Find Your Troy, NY area ancestors, Irish or Not!


By Bill McGrath

Many of my postings to the Rensselaer County list and the Troy Irish Genealogy list mention Burden Avenue which is where my family lived their entire lives. I lived at 739 Burden for the first thirty-four years of my life so I have many memories of the Avenue. Other interesting items about the Avenue and its residents have been found in my genealogy research.

Burden Avenue, for those outside the Troy area, is five small blocks in South Troy which run from the junction of First and Fourth Streets (at Main Street) to Stow Avenue which is at the approach to the Troy-Menands Bridge. The first block is from Main Street to Centre Street. Block two is from Centre Street to Sullivan Street. Block three is from Sullivan Street to Kelly Street. Block four is from Kelly Street to Cross Street, which is the block I lived on and Block five is from Cross Street to the Menands Bridge.  Sullivan Street, by the way, shows on a 1886 map of Troy in the book ” Troy’s 100 Years” as Stow Street. Perhaps this was changed to eliminate confusion with Stow Avenue. Of course to us in South Troy, Stow Avenue, was always called Stow Hill. The houses on Burden Avenue were only on the West side of the street as the East side was the steep hill that led up to the St. Joseph’s Infant Home, which also, is long gone.

Today Burden Avenue has no resemblance to the Burden Avenue I grew up on. I knew a densely populated Avenue comprised of mostly Irish and Polish families. Many of the families were related. I had great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins (all degrees) and two brothers all living at various times on the Avenue itself or on one of the side streets off the avenue. Many of the buildings I knew are long gone and today there are only vacant lots where they once stood. My former home at number 739, however, is still there.

For this particular walk down memory lane, I am concentrating on Block five which runs from Cross Street towards the Menands Bridge.

The first house on the block, was 747 Burden Avenue. This is one lot where the house is long gone and the space is now a parking lot for the South End Tavern. Also long gone, is the beautiful climbing white rose bush that was in the backyard. In my day, the first floor was occupied by my great aunt, Nora Catherine O’Connor Dwyer (1882-1957) daughter of my great-grandparents, Catherine McCormick (1850-1923) from Dunbin, County Louth, Ireland and Timothy Joseph O’Connor (1836-1912) from Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland and sister to my grandfather William Arthur James Francis O’Connor (1880-1941. My grandfather, by the way, was only known as William Francis O’Connor. His birth record at St. Michael’s shows he was baptized William Arthur O’Connor and the church records shows James as his confirmation name. So where the Francis came from I don’t know or why he was baptized with the middle name of Arthur. It has to be a family name back in Ireland since the O’Connor’s religiously followed the Irish naming pattern for all their children born in Troy. I have always gone by William Francis McGrath, the Francis being my confirmation name, but at birth I was named William O’Connor McGrath.

I never knew Nora’s husband, James J. Dwyer (1880-1934) since he died before my birth. From his obituary I know he was a well known South Trojan and a former Supervisor of the Sixth Ward. At some point in his employment with the Railroads he lost both of his legs in a railroad accident. I have yet to find the newspaper story on this accident. Possibly some of my fellow researchers at the Troy Library will come across it when reading the old newspapers. In his later years James had a desk job as a telegraph operator with the Troy-Union Railroad.

The north side of the house had a large screened porch and in good weather, Aunt Nonie, would be sitting in her rocker on the porch. You always stopped and spoke to Aunt Nonie. Nora was very active in the Troy Ancient Order of Hibernians and was elected county president. She also held other offices in the Troy auxiliary of the AOH. Living with Aunt Nonie, was her daughter, Henrietta Rose Dwyer Bouchey (1904-1980) and her three children, Tony, Norine and Joan. Henrietta was my first cousin, once removed and her children were my second cousins. Henrietta’s husband, Aloysius G. Bouchey (1891-1948) was a former policeman with the Troy Police Department. Two things I remember about the first floor flat where the Bouchey’s lived was the velvet painting of a Venetian gondolier over the sofa in the living room and the large Tiffany style dome over the dining room table. This dining room light, came from my house at 739 Burden Avenue, when we put up a more modern fixture. 

The second floor was occupied by one of Nora’s sons, John Reeves Dwyer, Sr. (1908-1965) and his wife, May Isabelle McGinnis Dwyer, (1911-2000) and their children, John Reeves (Jack) Dwyer, Jr. (1936-2001) and Shirley Dwyer. John Sr. was also a first cousin, once removed, and John Jr. and Shirley were my second cousins. Both John Sr. and John Jr. were former Troy policemen. At his death in 1965, John Sr. was a Detective with the Troy Police Department and John Jr., at his death in 2001, was the Rensselaer County Undersheriff.

There is an earlier connection to my family with the house that stood at 747 Burden Avenue which predates the Bouchey’s and the Dwyer’s. A notice in The Southern Wards section of the Troy Times, dated February 11, 1911 stated that “Miss Jennie O’Connor of Burden Avenue will leave to-morrow for New York.” Jennie, who was Genevieve Rose O’Connor Bothamley (1884-1943), lived at the O’Connor family home on Cross Street but ran a millinery shop at 747 Burden Avenue. Perhaps her New York trip was to buy items for her shop.

The next building was 749 Burden Avenue, which, according to the 1951 Troy City Directory, was a vacant building. I remember Christmas trees being sold from this building at one time and for a number of years it was a Laundromat. The Wynantskill was directly behind this building and if the water got blue and sudsy when you were swimming there you knew some wash was being done. This building is also long gone.

