Once noticed, they're everywhere

boot scraper in Albany

By Casey Normile

You know when you learn about something new and for the next month or so it somehow pops up everywhere in your life? Like when you learned that Caesar dressing has anchovies in it -- and then all of sudden it seemed like every restaurant had a Caesar special?

Well, about a month ago, I learned about boot scrapers.

And I now seem them everywhere.

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Boot scrapers are small, flat or semi-circle surfaces often incorporated into the balustrades of the railings of stoops on row homes in many of Albany's older neighborhoods -- especially areas built in the 19th century, like Center Square. The scrapers vary from simple rectangles to more complicated fixtures that blend into the larger ornate railing.

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And once you notice one, you can't help but look for more.

The scrapers date back to a time when roads weren't paved and it was considered poor manners to remove one's shoes in the house. So if you were strolling through Albany to visit your friend on Dove Street, you would have somewhere to wipe your muddy, dirt-road-covered shoes before you entered their sitting room and had what I'm sure was tea and a light discussion of politics and gardening.

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Culture and etiquette evolved. Eventually people changed to door mats and leaving shoes in the front hall. But it is interesting to tour the city and see these simple architectural details that have remained for over a century.

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Graham Schultz -- an organist for the Cathedral of All Saints who immersed himself in local history during his fellowship here -- was the one who revealed the world of boot scrapers to me. I seem them everywhere now. And after reading this, you probably will, too. (It's something to point out to your friends when showing them around town -- you'll seem like a local history buff.)

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Check the balustrades outside older homes in Albany for a small gap in the pattern, just wide enough to put a boot through. Sometimes the scraper is off to the side, jutting out a few inches from the stoop. Or occasionally you'll find one attached by itself near a street level door to a building.

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But you might want to refrain from this if the homeowner is sitting on their stoop. I know from experience that will earn you some strange stares.

Comments

Fascinating!

Want another "once you see it..." moment? With the exception of some truly historic houses in Center Square, start examining everyone's window-shutters. Unlike their historically-useful elders, modern shutters are almost *NEVER* large enough to even come close to covering the entire window. It's akin to walking around with a tiny hat on your head... and to those who see it, it looks just as ridiculous! :)

That's awesome! I will definitely notice from now on.

There are quite a few on Elk Street between Eagle and Hawk, once I discovered them I also started to see them everywhere.

I LOVE stuff like this, keep it coming! Also, to the commentator who said something about shutters- I moved into a very old home recently and have been restoring it best as I can- including the original windows. I found some old shutters in the attic and plan to use them, but in the meantime I have learned a LOT about shutters and now wherever I go I can't help but cringe at all the "fake" vinyl shutters nailed to the sides of houses. Whenever I see real, "operable" (at least operable-looking) shutters I immediately love the house and have the most respect for the owner. Unfotunately, you don't see them too often anymore. Real shutters improve the beauty of a home a thousand times over. www.oldhouseguy.com is my idol.

Great eye work! Check out local author Diana Waite's iconic book "Ornamental Ironwork" - Mt. Ida Press, Albany.

Bootscrapers are all over downtown Troy as well. When I see one, I often give a scrape as I walk by, wondering when the last time somebody used it. :)

In France they are called décrottoire - from the word crotte meaning (dog) poo.

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