75 Years of Curling in Schenectady
French, Indians, and Dutchmen
How did the sport of curling ever take root in Schenectady? The late mayor Mills Ten Eyck, a some time president of the Schenectady Curling Club, once observed that he understood curling was invented in his ancestral Holland and exported to Schenectady when the Dutch found they needed all their canals for a faster sport---skating. The facts belie this claim, however, since the Dutch lost The Colony of New Netherlands to Great Britain in 1664 and curling did not make its way to Schenectady until 1907.
Perhaps curling arrived in Schenectady from Quebec along with the French and Indians who perpetrated the massacre of 1690, but, if so, the seed took a long time to sprout. Or maybe the sport spread from nearby Albany or Utica, where clubs were chartered in 1867 and 1875 respectively.
Facts seem to point to the midwest as the home soil of Schenectady curling. For it was in Illinois and Wisconsin that R.S. (Dick) Emmet learned to curl, and he is generally credited with introducing the sport to Schenectady. There were four Emmets involved with the Mohawk Golf Club in the early days of this century and Dick began by explaining curling to the other three. By 1906, Dick was chairman of the greens committee at Mohawk, and while his brother Bill, was on his way to being elected president of the club. Then there was a third brother, Bob, and cousin Herman. All four Emmets were charter members when the Mohawk Golf Club launched a curling club with Dick as chairman.
Where did the new club gets its equipment? Normally, the acquisition of stones is one of the great obstacles in the formation of a new curling club. Stones are quarried only in Scotland and they are expensive. The Golf Club was in its infancy and was unlikely to invest cash in an untried sport. Perhaps Albany was a source of help, after all, for the Albany City Curling Club had disbanded in 1898 and there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that the first sixteen stones used at the Mohawk Golf Club were discovered in a capital city warehouse. Still another stone was found many years later in Albany's Washington Park Lake and donated to the Union College Curling Club by Leslie F. Couch, a member of the revived Albany Curling Club.
There was one sheet of ice and a makeshift warm room during the first season at Mohawk. A second sheet was added before the 1908-9 season and both were covered by a roof to protect the natural ice from the sun. By this time there were twenty-four curlers paying $5 per year for the privilege. This subscription was reduced to $3 in 1911 and covered curling, skating and skiing. There were sixty-five men curling this year and seventy-five in 1914. By 1915 annual reports of the Golf Club began to mention the need for improvements to the warm room and rink. These eventually were made in 1919 and membership climbed to 96.
Golf Club Years
There are practically no records of early curling activity at the Mohawk Golf Club, but two interesting antiques turned up at a garage sale a few years ago. They were the "Mohawk Golf Club Curling Cups" for 1907 and 1909, both of which were won by Skip B. B. Hull. These and a 1916 Mohawk Cup won by Skip Frank G. Vaughen are now in the possession of the Schenectady Curling Club.
Frank Vaughen must have enjoyed a super season in 1915-16, for he not only won the Mohawk Golf Club Cup, but skipped a Schenectady rink to its first Gordon Medal, emblematic of the championship of the Grand National Curling Club of America. Shortly after his victory Vaughen was elected president of the Grand National.
One of the first actions of the Mohawk golf Club curlers was to petition for membership in the GNCC. This was granted in 1907 and has been continuous ever since, through the Schenectady Curling Club which now ranks as the third oldest member in New York State behind New York Caledonian and Utica.
Membership in the Grand National opens opportunities not only for inter-club competition but comradeship with curlers from other American clubs and with Canadian members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. We know little of the Mohawk Golf Club's involvement until Frank Vaughen's Gordon victory and election to the presidency in 1916. We do have this recollection from Frank himself as he presented it in a talk to the Schenectady Curling Club's annual meeting of 1934:
"Grand National matches were as much endurance contests as tests of skill," he declared. "Keep in mind that no Grand National Club had artificial ice before 1927 and then realize the our our matches were seventeen ends and those in the Gordon international twenty-one ends. Some of the time there was water on the ice and frequently there was snow and always there was frost. In 1917 when I played third for Dick Emmet, we played fifty-one ends in the Gordon the first day and lost to Utica in the finals. Then we took our stones aboard the Lake Shore Limited and went on the ice the following morning at Utica. We played another fifty-one ends and won the Mitchell medal. Next morning we played just six more ends and were eliminated from the Allen, but we had survived one hundred eight ends in two and one half days."
