Schenectady, New York

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For the movie of a similar name, see Synecdoche, New York.
Coordinates: 42°48′N 73°56′W / 42.800°N 73.933°W / 42.800; -73.933
Nott Memorial Hall, Union College, Schenectady, NY.jpg
Nott Memorial Hall, Union College
Name origin: Mohawk word meaning Beyond the pine plains
Nickname: The Electric City
Country  United States
State  New York
Region Capital District
County Schenectady
Landmark Proctors Theatre
River Mohawk
Coordinates 42°48′N 73°56′W / 42.800°N 73.933°W / 42.800; -73.933
Highest point
 - elevation 324 ft (99 m)
Area 11 sq mi (28 km2)
 - land 10.9 sq mi (28 km2)
 - water 0.1 sq mi (0 km2)
 - metro 6,570 sq mi (17,016 km2)
Population 66,135 (2010)
 - metro 870,716
Density 6,012 / sq mi (2,321 / km2)
Settled 1661
Incorporated 1798
Government Schenectady City Hall
Mayor Gary McCarthy (D)
Timezone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 - summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 12301–12309, 12325, 12345
Area code 518
FIPS code 36-65508
GNIS feature ID 0964570
Location within Schenectady County, New York, and the county within the state
Wikimedia Commons: Schenectady, New York
Website: City Website

Schenectady /skɨˈnɛktədi/ (skə-NEK-tə-dee) is a city in Schenectady County, New York, United States, of which it is the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 66,135. The name "Schenectady" is derived loosely from a Mohawk word for "on that side of the pinery," or "near the pines," or "place beyond the pine plains."[1] The city was founded by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, who were mostly fur traders. It became an important industrial city in the 19th and 20th centuries, home of General Electric and other national corporations.

It is in eastern New York, near the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. It is in the same metropolitan area as the state capital, Albany, which is about 19 miles (31 km) southeast.[2] In December 2014, the state announced that the city was one of three sites selected for off-reservation casino gambling, under terms of a 2013 state constitutional amendment. The project will redevelop a brownfield site in the city along the waterfront, with hotel, housing and a marina in addition to the casino.[3]


When first encountered by Europeans, the area that is now Schenectady was the territory of the Mohawk nation, one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. One of their major villages, Canajoharie, later known as the Upper Castle, was further west along the Mohawk River. When Dutch settlers built Fort Orange (present day Albany, NY) in the Hudson Valley in the 17th century, the Mohawk called the settlement Schau-naugh-ta-da, meaning "over the pine plains." Eventually, this word entered the lexicon of the Dutch settlers, but the meaning was reversed, and they used it to refer to the bend in the Mohawk River where this city was developed.

Schenectady was first settled in 1661 by Dutch colonists, as part of New Netherland. Arent van Curler, who had emigrated from Nijkerk in the Netherlands, led the first fifteen proprietors, mostly fur traders, who bought the land from the Mohawk Nation. (Conceptions of real property differed widely between the two cultures.) Some of the Dutch brought African slaves to the region as laborers, as did the later English, who developed agriculture in the region. Early Dutch traders frequently married Mohawk women, with both sides considering these beneficial alliances. Their children were raised within the Mohawk community, which had a matrilineal kinship system, considering children born into the mother's clan. Many of these mixed-race descendants became interpreters and traders and intermarried with Dutch colonists.

In 1664 the English seized the Dutch New Netherlands colony and renamed it New York. Settlers purchased additional land from the Mohawk in 1670 and 1672. Twenty years later (1684) Governor Thomas Dongan granted letters patent for Schenectady to five trustees.[4] Schenectady and Albany both developed from the fur trade.

On February 8, 1690, during King William's War, French forces and their Indian allies attacked Schenectady by surprise, leaving 62 dead. American history notes it as the Schenectady massacre. A total of 27 persons were taken captive, including two African slaves, and were taken to Montreal and its associated Mohawk village. Typically the younger captives were adopted by Mohawk families to replace people who had died.[5] Through the early 18th century in the raiding between Quebec and the northern British colonies, captives were also ransomed by their communities. In 1748, during King George's War, the French and Indians attacked the city again.

In 1765, Schenectady was incorporated as a borough. During the American Revolutionary War the local militia unit, the 2nd Albany County Militia Regiment, fought in the Battle of Saratoga and against Loyalist troops. Most of the warfare in the Mohawk Valley occurred farther west on the frontier in the areas of German Palatine settlement west of Little Falls. Because of their close trading, business and other relationships with the British, some settlers were Loyalists and moved to Canada in the late stages of the Revolution. The Crown granted them land in what became known as Upper Canada, or Ontario.

