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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 23, 2006

"Something grand and inspiring"

"History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity."

— Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore

If you drive towards Altamont on Route 146, just before Gun Club Road, at the gateway to the village, you can’t miss a derelict house perched on a hill by the road.

Bright tape cautions would-be visitors from entering the falling-down porch. Who would have interest in such a wreck"

The town of Guilderland and the village of Altamont plan to buy the old house and the corner property for back taxes — about $45,000.

We believe it’s a good plan. Why"

If you peer past the cautionary tape, you can see a magnificent doorway, highlighted with Federal-era sidelights and transom. If you peel away, in your mind’s eye, the 20th-Century siding, and the Victorian add-on porch, you can see the clean, solid 1830’s structure and imagine the hand-hewn post-and-beam construction within.

Earlier this month, both the village and town boards passed resolutions asking Albany County to give them the property for payment of back taxes. Altamont and Guilderland plan to split the costs evenly and will be co-owners of the property.

Last week, Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion told us the municipalities intend to use the property for community functions — youth or senior programs, for example — or as an information center for town and village residents.

Runion has been a proponent for securing parkland in his fast-growing suburban town, a wise move as open space becomes limited and recreational places improve quality of life. The land alone at the gateway property is worth more than the back taxes.

We were heartened last week by Runion’s statement, "If the building can be used, we will use the building."

Certainly, if it’s structurally unsound or would cost much to repair and make safe, it would be unwise for the municipalities to invest in saving it.

But, Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, described the building’s condition as "fair to good." If this turns out to be true, saving the house would be worthwhile.

Most of Altamont’s beautiful old buildings are from the Victorian era. The village blossomed then, when the railroad pushed its way out from the city.

But the house at the corner of Gun Club Road is much older. It was built in 1833 by Dr. Frederick Crounse, who died there sixty years later. So the building has both architectural significance and is associated with the life of someone important to the community.

The late historian Arthur B. Gregg saw the value in preserving history, and was responsible for getting many Guilderland buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He also researched and wrote about the history of local places, including the Doctor Crounse House, on the pages of our newspaper; his columns were later compiled into a book, Old Hellebergh: Scenes From Early Guilderland.

Dr. Crounse’s father, Jacob, had left Guilderland to seek his fortune in "the West," Schoharie County, so Frederick was born there in 1807, Gregg writes. After graduating in 1830 from Fairfield Medical College, predecessor of the medical school at Syracuse University, Dr. Crounse came to Altamont, long before the village was called that.

There, he built the house on the corner of Gun Club Road, and married Elizabeth Keenholts, the daughter of "the wealthiest man in the district," Gregg writes.

During the Civil War, the 134th Regiment camped in front of Dr. Crounse’s house as he stayed up all night, Gregg writes, helping the regiment doctor with the sick and wounded soldiers.

Gregg writes with admiration of Dr. Crounse, who, he says, brought more of the region’s inhabitants into the world than any doctor before or since.

"In sickness or in trouble, the panacea was ‘Go see old Doc Fred,’" Gregg writes. "There is something grand and inspiring about his life from beginning to end."

His house embodies that life. Each time an old building is torn down, we loose a piece of our past.

Over the years, we’ve written of historic buildings in need of preservation. At the dawn of the new millennium, in 2000, we wrote about another early 19th-Century building on the same road — the Fruitdale Farmhouse — just west of Guilderland Center. It, too, had been vacant for years, so that its owner called it an "eyesore" and "an attractive nuisance." He tore it down, which he had every right to do.

We urged at that time that our towns develop master plans for historic preservation and interest citizens in the worth of the old buildings that surround them, lest we lose our heritage one building at a time.

Old buildings — even if we have only a nodding acquaintance with them as we drive by on our modern highways — remind us where we came from and who we are.

They distinguish our community from all the others. They give us a living link with history, particularly if they are available to the public for community functions, as envisioned now with the Doctor Crounse House.

Keeping history alive informs and benefits us all. As Cicero wrote, it illumines our reality and provides guidance in our daily lives. Do we want to deprive the next generation of that"

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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