Saratoga County

Town denies landmark status

The Town Board won’t pursue a recommendation to preserve an aging house where Civil War hero Col.

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The Town Board won’t pursue a recommendation to preserve an aging house where Civil War hero Col. Elmer Ellsworth lived in early childhood.

The house at 2517 Route 9 is currently vacant and for sale, and the owners don’t want the historic designation, which could prevent commercial sale of their land.

“I have a hard time taking a property like this,” said town Councilwoman Sue Nolen.

The house sits on fourth-tenths of an acre in the middle of the area where the town is encouraging dense downtown-style commercial development. The owners, the Furman family, are asking $499,000 for it.

The town’s Historic Preservation Review Commission in May recommended the town declare the house a historic landmark, which would prevent the building from being torn down, even if the property is sold.

That action, however, was only a recommendation to the Town Board, which is the body that has the power to declare a landmark.

Historic Preservation Review Commission Chairman Stephen J. Rutkey said Tuesday that the house may be unique in Malta because its associated with a national historical figure, and the potential sale value of the land shouldn’t be a consideration in assessing its worth to the town’s heritage.

“I kind of think the historic integrity of a town landmark transcends whether the underlying piece of land is valuable or not,” Rutkey said.

Preserving properties that have historic value but sit on land that’s more valuable for other uses is the biggest challenge facing local historic preservation efforts, he said.

The town currently has about 30 locally designated landmarks, including 13 buildings.

But Town Board members who don’t want to pursue action said the house has been moved since the 1800s because of the widening Route 9, has been modified since Ellsworth lived in it and is currently in poor condition.

“I’m not inclined to designate this,” said Councilman Peter Klotz.

The house was Ellsworth’s home from 1837 to 1840, from infancy through about age 3. His family then moved to Mechanicville, which also claims him as a native son.

Ellsworth gained celebrity with his death on May 24, 1861, as one of the first Union casualties of the Civil War. He had been personally close with President Lincoln’s family, having been a student in Lincoln’s Illinois law office before the presidential election of 1860.

With much talk of war in the air as southern states seceded, Ellsworth organized New York firemen into a unit of Zoaves, soldiers who were distinguished by their exotic and colorful uniforms. The 24-year-old was designated a colonel.

When Virginia seceded, Ellsworth’s Zoaves were among the first troops to cross the Potomac River into Alexandria.

Spying a Confederate flag atop the Marshall Hotel, Ellsworth went up to the roof to confiscate it and was shot to death by the secessionist hotel owner as he came down the stairs with the flag.

The death made Ellsworth a national celebrity, and today his bloodstained uniform is among the prominent exhibits at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.

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