History of the Vischer Ferry General Store
The original store was built on this site by Benjamin Mix around 1787. No photos of that structure exist as far as we know, but we believe some evidence of the first store was uncovered during our renovation, when large fieldstones flanking the entrance to the basement were revealed, which might have formed part of the walls. Benjamin Mix also ran a tavern (later a hotel) across the street at the site of the present firehouse. John Corey purchased the store from Mix, then sold it to Gerardus Clute in 1856. Clute also purchased some surrounding lots and built the existing store, as well as the Greek Revival house next door. The store and home subsequently passed through several other owners during the 1800’s, among them John Clute, George Clute, Benjamin Chadsey, and Erastus Fort. For some time the store also operated as the post office.
The hamlet of Vischer Ferry began growing with the construction of the Erie Canal, when two dry docks nearby employed most of the area residents. During the 19th century the area was booming, with several stores, a hotel, blacksmith shops, harness shop, carriage maker, doctors, post office, schools, church and several mills comprising the village. Many of the original buildings still stand, and bear plaques stating the year they were built and their business. The growth of the railroad eventually replaced the canal as a means of transport, ending its rowdy heyday during its time of the canallers. Today the remains of the Erie Canal lie within the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve, and it’s a peaceful walk along the old towpath surrounded by nature.
At some point, probably during the 1930’s, a garage structure was added to the east side of the building. This was later finished to become part of the commercial space, and now comprises the downstairs of one of the apartments. There was also a barn on the property. Many locals remember the more recent history of the store. Ordie Shippee owned it in the 1930’s. He sold to the Terpenings, who then sold to Nels Olsen. Olsen began operating it as Vischer Ferry General Store in 1953. He was the last to run it as a general store. The building was remodeled in the 1970’s. It has subsequently been a bike shop, realtor office and tack shop, and along the way the property was divided up. The information regarding the early history of Vischer Ferry comes from Clifton Park Town Historian John Scherer’s book Greek Temples on the Towpath, A History and Guide to the Vischer Ferry Historic District.
After a fire damaged much of the building in September 2013, it was purchased by a group of neighbors eager to restore it to its original glory. Joanne and Paul Coons, Karan and George Donohue, and Louise and Tom McManus now own the property, including the adjacent field. The building now consists of a general store, owned and operated by Louise McManus, and two apartments. The renovation, led by Paul, was done with great care to be historically accurate while also utilizing modern energy efficient technology.
The remodeling done throughout the years had covered up many of the original period details. Thankfully, that sheetrock bore the brunt of the fire and water damage, protecting the old walls and ceiling. During our renovation, the original interior window molding was uncovered, and used as a template for new molding to replace the 1970’s window molding used throughout. Ten-foot high wooden beadboard ceilings and wide horizontal tongue and groove wainscoting were also discovered, carefully removed and restored in order to be reinstalled. The addition on the rear of the building, which had served as an apartment, was where the fire started. It was a total loss, and in tearing it down the original proportions of the store were revealed. A new exterior back porch has now been added, mirroring the front porch and lending symmetry to the building. The detailed octagonal columns that are original to the front porch were replicated by our site carpenter for the back.
The only original windows in the building are on the front façade. Though damaged in the fire, they were restored and re-glazed with antique glass where the original glass was broken. The rest of the windows were replaced with new energy efficient windows. The roof (not original) was damaged. It has been replaced with a period-appropriate Energy Star rated standing seam metal roof.
Exterior wood siding that was damaged has been replaced with pine boards milled by Amish carpenters to match the original. They also built all the kitchen and bathroom cabinets of solid wood.
In addition to all the lovely historic details that have been returned to the building, the restoration included all new mechanical systems. A geothermal system has been installed, which serves to both heat and cool the building in an environmentally conscious manner. The building has all new plumbing and electrical systems, as well as new septic. All lights and appliances are Energy Star rated. In addition to the store, the building houses two apartments.
We’re very happy to bring back the Vischer Ferry General Store. It’s our wish that this modern interpretation of an old-fashioned general store will serve as a gathering place for the community, and a center of information about events and places to visit in the surrounding area. Vischer Ferry has much to offer. The area is both historically significant, and a place of great natural beauty.
A few of the highlights include:
- Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve, 740 acres with great wildlife viewing and miles of walking trails, the remnants of the Erie Canal, and historic Lock 19, recently restored. The Preserve is also great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
- The Mohawk River for kayaking and canoeing, with an access ramp soon to be completed at Ferry Drive
- The Mohawk Towpath Byway, a series of roadways that follow the Mohawk River, including bike paths
- Many area apple orchards, including Riverview Orchards and Bowman Orchards
- Amity Reformed Church, built in 1888