Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Safe Rides

From the Troy Record:
County to offer free rides on New Years Eve
Rensselaer County will offer free transportation to patrons of bars and restaurants within the county’s borders on New Year’s Eve on a first call first serve basis.

Editorial: Do planning now before party starts
As we approach New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest party days of the year, it goes without saying that revelers should not drink and drive.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ship Rams Pier

Article from the Coast Guard News, dateline Dec. 29:
Ship rams pier at fuel containment facility
The Coast Guard is investigating an allision [collision?] between a ship and a pier at a fuel containment facility in Rensselaer, N.Y., that occurred at approximately, 12:30 p.m., today.
There were no injuries or pollution, but significant damage to the pier. If anyone has a photo I can post, please e-mail

MORE: The ship, the Sanko Phoenix had already passed NYC and was headed out into the ocean at 14 knots as of 7:30 pm this evening. (The site has a cool Ships Map application. But so far nobody is hosting a tracking station any further up the Hudson than NYC.)

MegaBus to NYC

I've been meaning to post about the new MegaBus direct service from the Rensselaer Amtrak station to Penn Station in New York City. (Fares are as low as $1 if you book far in advance - it's currently $19 each way for a late Jan. weekend.) The schedule looks very convenient, so I hope to try it soon.

But for now, I found a great review from someone who has already made the trip. Matthew Loiacono's blog "the view from here" gives you detailed instructions, tells what to expect:

How to Travel from Albany -> NYC for $1 Each Way

The MegaBus site has this notification, which is a change of pick-up location (Matthew's review describes the old location):
The bus stop in Albany/Rensselaer has been moved. We are now picking up in the North Service Parking lot of the train station. The entrance to the parking lot is off East St, just North of Wendell St on the West side and this lot can be accessed from the train station.

Matthew Loiacono is a local musician, so while you're on his site, take the time to listen to a few tracks. It's very cool stuff! (Traditional instruments like mandolin and banjo with modern technology and sounds.) If you get to his site before the end of the year, you can download a free live album.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Author Bruce Hiscock

The Rensselaer Public Library [810 Broadway] will be hosting a talk by an upstate NY author on Friday, January 2nd at 3 PM.

Author and illustrator Bruce Hiscock will talk and show slides about the process of creating his children's book about the Alaskan Arctic. A quick look-up on Amazon shows he has several books about the Arctic. The latest is called Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl.

The author lives at the edge of the Adirondacks, and has some great photos of his woods on his web site.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Evelyn Edwards Exhibit

I believe there are still a few days left to see paintings by Rensselaer artist Evelyn Edwards at the East Greenbush Library [10 Community Way, E. Greenbush]. Library hours on Mon. and Tue. are 9am - 9pm. This Wed. they are open 9am - 5pm (closing early for New Year's Eve.) This is their December exhibit, and I'm not sure what day the paintings will be removed.

Since the description on the library's Exhibits List will probably change soon, I'm quoting their December 2008 posting here:

Walls: Watercolors & Prints by Evelyn Edwards

Evelyn Edwards is a local artist whose work is primarily in watercolor media of landscapes, still life and some figure drawings. She has exhibited her work at Columbia-Greene Community College, Hudson Valley Community College and at the Chatham Mini Mall with much success. Evelyn is currently 95 years of age.

There is a profile of the artist in today's Times Union as well:

Therapy by the brush stroke
At 94, Rensselaer woman wants her art to make people feel good

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tech Valley High

Tech Valley High School is a small regional public high school located in the RPI Tech Park. The school partners with regional businesses and economic development organizations to develop an appreciation for real world technologies and local industries such as biotech, nanotech, alternative energy, etc.

Press Release: Wanted: Students for innovative regional high school’s third class

From the Times-Union: Find out about Tech Valley High
Tech Valley High School will conduct tours and informational sessions over the coming months for eighth-grade students and their parents in the Capital Region interested in being a part of the innovative school that teaches students through project-based learning principles and focuses on what students need to be successful in a 21st century work force.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Eligible for HEAP

A one-time federal grant has allowed New York State to broaden eligibility for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), to serve more people in need. For more info, read the press release:

As Winter Officially Begins, Governor Paterson Announces An Expansion Of Emergency Heap Eligibility Guidelines To Help Heat More Homes This Winter
Beginning January 1, a family of four earning as much as $56,635 could be eligible for emergency HEAP benefits; an additional $100 supplemental benefit to be issued to current HEAP recipients.
The HEAP program includes three components available to New Yorkers:
  • Regular Benefit - annual supplement for home heating costs
  • Emergency Benefit (Second Emergency Benefit available)
  • Furnace Repair or Replacement - to keep primary heating source functional

Click here to learn about HEAP and how to apply (HEAP website).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

More Holiday Lights

I got a few more photos on Tuesday night, before the rain came along to wipe out the fresh snow. (Click to enlarge)

These are from Broadway up to the high school. Even on Tue., some of the streets were still too snowy to navigate in my little car, so I got fewer pictures than I'd hoped.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Car Mishap at High School

From CBS Channel 6 Monday night:
Car driven by teens slides down embankment by Rensselaer High

A car with at least two teens went off the road, through a fence and slid down a deep embankment by Rensselaer High School tonight right in front of one of our crews tonight.
No one was injured in the accident.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PQI Web Site

The NY State Health Department just released the Prevention Quality Indicator (PQI), a web-based tool to assess regional hospitalization rates for conditions considered preventable from a public health perspective:
When you analyze the 12144 zip code, you can compare our rate of adult "avoidable hospitalizations" (over the 2 year period 2005-6) with the number that would be expected based on statewide statistics for a variety of conditions.

