Mohawk River Kayaking: Down Memory Lane

When I wanted to get in a few hours of paddling last weekend, I picked a spot which required no guidebooks, websites, GPS or research of any kind. I decided to put my kayak into the water in a place I’ve known my entire life, in Crescent NY, on the north bank of the Mohawk River, right next to Route 9.

Halfmoon NY gas station

My grandfather used to own a gas station there. He bought it in 1946 and lived there in a house attached to the back of the station until he passed away in the late 70s. A few years after that my grandmother sold the place and it became a Stewart’s, which is still there today.

My grandfather was a special guy. He had to rebuild the gas station multiple times for various reasons. He did it himself. At one point he decided it would be nice to have a swimming pool so he just dug one. Then he built an extension onto the house that enclosed the pool so he had an indoor pool. Pretty luxurious. We used to visit a lot.

Mohawk River kayak launch

I can remember fishing off the pier, just down the hill, and standing there during the winter, watching the local maniacs driving their cars and motorcycles on the ice. It occurred to me that it would be a great place to launch a kayak.

I found myself back in the Capital District recently so I figured it was a good time to revisit my grandparents’ old place. It’s been a long time. When I got there, I discovered some things had changed. The town had installed the nicest aluminum kayak dock I’ve ever seen. It even had rollers installed to make launching and landing a breeze. I had been planning on a scramble through some brush and rocks to get down to the water but instead I was presented with the most civilized launch possible.

Crescent Park

Next to the new dock was a rack of self-serve kayak rentals. There were a couple historical markers now and a sign indicating that it was part of the New York State Canalway Water Trail. The pier itself was unchanged, concrete construction with massive iron bollards. I’d never seen any vessels tied up there but my understanding was that they used to secure canal barges.

Another thing that caught my eye was a little flower arrangement by the edge, a memorial to a drowning victim I assumed. It reminded me of a story my father had told me. Soon after they’d moved there, a family was fishing at the pier and their daughter went to take a nap in the back seat of their car, parked up the hill.

iron bollard

At some point the parking brake failed and the car rolled down the hill and into the deep water. My grandfather immediately backed his tow truck up to the edge and dropped it’s cable to try to hook the cars bumper all the way down there on the bottom. He tried and tried but could not succeed in getting the cable attached to that car’s bumper.

By the time the fire department got there with better gear, it was too late. My grandfather was really broken up about not being able to save that girl. I can’t imagine how helpless he must have felt. There is a line of boulders along the edge of the parking now, preventing people from driving off. That’s good at least.

Mohawk River dam

I got my kayak down and launched myself from the rollers; no need to even get my feet wet. From the dock I turned left and started paddling. I knew there was a dam and lock this way, part of the Barge Canal. I used to think it was part of the Erie Canal but one of the historical markers indicated that the original Erie passed OVER the river here via an aqueduct. That must have been cool.

I paddled along the shore, checking out the trees and houses and other things of interest along the way, including what looked like an outhouse at the top of some wooden stairs. River traffic was light, just a few jet skis and a pontoon boat. The bank was mostly wooded.

shoreline

Long sections of the shoreline were choked up with invasive water chestnuts. Recent rain storms had deposited a lot of twigs and logs and other debris in the swollen river. The smaller branches had gathered together in rafts along the sides. I made it down to the Crescent Dam in about a half hour. I noticed a group of anglers in bass boats clustered together just north of the entrance to a series of locks — called the Waterford Flight — which connect to the Hudson River.

I crossed over to the other side above the dam and locks and started back in the other direction. That side of the river was the same; more water chestnuts and floating detritus. I took my time. When I got back to the Route 9 bridge, I paddled underneath and kept going west. It was around this time that something started bothering me. I texted my sisters to ask what year my grandmother had sold the gas station.

privy

I kept on for a while longer but didn’t make it all the way to the Northway’s Thaddeus Kosciusko bridge. Instead I crossed back to the north side of the river and paddled back toward my starting point.

Now there was a pontoon boat tied up under the Route 9 bridge and there were some teenagers swimming nearby. I passed under Route 9 again and then I was back where I’d started. I pulled myself up the rollers onto the aluminum dock and got out, once again keeping my feet dry. It took no time to put my boat up and reposition my car to the Stewart’s parking lot.

Mohawk River kayaking

I didn’t bother telling the clerk inside about my grandparents. I used to do that whenever I found an excuse to stop in but all I ever got in return were weird looks when I told them “there used to be a homemade indoor swimming pool right over there.” Instead I just bought an iced tea for the ride home and got moving.

One of my sisters texted me back that she thought my grandmother had sold the place in 1981. Somehow that place has already been a Stewart’s longer then it belonged to my grandparents. I was a little staggered. Time flies for sure.

12 comments on “Mohawk River Kayaking: Down Memory Lane

  1. Thanks for sharing the story, Brownski. In the black and white photo, there’s some lettering for Marfak lubrication. I had never heard of that before, but saw a decal on old race bike the other day and wondered what the heck Marfak was. Now I know.

  2. That’s a pretty cool story about your grandfather. The story of him digging the pool reminds me a lot of the old stories of how a lot of the ski areas were built – really improvisational and without having to get a lot of permission. It’s nice to have that link back to a place that meant so much to you.

  3. Nice story Brownski.
    Your grandpa’s gas station with an indoor pool is amazing.
    Keep on paddling and writing.

  4. Beautifully written. Grandpa Brown would be honored and proud for sure. You captured it all perfectly.

  5. In the picture of the gas station is my dad, Al Brown, brother Al and me, the little guy. I don’t remember hearing about that story of the car rolling into the river. I do remember barges of oil going up the river, other very serious accidents on the bridge and around the dock. When I was very young there was a building very near the dock which was used by the town on Election Day for citizens to cast their ballots! My dad was an amazing man who only had an eighth grade education, but had skills like he had several degrees. His absolute rule for his kids as I remember is never lie. His most important requirement for the four of us, was to get a college education. The main reason he rebuilt the station was due to the state rebuilding the bridge and widening the road. The revenue from the station paid for all of our college tuition. The station is where we also learned how to care for our customers and how to treat people. It was a special place for our community, us and our parents!

  6. Amazing the changes we see in our lifetimes. Like the current of the river, life keeps moving. Paddle on!

  7. Nicely done. It made me reminisce. It’s nice to know that some of my father’s grandchildren have such fond memories of his place. I remember my friends jumping off the Route 9 bridge into the river and swimming to the dock and unlike Bill I definitely remember the scene of the car rolling into the river. Something I’ll never forget.

  8. Great post, as always! I remember the day Grandpa Brown poured the concrete walls for the inground pool. They had a large statue of Mary, from the old St. Mary’s church up the hill, positioned at the far end of the pool. Rainwater from the roof was funneled into the pool, passing under the statue in a man-made waterfall. We were blessed with amazing grandparents! ❤

  9. Another sweet post Brown! Digging the family history no wonder your into getting outside and into adventures, looking forward to the next one!

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