Built-in charm & surprises: Couple embraces rich history of longtime boarding house

When Edmond and Amejo Amyot purchased an old boarding house in Saratoga Springs nearly 30 years ago,
A wide wrap-around front porch serves as a reminder of another era at the Amyot home off Woodlawn Avenue in Saratoga Springs.
A wide wrap-around front porch serves as a reminder of another era at the Amyot home off Woodlawn Avenue in Saratoga Springs.

When Edmond and Amejo Amyot purchased an old boarding house in Saratoga Springs nearly 30 years ago, they never planned to continue operating it as such. But over the years, there have been many times when it has seemed like they were running one.

“If somebody needed a house, or their kids were acting up, they’d send them to us for the summer, which sometimes ended up being six months,” Amejo recounted with a laugh.

No matter who has showed up to stay, there has always been plenty of room in the graceful, eight-bedroom Italianate Victorian that sits on a shady lot near Skidmore College.

The sweeping, wraparound porch holds memories of graduation parties and wedding receptions. The large dining room speaks of festive holiday meals.

Groups have been gathering in this home for well over 100 years. Amejo can’t say for sure when it was built, but likely it was during the 1870s. “They didn’t have good documentation back then,” she explained. “The first time it was officially listed was 1882, and at that time it was vacant.”

The stately home was once the only one on the block and was surrounded by pasture. The house that still sits behind it was the carriage house.

The thoroughbred racetrack and the mineral springs were already drawing the wealthy to Saratoga Springs at the time when the house was reportedly built. “This particular area was where the rich people lived and they were just up here in the summertime,” Amejo noted.

Perhaps a Railroad stop

According to records provided by the Amyots, from the office of the Saratoga Springs city historian, the house changed hands six times before Amejo and Edmond purchased it.

Past owners and renters include merchants, and shirt makers from Troy, Amejo said. In 1946, Samuel Athill, a real estate salesman, who Amejo believes was from either Haiti or Jamaica, purchased the home. He is thought to be the first to have run it as a boarding house.

In 1969, the house was purchased by Ezra Smith, an African-American woman from Brooklyn. According to Amejo, Smith ran the residence, at that time called Tivbic Lodge, as a summer boarding house for black people.

The Amyots purchased the home from Smith in 1984. By that time, Smith was elderly and living in just a few of the downstairs rooms.

“When we bought it, it was a handyman’s special,” Amejo remembered. “It was in such bad shape, we couldn’t get a mortgage, because of the wiring and the plumbing.”

A tree had also fallen on the house, damaging the porch and roof.

“We bought it for $62,000, but we’ve probably put $400,000 into it at least,” Amejo estimated.

The wraparound porch restoration job cost half as much as the Amyots paid for their house. They reused as much of the trim and molding as they could, to maintain the historic character. “We live out here in the summertime,” Amejo said.

The fireplaces in the home’s two elegant parlors were closed up when the Amyots moved in. When they refurbished them, charred boards were discovered underneath.

Three kitchen windows needed replacing, so they had them removed, only to find that the entire wall was infested with ants.

There were more surprises in the kitchen. When they pulled up the old linoleum floor, the Amyots found all sorts of mouse droppings and four more layers of linoleum. But below the stack of old flooring was a pleasant surprise: an unworn hardwood floor made from gorgeous curly maple.

Useful holdovers

Although they inherited many repair jobs, the Amyots also inherited a lot of nice furniture. “Mrs. Smith had a house in Brooklyn, so she didn’t want the furniture that was in the house. Almost everything in here that’s an antique was left here,” Amejo said.

The dining room table, once Smith’s, has six leaves and intricately carved legs with claw feet. It can seat about 20, Amejo estimated. Since the table’s so long and wide, it’s tough to find linens that fit it, but finding seats for 20 is no problem, since the Amoyts also inherited “a million” chairs from Smith, Amejo joked.

Over the years, the 22-room house has been added on to; walls have been knocked out and room uses have been changed. The kitchen and storeroom-turned-sunroom at the back of the house were add-ons. The dining room was enlarged; there’s a TV room where a kitchen likely once was.

Despite the changes, the home still retains its old-fashioned charm. Many of the 9-foot-high windows still have the original, wavy glass. Curved walls and detailed woodwork are evidence of fine craftsmanship not often seen in newer homes.

Amejo, an artist, has added her own touch. The walls in each room are a vibrant color, and the radiators have been painted to match. The kitchen and sunroom are warm yellow, one parlor is cranberry and the other a rich green. The dining room is the color of pumpkin pie, and the foyer, with its sweeping staircase, is mellow gold.

Upstairs is a long, meandering hall with a mauve, wide-plank floor. Halfway down it, on the right, are side-by-side doors with old, white, porcelain plaques screwed to them. The plaques each announce, “bath room” in bold, black lettering.

Each bedroom door that opens onto the hall has a transom window above it, to let in light. The doors still bear the numbers they did when the rooms were rented out to boarders.

Bedroom seven has a ceiling that’s much lower than those in the other rooms. In the attic above, the floor level remains constant. So there is an empty space hidden between the attic floorboards and the ceiling of that one room. “We decided that it was part of the Underground Railroad, although the house was probably built too late for that,” says Amejo. The Underground Railroad, which flourished during the early to mid- 1800s, was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by black slaves to escape to the North and Canada.

Out in the hall, a cylindrical, metal contraption hangs from the ceiling. Amejo believes it was a water tank of some sort. It’s so embedded in the wall that she couldn’t remove it, so she painted it red, and it now serves as a conversation piece.

Knobs protrude from some of the upstairs walls, marking spots where gas lamps once flickered. Amejo uses one of the knobs as a picture hanger.

Ghost stories

The Amyot’s historical home is rumored to be haunted. Skidmore students who rented rooms there when Mrs. Smith was the proprietor told Amejo that on multiple occasions, they heard unexplainable footsteps on the stairs.

One night, Amejo caught a glimpse of what may have been the source of those mysterious sounds. “The first night Ed and I were here, we were sleeping upstairs in two little iron cots,” she recounted. “I remember waking up and looking to the door, and there was an old, black woman with gray hair. She was just peeking in, saying like, ‘Oh, so you are the new people that are here.’ ”

Amejo said she also saw what she believed to be the ghost of a bald, black man in bedroom seven, the room with the low ceiling. “He was scared,” she recounted. “He was terrified. And it ties in with the idea that they hid slaves here.” On several occasions, Amejo recounts, her niece saw the empty rocking chair in room seven rocking.

A psychic woman who visited the home reported seeing an old Indian chief walk down the front stairs, out the front door and up the street, Amejo said.

Years ago, Amejo brought in female shamans to help the spirits that she believed roamed her home transition to a higher place. Since then, she’s had no further ghostly encounters.

She never really minded the otherworldly boarders, she said. “They weren’t mischievous. They were guardians in some way, except for the bald man. He was big — reminded me of Mr. Clean — but scared, really scared.

The ghosts are gone and the Amyots’ two children have moved out, so it is now just Amejo and Edmond living in the rambling old house. They decided to downsize about 10 years ago and put the house on the market. But the only offer they got was for much less money than they had hoped. So they decided to stay, and most likely will for the foreseeable future. “It’s been a good house,” Amejo said with a smile.

Categories: Life and Arts

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