Conkling's heirs renew his historic home
— Photo from John Eldridge
The Palladian window that centers the house built by Ephraim Russ is set in an unusual manner. According to the White Pine series of architectural monographs, "The carrying down of the plain surface of the frieze to the cornice of the Palladian window is a feature not usually found in houses of this type."
RENSSELAERVILLE — Riders down Albany Hill Road overlooking the historic hamlet have witnessed the restoration of a large, three-story house as it is brought back into the heritage of Rensselaerville.
The Myers family that traces its lineage to Daniel Conkling, the man who first owned the house, in 1806, is having the property restored, to make it an alternative home.
Stewart Myers said he had tracked the fate of the property as it was foreclosed by the county and purchased in 2011 by an environmental conservation group.
The final work is being done on the home this year, and Myers would like to restore the outbuildings and barns on the land, once a dairy farm.
Roswell Eldridge, whose family owned the home in the mid-20th Century, owns a home across the street, on land that used to be part of the Conkling Farm.
“Stew said to me, ‘Our goal is to have the front of the house be such that, if your grandmother would come back for tea she would feel very much at home,’” said John Eldridge, who spent a summer at the house as a child when his parents owned it.
Eldridge said the house was eventually sold to a family that abandoned the property. The county foreclosed due to owed taxes.
The front and original portion of the cream-colored house has largely been restored — more than 20 windows surround a dining room, living room, front hall, bedrooms, and a library.
The original builder, Ephraim Russ, is known as the builder of all four churches in the Rensselaerville hamlet and several historic homes in the early 1800s.
The Open Space Institute bought the Albany Hill Road property in 2011, and sold a portion of it to CBM Farm. The institute holds a conservation easement limiting development of the land, which contains streams and wetlands.
Stewart Myers said “CBM” stands for “Conkling,” the original builder, “Boardman,” his mother’s maiden name, and “Myers,” his family surname. Myers, a financial economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a member of CBM Farm LLC, as is his wife, Maureen Myers; his brother, Roy Myers; and his sister-in-law, JoAnne Myers.
Roy Myers is retired from IBM and is now a Coast Guard licensed captain in Maryland. The letters CBM are also the initials of the Myers’s late sister, a librarian in North Carolina who researched the family’s history. She gave copies of her research to the Rensselaerville Historical Society, said Janet Haseley, a trustee and research chairwoman of the society.
“Because it’s architecturally very, very beautiful,” Stewart Myers said of the reason for CBM Farm’s project. “And it has family connections going back 200 years.”
When CBM Farm bought the home, it had been looted and strewn with layers of trash, home to squatters over the years it was abandoned. Still, it was structurally sound, said Myers.
Rear additions to the house that Myers estimated were made in the early 20th Century were stripped to their studs for new electrical wiring, plumbing, and heating, said Bill Warren, the project’s general contractor. The kitchen was enlarged with the removal of servants’ rooms, and an opening was made to connect it to the front hall.
The cracked marble fireplaces were repaired and a chimney for three fireplaces was taken apart to install a third flue. The chimney’s dimensions were maintained, Warren said.
“By the time we came through the roof and the attic, we took only one side of it apart,” Warren said of the chimney. The house has a total of five working fireplaces, he said.
Broken windows in the front portion of the house were restored with thin glass from the 1800s.
“You could see things are made by hand,” Warren said. “You can just really feel it when you’re there, that they’re constructed one piece at a time.”
The main stairway was badly damaged, with its walnut balusters and railing knocked down.
“We were able to find virtually every piece of the railing, to take every splinter and glue it back together,” said Warren, of Warren Builders in Latham. He said just two splinters had to be filled and a dozen hand-made balusters were replaced.
Up the stairs, bedroom walls were moved to match how they were previously. Light shines into the home through a large Palladian window.
“The carrying down of the plain surface of the frieze to the cornice of the Palladian window is a feature not usually found in houses of this type,” says an article on the house in the White Pine series of architectural monographs from the 1920s. The home is described as having “quiet dignity” and referred to as “The Eldridge House,” then the summer home of Elizabeth Huyck Eldridge, the great-granddaughter of the original owner.
Family tree with deep roots
When John Eldridge was a child, he said, his parents used the big house on Albany Hill Road as a summer home, willed to them by his grandmother. He remembered playing flashlight tag among the apple trees on the property and canasta on leather suitcases in the library, then known as the pine room.
The Eldridges are distantly related to the Myers. The Myers’s lineage descends from David Conkling, the son of Daniel Conkling, Haseley said. She said Daniel came from East Hampton, Long Island, along with other families, and was one of the earliest to settle in Rensselaerville.
Another of his children, Isabella, married John S. Huyck, whose son ran a felt mill in the hamlet.
Eldridge’s great uncle, Edmund Niles Huyck was the son of the man who ran the felt mill in Rensselaerville that was an economic anchor for the hamlet. A preserve named after him and started by his widow, Jessie Van Antwerp Huyck, is where Stewart Myers hiked on his visits to Rensselaerville when he was living in Albany.
“When I was growing up, my mother would talk about spending some time in the summers there and she said she recalled how she borrowed a diamond ring from somebody, maybe Mrs. Eldridge, and wrote her name on a window pane,” said Stewart Myers.
As the windows were being restored for CBM Farm, the pane with “Mary” inscribed was found.
Warren said he could hear the cars slowing down as they rode past the property.
“You can tell that, because of that kind of family history, and the way his heart is that it’s very important for him to preserve the house,” Warren said of Myers. “I think the town itself, all the townspeople that stopped in, they’re just so happy it’s being preserved.”