Developer, city in dispute over Joyce’s Log Cabin site

The vacant Main Street lot in Mechanicville where Joyce's Log Cabin restaurant and bar once sat may

Joyce’s Log Cabin was the site of back-room gambling, postwar celebrations, weddings, high school reunions and even a terrible tragedy in its 120-year history.

But the vacant Main Street lot where the restaurant and bar once sat may remain undeveloped unless a dispute between the property owner and the city is resolved.

Property owner Brian Rohloff claims the city is applying a stricter standard to him than they do to other property owners because he doesn’t live in Mechanicville.

“I would like to do something there, provided the city straightens out a lot of other problems prior to me building anything else in the city,” he said at a recent City Council meeting. “I’m kind of frustrated with their process.” Rohloff’s disputes with the city over the property have been going on since 2004, when the assessment on the lot was changed. Rohloff claims the city is more lax with developers and property owners who live in Mechanicville.

But city officials said Rohloff has always quickly complied with city requests, and that it takes time to go after other developers who don’t follow the rules.

“I am going to bring the full force of the code to these areas he has questions and issues with,” city building inspector Steve Sgambati said. “I want to work with him.”

Rohloff lives in nearby Valley Falls and owns 15 buildings in Mechanicville. He also owns another 15 vacant lots in the city, he said.

“I might never put a building there if the city keeps treating me the way they are,” Rohloff said. “I run a nationwide steel business. I could care less if I put a building there.”

Rohloff brought dozens of photos to the council meeting detailing what he said were numerous code violations in the city that were not being enforced. Sgambati said the city is going after several of his valid complaints.

“Nobody rides around looking for who’s got a building permit and [who] doesn’t have a building permit,” Mayor Anthony Sylvester said. “We know by people calling.”

Sylvester said he hopes the city can work with Rohloff to get something built on the property by the time the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Stillwater and Malta is developed.

“When AMD goes in, he’d hurt himself with an empty lot,” Sylvester said. “It’d be nice if he paid taxes on the building, but if he wants to sit there and miss the boat, that’s up to Brian.”

Sgambati called Rohloff a hard-working developer and said he wants to work with him to resolve his issues.

“Others don’t [follow the rules] and we have to chase after them to get them to comply. That does give the perception that we’re doing somebody else a favor,” Sgambati said. “That may be the impression, but that is definitely not the case.”

Fond memories

Meanwhile, local residents remember fondly the restaurant and bar that once sat on the Main Street property next to the firehouse.

According to city historian Paul Loatman, Joyce’s Log Cabin dates back to the late 1800s. Loatman said it is listed on a 1891 map.

“It was a prominent restaurant and bar and entertainment place for over a century,” he said. “It saddens a lot of people that something could not be done to have it still be what it was once, that is, a center of the community.”

Illegal gambling dates back to the early years of the building.

In fact, Sylvester said that his father dealt cards there in the 1940s and he remembered hanging out at Joyce’s with his friends as a young adult.

“Between jobs, you’re getting out of high school, I used to go in there he’d cook me breakfast in the morning,” Sylvester said. “When you go out on Friday or Saturday night, that’s where you went first.”

Sam Carabis, 75, said that both the city and Joyce’s Log Cabin started to go downhill after World War II. Carabis is also the assistant building inspector in Mechanicville.

“It was never like it was before the war,” Carabis said. “Before the war, people didn’t have cars, they just walked downtown. It was the local watering hole.”

In the 1970s, Carabis lived about three-quarters of a mile away from Joyce’s Log Cabin. He can still remember hearing gunfire in the distance.

On Oct. 30, 1976, Kenyon “Billy” Pruyn opened fire on Joyce’s Log Cabin from his apartment across the street from the restaurant on Main Street.

Before he was done, he wounded 11 people and killed 2, including a 21-year-old police officer, Paul Luther.

Jo Ann Rielly, the city’s public safety commissioner, said she was playing bingo in a church a few blocks away when word of shooting spree reached the bingo hall.

“They told us all what was going on and no one knew where he was,” she said. “I remember people screaming and crying. I remember just panicking because I was away from my kids.”

Pruyn eventually surrendered after a bullet fired from police started a stove fire in his apartment.

He is currently serving 25 years to life in prison for the attacks. He is due for parole again next year.

“It’s almost the height of irony that such a horrible incident would take place in a place that was so identified with the community,” Loatman said.

“It kind of added a certain dismal quality to the whole incident that it would take place in a place that was regarded as a social center.”

Final days

The restaurant deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s and was eventual torn down in 2004. Sgambati said that termites had infested many of the building’s logs by that time.

“It could have been brought to code without a great deal of expense, it’s that it had been not maintained,” he said. “I think the restoration wouldn’t have been financially successful.”

Sgambati said he remembers many stories about Joyce’s Log Cabin, including one legend that the infamous gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond visited there.

“There were so many positive things about Joyce’s that you heard in the lore,” he said. “The loss of Joyce’s itself was truly sad.”

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