In 1904, the average new home cost $5,350, about $135,693 in today's inflated economy. An average automobile cost $680. Almost 14,000 "horseless carriages" were manufactured, but there were only 141 miles of paved roads across America to drive on. The average annual blue-collar salary was $471. Only 14 percent of homes had bathtubs. Marijuana, heroin, morphine and "Paris Green," a popular rat poison sometimes also employed to eliminate unwanted mates, bosses, or rivals in romance, were all available at drug stores.
Nationally, 1904 witnessed Times Square's first New Year's Eve celebration. New York's subway opened. Cy Young pitched his historic no-hit game and the future Dr. Seuss was born. A Quaker lady, Lizzie Magie, patented her Landlord's Game, the predecessor of Monopoly, invented to teach children the evils of usury.
The Wright Brothers improved their flying skills using their redesigned "Wright Flyer II" and alphabet-friendly Henry Ford introduced his new model B and C autos at his 2-year-old Ford Motor Co.'s Detroit showroom.
Mercantile activities in Fulton and Montgomery counties were booming. Employment was high and 1903 had brought major advances to the FJ&G Railroad's public transportation capabilities. In January, the electric line opened between Gloversville and Amsterdam. "The trip between Amsterdam and Fonda can easily be made in forty minutes," advised the Daily Republican.
In May 1903, what Amsterdam's Morning Sentinel called the FJ&G's "Mammoth Power House" east of Tribes Hill became operable. Each giant Edison dynamo produced 13,200 volts. "Ms. Mabel MacDonald broke a bottle of wine over one of the big engines and christened the machine 'Ledlie' after company President J. Ledlie Hees." This powerful plant produced enough electricity to send large cars all the way to Schenectady. Service began officially June 30. This extension down the valley was a major investment: Eight new high-speed cars were purchased. They were described as "The finest ever constructed: in all probability the run between Gloversville and Albany will take only two hours and forty-five minutes."
The 20th century's first decade was very likely the high watermark of profitability for the FJ&G, since those smelly little motorized carts called automobiles didn't yet offer any serious competition.
The FJ&G's Sacandaga Amusement Park was already a proven investment, and the railroad also profited by transporting patrons there.
Sacandaga Park's most profitable day was always July 4, and if Independence Day fell adjacent to a weekend, all the better for several-day attendance.
With the railroad now extended all the way to Schenectady, even greater park attendance was anticipated. The July 2, 1904, Gloversville Morning Herald reminded readers, "The entertainment at Sacandaga Park will be J.W. Gorman's Alabama Troubadours. There are many expert banjoists in this aggregation, and the music from this instrument is a signal for everyone to join in singing, dancing or fun-making." Also extolling Sacandaga Park's many activities, the Herald reminded readers, "There will be no municipal celebration in this city, but plenty for the pleasure seeker to do if he will jump on the trolley."
The Gloversville Republican of the same date trumpeted, "Great preparations are made by the FJ&G to give the public visiting Sacandaga Park on July 4th entertainment excelling anything heretofore attempted. Gorman's Troubadours will give three performances at the Rustic Theater. The Concordia Singing Society, assisted by the Hoboken Quartet and Prouty's Concert Band of Boston, will give a vocal and instrumental concert in the afternoon.
"The Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville A.J.G's and the Schenectady baseball teams will play at 4 p.m. A display of Pain's Manhattan Beach fireworks is arranged for the evening as a fitting climax to a day of pleasure."
The FJ&G was well prepared for public accommodations. Twenty-two trains were scheduled, eight from Johnstown and the rest from Gloversville, running from 7:45 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Seven long trains, using every available passenger car, returned park patrons beginning at 4:50 p.m. and ending at 11:30 p.m. Although a national holiday, the Fourth was clearly no holiday for railroad employees.
That Fourth at Sacandaga Park must have been a grand success for both the public and the railroad. Every area newspaper applauded the FJ&G's railroad and park personnel for their courteous handling of patrons. The Johnstown Republican observed, "It is much to the credit of the officials and employees of the railroad that this immense throng was handled without accident to a single person."
How large was this "immense throng"? According to the July 5 Republican, "Up to 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon, one hundred carloads of people bent on spending the Fourth at the 'Gem Resort of the North' were conveyed, and more trains followed. Although auditor's office clerks haven't finished counting tickets taken yesterday, it was stated this afternoon that the total would be in the neighborhood of 10,000. Adding to this, the number of people coming from cottages and park hotels, and those reaching the park by other conveyances, 12,000 is considered a low estimate."
One hundred 10 years later, Sacandaga Park's Sport Island baseball stadium, where the A.J.G.'s fought Schenectady's finest in 1904 is submerged. The Rustic Theater, where Gorman's Minstrels and Prouty's Orchestra entertained, is likewise a memory. Even the once majestic Adirondack Inn is gone, but on 2014's Independence Day, we can enjoy our 21st-century restaurants, swimming, boating, viewing majestic evening fireworks and making pleasant new memories.
Peter Betz, a former Fulton County historian, lives in Fort Johnson.