So how does Rensselaer stack up? Our best score was for diabetes care, where our hospitalizations were 52% of expected (22 Rensselaer residents were hospitalized for diabetes, while the number expected would have been 42.) The hospitalization rate for circulatory complications (cardiovascular disease) was 89% (73 hospitalized when 82 would have been expected).

Rensselaer's worst hospitalization rate was for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), at 166% of expected (which is adjusted for age of population). There were 44 hospitalizations, versus the 27 that would be expected. This probably indicates a need for more attention on reducing smoking. (Looking just at overall respiratory conditions is deceptive, since we scored better than average in asthma, which masks the bad score for COPD.)

Local Gov't Too Big

I almost missed this story in Sunday's Times-Union:
Government not shrinking with population
Declines in how many people live in a community haven't meant smaller government
Their main point is that "With the economy in turmoil and governments looking to trim costs, rarely do leaders' eyes turn toward their own institutions." But they should, and this article proposes shrinking city councils to reflect current circumstances. In fact, Rensselaer topped their list of over-sized governments:
No community is as well-represented as the city of Rensselaer. There is one elected council member for every 792 residents. That compares with one board member for every 11,680 residents of Colonie.
Remember how our local property taxes compared with our counterpart in Indiana (almost 4 times as much)? That high tax supports our many layers of local government, something Attorney General Cuomo is hoping to address by making it easier for citizens to force votes to consolidate local services, schools, towns or villages. Check out this T-U article from Dec. 14, which proposes merging Rensselaer into the city of Albany:
Cuomo's plan faces pride angle
Complexities color Cuomo's idea to put government merger to public vote
The 2010 census is coming up, which will probably result in redistricting anyway. This is a great opportunity to evaluate whether local government is serving our needs, and make changes accordingly.

The T-U has entered this in their Local Politics Blog, and since I haven't implemented comments here yet, I encourage you to go there and post a comment: Things change, governments not so much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Lights

Here's a bit of holiday scenery from a drive through the North End of Rensselaer, NY (mainly Farley Dr., Eastland Park, and Partridge Run).

There are many other pretty houses, but my camera does a bad job at night, and these were the only photos that came out.

You can click the photos to zoom in, but I kept the size pretty small, because of the low image quality.

Here is my favorite of the really bad photos...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Police Chase

Yesterday afternoon, a high-speed chase in Schodack ended with the driver abandoning the car on East St. in Rensselaer, after injuring a construction worker on South St. Rensselaer Police arrested Neil Dearstyne, 38. The injured worker was treated and released.

UPDATE: (Saturday, 12/20/08, 12pm)

Speeds during the chase apparently reached 120 mph as they entered Rensselaer. The driver is in jail without bail. The Troy Record claims the pursuit arose from an attempted pull-over for improper registration.

In many cases, where the suspect poses no immediate danger to the public, it's the chase itself that causes the threat.
[Glenn Morshower, quote on Voices Insisting on PursuitSAFETY]
The U.S. Supreme Court [Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007)] recently chose NOT to rule that police must allow fleeing suspects to get away if they drive so recklessly that they put bystanders' lives in danger. However, the Model Pursuit Policy of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) states that:
The decision to initiate pursuit must be based on the pursuing officer's conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local Rail History

In 1826, John Stevens demonstrated a prototype steam locomotive. That same year, the first railroad was charted in New York State. The Mohawk & Hudson Railroad was built to connect the two rivers (and to enhance Albany's position in its rivalry with Troy). The cost to build the 6 miles of track was $1.1M ($27M in 2008 dollars). Transportation of goods between Albany & Schenectady dropped from 2-3 days down to 3 hours, using horse-drawn rail cars. In 1831, the locomotive DeWitt Clinton reduced the travel time even further.

Rail Building - East of the Hudson

The Albany & West Stockbridge Railroad began operations in 1842, eventually connecting Greenbush to the Mass. State line. The route ran from Greenbush through Kinderhook to Chatham, where it connected with the Hudson & Berkshire tracks. Their 1842 rail map also shows the proposed route from Greenbush to Troy. (There was no “Rensselaer, NY” yet, and “Albany” often meant “just across the river from Albany”).

The tracks for the Troy & Greenbush Railroad were laid during 1840-41, but by law they could not be used until $250,000 more was spent to build track from Chatham south into Columbia County. Troy's citizens believed that Albany's politicians pushed for this legislation to benefit from (and rein in) Troy’s commercial success. The T.& G. was finally able to commence operations in 1845. The track building continued and in 1851, the Hudson River Railroad extended the T. & G. south to New York City.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Meanwhile, railroads were also being built along the Mohawk River Valley. In 1853, Erastus Corning merged those 10 railroads to form the New York Central Railroad. On the east side of the river, Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the Hudson River Railroad in 1864.

The Hudson River Bridge opened in 1866, and was jointly owned by the New York Central (50%) on west side, and the Hudson River Railroad (25%) and Boston & Albany Railroad (25%) on east side. (The Boston & Albany was created by a merger of the Albany & West Stockbridge with the other lines along the route to Boston.) As soon as travel patterns were established across the new bridge, Cornelius Vanderbilt stopped allowing transfers from the New York Central to the Hudson River Railroad, and used this as leverage to acquire the N.Y.C. and merge the two lines.

