Listening Post: Yoost’be Potsdam

Ever since Nora posted this morning in the In BoxWell, it used to here…,” an inventory of the Potsdam of my childhood has been running through my head. I am a little unusual, even in the North Country, for never leaving the near environs of the village my family brought me to at the age of four. Having never left, the full impact of change has been softened by gradual accretion over the years. But my map of the old town is still burned deep into my head, and varies wildly from what I see when I walk down the street.

Potsdam in 1885–an actual Victorian village. A little before my time–drawn (I was told) by a former Civil War aeronaut in a tethered balloon. My childhood home is on it.

If you were instantly beamed from the Potsdam of 50 years to the village of today, the first thing you would notice was that it looked cleaner and smelled better. Potsdam heated with coal until the mid-’60s. Big chunks of anthracite if you were an old school shoveler, crushed stoker coal if you had a newfangled electric hopper feed. If you have a basement rec room now, odds are it used to be the coal bin (or maybe a fallout shelter). When the weather clamped down, the village stank, and windows were grayish yellow. Curtains had to go in the wash once a month. The old Feed and Coal yard was down by the rail depot (now Mama Lucia’s restaurant). I can vividly recall the roar of a couple tons of coal going down the basement chute, and the sound of the Beeliner, providing daily passenger rail service to Watertown and points south.

Potsdam bills itself as “a unique Victorian village.” It was much more so before the “urban renewal” projects of the mid and late ’60s. Several blocks of downtown were leveled and carted away, replaced by structures that now seem not much better than the 19th-century landmarks they displaced. There was the Albion Hotel on Elm Street (now parking lot) which was typical of pre-motel transient housing throughout rural American villages. Wide multi-story porch for cooling and gossiping. WWI vets and retired bootleggers seemed the dominant denizens. The ground floor was a hotel bar, a barber shop and the original home of Sergi’s Pizza.

Other casualties of urban renewal were the legendary bar at Blanche’s, in a green brick building matching the Roxy Theater next door, and across Main Street were Rodger’s Radio and Electric, Western Auto (where I bought my paper-boy messenger bikes), Tallman’s Grocery, and a Green Stamp redemption store (check your pulse if you remember what that is). The corner by the bridge on that side was occupied by the California Fruit Market, which burned one night around 1960. My dad took us all down to gawk.

By the 1960s there was a supermarket in town, but Mom and Pop’s still dominated. Canned and durables at the Mom and Pop’s, produce at the fruit market, meat from a butcher. Dairy was home delivery from multiple dairy operations in the village. And there was the new department store–Ames–out at the edge of town, but there were also Herbert’s Mens’ Shop and Herm’s and the Alice Shoppe and the Surprise Store for clothing and shoes. And the first strip mall had come–out by Seacomm. My dad had a summer job managing the Triangle Shoe Store there.

On Water Street (now gone) heading toward Ives Park, were two bars of villainous repute. They were the places to go if you required a double with breakfast, and where, if you passed out on a Saturday night, someone might put their cigarette out on your person. And the village’s second bowling alley (with its own bar) was just across from the park where the medical office building is.

Other things that were, but are no more: Murphy’s (full service gas station with mechanic on duty 5 1/2 days a week), Fishman’s (Five and Dime with lunch counter), McGowan’s (drug store with soda fountain), The Moonlight (drive-in theater), a village auditorium, and Signorelli’s (cobbler shop). Things that are now and didn’t yoost’be: fast food franchises (Dairy Queen was the first–now gone, and the Dilly Wagon, a chuck wagon-shaped restaurant across from Clarkson hill campus, also gone), convenience stores (less convenient than having a guy pump your gas, check your oil and polish your windshield), and big box stores (don’t get me started).

I’ve left out nearly everything, I see–the churches, the schools, “tourist homes,” the “R”–most of all, the many memorable odd ducks. Maybe you can fill in the pieces in a comment below, or tell us what yoost’be where you are. If you have any photos of yoost’be Potsdam, email them to [email protected] and I will add to the post.


