Warren County Historical Society Presents …
The Digital Version “REWIND”
December 1, 2016
The following is a copy of a manuscript found in the Folk Life Center at Crandall Public Library. It is an interesting story of a business and people in Glens Falls.
Notes and Recollections on Sweeney’s Store
Written by Frank A. Conlin
My uncle, Michael B. Sweeney, opened up a grocery store, in partnership with Daniel O’Leary, Jr., in the year 1880, at 91 Glen Street, the present site of the Economy Store. The partnership lasted about two years, O’Leary retiring to go into the manufacture of cigars. O’Leary was a member of the original Board of Education of District Number One and served as Postmaster from 1893 to 1897 during Cleveland’s administration, and later as president of the Village of Glens Falls. Another uncle, Timothy A. Sweeney, succeeded O’Leary in the business and the firm was known as M. B. Sweeney & Brother. I began working in the store before and after school in 1892.
B. Sweeney took a great interest in politics and was chairman of the Democratic County Committee for some time. Geo. R. Finch was the Democratic leader in the county at that time and he was a frequent visitor at the store, during which times he and my uncle would sit in the back room on a couple of soap boxes and talk politics. I remember that they went together to the Democratic National Convention at Chicago in 1892 when Grover Cleveland was nominated for President. Finch later ran for State Treasurer on the Democratic ticket but was beaten, by only about 9,000 votes, having run the highest on the ticket. He was placed in nomination by J. Edward Singleton.
Timothy A. Sweeney was a member of the original Board of Directors of the Glens Falls Savings & Loan Association and was appointed U. S. Revenue Collector in 1893 for the counties of Saratoga, Warren, Washington, Essex and Clinton; he retired from the firm at that time.
The store was a sort of headquarters for democrats and a lively place around election time.
I recall that in 1893 A. B. Colvin was elected State Treasurer on the Republican ticket. He and my uncle M. B. were good friends and when the news came in that the Republican State ticket had been elected, he came into the store to see the folks and receive congratulations. There was an old Democrat present who had been trying to drown his sorrows with a few drinks after his party had lost and when he saw Colvin and heard him talk, he went up to him to tell him what he thought of him and his “damned old Republican party.” Colvin smiled and backed out of the store saying, “Well, we all make mistakes.”
Sweeney’s store had a large canal-boat trade in the summer and I rode a bicycle up and down the tow-path taking orders from the captains when the boats were loading lumber or lime for New York and other points.
A typical boat order was one bushel potatoes, one ham, three dozen eggs, three cans of corn, three cans of peas, three cans of tomatoes, five pounds sugar, one pound of coffee, two cans of condensed milk, two pounds of butter, one pound of cheese, one pound of tobacco, two dozen dill pickles, two pounds cookies and a gallon of kerosene.
In those days, flour was sold by the barrel and in twenty-five pound sacks; buckwheat flour was sold in twenty-five pound sacks; molasses syrup and vinegar was received in hogsheads and barrels and was sold by the gallon.
Brown sugar and “A” sugar (the latter was similar in texture to that of brown sugar, except that it was white in color) were the more popular with the older people, although, of course, granulated sugar was also sold. The brown and “A” sugars were received in bulk and sold in whatever quantity desired, usually being wrapped in brown paper. Old timers preferred the brown and “A” sugars; in fact, I recall one old lady telling me that she would not have that “sand” sugar (referring to the granulated) in the house.
During Lenten season, mackerel and ciscoes (a type of salmon fish) were sold in kits containing about ten pounds. Whole dried codfish was also on sale. Kerosene was received in barrels and siphoned off in a tank, a refund being received for the returned barrels.
Most of the freight shipments were received at the D & H Railroad and the balance shipped by packet on the Canal, the latter being received at the terminal of the Glens Falls Transportation Co., then located on Oakland Avenue at the foot of Fredella Avenue.
