McKownville Improvement Association
- McKown Grove and Witbeck Park - outdoor recreation in McKownville 1896-1973

McKown Grove
William McKown established McKown Grove in 1896, using part of his land along the Krumkill west branch beside McKown Road. He provided in this place facilities for picnics, baseball, and swimming using the pond behind the dam already existing here on the Krumkill. There were picnic shelters, and an open building with a dance floor was built and in use by the year after the opening of the Grove.
news clip August 1897 baseball at McKown Grove    A clipping from the Altamont Enterprise 13 August 1897
 The baseball club was organized and sponsored by William H Witbeck.
His obituary in the Altamont Enterprise of 8 March 1935 includes this:
news clip from
      William H Witbeck obit 8 March 1935

The Grove continued under William McKown's ownership until his death in 1924, and provided a valued place of recreation and entertainment to residents of McKownville, as well as many others who came from more distant parts of the Town, and the City of Albany. A clipping from the Altamont Enterprise of 10 August 1921:
news clip
      10 Aug 1921 picnic at McKown Grove

McKown Grove and the McKown farmhouse nearby were sold by William McKown's heirs in 1926 to McKownville residents William J Knowles and his wife Margaret, who moved from their house at Knowles Terrace to the McKown farmhouse, and ran the Grove until 1950. In the 1930's advertisements for the Grove can be found in the local newspaper the Altamont Enterprise, including in 1934 (following the repeal of Prohibition) a license to sell beer and liquor:
advert for
      McKown Grove dances Aug 1934  McKown
      Grove liquor license announcement 1934
The dance pavilion and associated restaurant was  called "The Goblet" in the 1930's [see additional clippings].
In 1938, a roller skating area was added, and things got louder, when the Knowles' introduced weekend jalopy (or  "midget") auto racing on a ΒΌ mile track.
Altamont Enterprise 15 July 1938;  but ( 22 July 1938) the weather gods immediately intervened!
        Grove advert 15 July 1938McKown Grove
        advert 22 July 1938
 This spectator sport was not universally welcomed in McKownville, because the noise was appalling - the vehicles had no mufflers. And with events on Sundays, in a largely Methodist community! The minutes of the McKownville Improvement Association for 15 November 1938 contain a unanimous resolution passed "To communicate with the Town Board and ask for action or advice towards elimination of the public nuisance of McKownville Speedway". The Town replied in January 1939 that "...the Town have no ordinances applying to the complaints mentioned...."
So the racing continued through the summer of 1940 but, despite the larger advertisements that year (7 July 1940 below), seems not to have been resumed in 1941 or after. [additional clippings relating to the auto track]
      Grove auto racing advert July 1940
At one of these events, probably in 1938 or 1939, a writer for the WPA Writers project passed by and his report appeared in an itinerary included in the WPA New York Travel Guide published in 1940; it makes very clear how much noise was made. But it also provides detail on the clambakes at McKown Grove, perhaps more enjoyable to most McKownville residents of the time.
WPA travel
      guide 1940 - McKownville

William Knowles was struck by a car and killed on Western Avenue in November 1947. His widow Margaret sold McKown Grove in 1950 to an Albany resident, Alphons P Fischer, who continued to operate it in much the same way as the Knowles' had done, while renovating and improving the facilities [additional clips from this time]. In 1958, the new swimming pool was opened, now with concrete sides and floor, and filtration, and no longer just a dammed-up pond along the Krum Kill west branch stream. Fred Abele described this in an Altamont Enterprise article 30 June 1983. Mr Fischer died in 1966; Fred Abele indicated [Altamont Enterprise article 28 July 1983] that Fischer's daughter-in-law Linda had been running the place for some time, and may have continued to do so for a few years more; he also reported that the mud flowing into the pool filters from disturbance by construction upstream forced closure of the pool in 1971. A local resident later said that insurance became unobtainable (or unaffordable) and was the main reason for closure of the Grove in 1973. The developer who obtained the property in the late 1970's claimed he had settled unpaid property taxes.

      Grove pool in 1958McKown Grove new swimming pool on its opening in June 1958  
(picture from the Guilderland Historical Society files)

 McKown Grove pool 1960's (

McKGrove-agroup1 McKown
        Grove pool 1960's

          map showing ponds and McKown Grove

  Map of the area of McKown Grove and Witbeck Park in 1950

Fred Abele recounted the history of McKown Grove in an article published in the Altamont Enterprise in 1982, which is based on his personal experiences of the Grove from his childhood in the 1920's, and later, including the annual picnics of the McKownville Fire Department. He summarizes the end of the Grove as a place of recreation in the early 1970's, when repeated fire damage and subsequent vandalism of the buildings ended in their demolition.
McKownville FD picnic at McKown Grove 1955McKownville Fire Dept. picnic at McKown Grove, 18 Sept 1955
fire at McKown Grove 1973

Fire at McKown Grove dance hall, April 1973

McKown Grove might have become a town park, if in the later 1970's the Town Board (and the funding source in the NY State government) had acted swiftly, and with more vision. Instead, the property was allowed to be directed to the largely commercial interests of a non-resident developer. First a racquetball club was built, but after some years it was converted to an office building.
Fred Abele expressed quite well the fact that McKown Grove for nearly eighty years provided much enjoyment and outdoor recreation for McKownville residents, and others. The park not far away that bears his name, later established in McKownville by the Town, is welcome recreational space but, by comparison, is a rather thin substitute for what used to be provided at McKown's Grove. And that is before the continuous noise of the nearby Thruway traffic is considered, it being not at all like the sylvan place that the Grove used to be, during most of its history.

Witbeck Park
At some point around 1930 baseball games moved from McKown Grove to a sandlot field nearby, located on the north side of the Krumkill between McKown Grove and Western Avenue. This ground was owned by the Witbecks from 1907, and became known as Witbeck Park in the 1930's, and was used for baseball until 1949. The local team, the McKownville Arcadians, took their name from Arcadia Avenue, where a number of them lived.
A clipping from the Altamont Enterprise of 14 September 1934:
news clip Sept
      1934 McKownville baseball

  picture of unknown date of McKownville Arcadians baseball team
(from the Guilderland Historical Society files)
 McKownville Arcadians baseball team picture date unknown

 The Witbeck Park field was sold and built over in 1950 by the motel known as the "Tom Sawyer Motor Inn"; the McKownville Arcadians baseball team then disbanded.

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