Diner detective

bowls hotel, c. 20s-30s

Bowls Hotel, c. 1920s-30s, Postcard courtesy Roger Davis

Michael Engle, who maintains a site about classic diners at www.nydiners.com, wrote to ask if we knew of any photos of a diner that was incorporated into Bowl’s (Kelly’s) Hotel on Main Street in Margaretville. A bit of searching in the Catskill Mountain News and a phone call to long time resident Alton Weiss turned up an interesting bit of village business history (but so far no photos of the diner — have you seen one?).

Charles Bowl, who was born in England in 1874, came to American at the turn of the century and settled in Walton, where he married another Brit, Louise Fox. They came to Margaretville in the ‘teens and “purchased a lunch wagon” on Main Street. Business was good, so they “enlarged and enlarged it until it became necessary to purchase the adjoining Lockwood property and expand it all into a hotel.”

Charles “was the jolliest of hosts,” and, with Louise’s excellent cooking, the hotel became “one of the most popular places in the county.”

Shortly before his death in 1941, Charles Bowl sold the hotel to Claude Kelly of Delhi. It continued to be known as Bowls for many years. On July 9, 1948, the CMN reported that “The dining room and the present diner will be united with a cashier stand at the junction entrance. Guests may enter the hotel under a modern marquee and make their way to either eating place.”

On October 8, 1948, the CMN hailed another step forward. “Margaretville’s new luxury diner opened last Friday at Bowl’s hotel. Gleaming modern stainless steel greets the eye at every turn. Nineteen roller bearing stools make the most comfortable seating before a long Formica counter top. With the very latest conduction cooking, a hamburger is turned out in three seconds; steaks two minutes. . . There is a 40-cubic foot refrigerator, electric table that keeps food hot without steam, electric breakfast display cases. . . There is nothing like it in the vicinity, the nearest ones being in Utica and Albany.” The story noted upcoming improvements to the hotel – a cocktail lounge with upholstered seats, indirect lighting, and backlit murals of local fishing and forest scenes.

claude kelly, bar 001

Claude Kelly takes a drink from unidentified bartender in what may have been Kelly's Hotel. Can you identify anyone else in this undated photo (courtesy Rudd Hubbell)?

Al Weiss, who came to town in 1949, remembers hearing the hotel referred to as “Ma Bowls’” place, and recalls eating there many times. The diner, he says, “was at the east end of the hotel structure with a gap of about three feet to the adjacent building, which housed the Fred Myers/Dewey Bell barber shop and bakery building. Later the diner part and ground floor of the hotel were revamped again, I think by Schoonmaker. I think the original diner was like a RR car shape, with the narrow ends toward the street and Binnekill stream.”

Al says a grease fire in the diner’s vent fan started a blaze in 1977 that consumed the hotel and neighboring structures. That fire led to the establishment of the MARK Project and its first community redevelopment project, Binnekill Square.

july 1977 fire, raab 3

1977 blaze destroyed Bowls/Kellys/Schermerhorns Hotel, and adjoining businesses. Masonic Lodge at right was spared. Courtesy Howard Raab Aftermath of 1977 Margaretville fire. Space is now occupied by Binnekill Square. Photo courtesy Rudd Hubbell

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