There was a delivery horse at the store named Dexter that I drove and he was known far and wide. On Park St. just west of Glen on the north side, was a watering trough and once or twice daily, the horse would leave the front of the store, stop all traffic, trolley cars and all, walk over to the trough for a drink, and return to his place in front of the store. Very often strangers going by would rush into the store to say that the horse was wandering off some place, but they always received the same reply: “You just watch him and you will see him come right back.”
Before the sewers were put in, there was a drain that ran down Glen St. and emptied into the canal. A grate that ran into the drain about 10 ft. north of the store would fill up with debris after a heavy rainfall and flood the street. The water would get up around the horse’s legs if he happened to be standing in front of the store and when that happened, he would walk forward until he found the grate with his hoof and then try to clear it away. One day the horse injured his leg and was turned out to pasture along the bank of the river near the cement works. About a month later I was sent down to bring him back, but Dexter refused to be caught. We were obliged to get “Bronco” Charlie Miller to go down and lasso him. It cost only $2.00 for pasturage for the month, but $5.00 to catch him and bring him back.
There was a coal stove in the middle of the store and a good size keg half filled with sawdust was used as a cuspidor. Around the stove were boxes and barrels for the men to sit on. When the weather was cold, there was usually a good crowd around; horse racing, politics, boating and civil war tales were the common subjects of discussion.
One evening the subject of a prolonged discussion was the robbery of the Glens Falls National Bank. Some of those present were sure it happened before the high water of 1869 which was the highest on record at that time; others were certain it had occurred after that date. The question was settled about two hours later that evening by a former employee of the bank who happened along and state that the robbery was in January 1870.
B. Little, uncle of Russell Carson, and son of R. M. Little founder of the Glens Falls Insurance Company, was a close friend of my uncle and every evening for a number of years, he came into the store at 7 o’clock, bought a cigar and sat near the stove visiting with the men and left at 8 P.M. He was a spiritualist and an interesting man to listen to; the men enjoyed his company very much.
Daniel F. Keefe would drop in for a chat during the day but never in the evening. His office was in the next building at No. 101. He was a strict vegetarian and claimed not to have tasted meat since 1857. He had an excellent memory, was a great reader, and the owner of a large library. I remember a remark that he made one day: “Just give me a line from any of the classics and I can usually identify it and tell you where to find it.” He told of a trip he had made to Ireland and of an interesting fellow passenger on the boat going over. He said, “we would walk to deck in the evening, reciting to each other; he seemed to have about everything that I didn’t have.”
One day things were a little quiet at the store. A visitor from out-of-town happened along and while chatting with men around the stove, mentioned that he played a very good game of checkers. Keefe, who was standing by, remarked “It’s a long time since I have played checkers, what do you say to a game or two?” I was sent out to buy a checker board and the game was on, both players moving rapidly, but Keefe was an able player. The stranger, after losing three straight games decided that his game was not so good and that he had had enough.
A nightly visitor was John Holmes who had lost his right arm when a young man. He had been boss tent man for Van Amberg’s Circus for a number of years, and later ran a repair shop on Pine St., next to D. J. Finch’s house. He was famous as a teller of “tall stories.”
One evening, after telling a rather fantastic tale, my uncle said to him, “John if I should ever commit a murder, the first thing I’d do would be to tell you; then if you told it around, folks would say, “Oh heck, that’s just another one of Holmes’s stories and nobody would believe it.” Holmes had a great laugh over that.
John Reilly usually dropped in every day. He was a contractor and builder and used the store as his headquarters. His men would come in to be paid off on payday. He built the South Street School and the grade school in South Glens Falls.
Patrick Cunningham would drop in occasionally. He had quite a reputation as a heel-and-toe walker and a wood-sawyer. He was the father of Policeman Dennis Cunningham who died a couple years ago. One night he gave an exhibition in Keefe’s hall which was up over the store, walking a certain distance and then sawing a lot of cord-wood in a given time. His two sons helped handle the wood while he sawed. He was a great favorite around town. One day in the store, he was telling about how a heel-and-tow walker should walk and gave a demonstration, going the length of the store at full speed.
Eugene Bannon came into the store occasionally. He was a stone cutter and well along in years. In talking with him one day, he told me that when he was a young man, he went around New York City for one week with a ten dollar bill in his picket because nobody could change it. He said he got shaved and went into restaurants for meals and that when he offered the $10 bill from which to pay, people would throw up their hands. That may have been around President Van Buren’s administration from 1836 to 1840 when so many banks failed.
Maurice Lynch was a frequent visitor. He was a carpenter and a very jolly man and a good entertainer. Before the Civil War, he said he used to work in the shipyards as a carpenter in the City of Savannah, Ga., getting a man’s pay at the age of 16. He was a brother of Wm. Lynch contractor who built St. Mary’s old school.
There were a number of Civil War Veterans who used to sit around the store frequently. Some of these were Thomas Meehan, the father of Councilman Meehan. He was one of the seven gunners aboard the “Kearsage” which sank the “Alabama” off the Coast of France during the Civil War, (and which I often heard him describe) Edward Wright, William Pike and Ira Chase, father of Councilman Chase.
Other old timers who gathered around the stove were Jas. Singleton, Jeremiah and Michael Singleton, Daniel O’Leary, Jr., Jeremiah C. Mahoney editor of the Morning Star, Dr. Amiden, Thos. D. Trumbull, Cyrus Holman whose brother ran a brickyard east of the present site of Jackson Heights School, John H. Quinlan, Sr., William Hiney, Timothy B. Quinlan, James O’Leary, Jeremiah Warren, Stephen Swan, Thomas McLaughlin, James Mansfield, John Henry O’Connor, Jeremiah T. Finch brother of George R. Finch, Dennis Clancy, James Cooney, George Goodson, James Anderson, Dr. D. J. Fitzgerald, Chas. W. Minahan, and William Irving.
Around the end of the century, J. Edward Singleton who was a law student in the office of H. A. Howard, graduated from law school and was elected Police Justice. His office was located at 89 Glen Street. He would drop into the store during the day.
In the presidential campaign of 1892 when the election of Cleveland seemed assured, the local democrats arranged a big parade. A load of brick was delivered in front of the store and it was my job for the day to soak them in kerosene in a barrel. In the evening the brick was taken around the village on a wagon and placed along the curb on each side of the road. A naptha torch was then applied to the bricks to light up the road along the line of march, Finch and Sweeney leading the parade behind the band.
During the campaign of 1896 between Bryan and McKinley, there was an election bet made by Wm. Gleason of South Glens Falls with his brother-in-law. The loser was to wheel the winner in a wheelbarrow from in front of the hotel in South Glens Falls to Union Square, South Street, Glens Falls. Gleason lost the bet and at about 8 P.M. a day or two after the election, I was standing in front of the store when I saw a big crowd coming up the hill and the loser was paying his bet. The winner sat on a chair or box in the wheelbarrow and I think he wore a high hat. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely and received a lot of cheers and joshing from the crowd.
My uncle, with Dr. D. J. Fitzgerald and Chas. W. Minehan who conducted the Rochester Clothing Store, where Grant’s store is now located in the YMCA Building, were instrumental in organizing the Knights of Columbus here in 1896. Their lodge room was then located on the top floor of the Sherman Building, corner of Park and Glen Sts., and evenings after the store closed at about 9 o’clock, the “old guard” remaining around the stove, would go across to the K of C rooms and play dominoes.
The store was moved form 91 Glen St. about 1911 having been located there for 30 years. I was employed there until 1900. My uncle retired from political activities in 1907.
Retyped by Casey Cosey for the Glens Falls City Historian from a copy of this story on file at the Folk Life Center at Crandall Public Library in November of 2016.
This article was given to the Warren County Historical Society to use by Glens Falls City Historian Wayne Wright. If anyone has a photograph of the store or any people mentioned in the article, we would be glad to post it with the article.