More Tidbits: A Tibbits Avenue Mystery

In my July 25 post about an RPI/Troy souvenir spoon, I mentioned the jeweler F. W. Sim & Co.  This was a local firm headed by Frederic W. Sim of Troy.  That was enough information for my purposes – that is, until I happened upon another connection between Mr. Sim and RPI.

Searching for information about the RPI spoon in Rensselaer Digital Collections, I discovered a 1936 article that mentioned Mr. Sim in the student newspaper.  It noted that the former Sim residence “on a hill out Tibbits Avenue” had been purchased as a home for RPI’s president.  Since the current president’s house is on Tibbits, I was curious to see if it was the same property.  I consulted our Rensselaer Building Histories page and discovered it was not the same site.

I found that the president lived on “Upper Tibbits” from 1936 to 1943 in a building that later became Alpha Tau Omega’s fraternity house in the 1950s.  Still later it was acquired by Acacia.  But Acacia is located on Sunset Terrace.  So… where was the house on Tibbits?

At that point I decided to visit my other favorite local repository, the Rensselaer County Historical Society!  I consulted a plethora of fire insurance maps.  Nothing useful showed up, in fact Sunset Terrace wasn’t even on the map.  Now what?  At that point the RCHS volunteer who had been assisting me suggested we consult Kathy Sheehan.  Kathy is the historian for both Rensselaer County and the City of Troy, and she grew up near Tibbits Avenue.  Voila!  What we couldn’t find in records was readily available in her brain.

It turns out the Sims property was a large estate on a private lane that intersected with Tibbits, and that lane is now called Sunset Terrace.  So, the building currently occupied by Acacia fraternity was formerly the Sim property, and later the RPI president’s house.  Mystery solved!

Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house.

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A Spoonful of Fun!

I recently posted about a souvenir spoon held by the Institute Archives and Special Collections department at RPI.  Well, it’s not the only one!  The first one was produced at the very beginning of a spoon collecting craze in the gay nineties (1890s, that is).  The other one in our collection dates from 1914.

RPI silver spoon, 1914

This spoon is different from its predecessor in many ways.  First and foremost, this one features an engraving of the Carnegie Building inside the bowl, while the earlier spoon represented RPI with a transit level on the handle.  The newer one is also customized with engravings on the front and back of the handle.  The front bears the letters “A.E.G.” while “Xmas 1914” is on the reverse.

Engravings on an RPI spoon, 1914I had hoped to identify A.E.G., but I can find nothing to connect this handsome artifact to a specific person.  Lack of provenance – the chain of ownership of an item or collection – is one of the down sides of acquiring materials through vendors.  Objects like silver spoons are likely to have changed hands several times before they end up in the archives, limiting our ability to trace their origins.  Nevertheless I’m pleased to have not one but two RPI silver spoons in our collection!

Carnegie Building engraving on an RPI spoon, 1914

Addendum1890s RPI Spoon (courtesy of Ken Breitkreuz)

When I posted a photograph of an RPI spoon from the 1890s, I kind of hoped someone else would recognize the design and contact me.  As Ken Breitkreuz’s comment to that post indicates, he does in fact have a souvenir spoon similar to the one in the archives collection.  Ken (RPI Class of 1988) was kind enough to share a photograph of his spoon, which bears the same markings on the handle as the one held by the Institute Archives.

However, Ken’s spoon has one major difference from the one I wrote about.  His version has a traditional oval bowl instead of the scalloped shape of ours.

Thanks, Ken, for allowing me to share this image of an RPI relic with our readers!


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A Silver Spoon at RPI

RPI’s Institute Archives and Special Collections department has a lot of cool things that you might not expect to find among our rare books, manuscripts, and Institute records.  We also have a variety of artifacts, some of which are well over a century old.  Our most recent acquisition in this category is a sterling silver spoon dating from the 1890s.

RPI silver spoon, circa 1891

This item came to us via ebay, and I’m particularly fond of its design.  I happen to love sterling, but this spoon is special more for what it represents than the material it’s made of.  The top of the handle depicts a transit level, the same item for which our (now defunct) yearbook was named.  Transits long represented Rensselaer due to the school’s strong association with civil engineering.

Below the transit, “RPI” and Troy” appear in a funky, flowing script, with decorative elements along the border.  The back of the handle provides useful information about the spoon’s origins.  It’s marked “STERLING” – no surprise.  “PAT-D88” indicates it was patented, although it isn’t clear what the 88 signifies.  It’s probably not the patent date.  The souvenir spoon craze in the U.S. didn’t begin until 1889 after a spoon with the likeness of George Washington was first produced. (There’s an excellent article about souvenir silver spoon collecting by PBS’s History Detectives which is readily available online.)

“F. W. Sim & Co.” also appears on the back of the handle.  This was a jeweler operating at 246 River Street, Troy, which I also discovered in a web search.  Even better, I found a series of Sim & Co. ads in RPI’s student newspaper, The Rensselaer Polytechnic.  The first ad appeared on April 4, 1890 and promoted the usual array of jewelry store products.  The following year a cryptic question was posted under the heading Polyisms:  “Have you sent her an R.P.I. spoon?” (March 21, 1891, p.151).  A few pages later, a quote from the Troy Times clarifies things:

The Rensselaer Polytechnic, March 21, 1893 (p. 155)

It isn’t clear if this spoon was ever a big hit, but the Poly carried ads for F. W. Sim’s souvenir spoons throughout the 1892-93 school year.  By the fall of 1893 the company returned to more generic jewelry advertisements, perhaps marking the demise of the RPI/Troy silver spoon.

F. W. Sim & Co. ads in the Polytechnic, June 22 and September 30, 1893

A Challenge…

While I was able to find out a lot about this antique spoon, one question has me stumped.  Why does the bowl have an indentation on each side?  Is this some unique piece of Victorian silverware?  Or are the indents just another flourish indicating that the spoon is a decorative object rather than an eating utensil?  If you know the answer (or would care to venture a guess) I’d love to hear from you!

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Commencement 1918


Rensselaer’s ninety-fourth commencement exercises were held on Wednesday May 1, 1918 in the ’87 Gymnasium. Bachelor degrees awarded included 30 in Civil Engineering, 22 in Electrical Engineering, 11 in Mechanical Engineering, and 8 in Chemical Engineering. One Master of Science in Chemistry was awarded. The commencement address was delivered by Edwin Wilbur Rice, Jr., President of the General Electric Company.


Due to the United States involvement in World War I, many members of the class left for military service either prior to graduation or immediately afterward.  For more information, check out our previous post on Rensselaer’s involvement in the war effort.


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Continuing Up the Hill: Campus Dormitory and the Rensselaer Student’s Association Clubhouse

Campus Dormitory: The Warren House, acquired with the 1905 purchase of the Warren estate property, was converted into a student dormitory in 1907 and remained the only campus housing until 1916. The house was officially named the Campus Dormitory by a resolution of the Board of Trustees in 1916. The Institute rented rooms to about thirty students. A caterer supplied meals and was paid directly by the students. The house was located in front of the present site of Lally Hall.

In 1935, after the construction of two new dormitories, the Board of Trustees decided to dismantle and remove the old Warren House. The only thing remaining of the building is the Continue reading

Posted in Building History, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute History, Rensselaer Union, Student Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment