If you have passed the intersection of Anthony Street and White Hill Lane in Hillsdale Hamlet, you have probably seen the flurry of activity happening at the old Agway building. Owners Steve and Kathy Bluestone are restoring the three-story structure and plan to open the Roe Jan Brewing Company on the site.
The building dates to about 1851, when it was built by Joshua Bulkeley. Bulkeley was born in Connecticut about 1819 and moved to Hillsdale with his wife, the former Mary Halland. They took up residence in a boarding house owned by Nellie Brown and in 1857, Joshua and Mary had a son, Henry Halland Bulkeley.
In the early 1850s Joshua and other local merchants opened the Hillsdale Mercantile Association which sold, among other things, patent medicines and clothing. Early photographs show mannequins wearing shirts. The mercantile was in business into the 1880s and appears to have been a competitor of Dimmick’s store (today’s Hillsdale General Store), which opened at Cullin Park about 1855.
In 1865, 14-year-old Freeland Pulver was given a dollar by his father and dispatched on the train from Copake Iron Works to Hillsdale to start his first job working for the Mercantile. His first year salary was $75, plus room and board. He boarded at the home of Abram Decker.
In 1983, the Roe Jan Independent published a 1934 recollection written by Freeland Pulver. In it, Freeland noted that on his first day he sold two pounds of “very dark sugar” for 25 cents a pound and one pound of chewing tobacco for $1.25.
Around 1890, Joshua Bulkeley closed the Hillsdale Mercantile Association and Freeland Pulver and fellow clerk Henry Best opened a general store — Pulver and Best — in the building. When Henry retired, Freeland and his brother, Wesley, renamed the operation Pulver Brothers, which sold a variety of goods including food and clothing. When Wesley retired, Freeland simply named the store Freeland Pulver, as you see in the advertisement below:
The original Masonic Temple sat on Cold Water St. Hillsdale High School had no gymnasium, so the basketball team practiced at the Masonic Temple until it burned down in 1927. According to an 1987 article in the Roe Jan Independent, the basketball team thereafter practiced in a gym they constructed on the third floor of Pulver’s store. That must have been pleasant for the customers below.
The boys recalled that there were side rooms adjacent to the basketball court, in which were held meetings of the Modern Woodmen of America, the International Order of Odd Fellows and (it was rumored) the Ku Klux Klan.
Over the years, the multi-purpose old building housed a shirt factory and, interestingly, a beer distribution company. The John Bain Bottling Works bottled beer in the basement (the beer was brought in from elsewhere, as the building had no brewing capacity or, for that matter, plumbing). In the late 1920s, George Steuerwald took over the building and opened GLF Feed and a John Deere dealership. GLF was an acronym for Grange League Federation and there were a number of GLF locations across the state.
Until 1931 the Hillsdale Fire Department, founded in 1918, garaged its Model A fire engine on the first floor in what later would become the “scale room.” Steuerwald installed a huge scale in the floor of the first story, and farmers would drive wagons full of grain to the store to be weighed, ground and bagged. The hopper and conveyor system used in the grinding process are still in place today.
Mr. Steuerwald sold the building to Ralph Burlarley in 1957. Mr. Burlarley then opened Hillsdale Farm Supply. In 1964, after GLF merged with the Eastern States Farmers Exchange to form Agway, Mr. Burlarley stocked Agway products and over time people came to refer to Hillsdale Farm Supply as “the Agway,” although it was never an Agway-owned store.
Hillsdale Farm Supply remained in the building until 1987, when Mr. Burlarley sold a majority share of the business to Robert Edelman. Mr. Edelman subsequently moved Hillsdale Farm Supply to the building that now houses Taconic Valley Lawn & Garden on Route 23. As you can see in this portion of a 1988 Agway ad in the Roe Jan Independent, it was still commonly referred to as the “Hillsdale Agway.”
Hillsdale Farm Supply sold the building to Marilyn Herrington in 1987 and she used it as a storage facility until 2008. In 2009 a group of artists lived and worked in the building. Since then the building, still referred to as “the old Agway building,” has been unoccupied. In 2017, Hillsdale resident and shopkeeper Matthew White purchased the building, eventually selling it to the Bluestones in 2018.
The three-story post and beam building was in rough shape. Thanks to some shoring up by the Herringtons, it remained standing but needed a new foundation.
The Bluestones raised the entire structure by about three feet and built a new foundation. Elevating the structure means that the full first floor will be above grade for the first time in decades; repeated paving of Anthony Street over the years had raised the road surface above the northeast corner of the building.
They also reinforced the structure to keep the building safe and intact.
Steve and Kathy are committed to preserving and restoring the old building’s historic architectural features. For instance, the building originally used traditional board-and-batten siding, which can be seen on the barn’s north and south facades. During the Agway era, the battens on the east and west facades were removed and horizontal “novelty” siding was installed. That siding has been removed and new battens are being installed.
The original roof brackets had rotted and new replicas were made and installed.
The Bluestones rebuilt the long-gone first floor balcony that wrapped around the south and west sides of the original building. About half of the original glass windows were salvageable.
Attractive new stonework and ramps make the building accessible to all.
The bar of the brew pub will wrap around the old grain hopper, and other historic artifacts from the building’s past will be incorporated into the décor.
The brewing operations of the Roe Jan Brewing Company will be in the old building’s basement, while the restaurant/pub will occupy the first floor. The restaurant, featuring an open kitchen, will focus on wood-fired cooking using local and sustainably sourced ingredients. The two upper stories will house several studio and one-bedroom rental apartments.
It’s very exciting to see such an historic building re-imagined and reinvigorated.