Monday, November 23, 2015

William Anderson: Troy Newspaperman, Adirondack Booster

GraftonFreshAirHomeAt the age of fifteen, William Anderson of Troy was a busy boy. Besides working as a messenger for the common council and handling desk clerk duties at a local library, he had toiled as a newsboy for the Troy Times since he was twelve years old. Newsboys were once a critical part of operations for most newspapers. Instead of being hired, they were independent, which was good for the newspapers but not so good for the boys. They purchased papers and hawked them on the streets, earning a tiny amount of profit for each one sold, and taking the hit for papers that went unsold.

In May 1877, William suffered an accident that should have killed him, and at the very least could have drastically altered the remainder of his life. While trying to board a moving train with a bundle of newspapers tucked under his arm he slipped and fell under the wheels severing one of his legs below the knee and mangling the other above the ankle, requiring amputation.

As soon as he was back on his feet, Anderson again worked for the Troy Times. The new feet were made of rubber, attached to wooden artificial limbs, an innovation by A. A. Marks, a prosthetics company. Ten years after his accident, Anderson wrote to the owners, praising their work and remarking that his gait was so natural, people wouldn’t believe his feet weren’t the original parts he was born with until he proved it. One Anderson comment was a great product promo: “If I cannot have my own legs, I must have your limbs.”

And this was a man who was on his feet most of the time. As an advertising salesman for the Troy Times, he toured the Adirondacks, for which he developed a deep love and where he collected many friends. The Elizabethtown Post wrote that Anderson traveled constantly, “particularly in the Adirondacks, where he is in all human probability, personally known to more hotel proprietors and businessmen in general than any other young man in the Empire State. He is an honorary member of the Adirondack Hotel Keeper League.”

As he assumed increasing responsibilities at the Times, William also exhibited a strong social conscience. At 25, he created the Troy Times Fresh Air Fund, personally securing boarding for city children at farms in Rensselaer County. The program expanded each year, and in 1909 the organization was incorporated. Funds were allocated for purchasing property in Grafton, about ten miles east of Troy. In the mountains there, a large home was built, and many buildings were added in the coming years to serve the Fresh Air program each summer, which it did continuously until 1948. The home is no more, but the tradition lives on: in summer 2015, Grafton hosted twenty-one Fresh Air children from New York City.

Eventually, the former newsboy was promoted to general manager of the Troy Times. Charles Francis, founder and owner of the newspaper, died in 1911, and five years later, the family estate sold the paper to his son John and also William Anderson, a firm known collectively as Francis & Anderson.

In 1926, the newspaper celebrated its 75th anniversary, but by that time it was owned by the Francis estate and operated by Anderson. A year earlier his close friend and business partner John Francis had drowned during a hunting accident.

As editor and publisher, William was a familiar face across the region, involving himself in a variety of organizations. For more than two decades he was chairman of the Rensselaer County Child Welfare Board. He partnered in organizing the Troy Council of Commercial Travelers, was chairman of the Rensselaer County Citizens Historical Association, a trustee at Albany State Teachers’ College, a vice president of the Troy Instructive Nursing Association, and a director of the Manufacturers’ Bank of Troy. He played a prominent role in Troy’s Chamber of Commerce, and led a citizen and businessmen’s advisory group involved in the county budget process.

At the 1927 opening of the Lake Placid–Marcy Hotel he was introduced as “one of the greatest living friends and boosters of the Adirondacks.” Anderson combined his power as a newsman with his love for the mountains by expressing strong support for a road up Whiteface and a weather station at the summit. As the idea caught on, he was appointed by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt as chairman of the committee overseeing construction of the Whiteface Memorial Highway.

The work continued for years until fall 1935, when the nation’s attention turned to the Adirondacks. Former New York governor and now President Franklin Roosevelt attended the formal dedication ceremony, with William Anderson presiding over the festivities.

1957ADVERTGraftonFreshAirHomeHe was affiliated with the Troy Times for more than fifty years, and remained publisher until 1935, when the 84-year-old newspaper became part of the Troy Record.

He remained involved in the community until his death in fall 1940. Tributes poured in from far and wide, snippets of which capsulized Anderson’s importance to so many and his beloved city. Chamber of Commerce President Raymond Nietzel said: “William H. Anderson was a truly public spirited man, always more than willing to cooperate, and always ready to give of his time and strength to any task he deemed worthy. The Chamber of Commerce mourns the passing of a good citizen of Troy.”

Mayor Frank Hogan had this to say: “The death of William H. Anderson is a distinct loss to the city of Troy, whose interests were always near and dear to his heart. For all of his adult life, he was in the vanguard of any movement for the betterment of his home city, and his efforts as publisher of the Troy Times consistently reflected this attitude.”

In reviewing Anderson’s life accomplishments, it’s notable that not one tribute – from city officials, county leaders, judges, and politicians – mentioned his artificial limbs or his courage in overcoming such a daunting obstacle. Despite being a double-amputee, he was never regarded as handicapped, standing tall among the crowd to the very end.

Photos: The Troy Times Fresh Air Home in Grafton, and a 1957 advertisement.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

4 Responses

  1. Gordie Little says:

    I have learned so much about hte rich history of this region from Larry, whose new book “Escape From Dannemora” was classic the day it was finished.

  2. William H Anderson II says:

    Thank you very much for this insightful article. My grandfather died before i was born so i never knew him. I truly appreciate your keeping his memory alive. Sincerely, William H. ANDERSON II.

  3. Amy S. Anderson says:

    I cannot tell you how grateful and pleased I am, Mr. Gooley, to read your inspiring article about my grandfather. Many times I have wondered about the details of his life and character, never having had the opportunity to know him as he died 20 years before I was born. He also was involved, maybe as a founder? – in the Society of the Friends of St. Patrick in Troy, a community service-oriented fraternal organization. An interesting note: he named his first son Charles Francis. (My father was his third son, William Nichols Anderson, Sr.) I dabbled first in newspaper work, then have spent my career in social work. I feel more connected to my grandfather now that I have your article to keep and read when I need a reboot of inspiration! Thank you, sir! Amy S. Anderson, Stormville, NY

    • Larry says:

      Thanks William and Amy for the nice comments. And Amy, because of your reference to the Friends of St. Patrick, I forwarded some information that you can share with other family members.

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