The owners of 68 Milton Ave. knew their building in downtown Ballston Spa had had many uses, but the bowling lanes came as a surprise.
A renovation project on the second floor has uncovered old pin-setting equipment beneath the floorboards and other evidence there was bowling there a century ago.
The two-story building is long and narrow, extending 98 feet deep from Milton Avenue (Route 50) to what was once an alley running toward the village’s railroad tracks.
Evidence was uncovered last month of three lanes, with bowlers apparently standing in the middle of the room and facing lanes at the ends of the building in either direction.
“The upstairs was always just for storage, empty,” said Sue Hansen, who owns the building with her husband, Dr. James Hansen, who has a dental practice on the first floor. His practice has been there for 17 years, but they only purchased the building in 2011.
Since the upstairs seemed undistinguished, the Hansens were surprised when their contractor, Paul Marotta of Rotterdam, began converting the vacant space into what will be a large apartment. When he took up some flooring, he found a second floor, thin dark-and-light strips of wood underneath that reminded him of bowling lanes.
Under some linoleum, he then found a large and heavy iron lever-activated pin-setting device that still worked — and then a second one.
It turns out that a tavern operated on the first floor a century ago, with a little bowling alley on the second floor. That would explain the depth of the flooring, and the loose cinder still beneath the floor, which would have absorbed the sound of rolling bowling bowls above or the revelry of Democratic fundraising events from below.
Through later years in which the second floor was a dental lab, Boy Scout office and law offices, none of the tenants had taken more than passing notice of any unusual floor patterns.
“[The building] has been a lot of things through the years, but I never imagined a bowling alley and restaurant,” Sue Hansen said.
She set about doing some historical research since the lanes’ discovery a few weeks ago, and it turns out a man named Herbert B. Massey of Ballston Spa operated an establishment there in the 1910 era.
In a 1910 Ballston Spa directory, The Massey Cafe and Restaurant advertised itself:
“Choice Brands of Imported Wines, Liquors and Cigars
Bowling Alleys for Ladies and Gentlemen”
There was an three-story building called the Herbert House on the site in the 1880s, but that building was destroyed in a fire that consumed six businesses on the east side of Milton Avenue on March 1, 1901. Pictures show icicles dangling from the surrounding buildings the firemen were able to save with their hoses.
What was built in its place was Massey’s restaurant, with the bowling alley on the second floor. The alleys opened in 1909, and lasted at least until Massey’s death in 1917.
Small neighborhood bowling alleys weren’t uncommon; the big bowling centers of today didn’t become common until after World War II, according to bowling histories. Another small building with bowling lanes and a pool room was just two doors down the street, according to a 1911 village map.
Born in 1858, Massey seems to have been a bit of a character, the kind who earlier in his career might have lost his liquor license for serving on Sundays or allowing illegal gambling in establishments he ran, based on pre-1900s newspaper mentions of his name.
Massey also sued the village of Ballston Spa after a tree limb fell on a car he was riding in near St. Mary’s Church in 1913, causing a broken arm. The Ballston Spa Daily Journal noted the next May that “a compromise was reached that is satisfactory to the village fathers and presumedly to the litigants.”
“He’s such a character,” Hansen said. “He was kind of on the edge of being illegal, but at the same time from what I’ve read he bordered on being a neat freak.”
She said one pin-setting machine will be left where it is in the floor, and one that’s already been lifted out will be either turned into a table or somehow put on display in the apartment.