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Who owns the McKinley Triangle?

May 30th, 2012

Thousands pass it every day, but according to the county, it doesn’t exist. “Driving through the Village of Walden, the imposing statue of President William McKinley is unavoidable,” said Mary Ellen Matise, the village historian.

Resting on a stone pedestal, the imposing bronze figure of the 25th President of the United States gazes out at Walden from the intersection of Main Street (Route 52) and Orange Avenue (Route 208).

Back in December, the Walden Community Council was advised that it was successful in obtaining funds through the NY Main Street Grant. Part of that grant was for improvements to streetscape, and the group wanted to fix the stone wall around the McKinley monument.

“[The] lawn area has a surrounding wall that projects too far into the intersection. This 1924 wall structure is repeatedly hit, run over, damaged and repaired, and now constitutes a prominent eyesore in the heart of the downtown,” reads part of the application submitted by Kerron Barnes, the grant writer for the village, and the Main Street Committee of the WCC.

Their plan was to use the $40,659 allotted for the project to repair the concrete and stone wall, while also pushing it back about 10 feet to give trucks a better turning radius (and hopefully stop the cycle).

After the village was awarded the grant in early December, steps began to start work on the project and Barnes asked what he thought might be a couple of “dumb” questions: “What if we don’t own it? Does anyone have the deed?”

While the history of the monument and the small parcel seemed to be fairly well-known and straightforward, it soon became anything but—Barnes discovered there was no deed in the Village Hall. Everything came to a grinding halt.

Village Historian Mary Ellen Matise had searched through the Village Board minutes for the Monument Walking Tour and knew that on May 13, 1904, the village attorney “submitted a deed for the parcel of land at the intersection of Main Street and Orange Ave., executed by Mr. and Mrs. Fowler,” which was accepted and ordered to be recorded.

The mystery only grew deeper the more she dug—it wasn’t just the problem of a missing deed, or the additional concern that the village might not own it. According to the county, the parcel didn’t even exist.

The McKinley Triangle, as Barnes now refers to it, was born.

The land, known as Herald Square after the Walden Herald office then occupying the Fowler Building, sat vacant until the unveiling of the McKinley monument on May 30, 1924, the fourth anniversary of the death of Col. Thomas W. Bradley.

Bradley left $15,000 in his will of 1908 to the Village of Walden for “the purpose of purchasing and erecting on the triangular parcel of ground at the intersection of Main Street and Orange Avenue…a suitable pedestal with a bronze figure thereon of President William McKinley.”

Knowing the history, Matise was puzzled by the missing deed. Going back in the Village Board minutes she found that in April 1904, Fowler offered the land to the board for “park or monumental purposes” and it was accepted—later to be conveyed in the phantom deed of May 13, 1904, which further confirmed the belief that Fowler conveyed the property to the village.

Barnes and former historian Mickey Millspaugh collected a myriad of maps and surveys that seemed to confirm the triangle was never a part of the Fowler property—but it also didn’t appear on any map dating back as far as 1885.

Left with the strange predicament of being awarded a grant for a property that didn’t exist, they turned to their engineers, Lanc & Tully.

John Queenan of Lanc & Tully explained that all of this meant no work could be started until a deed was found. Since they would be working in the state right-of-way, they needed a state permit, which they could not obtain without proof of ownership.

“It didn’t exist,” said Queenan. “There was no official property to survey.”

According to Queenan, a history mapping the area from 1885 to 1913 confirmed that the parcel was separate from the Fowler building and property. Knowing that at one time the state came through claiming portions of the roads for their right-of-ways, Queenan contacted the NYS Department of Transportation.

In mid-March, the DOT responded that they did not own the parcel either, as they only took curb to curb.

“What was lost in translation was the triangular piece, which, believe it or not, was still a part of Maple Street,” said Queenan. “They just overlooked it. It was just kind of a parcel misidentified over the course of time.”

Queenan explained that at one time Maple Street extended straight down the hill to Main Street (Route 52), before the state came in to claim their right-of-ways. In taking the required footage from the centerline to the shoulder for both Route 52 and Route 208, the triangular piece was left orphaned in the middle and forgotten.

The McKinley Triangle, officially, did not exist as it was not a parcel on any tax map or record.

Queenan said the solution was to complete a survey of the triangular parcel with a legal description and send it to the county for tax mapping purposes, effectively creating the parcel without subdivision. Most importantly, ownership would rest with the village.

“This will be the first time in over 100 years that we have proof that we own this property,” said Barnes.

The engineers are currently in the process of designing the repair plans and Barnes stated they should be done with that any day.

The project is still dependent on DOT review and approvals, as well as the weather, but Queenan estimated total completion in approximately one year. Actual construction will take about one and a half months.

By Rachel Coleman

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