About 170 years ago John Schoolcraft built his grandiose home in what was known at the time as the hamlet of Guilderland. After suffering years of degradation, a local group is returning the home to its original grandeur.
“We’ve been trying to restore this house for ages and it is just coming to fruition,” Guilderland Town Historian Alice Begley said.
• What: Schoolcraft House
• When: Saturday, June 7,
• Where: 2299 Western Ave., Guilderland
• How much: Free
• Info: 456-3032
The Friends of the Schoolcraft Cultural Center will feature the historic home located at 2299 Western Ave. during the Schoolcraft House Lawn Fest on Saturday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will also be house tours offered at noon and 2 p.m.
There will be several items for sale including books, antiques, plants and flower bouquets and Christmas decorations. Light refreshments will be served and Stewart’s ice cream will be for sale. There also will be a 50/50 raffle.
“We are going to have two fiddlers that will give a little atmosphere. … They are wonderful,” Begley said.
The Schoolcraft House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance featuring gothic styled ornamentation. The building stands out from its surroundings along Western Avenue.
In 1994, the Town of Guilderland purchased the building to preserve it. The Guilderland Historical Society and the Friends of the Schoolcraft Cultural Center, in partnership with the town, have been working to restore the home.
“People would say, ‘It’s an old decrepit house.’ Well, it was,” Begley said. “The supervisor of the town at that time was history minded and she just wanted that house to be kept. There was a lot of difficulty about it, but we got it.”
Begley does believe restoring the house, despite the difficulties, was the right choice because local historical landmarks are always fading away. She eventually joined the Friends of Schoolcraft to assist with its efforts.
“You can’t tear everything down. You need a little something to look back at,” she said.
Tour groups during the event will not be able to go upstairs, but several renovations have been completed along the lower level. The first story floor planks were recently cleaned up and refinished and rooms were painted.
Removing milk paint from the stairs leading upstairs was a difficult process, but has been completed. “We had a terrible time getting it off,” Begley said. She is thinking of possibly installing carpeting on the stairway.
She said the Lawn Fest doesn’t yield much profits for the group, but the bigger aim of the event is to get people interested in the home. Maybe some people will even join or help with preservation efforts.
“There are young people coming in to our group,” she said. “At our last meeting we had six new young people … and they are all interested. … I think they see the house as a little different than most old houses.”
Begley released a book called “Congressman John L. Schoolcraft … and his house” last year. In the book, she describes how the house built in the rural 1840s clearly stood out.
“The elegant mansion was slightly out of place amidst much more modest bungalows that had been built in previous decades for the workers of the glass factory across the road that was supervised by Schoolcraft’s uncle, Lawrence Schoolcraft,” Begley wrote in preface. “Inside, a white marble fireplace and hand-carved paneling below the tall, slim Gothic windows that have indoor shutters suggest an elegance rarely seen in Guilderland homes of that era.”
Some of the unique features include a large “conical-shaped” skylight, a “bee-hive own” inside a brick fireplace and the basement’s “red-brick herringbone floor,” Begley described in her book.
John Schoolcraft was born into a well-off family and he expanded his wealth through buying property and “through his keen business acumen in legal and land enterprises,” Begley wrote. He also became “absorbed” banking, rising to become the vice president of the Albany Savings Bank.
Schoolcraft was also politically minded and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1848 and served consecutive two-year terms.
The hope is for the Schoolcraft House to become a cultural center holding educational events, musical performances, art exhibits and other community events.
“Unless you can look back and remember the past, sometimes you are liable to do it again,” Begley said. “There are not many towns anymore that still keep some of the old buildings.”