New Republic[edit]

Soon after war's end, residents founded Union College in 1795. The settlement was chartered as a city in 1798. In the postwar years, migrants poured into upstate and western New York from New England, establishing agriculture and dairy farms. In the 19th century, after completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Schenectady became an important transportation and trade center. It benefited by increased traffic and trade connecting the Hudson River to the Mohawk Valley and the Great Lakes to the west and New York City to the south. The Albany and Schenectady Turnpike (now State Street), constructed in 1797, connected Albany to settlements in the Mohawk Valley. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad started operations in 1831 as one of the first railway lines in the United States, and it also passed through the city along the Mohawk Valley. Commodities and commercial products were shipped to the East and New York City through the Mohawk Valley and Schenectady.

In the antebellum years, Schenectady was one of a number of abolitionist centers in upstate. The last slaves in New York did not gain freedom until 1827, although the state had passed a gradual emancipation act in 1799, which gave freedom first to children born to slave mothers. Union College had established a school for black children in 1805, but discontinued it after two years. Methodists helped educate the children for a time, but public schools did not accept them.[6] In 1836, Rev. Isaac Groot Duryea was a co-founder of the interracial Anti-Slavery Society at Union College. An Underground Railroad route ran through the area. Some fugitive slaves settled in Schenectady while others continued to Canada, which did not have slavery.[7]

In 1837 Duryea, together with other free people of color, helped found the First Free Church of Schenectady, which started a school for students of color. The abolitionist Theodore S. Wright, an African-American minister based in New York City, spoke at the dedication of the church and praised the school.[6]

In the later 19th century, new industries were established in the Mohawk Valley, frequently powered by the river. In 1887, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works to Schenectady. In 1892, Schenectady became the headquarters of the General Electric Company. This business became a major industrial and economic force and helped establish the city and region as a manufacturing center. GE became important nationally as a creative company, expanding into many different fields. The city and area attracted many new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, as well as African Americans who were part of the Great Migration out of the South and sought new industrial jobs.

Schenectady is home to WGY-AM, the second commercial radio station in the United States, (after WBZ in Springfield, Massachusetts, which was named for Westinghouse.) This local station was named for its owner, General Electric (the G), and the city of Schenectady (the Y).[8] In 1928, General Electric produced the first regular television broadcasts in the United States, when the experimental station W2XB began regular broadcasts on Thursday and Friday afternoons. This television station is now WRGB; for years it was the Capital District's NBC affiliate, but is now the CBS affiliate.


Schenectady is located at 42°48′N 73°56′W / 42.800°N 73.933°W / 42.800; -73.933 (42.8041, −73.9293).[9] The altitude above sea level is 211 to 275 feet (64 to 84 meters).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.0 square miles (28.49 km2), of which, 10.9 square miles (28.23 km2) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (1.27%) is water.

It is part of the Capital District, the metropolitan area surrounding Albany, New York state's capital. Along with Albany and Troy, it is one of the three principal population and industrial centers in the region.


Former GE headquarters building

The city was a manufacturing center known as "The City that Lights and Hauls the World" – a reference to two prominent businesses in the city, the Edison Electric Company (now known as General Electric), and the American Locomotive Company (ALCO). GE retains its administrative core in Schenectady, but it relocated thousands of manufacturing jobs to the Sun Belt and abroad. ALCO produced steam locomotives for railroads for years. Later it became renowned for its "Superpower" line of high-pressure locomotives, such as those for the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1930s and 1940s. During the World War II, it made tanks for the US Army.

As diesel locomotives began to be manufactured, ALCO joined with GE to develop diesel locomotives to compete with the EMD division of General Motors. But corporate restructuring to cope with the changing locomotive procurement environment saw the slow downward spiral of ALCO. Its operations fizzled as the company went through acquisitions and restructuring in the late 1960s. Its Schenectady plant closed in 1969.

In the late 20th century, due to industrial restructuring, the city lost many jobs and suffered difficult financial times, as did many upstate New York former manufacturing cities. The loss of employment caused Schenectady's population to decline by nearly one-third from 1950 into the late 20th century. The early industries had left many sites contaminated with hazardous wastes. Such environmental brownfields needed technical approaches for redevelopment.

In the 21st century, Schenectady began revitalization. GE established a renewable energy center that brought hundreds of employees to the area. It is part of a metropolitan area with improving economic health, and buildings have been renovated for new uses. Numerous small businesses, retail stores and restaurants have developed on State Street in the heart of downtown.[10]

Price Chopper Supermarkets and the New York Lottery are based in Schenectady. In December 2014, the state announced that Schenectady was one of three sites selected for development of casino gambling, under terms of a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2013 that allowed such gaming in off-reservation sites. (Several federally recognized Native American nations have gaming on their reservations.)

The Schenectady project, to be called The Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, will redevelop the old American Locomotive Co. site, a brownfield along the waterfront. The project will include a hotel and housing development in addition to the casino.[3]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1800 5,289
1810 5,903 11.6%
1820 3,939 −33.3%
1830 4,268 8.4%
1840 6,784 59.0%
1850 8,921 31.5%
1860 9,579 7.4%
1870 11,026 15.1%
1880 13,655 23.8%
1890 19,902 45.7%
1900 31,682 59.2%
1910 72,826 129.9%
1920 88,723 21.8%
1930 95,692 7.9%
1940 87,549 −8.5%
1950 91,785 4.8%
1960 81,070 −11.7%
1970 77,958 −3.8%
1980 67,972 −12.8%
1990 65,566 −3.5%
2000 61,821 −5.7%
2010 66,135 7.0%

In the census[11] of 2010, there were 66,135 people, 26,265 (2000 data) households, and 14,051 (2000 data) families residing in the city. The population density was 6,096.7 people per square mile (2,199.9/km²). There were 30,272 (2000 data) housing units at an average density of 2,790.6 per square mile (1,077.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 59.38% (52.31% Non-Hispanic) (7.07 White-Hispanic) White, 24.19% African American, 0.69% Native American, 2.62% Asian, 0.14% Pacific Islander, 8.24% from other races, and 5.74% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14.47% of the population. There is a growing Guyanese population in the area. The top ancestries are Italian (13.6%), Guyanese (12.3%), Irish (12.1%), Puerto Rican (10.1%), German (8.7%), English (6.0%), Polish (5.4%), French (4.4%). These reflect historic and early 20th-century immigration, as well as that since the late 20th century.

The Schenectady City School District is very diverse; (71%- 2011)(80%-2013) of district students receive free or reduced lunch. The student population of the school district is majority minority: 35% Black (48% Graduate), 32% White (71% Graduate), 18% Hispanic (51% Graduate), 15% Asian (68% Graduate). The graduation rate for the high school is 57%.[citation needed]

Using 2010 data, there were 28,264 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.0% were married couples living together, 24.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.5% were non-families. 38.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the city the year 2010 population was spread out with 26.3% under the age of 18, 13.6% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 7.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 92.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city in 2000 was $29,378 (2010–$37,436), and the median income for a family was $41,158. Males had a median income of $32,929 versus $26,856 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,076. About 20.2% of families and 25.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.5% of those under age 18 and 5.6% of those age 65 or over.

Rail transportation[edit]

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides regular service to Schenectady, with a station at 322 Erie Boulevard. Schenectady also has freight rail service from Canadian Pacific Railway and CSX Transportation.

Schenectady had a local streetcar system and electric interurban passenger service. The Schenectady Railway Co. had local lines and interurban lines serving Albany, Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs and Troy. There was also a line from Gloversville, Johnstown, Amsterdam, and Scotia into Downtown Schenectady operated by the Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville Railroad. The nearly 200 leather and glove companies (178) in the Gloversville region generated considerable traffic for the line. Sales representatives carrying product sample cases would begin their sales campaigns throughout the rest of the country by taking the interurban to reach Schenectady's New York Central Railroad station, where they connected to trains to New York City, Chicago and points between.

The bright orange FJ&G interurbans were scheduled to meet every daylight New York Central train that stopped at Schenectady. Through the 1900s and into the early 1930s, the line was quite prosperous. In 1932 the FJ&G purchased five lightweight Bullet cars (#125 through 129) from the J. G. Brill Company. These interurbans represented state of the art design: the "bullet" description referred to the unusual front roof that was designed to slope down to the windshield in an aerodynamically sleek way. FJ&G bought the cars believing that there would be continuing strong passenger business from a prosperous glove and leather industry, as well as legacy tourism traffic to Lake Sacandaga north of Gloversville. Instead, roads were improved, automobiles became cheaper and were purchased more widely, tourists traveled greater distances by car, and the Great Depression decreased business overall.

FJ&G ridership continued to decline, and in 1938 New York state condemned the line's bridge over the Mohawk River at Schenectady. This bridge had once carried cars, pedestrians, plus the interurban, but ice flow damage in 1928 prompted the state to restrict its use to the interurban. When in 1938 the state condemned the bridge for interurban use, the line abandoned passenger service. The desirable Bullet cars were sold. Freight business had also been important to the FJ&G, and it continued over the risky bridge into Schenectady a few more years.

Places of interest[edit]

Proctor's Theatre
An accordion-playing guide welcomes visitors to a restored Dutch home in the Schenectady Stockade District.
  • Proctors Theatre is an arts center. Built in 1926 as a vaudeville/movie theater, it has been refurbished in the 21st century. It is home to "Goldie," a Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. Proctor's was also the site of one of the first public demonstrations of television, projecting an image from a studio at the GE plant a mile [2 km] away. Its 2007 renovation added two theatres: Proctors is home to three theaters, including the historic Mainstage, the GE Theatre, and 440 Upstairs.
  • The Stockade Historic District features dozens of Dutch and English Colonial houses from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is New York state's first historic district, designated in 1965 by the Department of Interior and named after the historic stockade that originally surrounded the colonial settlement.[12]
  • The Schenectady County Historical Society has a History Museum and the Grems-Doolittle research library. They are housed at 32 Washington Avenue in the Stockade District. It has adapted a house originally built in 1895 for the Jackson family. It was used by the GE Women's Club from 1915 until 1957, when it was donated to the Historical Society. The History Museum tells of the history of Schenectady, the Yates Doll House, the Erie Canal, and the Glen-Sanders Collection, etc. The research library has many collections of papers, photographs, and books. It welcomes people doing local and genealogical research.
  • The Mabee House in nearby Rotterdam Junction is owned and operated as a house museum by the Schenectady County Historical Society. It features the oldest house in the Mohawk Valley, with many events, school programs and exhibits scheduled for it.
  • The General Electric Realty Plot, located near Union College, was one of the first planned residential neighborhoods in the US and designed to attract General Electric Company executives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It features an eclectic collection of grand homes in a variety of architectural styles, including Tudor, Dutch Colonial, Queen Anne, and Spanish Colonial. The Plot is home to the first all-electric home in the United States. The Plot hosts an annual House and Garden Tour.
  • Union College, adjacent to the GE Realty Plot, is the oldest planned college campus in the United States. The Union campus features the unique 16-sided Nott Memorial building, built in 1875, and Jackson's Garden, eight acres (32,000 m²) of formal gardens and woodlands.
  • Central Park is the crown jewel of Schenectady's parks. It occupies the highest elevation point in the city. The Common Council voted in 1913 to purchase the land for the present site of the park. The park features an acclaimed rose garden and Iroquois Lake. Its stadium tennis court was the former home to the New York Buzz of the World Team Tennis league (as of 2008). Central Park was named after New York City's Central Park. Both Central Parks were designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
  • The Schenectady Museum features exhibits on the development of science and technology. It contains the Suits-Bueche Planetarium.
  • Schenectady City Hall is the focal point of government in the city. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, it was built in 1933 during the Great Depression.
  • Schenectady's Municipal Golf Course is an 18-hole championship facility sited among oaks and pines. Designed in 1935 by Jim Thompson under the WPA, the course was ranked by Golf Digest among "Best Places to Play in 2004" and received a three-star rating.
  • Jay Street, located between Proctors and City Hall, is a short street partially closed to motor traffic. It features a number of small, independently operated businesses and eateries and is a popular destination.
  • Schenectady Light Opera Company (SLOC) is a community theater group on Franklin St in downtown Schenectady.
  • The Empire State Aerosciences Museum, in nearby Glenville, features extensive exhibits and materials on aviation.
  • The Edison Tech Center exhibits and promotes the physical development of engineering and technology from Schenectady and elsewhere. It provides online and on-site displays that promote learning about electricity and its applications in technology.[13]
  • Upper Union Street Business Improvement District, near the Niskayuna boundary, is home to almost 100 independently owned businesses, including a score of restaurants, upscale retail, specialty shops, salons and services.
  • Vale Cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes more than 30,000 burials of noted and ordinary residents of the city. It includes the historic African-American Burying Ground, where city residents annually celebrate anniversaries of Juneteenth and Emancipation.


