For anyone looking to get better acquainted with the Mohawk River, a visit with Bud and Sally Halsey should be the first thing on their list.
Owners of The Boat House on Aqueduct Road in Niskayuna, they have been selling, renting and repairing small watercraft — kayaks, canoes, small sculls, shells and sailboats — for nearly 35 years. The building they purchased at 2855 Aqueduct Road in 1980 not only became their business but also their home and a clear reflection of the life they live.
“It was mainly a canoe business back then, but my husband was involved in the Niskayuna Rowing Club when it was being formed and we thought it would be an ideal match,” said Sally Halsey. “It was supposed to be a part-time venture, but we raised the roof, put on an addition and moved in during the spring of 1981.”
Former WRGB news anchor Ernie Tetrault owned the building in the 1970s and had turned the building into a boat sales and rental store. He sold the business to the Halseys in the fall of 1980, and sold them the building a few years later.
“We did some things to make it better for us, residentially, and Ernie had done a lot to make the basement much better,” said Halsey. “It’s a great place for storing canoes and kayaks and whatever, and accessing them. About 60 percent of the first floor of the building is occupied by the store, and about 40 percent is residential. Then we have the new addition, which is in the back on the river side of the building.”
While the part of the building the public doesn’t see has been enhanced, the Halseys haven’t done a whole lot with the store.
“You could call it a streak of laziness, but I think we just like to keep the nostalgia,” said Halsey.
The original building at that location dates back to 1835 according to most accounts, and served as a livery for the Old Craig Hotel. While the hotel’s history goes as far back as 1775, it wasn’t until 1805, when Alexander’s Bridge was built crossing the Mohawk River, that the little community began to grow.
By the time the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, the area was known as Aqueduct, and by 1843 a railroad from Schenectady to Troy had been laid running parallel to the river just a few feet from the hotel.
Near the turn of the century, Izzy Davis began running his Aqueduct Grocery out of the building and kept at it until 1957. Back in 1913, Davis had allowed the Niskayuna school district to use the back room of his store as a classroom to ease overcrowding up at the main school on the top of Aqueduct Hill. After Davis died, the store had two or three owners, according to Tetrault, before he bought the property in 1972.
“There was a guy who had been running a store there, but he wanted out and I think it had been vacant for a few years,” said Tetrault.
“There were rumors about how it was used as a place to run drugs up the river, but I don’t know anything about that. I just had an entrepreneurial spirit, I was into sailing, and so I wanted to have a store. But eventually I just got too busy at the station, so I sold it to the Halseys and they’ve done a wonderful job with it.”
It was Tetrault who originally allowed members of the Niskayuna Rowing Club, now in its 41st year, to begin storing their vessels in his basement and a small shed on the property. These days there is a much larger building which has three bays; two for the Aqueduct Rowing Club and one for the Niskayuna High School crew team.
While Tetrault began the connection between the Boat House and the Niskayuna Rowing Club, Bud and Sally Halsey solidified the community’s close relationship to the river.
“Without Bud and Sally being there, well, something might have popped up someplace else but you don’t know,” said Nan Kuntz, president of the Niskayuna Rowing Club.
“Our club’s roots are in Bud’s back yard, and that was and still is a prime location. And, when we started the Niskayuna High School team in 1987, we were the first in the area, and we were rowing out of a shed on their property. It’s rewarding to see so many people out there rowing these days, and the Boat House had a lot to do with that.”
The growth of crew as a high-school sport has impacted their business, according to Sally Halsey.
“Canoes and kayaks made a big splash back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but that kind of recreational activity has leveled off,” she said. “It’s more about crew now. It’s about the kids and the high-school teams. That’s the big deal these days.”
And, if you’re wondering, the Halseys’ connection with water runs long and deep. A distant relative of Bud Halsey is Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, the man in charge of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II.
“He and I are cousins,” said Bud Halsey, proudly. “We are both direct descendants of Thomas Halsey, who came over with the Pilgrims in 1640 and settled in Southampton.”