BY BILL BUELL
REXFORD — No matter how long McLane’s Hotel has been gone, Jim McLane can see it as clearly as if it was 1964.
That’s the year the old Rexford landmark was torn down during the construction of a new bridge crossing the Mohawk River. And, with another span going up this year to replace the one put up in 1965, the landscape along Route 146 as it heads north over the water into Saratoga County will once again change. As commuters look ahead to improved traffic flow, many long-time residents of the area can’t help but looking back down memory lane.
“The hotel was a landmark, and in those days Rexford was a real thriving community right on the Erie Canal,” said McLane, whose great-grandfather bought the building in 1897 and turned it into a 100-room hotel. “They had to straighten out the road and the hotel was in the way. It’s too bad because it was a great place. I don’t remember that much myself, but I heard all the stories.”
A wooden, three-story structure with a cupola, the hotel doesn’t quite date back as far as another lost landmark, the Old Craig Hotel, just across the river in Niskayuna. McLane’s, located precisely where Route 146 now heads north into Saratoga County after crossing the Mohawk River, was originally built by Eleazer Rexford in the 1820s. The building was renovated and enlarged when McLane took over near the turn of the century, and the most significant change was a large veranda on each of the first two floors that provided guests with a great view of the river and the canal.
“It was a popular spot for canallers, who would get paid and then spend all their money at the hotel,” said John Scherer, historian for the town of Clifton Park. “There was also a canal store right there so there was a lot going on. Fortunately we have some artifacts from the hotel, like the registration counter and a pair of double-doors, and we have plenty of great historic photographs.”
Film star Mary Pickford stayed at the hotel sometime around 1915, a few years after Buffalo Bill paid a visit. At least that’s the way the story goes.
“We’re pretty sure Mary Pickford was here, and I’ve looked into the Buffalo Bill story but I can’t confirm it,” said McLane. “But my family had plenty of stories. The place also had a bowling alley, and on Friday night they would open up the ballroom and have roller skating. My aunt would tell us about the traveling circus groups that would come through and stay there, and when they couldn’t pay their bill they would leave an animal. I know that’s true because I can remember one of the monkeys my aunt had.”