17 Comments on “Listening Post: Yoost’be Potsdam”

  1. Thomas Blauvelt says:


    Interesting post especially for those of us who are more recent arrivals. There are lots of pictures of downtown Potsdam including the
    California Fruit Market at:

    There is also a “Potsdam Past and Present” which shows how much of
    the past is still present.

    What is the “R” that you say you left out?

  2. Pete Klein says:

    I’m thinking “you can’t go home again” and in my case this is probably truer than for most people.
    I think all I need to say is that I was born and raised in Detroit, and last lived there in 1964.

  3. Byron says:

    I came to Potsdam in 1974 so the urban renewal had been done. I do remember Murphy`s. They were located where Stewart`s is now. Since I was driving a Chevy then Murphy`s was where we got the car serviced. They were a Shell station, I believe, so we got gas there as well. Shell moved out of the North Country some time ago. I frequented the Dairy Queen. The guy who used to manage it now works at Barstow`s selling cars. The Moonlight was a wonderful little drive-in. There was a place out on Market St. called the Quonset. I never went in there so can`t speak to its qualities. I worked in the Clarkson Library which was then located next to Old Main and Lewis House. The building , which had been a gymnasium, subsequently became the home of Liberal Studies and Social Sciences. It now is idle. First Crush has been a great addition, but the little corner store that used to be there was a great place for getting out of town newspapers. Deborah Cady`s jewelry store was the source of our engagement and wedding rings and anniversary gifts. That is now Little Italy. The Masonic Hall has become an orange peanut colored restaurant.

  4. Hank says:

    Great memories, Dale!

    I have similar stories about the places across the border where I grew up – Prescott, Spencerville and, to a lesser extent, Brockville.

    Thanks for causing me reflect on what we’ve lost.

  5. As I sing a chorus of Iris Dement’s “Our Town”, I raise a glass to Penfield, NY, “Town of Planned Progress” that lost all of its charm and character to the developers who probably coined that town motto.

  6. Jeff Peschel says:

    I remember moving to Potsdam in Feb 65, my dad was hired by E.L. Barnes (engineering firm) working on a major expansion for Potsdam State. They put us up in a small apartment above the Bakery that was where the Clarkson Inn now sits. The smells seeping through those old wooden floors drove my dad crazy – it was great we had fresh bread every morning until we move into a house.

  7. Mark Holland says:

    I remember W.T. Grant & Co. where I believe Jreck’s is now, and behind it was a lumber company? Coal? I got my a$$ whipped for playing in the 10′ tall SUNY heating-plant coal pile one crisp October in 1963. Oh, and Department Stores? Potsdam had a full-sized Montgomery Ward by the early 1960s, and a Sears catalog pickup store out in the Seaway Plaza. Local Anderson’s Fur Shop would buy furs from local trappers, and do hand-made fur coats. I remember many of my high-school buddies bought their hot GTOs and ram-fed Chevelles with dozens of muskrat furs — they’d run their trap lines all winter. And Dominic’s (?) restaurant on Market Street, later an Indian restaurant… (now I dunno.) One one hot summer day in ’69, with my first “real job” cash payday, I treated myself to a $11 Delmonico-steak lunch with iced tea and pie in its cool and dark air-conditioned interior. Now, 36 years absent with a life in Dallas, I’m sort of shocked I still have so many photographically vivid Potsdam memories.
    Thanks Dale, for Yoost’be here. Good times.

  8. Beth Wiberg says:

    How could we forget the Wheel. Drink all night and have breakfast in the morning. The floor was so uneven you needed sea legs.

  9. Pat says:

    I remember that you could carry a balance at Murphy’s Gas Station and the Kinney Drug store with just your name, your word and you reputation. The Roxy had only one screen. You could score a pocketful of candy at Tallman’s for a dime. Going to the Townhouse for lunch with Mom was a real treat…I think it was her way of teaching a little girl how to be a lady. All meat was purchased at Hayes’ store on outer Market St. Spaghetti and pizza at the Quonset Hut was great and Tardelli’s or the Sunset Lodge were the swankiest places to eat. Ah, the memories. So good to grow up in the Diamond in a Coal Field that yoost’be.

