Historical highway marker for William (Billy) McKown
        image of marker sign

mockup image of William McKown marker sign

This historical marker has been funded by the generosity of local residents, and the management of Stuyvesant Plaza. Thank you all!
It has been (October 2023) ordered from a business located in New York State, Catskill Castings.
We anticipate installing the marker in the spring of 2024, accompanied by a suitable celebration.

Proposed marker site:
Within property of the Town of Guilderland, part of the McKownville Reservoir Park, in the grassed area formerly owned by the McKownville Water District, adjacent to the dam of the former McKownville Reservoir (first dammed here by William McKown to provide the main water source for his hotel, tavern, and stockyards) [location 42.682324, -73.840775] [Google earth kml] *alternative site

Source documents
a) A map of the Albany and Schenectady Turnpike Road and the roads in its vicinity
Surveyed in November and December 1805 by John Randel Junr
Map collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art (excerpt used by permission)
[shows McKown's T(avern) on the Great Western Turnpike Road, adjacent to Krumkill stream, unnamed on this map]

b) 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 [https://archive.org/details/bp_674499]
and in The Indian in his Wigwam, or Characteristics of the red race of America from original notes and manuscripts
Publication date 1848, Buffalo, Derby & Hewson [https://archive.org/details/cihm_40630]
The pertinent extract (which refers to a time before Henry Schoolcraft departed from Albany County in 1809; probably 1807):
"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."

c) William McKown elected Town Supervisor of Guilderland, 1813; re-elected supervisor each year through 1824.
pages 846-849 in Howell, G.R., & Tenny, J. History of Albany and Schenectady Counties, Bi-centennial history of Albany. History of the county of Albany, N. Y., from 1609 to 1886. With portraits, biographies and illustrations. Publication date 1886, W. W. Munsell & Co., New York
[https://archive.org/details/cu31924080795127] extract: History of the Township of Guilderland
Photos of pages from the original Town of Guilderland records book recording election results for Town officers 1813-1824
The present Town of Guilderland website does not display any information on former Supervisors and their tenure.

d) Last will and testament of William McKown [photocopy image] [text transcription]
died 1st August 1843; will probated 24 October 1843 (will dated 25 August 1815)
This contains: "I give and devise to my son John McKown all the land which I own in the tract called the gore, which was allotted to me in a partition thereof with the dwelling house, barns, stables, outhouses & appurtenances thereon which I now occupy", which was the Hotel and tavern and surrounding land, containing the stockyards, and ponds dammed along the Krumkill.

e) original gravestone of William McKown [photo taken by William Donato January 2021]
died August 1st 1843, aged 80 years, 4 months and 15 days; so born 1763.
The McKown graves and stones were originally located somewhere behind the McKown Hotel & Tavern; they were moved to Prospect Hill Cemetery in 1865. New memorial stones were installed there; the old stones were, it was discovered in 1973, diverted to make the cellar floor of a house not far from the cemetery.

f) photo of William McKown's Hotel & Tavern, probably taken in the winter of 1916-17, owned then by the Witbecks.
 It burnt down one night in early October 1917.
[photo in the files of the Guilderland Historical Society; also in the W. Mohr archive at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve].
McKown's Hotel
The hotel and tavern was built by William McKown and deliberately situated to take advantage of the traffic following construction 1799-1804 of the Great Western Turnpike. He sold the right-of-way to the Great Western Turnpike Company through his property, passing directly in front of the hotel, the deed for this sale by McKown, for 6 cents, dated 1802. At the time he wrote his will (1815) he did own the land on both sides of the Turnpike at this location.

g) clip from the first USGS 15' map of the Albany quadrangle, published 1893 showing name of McKownville, and indicating the few houses of the hamlet, including McKown's hotel.

This hotel and tavern was for all of the 19th century the center of the hamlet of McKownville, and the source of the name was William McKown (1763-1843) and his family.
h) clip from page 525 of Landmarks of Albany County, Parker, A.J. (editor), published 1897, D. Mason & Co, Syracuse NY.
brief description of McKown(s)ville, including source of name from McKown family.

William McKown's son John McKown (1787-1870) took over the business when his father died in 1843.
i) clip from the Map of Albany County by J. Sidney, published 1851. Shows J(ohn) McKowns Hotel, and names other houses nearby.

John McKown's son James F McKown (1818-1880) became the first postmaster in 1862, and the hotel accommodated the McKownville post office until 1905.
j) page including image of 1871 Post Office document requesting information for McKownville PO, and a list of postmasters.

We have been unable to find any contemporary primary source document for the claim that William McKown built his hotel and tavern before the Great Western Turnpike was built (the eastern section was opened in 1800), or even legally authorized (1799), although all the secondary-type sources we have seen agree that this was so. The earliest source we have is the Altamont Enterprise report of the destruction of the (Witbeck's, formerly McKown's) hotel by fire in 1917. This article states that it was built in 1793. That date was also given by Benjamin Witbeck in an interview in 1940 with William Efner, the Schenectady historian. It is repeated in most articles after that date, except for the bicentennial drive-it-yourself historical tour guide of Guilderland, published in 1976, which gives a building date of 1796. This guide was compiled by members of the Guilderland Historical Society and published by that organization. Fred Abele was the president of the Society at that time, and a subsequent unpublished manuscript he wrote about 1982 on the history of McKownville repeats that 1796 building date.
It seems to us unlikely that William McKown would build a, for the time, large hotel and tavern a mile off in the pine woods on a "road" to nowhere, and leave it empty, or use it only for a family home, for seven years, while still leasing, and operating the Five Mile House tavern on the King's Highway. Three years, and including construction of outbuildings, and stockyards, and the water system and new dam on the Krumkill, seems somewhat more plausible. So we think that c.1796 is a more reasonable estimate for the start of construction. It seems unlikely that any primary, contemporary document will be found to resolve this uncertainty, but three separate deeds whereby William McKown obtained ownership of the gore property where the hotel was built are dated in April 1797, December 1798, and December 1800. Possibly he leased the property before concluding all the purchase agreements.
Evidence that there were extensive stock pens and yards associated with McKown's hotel is given in a 1928 Knickerbocker Press article, and on a map of the hotel site and surroundings made in 1940 by William Efner. William McKown's will dated 1815 mentions the "barns, stables, outhouses, and appurtenances thereon".

* An alternative marker site was considered: 1470 Western Avenue; front grass area of the Burger King restaurant (which is part of the former site of McKown's Hotel and Tavern) [location 42.681352, -73.838932] [Google Earth kml]. The property owner indicated that obtaining consent from Carrolls, the chain owner, would undoubtedly be difficult.

The marker as originally proposed contained this text; modified after discussion among members of the board of the McKownville Improvement Association to that finalised and shown at the top of this web page:
mockup image
          of originally proposed marker sign


return to McKownville Improvement Association index page