“And Here I end the long Ballad
The Which you have just redde
I wish that it may stay on earth
Long after I am dead.”
In the last stanza of his 1690 poem about the gruesome massacre of Schenectady, Walter Wilie describes his wish that the tale will endure.
The poem, in its entirety, is now carved into granite that is hung on the doors of a house on South Ferry Street in Schenectady’s historic Stockade district.
The poem took on a special meaning for Doug Thorpe, who spent the past two years restoring and preserving a pre-1800 building just to the north of the Moon and River Cafe.
Both the poem and the building represent to him knowledge and an old way of life that are disappearing and should be preserved.
“The pool of tradesmen is dwindling,” Thorpe said. Many of the tradesmen who are left do not have apprentices and once the tradesmen die, their knowledge is lost forever.
The project began in 2007 when Ammiel Alcalay was exploring the Stockade, found the building near collapse and bought it.
The building dates prior to the 1800s, although the exact date that it was built is unknown. The main building was once used as a meat market and then a portion of the building had been an alleyway until it was converted into a luncheonette.
Alcalay, with Luis Villalta, Tim Felano and John Syrjamaki, began to work on getting rid of much of the moisture that was destroying bricks and destabilizing the building, which they had cleared out.
Thorpe took over in 2009 as the main carpenter. The goal was to accurately restore the house, not only cosmetically but structurally. This meant that they tried to only use period methods, techniques and as many authentic items as possible.
“This wasn’t just a project to me,” Thorpe said. “It took on a life of its own.”
Thorpe is a fifth-generation tradesman, who learned from his father at an early age about the importance of using period goods and techniques to restore pieces accurately.
Many of the techniques that Thorpe used on the house are 200 years old.
Thorpe and Alcalay said that they were very grateful that the city code enforcers worked well with them because it helped the tradesmen understand what it would take to bring the old building into compliance. They also received help from John Paolino, director of administration for the city, and Carl Olsen, the city commissioner of public works.
Over the last 200 years, the building underwent what appears to be four series of renovations. Each was built on top of another, so walls were built next to earlier walls.
They peeled back all the renovations, which included later floors and dropped ceilings, to see the original structure, and in the process they found artifacts encapsulated within.
There were Civil War-era newspapers, old glasswork that had fallen into the cracks of the building and a short order menu painted on the wall in the luncheonette section that offered eggs for six cents. There also was a First Presbyterian Church fidelity card signed by a little girl to signify her intention of being faithful to the church.
After bringing the building back to the bones, they made sure that they used as many local goods and trades as possible, acquiring solid brass fixtures for the lighting and locally produced 1800s bell polish for the wood varnish.
They worked closely with Carmine Petti at Capital Stone, electrician Mike Warsa and plumbers Mark and Doug Karandy.
BOILED LINSEED OIL
Thorpe used 1800s-style powder-based milk paint for the interior walls for authenticity and boiled linseed oil for the outside. A roof of copper, now an expensive metal, was used on the overhang above the facade that they made to replicate an 1850s-style storefront.
The appearance from the front was particularly challenging, because the building had sunk into the ground, and although it was structurally sound, it appeared lopsided.
“We did something to make the eye look at it a different way,” Thorpe said.
The facade was one of the last parts to be done, and the building is now getting the finishing touches. One of the last pieces was the two pieces of granite etched by Mike Volans that are hanging on 1800 doors that sit where the alleyway once was.
After the construction is finished, the building will become a residence. Alcalay said that if the city had been able to step in with more tax abatement or restoration assistance, the project could have had a bigger team and been completed more quickly.
If this happens, Thorpe said, he hopes that more buildings between State and Union streets are restored because the area is rapidly deteriorating.
“It’s awesome; it’s beautiful,” Moon and River Cafe employee Sean Bellinger said of the house restoration. “It went from zero to hero.”
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Categories: Schenectady County