By 1952, John J. Griner was the last residential holdout in the row of businesses on the north side of New Scotland Avenue between Quail and Partridge. That section – then the 18th Ward – was colloquially known as Troubleville, a rough and tumble neighborhood transitioning from farms to residential housing.
Griner seemed such a permanent fixture in the neighborhood that people began calling him the Mayor of New Scotland Avenue. The old-timer’s recollections of that part of town paint a vivid picture of not only the life of a that period’s blue-collar Albanians, but also of the history of the neighborhood itself. (Pointing to a home at the corner of Glendale and New Scotland Aves.: “See that apple tree by the house there? Well, that once was part of a big apple orchard. I remember that in the old days, 44 acres of land – between Ramsey Pl. and Academy Rd. – sold for $4,000.”)
On his 80th birthday (in 1954), the neighborhood merchants celebrated with congratulatory signs in their windows, and a choir from School 19 came to sing him “Happy Birthday.”
John J. Griner’s sweat and toil live on in many of Albany’s most familiar edifices.
The Mayor of New Scotland Avenue died in 1962. His home, at 273 New Scotland Avenue, was turned into a dry cleaners.
Here is the full text of the Times Union’s profile of Griner, from 1952.
When the Business Area Was Farmland…
‘Mayor of New Scotland Ave.’ Remembers Old Days
The two-block business district of New Scotland Ave., between Quail and Ontario Sts,, with Grove St. bisecting it, was aptly named Troubleville before the turn of the century, when it consisted of a few homes, several stores, a couple of saloons but mostly farmlands and scattered barns.
For in that then isolated area of Albany bare-knuckle fist fights were fought and occasionally cockfights were staged despite police vigilance and occasional raids.
John J, Griner, 77, affectionately known as the mayor of New Scotland Ave., says the name of Troubleville originated with William A. Hoffman when the latter operated a grocery store at Yates and Morris Sts. Mr. Hoffman, according to Mr. Griner, went around the neighborhood on Mondays and took orders for groceries which he delivered on Fridays. And on his rounds he picked up the gossip.
“All I ever hear about is trouble,” Mr. Hoffman was supposed to have said. “The place is really Troubleville.”
Mr. Griner was born in the New Scotland Ave. Section, attended Christian Brothers Academy when it was in Jefferson St. between Hawk and Eagle Sts., walking to and from school every day and has observed and participated in the growth and building of the section.
The Griner house, which he has occupied 46 years, at 273 New Scotland Ave., is the only exclusively residential dwelling remaining in the two-block business section.
“The house originally was in Quail St. and was moved to the present location about 50 years ago when Quail St. was cut through from Myrtle Ave. to New Scotland Ave.,” said Mr. Griner. “Up to that time the only cross street on New Scotland Ave. above Madison Ave. was S. Allen St.”
In the early days, the present business block between Grove Ave. and Ontario Sts. had the home of Burt Armour, teamster, and the home also of Jacob Haschwinger, butcher, who peddled meat through the rural area.
At Grove and New Scotland Aves. was the house and barn of Harvey Woods, a teamster, who handled moulding sand. The house was later moved to 98 Grove Ave. where it now stands, but has been considerably remodeled.
Among earlier homes in New Scotland Ave. are those on the south side, east of Hollywood Ave. Frederick A. Palmer, who established a fancy gardening business, with hothouses, was one of the early occupants. His widow. Mrs, Gertrude L. Palmer, lives at 414 New Scotland Ave. The family continues the hothouses as Palmer Florist, at 404 New Scotland Ave.
Mrs. Palmer was one of the leading workers in Albany in behalf of temperance, according to Mr. Griner. Another occupant of the row was Police Sgt. George Lawton.
The area between New Scotland Ave. and Myrtle Ave., in the vicinity of Quail and Ontario Sts., was mostly pasture land at the turn of the century. Where the new apartment houses have been completed east of Ontario St., between Warren St. and Park Ave., was a favorite swimming hole for the youngsters of the area.
Charles Keeler, a milk peddler, owned considerable farmland north of New Scotland Ave. between Grove Ave. and Norwood St., and extending to Woodlawn Ave. The property was subdivided for residential construction.
At 227-229-231 New Scotland Ave., east of the Socony gas station, was the bottling works of James H. McDonald., who was in the seltzer water business, The water came from a well in front of the house, Mr. Griner recalled.
Before the Griner family occupied 272 New Scotland Ave., it was occupied by George Stremple as a saloon. Later, when the property at the northwest corner of Grove Ave. and New Scotland Ave. (when Albright’s Hardware store is located now) became vacant, Strermple thought it would be a better location and moved there.