The railroads were major local employers. As noted in this 1899 state factory inspection, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad employed 70 men doing locomotive repairs in Rensselaer. The car and railroad repair shop of the Boston & Albany Railroad had two buildings in Rensselaer, and employed 254 men.

Additional References:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dec. Leg. Report

Here's the December Report from our local Rensselaer County legislator, Mike Stammel. It includes mention of the recently approved Community Program Grants, including $6,000 for the Rensselaer Public Library.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Power's Mostly Back

Power outages in the City of Rensselaer are finally down to single digits: 9 customers tonight, versus 99 yesterday. I didn't note the total at the peak, but I think it was over 2,000. Or maybe that was Poestenkill - it's all kind of fuzzy now (I was still half-sick - it took a long time to get over that bug).

National Grid crews were working both last night and this morning on upper Washington Ave. It looks like they finally got service restored to the Farley Dr. neighborhood across the creek. Notice where the guy in the bucket is in this picture (click to zoom in). This line goes right across the gully, through the woods. What were they thinking?

I decided against a giant roundup of storm story links. But you might check out the Times-Union Storm Map, which lets you read short comments about the storm (mostly people's power status and their opinions of National Grid). These are tagged with their locations, and the points are mapped. My first try using Firefox showed me the ocean off of Africa, and then the map interface stalled. Internet Explorer wouldn't show the map at all. The second try with Firefox worked. It's an interesting application - has some potential to be useful.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CDTA Board

According to this article in the Business Review (NY Senate meets to vote on key positions), Governor Paterson has nominated County Legislator Mike Stammel to the Board of Directors of the Capital District Transportion Authority. The State Senate was scheduled to vote on it today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

St. Paul's Center

The Times-Union has a piece which mentions the St. Paul's Center on 3rd Street:

A new face of homelessness
A family's plight is typical of a single mom and children seeking help

UPDATE: St. Paul's Center values support

Judging Postponed

Because of the power outages, judging for the holiday decorating contest in Wards 8 & 9 has been postponed until December 15.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008


Ice Storm Update

Just a quick update... The grocery stores on Rt. 20 in East Greenbush are open. I wasn't in Price Chopper, but Hanaford was well stocked. They didn't lose power, as far as I can tell, so they didn't need to jettison the perishables (I heard that the Hoosick St. Price Chopper in Troy did).

Also, Rt. 4 was open all the way from Rt. 20 beyond Rt. 43. (The light at Rt. 151 was out though.) All the gas stations have lines.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Word to the Wise

OK, so someone in the unwashed masses at the Troy Victorian Stroll gave us both the "stomach flu". Be aware that it's going around, and if you get it, it'll probably take you out for a good 4 days.

Although I can't be certain, I suspect we may have been the victims of the norovirus. In any event, I googled some depressing facts (I was trained as an engineer, so obviously this isn't medical advice - this list came mostly from the above link, as well as the CDC and the NYCDOHMH):
  • It takes a good 20 seconds of vigorous handwashing to get rid of norovirus.
  • Over-the-counter hand sanitizers are mostly ineffective against it.
  • Chlorine will kill it in a strong concentration (not diluted in a swimming pool or tap water).
  • It survives freezing, and heating up to 140 degrees (water this hot burns within seconds).
The good news is that a company called LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals has a vaccine in human trials. I sure hope it gets FDA approval!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow Equipment

From the Times-Union: Council approves winter equipment purchases
RENSSELAER — The city will buy new snow removal equipment to replace the equipment damaged in the summer flooding.

The Common Council voted 7-2 Wednesday night to approve the purchase of $510,314 in new equipment, Mayor Dan Dwyer said Thursday. One council member was absent.

Craft Fair Update

Just a quick update to the Troy Victorian Stroll Craft Show (see my earlier post). The hours are actually 10am - 5pm, so you can come early and get a jump on shopping. will have a big show discount: $15 off retail prices!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rensselaer, IN

When I'd seen Rensselaer, Indiana in enough Google search results, I began to wonder about the place. I learned that it's half-way between Chicago and Indianapolis, about an hour and a half drive from either city. Here's how we compare:

Rensselaer, NYRensselaer, IN
Population: 7,924Population: 5,660
Land Area: 3.01 sq. mi.Land Area: 2.90 sq. miles
Median Income: $41,161Median Income: $38,188
Cost of Living: 88% of US Avg.Cost of Living: 77.5% of US Avg.
Median Home Value: $138,917Median Home Value: $108,189
Median Property Tax: $2,173Median Property Tax: $546

Rensselaer, IN was named for James Van Rensselaer, a 5th generation descendant of Patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. James lived in Utica, NY, but moved to Indiana after his trading house failed in the 1820's (Van Rensselaer & Kane, which traded in grain, coffee and spices - reference: The Van Rensselaer Family).

The City of Rensselaer, IN has a fantastic homepage, with contact information for all their public services, and online access to the agendas and minutes of their city council meetings. (We need to be doing this!!) The city has a Chamber of Commerce and a Visitor's Bureau.

There's even a daily newspaper, The Rensselaer Republican (they're far from any larger cities, so there's no competition). They don't seem to have a community blogger, but if Rensselaer, NY had a city home page and a daily newspaper, neither would we!

Friday, December 5, 2008

MWK Biogas

I noticed a press release which fits well with the other "energy" postings of the past week. MWK Biogas North America Corp. of Rensselaer is the US branch of a German company. They market "digester" systems which harvest biogas from manure and other organic feedstocks, generating electricity and heat via anaerobic fermentation.

Their technology is said to produce 1.2-1.3 kW per cow. According to a recent article about a proposed greenhouse gas tax on farm animals, New York State has about 627,000 dairy cows. That's a lot of energy waiting to be captured - about 750-800 megawatts. For comparison, Maple Ridge Wind Farm in Lowville produces 320 MW of electricity with 195 turbines, which they claim is enough to power 160,000 average New York homes.

The article Farm Digesters For Small Dairies In Vermont tells how "Cow Power" provides renewable energy from dairy farm "output", as well as from other organic waste like whey from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stroll Craft Show

I'll be exhibiting with at the Troy Victorian Stroll's Craft Show this weekend. (Quiltboxes is my boyfriend's business - he also co-owns Bankshot Antique Pool Tables, in case you've wondered about my "banner ads".)

Troy Victorian Stroll
Sun., Dec. 7, 11am - 5pm
Craft Show at Troy Atrium
3rd St. and Broadway

Parking is FREE in all City Lots, the Troy Atrium Garage, and on all city streets.

You can see a few boxes at, his e-commerce site. But there will be about 50 boxes to choose from at the show, and you really should see them in person to appreciate the beauty of the wood.

If time permits at the show, I'll be demonstrating my great-great-great grandmother's art of paper weaving. This Victorian era technique can produce some amazingly intricate and beautiful designs. I've never seen directions for this - I had to reverse-engineer it from her paper scrapbook. Come to the Stroll craft show and check it out!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Senior Center

Here's a short blurb and video from Capital News 9, about how members of the Rensselaer Senior Center donate warm, hand-made items to homeless shelters: Seniors knit for less fortunate

County Budget Passed

Coverage of the Rensselaer County budget vote:

Majority Press Release: Legislature Approves 2009 Rensselaer County Budget

Times Union
: Rensselaer County budget passed
TROY — In a 12-6 party line vote Monday night, the Rensselaer County Legislature approved a $287.7 million county budget for 2009.
Troy Record
: Rensselaer County approves $287.7M budget
TROY — The Rensselaer County Legislature passed the 2009 budget in which the tax rate remained unchanged for the first time in seven years.

With the newly-approved $287.7 million budget, the average annual county tax bills for homes valued at $100,000 will remain at $523, county officials said.

Monday, December 1, 2008

SBA Disaster Loans

From a Nov. 13 press release:
The U.S. Small Business Administration announces today that federal economic injury disaster loans are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes located in Clinton, Essex, Rensselaer and Washington counties in the State of New York as a result of excessive rain, flooding, flash flooding, high winds, hail and tornadoes that occurred June 1, 2008 through August 31, 2008. ... Eligible small businesses and non-profit organizations may qualify for loans up to $2 million. These loans are available at a 4 percent interest rate with loan terms up to 30 years.
For details, see the SBA Press Release Number: 09-089, VT 11512

Apply online at the SBA's Disaster Assistance website

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Empire Generating Co.

Here are a few links showing construction progress for the generating plant at 75 Riverside Ave. in Rensselaer, NY. Empire Generating Co. LLC maintains a project office at 152 Broadway in Rensselaer, and their hours are 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesdays, and 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays.

Construction Photos from FirstLight Power Resources, September 2008 (see also their Empire Generating Co. Project Summary).

Recent Aerial Photos by Chris Milian (, uploaded to Flickr during October and November 2008

From The Independent, 11/18/08: Work continues on power plant
RENSSELAER: Crews are installing natural gas pipelines along Route 9J (River Road) in the Village of Castleton to supply a new 635-megawatt power plant currently under construction in the city.
From the Business Review, 3/5/08: Empire Generating expects to break ground on $700M plant next week

The plant is scheduled to open in late 2009 and have a $290 million economic impact on the region over 20 years ... Construction of the $700 million plant will generate 550 union jobs; once opened, the plant will employ 20 workers.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

E. Albany Gas Light

From the Times Union last week: Old industrial site tested for pollution
Representatives for National Grid and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are working at the site near the corner of Huyck Square and Washington Street where a manufactured gas plant stood more than 100 years ago. ... The East Albany Gas Light Co. once sat on the property. It began operation sometime between 1860 and 1887 and ceased operations around 1925.
To learn more about the DEC's cleanup efforts for such sites, you can read: New York State’s Approach to the Remediation of Former Manufactured Gas Plant Sites.

Gas lighting transformed people's lives in the 1800's, providing illumination for industry and the home. By the end of the 19th century, almost a thousand US companies were making gas from coal, and this "town gas" was widely used for lighting, heating, and cooking. Manufactured gas was eventually replaced by natural gas, as the pipeline infrastructure was built.

If you have historic photographs or documents relating to the East Albany Gas Light Co., please consider donating them to the city historian - they have no info. in the City Hall research room. From the report of a NYS factory inspection I learned that the E. Albany Gas Light Co. was generating both electric and gas light by 1899, and employed 3 men working a 60 hour week.

In 1909, the E. Albany Gas Light Co. merged into the Albany Southern Railroad Co., along with several small light/electric companies, the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Co., and the Albany & Hudson Railroad (a novel third-rail electrical railway between Rensselaer and Hudson). In 1912, the Albany Southern Railroad owned all the gas and electric light plants in Rensselaer and Hudson.

Coal gasification has become a hot topic again. The US Department of Energy is pushing the environmental benefits. GE Energy has a test plant in Schenectady, and many sites use their gasification technology.

Flood Followup

Capital News 9 did a Thanksgiving follow-up story about last summer's flood. Here is a link to the story, including a nice video with interviews: Flood victims give thanks to those who offered hand up.

(FYI, I understand that among the donors to the mayor's flood fund were the students of Doane Stuart School, who raised $1,000 to assist flood victims.)

Partridge Run

The Partridge Run neighborhood got a mention in the Times Union last week:

Neighborhoods: Partridge Run, Rensselaer

[Check out this pretty face.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nov. Leg. Report

Here's Mike Stammel's Rensselaer County District 6 Legislative Report for November. He mentions the new Siemens energy performance contract for county facilities, which is expected to result in $5M in energy savings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Groundbreaking Photos

Photos from the groundbreaking for the new firehouse, held at 11am, Wed. Nov. 26, 2008, at the Franciscan Heights Senior Community on Washington Ave, Rensselaer, NY.

(Click photos to enlarge)

News Coverage

Times Union: Firehouse finally will be a reality

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Joseph A. Smith Collection

I clicked into this blog post from Google (Albany Hudson Railroad Displatch Office Rensselaer, New York) and had a very long moment of confusion, as it's the same Blogger template as mine. I was baffled as to how I could have already blogged a photo that I'd never seen before! From their description:
Joseph A. Smith (1895-1978) was an avid collector of railroad photos, sharing many of them with fellow collectors in the Northeast.... His extensive collection focused on the lines that once served Troy: Delaware & Hudson, Rutland, Boston & Maine and New York Central.
There are five blogs in The Joseph A. Smith Collection, and each entry is a vintage photo or postcard:
It's like going through a scrapbook of late 1800's and early 1900's rail photographs. Be sure to click through all the months in the Archives, so you don't miss anything.

UPDATE: Ken B., the creator of the above sites, e-mailed to tell me that there's more! The complete Joseph A. Smith Collection is now online at It's fully searchable and now contains over 13,600 records. Check out this image of the Green Island Bridge Train Wreck on September 23, 1865 - holy cow!

Firehouse Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking for the new firehouse is tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11am. The new firehouse will be on Washington Ave, by the entrance to the Franciscan Heights Senior Community and the Rt. 90 ramp.

This location will provide faster response to new schools and the growing neighborhoods in the North End. I understand that the Franciscan Height Community has raised funds to help provide amenities for the firefighters.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

John Stevens

The Father of American Railroads

Born in 1749 in New York, NY, and educated at Kings College (now Columbia Univ.), John Stevens III was a lawyer, engineer, and inventor. The Patent Act of 1790 is said to have resulted from his petition to Congress requesting their protection for inventors. After serving as a Captain in Washington’s army, John Stevens bought land in New Jersey (now Hoboken), where he established one of the best-equipped machine shops in the union.

Stevens was a pioneering steam engine builder, and is known for making the first successful ocean trip by steamboat in 1809. He couldn’t operate on the Hudson because Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton held a monopoly on steam navigation on all New York State waterways. (This monopoly was fought to the US Supreme Court by Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Webster, where it was declared “repugnant to the Constitution” and voided in 1824.)

Robert Livingston, Chancellor of New York, was married to John Stevens’ sister, and collaborated with Stevens on his earliest steamboat experiments. But in 1798, Livingston secured the monopoly on steam travel on NY waterways for himself. He later met Robert Fulton, financed his work, and obtained their 1803 monopoly. Fulton’s paddle steamer first traveled from New York to Albany in 1807, in a record breaking time of 32 hours, at just under 5 mph.

Although he continued his steamboat work, John Stevens believed that a steam carriage on rails could travel at greater speeds and deliver goods more economically than a steamboat, which must overcome the friction of water. In 1812, Stevens proposed his railroad concept to the Commissioners for the Improvement of Inland Navigation in New York. The Commissioners were not favorable to the idea – not surprising, as they included Livingston and Fulton, and were focusing their efforts on the Erie Canal (constructed 1817-1825).

Stevens published his "Documents Tending to Prove The Superior Advantages Of Rail-Ways And Steam Carriages Over Canal Navigation", and continued seeking government support. In 1815, he received the first railroad charter in the US, for the New Jersey Railroad. He and his sons built a demonstration steam wagon in 1826, which carried passengers on a circular track on their own land, at up to 12mph.

Stevens' Demonstrator remained a prototype, but by 1830, two American-built locomotives were running on rails. Stevens’ sons imported a locomotive from England to start their Camden and Amboy Railroad. The sons were talented inventors as well, and are credited with numerous other railroad innovations, including the T-shaped metal rail.

[Image from Patent No. 2,773, Method of Connecting
the Drive Wheels of Locomotive Steam-Engines
, 1842,
Robert Livingston Stevens, New York, NY]

For more information:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holiday Decorating

The north end neighborhoods are holding their 2nd annual holiday decorating contest. If you want to register your light display in the contest, contact Pat Jackson if you live in the 9th ward, and Rich Mooney if you live in the 8th. Then turn your lights on for judging on Thursday evening, Dec. 11. (Snow date for judging will be on Friday.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bond Vote

The Rensselaer City Council voted on two bond resolutions last night, which would have authorized purchase of equipment for removing snow and leaves, and keeping creeks and culverts clear to prevent flooding. Some items were replacements for flood-damaged equipment, and some were substitutions (such as a front-loader to remove snow more quickly than the damaged snow blower). New York State officials promised to fully reimburse Rensselaer for up to $500,000 for the equipment purchased from the list. The money could not be used for other projects.

