Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lots of high marks for these landmarks

Schoolhouse, fire tower, several other local sites recommended for State and National Registers

By PAUL GRONDAHL Staff Writer (Times Union)
Published 12:01 a.m., Saturday, March 12, 2011

ALBANY -- A one-room schoolhouse, private social club, fire tower and grain and feed store are the historic structures in the Capital Region among 39 properties recommended to be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

"Bringing recognition to these properties will help us to preserve and illuminate important components of New York State history," said Rose Harvey, the new commissioner of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The 39 properties, subject to a federal review that typically confirms state recommendations, will join a roster of 90,000 historic buildings, structures and sites across New York state that have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Begun in 1966, the National Register is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation. A listing confers recognition and prestige upon a property and makes the structure eligible for historic preservation grants, along with state and federal tax breaks as incentives for refurbishment.

"It gives us a sense of pride, makes people more aware of the building's history and gives us a boost for fundraising," said Colleen Ryan, secretary of the board of the University Club in Albany. The private social club at the corner of Washington Avenue and Dove Street in line for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Designed by noted architect Robert Fuller and constructed of red brick in the Colonial Revival style, it was completed in 1925. It replaced a Victorian mansion destroyed by fire that previously housed the club, which was founded in 1901. Like other private clubs, the recession has further eroded a declining membership that has leveled off at 200. The old building is also in need of near-constant repair. The most immediate concern is to replace its 28,000-square-foot roof at a cost of more than $100,000.

"This designation is a feather in our cap and it will help us protect the building as we raise money to fix the roof," said Ryan, who is planning a party in June to celebrate the club's history and to install a National Register plaque.

The other property in Albany County that made the list is a one-room schoolhouse in Rensselaerville built in 1853 and known as Potter Hollow District #19 School. The simple clapboard structure, with metal roof and small bell tower, features intact original architectural details. Long vacant, it reflects mid-19th century educational attitudes in a rural vernacular.

In Rensselaer County, the Dickinson Hill Fire Tower in Grafton Lakes State Park was recommended. The 60-foot-tall, steel-frame fire viewing tower was erected in 1924. It was one of more than 100 built by the New York State Conservation Commission beginning in 1908. They were positioned to identify fires and sound an early warning so firefighters hopefully could put out fires quickly, before they caused catastrophic damage to trees, buildings and wildlife.

Helen Ellett, of Grafton, was among the first female fire observers at the Dickinson Hill Fire Tower when she was hired in 1943 at $100 a month. She returned for a second stint from 1959 to 1965 and her pay by then had risen to $244 a month.

In Saratoga County, Smith's Grain and Feed Store, built in 1892, earned a listing. Located in the Clifton Park hamlet of Elnora on Main Street near Route 146A, it now houses a restaurant called the Main Street Grille that's owned and operated by John and Karen Esposito.

"It's a unique building that represents the agricultural heritage of the town and looks just the way it did in the early 1900s," said John Scherer, town historian and State Museum emeritus historian.

The wooden structure was built along railroad tracks initially so trains could pull in and unload shipments of molasses. Local farmers also dropped off their corn crops there by horse-drawn wagon and truck. The corn and molasses were mixed to create feed that supplied a robust cattle industry in the formerly rural area that is now synonymous with suburban sprawl. The facility operated as a feed and hardware store until the Espositos bought it and converted it into a restaurant. The restaurateurs took pains to preserve original details, such as milling equipment on the second floor.

"People don't realize how many historic buildings we have in Clifton Park," Scherer said. "The Register listing gives our residents a sense of pride and makes them aware of our historic heritage. We're not all shopping centers and housing developments here."

Reach Paul Grondahl at 454-5623 or by e-mail at

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