Carol Daggs is the author of Saratoga Soul Brandtville Blues.
I loved reading about the black farming life and learning about Carol’s family. Her mother, Ruth, and aunt Ethel were beautiful women. The Daggs resided in Brandtville, located on a map in 1879, named after Isadore Brandt, a Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, in 1880. Brandt owned a large area in Brandtville, named for him. The families in Brandtville lived an organic farming lifestyle and caring for one another. They were close-knit and humble, hardworking families who lived there for over a century.
The rich culture of simple farm life is worth noting. There is no more generous gift than healthy, organic produce and nutritious living soil that nurtures life for all beings. Sustainability is the only way we are going to survive and prepare for future generations.
To replace parts of Brandtvillle with expensive homes with manicured lawns does not support sustainability. Recently, I looked at a Googe Map and saw Doten Avenue, which is in the middle of Brandtville. The whole area is built-up now. One removes a vital living neighborhood that consists of several generations of the same families, and culture is lost. One can never go home again. Brandtville needs a sign to honor the farming community that once thrived there.
Carol’s book highlights the Urban Renewal of the 1960s and 1970s and what the black and less economic communities suffered.
Carol Daggs writes, “From August 1891, Dyer Phelps Memorial A.M.E. Church remained on Maple Avenue until 1975.” The church was adjacent to the Saratoga Police Department. Now an empty parking lot. A sign needs to stand here that shows that a historically Black church proudly stood there, in the middle of downtown Saratoga Springs. The church was the 2nd oldest church in Saratoga. Can you imagine how the parishioners felt losing their historical church? The second oldest Church in Saratoga Springs has a long history. Carol Daggs points out in her book that the A.M.E. Church was organized in 1862, pages 33 – 40.
I am from Saratoga Springs, as were my ancestors since 1866. The house I grew up in at 40 Madison Street still stands in a long-established east side neighborhood. I lived there from 1945 to 1962. Then the family moved to a farm out Route 29 in Middle Grove. I lived on the farm until 1964. It was my father’s dream to own land. Mine was to explore the world.
The Discussion Guide at the end of Saratoga Soul Brandtville Blues inspired me to write about growing up in Saratoga Springs and my relationship with people different than me. When I was a child, I remember being outside in a playpen, in the front yard, under a large Maple tree. My mother believed I should get lots of fresh air. Two boys walked by. One was White and the other Black. The White boy asked, who was the most handsome? I pointed to the Black boy. They laughed as they walked away down the street.
Even before I went to school, I would visit Mr. Blue, an elderly Black man who lived down the street on the corner of Madison and Wright Street. He lived in a dilapidated historic farmhouse with a horse barn. We used to sit on his back porch. He took the time for a lonely child, and I made him my friend. It was a tragedy when he died in a house fire. I was a few years older when it happened, and it affected me deeply and still does. Mr. Blue was such a lovely elder.
Another time, when I was about seven years old, I was sledding down a snow pile that went into the street in front of my home. Neither the driver of the car nor I saw each other. A nice black man barely missed me. He rolled down the car window. He gently said something like, don’t sled into the road. I could have hit you because I couldn’t see you. I was scared enough to never slide down into the street again. Instead, I built a snow fort in the mountainous snowpile and would burrow inside on winter days. I remember a lovely stone house on the corner of Cresent Street and Madison Street. A quiet black family lived there.
I left Saratoga Springs for New York City to work at the World’s Fair when I was 19 years of age in 1964. I returned to Saratoga Springs for two short bursts before I left on assignment for South America. When I occasionally came home to visit my family, I noticed that much of the old neighborhoods I knew were gone. I wondered where did the history of the Black citizens go? It was a question I have asked myself for years. Finally, I can answer some of the questions, thanks to Carol R. Daggs.
