Schenectady’s John Peek House, dating to 18th century, receives loving care from longtime owner

The living room of Joseph Fava’s home, the historic John Peek House on North Ferry Street in the Stockade section of Schenectady.
The living room of Joseph Fava’s home, the historic John Peek House on North Ferry Street in the Stockade section of Schenectady.

SCHENECTADY — For nearly four decades, longtime area resident Joseph Fava has called the John Peek House home. Sitting at 27 N. Ferry St., the house is one of the oldest in the Stockade — dating to 1795 — although historians believe the structure is, in fact, even older.

While age is “just a number” for most things, historic homes are a bit like fine wine: the older the vintage, the greater they’re valued. But there’s a lot of extra love and care that must go into keeping them standing strong while also ensuring they’re as true to period as possible.

Because for Fava, it’s all about the “period.” As in time period.

Fava was raised between Schenectady and New York City, spending the greater part of his life engaged in real estate, antiques and theater, most recently serving at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse. He is also a board member of the Schenectady Industrial Development Agency and sells antiques at Stone Soup Antiques Gallery in Ballston Spa. He’s been a collector all his life, he said.

In the 1970s, Fava owned a Victorian house on Union Street, but had always had his sights set on one day moving to the Stockade and into an even older residence. When he heard from a friend that the owner of the John Peek House was looking to move out West, he jumped on the opportunity — both metaphorically and literally.

“I went over and knocked on her door and she gave me a figure,” Fava said. “Then I gave her a figure and that was that. I bought it!”

That was the early 1980s, and not much had been done in the house for the greater part of a century, Fava said. But it was a thrill and a bit of a love affair, even from the beginning.

One of the first things Fava did was remove a large picture window that had been added by the previous owners, but which was not consistent with area homes from the 18th century. As Fava explained, it’s often seen as preferable (if not mandated by a historic association) to choose exterior paint colors and facade elements that are considered “of the period,” and he’s one to follow suit.

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As far as the home’s history, Fava shared that it had originally been a wheelwright shop where wagon wheels and the like were made. Taking into consideration that some of the home’s foundation stones and mortar resemble those used in the Capt. Phillip Schuyler House, which was built in 1703, the foundation likely dates to then as well, which would mean portions of the residence are probably more than 300 years old.

“We know this because the first floor is all post-and-beam construction, typical of the early 18th century,” Fava said. “There’s one beam in the kitchen which is at least 25 or 30 feet long.”

Not only is it the oldest part of the house, it’s the space where he spends most of his time as well. When explaining the relative transformation that has taken place on the property over the centuries — first with the transition from wheelwright shop to Peek’s residence — Fava cites findings from a historical assessment authored by Susan Staffa in 1982, in addition to his own research.

“At some point, likely in the 1820s or 1830s, the owners raised the roof and put some rooms in the middle,” he said, explaining why the second floor bears the hallmarks of 19th-century construction, unlike the first and what is now the third floor, which are all post-and-beam.

Most of the changes Fava has made since he bought the house have been attempts to not only make it a home, but are also reflective of the time periods in which the house was built and adapted.

“I pretty much gutted the first floor and took all of the [interior] walls down, which had been added over the years,” he said. Fava said that because of the post-and-beam construction, those walls didn’t serve a structural purpose and were merely aesthetic. On the first floor, the kitchen is the largest space, but it further opens into a dining room, living room and sitting room.

Upstairs, Fava took a similar stance and tried to open the space where he could, removing more interior walls in the master bedroom and opening the second floor to the attic to create a lofted space complimented by cathedral ceilings. Two bedrooms, an office and a full bathroom round out the second floor.

And that’s just the indoors. Outside, Fava has created his own oasis, consisting of a large garden with a pond, waterfall and gazebo, garnished with statuary and sculptures.

Though nearly 80, Fava is still going strong, and recently repainted some of the kitchen cabinets to combat boredom and isolation during quarantine. It’s a labor of love in many ways, he said.

“But the biggest challenge, by far, is keeping up with the maintenance, although I believe that’s true with any home these days,” Fava said.

When asked what makes the property so special to him, Fava is quick to mention the feeling he has when he walks inside.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling, being in this home. It’s a safe, good and warm feeling, and even though it’s crowded because of my collections, it’s comfortable.”

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