Curling itself was almost eliminated from Schenectady by a fire which totally destroyed the Mohawk Golf Club on April 26, 1923. About the only structures still standing were the curling shed and warm room, and these were taken over on a long-term basis as locker rooms for men and women golfers. This was the end of curling at Mohawk, although efforts to revive the sport there continued until 1935.
Curling Moves to Front Street
When it became apparent that the fire of 1923 was going to result in the suspension of curling at the golf club, the ardent curlers (perhaps two dozen) began to investigate new sites and the possibility of independent status .Suddenly "Uncle Bill" Emmet came up with what he believed to be a solution.
Emmett reported to a group of sixteen charter members of the Schenectady Curling Club in August that he had purchased a piece of property just off Front Street in the Stockade, along the river near the present pump house, as a possible location for curling. He had paid $2,500 for the land, and his brothers, Dick and Bob, were prepared to put up $800 toward a three-sheet rink with a two-story clubhouse. Perhaps there could be curling by January, 1924, if a sufficient number of men could be persuaded to join. At this point another Emmet, Herman (The Professor) was named membership chairman and one hundred three negotiable memberships were sold at $75 each, plus $15 annual dues. Thus, a construction of the Front Street facility commenced in mid-October and the new club was dedicated January 21, 1924. The eventual cost was $15,000, according to Roland D. Thomson, chairman of the building committee. Some individuals and some banks held notes for several years, but again there was curling in Schenectady.
"The Old Club"
Membership never fell below the limit of one hundred during the twenty-eight seasons of curling at the Front Street location, so there must have been a wonderful spirit of comradeship. Facilities were a bit spartan and artifical ice was not introduced until 1928, just one year after Utica installed the first ice-making plant in the Grand National. Curlers who were transferred elsewhere or who hung up their brooms frequently were able to sell their $75 negotiable memberships to new members for as much as $110. This practice ceased when the club moved to Balltown Road and set a membership limit of one hundred eighty-nine, which has been closely approached several times.
Curling never began before early January downtown and frequently was suspended during periods of thaw or flood. The club usually closed before the end of February, since the feeble ice plant could not cope with warm weather. Grand National bonspiel schedules were compressed into a ten-day period in early February when curlers boarded trains for one or two-day stands at St. Andrew's, Schenectady, Utica, Saranac and---finally---Montreal for the Gordon International.
The Old Club had its special charm and challenge. It had no parking lot and, since it was built during prohibition, there was no bar. After tea and toast, curling started at 5:30 p.m. and 12 ends was a normal game. There was an up-stairs kitchen where Italian and Polish women served wholesome dinners of stew, thick soup and sometimes venison two evenings a week at fifty cents per person. Also, after matches, curlers tended to drift over to the Mohawk Club for a glass or two of something.
"Aunt Mabel", Mrs. "Ro" Thompson, complained about cold feet as she watched her husband "Papa Bear", curl. Hot water pipes, for the spectators to put their feet on, were installed.
Anyone who ever curled at Front Street is apt to remember the ice man, George Hawkins ('awkins) who had a talent for sniffing out alcohol in members' lockers. Almost no lock could stop George who would exhaust the contents or just sample and replace with other liquids of similar hue. As a rule, George would then disappear for several hours or days, and skips would send their leads on scouting parties to bars on Ferry, Front, Liberty and State Streets in quest of the key to the club premises.
'awkins and members of his family set up housekeeping in the warm room during the off season of 1925 and were there off and on for years at a fee of $20 per month. One summer 'awkins was discovered maintaining bachelor quarters in the warm room by C. L. (Chic) Hequembourg, a member of the board of management. Chic wrote a letter to the board members remarking that he had been promised a bed from the Mohawk Club, which was then being renovated, and that he proposed to install it in the warm room for 'awkins. "He has been sleeping on a dirty mattress on a floor which is even dirtier," Hequembourg observed.
