Amsterdam

Restoring Gray-Jewett House in Amsterdam has been labor of love for longtime admirer

The home of Paul Rossi at 80 Florida Ave. in Amsterdam is shown in August.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The home of Paul Rossi at 80 Florida Ave. in Amsterdam is shown in August.

Categories: Fall Home

AMSTERDAM — Growing up, Paul Rossi always knew he wanted to live in the Gray-Jewett House. With its balcony and wraparound porch, the home was both beautiful and brooding.

“When I was small, I would come up this way for school and I would see this house, and I always wanted it because this is a beautiful home,” Rossi said.

Nearly two decades after he purchased the Queen Anne- and Colonial Revival-style home, Rossi admits that as a child the house sometimes frightened him. With its dark green velvet curtains and hardly anyone coming or going, the Victorian home seemed like something out of a storybook — or a horror movie.

“I always thought this was a ghost house,” Rossi said. “Especially trick-or-treating. All the kids, we would walk up here and we used to come on [the] porch, ring the doorbell and walk away.”

So far, Rossi hasn’t experienced any strange encounters in the home, which was built around 1880 and is on both the national and state registers of historic places.

“I think the reason why I don’t is because the original owners think I’m doing alright here,” Rossi said.

Since buying the home, Rossi has certainly put plenty of work into restoring the surprisingly sprawling property, which has both an icehouse and a carriage house.

The 3,200-square-foot home was originally part of a large piece of property owned by John Gray, who made his fortune supervising railroad construction in Illinois, New Hampshire and Vermont. Gray purchased the land in 1842, and rented out plots of it to people during a time when the Erie Canal was a commerce hub.

According to the Historic League of Amsterdam, Gray was also a contractor for the expansion of a portion of the canal, and served as a deputy sheriff and constable in Port Jackson before it was annexed.

PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
The home of Paul Rossi at 80 Florida Avenue in Amsterdam Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

Gray had one child, Georgiana, who married Charles Jewett, who moved to the area to invest in dairy farming. They had one child, Florence, who married a Churchill. She was the last member of the family to live there, which she did until she died in 1964, according to Rossi. The Persicos bought the home in the ensuing years.

Rossi, who lived just down the road from the house, eventually became friends with owner Gertrude Persico. They enjoyed family dinners together for years before Gertrude moved and sold the home to Rossi for a relatively modest sum.

Though the home was in relatively good condition when Rossi purchased it, there were several aspects that needed to be restored and some superficial repairs to be made. To start with, the lawn was overrun with trees and the home needed some technological upgrades, including new wiring.

“Before I moved here, I had everything all done except for the kitchen,” Rossi said. “I did the outside and the other rooms. … Then about six months later, I had the kitchen done. I had to have all new wiring put in. I had to have 72 outlets put in and I had to have all new switches put in because they were all dried out.”

Working with contractor Dan Colon, Rossi also restored the icehouse, which sits just behind the main home.

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“It’s really in good condition. … When I bought the place it was dark green and the roof was all shot and starting to leak. And Dan says, ‘You don’t want to get rid of this thing. Let me take care of it,’ ” Rossi said. He also had the carriage house, which had an original turntable, restored and had a new roof put on.

Inside the home, some of the original decorative elements had been covered up over the years. Rossi brought those back to life, including pocket doors in the dining room and hardwood floors in the kitchen.

Since moving into the home, Rossi, who is now retired but spent his career at the New York State Department of Transportation, has furnished the place with antiques and period furniture. There are the 100-year-old creamy velvet chairs in one of the parlor rooms; bed sets that have been in his family for years; and the vintage shaving table featured in one of the bedrooms. He’d been looking for the latter piece for years before stumbling across it in an antique shop in Ballston Spa.

Rossi has a passion for antiquing, which lends itself to the authentic style of his home. Many of the pieces in his collection come from local dealers, including the Capodimonte porcelain and other figurines that dot the cabinets and tables.

With five bedrooms upstairs, including one that opens to a balcony, Rossi has plenty of space for his growing collection.

He’s tried to keep the majority of the home in its original state, maintaining the original bath and tile in one of the upstairs bathrooms, as well as an original light fixture in one of the bedrooms.

After almost two decades of living in the Gray-Jewett House, he still loves discovering bits about its history and adding new pieces to it that fit the time period and aesthetic.

In the future, he hopes the next residents enjoy and appreciate the place just as much.

“That’s why I’m glad they put it on the register: [Future owners] can’t destroy anything,” Rossi said.

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