McKowns and their hostelries near Albany NY, 1780's to 1820's

McKown families ran three hostelry establishments in the early 1800's, which provided refreshment and accommodation to travellers and their horses and driven livestock, on the roads both to the west and to the east of Albany. These inns and taverns, and their associated stables, barns and stockyards, were located at a distance from the city where most horses and their riders would have after leaving it made their first stop for refreshment. They were also conveniently close for stock being driven in to be penned before sale without entering the Albany city limits; or, for William McKown's places, being driven onward to Boston, or to New York City.
William McKown (1763-1843) first leased for 25 years the Five Mile Tavern in 1786, from the City of Albany. This was located approximately 5 miles from the Albany waterfront, on the Kings Highway, the main road at that time for travel westward, through Schenectady and up the Mohawk Valley. After 1800, this hostelry was run by a tenant, Daniel Woodworth, but he was a relative, through the former marriage of McKown's wife Catherine. The rent continued to be paid to the City by William McKown to the end of his lease in 1808, being $62.50 per year. Although the highway was a narrow and winding dirt track, it carried substantial traffic, increasing during the 1790's as migration to the west became significant. A report from 1795 tells of 500 sleighs travelling west out of Albany in a single day in February. McKown clearly must have made considerable money from this business because he purchased significant amounts of real estate starting in 1796, both locally and in Schoharie and Montgomery Counties.
It is reported that he became aware early of the plan to build a better road to the west, the Great Western Turnpike, and his local land purchases were in part aimed at obtaining land across which the Turnpike would be constructed, and to include a location ideally sited to serve the traffic that would develop.
annotated excerpt from map of J Randel 1805
Excerpt from: Map of the Albany and Schenectady Turnpike Road
and the roads in its vicinity by John Randel Jr., surveyed November and December 1805.
Used with permission of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

the map shows the Five Mile Tavern, located on the old Albany-Schenectady road, known at the time as the Kings Highway; McKown's Tavern on the Great Western Turnpike; and the track between these two taverns, made by William McKown in the later 1790's.

So, located at the four mile marker on the future Turnpike route, at the crossing of the west branch of the Krum Kill stream, McKown built a new and large inn and tavern, along with barns, stockyards, a slaughterhouse, and a dam across the Krum Kill from which water was supplied to the inn, stables and stockyards through a buried system of bored-out pine log pipes. McKown also cleared a track from the old Five Mile House to the site of this new establishment, which remained a road until about 1850, when his son John McKown petitioned the Town to close it. This track may have been the first item constructed, although it is not known whether the purpose was just to assist the construction of the new inn, or also to divert overflow customers from either tavern to the other. The new place was likely ready for business as soon as the Turnpike opened, which was in 1800 for this eastern section, although the full distance to Cherry Valley was not completed until 1804.
McKown's Hotel
The hotel and tavern built by William McKown c. 1796-9, situated to take advantage of the traffic created upon construction 1799-1804 of the Great Western Turnpike.
This picture probably taken in the winter of 1916-17.
[in the files of the Guilderland Historical Society; also in the W. Mohr archive at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve].

William McKown's oldest brother James (1745-1812) built in the 1780's an inn and tavern on the Columbia and Lebanon Springs Turnpike (now Routes 9 and 20), in the Town of Schodack just south of the East Greenbush town line, about five miles up the hill from the Hudson River ferry landing opposite Albany. The older part of this inn contained a 40ft ballroom with an arched ceiling. Later known as the Cotton Inn, this survived until 1954, when it was demolished. The site is on the south side of the main road, opposite the intersection with Old Miller Road.
      McKown's inn and tavern (Cotton Inn)
Photo of unknown date of the Cotton Inn (built by James McKown in the 1780's)
source of photo and information: Town of Schodack historian

For about 26 years (1786 to 1812), the two McKown brothers evidently had the traffic passing east and west into and out of Albany well covered by their hostelries, and their hospitality (some contemporary reports are included below).
roads and
        inns near Albany c. 1800-1810
Map showing the principal roads near Albany in the early 19th century and the locations of the McKown hotel/taverns.
Other inns, some just as large as McKown's, shown by red squares. Tollgate locations shown by orange bars; some of these were moved to new locations later in the century (thin bars).

 Henry Schoolcraft wrote of a visit to William McKown's tavern in 1807, returning one evening from Albany to home in the village of Hamilton 8 miles west: "It was late before we got out of the precincts of the city, and up the hill, and night overtook us away in the pine woods, at Billy McKown's, a noted public-house seated halfway between the city and Iosco [Hamilton], where it was customary in those days to halt; for besides that he was much respected, and one of the most sensible and influential men in the town, it was not thought right, what ever the traveller might require, that a horse should be driven eight miles without drawing breath, and having a pail of water. As I was but young, and less of a charioteer than my valiant companion, he held the whip and reins thus far; but after the wolf stories that poured in upon us at McKown's that evening, he would hold them no longer. Every man, he thought, was responsible to himself. He did not wish to be wolf's meat that night, so he hired a fleet horse from our host, and a whip and spurs, and set off with the speed of a Jehu, leaving me to make my way, in the heavy chaise, through the sandy plains, as best I could."
extract from the story "The Rabid Wolf" by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft published in OneĆ³ta; or, Characteristics of the red race of America, from original notes and manuscripts. Publication date 1845, New York, Wiley & Putnam []
He also wrote of an earlier excursion with his father on the then new Turnpike, summarized by Arthur Gregg thus: "How thrilled he was on his first trip to Albany over the new road in his father's "One hoss shay"! At Billy McKown's his father had stopped to get a glass of bitters and to water the horse."

Alexander Coventry noted all three of these McKown inns in several of his diary entries [source New York State Library Digital Collections]
the first from 23-24 May 1791:
"Set out about noon with John Cully and his sister in law..... Arrived at Jas. McKown's about 6 p.m. and had our horses put out into good pasture, determining to stay all night. We had a good supper.
......Had breakfast and baiting of hay at Wm. McKown' s, 3/6 which John paid: We got to Schenectady about 4 p.m."
24 December 1791:
"Clear but pretty cold with North wind. Set out [from Albany] for home this morning about 9 A.M. Stopped and breakfasted at [James] McKown's: paid 9d. He has excellent brandy....."
28-29 February 1792:
"Set out about 8 A.M. this morning for my new land [on Seneca Lake] with horses and sleigh, and Alexander Coventry (my cousin)..... Found the sleighing pretty good, although it was bare before the last snow fell. Drove on to Wm. McKown's: found his house very crowded: had our horses put out, and left our load in the highway, where not less than 20 other loads stood... Paid McKown for horse keeping, lodging, and 1 gill of brandy 4/6......
Met a vast number of sleighs going to Albany. Stopped at Schenectady and baited: had 2 mugs of cyder 1/-...."

and 30-31 January 1828, visiting the area after about 30 years away, travelling towards Albany along the Great Western Turnpike:
"The taverns seem superb establishments: are large houses, mostly wood, but well painted: the sheds very extensive, and well painted: some sufficient to accommodate a troop of horses. The yards are enclosed with board fences 16 feet high, surmounted in some places with iron spikes: a gate at each end. These accommodations are superior to any I ever saw, and there must be much travel on this road, to support these, which are numerous."
"Arriving at a very large house, and extensive (tavern) establishment, on inquiry found it was Wm McKown's, 4 miles west from Albany. Got the horse put up: the bar-room was crowded with men: teamsters. I was shown into a back room where several decent people sat. Asked for a room, but the house was too full. Had a good supper, and by observing the conversation was enabled to recognize Mr. Wm. McKown whom I had known (about) 40 years ago, but had not seen for the last 25 or 30 years. He formerly kept the 5 mile house between Albany and Schenectady: and from the last time that I was at his house, till now, (the present), I had not seen so crowded a bar-room. Mr. McK, appeared healthy, and was glad to see an old acquaintance. His son John keeps the house. They have 1400 acres here: cut much hay: 400 acres cleared.
Slept at Mr. McKown's. Sat up late. He is 65 years old, his wife 72, both attractive. We had not been an hour in bed when the travellers began to stir, and this was the third night in which we had no sleep. After they began to stir there was a constant rattle. Got up about daybreak: the bed room was too near the bar-room. Got some oats for horse, and meantime took breakfast with some others. M. McKown was very friendly, and when I asked for my bill it was only 9/- for 4 meals, lodging, horsekeeping, and 8 quarts of oats."
and having gone down into Albany, and then crossing the Hudson river on the ice:
"Passed a gate at 4 miles; stopped at a good tavern 5 miles where James McKowan lived formerly: the landlord civil, and the hostler ready. Got wine: paid 1/6."

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