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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 3, 2009

Two buildings demolished
Fire department clears land for expansion

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Two buildings that have stood on the corner of Willow Street and Route 20 since the 19th Century have been demolished. The Guilderland Fire District purchased the old general store and the Federal house in April, and began demolition in late October.

The two parcels were most recently owned by Jay and Lisa Jochnowitz, who ran Capital Costumes out of one building, and had three apartments and a consignment shop in the other. She sold both parcels to the fire district in April; demolition started just before Halloween, and finished in late November. Brian Forte, fire district commissioner, said the land will be used for future expansion of the Guilderland Fire Department. The firehouse, on Route 20, is next to the now-vacant lots.

Although the buildings were not on the National Register of Historic Places, they had a long history in the town of Guilderland. The old general store was owned by Thomas B. Ward from 1926 to 1960, and was a gathering place for residents of the hamlet. The Federal house was originally built as a private residence. Mary Ellen Johnson, from the Guilderland Historical Society, said the general store most likely dates from well back into the 19th Century, and the Federal house is from the Civil War era.

The Guilderland hamlet was originally developed in the late 18th Century, according to the late Arthur B. Gregg, town historian, who wrote columns on Guilderland history for The Enterprise, which were later compiled into the book, Old HelleBergh, Scenes from Early Guilderland. (The full account can be found online at the Guilderland Public Library site, under the local history digital collection.) The Dowesburgh Glass Works were established there in 1785 by Dutchman John DeNeufville, 14 years before the Greats Western Turnpike was built. The business changed hands several times, and needed loans from the state, but, by 1797, there were two glass houses or factories, three furnaces, a sawmill, a pounding mill, a cross-cut mill, and 13 employed glass blowers.

By 1815, there were 56 houses occupied by laborers employed in the glassworks. The hamlet, originally called Hamilton, after Alexander Hamilton, later became Hamiltonville, and finally Guilderland, according to Gregg.

“One naturally wonders why they chose for their project a location then almost a wilderness. It was two miles distant from the highway connecting Albany and Schenectady. The Great Western Turnpike would not be built for another fourteen years. There were, however, quantities of sand, there was water power from the Hungerkill, there was plenty of wood for the furnaces…” wrote Gregg.

The general store and Federal house, despite changing owners and functions in recent decades, remained intact until earlier this year.

“We always said, if the parcel next to the fire department came up for sale, we would aggressively pursue it,” said Forte. He said the department has outgrown the building it has been in for the past 15 years, and needs room for future expansion. When Jochnowitz was willing to sell both parcels, the district negotiated, and was able to purchase the land for $510,000, according to Forte. The purchase, like all district transactions, was funded through taxpayer money, he said.

The district originally planned to use the apartment building for a bunk-in program for college students; it would offer free housing to students in exchange for manpower. But, said Forte, the inspection of the buildings revealed that renovation would not be cost effective.

“Upkeep on the buildings hadn’t been taken care of in quite a while. There were mold problems, and, generally, the buildings just weren’t up to the right standard for living,” Forte said. He said the fire district conducted a survey done both buildings and the property, and received no indication that either had any historical significance.

“We fully disclosed our intentions to demolish the buildings to the seller,” said Forte. The fire district has plans to landscape the property in the immediate future, and will wait for a time when it can budget for expansion.

Forte said the fire district has gotten positive feedback on the demolition, particularly about the improved line of sight down Route 20. There has been only one negative comment, he said, from a gentleman who used to shop at Ward’s general store, and was disappointed to see the building go down.

“I was sorry to see them taken down; I think anyone around town who was familiar with the buildings would be sorry to see them torn down,” said Johnson, from the historical society. “A lot of people don’t understand the significance, though. To them, they are just old, dilapidated buildings,” she said.

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