When he started work as an ice man, 'awkins was paid $20 per week for a four-month stint. By his last season in 1950, George had worked his way up to $36 per week for seventeen weeks and prohibition was over. If he was even more difficult to locate, it seems understandable. The fact that there was ice is almost miraculous.
Dues, which started at $5 at the Golf Club in 1907 were up to $18 per year by 1924, and $28 by 1951, when the move to new quarters on Balltown Road necessitated more cash income. At this time, Roland D. Thomson advocated an increase to $75 per year and argued that: "We will have one extra sheet of ice, the length of the season will be doubled, we will have our first matched stones and better lighting. For this reason no one should oppose a dues increase from $28 to $75. After all, that amounts to just $3.45 per month or the price of a good dinner, a tank of gas or a bottle of scotch.
Schenectady did not install an ice-making plant until 1928 and it was designed to maintain natural ice rather than to freeze new ice. Thus the plant was just a booster and the club was still very much subject to th elements. Even a strong ice plant, however could not have prevented several shut downs caused by Mohawk River floods during the late forties. The biggest problem was mud which was left on the curling ice after flood waters receded. This had to be flushed off and drained away through holes cut in the ice.
The club treasurer still has in his file an insurance policy for $20,000 protecting the curling club against loss from bomb damage during World War II. Perhaps the future of curling might have been smoother in Schenectady if bombs had fallen and there and been $20,000 available to start over.
Money was tight and the War Production Board was discouraging new building, but the Front Street curling property was muddy and rusty and people were moving uptown to Niskayuna. The Board of Management appointed James Kilander chairman of a committee to find a new site for curling in Schenectady. That was in 1944 and the committee began by studying the feasibility of modernizing the Front Street property. Two severe floods curtailed curling in 1945 and brought this study to an end.
Curlers had been buying bonds at Christmas for several years and donating them to the club building fund. In November, 1945, President "Chic" Hequembourg reported that this fund now stood at $20,231. Soon thereafter Kilander's committee discovered that the Mohawk Golf Club might be willing to sell a plot of land on Balltown Road for $2,500. This site was studied and the property purchased in August, 1946. Two years later nothing had happened ad the Golf Club graciously offered to repurchase the land. At that time, the Board of Governors of the Golf Club reminded the curlers that their deed contained two important restrictions: (1) malt beverages and other intoxicants could not be manufactured or sold on the premises and (2) The Board of Governors must be consulted on all future plans for buildings on the property or subsequent alterations thereof.
Roy C. Muir was president of the Curling Club in 1951. He also happened to be a vice president of General Electric temporarily assigned to Washington. Suddenly he called a meeting for April 27, 1951 at the Edison Club where he announced that the War Production Board had given permission to build a new curling club. This was good news to the membership, but Len Reid, the treasurer of the building committee, had more good news. He reported that the club's series F & C Bonds were worth $17,725, that the club's treasury bonds were worth $14,807 and that cash in the building fund amounted to $12,815. When Laurence Achilles, chairman of the building fund, reported gifts of an additional $4,750. Mr. Reid stated that the Mohawk National Bank stood ready to loan the curling club up to $35,000 at 5% interest. Simultaneously, President Muir announced that the firm of James E. Lowe & Sons had offered to build the new club for $74,000, a bid he was prepared to accept. The membership agreed unanimously and construction began on May 1, 1951.
There was feverish activity all through the summer and fall of 1951 as the club readied itself for the move to Balltown. Needing cash, the club officers set a price of $12,000 on the Front Street plant, but wound up begging the city to buy it for $2,500 as an addition to Riverside Park. The club secretary was busy with dozens of details, not the least of which was the disposition of the old stones. A new set of thirty-four matched stones was on its way from Scotland, the gift of H. Laurence Achilles.
Members had acquired their own stones from various sources over the years, and the secretary tried to persuade those who wished to keep their rocks to remove them from the clubhouse. Among those who did so were Jack Cunningham, Jim Kilander and Howard Maxwell. Eventually some of the remaining stones were sold to the Snowbirds at Lake Placid and to the Highland Curling Club in Rhode Island. The balance went to the Lacolle, Quebec, club for $12 a pair. These were carried aboard a D & H train by a group of Schenectady curlers heading north. They were met at Rouses Point by horse-drawn wagons which transported stones and curlers to the Lacolle Club where an impromptu bonspiel ensued before the Schenectadians took another train back home.
There were problems making ice at the new club because of condensation and unfamiliar equipment, so the opening was delayed until Saturday, December 2 when members and their families were welcomed at a dedication and open houses. Among the three hundred persons who attended were Charles R. Betts, the architect, and Egbert C. Lowe, the builder .The ceremonies were given prominent place in local newspapers and "The North American Curling News" devoted much of its January, 1952 issue to the new club.
Actual construction costs amounted to $114,825, according to "Ro" Thomson, who was chairman of the building committee again as he had been in 1923 and 1928. In an effort to close the financial gap, dues reduction notes in the amount of $125 and $250 were sold to the members. Ten per cent of the face value of notes were to be used to reduce members' dues over a ten year period. Actually, most members wrote them off.
It was mid-January, 1952 before any real curling occurred. This was because the long-awaited shipment of stones had been delayed by storms on the North Atlantic. Eventually the twelve cases reached St. John's B.B., and they arrived in Schenectady via the New York Central Railroad on January 16th.
After a week or two of curling, the Board of Management realized that something was missing from the sport. Notwithstanding the deed restriction against intoxicants, the board voted to apply for a liquor license. This was granted and the bar posted prices of 40¢ for blended whisky, 50¢ for scotch and 25¢ for beer. Early Hambidge ran the bar the first year, financing the operation himself. Bartenders were Tim Ryan, John Cary, C. C. Hutton and Arch Salvini.
After four years, buckling and heaving brought great ice problems. The rear of the ice room was removed, equipment brought in, two feet of clay scooped off the surface, and a new topping of sand was spread to replace it.
Membership now stood at one hundred twenty-six and climbed steadily in the next four years to one hundred eighty-four, the high-water mark. Competition also intensified and the club enjoyed great success in the bonspiel circuit. Schenectady entered four rinks in the 1959 Gordon bonspiel and there was talk of sweeping all three medals. Pride goeth before a fall. The bonspiel got under way on Thursday, February 6, as two local favorites bit the dust. Worse was to follow. Ice Man Bob Hagerty arrived at 4 a.m. to scrape and pebble but found the club ablaze. Firemen later blamed a cigarette in a trash barrel behind the bar, but they credited a hose which burst under the dishwasher with limiting the damage. The bonspiel went on amidst the smell of smoke, and a dearth of spectators, and at the end "Lefty" Huttons's local rink had salvaged the Emmet. Utica and Caledonian won the Gordon and Mohawk.
The insurance provided immediate relief from the damage caused by the fire and there were even some improvements. But the club had to wait for the regime of President Walter Brzoza for $60,000 worth of needed improvements, including a modern kitchen, centrally-located bar, women's locker room and expanded and redecorated warm room. These architectural changes were made possible by removal of the concrete block wall which had split the warm room and spectators' area since the club was opened. This occasioned removal of the bleachers given to the club at the Front Street location by Jim Parker.
No further changes were made in the interior of the club until the 1979-80 season when the club benefitted from the ideas of the "atmosphere committee," self appointed during a bonspiel in Boston. A huge Italianate fireplace, new carpeting and bordello lighting were among the improvements.
Schenectady has the unique distinction of having hosted the U.S. Women's Curling championships twice (1958 and 1966) and the U.S. Men's Championship in 1974. All three events drew many spectators and gave Capital District sports fans an awareness of curling at its best.
The women's championships at Schenectady were open to any rinks which cared to enter. Admission to the modern women's title event must be gained through district playdowns. Whatever the system, Schenectady women made an amazing showing in 1958. Marny Snell's rink finished second and Jean Ryan's fourth in a field of 21 teams. Isabel Pollen's mink-clad Chicago rink took the title. St. Paul, Minn., won the 1966 crown and Schenectady teams failed to place.
"Bud" Sommerville's Superior, Wisconsin, rink curled flawlessly to win the 1974 men's title ant Schenectady. North Dakota finished second and Washington third. There were more than 100 spectators in the warm room at all times, but never was it overcrowded as some has feared. The Grand Boulevard firemen eased the problem by permitting visiting curlers to use their dining and recreational facilities during the six-day period.
When the U.S. Men's was over, visiting skips told Hal Buell of the Gazette that Schenectady's hospitality and ice were the best most of them had encountered anywhere. Also toasted was A. Merle Bonthuis of Schenectady who edited the beautiful commemorative program on just a few weeks notice.
W. L. R. Emmet must rank as #1 among people who made curling strong in Schenectady. He provided leadership from the very beginning and gave money at crucial times. His name does not appear in the pantheon of skips who won local or Grand National bonspiels, but he made it all possible. "Uncle Bill" was elected president of the Schenectady Curling Club in 1923 and re-elected each year through 1938, even though he resided in New York City for many of these years and seldom competed in club events. He even submitted a resignation in 1928 which was ignored by the membership.
It is doubtful that either the Front Street or Balltown Road clubhouses could have been built without the planning and fundraising efforts of Roland D. Thomson. Fittingly, he succeeded Emmet as President at the close of the former's fifteen-year term. "Ro" once made the observation that "the presidential office is more or less an honorary position. Although he generally attends meetings, the president has no vote and should not be considered a member of the Board of Management." "Ro" also was a premier skip, leading Schenectady to victory four times in the Gordon, still a record.
Two men seemed to run the Schenectady Curling Club in the absence of "Uncle Bill" Emmet. They were Frank G. Vaughen, who was curling chairman at the Golf Club and served as vice president from 1923 to 1933. In 1945 he established the Vaughen Trophey which is still played for within the club. The other key man was John Anderson, who served as secretary from 1927 to 1932 and vice president from 1934 to 1939. Like Frank Vaughen, he also served a term as president of the Grand National.
Theodore L. (Boney) Lydgate, another Grand National president, was considered by his contemporaries to be the greatest Schenectady skip of his times. He led rinks to victory twice in the Gordon, once in the District Medal and once in the Allen. Jim Kilander characterizes Lydgate as "the best sport I ever knew."
Dick Emmet died suddenly in 1929, nearly three decades after he had introduced curling to Schenectady. During the intervening years, he had served as president of the Grand National and chairman of curling at the Mohawk Golf Club. Fittingly, at his death, the Schenectady Curling Club subscribed to a medal in Dick's memory. The acceptance of this medal by the Grand National was opposed by the Country Club for reasons which are now clouded in history. Ultimately St. Andrew's and Utica sided with Schenectady and the Emmet was first played for in 1932.
The Achilles Medal was established in the fall of 1980 by the Schenectady Curling Club in honor of H. Laurance Achilles, long time supporter and benefactor of curling. Laurence skipped many Schenectady rinks in Grand National Competition. He served the club as vice president, member of the Board of Management and building fund chairman. Later he curled at the Westchester clubs and at Nutmeg in Darien, Connecticut, of which he was a founder. Dr. Achilles provided the funds for the Achilles Rink, home of curling and hockey at Union College, where he taught for many years.
Another Schenectady curler deserving of special notice was Ralston B. Reid who was president of the Schenectady Club in 1956-7 of the Grand National in 1959-60 and president of the U.S. Men's Curling Association in 1972. Oldtimers still talk of the wonderful parties he used to host in the penthouse of the Windsor Hotel in Montreal, while Schenectady curlers are grateful to him for his gifts of plaques and the electric scoreboards to the curling shed, and for the establishment of the harriet Reid Chalice for mixed competition. Rally was also the founder of the Chabawabs, largely (he always said) because of his own ineptitude at the game. Upon his death in 1979, the Grand National established the Reid Trophy in his memory.
Starting in the mid-forties, the Schenectady Curling Club always had a friend at the bank. He was A. Leonard Reid, currently Chairman of the Board of the Mohawk National bank. Then he was treasurer of the building fund which made the Balltown Road clubhouse possible and his confidence in the future of curling resulted in several key loans from the Mohawk Bank to the curling club. Len also gave the club one of its most handsome medals, the prize for Monday night leaguers. Back in his curling days, Len and the other curlers always gave up drinking in the United States during Lent. They then left for Canada, and this accounts, in part, for the twenty-five Quebec City International bonspeiels which Len attended. Once he also took a Schenectady rink, including Clarence Bradshaw, Tiny Leighton and Vaughan Ferguson, on a three week barnstorming tour of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, returning on Whitsunday.
One of the true blithe spirits of Schenectady curling was Frank W. Cermak, a celebrated wit and talented athlete. He is generally credited with pushing the 1966 rebuilding which doubled the size of the warm room and resulted in a new bar, ladies' locker room and kitchen. Frank also founded the Sunday morning breakfast club, and some curlers still imagine that they hear his cherry voice calling "what weight do you want?" when asked by John Cary for a draw to the button.
There is a plaque in the warm room crediting John Link as the donor of the "Link Trophy." This is not true, for John prided himself on his complete lack of generosity. The only thing he gave freely was advice, and this was what made John an institution at the Schenectady Curling Club. "Don't throw hard up the middle," John would shout. Or he would bellow, "Come on, let's play the game! There's only one good shot and it is obvious. Quit stalling!" John was still very much alive when some of his admirers decided that there should be a third event for Muir-Vaughen so that more good people might survive until Sunday. Within three hours, $850 had been collected and designated as "Link Trophy Money." The fund swelled to $1,400 before it closed five days later. John was not the type who would seek or be elected to the club presidency, but he knew more about curling than most skips and he did lead a Schenectady rink to the U.S. Men's championships.
Women were introduced to curling by their husbands and fathers at the curling club on Front Street in the late 1940's. From the records it appears that the following women curled there: Mary Brown, Betty Corrigan, Sally Ferguson, Ann Lydgate Kaiser, Betty Lotridge, Eleanor Waller Pearson, Harriet Red, Felicity Rummery and Florence Weinberg.
As a result of a letter written in 1950 by "Rally" Read, President E.G. Lowe appointed Campbell MacRae "to investigate women's curling in Schenectady" in October, 1951. Campbell painted himself into a corner with his report, which went as follows:
"Women's curling is a problem we must face without prejudice," he said. "One of our local newspapers observed the other day that curling is a remarkable sport, but that women's curling is even more so.
"Everyone including the newspapers is entitled to an opinion on women's curling, "Campbell continued. "I will not give you my opinion because the wives of some of our members are putting pressure on us to prevent women's curling in Schenectady. I have been urged to report that some of our members are strongly opposed to the idea of women curling at our club. On the other hand, I suspect that many of our members secretly have no objection to this kind of activity and I suspect myself that there is a need for it.
"I believe this matter must be settled without further delay and I, therefore ask for the unanimous support of the membership in voting the women a place in our curling program...perhaps one afternoon a week. I am confident that we may not regret it and that within a year we will be proud of this additional use of our club.
"Let's give this a fair trial!"
Women were granted privileges in the new Schenectady Curling Club building on Balltown Road. Their first organizing meeting was held October 27, 1951 when Campbell Macrae, liaison to the women, introduced Sally Ferguson as Chairman and Betty Lotridge as secretary of the women's group. Present at this meeting were Mrs. Frank Boucher, Mado Brukett, Sally Ferguson, Martha Hamilton, Ann Lesser, Betty Lotridge, Gladys Pruessman, Harriet Reid, Lois Nitchman Vessels and Alice Walsh.
The first order of business discussed was a suggestion by Mr. Lowe that each women member contribute ten dollars to cover the expense of the Women's curling activities. The time selected for women to use the ice was Monday afternoon and Thursday morning. Mixed curling was to be held on Saturday evening, and Jean Ryan, Chairman, was to collect a 25¢ pin fee from each curler. All use of the ice had to be cleared with the schedule chairman, James Howgate.
The women were invited to become members of the United States Women's Curling Association in 1953 and still enjoy this association. Mrs. W. Ashton (Laura) Swick, an early Schenectady curler, was elected President of the United States Women's Curling Association in 1965. At a later date, she became the Schenectady Women's only Honorary Life member.
As membership increased it became necessary to change schedule curling to a round robin and challenge or ladder matches. The schedule committee at that time asked Messrs. Cunningham, Coulson and H.P. Broderson to observe the remaining schedule curling and rate the individual curlers to assist the next year's schedule committee.
The first Invitational Bonspiel was held in February 1953 giving the ladies an opportunity to meet and curl with sister clubs. Teams were invited from Nashua, Brookline, Utica and the Westchester Wicks from St. Andrews. Introduced for competition was the Ferguson Trophy, with individual pins for the winning team, sponsored by C. Vaughan Ferguson. A second trophy with individual pins was also introduced for the consolation event, to be known as the Schenectady Cup and given by a group of men curlers, namely, Ralston Reid, Timothy Ryan, Clyde Hutton, Tex Reidinger, James Lotridge, Alex Ross and James Howgate. The first bonspiel attracted ten teams and the Ferguson Trophy was won by a Schenectady team skipped by Betty Lotridge. Jean Ryan, Peg Leader and Phyllis Wilson were the other team members. The Schenectady Cup was won by a Utica team skipped by Mary Brunner.
The Empire State Bonspiel was instituted in 1954. Mrs. John Fitzgerald of Utica contacted the chairmen of Chenectady Women Curlers and Westchester Wicks to inquire if their clubs would be interested in considering a combined bonspiel to rotate among these three New York State clubs. She felt that this would interest enough outside teams to have one well attended successful bonspeil a year. The name "Empire State" was suggested by Dr. Robert Hurd of Utica. The plan agreed upon was to compete in 1955 at St. Andrews, in 1956 at Utica and in 1957 at Schenectady. Winners were to receive Empire State Medals and the trophy of the host club. The trophies were to rotate with the Bonspiel, whichever club was hostess would have its trophy as the first event, the following club the second and the last club the third. The size of the bonspiel should be at the discretion of the host club, determined by the number of sheets of ice available. The Empire State pin was designed by Renee Clark of St. Andrews with part of the New York State Seal on a background of blue enamel for St. Andrews, green for Utica and red for Schenectady. Each of the three New York State Clubs was to be represented by two teams each year.
The first Empire in Schenectady was in 1957, with the Chicago Heathers as the winner of the Ferguson Trophy. Nashau was the winner of the Schenectady Cupi. The Hovey Trophy was won by Schenectady, Peggy Parker, skip. Her team members were Lib Kanne, Helen Foreman and Dot Trimmer.
Schenectady women were host in February 1958 to two teams of Scottish Women Curlers who were making an American Tour.
In 1958 Schenectady also hosted the 10th annual National United States Women's Curling Association Bonspiel. Thirty-two teams were entered despite blizzard conditions, 15 from the West and 17 from the East. Four teams from Schenectady were skipped by Lois Faulkner, Jean Ryan, Marny Snell and Laura Swick. The Chicago Heathers gained the championship, with the Schenectady rink skipped by Marny Snell and team members Velma Means, Jewell Bradshaw and Lora Marting, winner of the Exmoore Trophy, the third event. Schenectady was the first Eastern club ever to win the Exmoore Trophy. Jean Ryan's rink captured the Skokie Trophy, the fourth event. Her team members were Lib Kanne, Peg Parker and Gladys Hambidge.
In 1961, when Utica hosted the United States Women's Curling Association Bonspiel, once again Marny Snell's Schenectady team, with the same down rink, won the second event, the Indian Hill Trophy. To date these three are the only United States Women's trophies won by the Schenectady Club.
In 1966 Schenectady again hosted the U.S. Women's Bonspiel.
Schedule curling, with 33 members, has progressed from a Round Robin, Ladder Matches, A & B League, Junior and Senior Competition to three divisions namely, Heathers, Thistles and Bairns. Added to the schedule are five special events; The Lydgate, Dr. Ack, All American, Coulson-Duguid, annually, as well as the Empire State Bonspiel every third year. There are "Friendlys" with Albany and Utica each year and in 1976 evening curling was introduced for business women.
