City Historian Robert Von Hasseln will tell you that the oldest home in Amsterdam is Guy Park Manor. But he doesn’t sound convinced.
“The oldest confirmed home is Guy Park Manor,” said Von Hasseln, referring to the structure built by Sir William Johnson for his nephew, Guy, just prior to the American Revolution. “It was built with wood in 1764, got struck by lightning, and rebuilt with stone in 1766. That’s the oldest one we know of for sure. However, I suspect that it’s not the oldest.”
Von Hasseln has some ideas about old houses on Vedder Street on the south side of the Mohawk and Church Street on the North side.
“Albert Vedder came here from Schenectady either during the American Revolution or just after it, but he wasn’t the first,” said Von Hasseln. “It was orginally called Vedderstown, but Amsterdam began as a farming community. There’s an old farmhouse on Vedder Street, on the south side along what would have been the old military highway between Albany and Fort Hunter, and there’s another farmhouse on Church Street on the north side, which would have put it along the old Mohawk Turnpike. They could be older than Guy Park Manor.”
Von Hasseln can’t be sure of the answer now, but that may change within the next few years.
“We are discovering new things all the time, and the Historic Amsterdam League is having a contest to identify the oldest house in the city,” said Von Hasseln. “So I think it is something we can learn. We’re hoping we’re going to get a grant to bring in experts who will conduct research. They’ll look at the most likely choices and from that information we will be able to determine the oldest house.”
As for Guy Park Manor, Von Hasseln says the state-owned property is still recovering from the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“After the flooding knocked down part of the foundation, the state went into its emergency procurement situation, and they were able to put the building on a much sounder foundation and stabilize it,” he said. “After that it went into its regular procurement phase, which means funds have been authorized but they’re kind of still in the hopper until other priorities get taken care of along the canal.”
Guy Johnson and his family didn’t enjoy the place for long, according to Von Hasseln. After they fled to Canada during the American Revolution, their home was turned into a billet for the Colonial army. It became a tavern and a hotel and eventually was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It has also served as the office of U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, and was also home to the Walter Elwood Museum before the flooding of 2011.
“The best way to preserve an old historic building is to come up with an adaptive re-use for it,” said Von Hasseln. “We’d love to see the Canal Corporation move its headquaters here, and there’s been talk about putting an outdoor theater on the grounds. Both “Drums Along the Mohawk” and “Clinton’s Ditch” are plays that have been put on west of here. Guy Park Manor would be the perfect site.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]