Six Degrees of the British Monarchy and Hudson Valley Ruins

Recently I received the following two images of a carpet swatch from Dave Morrison whose father George was assistant to the Vice President, Operations & Industrial Relations of the Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Company in Yonkers, NY. The cutting came from a carpet tread upon by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain during their New York City reception of June 10, 1939. These images were sent to me because photographs of the Alexander Smith carpet mills in Yonkers appear on my website. The carpet sample reminded of another connection between the British monarchy and Hudson Valley Ruins, one that was mentioned in the Hudson Valley Ruins book.

Not only is this a fantastic souvenir (I like it more as an artifact of Yonkers than for its association with royalty ) but look at that awesome font for “Alexander Smith.”

The Alexander Smith Carpet Mill in Yonkers.
The mill is not a ruin nor abandoned, but it is always something of a miracle when a defunct factory like this holds on for so long in various reincarnations.

The other connection between the King and Queen’s 1939 visit to New York and one of our Hudson Valley Ruins occurred at the Hudson River home of President Roosevelt. In our book, we told that “Forst frankfurters were famously served to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their visit to the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park.” (The Forst company was a long-standing Hudson Valley concern located across and up the river at Kingston.) That such “good old-fashioned American” picnic food was served to the royal couple was something of a big deal then, and was widely covered in the press.

Springwood, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hyde Park, NY.

A month after the royal-presidential picnic, the Kingston Daily Freeman reported that Eleanor Roosevelt, at the urging of Kingston Mayor Heiselman, served Forst Formost dogs to the King and Queen. ” ‘We have now proved to our satisfaction that they are excellent, for everybody seemed to enjoy them,’ wrote Mrs. Roosevelt in a newspaper article following the picnic.”

It’s a nice little story that helped put a Hudson Valley company in the international spotlight (the New York Times reiterated the Forst connection in a 1965 article). Well, imagine our surprise when Tom Rinaldi and I stopped in at Nathan’s in Yonkers, NY, and read on their placemat that the Roosevelts served Nathan’s hot dogs to the King and Queen. Nathan’s tells their version of the story on their website too.

So, what is it then? Did/does Nathan’s produce their own meat, or do they buy from butchers and slaughterhouses such as the Forst company and then slap the Nathan’s name on the packages? Or did the international Nathan’s corporation just simply make up their version of the story entirely, at the expense of a defunct family-run business that almost no person alive today outside of Kingston, NY, has ever heard of? I emailed Nathan’s and, not surprisingly, I did not receive a reply in response to my query for documentation to their claim of having served the King and Queen.

Charles Forst in the Post-Standard, 1986.
Jacob Forst founded the Forst Meat Packing Company in Rondout in 1873. The Forst plant, located between Abeel Street and West Strand, included cattle pens, a slaughterhouse, packing building, a warehouse, and a garage. By the 1980s, the Forst company was almost entirely a mail-order business. Meats were shipped worldwide. The company was out of business not much later.

The abandoned Forst meat-packing buildings were demolished in late 2005. A plan, strongly supported by Kingston Mayor James Sottile, to build a hotel at the site never materialized and the site remains vacant.

(UPDATE JULY 31, 2012:
I inquired with and received email from National Parks Service staff at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park. The email states: ‘The hot dogs served at Top Cottage were actually Swift brand. Harry Johannesen’s mother Nellie was a cook for Eleanor Roosevelt and she later owned a tea room by Eleanor Roosevelt’s home Val-Kill. She was the one who purchased the hot dogs for the royal picnic and Harry told us many years ago it was Swift brand. One of our staff recently found an article at the FDR Library that confirms what Harry told us.’ ” A 2009 New York Times article also mentions the Swift brand.

Still, the earliest documentation that I have seen claims the Forst brand as the choice of fare for the royal picnic. I look forward to seeing any earlier sources to the contrary.)

The “William Clift View.”

A similar image appears in William Clift’s 1993 publication of fantastic black-and-white photographs entitled “A Hudson Landscape.”

In addition to the Forst meat-processing factory, at least one other Hudson Valley Ruin is directly connected to the Hyde Park estate. Roosevelt’s elevator (shown in the following two images) was manufactured by Poughkeepsie’s Sedgwick Machine Works.

The Sedgwick Machine Company, manufacturers of elevators, was at a Hudson River-front site in Poughkeepsie by the time a 1937 Sanborn Insurance Company map documented the factory buildings. Previously, the Phoenix Horse Shoe Company, manufacturers of horse shoes and toe and heel calks, operated rolling mills, a punch room, a cooper shop and a storehouse here at least through 1913.

The Sedgwick factory was partly burned in 2002 and mostly demolished in early 2005. Presently it’s brick tower still stands. Here are some photographs that I took in 2004 of the now-demolished buildings (low quality reproductions of medium-format slides photographed above a light-box.).

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4 Responses to Six Degrees of the British Monarchy and Hudson Valley Ruins

  1. Tom Rinaldi says:

    Great post! There was at least one other prominent ruin with a Springwood/FDR tie: my understanding is that the curtains in the library of the Roosevelt home came from Luckey Platt in Poughkeepsie, now of course a “ruin brought back”.

  2. HV-Rob says:

    Thanks, I forgot about that Tom! And more indirectly, the old old Roosevelt estate was at the present site of Hudson River State Hospital.

  3. nailhed says:

    heh, I have a bit of “royal” carpet, so to speak, in my house. every year after the Detroit Auto Show, the McNabb Flooring Co. (who have had the contract to provide carpeting for the auto show since the 1920s) have a closeout on all the high grade stuff they put down at Cobo Hall to impress the masses with the displays for the new cars. after the show is over, they rip it all out, roll it up, take it back to their warehouse in Milford, and sell it at ultra low prices until it’s gone. many a house in southeast MI has used Auto Show carpeting in it haha. its the only way for some people to afford nice carpet for wicked cheap, but you have to get there early to get the good stuff. otherwise you’ll end up having to pick thru odd colors and sizes.

    the piece i got for my bedroom has a tire track in the middle of it, from a Jeep or soemthing. people wonder WTF…how did a jeep get in my upstairs bedroom, LOL

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