Petersburg Views

This posting was updated January 1, 2013 to reflect information from a newspaper article in The Times Record.

When I was a child, the road to Grandma’s house was New York Route 2, leading from our home in Troy over Grafton Mountain to the small town of Petersburg. Our family’s many trips there are the earliest road trips I recall.

Petersburg (sometimes spelled Petersburgh) was founded in 1791 and once had railroad service, but the 20th Century and automobile travel brought many changes to the town. Most noteworthy was the construction of the Taconic Trail, a modern highway through Petersburg Pass connecting the town to Williamstown, Massachusetts and the Mohawk Trail.

(Note that the Taconic Trail is unrelated to the Taconic Parkway, a separate north-south highway connecting New York City to the New York Thruway Berkshire Spur near Chatham.)

The road into Petersburg begins with a steep decline and the junction with NY 22, a north-south highway running from New York City to the Canadian border along the state’s eastern edge. This junction is shown in an early postcard:

NY Routes 2 and 22

The road to the right leads to Route 22; the road to the left traverses a stone overpass and leads into the town center. The same highway configuration exists today.

Petersburg once had three general stores, but by my lifetime only one remained in operation. It was built by Fred Nichols in 1892 and this early postcard shows the “Nichols Block.” Later the store was Waters & Sawyer, later operated by Mary Sawyer, then Vern O’Dell and finally Ziggie Krahforst before closing for good in the 1980s.

General store, Petersburg, NY

A nearly identical view of this store published in Petersburgh Then and Now: A Photographic Comparison by Peter R. W. Schaaphok (which I used as a reference) shows a sign in the window “SOUVENIR POSTCARDS – PETERSBURG VIEWS.” Another photo of the nearby Sawyer, Moses, and Hewitt store also had a sign “PETERSBURG VIEWS.”

The other side of the Nichols building (which originally would have been considered the back of the building) faced the highway and was much more visible to automobile travelers through town. This side of the building featured a soda fountain, complete with a counter and stools. As best I can remember its styling, I would estimate it was of 1930s – 1940s vintage. On Sunday mornings I would come here with Grandpa, and while he bought a half gallon of ice cream to have with dinner, I would spin around on the stools and buy a gumball out of the penny gumball machine. Mary Sawyer ran the store then.

Then, one sad day in 1961, things changed forever. An asphalt truck went out of control on the steep decline leading into the town center. Unable to negotiate the curve in the road, the truck went straight into the store, demolishing its corner. The soda fountain and counter were a total loss.

Grandpa went out with his camera and took this picture:

Sawyer's Store, Petersburg, NY

Sawyer’s Store, Petersburg, NY. Kodachrome slide by Ralph Babcock, 1961

The incident was reported on the front page of Troy, NY’s evening newspaper, The Times Record, on September 22, 1961. The newspaper can be viewed here and features a photo taken from the same angle as Grandpa’s slide. The article continues here with a second photo showing the counter with the stool posts knocked askew. Unfortunately, a woman was sitting on one of the stools at the time of the incident and was buried in hot asphalt.

The corner of the store was rebuilt, but the soda fountain never was. In its place were some ordinary shelves for ordinary store merchandise. But the disappointment I felt then, on the eve of my sixth birthday, over the loss of the soda fountain seemed to predict the roadside enthusiast I would become.

A little farther to the east, the highway crosses the Little Hoosick River. The crossing was once a covered bridge, and later two concrete bridges (called “Upper bridge” and “Lower bridge” by the locals) were built in town. But when the Taconic Trail was built, the upper bridge was replaced with an especially ornate concrete bridge:

Taconic Trail bridge, Petersburg, NY

This bridge was rebuilt in recent years, retaining the original look as much as possible.

Along the right edge of the above postcard, you will notice a white building with roof protruding toward the road, with a gray concrete block building adjacent. These buildings were part of Hillcrest, a “Gas Food Lodging” complex for automobile travelers.

Here’s a postcard view of  Hillcrest Cabins:

Hillcrest Cabins, Petersburg, NY

And here’s the white building in the bridge postcard, featuring a small restaurant with gas pumps out front. The concrete block building, with automobile service bays, came later. At some point (I’m guessing in the 1950s) they switched to selling Mobil instead of Shell gasoline. I remember the concrete block building painted white with “Mobilgas Mobiloil Mobilubrication” lettering and Mobil’s trademark red Pegasus.

Hillcrest Cabins

You will notice this postcard states “Route 96,” which was the earlier route designation of the Taconic Trail. In order to create a more logical east-west routing from the Mohawk Trail to the Taconic Trail, the route number was changed to Route 2, the number used on the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts. New York did this by swapping Routes 2 and 96, with the previous Route 2, from Rochester to Owego, becoming Route 96.

If a cabin at Hillcrest was too modest for your taste, there were billboards enticing travelers to travel a few more miles to Williamstown for their night’s stay. Petersburg once had billboards for the 1896 House, Berkshire Hills Motel, and the Williams Inn, the first lodging in the Treadway Inns chain. And all three of these remain in business today (although the Williams Inn is no longer a Treadway. The only remaining Treadway Inn using that name is in Owego, NY, by coincidence an end point on the present Route 96.)

