Have You Ever Visited the Old Family Homestead?
On a recent trip to Schenectady, New York, where my father was born, I showed my brothers an historic plaque that honored our great-grandfather, Julius Zander, our grandmother’s father.
He was an immigrant from Germany.
The plaque reads:
On this corner site stood
first Bellevue Blacksmith
shop, from 1885 to 1925.
Started by Julius Zander,
followed by Julius Zemke.
Click here to see a photo of the plaque.
My great-Aunt Helen, who never married and was a missionary to Japan, wrote to a Schenectady historian:
…”My father, Julius Zander, was the first blacksmith at the corner of Broadway and Fairview and Julius Zemke was his helper.
“Strange, perhaps, that they were both naturalized citizens of German heritage and with the initials ‘J.Z.’
“He began the business just before the turn of the century and built the shop that you recall being demolished in 1924 (where a gas station was later located at that point at, Fairview and Broadway, and where Cumberland Farms is now situated.)
“He also built our house about the same time as the shop.
“About 1911, [at age 54] when he was no longer able to wield the sledge hammer, my father sold out to Mr. Zemke.
“Then he opened a feed and hardware shop in the lower floor of our house next to the fire station. We lived upstairs.
“He also maintained the ‘livery’ that was mentioned in an earlier Old Dorp column.
“The farmers would come in from the country and leave their horse at my father’s livery to be fed at noon and be out of the sun for the day while their owners took the streetcar downtown to shop.
“On their return, they would load their wagons with feed for their farm animals.”
As I stood looking at the plaque, I wondered when, and why, my great-grandfather started drinking.
Did he drink because he lost his parents at the age of 9 and was raised by his sister?
Did he drink because he was too short to be conscripted into military service in Germany?
Did he drink because he jumped a German ship headed for South America when it docked in the United States in 1877, at the age of 20?
Did he drink because, though he owned several properties, according to his son-in-law, my grandfather,
“Zander … with a rough exterior but a gentle heart… was a better real estate operator than a business man. He could not compete with John Hudson across the street on Broadway at Fairview.
“At one time, Mr. Zander owned houses on both sides of the fire station on Broadway, and also a lot in Scotia to avoid tolls over the old bridge at Washington Avenue.”
Whatever the reason, my grandmother was so emotionally fragile that the combined families gathered to decide if my grandfather was going to be allowed to take a promotion to leave Schenectady for Chicago, with General Electric Corporation, in 1921.
Eleven years later, in 1932, she hanged herself, at the age of 41.
Two years before, in 1930, her brother had committed suicide, at the age of 34.
Three of Julius Zander’s five children had no children.
In 1933, Julius Zander died, at the age of 76.
An orphan immigrant, who jumped ship to come to the U.S. at the age of 20, came to own a blacksmith shop, a livery, a hardware store, a feedstore and the properties under them.
His grandson, my father, was the first in the family to get a college degree.
You never know the stories that hide behind historic plaques.
When did you find out about them?
Who told you the stories?
To you and helping your grandchildren understand their family.
Click here if you’d like to start looking at your family roots at ancestry.com and building your own family tree.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
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