Stories of family and ancestors who lived and worked in Cohoes (textile and garment workers, butchers and barbers), Waterford (canalers), Whitehall (farmers and canalers), Port Henry (iron miners and Civil War soldiers), Champlain (canalers and farmers) and other towns along the Champlain Canal in New York State with some diversions to the places they emigrated from....Quebec (landless farmers, shoemakers, sailors, soldiers), Acadia (more farmers), and even Cornwall, England (tin miners).
Cohoes had a unique geographical position because two rivers, the Mohawk and the Hudson, converge along its banks. This fact enabled Cohoes to be the only town in New York State that enabled both the Eire and the Champlain Canals to run within its boundary. The two canals converged on the southern end of Cohoes and ran through Maplewood, Watervelit (West Troy), Menands on down to the city of Albany. By the time I was young in the 1950s and 1960s, you wouldn't be able to grasp that fact if you walked along the old route. There was no old route that I could see! I always wondered why the Marsolais' backyard was so big and went on and on into a child's no man land. Later I came to understand it was not their backyard we were playing on, it was the old canal route, filled in, in Maplewood. Now in 2010, the route is long gone covered by Interstate 787 but some vestiges remain and stonework can still be seen along Route 32
Map of Cohoes and Waterford circa 1899
Here are some images of the canals running through Cohoes...
My mother made her first communion in St. Joseph's in Cohoes. My grandparent's were married in the same church and buried in St Joseph's cemetery.
St Joseph's was founded in 1868 and Mass was celebrated in Latin and in French. I went to a Mass there in 2008 and took some pictures. Its FrancoAmerican heritage was once proudly stated on its website but the website is gone and St. Joseph's was permanently closed in February 2009. So here are some of the photos I took....
Some of the last parishioners of St. Joseph's
St. Joseph's doesn't look much different than other Catholic churches of the northeast built in the 19th century but it is the church my great great grandparents helped to build with their little donations after they left St.Cesaire in Quebec to work in the textile mills of Cohoes. It is the church my great grandmother walked to every morning to go to Mass. My grandparents and the grandparents of so many others lived intimately with this church and other parishioners when it once was the center of a living FranoAmerican community and thriving industrial economy.
One gets a true sense of another time when reading the lyrics of Gentle Maggie. I never found walking around the rivers of Cohoes nearly as romantic as this poor fellow once did. In the 1970's, the place "between the running streams" looked quite dismal.
The seller wrote: "Seldom seen Cohoes, NY Date Back - One of two reported in the '06 Kelly and by far the best condition. Rarity, clean face, strong sigs and no faults. As nice a VF as you will find these days, lots of body and good paper. Cohoes derives its name from the Indian word for "Salmon"; Cohoes being situated at the falls of the Hudson River representing the furthest north that salmon could migrate. Obviously great fishing grounds for the Mohawks of the territory since Algonquins generally did not come south of "Split Rock" on Lake Champlain. Forgetting the history, its still a great 3rd Charter"
This is April Fool's Day but when I think of April, I think of Earth Day. This year will mark the 40th Earth Day!! I can remember the first Earth Day in 1970 when my best friend in high school and I walked around Cohoes taking pictures of all the garage in the plugged up canals. There were tires, tricycles, soap suds, green muck, refrigerators, washing machines and brown muck. At that time I had no idea why those canals were even there in Cohoes. Only in the past few years have I come to understand those pitiful canals filled with garbage and trash were once full of human commerce and activity.
Recently I found out that a wife of a distant cousin was found dead in one of the canals in Cohoes circa 1919. The cousin remarried a few short weeks after the incident to a very young lady he associated with before his wife's death. Apparently, everyone believed he murdered his first wife and dumped her body in the canal. The cousin, his first wife and four children are living in Cohoes in the 1910 federal census. His occupation was identified as "ice cream manufacturer". Her name was Helen or Nellie and she is listed as a housekeeper. They are both 38 years old. She was born in Quebec in 1871.
The cousin, wearing the cap, during the period of his second marriage
In the 1920 census, he is listed as the 49 year old son-in-law in the LaBarge household. No occupation. His wife was listed as 19 years old. What happened to Nellie??
Did she have a loss of consciousness and fall into the canal?
Was it suicide?
Was it homicide? or rather femicide?
As the canals in Cohoes became abandoned, so did the city.