Nestled off a wide street that once cut a path through the town of Johnstown for horse-drawn carriages is a Victorian mansion, stately in sheer dimension and ornate facade and remarkable for its successful transition from 19th to 21st century.
Hidden from viewers in front of the South William Street home is the old carriage house. Cars now sit where horses were once stabled on the first floor. The upstairs, which was once a hayloft, is equipped with modern furnishings, including a washer, dryer, television and elliptical trainer.
The home and carriage house would sell for more than $1 million in many places. But the stately homes in the historic cities of Johnstown and Gloversville go for a lot less.
“I grew up in a place near [New York City] and because of that we weren’t allowed out; we couldn’t go too far because everybody was afraid something was going to happen,” said real estate agent Loretta Weldner, who owns the Victorian mansion on South William Street.
“My boys grew up here and had total freedom. There’s a lot to be said for that. You couldn’t want a better life.”
Fulton County Historian Peter Betz is proud of the homes Johnstown and Gloversville have to offer. He can reel off with ease a list of homes he considers the cities’ best.
There is the “magnificently restored house” on the 200 block of South Williams Street in Johnstown. Four blocks down is a noteworthy early 20th century “arts and crafts type” home.
Many of the owners know the historical lineage of the homes they live in, said Betz.
He and history enthusiasts singled out Weldner’s property as particularly impressive — especially considering that it has been converted into apartments, a path to decline for many fine old homes.
The coat of arms over the front door of Weldner’s ivy-covered mansion originated with the Northrups, the prominent Johnstown family who built it in 1890.
“That scrollwork carries through the entire house above each fireplace,” said Weldner, pointing out the insignia-like design above her house number. “A lot of old houses have them.”
Coats of arms can be seen sporadically along South William Street and also dot homes along Kingsboro Avenue, Park Drive and Grand Street in Gloversville.
Houses from the 1800s are sprinkled through the area, but very few built in the 1700s remain standing in the county, said Fulton County Chamber of Commerce President Wally Hart.
“Many were torn down,” he said. “Some remain on the 100 and 200 blocks of William Street, but the rest were torn down to build these enormous Italianate and Victorian houses.”
SIZE AND SPLENDOR
As the county evolved, so did its architecture, Hart said. For example, as the city of Gloversville grew, so did the size and splendor of homes along Grand and Washington streets.
“You can see that they were extraordinary houses at one time,” said Hart. “And that’s something we really promote, are the houses and the quality of living that were here. Some of these places are just extraordinary for the price. It’s not Westchester, it’s not Saratoga, but these are just as grand and the interiors are just as extraordinary.”
Weldner could very likely find a 7,300- square-foot house like hers in Saratoga Springs. But she likes the rural atmosphere Johnstown offers — and, of course, the cheaper price.
Anyone who owns a piece of historic property makes sure to keep it up, she said.
“There’s a lot of pride on this street,” Weldner said. “Anybody that owns these homes — they’re not cheap to maintain, but that’s part of owning it.”
The wood floor in the main hall was just professionally cleaned and waxed.
The first floor walls appear painted but are actually embossed leather. The front and back porches were rebuilt and four new furnaces were installed in the basement, one for each apartment.
But many original furnishings remain.
The original old coal furnace sits dusty in the basement. The stone, brick, wainscoting and cabinets in the basement are original as well.
At the back of the first floor are the original maid’s quarters, with a staircase leading upstairs to the maid’s bed and bath.
The leaded glass in several of the windows is also from 1890, though the front door window was reset from overuse.
CARRIAGE HOUSE IN BACK
But what sets Weldner’s mansion apart from the other Victorian houses in the Glove Cities is the 2,200-square-foot carriage house out back, in which she lives.
“Nobody lived upstairs when the house was first built,” she said, gesturing to large glass windows, which originally were doors through which hay was thrown for the horses below.
Now those windows offer her a view of her mansion and its current tenants. The house was divided up into four two-bedroom apartments, where residents “stay forever,” Weldner said.
Sitting inside her own apartment on the carriage house’s second floor, Weldner reflects on the life her sons were able to have growing up in Fulton County.
Weldner moved out of her Long Island home in 1965 and followed her husband to the country, as was the practice for most women back then, she said.
“Back then it was a whole different mindset,” she said. “You went where your husband had his job. And it wasn’t like I had a career, because that many years ago women were supposed to stay home and have children, so I didn’t think anything of it.”
When her sons were born, the family became much more involved in the community, setting down roots.
Years later, her grown sons still visit her at her South William Street home. And she still takes calls from families wondering if she has vacant apartments. She doesn’t, of course.
As a Realtor in the area, she finds that most people don’t think of Johnstown or Gloversville as cities with nice property.
But there is no other community with such grand yet affordable houses, she said.
“Life is what you make it,” she said. “If you want the opera, if you want a lot of New York City shows, of course it’s not here. You have to go to the city for that. People move out here for a reason.
It depends on the life you want.”