SPB Tours Historic Power Station in Karner

by Andy Arthur

For the March 2013 SPB Hike, we took a tour of the 1830 Central Avenue in Karner. The Central Avenue Power Station was a 1890s-era rotary converter station that took 11,000 volt three-phase alternating current power from the power grid and converted it to 600-volt direct current for streetcars, by using a series of massive devices that resembled electric motors.

Rotary converters were used to convert AC to DC prior to the invention of mercury-arc rectifiers in the 1920s, and later electronic rectifiers in 1970s. They were complicated machines that had to be synchronized daily to the grid frequency, and required a full-time technician to constantly adjust them to ensure direct current power flowed smoothly to streetcars.

By 1930s, the rotary converters in this building were worn-out and an obsolete technology. United Traction ended the Albany-Schenectady Interurban in 1932, and abandoned the station. The rotary converters were likely removed and scrapped during World War II, and the building went on to become the station headquarters for WPTR radio station in 1950s. Today, the building is owned by John Knighton, who uses it to store and show classic cars.

80 years later, inside of the building shows little of its original purpose, but its massive walls and heavy second floor, designed to support the weight and vibration of the rotary converters, remain. A portion of the original crane used to service the rotary converters can be seen from the mid-century added third floor.

Save the Pine Bush thanks John Knighton for allowing us to tour this historic building.


Published in May/June 2013 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter