Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Presentations and Portraits

The Researching New York 2008 conference was last Thursday, so Katie and I finally had our conference debut. It was kind of a whirlwind of a day--train to Albany early in the morning, quick lunch and registration at SUNY Albany, hour and a half presentation and panel discussion, and then right back to Manhattan so Katie could make it to class that evening.

Overall, it was a very good experience, and our audience responded well to the presentation with questions and interest and compliments. Our session was on "Records of Business" and we shared the stage with a woman from the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site who gave a presentation on 19th century ledger books from canal stores. It was striking when the moderator noted the difference in size between our collections--we began our project with over 300 boxes and her focus was on four ledger books. Of course, this meant that the scope of our presentation was much broader (not only do we have a large quantity of material, that material spans two centuries of history), while she was able to narrow in on more detail. I think it provided a nice contrast for our audience.

One of the cool things about presenting in Albany was that a curator from the New York State Museum was in attendance. Prior to the conference, we had emailed back and forth concerning the NYCC's portrait collection which was donated the NYS Museum at the same time that Columbia acquired the NYCC's paper records. Before the NYCC moved out of their home on 65 Liberty Street,

these portraits were hung in the Chamber building's Great Hall:

We didn't have time to check out the portrait collection in person while we were in Albany, but lucky for us and everyone, you can view digital images of most of the portraits online. We do have several pamphlets in our records detailing the history of the Great Hall and some of its most famous portraits.

According to a NYCC pamphlet, the hall was, "notable for its grandeur and rich detail . . . designed along lines similar to the early Guild Halls of London." Its main use was for member meetings and receptions. Because of the Chamber's many prestigious members and industry influence, many of those meetings and receptions welcomed distinguished guests, such as Edward, Prince of Wales, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Katie and I are still dying with curiosity to know what the Great Hall looks like now, especially since we know the portraits aren't there anymore. There are so many amazing historical building in New York, its frustrating that many of them aren't open to the public. Maybe one year the Chamber building will make it on the list for the openhousenewyork weekend and we can finally get a look inside.

Have a great holiday!


Monday, November 10, 2008

From Albany to Buffalo

I have realized that one major thing that I have neglected to write about here is how involved the NYCC was in the development of not only New York City, but New York State as well. Its members were instrumental in the realization of several key initiatives in the region - including the Erie Canal.

I was reminded of this last week when I read this article about how commercial shipping is returning to the Erie Canal, albeit slowly. The Erie Canal was first mentioned in the Chamber’s minutes of 1786, and the Chamber later issued a pamphlet expounding the advantages of the Canal. DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York at the time, was a member of the Chamber.

The Canal officially opened in 1825, after 7 years of construction, connecting Albany to Buffalo and allowing shippers to continue south to New York City on the Hudson River, thus sealing NYC's fate as the commercial center of the nation. The website for New York State Canals quotes Clinton as saying, "The city will, in the course of time, become the granary of the world, the emporium of commerce, the seat of manufactures, the focus of great moneyed operations. And before the revolution of a century, the whole island of Manhattan, covered with inhabitants and replenished with a dense population, will constitute one vast city.”

Here is a stereoscopic image of the Erie Canal from 1869, found in the NYCC collection:

The article doesn't mention the NYCC, nor does the Wikipedia article (though we may fix that). I think this illustrates how little researchers really know or understand about how fundamental this organization was to the history of New York.

But that will soon change! Processing is on track and progressing with lightning speed. We are currently working our way through an enormous amount of committee minutes, reports, and records.

In the meantime, you can relive your childhood music class and download an MP3 of "The Erie Canal Song (Low Bridge, Everybody Down)" which pretty much encompassed the entirety of my knowledge of the Erie Canal and New York cities as a kid. I'm sure you are familiar with it, although Katie claims to have never been taught this song in music class (why not, California State Board of Education?). Apparently the Dady Brothers love the Erie Canal enough to record an entire album devoted to it.

On a completely unrelated, non-archives note, last week was a great week to live in New York City. We cheered determined runners in the 2008 NYC Marathon which passed through my neighborhood in Brooklyn:

And we celebrated our country in homes, restaurants, bars, and the streets. This is the crowd that I walked my bike through on my way home Tuesday night:

Enjoy your week, in New York City and everywhere else!