Gleanings from the Corn Flats: The saga of Niskayuna’s Craig Hotel

This photo from November of 1942 was taken from Williams Street in Niskayuna, looking up Aqueduct Road at the Boat House and the Old Craig Hotel.

This photo from November of 1942 was taken from Williams Street in Niskayuna, looking up Aqueduct Road at the Boat House and the Old Craig Hotel.

For more than 140 years, not far from the intersection of Route 146 and Aqueduct Road, the Craig Hotel provided shelter and sustenance to travelers passing through, Niskayuna and residents alike.

The hotel was built in 1835 on land beside the Mohawk River and Erie Canal by Archibald Craig, who acquired the property in 1830.

Craig was something of a Renaissance man of his day. Born in 1775, he graduated from Princeton University and was certified as a physician by age 19. Craig also owned a textile factory and served as mayor of Schenectady for a short one-year term from 1831 to 1832.

Today’s Craig Elementary School evolved from the one-room Craig School overlooking the aqueduct.

Archibald Craig owned and operated the hotel from 1835 through 1852, at which time it changed hands and was known as the Parker Hotel until 1855 when it was acquired by Archibald Craig’s son, James, a Schenectady banker, who returned it to its original name. James Craig served as supervisor of the town of Niskayuna in 1845, and later served as supervisor of Schenectady’s First Ward and president of the Schenectady board of education.

The hotel, which fronted on the Mohawk, was a large, two-story frame structure with attic dormers on the front and rear and spacious porches on two sides. In addition to lodging, the hotel also maintained a dining room and tavern.

In 1825, the Erie Canal became a primary shipping and travel route across New York and passed right by the Craig Hotel. Small hotels like the Craig were popular stops for day boats such as the Kitty West and for the canal men working the barges. The canal men had a well-earned reputation for hard drinking, fighting and other rowdy behavior. Their exploits were celebrated in story and song. Lionel Wyld writes of the canal men in his book on the lore of the Erie Canal: “They drank deeply, they ate heartily, they fought eagerly and they sang lustily.” One can imagine such goings-on upon the broad porches of the Craig Hotel.

During the 1950s and ’60s, the hotel suffered a decline. As railroads and highways eclipsed the Erie Canal as arteries of commerce, and hotel and motel chains competed for business, small hotels like the Craig struggled to remain profitable. Roxy Kustassy-Mott owned the hotel originally with her husband, Louis Kustassy, and, after his death, continued to run the hotel with her husband, Leo Mott. Toward the end of their proprietorship, the hotel went into physical decline.

Over the years, the Craig Hotel would have 23 owners, the longest tenured being the McPherson family, which owned and operated the hotel for 38 years. The hotel was then purchased by Louis Kustassy and his wife, Roxy, who ran it from 1950 to 1972, when it was bought by nightclub owner Douglas Allen. Allen rebranded it as the Olde Craig Hotel and would be its final proprietor.

Allen, who also owned the nightclub Allen’s on Saratoga Road in Glenville, added a brick addition to the Olde Craig Hotel as a banquet facility. The operation met with limited success, but in October 1977, the original wood-frame portion of the structure was consumed by fire. Allen was not able to rebuild the hotel, and in 1980 the property was taken by Schenectady County and the remaining structure was torn down to allow for improved access at Route 146 and Aqueduct Road.

This brought to an end the saga of the Craig Hotel, whose history is entwined with that of the town of Niskayuna.

The Niskayuna Historical Committee encourages any past or present town residents to contact the Niskayuna town historian at [email protected] regarding any information, resources or stories they might like to share about Niskayuna’s distinctive history.

Categories: Life and Arts, Your Niskayuna

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