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Landmarks: Broadalbin Hotel being restored to former glory

Snow damaged facade of once-popular meeting place

Sunday, June 24, 2012
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 A state historical marker at 59 West Main St., in the village of Broadalbin tells the story of the 1854 Pub and Eatery at the Historic Broadalbin Hotel. (photo: Bill Buell/Gazette Reporter)
A state historical marker at 59 West Main St., in the village of Broadalbin tells the story of the 1854 Pub and Eatery at the Historic Broadalbin Hotel. (photo: Bill Buell/Gazette Reporter)

The vestiges of what was once a grand old meeting place are still there, and if the Thompson family has its way, the Broadalbin Hotel will once again fit that description.

The building, in the village of Broadalbin near the south side of the Great Sacandaga Lake, is undergoing some serious renovation. But it remains open under the name of the 1854 Pub and Brewery at the Historic Broadalbin Hotel. The owners are Dave and Zoe Thompson, teachers in the Broadalbin school district since they moved next door to the hotel in 1987.

Purchasing the three-story white brick and wooden structure was the furthest thing from Dave Thompson’s mind when he moved into the village, but it’s safe to say the building grew on him.

Family enterprise

“We never really thought about it at all until the owner, a guy from downstate, came over and asked us if we would be interested,” said Thompson. “He was just looking to make some money and get rid of it, so originally I had said, ‘no.’ But we have four sons and two of them have cooked in various restaurants and they wanted to make a go of it. Our two oldest sons have full-time jobs, but they also pitch in and help out when they can. So, we’re doing it as a family thing.”

The biggest structural problem right now is the front porch and facade, unsafe as a result of heavy snowfall two years ago.

“Everybody thinks a snowplow or a car ran into the porch, but it was just the really heavy snowfall we had two years ago,” said Thompson. “The weight compromised the poles on the porch, and everything had to be redone. We were hoping to get it done by April but that didn’t happen. The insurance money was coming in kind of slow, but we just got a check the other day and we’re going to be able to start working on it again. Hopefully, it won’t take too long.”

The other issue is a liquor license. While Thompson is able to sell beer and wine at his establishment, under a law passed in the 1930s following Prohibition, he can’t serve hard liquor because the building is less than 200 feet from a church. He has asked state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, for help in the state Legislature, and he’s been assured that an exemption for his establishment is on the way.

“I’m still waiting, but hopefully we’ll get it before the end of the month,” he said. “That will help a lot.”

The brick section of the Broadalbin Hotel that houses the kitchen area was built in 1854 as a glove-making shop. The place didn’t start taking in boarders or serving food until 1881, when Charles Boss added a large wooden section and created the Kennyetto Hotel. In 1898, Boss’ business closed and the building became a hospital for alcoholics, and when that enterprise also failed it was reopened in 1904 as the Kennyetto Inn. It was one of four hotels in Broadalbin at the time, and it is the only one that has survived.

Retaining appearance

In all of his restoration work, Thompson has done very little to change the look of the building from around that time.

“We’ve kept everything that was here,” he said, pointing out the light-brown tin ceilings that still adorn the building. “We didn’t tear down anything. We cleaned, we painted and we papered some to bring the place back into working order, but we did our best to keep the historic age to the place.”

According to Thompson’s son Jeremiah, who works behind the bar and in the kitchen, history just oozes out of the walls at the Broadalbin Hotel.

“When you walk into this place, you can just feel it,” he said. “Everybody who comes in here says it’s like walking back in time.”

The hotel has 14 rooms upstairs, and while he may have an occasional boarder, Thompson isn’t advertising it as a hotel.

“The rooms aren’t really suitable for that type of business yet,” he said. “We haven’t really addressed the upstairs, but we will in the future. We’re focusing right now on getting the downstairs ready, the bar and the restaurant, and then we hope to do some kind of bed-and-breakfast thing with the upstairs in the future.”

The hotel is at 59 West St. in the village of Broadalbin, which is part of the larger town of Broadalbin. The village has about 1,400 residents, and hasn’t fluctuated much in population for quite some time. According to most historical accounts, the first settler to come to the area just prior to the American Revolution was Henry Stoner. The father of Indian fighter and scout Nick Stoner, Henry eventually moved to farms in the Johnstown and Amsterdam area, while men such as Andrew Bowman, Charles Cady and John Putnam moved in.

“Broadalbin all but ceased to exist during the American Revolution,” said Gordie Cornell, the town and village of Broadalbin historian. “Some went to Johnstown and others to Schenectady because they feared for their scalps. But after the war, things started picking up again. People started moving into the area, and many of them were Scotsmen.”

In 1793, it was a Scotsman, Daniel McIntyre, who named the town Broadalbin after his home in Scotland, Breadalbane. The community remained dominated by farms throughout much of the 19th century, but a plank road was built in 1849 where Route 29 is now, and the expansion of the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad in the 1880s added to the growth of the place.

“We had some knitting mills and glove shops, but things really changed in 1930 when they created the Sacandaga Reservoir,” said Cornell. “Times were different. Farmers started to realize they could make more money by working in the rug mills in Amsterdam or at GE or ALCO in Schenectady.”

Broadalbin was never really a tourist town, according to Cornell, but the creation of Great Sacandaga Lake and the advent of the automobile did bring people to the village.

“When people started going for drives in automobiles, coming to the Broadalbin Hotel and having dinner was a nice little jaunt,” he said. “It had several different owners before the current ones, and they were always serving food and alcohol.”

Alcohol in Prohibition

According to Gail Shufelt, a former Gazette travel writer and a trustee of the Broadalbin Kennyetto Historical Society, the Broadalbin Hotel was a good place to get food and drink at any time, even during Prohibition.

“The story goes,” said Shufelt, “that in the dining room, around two sides of the building, there was a partial wall and behind it were booths. If you wanted to drink, you went around behind the wall, so you were out of sight of people coming in the main door. So, it may have been a speakeasy, if that story’s true.”

Thompson’s business is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

“The prior owner used it as a pizza place and a small bar,” he said. “Now we have to get people not to think of it in those terms. We want them to come in and see what we’ve done to the place, have a great experience, and then have them back as regular customers.”

 
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