This had been debated at previous meetings, so by last night, the arguments seemed abbreviated. Council President Charles Hall presented the reasoning for voting against the bonds, which seemed to be that we should have had flood insurance (which no one disputed), and if we didn't have to replace this equipment, perhaps we might have been offered state money for fixing the creek culvert instead. He took issue with the wording of the first resolution, which didn't mention the flood, and said the equipment list wasn't a piece-for-piece replacement of damaged equipment. No amendments to the resolutions were proposed, and no alternate solutions were proposed at this meeting.

Seven votes were needed to approve the bonds, and only six members voted yes. Members who voted for the bonds were William Lithgow (ward 3), Dominick Tagliento (ward 5), Brian Stall (ward 6), Lillian Dominski (ward 7), Richard Mooney (ward 8), and Patricia Jackson (ward 9). Members who voted against were Scarlet Blowers (ward 1), Albertine Felts (ward 2), and Charles Hall (President). Kimberli Conger (ward 4), who had voted against the bonds in the previous meetings, did not attend this meeting. This was the third vote on the larger of the bond measures, so it can't be raised again. The second (smaller) bond was only voted on twice.

Here is an article from WNYT Channel 13, one of the two news teams filming this meeting: Rensselaer leaders defeat a measure that would use State money to replace damaged equipment.

I'm not intending to become a political blogger, so you probably won't see many City Council reports here. However, I do want to see the City post their agendas and minutes online, as all our surrounding communities do, to provide more transparency and public access.

Times Union: Rensselaer mayor says vote will haunt city this winter; Rensselaer's Snow Fight
Troy Record: Rensselaer prepared for storm?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rail Patents

19th Century Innovation – Railroad Patents by Rensselaer Inventors

Part 1 – Background

Since I’m interested in patents, it’s only natural I’d search for local inventors. I wasn’t surprised to find lots of railroad patents from the 1800s.

As it turns out, patenting didn’t drive technological development in the golden age of rail. In fact, early railroad companies didn’t focus on patenting at all. Their business models were tied to their monopolies in land and routes, and they freely shared innovations to promote the industry. But over time, a multitude of railway mechanics, technicians, suppliers, and members of the public did obtain patents (and file law suits).

The early railroad industry faced great challenges, as its culture of open innovation clashed with this growing thicket of railroad patents. By the mid-1800’s, heavy damages from patent infringement rulings caused such an economic burden that the railroad companies formed associations for mutual legal defense against patent suits. (This has been compared to the computer industry’s onslaught by software patents in the 1990’s.)

For more on 19th century rail patents, see this paper: Organizing a Market for Technological Innovation: Patent Pools and Patent Politics on American Railroads, 1860-1900, by Steven W. Usselman, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His recent book looks excellent too: Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920, by Steven W. Usselman, Published by Cambridge University Press, 2002.

I’ll be posting much more on this topic, but not all at once. I’m working through almost 50 rail-related patents from inventors in Bath-On-The-Hudson, East Albany, and Greenbush, and it’s taking a lot of time. I want to compile everything online, and also provide the patents and documentation to the city historical society.

I love these gorgeous advertising images – to see more, check out The Official Railway List from 1892, which is online courtesy of Google Books.

Blue Fiddle Gifts

All Over Albany
did a very nice review of Blue Fiddle Gifts [at 400 Columbia Turnpike]. I hadn't discovered them yet - I'll try to check them out this weekend. From their website at

The Blue Fiddle is a unique consignment shop featuring work by local artisans. Reasonable fees are charged for exhibiting crafters and artists. The nature of the store provides shoppers with a captivating collection for browsing. Our inventory is ephemeral, so stop by often! Have a cup of coffee… we love to chat and look forward to meeting you.

I-90 Connector

From the Troy Record: I-90 connector back on drawing board

NORTH GREENBUSH — To ensure that nearly $10 million in federal and state funding is not lost, Rensselaer County officials are slowly moving forward with plans for a connecting route between Exit 8 on I-90 and the Rensselaer Technology Park.

Dutch Madder

Last Sunday the Friends of Fort Crailo presented a very interesting lecture on 17th century Dutch clothing. It featured a variety of costumes, from serving women to Sinterklaas.

This beautiful costume was developed for Fort Crailo's new exhibit, and was sewn by a very talented seamstress (whose name I didn't catch). She works for the State of New York, sewing authentic costumes for historic museum sites. She even made the lace trim by hand.

Someone remarked on the soft red color of the jacket, which was popular in 17th century Dutch paintings, and asked what dye would have been used to achieve it. I can't say for sure without a copy of Bright Earth, but based on some web searching, I believe the cloth would have been dyed with Rose Madder, a vegetable dye (supposedly the best European Madder is Dutch), or possibly Carmine, an insect pigment. Vermeer, who painted women's dresses in this color, achieved it with Madder Lake glazed over Vermillion, a mineral pigment (the glaze kept the Vermillion from darkening with exposure to light).

Fort Crailo will have a grand reopening on July 4, 2009, for the new exhibit: New Netherland: A Sweet and Alien Land. This is part of next year's celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dinosaur BBQ

I moved here from Syracuse, and what I miss most (apart from Wegmans) is the Dinosaur BBQ. The food is fantastic, the atmosphere is great fun, and the crowd mixes blue collar and business suits, elbow to elbow. (I keep a bottle of BBQ sauce for emergencies - who knew I'd need it to illustrate a blog post?)

So it was exciting to see All Over Albany's report that Dinosaur BBQ may come to the Capital Region. Here's more information from the Schenectady Daily Gazette. It sounds like they're scouting sites, but haven't yet announced a deal.

