If Silas Marsh woke from the dead today and happened upon the small general store he built back on Mariaville Lake in 1831, he’d have no trouble recognizing the place.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Dave Pirrone, who bought the building and business 18 years ago, hasn’t put in a lot of work fixing things up. But the corner at Mariaville Road (Route 159) and Batter Street on the northwest shore of the lake continues to ooze a 19th century ambience, a reminder of times when a visit to the store was as much a friendly social outing as it was a trip of necessity.
“I had to pretty much renovate the whole place, and the people who had it before us didn’t serve food,” said Pirrone, who changed the name to Mariaville Lakeside Country Store when he bought. “So, we did a lot of work, but the area really isn’t that much different. I used to go fishing on the lake when I was kid, so I spent a lot of time up here. It hasn’t really changed that much.”
While the look of the interior remains that of a store, there is a small table and counter where customers can sit and relax. Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts and coffee are all part of the menu now at the store, which Pirrone owns and operates with his wife, Jen, two daughters and three part-time workers.
“We get a lot of people from our own little community here, but we also get people from Pattersonville, the town of Florida, Duanesburg,” said Pirrone. “Sometimes we get people from Rotterdam and all the way from Scotia. They want to have a nice little ride and then sit on our deck and look at the lake. We have ducks, geese and I saw a bald eagle out on the ice the other day.”
In historic district
The Mariaville Lakeside Country Store is part of the Mariaville Historic District, so designated in 1984 when that area along the northwest shore of the lake near Chuctanunda Creek was added to the National Register of Historic Places. There were seven structures that went up in that neighborhood between 1830 and 1850 that are in the historic district, including the James Frost Homestead (built in 1834) right across Mariaville Road from the store.
The description of the Lakeside store given to the state Office of Parks and Historic Preservation at Peebles Island reads as follows: “The Silas Marsh Store, although expanded and altered since its construction in 1831, retains recognizable Greek Revival style features such as a broad frieze and wide corner pilasters.”
Before Marsh, a former Schenectady County clerk and state assemblyman, built his store in 1831, it was James Duane, the founder of Duanesburg, who dammed the creek in 1793 and turned “The Great Meadow” into Maria Pond, named after one of his daughters. In 1808, George Featherstonhaugh married another one of Duane’s daughters and built a house on another lake a few miles to the southeast that had been called Maria Lake. When the name of that lake was changed to Featherstonhaugh Lake, Maria Pond become Maria Lake and eventually Mariaville Lake.
“In its heyday, Mariaville was an early 19th century commercial and industrial center and could boast of two gristmills, three sawmills — one capable of making finished molding — a handle factory, a trip hammer for making ax heads and a cheese factory,” said town of Duanesburg historian Howard Ohlhous. “It also had a wagon shop for making wagons and a paint shop, which not only painted the wagons built at the wagon shop but also made the paints that were used.”
Marsh, who died around 1850, also built a gristmill and a sawmill at the site, just east of where the Chuctanunda Creek flows out of the lake.
Jacob Quackenbush was the second owner of the store, which was sold during the Civil War to J.M. Lasher. He rented it out to a handful of different proprietors and eventually sold the store before George Lasher Peeke took over in 1904. Peeke’s son, George Lyon Peeke, ran the store from 1945 to 1971, while other owners included Henry Ilnicki (1971-82) and Edmund Petroski (1982-1995).
Century of memories
Leona Smith, who turned 100 on April 18, grew up on a farm in Mariaville and often visited the store when it was owned by the Peekes.
“I can remember that my father would have my mother and me go down to Peeke’s store to get groceries and some feed for the animals,” said Smith, who now lives at the River Ridge Nursing Home in Amsterdam. “My mother would drive the horse, but I would hold the reins because she was taking care of my baby sister. I grew up on the hill toward Amsterdam not too far away, but it was far enough to take the horse and wagon every time we went there.”
When she got a little bit older, Smith, who graduated from Woestina High School, worked at Peeke’s when it was operated by George Peeke and his wife, Rosanna.
“Mr. Peeke was a gentleman if there ever was one,” said Smith. “He always treated me with respect, just like his wife, Rosie. They were both very nice, and I did work there once in a while if Mr. Peeke was short on help.”
According to Ohlhous, who gleaned much of his knowledge of Mariaville from longtime resident Bill Massoth, who died in 2009, Mariaville Lake finally took on its present shape and size around 1920. It was soon after that residents of Schenectady and other nearby communities began using the lake as a summer resort.
Irma Mastrean, town of Princetown historian, said that Mariaville Lake was quite an exciting place to be close to 100 years ago.
“The summer homes began being built in the 1920s, and Salamack’s Dance Hall also went up around that time right on Route 159 across from the island,” said Mastrean, who went to middle school in Mariaville. “The dance hall prospered until the repeal of prohibition in 1933. It was a very popular spot, and you could see streams of cars coming from Schenectady on nights the big bands were playing.”
Peeke’s General Store, as it was called throughout much of the 20th century, was a popular place to meet friends, according to Mastrean.
“George Peeke ran it for quite a while, and they had an ice cream parlor in the back, also a tea room where you could sit and look out at the lake, and it was also used as a dance hall,” said Mastrean. “The school wasn’t too far from there, so we’d go in at noontime and get snacks and other treats. That was back in the ’40s, and that area hasn’t changed much since then.”
Things don’t always stay the same. Just last week, Pirrone changed his store hours and will open at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays. The store had been open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
“I’ve had a lot of customers ask me about opening up earlier, so we’re going to try something new,” said Pirrone. “We’re going to open up at 5:30 Monday through Friday, weekdays only, because that way people will be able to have their morning cup of coffee before they drive off to work in Albany or Schenectady.”