Focus on History: A happy childhood on a lost block
Rosemary Cocca Forrest grew up on one of Amsterdam’s “lost blocks,” neighborhoods that fell to urban renewal and highway construction. Forrest was born in 1937 at 15 Guy Park Ave. at the corner of William Street. Her family included her brothers Ted and Frankie, her mother, Angelina, and her father, Pelligrino Cocca.
Forrest wrote, “My father had his shoe repair shop on the south side of Guy Park Avenue until he relocated into our remodeled basement. I remember the sign: Pete Cocca’s Shoe Repair.
“The house next door to us was owned by the Petrucci family. Gus Petrucci owned a barber shop and on the other side of his business his wife Fannie and son Pete ran a grocery store. The penny candies they sold were quite popular with the kids.”
Going east on Guy Park Avenue toward Market Street there was an oil company, homes and in the 1960s, a Chinese laundry on the corner.
Across from the Coccas was Quandt’s Market, still in business today as a food distributor off Route 5, east of Amsterdam.
Forrest said when she was young, Quandt’s would clean out its freezer once a week, and she remembers the noise when the ice was thrown on the roadside to melt. She also recalled enjoying Quandt’s raw clams on meatless Friday.
“Within Quandt’s was a bakery shop selling cream filled and chocolate covered donuts and the most delicious greasy French fries,” Forrest said. “I remember the kids from junior high school (on Guy Park Avenue) walking there to enjoy these treats for lunch.”
Forrest added that businesses came and went: Shelly’s Market, ice cream stores and flower shops. There were plenty of residences on Guy Park and William Street and many friends to pay with.
Forrest said in the early 1970s urban renewal took her block away. When she drives down what today is Route 30 or Market Street, Forrest sometimes says, “I was born on this road.”
She added, “I shall always remember that block but it is the ‘lost block’ since many people have forgotten it and there are those who will never know it was there.”
Harrowers in north Amsterdam takes its name from Lewis Harrower who produced underwear and knit shirts at a mill there starting in about 1880, according to Kelly Farquhar and Scott Haefner in their book, “Amsterdam.” Harrower lived in a house still located at the corner of Guy Park Avenue and Northampton Road in Amsterdam.
Mary-Lou Steenburgh Baldwin doubts that anyone had a finer childhood than she did, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Harrowers in the area of Pioneer Street and what is now Shuttleworth Park.
Baldwin played street baseball in the summer and said, “In the fall we played ‘Steal the White Flag’ after dark and swatted at bats, and of course jumped into piles of leaves. All of my playmates were boys, so it was boys’ games I played.”
There was a dam on the North Chuctanunda Creek that created a body of water where young people skated in the winter.
“One day my brother went through the ice,” Baldwin said. “He suffered from frostbite and subsequently cold feet all his life; my mom used to knit wool slippers for him.”
In the summer, the older boys made a rope swing and would swing out and drop into the water, according to Baldwin, “I never had the guts, which is unusual because there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do! We used to rush across an old trestle above treacherous rocks.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Good times.”