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Developer Eyes N.Y. "Mount Vernon"

Story by Catherine Finn / Nov. 9, 2006
From Preservation Online

Neighbors of a 19th-century house in Niskayuna, N.Y., are trying to fight a commercial development on its 12-acre estate that will turn the nursing home into a restaurant.

Schenectady-based Highbridge Development, which will be able to buy the land once its building permits are approved, wants to demolish the 1840s addition to the Stanford Home, move the main building from its hilltop to another part of the property, and convert it to a restaurant. Highbridge not only wants to build businesses on the land but level the hill that many locals consider a defining feature of the property.

Standford Mansion
When a developer's permits are approved, it will move the Stanford Home, level its hill, and build office buildings in its place. (Linda Champagne)

Originally 800 acres, the estate was the home and farm of John Duncan, whose son was reportedly a Loyalist spy during the Revolutionary War. In 1816, after a fire burned down the original house, the Schulyer family built the existing Federal-style mansion. Josiah Stanford bought the house before the Civil War, and his family started selling off the land in the 1920s.

"The mansion has changed little over the years and is still beautiful and imposing," says John Wolcott, a local preservationist who co-founded Friends of the Stanford Home last November.

Wolcott's group is in a prolonged battle with the developer, government officials, and the owners of the nursing home. They hope that because of the presence of an aquifier-which, if disturbed, could raise water levels in the area-the Stanford Home and its hill will remain untouched.

Moving the Federal-style house would disqualify its consideration for historic designation, and Linda Champagne, a member of Friends of the Stanford Home and town historian, wants the house recognized as a historic site. (It is currently not on any local, state, or national register.) She envisions the building as a learning center for the history of the land and property. There are a large amount of antique books, letters, and artifacts that Champagne says could be displayed in the building.

"There's nothing like it. We have such rich documentation on the history of the building and the surrounding area," Champagne says. "It's our Mount Vernon."

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