Friday, March 30, 2018

Emmett House on River Road - UPDATED! And Updated again!

NOTE: Please be sure to read, or skim, through to the end. 
More info from the family has been added. Enjoy! 

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to visit historic Bethlehem homes.  Yesterday I got the chance to go through the Samaritan Shelters property on River Road.  Samaritan is closing up shop and they are looking for a buyer.  I, of course, was more interested in the historic house (built circa 1837!) and the families who lived there.

This view is circa 1900 (sorry for the bad quality - it is a snapshot of xerox copy!)

This view is stolen from Google Maps.
Samaritan has been here about 40 years providing a vital service for troubled youths.  They purchased the property from the Schmitt sisters - Claire and Marie.

Local lore, says the two sisters grew to despise each other and literally walled the house in half, Marie on one side and Claire on the other.   At some point the addition on the rear was made - maybe in the 1950s - in an attempt to run a boarding house for teachers.   Both Claire and Marie were teachers in the Bethlehem Central School District.  Claire from 1931 to 1965 and  Marie taught at St. Anne's School in Albany from 1928 to 1935 and then at Elsmere School from 1935 to 1969.

From census records, it looks like the family landed on the farm as early as 1905 when they show up in the NY census.  In the 1910 US census, they are clearly on the property.  We've got George and Mary Schmitt (both 39 years old married for 10 years, he's a farmer) and four kids: Claire, Marie, George Jr and Eva.   In 1920, they are still there, but baby Eva (who was 2 in 1910) is no longer on the family list.  She probably passed away but I couldn't find a record of that.  Local lore does say that one child died young, and perhaps haunts the place.  Is this Eva?   The 1920 census also indicates that Anna, a daughter aged 5, has joined the family.  Right up to the 1940 census (the last one available to the public) the Schmitt's are living in the house: George and Mary, Claire, Marie and George Jr.  Anna is in the 1930 census but not in the 1940.  By that time, she has likely become the Mrs. Jacob Nester mentioned in the obituaries I found.

Mary died at the house in November 15, 1951 (she was a Dettinger by the way) and George the following March, 1952.  Of the teaching sisters, Claire died in 1976, and Marie hung in there until 1993.

This is the barn that was on the property until about 1980.
A 1916 reports says George and Mary grew hay on the 140 acres that they owned. 

But who owned the house before the Schmitt tenancy? This is where things get murky.  I've been promised a copy of the deed, which goes back to the Patroon era, but I haven't seen it yet.

The 1891 Beers map is interesting because it has a Mrs. Smith on the spot where the house is and there is a an J. Dettinger just around the corner (on today's Bask Road).  Remember Mary was a Dettinger.  The 1866 Beers map has A.E. Sweet, and the 1854 map has  D. Winne.

The house itself has good bones.  It is solid brick. In the basement, great wooden beams, as well as steel ones, hold up the 200+ year old sections.  While the walls upstairs have been paneled over and the floors carpeted, there are plenty of signs of old wood work and moulding including a marble fire place surround.  There is still an old carriage barn on the property, altho the big barn was removed years ago.

All in all, it is an intriguing historic property in Bethlehem!

PS: Samaritan Shelters named the place Emmett House.  As far as I know, there were no Emmetts that lived there.

UPDATES - I've got a copy of the deed!
(posted August 30, 2018)

The deed for this property came my way several months ago and it does trace the property back to Hugh Alexander who leased 200 acres on both sides of the river road from the patron Stephen VanRensselaer on September 17, 1792. 

The links and chains descriptions are some of the best I've read in a long time.  The transfer is dated April 1, 1853 between Hugh Alexander (and a bunch of relatives) to Adeline Winne, wife of David Winne. It begins at the "northeast corner of the Brick Dwelling House of the late James Alexander, deceased and runs from said point... E 11.83 chains to a wild plumb tree" And continues with a "marked walnut tree" and "a stake and stones".  But my favorite is " E. 5.73 chains to a point in the Albany and Green Turnpike Road where a butternut tree formerly stood"  You read that right, a tree that used to stand in the middle of the road! 

From Adeline Winne it went to the Albany Exchange Bank and thence to Benjamin Sweet (in 1863 - it is not clear how long Adeline owned the property)   Benjamin Sweet went bankrupt about 1876 and the property transferred to Matthew Read as assignee in the bankruptcy.  From there it went to Thomas Bagley in 1877.  In 1879 it went to Andrew Dettinger and then in 1901 to his daughter, Mary Schmitt, wife of George Schmitt.  Interestingly, Andrew Schmitt's will left the house and property to daughter Mary and a monthly annuity of $65 to his other daughter Anna.  In 1948 it went to Mary's daughters Marie and Claire.

And thankfully, all of the above info from the deed goes along with what the maps and even the house itself told me!

Oh and a final note, there was an easement granted in 1914 to the New York Telephone Company for them run poles  - I am hoping that the Schmitt's had a phone in 1914!

And yet another update
(posted April 7, 2020)

Not too long ago, a family member was in contact with me and very much wanted to clarify what I had written above.  Remember folks - local lore is just that - lore!

Debora Q. is the great-niece of Marie Schmitt and Claire Schmitt.  Here's exactly what she sent me:

There are a few changes to the story that you might want to make: Marie and Claire definitely did not despise one another, they didn't wall off the new part of the house from the old - the interior of the new part was never completed, and they lived together in the old section until Claire died in 1976.  Claire had the new section constructed because she wanted space for a large ceramics studio; she also planned to have guest bedrooms upstairs.  She never intended to run a boarding house for teachers.  

You might already know this, but Andrew Dettinger owned an ice business in New York City.  He harvested ice at Van Wies Point, and bought the house to serve as his home base when he was in town for the winter.  Later, he gave to my great grandparents, who moved to Glenmont from New York City.  Eva is their daughter Evelyn, who died at the age of three or so of a common childhood illness.  Anna was born after Evelyn's death.


  1. Just north of that house, on the North-west corner of Bask and River is an old school building. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Marie Weideman told us that was one of her schools she taught at. It wouldn't surprise me if the two sisters also had taught there. Are the one school house class registers still around is either the school's archive or at the Little Red School House Museum? It would be nice to be able to connect the dots.

  2. So far I haven't seen records for that school - it is the Van Wies Point School AKA District #6. I'm pretty sure it was built in the 1850s and closed and sold in the 1940s.

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