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Centuries House

Historic Albany Foundation celebrates its first fundraiser for the oldest house in town

by Ann Morrow on September 18, 2014 · 0 comments


At 48 Hudson Ave., where the Albany Convention Center was planned to be, a seemingly dilapidated building was festooned with fairy lights. Inside, past patchy brick walls and rough-hewn planks, there were streamers and champagne on ice. This nearly 300-year-old townhouse certainly had reason to be festive: The structure was donated to Historic Albany Foundation last year, ensuring that its antiquity will not be relegated to the rubbish bin of urban renewal.

Historic reveal: architect Bill Brandow at 48 Hudson, photo by Ann Morrow

On Sept. 10, HAF held a small reception to celebrate its successful Indiegogo campaign and to thank contributors. The foundation exceeded its goal of $10,000 by raising over $14,000 for the house, which is one of the last urban Dutch houses still in existence in the United States. The funding initiated HAF’s restoration of the building, a process that is expected to take at least a decade. The Van Ostrande-Radliffe House, as it’s now known (after 50 or so years as the Saul Equipment Company building) is the oldest building in Albany–displacing the circa-1736 Quackenbush House for that title. Built in 1728 by Johannes Van Ostrande, a member of the common council, the one-and-a-half story house was partly preserved by being encased in subsequent alterations, including a remodel into “the English style,” and in the 1830s, an addition built by Albany manufacturer Jared Holt for his waxed-thread factory.

For over a century, the house was believed to date to 1759, when it was occupied by Johannes Radliffe, a shoemaker. But document research, including mortgages and wills, by historian John Wolcott indicated that it was at least 30 years earlier. In 2005, the vacant and deteriorating house was purchased by Brian Parker, a co-owner (with his brother) of Orion Enterprises, which buys and rehabilitates old buildings. Parker commissioned a dendrochronology study, and a date of 1728 was confirmed by tree-ring dating. After years of waiting on a convention center decision, Parker donated the house to HAF in summer of 2013.

The Van Ostrande-Radliffe House is considered one of the most significant Colonial-era houses in the Hudson Valley. At the time that Van Ostrande lived there, it was located outside of the stockade, a few hundred feet from Fort Orange. Under its steep gable roof are extremely rare examples of early Dutch architecture, including jambless fireplaces and molded anchor beams. These elements tell the story of the original house; the façade, for example, contains only its original anchor beam, but the beam’s grooves and mortise holes reveal that there was once a central doorway with two leaded glass windows.

A window exhibit now delineates the unique features that survive within. “Side jambless fireplaces only appeared in urban environments,” explains historic-preservation architect Bill Brandow, who led a tour of the house at the reception. Once common in Albany and New York City, 48 Hudson is the only house left known to have such a fireplace. “And it has two,” Brandow adds.

Though the building faces a parking garage, to look up at the medieval construction of its timber pitched ceiling is an experience few structures can match. “Standing on the first floor of 48 Hudson is as near as you can come to standing in early Colonial Albany,” says Brandow. “You are transported back to the Dutch period.”

Adding to the house’s importance to Albany history is its location. “It was thought to have been built in the 1750s because it was not thought that such a dwelling would be built outside of the city wall, but 48 Hudson has taught us that people were willing to build a substantial house outside of the protective stockade at least as early as 1728,” Brandow says.

Among the guests at Wednesday’s reception was architectural historian John R. Stevens, the author of Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830, considered the preeminent work on the topic. Other guests included public officials, contributors, and preservationists, all of them enthusiastic about the possibilities for this very old house in relation to the city’s downtown. “Historic Albany is excited and humbled to be charged with the care of a building that is so strongly linked to Albany’s long history,” said the foundation’s executive director, Susan Holland, in an introduction.

So far, HAF has completed critical repairs to the roof, stabilized a wall containing its original clapboard, and is in the process of drawing up a restoration master plan.

“If HAF can restore its structural form, the building could last another 300 years,” says Brandow. “It’s not uncommon in Europe, and there’s no reason that 48 Hudson can’t last that long. And longer.”


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