rice, P. T. Barnum, Van Amberg and Tom thumb.

Talking about circuses, it was on the front of the old Putnam Tavern that the circus posters were first put up. Going to school every morning in circus season I use to examine the front of the Putnam Tavern to see if a circus was billed. If it was I hastened over at once and ascertained the date of its coming, and then fell to devouring the divine pictures.

Early circuses day mornings we boys found out the direction the procession was coming from and then walked out of town to meet it.

I wish a circus could confer the amount of happiness upon me today that it did then.

Later on Hill & Co.’s dry goods store occupied the site of the old Putnam Tavern. Across Dominick Street from it stood Merrills block of brick, and it stands there now. The Merrills occupied the corner store with a leather business. On the second floor the Roman citizen, Mr. Sandford, editor, had its office and composing rooms. The citizen is still there. That was the only business building on that side of James Street above Dominick when I was a lad.

There is one very prominent landmark on James Street, that is the brick building just north of the railway. Joseph Higgins occupies a portion of the first floor for a blacksmith shop. He did 40 years ago, and he and his family occupied rooms above. It gave me an undescribable thrill of pleasure on my last visit to see this building and to read Joe’s sign; I went in to see him you may be sure; I played with his children when I was a very little chap. That seems to have been some four or 500 years ago. I couldn’t understand why he should be alive now, after all these centuries have passed. I think the building was longer than it is now. I know that there were two or three blacksmith shops on the first floor. Over one of them, 40 years ago a man named Lattin had a daguerreotype gallery. I have a picture of myself that he took then.

There were no buildings on the street line opposite, but some little way back from the street there was a Cooper’s shop; and opposite a well-known citizen named Hollister had a stage house. I have often climbed into and upon his handsome stages. Later he opened a livery stable on a lane between Dominick and Liberty streets, and that was then known by his name. That is, the portion of it that runs from James Street to Washington.

But to get back to James Street, below the canal. Next to the blacksmiths block, separated by a lane, was a large warehouse fronting on James Street and the canal. It was called Hyde’s block. Northup & Eldridge had a grocery and general merchandise store on the street front. On the canal front there were one or two stores which supplied canal boats and Canal boatman. I don’t remember who kept them, but I do remember they sold bologna sausage and oilcloth coats.

Opposite Hyde’s block was the Armstrong block built of brick. This also fronted on the street and on the canal. E. B. & H. S. Armstrong occupied a good part of the streetside with a country store and a tin and stove store. On the corner at Front Street Henry Hayden kept a dry goods store. The canal front was occupied by Harrison Jacobs and E. A. Allen who kept canal supplies. The only other building from Armstrong’s to the railway was a frame building on the corner of front Street owned by Joseph Beecham, and occupied by him at the front with a grocery and liquor store. Joseph was a brother of Rev. Father Beecham, then pastor of St. Peter’s Church.

Above the bridge and below Dominick, James Street has not changed so much as one would suppose. Stanwix Hall stood then where it does now, but was not so extensive. One of the Knoxes had a restaurant in the basement. The corner used to be a favorite location for a well known street character of that day, Bill Seeber. Poor Bill! He was a goodhearted vagabond. Whitesboro Street had one or two liquor saloons and several tenements. The Seymour house was afterward built. I think a man named Edmonds was its first landlord. Across the Black River canal and near to the railway stood a building called the Conlon house. I don’t remember what building connected Stanwix Hall with the Putnam Tavern.

Across the street, near the bridge, stood a building which, on the canal front, was occupied by a market owned by a man named, I think, Clark Morton. Upstairs, on the street front Wm. McPhee had a tailor shop. He was a small man and lame. Near to him A. A. Pavey had a candy and toy store. I saw Mr. Pavey at the Arlington Hotel a year ago last summer. He appeared familiar. A little above him John B. McHarg had a gun store. And next to him was a saloon. I think one of the Knoxes ran it when I was a little fellow, but the first proprietor I remember was William Mulligan. The Grogan brothers now occupy the place. On the corner of Dominick and James Street’s Mudge & Doty had a grocery and dry goods store. Adjoining them on Dominick Street was Pell & Wright’s hardware store. West of that was the Exchange bank and over had the Rome Sentinel office. Opposite stood the American Hotel. In the basement of the Hotel McCarrick & Sons had a fruit store. I don’t remember what sort of structures stood on the street above Hollister’s Lane, but later a block was put up which was called Elm Row. At one time the post office occupied the central portion of it. There were no business places above Liberty Street.

The parks stood where they do now, and so did the Academy and the Courthouse opposite. Way out beyond the buildup portion of the Village quite a jaunt it was then was the village graveyard. It is there yet, but is now quite in the city, and appears to have gone out of business entirely.

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