  10. Roger Hart says:

    Your story brings back fond memories. I grew up in Parishville during the late 40’s through the early 60’s but Potsdam was where we always shopped. I remember those days fondly and more than once wished Potsdam was still the same (Parishville too)

  11. Actually Dale it was Neisner’s before it was the Big N before it was Ames. I too remember the Dilly wagon with its autographed dining room ceiling. I’ll have a #3 please.

  12. Laura Gilbert says:

    Hey Dale,
    Hey Dale,

    Really enjoyed reading this! Here are a couple more, both from during and before my
    arrival to P-dam in the early 80’s:
    – Algers Pub (which, when Googled today, gets several hits about Renee Fleming’s days singing jazz there as an undergrad)
    – the Deli sub shop on the corner (yeah, I’ve heard more than a few stories about this place)
    – Giorgi’s Bakery in the Market Square Mall
    – Kinney’s was downtown
    – Burell’s (sp?) Market across from Agway

  13. Rick Bodner says:

    Nice! I came to Potsdam, to Clarkson, as a 1963 freshman, married a “Townie”, and have been back many times since to visit family. Fond memories include: Dirty Mac’s on Elm Street, with Sloe Gin Fizzes and music/dancing there; the opening of the Pub in the basement of the “R” – 1965-66?, Scoop & Ernie always there (I tended bar with them); a pitcher of beer in the window of the Vernon on Main Street (served by Ruthie); “Techers” walking back and forth from the dorms to the downtown campus (in 20 below temps); Clarkson hockey in frigid Walker Arena (Yurk, Empie-Dooling-& Dunn, Tom Hurley, etc!), Clarkson going “co-ed”!; rushing back to State with your date before 11 pm curfew!!; the first “Zoonie Boonie”; downtown Frat houses; Ice Festival; a QQAL (quick quart at LaShomb’s – while doing your laundary next door); the Quonset Hut pizza; Allen’s Falls & the Parishville sand dunes Boonies; etc, etc! GREAT MEMORIES

  14. Ted Holynski says:

    During my college years, I worked as a bartender at the Albion. (1966-1968) The owner was a Mr. Sullivan. I bartended with Jay Weidman (Clarkson) and Mooch McGee (Potsdam). Potsdam State alums from the 1960s remember that establishment fondly. The Albion was the first bar that I went into for a drink in my Freshman year. I was standing on the corner of Market and Elm one Friday evening in September when I decided to walk in. A Billie Holliday tune was playing on the juke box and I thought that this might be the place to hang for a while. One the weekends it was a very, very busy place. Another interesting establishment was “Blanche’s” (near the Roxy). Both the Albion and Blanche’s were victims of urban renewal in 1974. My memories of Potsdam in the 1960s remain strong and vivid and some events I can recall as if they happened just the other day. Speaking of the Clarkson library, I knew Mr. Penrose, the director, very well, as his son Robert was a classmate and friend.

  15. You forgot some other wonderful shopping opportunities no longer on Market St….Lewis &Company, The Surprise Store and Kaplans. My mom did the books and payroll at Kaplans which was in between the Town House Restaraunt and the infamous Anderson’s Barn. That place was quite the hang out. My grandmother worked at Lewis &Co, and my aunt worked at the Surprise Store. We had a majority of the retail outlets covered. I remember the Donut shop on the corner of Main and Water. Mitch Durham is a name that comes out of the past. I think it was Durhams shop.There was also Tolman’s grocery store in that block. Across the street was The Sub shop and Blanches Bar. Who can forget the pickled eggs! Remember the Civic Center dances where the Library is now? And the Dairy Bar on Pierrepont Ave where there are now dorms. Wow! this has been a blast from the past! A walk done Memory Lane, for sure

  16. Michael Greer says:

    I currently use the Anderson barn as a warehouse. You’ll be happy to know that the “hippie” painted floor and the graffiti is still intact…I’ve heard some stories.

  17. Carol Poole says:

    If you want a look into what Tupper Lake Junction ‘yoost’a be’ read “Rising From the Swamp” by Carol Payment Poole.

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