McKownville Improvement Association
- McKownville - builders and architects

The builders and architects or designers of the early to mid-20th century buildings of McKownville are for most houses not known.
There are some for which there is information surviving.

architects plan
        of 3 Waverly Place3 Waverly Place

One older house for which the architect's rendering has been preserved is 3 Waverly Place, designed in 1928 by Charles E Heidrich, a Schenectady architect.
(photo of framed document taken outside, hence inevitable reflections in the image - click on image to enlarge - use of the plan by permission of Laura Barry)

The other buildings for which the architect is known are the McKownville firehouses, both of which were designed by August Lux, resident in McKownville at 6 Elmwood Street from 1931.
        McKownville fire house, built 1935 1967 McKownville firehouse
 old firehouse built 1935                 new firehouse built 1967

Builders/Contractors of older McKownville houses

From the original deeds of sale of lots from the Pitkin-Witbeck partnership, two individuals can be identified as having been the contractors/builders of a number of the houses in the Country Club Highlands development on the north side of Western Avenue.

- William C Witbeck
The earlier of these is William C Witbeck, the youngest of William H Witbeck's four sons.
He bought the lots for, and built and sold on immediately these six houses:
1451 Western   - 1915
4 Waverly  -  1916  [possibly a Sears kit house]
3 Glenwood  -  1916
1449 Western  -  1917
10 Waverly  -  1918 - the Methodist parsonage until 1968
1 Glenwood  -  1919
and in 1913 he had bought two of the lots later used for 9 Waverly, but sold them to Harold Blessing in 1922.
[web page with a picture of each of these houses built by William C Witbeck]
William C Witbeck moved to Schenectady about 1920, and was manager of the Witbeck automobile dealership there, selling Paige, and Jewett cars through the 1920's.

- Harold J Blessing
Harold J Blessing was contractor/builder for multiple houses in the Pitkin-Witbeck development. He bought the lots for, and constructed and sold these houses:
9 Waverly  -  1922
5 Waverly  -  1922
8 Waverly  -  1923
6 Norwood  -  1923
8 Norwood  -  1923
12 Norwood  -  1923
14 Norwood  -  1923
10 Norwood  -  1924
19 Norwood  -  1924
2 Glenwood   - 1926
12 Glenwood  -  1926
1447 Western  -  1927
17 Glenwood   - 1928
1439 Western   - 1929 [this was built as his own house]
1453 Western (or 1 Parkwood)  -  1929 [a probable Sears kit house - the "Glen Falls"]
1459 Western  -  1929
14 Glenwood  -  1930 [he and his wife rented this one out, until 1954]
[web page with a picture of each of these houses built by Harold J Blessing]
 He may well have built other houses in the Country Club Highlands development, but his name does not appear on any of those deeds later than 1930. He did continue in business after that, as shown by these small ads from the 1931 Albany city directory, and the 1937 Altamont Enterprise.
Harold J Blessing
      ad 1931 city directoryHarold J
      Blessing small ad 1937
Harold Blessing was the son of Edward McC and Lemira Blessing.
Martin J Blessing, who owned Three Hills Farm, located on the west side of what is now called Russell Road, but in the 19th century known as Blessing Road, may have been his great uncle.

Other builders, and sources of house plans, are yet to be identified.
        & Sons 1927 city directory ad8 Glenwood Street
It seems possible, based on the resemblance of the house to the drawing in this advertisement from the 1927 Albany city directory that 8 Glenwood Street could have been built (in 1926) by Melillo and Sons.
Perhaps they also built 1461 Western Avenue, in 1928.
These are the only two "Spanish"-style houses in McKownville.

Sears or other kit houses?
In the interval from about 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck sold frame house kits from their catalog, providing all the necessary lumber, pre-cut, and siding, roofing, wallboard, hardware, etc., shipped to the site. A number of other companies (two of them were Montgomery Ward; Aladdin Homes) competed with Sears in this market. It is possible that some houses built in McKownville are of this type. It is hard to determine just looking from the outside whether a house was built from such a kit, because the house models that Sears and the other companies designed were very similar to the prevailing architectural styles of the time they were being sold. One feature that is indicative is to find piece markings on the joists, rafters, studs, and other structural lumber, which may consist of a letter and/or number, about an inch or so high, punched or stencilled on a side near one of the ends of each of the pieces [examples pictured]. If you find these, your house is likely a kit/catalog house. It may be more difficult to determine which manufacturing company made it; by no means are all of them Sears houses. If some of the original hardware or moldings are still preserved, that can be helpful in finding out which company made the house. Exact dimensions of the house and the original rooms can also help determine whether the house is, or is not, a product of a specific manufacturer. Sears sales records were not preserved, but there is a Sears archive website. One neighborhood in the Capital District, Hampton Manor, in East Greenbush, also built during the 1920's and 1930's, is known to contain a significant number of Sears houses. They are abundant there because the developer also was an agent for their sale.
4 Norwood St, a
      Sears kit house

In the process of completing the application for the McKownville "Country Club Highlands" to become a Historic District, the New York State Historic Preservation Office has identified some probable Sears kit houses.
On Norwood Street, number 4 (photo on left) built in 1911 is a very close match to a model called "Maytown" that Sears sold at that time, and on Parkwood Street number 1, built in 1929, appears to be a model sold as the "Glen Falls". Another house, 4 Waverly Place built in 1916-17, possibly is from a Sears kit (model sold as "The Hollywood"!).
There may be others.

The Pitkin-Witbeck partnership's role
It is unknown how the Pitkin-Witbeck partnership promoted the sale of lots in the Country Club Highlands development. Few advertisements have been found in old newspapers. Perhaps it was mostly done by "word of mouth", and possibly some of this happened in the Witbeck car dealerships. Apart from the four houses that the Witbecks had built for themselves (1421, 1429, 1433, and 1443 Western Avenue), we think that the Pitkin-Witbeck partnership did not do any more than sell lots, and put in the water supply and drainage pipes. However, they may perhaps have offered a discount to some early purchasers, if they agreed to buy lots and build on streets where the developers wished to have a few houses to encourage later prospective customers. The distribution of the earliest houses in the more western parts of the development is suggestive of this, with two on Glenwood, another two on the section of Western Avenue between Glenwood and Parkwood, two on Parkwood, and one on Elmwood built significantly before the other houses filled in those streets. This map shows the date of building of each house, and this pdf file gives the complete list of building dates for the houses of the Country Club Highlands development, and also for Knowles Terrace and houses to the east on the north side of Western Avenue.

If you have information about the architect/designer, or the builder, of a house in McKownville, we would be pleased to hear from you:
[mailbox at mckownville dot org] and would hope that you would allow the information to be added to this site. Identification as a catalog kit house would be of interest, even if the particular manufacturer is not known.

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