Traveling further east, the Taconic Trail winds and climbs a few more miles to the top, directly on the New York – Massachusetts state line. There once was a summit house and observation tower, much like similar ones along the Mohawk Trail:

Summit building, Petersburg Pass

In 1962, Petersburg Pass Ski Area was opened and the summit house became a base lodge. The observation tower was still there, but was allowed to deteriorate and was no longer open to the public (another childhood disappointment.)

You can read more about Petersburg Pass Ski Area here.

The base lodge (original summit house) was destroyed by fire in the early 1970s. A new base lodge was built further from the highway and the ski area was reopened as Taconic Trails Ski Area, later Mount Raimer (after the owner.) The new lodge was also destroyed by fire and by 1980 the mountain’s days as a ski area were over.

Today, there’s ample parking at the summit, although there are no facilities. You can stop and enjoy the view or access several hiking trails. The Taconic Trail then continues down the other side of the mountain in Massachusetts, ending at US Route 7. Route 2 then follows Route 7 to the Williamstown town green a couple of miles to the north before heading east to North Adams and the Mohawk Trail.

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10 Responses to “Petersburg Views”

  1. Susan Levinson January 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Glenn, that’s a wonderful article; very informative, plus the postcards are terrific!

  2. Molly Allen February 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Hey, Cousin Glenn — Nice article, and the postcards are great, very much as I remember Petersburg, including the HiIlcrest Cabins. I used to wait for the school bus right in front of Sawyer’s store, but luckily had already been picked up by the time the asphalt truck went through! I was sorry to learn of your mother’s death. That generation is almost gone, so I’m very glad to know that you and others are still telling the old stories. I remember your grandfather Ralph (and Aunt Bess) fondly. He was my grandmother Lena’s favorite brother, and I spent many evenings playing scrabble and cards with them. Keep up the good work!

  3. Sharon Klein April 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    I really enjoyed this, especially since I am currently researching the Taconic Trail. Do you know when the Petersburgh Pass base lodge burned?

  4. gwells April 19, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    The original base lodge was destroyed by fire April 10, 1969.

    http://www.fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record%201969/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record%201969%20-%200305.pdf

    A new base lodge was built and open in January 1973 for that year’s ski season.

    http://www.fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record%201973/Troy%20NY%20Times%20Record%201973%20-%200103.pdf

    I can’t find an exact date for when that lodge burned, but it was before 1983. The Petersburg Pass ski area page has a photo of the ruins dated 1983. http://www.nelsap.org/ny/peterslodgebom1983.jpg

  5. Roger Hull April 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Glenn thanks for the great information. I made the trip to Petersburg from the other direction as a boy from CT up to the Mohawk then the Taconic trail on our way to Belle Ave in Troy where my grandparents were and my dad grew up. His Mom was Ethel Wells who moved from Petersburg to Berlin as a young girl and my son’s middle name of Wells in her honor. Evidently we are second cousins once removed though Horace Wait Wells, and having been born in 54 we have some of the same memories of the area in the late 50′s – 70′s. Many weekends and vacations at my grandparents were spent in and around the valley. I am now in WA, haven’t been back since 85, but this summer my son(24yr), Dad(86) and I will be going back to show my son, who has never been back, where we came from. Stories of the area help to bring back memories I had forgotten. Thanks again!

  6. Blanche Harding May 26, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    I remember going to Ziggy’s store many times with my sister, Cyndi Schnoop! She lived right around the corner from Ziggy’s. I remember there being stone steps leading up to her house, and it was right on the main road. I lived in Berlin for many years until moving to Bennington, VT in 1979 and went to Petersburgh many, many times! My family actually lived in the house on Plank Rd. in Berlin that was owned by Mr. Goodermote that the propane truck destroyed. We lived on the other side of the Brazie’s, and my mom lost her friend, Mrs. Brazie. Long time since I’ve been back there, I now live in Houston, TX. Thanks for the article, it brings back many memories!

  7. Tammy May 26, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    What a great story. I grew up in Petersburgh about 100 feet from the “Y” leading into town and to read the history before I was born was fantastic. Thanks for sharing. I especially liked the postcards.

  8. Larry Feathers May 27, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    This was a great article. I lived in Berlin (1949-1963) I went to the Friday night dances at the Petersburg Hall for many years. In 1979 we (MaryLou my wife, Doug our son and Dawn our daughter) moved to Petersburg, where we lived until 1998.
    We remember Sayers store and the Hill top, back in the early 60′s.
    This brings back many memories. The post cards are great.

  9. Sharon Klein September 2, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    As I did further research, the lodge burned the second time on May 8, 1983, Both fires were considered suspicious!

    I have fond memories of driving up to the gift shop during the summer for ice-cream, looking out over Petersburgh from the tower, and browsing at all the souvenirs. I loved the smell of the balsam pillows!

  10. Mike Diodati March 1, 2014 at 1:27 am #

    I worked for and was a close friend of Mark Raimer from 1977 after I graduated from college in 1976 until the area closed in 1980. I co managed the Firewater Lounge and worked the ski area. Pleasant memories of driving the Thiokol Packmaster until it was sold to Brodie Mountain after the 1978 season. I have a few pictures and can fill you in on details from that period if you like. I grew up in Williamstown.

    Mike Diodati

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