Historic Stockade home features renovations, additions from various generations

Joan Mikalson sits on a staircase at her home in the Stockade section of Schenectady.
Joan Mikalson sits on a staircase at her home in the Stockade section of Schenectady.

SCHENECTADY — Joan Mikalson wasn’t initially looking for a historic home.

Yet 33 Front St., an Italianate-style row house built in 1857, has become the perfect home.

“I never had an inkling that I wanted to live in an old house, but I have to say the Stockade is pretty unique,” Mikalson said, “The people who live here are so friendly and they keep to themselves, but they’re there when you need them. You’ve got the autonomy but the connectedness at the same time.”

She moved in seven years ago and has since started to peel back some of the layers of history surrounding the home.

“What I learned from the historical society is that this used to be a half lot,” Mikalson said.

The land was originally purchased in 1855 by Peter Sickles and was later a blacksmith shop run by Walter Swits, according to the Stockade Association.

Beyond that, Mikalson didn’t know much about who had resided there until last year, when she received an email from someone whose ancestors lived in the home. Ed Lorentzen, a Texas resident, was researching his family, the Medlers, for a book and discovered that his great-grandfather had lived in the house between 1859 and 1864.

He helped fill in some of the details about who had been living in the home during those early years, telling Mikalson that another of his ancestors served as housekeeper in the home, and that at one time George C. Hazelton, who was elected to the House of Representatives from New Hampshire, lived in the home while he attended Union College.

Home of Joan Mikalson located at 33 Front St. in the Stockade.

Lorentzen wanted to see the home, and while the house was on the Stockade Walkabout tour last year, he couldn’t make the trip then. Instead asked to see the home on a private tour in the fall.

“It was so much fun to walk him through the house. He was thinking, ‘Oh, my family was here once’ and it was just a different feeling,” Mikalson said.

Beyond the matter of learning who once lived there, she’s also been trying to determine when certain renovations were completed, as there are clear markings of additions but no documentation of when they were done or why.

“The house ended here,” Mikalson said, standing in what is now the dining room of the home when The Gazette interviewed her in August.

“The rest was an add-on, and you could tell because that’s where the brick is and then just above it is where the housekeeper’s room was. Even though this is a bathroom now, it was at one point a staircase and it came down, and I think this was a kitchen with a hearth here.”

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The kitchen, den and outdoor deck were all additions, as was the library on the other side of the home.

While Mikalson hasn’t done much in the way of additions, she has had to do some renovations over the years.

“I [put in] a granite counter, all new appliances. … We renovated this little porch on the outside and made that more of a mudroom,” Mikalson said.

Outside, she replaced what was once a meandering path with a straight one, and added flowers on the sides as well as a shed.

Though there are homes tucked in on either side of 33 Front St., the backyard feels relatively private thanks to the greenery around the edges creating a natural fence.

“That’s what’s fun about the Stockade, too, is all of a sudden there’s this backyard. You just can’t imagine it because the houses are right next to each other,” Mikalson said.

She spends most of her time in the den, where a previous owner installed authentic Saltillo terracotta tile from Mexico; and in the library, which has an original Sears & Roebuck fireplace from the 1900s.

“It seems like a big house but it’s just right. The library, which I thought [at first], ‘What do you do with a library?’ It’s amazing. The fireplace works and you close the door in the winter. It’s a really neat room,” Mikalson said.

Upstairs are three bedrooms and an office, with original 5-inch heartwood pine. There are also two bathrooms, one with a clawfoot tub. Downstairs features more of an open floor plan with the living room spilling into the dining room. At one point, the space may have been divided into smaller rooms for boarders, according to the Stockade Association.

“It’s very sunny in here. We just really liked that. Usually the older houses are diced up into little rooms,” Mikalson said.

Over the years, she has brought in some period furniture, such as the Shaker-style pine table and ladder-woven chairs, as well as the late-18th-century rotating drum table. It’s also known as a “loo” table, after the card game, and was sometimes used as a filing system for the rent collector. On the walls, she’s added a few pieces of abstract artwork and kept a more modern light fixture in the dining room.

“I like that blend of contemporary with the old,” Mikalson said, “although I would never change anything that’s old. I would keep it, restore it.”

While Mikalson has made a few aesthetic changes, the home remains mostly the same as when she first moved in, and she intends to keep it that way.

“It really is a just-right house. It has a really good flow to it,” Mikalson said.

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