The city is served by the Schenectady City School District, which operates 16 elementary schools, a middle school and the main high school Schenectady High School. Local private schools include Brown School (K-8) and Wildwood School (special, all ages). Catholic schools are administered by the Diocese of Albany.

Tertiary educational institutions include Union College (private) and Schenectady County Community College of the State University of New York.

Representation in popular culture[edit]

Due to its early importance in national history and the economy, Schenectady figured in popular culture.


Film and TV[edit]

  • In Objective, Burma! (1945), Lt. Sid Jacobs (William Prince) tells reporter Mark Williams (Henry Hull) about his house on Crane Street in Schenectady. He had taught at Pleasant Valley school before the war.
  • In the 1950s television series, The Honeymooners, Trixie's mother was from Schenectady.
  • The The Way We Were (1973) was filmed on location in Schenectady at Union College, and in nearby Ballston Spa. It starred Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.
  • The 1980s film Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia as female race car driver Shirley Muldowney, is mostly set in Schenectady.
  • The 1996 made for TV film Unabomber, the True Story starring Robert Hays as David Kaczynski, brother of unabomber Ted Kaczynski, refers to Schenectady, where David and his wife were living when they figured out his brother's involvement in the bombings.
  • The Time Machine (2002), the remake starring Guy Pearce, features Schenectady's Central Park in the ice skating scenes, standing in for New York City's Central Park.
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008) is a film partially set in Schenectady, where some scenes were shot. It plays on the aural similarity between the city's name and the figure of speech synecdoche.
  • In the ABC-TV series Ugly Betty, Marc St. James (played by Michael Urie) is said to be from Schenectady.
  • Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009) was entirely filmed in Schenectady County, but is set in Wisconsin, where the historic events took place. It features the Schenectady, the Town of Rotterdam, and the Village of Scotia, all in New York. The film stars Thora Birch as Barbara Hoffman, the historic Wisconsin murderer, and Keith Carradine as a detective determined to catch her.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), starring Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling, was filmed locally in 2011 near the Schenectady Police Headquarters and other areas of Schenectady.


Notable people[edit]

Sister city[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jonathan Pearson et al., A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times, 30 July 2009. Retrieved on 28 September 2009
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b Rick Karlin, Kenneth C. Crowe II and Paul Nelson, "Fortune smiles on Schenectady casino proposal", Times Union, 18 December 2014, accessed 18 December 2014
  4. ^ "Schenectady Digital History Archive"
  5. ^ "The Schenectady Massacre: Settlers Killed and Captured", Freepages, Rootsweb
  6. ^ a b Theodore Sedgwick Wright, "Speech given during the dedication of the First Free Church of Schenectady, 28 December 1837", Emancipator, at University of Detroit Mercy, accessed 31 May 2012
  7. ^ "African-American History", Historic Vale Cemetery, 2000-2011, accessed 31 May 2012
  8. ^ Brian Belanger,Radio & Television Museum News, "Radio Station WGY"[dead link], Radio History, February 2006. Retrieved on December 1, 2008
  9. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  10. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. (February 28, 2010). "Union College Finally Admits Where It Is". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  12. ^ Scheltema, Gajus and Westerhuijs, Heleen (eds.),Exploring Historic Dutch New York, New York: Museum of the City of New York/Dover Publications, (2011) ISBN 978-0-486-48637-6
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Interview with Harlan Ellison, Doorly
  15. ^ "It Came From Schenectady", Science Fiction Fans
  16. ^ a b Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Marquis Who's Who. 1967. 
  17. ^ Air Force Mortuary Affairs (August 7, 2014). "Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene honored in dignified transfer Aug. 7". United States Air Force. United States Department of the Air Force. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  18. ^ a b "Great Inventors of New York's Capital District". 

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville RR: The Sacandaga Route to the Adirondacks". Randy Decker, Arcadia Publishing.
  • "Our Railroad: The Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville RR 1867 to 1893". Paul Larner, St. Albans, VT.
  • "The Steam Locomotive in America". Alfred W. Bruce, 1952, Bonanza Books division of Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, NY.
  • Morse, J. (1797). "Skenectady". The American Gazetteer. Boston, Massachusetts: At the presses of S. Hall, and Thomas & Andrews. 
  • Yates, Austin A. Schenectady County, New York: Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century New York: New York History Company, 1902.

External links[edit]

Media related to Schenectady, New York at Wikimedia Commons