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Niskayuna house may go on state, national historic registers

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Niskayuna house may go on state, national historic registers

The James M. and Eleanor Lafferty House of Niskayuna was recommended by the New York State Board for
Niskayuna house may go on state, national historic registers
The James M. and Eleanor Lafferty House on Hedgewood Lane in Niskayuna is shown Thursday, July 28, 2016.
Photographer: Indiana Nash

The James M. and Eleanor Lafferty House of Niskayuna was recommended by the New York State Board for Historic Preservation to be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The Lafferty House is one of 27 properties on a recommendation list released Thursday by the Board for Historic Preservation. It is located on a short residential street off Rosendale Road near Mohawk Golf Club.

Built in 1947, the home was one of the first designed in the Schenectady area by architect Victor Civkin. At the time, he was the director of GE’s Kitchen Institute. A private contract with GE allowed Civkin to design homes for high-level employees at GE’s research lab in Schenectady.

James M. Lafferty was one such employee.

“Lafferty was only one of about five or six GE employees who liked Civkin’s style and wanted his home to be designed by him,” said Chris Hunter, the vice president of archives and exhibitions at the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady. Lafferty was the first employee to contract with the architect.

Civkin was a modern architect, who took aesthetic inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright and specialized in revolutionizing the kitchen. He was one of the first architects to design a kitchen space with modular cabinetry and with completely electric appliances. In 1935, he worked to redesign the kitchen in the White House.

According to the National Park Service, “Eleanor Roosevelt and her housekeeper Henrietta Nesbitt demanded a replacement for the cockroach-ridden space inherited from the Hoover administration.” So Civkin redesigned and renovated the space.

Throughout his career, he remained a champion of innovative kitchen designs and utilizing the latest in electric appliances.

Although some of the GE employees were hesitant at first to contract Civkin due to his style and higher-than-average price point, many came around.

“Throughout his GE career, Civkin obtained scores of private commissions, notably homes for many top GE executives,” according to research conducted by the National Park Service.

The home has five levels, according to research done by the National Park Service:

“The top level [behind the chimney] was James Lafferty’s study and is now the master bedroom; the bedroom level comes next with windows on each corner; the main level (with the pent roof) projects past the chimney with a guest bedroom, full bath, living/dining room, and kitchen; and the laundry level (with the original one car garage) opens out to the side of the house.”

Civkin was one of the first architects to bring the split level style home to the Schenectady area.

There are also two outbuildings at the back of the property, which are made with galvanized metal, which harkens back to the style of the 1950s.

While the aesthetic of the house lends to its historical value, the importance of the home’s namesake is what brings the home to be listed as a historical place.

James Lafferty began working for GE in 1940 and while there he earned 67 patents and eventually rose to become head of the Power Electronics Laboratory.

According to research conducted by the National Park Service, Lafferty worked in Washington for the National Defense Research Committee at the Carnegie Institute’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in 1945, where he assisted in war work. He helped with creating a variable time proximity fuse.

According to Hunter, he also worked on vacuum tube research.

“He was well enough respected in this field that he was at one time president of the International Union for Vacuum Science, Technique, and Applications,” Hunter said.

During the late 1970s, Lafferty also directed GE’s initiative to produce electric cars.

“This was significant because it was during the oil crisis too,” Hunter said.

George Wise, a GE employee who worked with Lafferty, said Lafferty was extremely organized.

“He was an outstanding leader ... and he seemed to know a little bit about everything,” Wise said.

Ed Reilly, a previous Niskayuna Town Supervisor and now the historian for Schenectady County, remembered some of Lafferty’s involvement in the community.

“While I was Town Supervisor, he helped solve a problem with regard to the road layout near his home,” Reilly said.

Lafferty officially retired from GE in 1981. He died in 2006.

The home now belongs to Bryan Cudmore and Danielle Marquis, according to county property records.

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