Without the GE Realty Plot, Union College’s long and glorious history might be considerably shorter and much less celebrated.
Late in the 19th century, the college’s financial situation was gloomy, and if not for the sale of 75 acres of land along the campus’s eastern border in 1899, the school might have closed. That sale, at $750 an acre, reversed Union’s sagging fortunes and resulted in the creation of one of Schenectady’s most prized neighborhoods, the GE Realty Plot.
“The college had a history of selling land to help keep it afloat, and in the latter part of the 19th century it was going through a tough time financially,” said Jim Underwood, a retired political science professor and former interim president at the school. “You never know what might have happened to Union College if it wasn’t for the money from that sale.”
Homes for executives
It was the Schenectady Realty Co., a group of executives from the General Electric Co., that purchased the property and, in 1900, began building elegant homes on large lots. The new neighborhood was designed in the same manner as well-to-do neighborhoods in New York City and Chicago, created just prior to the turn of the century.
‘GE Realty Plot House and Garden Tour’
WHERE: GE Realty Plot, east of Union College campus, Schenectady
WHEN: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 346-6204
Six of those homes, two gardens and the building and grounds of the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady will be on display Saturday and Sunday as the GE Realty Plot House and Garden Tour resumes for the first time since 2009.
Some of the world’s finest scientists and most successful businessmen lived in the Realty Plot, including GE wizards like Charles Steinmetz and Irving Langmuir, and company executives such as E.W. Rice and G.E. Emmons. It wasn’t, however, exclusively for prominent GE employees. Men like Francis J. Cole of the American Locomotive Co. moved into what is now 1033 Avon Road in 1908 when Walter Moody, a GE scientist and the original owner, moved out. For Don Faulkner, who lives in the home now with his wife, Jo Page, digging up information on previous owners has been an intriguing diversion from his duties as director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany.
“Moody developed a special transformer that allowed a generator to produce huge amounts of captured electric energy, and Cole was the chief mechanical engineer at Alco, a real pioneer in locomotive technology,” said Faulkner, who moved into the home about a year ago. “They were very successful, and their home was very well built. They used the best designers and craftsmen of their day, and it’s a joy to live in a house like this. It really makes a lot of difference in your quality of life.”
Faulkner and Page, who previously lived in Niskayuna, had been looking for a home in the Realty Plot for quite some time.
“We love the history and the idea of carrying on the heritage of the area,” said Page, the interim associate minister at the Emmanuel-Friedens Church in Schenectady. “We looked at a lot of houses, and finally this one came down in price a bit so we could afford it. Fortunately, the people who lived here before us did a lot of work on the place, so we didn’t have that much to do.”
According to the pamphlet accompanying the tour, 1033 Avon Road is “a unique example of classic Dutch Colonial Revival architecture.” Among the home’s elements are a broad, double-Dutch door, a front porch on both the first and second floor, two fireplaces, leaded-glass bull’s-eye windows and elegant staircases.
Among the other houses on the tour is the Rice Mansion at 1128 Lenox Road, home to Edwin Wilber Rice, second president of GE. Now known as Abbe Hall and owned by Union College, the house was one of the first in the plot to be erected, going up in 1900.
It was Union College President Andrew Van Vranken Raymond, also a minister at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, who oversaw the sale of the Realty Plot in 1899.
“That was absolutely critical to the life of the college,” said Underwood. “Raymond was the guy who righted the ship at Union. He was one of the greatest presidents the school ever had.”
Tickets for the tour are available at Experience and Creative Design, The Open Door bookstore, Lange’s Pharmacy, Muslers, Marty’s Hardware, Lily Saratoga, Felthousen’s Florists & Greenhouse. Or call Proctors at 346-6204.
For tickets on the day of the event, go to the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady.
Stops on the tour
-- The Alexander Vedder House at 1286 Wendell Ave., a Colonial Revival style home that is pictured in the movie “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
-- The Irving Langmuir House at 1176 Stratford Road, listed on the National Historic Registry. Langmuir won the 1932 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
-- The Rice Mansion at 1128 Lenox Road was home to Edwin Wilber Rice, second president of General Electric. It is now known as Abbe Hall and owned by Union College.
-- The Knight-Rice House at 1161 Lowell Road, a Colonial Imitation or “American Style” home built in 1909.
-- The Moody House at 1033 Avon Road, a Dutch Colonial Revival home built in 1904.
-- The house and garden at 1198 Lowell Road, currently home to Jack and Susan Freyer.
-- The John F. Horman House at 1173 Wendell Ave., a Colonial Revival style home built in 1909 (garden only).
-- The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady at 1221 Wendell Ave. (house and garden).