Since moving into her home at 53 Greenfield Avenue in Saratoga Springs more than a year ago, Betsy Olmsted has collected a handful of historical nuggets about the place. She's hopeful of learning even more next Saturday.
"One person told me they used to play basketball in here, and another mentioned how they used to raise pheasants here," said Olmsted, whose home, an 1890 carriage house, is one of nearly a dozen buildings making up the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation's Historic Homes Tour Saturday between10 a.m.-4 p.m. "There still is a lot of mystery about the place, but local people continue to give me little bits of history. I'm filling in some of the gaps, and maybe we'll learn some more on Saturday."
Olmsted's home was originally a carriage house and stable for three Victorian homes on nearby Clement Avenue. The 5,400 -square-foot structure was vacant for a long period of time before it was converted into a home in 2008. Olmsted and her husband Peter are the third owners since the initial renovation nearly a decade ago.
"It was like moving into a brand new house when we moved here in February of 2016," said Olmsted, who along with her husband lives in the home with their two children and two dogs. "We changed a few things, because it was a little confusing. You couldn't tell what was new and what was old, so we painted the new timber and left the original timber alone. That better defined the difference, and we also painted the exterior black. It had been red."
There is plenty of wide-open area and window space in the interior, and from the home's living room you can see up past the second floor and through the cupola. Scattered around the home are colorful pillows and other textile items which Olmsted creates in her studio housed in what was the building's horse stable. A Skidmore graduate, Olmsted has her own company, "Betsy Olmsted," and almost all of her creations are inspired by animals and nature. The downstairs also includes a kitchen with a large island in the middle, while upstairs is office space, three bedrooms and baths, a study and a screen-in porch.
"We love it because we feel like we're outside even when we're inside," said Olmsted.
A major portion of the tour consists of homes in the North Broadway area just south of the Skidmore College campus.
"Most of the homes in the North Broadway area were built in the mid to late 1800s," said Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the SSPF. "Most of the stops are private homes, but we do have The Grove, a senior apartment building that was restored, and the Bethesda Episcopal Church on Washington Street. This is the second year that we decided to move our annual event outdoors and to hold it on a Saturday. For 25 years we did a candlelight tour in December, but this gives us a very different feel than doing it during Christmas."
While walking the entire tour may not be practical due to the stops downtown, most of the North Broadway homes are relatively close to each other. Saratoga Springs historian and author Field Horne said the North Broadway neighborhood didn't begin being built until just prior to the American Civil War.
"North Broadway didn't exist until 1853," said Horne. "It was a large and rather lavish what we would call today a sub-division and what they called back then a plat. It took nearly 25 to 30 years for it to fill in with houses, and it was a bit visionary for its time. Each of the lots was 100-feet wide and 300-feet deep. They were very large, and not built in any order. Skidmore didn't move out there from downtown until the 1960s."
The majestic homes with their large green lawns and tall trees probably would have delighted Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect and urban park designer from the 19th century.
"He didn't have his own children, but he did adopt his brother's three children," said Betsy Olmsted. "He's in the family tree somewhere, but we haven't done a lot to figure it out exactly. He might be a bit more of a distant relative than we'd like to think."
'Saratoga Springs Historic House Tour'
WHERE: Downtown Saratoga Springs and Skidmore College neighborhood
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Advance tickets are $40, $30 for SSPF members; day of tickets are $45, $35 for SSPF members
MORE INFO: www.saratogapreservation.org, 587-5030