At 75 years old, I never heard of Brandtville. To make matters even more mysterious, Brandtvile was not that far away from where I grew up. As a child, I would ride my bike on Madison Street to Cresent Street, the South Corporation Line. There were woods there, and I didn’t see any roads to Brandtville. I also rode my bike out Jefferson Street to Cresent Street and never knew that the community existed. Carol mentions that one could reach Brandtville that was west of the Recino. Today, Brandtville is accessible from Cresent Street if one turns on Joshua Road, next to Doten Avenue.
The mention of Congress Street. Many young Saratogians knew where the action was in the early days. Eddie Walczak owned the Golden Grill. On Friday nights, Skidmore College students and local young people gathered to dance to Harlem’s jazz bands. It was fabulous. You wouldn’t tell your parents where you went. I felt utterly safe and danced my heart out with my friends. It was the best music ever. In 1969, the Golden Grill relocated to Phila Street, but it was never the same again. There was no more live music. I felt the soul was gone. To learn more about an outstanding citizen, read Eddie Walczak’s obituary at Edward Walczak Obituary – (1936 – 2015) – Saratoga, NY – The Saratogian (legacy.com)
After a night on the town, we would go to Hattie’s Chicken Shack, owned by Hattie Moseley Austin, on Federal Street. I remember Hattie in an apron smiling at us while waiting for the chicken to be ready. I think she knew perfectly well where we had been. According to Charles Wait, chairman, and C.E.O. of the Adirondack Trust Bank, in an article at Saratoga.com, “Hattie’s always represented a place where everybody in the community felt comfortable, and it didn’t matter if you were the president of the bank or a groom at the track. You would go there cheek to jowl, sit down, and enjoy some good fried chicken and are being treated the same, and everybody had a good time.” Hattie’s was one of the few African American businesses saved and relocated to Phila Street after 1969.
I remember the delicious smells from Max Fallick’s Jewish Bakery on Congress Street. My dad drove there after Sunday Mass, at St. Peter’s Church, on Broadway. We went for the Kaiser Rolls. I swear I haven’t smelled or tasted anything as delectable again. Fallick’s Bakery was gone during the Urban Renewal. Think of all the Black, White, and Jewish businesses gone forever because of Urban Renewal. How does one justify destroying businesses? These colorful businesses made Saratoga what it was. Saratoga was a city for all people, rich and poor, many ethnic groups, and it was an enriching experience for a girl growing up.
Reading Saratoga Soul Brandtville Blues, I wondered about some neighborhoods that disappeared during the Urban Renewal? In high school, I had friends that lived on Pavillion Street, the street behind The Saratogian newspaper. A friend wrote, she missed the old neighborhood. She said it was a nice neighborhood. According to Matthew Veitch in the Times Union article, Putnum Street and Henry Street’s property also suffered Urban Renewal.
Matthew Veith’s grandfather, Donald Veitch, was the city’s Urban Renewal Agency executive director. Matthew has a lot of information on this period. He said, “Frankly, the social story, the social problem, the people part of the story is not recorded,” Veitch said. “You don’t hear that story…. [There is not a] tale of the folks who lived on Congress Street and their experience with urban renewal. We all kind of look at today in hindsight and say we don’t know what it was like to be affected by it.” Source: Times Union Before urban renewal, much of Saratoga Springs was a different world (timesunion.com)https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Urban-renewal-shaped-Saratoga-Springs-landscape-15940059.php
Saratga consisted of affordable housing before Urban Renewal, even if some neighborhoods were poor. It is 2021, and Saratoga Springs still does not have sufficient affordable housing. We are an aging population and need to think about where the older citizen is going to live? Will many have to leave Saratoga Spring because of the high price point? And just like Carol Daggs, history, many could suffer the same fate.
I am grateful to say I live in sustainable housing at Embury Apartments, Wesley Retirement Community. I have several black friends here. One is a writer, and we are writing our own Saratoga family histories. Carol Daggs has inspired us to continue in our pursuit to write about our ancestors, who were part of the building of Saratoga Springs in the early days.