Close on the heels of women's curling came mixed curling on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Even today, a perfect solution is elusive and the current season will have mixed curling on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
By 1956 John F. Cunningham, father of Peggy Parker, sponsored a medal for the winners of an intra-club mixed bonspiel to promote competitive mixed curling. The following year it was expanded to two events and in 1980 became a four-event competition.
Visiting other clubs for mixed bonspiels and inviting teams from other clubs to Schenectady for friendly games also had become the practice.
Soon these friendlies were not sufficient. In 1959 the Board of Management was petitioned for approval of a mixed invitational bonspiel. It is reported that approval was given provided the club would sustain no expense. Consequently, eight couples organized and guaranteed the financial success of the First ch Curling Club Mixed Invitational Bonspiel, played by 24 rinks in March 1960. The competition was an immediate success, initially with three events and expanded to four in 1964. Today all events have trophies and medals in memory of early proponents of mixed curling.
Great friendships and rivalries developed at the Invitational. Ivan and Isobel Guilboard, from the Motreal Heathers, claimed they "didn't miss a year curling in Schenectady from 1953 to 1980". They were missed in 1981 when ill health prevented their attending. Bob and Helen Hurd, of the Utica Curling Club, are strong contenders for attendance honors, as well as curling prowess.
For many years, the closing party after the Invitational was held at the home of "Rally" Reid. In a great fun ceremony, citing "oustanding efforts in a losing cause," Rally and other Chabawabs would award the Chabawab Cup to the runner-up of the fourth event. Because of the popularity of the medals, they became more sought after, by some, than the winners' trophies and, consequently, the Chabawab Cup was retired in 1972.
Prior to 1955, teenage curlers largely resembled a stealthy group of individuals bent upon mastering the game of curling without benefit of adult direction. It is a small wonder, then, that a clandestine group as this exhibited any prowess at the game when they finally erupted upon the scene in 1956 under the direction of Lib Kanne, Peggy Parker, and Marnie Snell. In addition to the female expertise offered, a few dauntless men, Jack Cunningham and John Link, proffered their skills as well. The teens brought out the "roar" in the roaring game from their adult mentors, and interesting things began to happen. (Some say the foggy glass behind sheet two was caused by smoke --- but those who know better recall the heated debate of '58 between "Coach" Cunningham, John Link and Rally Reid over the final shot in the title match of the Teen's Heisler Trophy playdowns.)
Most agree that the greatest impression of the game made on all was undoubtedly the fine memories of friendships, and the comraderie felt between themselves and so many other teens in the Grand National. This was also promoted by the establishment of a highly competitive bonspiel early on in Schenectady, and carried by its young ambassadors to Utica, Norfolk and Albany. Schenectady Teenagers quickly gained the reputation as the "team to beat". This is evident in the history of winners of the Teen 'Spiel, which, started in 1962 as the Gazette Trophy, and rededicated as the John G. Green Trophy in '63, names Schenectady as the winning club for four straight years. Other clubs caught on to the game, and it wasn't until 1975 that the Green was brought home again.
Even more created than the deliveries of some teens were the methods used by participants in the teen 'spiels to "bolt" from the curling club during the weekend's festivities, and roam the snow-laden fairways of the Mohawk. The Fourth hold she was, and still is, a favorite among most.
The first few years of the bonspiel were played on a points basis, with competing clubs sending two teams, and the combined totals of each determining the winning club. In 1968 the 'spiel was increased in size, and the format changed to knock-out. Also in 1968 was the addition of second and third events to the tournament. The bonspiel grew in popularity to the point where, in 1978 with an all-time high of 24 teams competing, a fourth event for semi-finalists of the Green Trophy was added.
In 1974 the Teens dedicated a second event plaque in honor of Eugene Fink, and in 1978 a third event medal to Richard Leonard --- both men having been long-time teenage enthusiasts and former teenage chairman.
Sons and daughters of adult members have been in the majority of teen curlers. Family or not, many teens carry on later as adult curlers and prove through their records the value of skills learned early.