Dinosaur BBQ would be a perfect fit for Rensselaer! We're just a quick hop over the river from Albany. We have access from both Rt. 90 and Rt. 787. And then there's the new Amtrak station - don't think that people won't take a train trip for BBQ - the Dinosaur is a Destination!

The growing momentum of our downtown and waterfront redevelopment would mean Dinosaur BBQ could get in early on a really good thing, while the prices are still cheap. And they don't seem averse to remodeling - even a warehouse, as they demonstrated in Harlem.

Call to Action: If you have a suitable building or location, or if you're with the City and know of some good sites, please get in touch with these folks ASAP. If you know someone who might have a site, please e-mail this post to them (envelope icon below).

Nov Planning Report

City of Rensselaer
Department of Planning Report
November 2008

[distributed at the North End Neighborhood Association meeting, 11/13/2008]

Broadway Corridor Reconstruction - Clough Harbour and Associates have been developing a design for the Broadway Corridor from Route 20 north to the Broadway Viaduct Bridge. This project will include new separated sewer lines, water lines and streetscape improvements like brick pavers, crosswalks and historic style street lighting. A public information meeting was held October 16th at City Hall to gather public comment.

Broadway Viaduct Bridge - The City of Rensselaer selected Bergmann Associates to develop a design for the rehabilitation of the Broadway Viaduct Bridge and they have begun survey work and a structural analysis. This project will include structural improvements as well as design improvements for a more attractive bridge in the center of the City and construction for the bridge and the corridor reconstruction are both anticipated for 2010.

Hollow Master Plan - Fraser and Associates, with the help of a steering committee and several public meetings, have been developing a Master Plan for the Hollow that emphasizes passive recreational uses by developing a trail system within the Hollow. A final plan is due within the next month and will be forwarded to the Council upon its receipt.

Brownfield Study - The engineering firm of Malcom Pirnie has been working on a study to identify Brownfield sites in Rensselaer. A public meeting was held in July and the consultants are now sending out letters to property owners who may be interested in participating in the study.

Marx Waterfront Development - U. W. Marx is currently working on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project based on the scope of issues approved by the Planning Commission. A public hearing on the project will be held at the end of January 2009.

Cottage Hill Condominiums and Townhouses - This project proposes 180 condominiums for 96 Partition Street and the applicant has produced a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that the Planning Commission and its consultants are reviewing. A public hearing on the Environmental Impact Statement was held on November 10th and a Public hearing for the project will be held in the first half of 2009.

Empire First Light Power Plant - A 350 megawatt power plant is under construction in the Port of Rensselaer and is scheduled to come online in 2010. This will also generate a significant amount of tax revenue for the City and provide several hundred construction jobs and approximately thirty full time jobs when the plant is operational.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

City Council Meeting

Your support is needed at next week's City Council meeting, to help ensure that the Department of Public Works can replace the equipment damaged in this summer's flood. Money has been promised by the state, but a bond has yet to be approved by the council. If not approved, leaf and snow removal will be greatly hampered.

The meeting is Wed., Nov. 19th at 7pm at City Hall, 62 Washington Street, Rensselaer, NY. The City Council meets every 1st and 3rd Wednesday, and the public can address the council from 7-8pm on any topic.

Inauguration 2009

Yankee Trails World Travel is planning a "one-day" bus tour to Washington DC for President Obama's Jan. 20th inauguration.

Note: The ceremonies are all "standing room only". There is no seating available. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

The cost of the trip is $75. Here's the itinerary.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Presidential Trivia

Nov. 11, 1858 – 150 years ago - was James A. Garfield’s wedding day. Yesterday’s “This Day in History” note is a perfect lead-in to some presidential trivia. I recently came across a vintage advertising pamphlet which claimed that our 20th President James A. Garfield once taught penmanship in Poestenkill, and Chester A. Arthur, his Vice-President and the 21st President, was a fellow teacher in Rensselaer County. Those facts didn’t check out - here's the real story.

Chester Arthur graduated from Union College in Schenectady, and taught school at Schaghticoke while a college student. James Garfield taught penmanship at an academy in Bennington County VT, where Arthur was acting as Principal. (Garfield did apply to be the school principal in Poestenkill, but he was rejected.)

Arthur also served as principal of the academy at Cohoes while he studied law. Chester A. Arthur is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery – here’s a nice set of photos of his tomb on Flickr.

To learn about Chester A. Arthur's landmark 1855 civil rights victory as a lawyer in NYC, how President Garfield was shot by someone he had rejected for a diplomatic post, or what Alexander Graham Bell invented to try and save Garfield's life, check out the reference links:

James A. Garfield: Nationmaster Encyclopedia and Virtualology

Chester A. Arthur: Nationmaster Encyclopedia and Virtualology

Image Credit: President James A. Garfield assassinated; from an 1881 newspaper engraving, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wooden Shoes

Friends of Fort Crailo present "Kick Off Your Wooden Shoes"

2pm, Sunday, November 16, 2008, at the East Greenbush Library

Experience the world of seventeenth century Dutch costume through art, documents, and reproductions. Crailo State Historic Site staff will lead a multi-disciplinary presentation about the myths and realities of historic Dutch clothing featuring costume historians, historic costumers, reenacters, and artists. Learn about how the transfer of clothing styles to New Netherland differentiated the residents of the Albany region from their New England neighbors in the visual culture of the seventeenth century.
The East Greenbush Library is at 10 Community Way, East Greenbush, NY 12061.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c 1658
Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

School District Audit

The Rensselaer School District had a tough ride in a recent state audit. Check out this Times Union article: Audit faults $300G in school purchases. There's more detail on the auditors recommendations at Rensselaer City SD financial controls weak, says state comptroller.

