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Schenectady’s Alco museum set to debut in new home

Thursday, February 13, 2014
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Dave Gould, historian for the Alco Historical and Technical Society, looks over some of the prints on display in the Alco museum's new space at the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam.
Dave Gould, historian for the Alco Historical and Technical Society, looks over some of the prints on display in the Alco museum's new space at the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam.

— When American Locomotive Co. locomotives roared west carrying passenger coaches out of Schenectady in the early 20th century, their first stop was Amsterdam.

The Alco Historical and Technological Society and its Heritage Museum exhibits are also heading west to the Rug City for yet another grand opening at the Walter Elwood Museum on Church Street, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The Alco exhibits will take up one large room at the Elwood, which enjoyed its own reopening in October, having had to move out of Guy Park Manor due to the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

“In an absolutely perfect world we would have a spot at the original Alco site in Schenectady,” said Alco Historical and Technical Society President Matt Giardino. “It would be nice to be in Schenectady, but this isn’t a perfect world and we our broadening our horizons. We had to open things up to another location and Amsterdam was the place that stepped forward. The people at the Elwood Museum have been great, and they’ve been through their own share of moving and leaving their original home.”

The Alco museum opened on Maxon Road Extension in Schenectady in June 2012 and remained open until October. That location had rail access, but renting the large building was cost prohibitive and the museum never had its planned reopening in the spring of 2013.

“We just couldn’t find a way to fund it,” explained Giardino. “It became too expensive. But we have worked through some internal issues and we believe this situation at Elwood is going to work for us for the foreseeable future.”

While the Alco exhibit will include the 7-foot-long wooden model of the Hudson made in 1934 by steam locomotive designer Charles Lester of Niskayuna, there are some artifacts that are just too big for the new space. The M-47 tank, an Alco parade vehicle and an Alco FA locomotive cab that the group hopes will become a simulator are all in storage.

Most of the interpretive panels that were at the Maxon Road Extension facility will be at the Elwood Museum, along with a new exhibit called “Collaboration to Competition,” detailing the early relationship between the Erie Canal and the railroad.

“When railroads were first built in New York they weren’t meant to compete with the canal,” said Rotterdam’s Dave Gould, who is the society’s historian. “They were meant to enhance canal traffic, especially between Albany and Schenectady. It was quite a trip to go from Albany to Waterford, and then through all the locks between Waterford and Schenectady. To avoid all those locks, they built the first railroad.”

The exhibit will eventually travel around the state to different groups, including the Schenectady County Historical Society, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse and the Erie Canal Discovery Center in Lockport.

Amsterdam city Historian Robert Von Hasseln, who is also director of community and economic development for the city of Amsterdam, is happy to see the Alco presence at the Elwood Museum.

“We’re all pleased to have it here and while it might be more appropriate in Schenectady, we think it might grow into something like a Mohawk Valley transportation museum in the future,” he said. “In the meantime, it’s a wonderful partnership between the Walter Elwood Museum and the Alco group.”

While the museum doesn’t have rail access, there is a section of the old Amsterdam, Chuctanunda and Northern Railroad that runs through that section of the city.

“That railroad left the New York Central line just east of the city and headed up through that area right in that vicinity,” said Von Hasseln. “The old track is right behind the museum. There are some gaps in that branch, but you could lay down some temporary tracks. It’s actually a very good location.”

Gould likes Von Hasseln’s enthusiasm, but at this point the Alco group isn’t thinking that far ahead.

“It’s a good thought, and I’m pleased that he’s happy we’re coming,” Gould said of Von Hasseln’s comments. “But something like a Mohawk Valley museum is beyond our stated purpose. We’re focused on the social and technical history of Alco in Schenectady. A Mohawk Valley museum about transportation is something I would personally be very interested in, but that’s not something we’re thinking about right now.”

 
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