Powering the Schenectady Railway

trolley power station

The mystery of 1830 Central Avenue, finally solved.

Updated

So, for about as long as we can remember, every time we drive past this building at 1830 Central Ave (near Kohl's) we look up and ask ourselves "What the heck was that?"

The building has looked vacant for the longest time... but it's really kind of cool looking and we guessed it might have been an old theater of some kind. We guessed wrong.

The other day we saw an open sign hanging in the window. So we did a little happy dance and detoured into the parking lot.

John Knighton and son John.JPGThe building is now owned by John Knighton, who operates an auto service shop on Albany Street and sells antique and used cars. And we're not sure what is more impressive, the space, its history, or John Knighton.

Knighton, who has lived in Colonie his entire life, says he's always admired the old brick building at 1830 Central. So much so that he bought it six years ago. He and his son have spent most of that time restoring every inch of it themselves. They sandblasted paint off the walls, power-washed the entire place four times and re-cut around every brick. They re-wired, installed radiant heat floors, replaced windows and installed walls and doors -- all on their own. One step at a time.

"I bought it with my heart, not my head," he said. "It needed a lot of work."

But John likes old stuff. "It's got more style, it's built better, it lasts longer."

Old stuff also has more history. This building is no exception.

What it was

Old pic of 1830 Central.JPG

So it turns out the building at 1830 Central wasn't anything nearly as fancy as a theater. It was a power station for the old Schenectady-Albany line of the Schenectady Railway. (Thanks, Gino)

Colonie historian Kevin Franklin told us a little more about the power station. "It was about the halfway point between Albany and Schenectady. The power stations took AC power and brought it into the building where it was converted to DC power to the overhead lines. There was a wheel that attached to the top of the line that brought the power down through the trolley. There's actually another [station] out in Latham on Route 7 for the trolleys that went between Albany and Troy."

The building on Central dates back to the mid 1800s, and the crane used to lift the trolley cars still sits on what is now the third floor of the building.

crane 1.JPG

Crane 2.JPG

According to John, about 100 years later the building served as the home of WPTR radio.

WPTR on Central.JPG

What it is...or will be soon

Trolley power stations 2nd floor2.JPG
John and his son aren't done with the building. There's still a lot of work to do on the second and third floors. But when it's finished, they're going to turn it into an antique car showroom. They've already got a few pretty snazzy models on the first floor.

Classic Car 2.JPG

Classic car 3.JPG

They'll need to arrange a way to lift the cars to the third floor and there's a lot to put in place yet, but if it sounds overwhelming -- or even impossible, don't tell John.

"People have come in here every step of the way and said 'Wow, that's gonna be a lot of work,' 'that's gonna cost a lot of money,' 'that's gonna take a lot of energy.' We do all the work ourselves, we pay as we go. I avoid down type of people. I can see, in my head, what it's going to be."

Find It

Old Troy-Schenectady Railway power station
1830 Central Ave
Colonie, NY 12205

Comments

Great story on the building at 1830 Central Ave. I love that building and can't wait to hear more about their progress as they make their vision come true.

Curse you for figuring this one out before I did. The old marquee on the front led a lot of people to think that it had once been a theater, which was augmented by its location, next to what was once the Mohawk Drive-In Theater. I didn't remember WPTR being there, but that would explain the marquee. There was also a fur storage facility there once, evidenced by the ghost signs on the building.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/carljohnson/492371004/

we've gone backwards...reliable mass transit between Troy - Schenectady and Albany - Troy?

Thank you so much for this satisfying article! Congrats to Mr. Knighton on his work.

This is going to sound uber-dorky, but I wish I could take a field trip there. I'd love a tour!

Excellent. This is why I read AOA.

Ike, go figure...

This is why I love AOA. Thanks for the fascinating read.

Kudos to the Knightons for reusing the building! A great article!

It was also Gordon's, a high end audio/home theater place in the early 80's.

These kinds of places are really cool. Thanks AOA!

Trying to think... which building is it in Latham?

I imagine it has to be on Rt 2, not Rt 7... unless it went from Troy to Schenectady, not Albany to Troy... I don't see why they would have this station all the way up there, seems out of the way for Albany to Troy.

I always imagined turning it into a dance club!

Thanks for the info AOA!

Actually, this is the Albany Sub-Station for the Schenectady Railway's Schenectady-Albany Line. This was abandoned in 1932. The Schenectady to Troy line traveled along Route 7 in Latham, where it's substation was located near the present day Circle. The building is still there.

Gino DiCarlo Author of Trolleys Of The Capital District...

This is right down the street from where I live. Thanks for solving the mystery!

Awesome. I love this blog.

Gino, is the Latham substation the brick building at the corner of Rt 2 and Old Loudon?

Thanks for posting this one. I've seen that building and always wondered what it was.

Like you, I have wondered what that building was for quite some time, and also pegged it as an old theater. Even better, there are classic cars in there! I love them as well. I hope to stop by someday and see it in person. I would also love to talk to John about his passion for cars and this old building.

Thanks for the info!

Excellent article, I've wondered about that building for years and long wished someone could do something interesting with it. I did know about the WPTR connection (and fur storage someone mentioned) but had no idea about the trolleys. One thing though about the dates: if the original purpose of the building was to convert alternating current to direct, it couldn't have been from the mid-1800s, unless it's original purpose was power generation. Alternating current was still in the labs in the 1880s and didn't become commonplace until decades later when the public could be made comfortable with it (it didn't help that DC proponent Thomas Edison was killing elephants with it to prove how unsafe it was.)

Thanks AOA for doing what you always do -- finding out the details about the curious and cool things around the region! I often look at that building and wonder when I'm riding the 55 bus -- what a fun surprise to learn about it's connection to transit.

After looking at Gino's website, the location I referred to is the Latham substation. Link with details.

Fantastic all around.

It's quite remarkable on what a beautiful building that is for something that was just a dirty black smoke bleaching power plant, that powered trolley lines.

Nobody today would build such a beautiful building for a Power Plant -- despite the fact that such a modern plant wouldn't be nearly as dirty or polluting, and might be charming to be near.

Great story AOA. The hubby and I will have to stop by sometime.

This building was built in the early 1900's. Tim is right about the AC power history. Speaking of Edison, it was his work that brought the Schenectady Railway to life. He and Charles Steinmentz used the trolley line as a test for electric transmission. The trolley line from Schenectady to Albany was built around 1902. Also, the Schenectady Railway did not travel from Troy To Albany. The United Traction Company of Albany connected Troy to Albany.

Gino DiCarlo

Gino, I love your website! Bookmarked under "reference." I live in Goose Hill; Van Vranken Ave was recently torn up for repaving and the old trolley line was exposed for a few days, I should have taken pictures when I had the chance. Thanks to you I now know it was called The Rexford Line and could take a passenger all the way to Saratoga, a nice getaway for a factory worker in those days I imagine. I'll be looking for your books now.

I just logged on to look at the information about the Trolley postings. First thing I noticed was the error concerning the Latham building being used to power trolleys between Albany and Troy. I'm glad Gino corrected this. The Latham building powered the line between Troy and Schenectady. The trolleys could not climb the steep hill directly up Rt. 7 coming out of Watervliet, so; at about Swatling Road area, the line swept in a southerly direction across what is now Delatour Road in Colonie and then turned toward the north and descended down the hillside at an angle into Watervliet. Gino's Railpage has some great photos and information related to past area railway and railroads. I was told that all of the equipment had been removed from the Central Avenue building. I'm happy to hear that it has not. I'll have to stop by for a look. Thanks for the great photos. K.Franklin, Historian, Town of Colonie & Village of Menands

Thrilled to see this article and all the positive comments about preserving this building. Kudos to the Knightons for their vision and their effort! I grew up not far from here and remember the building, I think, with an art gallery in the 1970's, maybe? My mom bought a piece of artwork there; it was a big purchase for my parents as I recall.

Great article, very informative and makes the reader who drives by this go, oh wow that's interesting.

I commend the Knightons for preserving and enhancing this significant piece of Capital Region history! I'm sure that they have studied the great successes (and also the difficulties) that Michael Dezer and his son have had preserving the 1950s with their antique car dealerships/museums in New York and Miami.
Back in the holiday season of 1990, I was privileged to have attended a private corporate party at the 5-story warehouse building Dezer then had in Manhattan's Chelsea district. The ground floor was a dance club with a '50s theme, while the second floor where our event took place had 3 sections: a club floor with tables and stage, a small drive-in theater where I could watch 3 Stooges movies while sitting inside a Corvair convertible, and a wooden dance floor with a large and colorful jukebox. I was very fortunate to have had a staff member take a few minutes to show me the museum upstairs on the 4th floor when I took a break from the party. In the 2nd floor vestibule there was a poster in German advertising his facility in Miami. [He has recently opened a new museum there, with a website in 24 languages (www.dezercollection.com).]
I wish the Knightons the very best in their restoration efforts. If they decide to also include memorabilia from the days of the Famous 1540 as well, all the better.

The building in Latham that was the power station for the trolley was Quinn's when I was growing up in Latham in the 50's and 60's. Later it was a store called Dzembo's they sold milk and dairy items among other things , a modern day "C" store. I have heard that the generating equipment is still in this building since they can't get it out without destroying the building. Also, in the 50's I remember seeing the stop numbers for the trolley were still painted on telephone poles going up Rt. 7 (now Rt. 2) from Watervliet.

When I first read: " John said that...." I thought you were mis quoting me.
I'll been saying to divers persons all around Albany and beyond, for years that the building at the south west corner of Old Loudon Road and Old Route 7 just off the east edge of Latham Circle was the power station for the Schenectady-Troy Electric Railway. That's what it was and that's where it is; not on Central Ave AKA The Schenectady Turnpike. The one on the Schenectady Turnpike was the power station for the Albany Branch of the Schenectady Railway system as the one at Latham was the Troy Branch for the same system. The Cenral Aven power station is cited in a Cultural Resourcess and Archeological Potenial Report published for the Pine Bush Commission in 1991. It's also located on the map with " Trolley Trips "
published by the Schenectady Railway Comapany Ca. 1910. This pamphlet, by the way ; is well worht reading. It points out all the interesting things one can see with the public transit of the time without spending a heck of a lot money. It cites the Stanford Mansion, and the Vroman House at the Brandywill Mills, and many more. Now I find from materail furnishe by Kevin Fr nklin, Colonie Historian ,for our last Save The Pine Bush Nature and History Walking Tour, the following fascinating tid bit about the Karner Stop on the Schenectady Raiway. Every summer during the huckleberry-blueberry season; many people would ride the electric realway from Schenectady with baskets. They would get off at the Karner Stop just past the power house then walk down Karner Road AKA Vly Road cross the NYCentral tracks at the hamlet of Karner to gather berries in the Pine Bush. To add even more color to this locale; I have it both from Kevin and a former resident of the area; that a grove where the Mohawk Drive in was used to be kind of reserved every year as a summer encampment for a band of roving. gypsies. Anyway ; I'm real glad to hear that the Knightons are preseerving and restoring the old electric power staion on the Albany-Schentady Road.

John Wolcott

The crane referred to inside the building was not for lifting trolleys it was for handling the large open frame rotary converters which were unified AC motor / DC generators that would have been housed in this powerhouse. I had no idea that such a landmark historical site existed at this location which I had seen for some 50 years and never knew about it's history. I applaud the restoration work of the Knightons. Thank you for preserving this piece of the history of electric power invention and innovation.

Thank you for this very informative article.

As Susan recalled, this was also Shutzen Art Gallery in the 1970's. I don't think this was ever an audio/home theatre store. Next door, the old Midway Bowling Alley became a Sounds Great or Seiden Sound before it became a transmission store. Kudos to the Knightons for preserving this piece of Albany/Schenectady history.

If you're looking for the current location of Gino's Trolley Page, you can now find it here:

http://gino.cdfw.net/_trolleypage/index.html

Agree with earlier posts, crane system was used to move motor-generator sets when service was needed. In late 1964 there was a fire in the WPTR "Gold Studio" on the 2nd floor, and the station built a new studio over at the transmitter site.

It was an art gallery and custom frame shop in the 70s Called Schertle Gallery. We too were fascinated by the b uilding when we saw it and the owner at that time was Not that interested in doing much with it. We convinced him to let us open the gallery without destroying the interior When we left the Building again remained vacant.

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