The next meeting of the Rensselaer City School District Board of Education is Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 7pm in the LGI - Room 125. I don't have kids, so I don't have much curiosity about what the school board does. But a quick search for "audit" in the 2008 meeting minutes shows that they have already engaged a CPA firm for audits, as the state recommended.

I notice that the New York State School Boards Association is holding a conference in Albany next month called Fiscal Management in Hard Financial Times, which includes the following seminar - hope someone is going:
Monitoring Your District’s Finances: Hard financial times require that school boards be particularly scrupulous about their fiscal management responsibilities, including keeping expenditures within legally authorized budget appropriations, and protecting investments. Hear how your board and staff can effectively monitor your district’s financial condition to protect its fiscal health.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

County Budget

The schedule for public hearings on the Rensselaer County budget is set: here is the press release with the dates and times.
The 2009 budget continues a positive trend for Rensselaer County, following an upgrade in the county’s financial rating by respected analysts Standard & Poor’s and a report of a surplus at the end of the 2007 fiscal year. Unfortunately, state mandates have increased to the point where 90 cents out of every county tax dollar are used to pay for mandated costs.
Here's the link to the tentative budget.

Friday, November 7, 2008

SUNY Award

Congratulations to Binghamton University senior Kelsey Pieper of Rensselaer, NY, who has been selected as the Region II winner of the Student Initiative Award by the Association of Council Members and College Trustees of SUNY. Kelsey is studying mechanical engineering, and she is President of the Binghamton University chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Student members participate in international projects, as well as projects that benefit their own communities.

Kelsey was recognized for leading a team of over 100 volunteers in a major landscaping project she conceived to improve safety at a local nature preserve. Read the University's press release here to learn more: Nature Preserve Project Earns Student Award. The November 2007 stairway project was extensively documented in photos, which you can access here through the Binghamton EWB Chapter's web site.

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit humanitarian organization that partners with developing communities worldwide, implementing sustainable engineering projects to improve quality of life. According to the EWB site, there seems to be an Albany, NY professional chapter in the development stage, so check it out if you want to get involved.

About The Blog

This week my blog finally got indexed by Google - it took over three weeks. Of course, RPI has saturated the web pretty thoroughly, so I'll never actually show up if someone is just doing a search for Rensselaer, NY.

However, I'm happy to rely on the kindness of fellow bloggers. Many thanks to the North Greenbush Pipeline for sending me my first significant blog traffic (not that my family isn't significant, but you know what I mean...). That blog seems to be a great read if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of our local politics, and you can now link there from my sidebar.

Please stay tuned - I'm working on a really cool post about local Victorian-era inventors, and patents from the golden age of rail. Hopefully that will be ready to go up by Sunday night.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crew the Half Moon

The tall ship Half Moon is on her way back to Albany. This replica of Henry Hudson's three-masted yacht (the "Halve Maen") serves as a sailing museum of early Dutch culture. According to an update on the New Netherland Museum's web site, the Half Moon will depart Newburgh on Mon., Nov. 10, and arrive in Albany by Wed., Nov. 13. If you have a water view, keep an eye out for her arrival. If you're interested in a sailing adventure, they're looking for crewmembers to help out on this voyage, and new as well as experienced crew are welcome.

You can get a really interesting perspective on the ship by reading this manual for training Halve Maen museum docents from the Hudson River Maritime Museum. There's also a short photo tour of the ship here on the Times Union site. It's an odd interface - the photos have captions telling you what you'll see next if you click them.

And speaking of odd, there will be a life-sized, stuffed Henry Hudson figure appearing somewhere on Lark Street in Albany tomorrow night (Fri. Nov. 7), as well as at various other locations until December. This "Where's Henry Hudson" contest is leading up to the Henry Hudson Quadricentennial Celebration next year. If you want to see photos, Here's Henry posing at Fort Crailo, relaxing at a sidewalk cafe in Albany, and standing on the moon.

North End Meeting

The Rensselaer North End Neighborhood Association meets on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7pm. The location is the basement meeting room of the First Baptist Church at 1101 Washington Ave. Come and hear what's new.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Condo Hearing

There will be a public hearing at the Rensselaer Community Center on Mon, Nov. 10 to hear public comment on a draft environmental statement filed at city hall for a big condo project at the interection of Cottage Hill and Partition Streets. For more information, see the posting on The Buzz Business News: Condominium, Town Home Project Planned For Rensselaer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What's a Wye?

Last month I posted this photo on the Times-Union's web site, and noted that I saw the trains come just this far onto the bridge, and then reverse and back off again. I thought perhaps they were turning around. [Click images to enlarge.]

Rich was kind enough to post a comment confirming that was probably correct, as there is a track configuration called a "wye" at the east end of the bridge, which lets the train do a 3-point turn to go back down to NYC. You can see the wye on the east side of the river if you search for "livingston avenue bridge, rensselaer, ny" here on Google Maps - it looks very cool with Satellite view turned on too.

Wikipedia has a good article about the "wye" in rail terminology here, as well as a little blurb on the century-old Livingston Ave. Bridge here.

This is a rotating swing bridge owned by CSX Transportation. Here is a really nice video on YouTube, showing the bridge in action.

Here is one more view of the Livingston Avenue Bridge, taken Oct. 10 from the Corning Preserve on the Albany side of the Hudson River.