The Kane family (John, Kit & children) lived at the brick building which is still standing at 751 Burden Avenue. One memory I have of the Kanes is In the early 1940’s my mother, Mary Elizabeth O’Connor McGrath (1901-1981) was holding my youngest sister Agnes talking to Kit through a screened window when the Kane dog bit my sister on the face through the screen. One of the Kane boys, Frank, was in the Navy during World War II. I have a great picture of Frank with my brother Joe decked out in their Navy uniforms with the white sailor hat. Two good looking eighteen year olds on their way to a war that they both would return from. I believe that 751 was used for a time by the Patroon Club which was an active South Troy organization.

755 Burden Avenue is also listed as being vacant in the 1951 Troy Directory. This is probably the building that became the dining room of the South End Tavern. Marty Burke’s, formally known as the South End Tavern, is located at 757 Burden Avenue. This local bar, established in 1934, is known for it’s great food is now being run by the third generation Burke. Marty Burke, the senior, was a good friend of my father, James Joseph McGrath, Sr. (1900-1974). Marty’s daughter, Mary Ellen Burke Akin, is married to my second cousin Joseph Akin. So we are almost related the Burkes! In the early years this was a typical man’s bar with sawdust on the slate floor and overflowing spittoons strategically placed all along the bar footrest. Marty senior would hold court at one of the card table with his long time friends, one of which was Dr. James V. Barrett, South Troy’s well known doctor. On Friday nights, the tavern with it’s offering of creamed cod, scallops and haddock, drew huge crowds. We could always smell the fish cooking all the way over at out house at 739. The customers stood in lines that wended their way through out the dining room waiting for a table to open up. Whenever I would go on a Friday with my family, my mother would walk over from 739 and hold a table till we got there and then have dinner with us. Forget about going there during Lent or on St. Patrick’s day unless you had the patience of Job to wait for a table.

For many years there was a large mail box permanently stationed In front of Marty Burke’s.
If the Post Office had a program to name boxes after the biggest user this would be the “McGrath Mailbox”. When my brother Joe was in the Navy during World War II, my mother sent him a letter a day. My sister Anne recently recounted to me the daily ritual at our house with the letter. The letter was written early in the day and then sat on the kitchen table under the phone book and an iron. That flap had to be sealed tight! Anne then walked the letter over to the mailbox, while my mother watched from the bay window of our house and she had strict instructions to “jiggle” the flap on the mailbox to make sure the letter fell down.

Well, the daily letter writing resumed when my brother Jack was in the Marines in Japan and then when I was in the Army in Germany, it turned into two letters a day. In my attic I have a trunk with over 700 letters from my mother and they have not been looked at in over forty years. The genealogist gene in my body has turned me into a pack rat. Would you believe I still have my English composition essays from St. Joseph’s School that were written in the early 1950’s! I know these letters contain a treasure trove of stories on the family on  Burden Avenue and elsewhere in Troy. 

My Aunt Agnes Theresa O’Connor (1912-2002) lived downstairs under my mother, my Aunt Helen Gertrude O’Connor Renaud (1903-1991) and her husband Homer Renaud (1903-1986) lived next door at 741 Burden Avenue and they were all generally together every day for breakfast and for lunch. Occasional visits from my two uncles, Timothy Joseph O’Connor (1899-1984) from Fourth Street in South Troy and William Francis O’Connor (1905-1993) from North Greenbush, would add to the mixture. Those daily conversations and the happenings in Troy (deaths, marriages, etc.) will be discussed, I’m sure, in those letters. 

The first floor at 759 Burden Avenue was Miggins Cigar Store. While the front of this building was at ground level, the back room with it’s slanted tilting floor and huge glass windows was high up over the Wynantskill creek. Inside the bottom of the building was a huge array of beams holding the building up. Looking out those windows I always had the feeling the building was going to topple over. Jim Miggins, the elderly proprietor, also sold ice cream, which is why we would congregate there as kids. Many times at out house we would wait till the last minute to run over around nine o’clock for an ice cream cone. If Mr. Miggins was locking the door he would reopen the store to wait on us. After that, he had his long walk to his house up on Stow Hill, or Stow Avenue if you want to be technically correct!

The store had a long line of old fashioned glass counters which, for the most part, were empty. Some sort of a game of chance was on one counter and you punched out a piece of paper from the board. I don’t recall the cost or what kind of prize you would win. Along the wall on the right side as you entered were tacked pictures of movie stars that were printed in the old magazine sections of the Sunday papers. One picture that I always remembered was of a beautiful young actress named Carole Landis who I was told had committed suicide. Many years later in a religion class at Catholic Central High School in Troy, the priest instructor was telling us about a young actress he had met in an elevator in California and he recounted that she later committed suicide. He could not, however, remember her name. I volunteered “Carole Landis” and he said “that’s right” He was surprised that anyone knew her name. Carole was 29 when she committed suicide on July 4, 1948.

On the second floor of 759 lived the Harrington’s. The one name I remember was Border Harrington. Also, one of the Harrington daughters was a nurse in World War II. The Harrington’s, by the way, are somehow related to the South End Tavern Burke’s. There was a nice entrance way to the Harrington’s flat. A large door with glass sidelights on each side gave you a view of the staircase going up to the second floor. This building is another one that has been torn down.

There were seven additional homes and business on this block that numbered 761 to 779. Some of my McCormick relatives lived in this section. This entire area was demolished when it was made an approach to the new Troy-Menands Bridge which was built in 1933. The center section of this bridge used to raise for boat traffic on the Hudson River and it had a small house up on top for the bridge operator’s who manned the bridge twenty four hours a day. My brother James (Bud) McGrath was one of the last bridge tenders before the bridge was permanently fixed and no longer opened. The superstructure, lifting weights and house for the bridge tender have now been removed from the bridge.

I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane.