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Ballston officials hope to acquire historic Hawkwood estate for park

Sunday, January 19, 2014
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Hawkwood owner Guy Baker is shown at the estate circa 1900.
Hawkwood owner Guy Baker is shown at the estate circa 1900.

— Ballston officials hope to acquire the Hawkwood estate on Middle Line Road to preserve as open space, using private money willed to the town.

The town’s supervisor, the town historian and the head of the town agricultural preservation committee all said they are thrilled at the prospect of acquiring the heavily wooded 246-acre property, which has both historic and environmental significance.

A deal still needs to be negotiated, tied to funding coming from the estate of Frank W. Schidzick Jr., who willed an estimated $800,000 to the town.

“This is a historically significant and beautiful piece of property,” said Town Supervisor Patrick Ziegler. “We are optimistic that both parties will be able to reach an acceptable agreement.”

The Town Board voted to pursue negotiations to acquire the property, which is on the west side of Route 50 and Middle Line Road. It also voted to drop a three-year effort to buy a portion of the Lang farm, about four miles north on Middle Line Road.

Both decisions are tied to a three-year town debate about what uses can be made of money left to the town by the estate of Schidzick, a Ballston Lake farmer who died in 2001. He left roughly the $800,000 to the town on condition it be used for buying “forever wild” property and making appropriate recreational improvements.

In 2011, the Town Board approved a plan to buy the Lang farm with the money, with the idea of building a recreation complex there. That sparked a long public debate, however, about whether converting farmland into active recreation fields was an appropriate use of the Schidzick money. No deal for the land was struck.

Last September, the Schidzick estate trustees informed the town that the Lang property purchase would not be acceptable, since it would remove active farmland from agricultural use.

At the same time, the town and Schidzick estate had received indications the owner of Hawkwood, who lives in Colorado, would be willing to sell the property to the town for something close to its $552,000 assessed value.

Last week, Saratoga County Surrogate Court Judge Richard Kupferman, who is overseeing the Schidzick estate, gave the parties until March 11 to reach an agreement.

While the negotiation will actually be between the estate and Hawkwood’s owner, Town Attorney Murray Brower will also be at the table.

“The Hawkwood property, they have stated, meets the exact terms of the will,” Ziegler said. “We optimistically believe both sides will be able to reach an acceptable agreement.”

The property is bordered by five working farms, and is crossed by three streams that drain into Ballston Lake.

The town comprehensive plan in 2006 identified Hawkwood as a property worth trying to permanently preserve, along with the nearby Cappiello farm on Route 50.

“I think it’s a wonderful acquisition,” said Town Historian Rick Reynolds.

Hawkwood was the site of the town’s first mansion, built in the late 1700s by Henry Walton, who fashioned it after what wealthy people were building in Saratoga Springs at the time, Reynolds said.

A century later, it was owned by the Baker brothers, who included the painter William Bliss Baker, whose prominent visitors included Theodore Roosevelt. It was the Bakers who named the property Hawkwood.

“For its time, this house was quite significant. It had pull-chain toilets upstairs and was the first house in Ballston to have running water and gas lights,” Reynolds wrote in a 2012 history. “Its outbuildings numbered at least five: a ‘tenant house’ for farm laborers, a creamery, an ice house, a hog house, and barns as well.”

The mansion burned down in the late 1950s, but its foundation and the ruins of the other buildings remain in the woods. “The foundations can be archaeologically studied and we can learn all kinds of things about how the people lived in that era,” Reynolds said.

If the estate is able to acquire the property, a current system of snowmobile trails could be turned into hiking and cross-country skiing trails, but no active recreational uses like ball fields are anticipated.

Ziegler acknowledged a town need for more recreational fields, but said it will look elsewhere to address those needs.

Joan Pott, chairwoman of the town Agricultural and Farmland Protection Committee, said the Hawkwood property and bordering farms would account for about 1,000 acres of open land on the west side of Ballston Lake, preserving land within the lake’s watershed.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” she said.

Pott said she hopes the town can find another farmer interested in buying the Lang property, so it doesn’t get subdivided and developed. The farm no longer has animals but is still used for growing hay, she said.

 
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