Monday, March 22, 2010

Renss. Co Students: Historians in Training Program

Alexander Minton
Special to The Record

“Getting There: Historians in Training

Explore Travel Through Time:”

A piece of sheet music, a section of trolley track, an elegant, if faded, carriage, and a rusting horseshoe. All of these objects are among the artifacts from the Rensselaer County Historical Society collection researched by students from Tony Rieth’s and Karen Bechdol’s Humanities class at Troy High School. These 25 “Historians in Training” are part of an exciting collaboration among Troy High School, RCHS and The Record.

In early 2009, RCHS staff provided the students with a selection of transportation-themed objects from which to choose. The Historians in Training then picked the objects they wanted to research and uncovered their stories, writing articles that will appear in The Record each Monday, starting today. These stories provide an eclectic window into the impact that planes, trains, and automobiles (as well as boats and horses) have had on the history of Rensselaer County.

Through this collaborative, the Historians in Training developed research and writing skills and had the opportunity to explore careers in history museums and journalism. Most importantly, they discovered fascinating stories from the past, and through their research and articles, are making local history accessible to our community.

People need direction in life; they always have and always will. The Handy Pocket Guide to trains was the very direction people in turn of the century Troy needed. Their lives depended on the trains that ran through their city. So this little 50 page booklet was a godsend to people who needed to catch trains often.

This small book from 1902 has a worn feeling to it and the color is faded, yet even a century later, it is still in exquisite condition; a gallant effort at keeping the history of our fair county alive by the historians at the Rensselaer County Historical Society where this book resides. The first dozen pages of the guide are dense with information including many train schedules. Troy has always been an important center of transportation activity, and dozens of trains came in and out of Troy every day in 1902! The book also has many advertisements for chemists, druggists, shops and other services. Many businesses that distributed these pamphlets usually also posted their own ads in them.

The front cover of this book has the name Minnie Hunt written on it. A search of the Troy City Directory for the year 1902 uncovered some information about Miss Hunt. She was a milliner who worked at 363 Broadway, and boarded in Watervliet. She didn’t own the shop and there was no sign of distribution of these pamphlets from the hat shop so this must have been her personal copy. In 1903, she moved out of Troy, but to an unknown destination.

This booklet was very important to everyday people. It is difficult to understand the significance of this little book since passenger train services ended in Troy in 1958. But if your life revolves around a bus or subway schedule, then you probably have a good idea of the true worth of a small pamphlet like this one.

The Historians in Training program is collaboration among the Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy High School, and The Record. For more information, please visit or call 518-272-7232, x17. Educational programming at RCHS is made possible by the generous support of RCHS members and donors and is supported in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

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