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Big changes brewing for historic Hillsdale structure

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HILLSDALE–The three-story, historic building at 32 Anthony Street in the hamlet is getting a new life as a restaurant/brewery, with apartments and air b ‘n’ b units planned for the upper floors.

Steve Bluestone and wife, Kathy, Hillsdale residents since 2015, are the force behind the building’s transformation.

The wooden structure known as the Joshua H. Bulkeley Store and Hillsdale Mercantile Association sits near the site of what was the railway depot. It was built circa 1851 and at one time was an Agway warehouse. The building is on the Register of Historic Places.

Photo of the Hillsdale Mercantile building on Anthony Street taken in the late 19th century. Photo contributed

Mr. Bluestone, founder of Passive Dwellings–a New York City based development/construction company of energy efficient homes–said in a recent interview that he looked at four to five locations between Hudson and Great Barrington but found himself “staring at this building” and thinking, “It would be nice to open a brewery [there].” So he said he “fired myself” from his company and purchased the building through a private sale last year.

Last month the 12,500-square foot building was raised to allow for the removal and replacement of the existing foundation. Mr. Bluestone says that all of the interior finishes and walls had been moved or removed, as well as significant structural posts, beams and bracing members during the past 167 years. “We are putting back all of the missing pieces of the timber framing, and plan to be restoring the exterior finishes to the best of our ability.” It’s quite a feat because “no layout drawings exist that depict the original construction of the building.”

Mr. Bluestone relishes some artifacts still in the building, especially a metallic grain hopper, which will be the focal point of the bar. “People tell me they remember when their families brought corn and other grains to be ground!” he said.

This wooden pulley is in the Hillsdale Mercantile Association building on Anthony Street in Hillsdale. The building, more than a century-and-a-half old, is now undergoing major repairs and upgrades under its new owners. Photo by B. Docktor

Other artifacts he plans to keep are a system of pulleys and wheels and some staircases that “lead to nowhere.” In addition he said that “we are working with existing windows, doors, siding and just a couple of old photos.”

He explained that preservationists “like you to keep the original features,” but he hopes to reach a compromise on some elements, like a staircase, where the pitch of the steps “is too steep to meet current codes.” The staircase connects the first and second floors.

Currently Mr. Bluestone is working with county health officials about drilling a well. He explained that because the building will serve the public there are “stringent rules about setbacks”. The former warehouse sits on a small lot and a proposed well needs to be certain distances from other buildings and septic systems.

When asked if he would be applying passive dwelling construction concepts to this project, he admits “there is no precedent” for its application in commercial buildings, and if used would be limited to the residences upstairs. But he wants to “maintain as much of the façade as possible.” Passive principals could be applied to the interiors but Mr. Bluestone says it would cost “lots of money” and ultimately would look “too new”.

He expects the project to exceed $1 million and to be finished sometime in 2019.

Asked if he had experience operating a brewery, Mr. Bluestone confessed, “No, but I like to drink beer.”

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