BURNT HILLS — Pat Keegan knew the deal was done as soon as he walked into the house at 82 Lake Hill Road in Burnt Hills.
“My wife fell into a chair, and my daughter walked into the kitchen and fell to the floor,” remembered Keegan, who, with his wife Donna, purchased the historic home right across the street from the Burnt Hills Calvary Episcopal Church in April of 2019. “They both thought it was really beautiful.”
Fortunately, Keegan was leaning in the same direction all the time.
“We loved the craftsmanship, the wide plank floors, the built-in bookshelves and the fireplace,” he said. “But I loved it when I was still on the porch and I saw the brass lion knockers on the front door.”
Built somewhere around 1840, the house was long known as the Pink House, named after the original owners of the home. More recently, in the 1980s, it took on another moniker: the house with the tree in it.
It was Charles Merriam who bought the house back in the 1970s and added the tree. He and his wife lived at 82 Lake Hill for 40 years before scaling down and moving back to Schenectady about nine years ago. Building an addition to the home around a tree was his idea.
“We built a greenhouse around the tree and turned it into a great play area,” said Merriam, a Schenectady native, former justice in the town of Ballston and longtime owner of the Merriam Insurance Company on Broadway. “It was the center of town. We put a lot of money into it and the kids loved it.”
Along with the tree, Merriam installed a slide, a pole, a zip line and various other amenities, and they weren’t just for his grandchildren and other youngsters in the neighborhood to enjoy. He also performed wedding ceremonies in the greenhouse.
“It was a very impressive place and I performed 185 marriages there,” he said. “The tree gave us shade, and in the winter you could see the snowfall. We just felt like it added a lot to the house. It was beautiful.”
But as one might expect, owning a home with a tree in it did present some challenges.
“The tree was about 15 feet from the house before we built the addition,” said Merriam. “Well, it kept on growing, and eventually we had to take the beams out of the greenhouse. It was a lot of work.”
Merriam didn’t remove the tree, but the people he sold the house to did.
“They took out the tree and the atrium, and they really had to because the floor was buckling,” said Donna Keegan. “But they did keep the charm, the history and the character of the house in place while also modernizing it.”
There were two different owners of the home in the decade between Merriam and the Keegans.
“There’s a beautiful new kitchen, but the reason why I was really excited about buying the house and taking it on is because I feel it is a historic treasure. You look around at other houses 200 years old and they’re falling apart. This house was starting to cave in on itself. That’s where it was headed, but a bunch of people rallied around it.”
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Claude Bailey would have greatly appreciated all the love and care being given the house. Bailey, whose granddaughter is Merriam’s wife, Pat, moved to Burnt Hills in 1906, bought the historic house at 82 Lake Hill shortly after World War II as his retirement home and called it “Three Acres.” He was owner and operator of Fo’Castle Farms in Burnt Hills, and the place is still run by the family, his descendents.
Born in Arkansas in 1869 the son of a Confederate Army soldier, Bailey fought in the Spanish-American War and was quite a colorful figure. His friends and customers called him Commander Bailey. He died in 1963.
“He was an incredible man who was very successful in the U.S. Navy and was very proud of his naval service,” town of Ballston historian Rick Reynolds told The Gazette in a 2012 story on Fo’Castle Farms. “He was a big supporter of education, and he is the man who is credited with the centralization of the Burnt Hills school district. He began the whole process of consolidating the little one-room schoolhouses that were in the area in 1916, and he also chaired the first meeting of the Burnt Hills volunteer fire department.”
Another notable occupant of the house was Charles Upham, clerk for the town of Ballston for 17 years early in the 20th century. But nobody shared the house with his family, friends, neighbors and strangers the way Merriam did.
“It was always nice to have people thank me for marrying them in that house and how they appreciated it being there on what was the most important day of their lives,” said Merriam. “It’s a lasting memory they will never forget and I have plenty of wonderful memories, too. It was a very nice play to live.”
Also on the grounds is a barn built around 1820, and a pond and a flower garden put in by the Merriams. The two-story home originally had four bedrooms, but the Keegans converted one into a laundry room. There is also a dining and living room, an office, and in the rear of the house a large family room.
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