“Stremple got competition instead,” said Mr. Griner. “Along came William Goodrich and he took over Stremple’s old place (my house now) as a saloon and consequently there were two saloons instead of one in the one block.”
Mr. Goodrich was interested in prizefighters and managed one battle that not only attracted wide attention but the police as well.
South End Cyclone
“Fred ‘English’ Smith was matched with a fellow named Schilford from the South End who went by the name of the ‘South End Cyclone,’” said Mr. Griner. “Smith could lick his weight in wildcats. The fight was supposed to be at 8 o’clock at night, and he got a few drinks too many in the afternoon. His handlers had him running up and down the New Scotland plank road trying to sober him up, but at the end of each run he insisted on getting another drink. By the time of the fight, he wasn’t any better off, but as luck would have it, the ‘Cyclone’ failed to show up.”
Mr. Griner recalls that Goodrich didn’t want to disappoint the crowd that turned up for the fight, and at the last minute offered to take on “Spike” Metz, who later became a mounted policeman.
“I’ll never forget it,” recalled Mr. Griner, pointing to the rear of his home, indicating two spacious rear rooms. “At the door was Bill ‘Cricket’ Meany, collecting 25 cents from each customer. When the room was filled, the customers formed the ring, since we had no ropes, and the fight began, bare knuckles, of course.
“We knew the police were trying to stop the fight, but what we didn’t know was that they had left their horses in a barn in the rear of 5 Woodlawn Ave., and had surrounded the house. Just about the time that Goodrich landed a terrific punch on Metz, there came a banging on the door, It was the police demanding that the door be opened up, Meany yelled back that they couldn’t come in, and with that the cops broke down the door. They took several to the station house and then let them go. They hadn’t seen the fight.”
Fight at Hotel
Mr. Griner says that one of the greatest fights of the period was staged in Jack Hoy’s Pines Hotel, in New Scotland Ave., where the Convent of Mercy now stands.
“It was between Jack Schramm and ‘Blackspot’ Golden and went 44 rounds with Schramm winning,” said Mr. Griner. “It was staged in the icehouse in the rear of the hotel, and the only light was from kerosene lamps. The spectators’ faces were black from the soot.”
Aside from these lighter aspects of early New Scotland Ave. life, the men of the area were hard working, industrious people, Mr. Griner said, They were either farmers, teamsters or trade workers.
“They enjoyed their relaxation, especially at the Woodlawn trotting track located where the Albany Academy is now,” he said. “The route to the track was from New Scotland Ave. south in Grove Ave. It was an isolated area of Albany and to get downtown meant a long walk, or a buggy ride. For that reason, their leisure activities were mostly community affairs.
The area residents took politics seriously. In the early days, the Republicans held the aces and Charles A. Schlientz was the Republican leader of the 18th Ward which took in New Scotland Ave. Mr. Schlientz was elevator man at City Hall. Today the area is the 18th Ward, and the upper New Scotland Ave. section is in the 13th Ward.
Bought the Lunches
“I was a Democrat when it was tough going,” recalled Mr. Griner. “During the Herrick-McCabe fight, I bought the lunches for the Democratic workers.”
Mr. Griner is a hauling contractor and has, been connected with practically every major construction job in the New Scotland Ave. section.
John P. Sewell, Albany, builder, constructed School 19, St. Peter’s Hospital, the Bishop Cusack Memorial Nurses’ School, the Convent of Mercy, the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, St. Teresa’s Church, Christian Brothers’ Academy and Engine 11 fire house.
And Mr. Griner’s firm hauled the brick, stone, cement, sand and other construction materials on each of these jobs,
“And it wasn’t long ago that we unloaded brick out of railroad cars at the Prospect Yards and delivered them to construction sites at $3.75 a thousand,” said Mr. Griner. “The cost today is $10.”
Mr. Griner’s son, John W. Griner, 474 New Scotland Ave., is associated with him in the hauling business now. There are four grandchildren. three of them boys. Mr. Griner’s wife, the former Margaret Fitzgerald, died 11 years ago.
To many people of New Scotland Ave. Mr. Griner is “Mr. New Scotland Ave.” To the youngsters he is “Uncle Jack.”
Mornings he will visit every store in the two blocks.
“That’s to let them know I’m alive,” he explains.
“When I don’t show up, my telephone gets real busy.”
From his first floor window Mr. Griner commands a good view of those who pass the house. During the long interview he waved to many persons passing his home, calling their names, as it they could hear him.