What would you call this old house???

sarahandbrayApril 5, 2006

This is our 1860's house that's just south of Albany, NY. We just call it a "19th c. farmhouse." Anyone have any insight as to what else it might be?

Some interior details...3100 sq. ft, 6 bedrooms, 2.5 bath (obviously added after construction!), five rooms on first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room, parlor, "playroom" plus an entranceway. Two staircases--front staircase has two landings as it curves up.

No structural changes have been made to the house--just man's first aluminum siding in the 50's (which went over where the wood scalloping was as well), a temporary porch railing (as shown), and the shutters were taken down (and a couple of aluminum ones put up...but not all the way around the house like it used to be.).

Sarah from Selkirk, NY

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"19th c. farmhouse" is what I'd call it, especially if it was built in the 1860's. It seems to be a large rambling house that had been added on to. That bay next to the porch looks like it may have been an addition in the 1880's, perhaps. I can't tell clearly from the picture, but I have an idea that maybe a second floor could have been added to the back part in the picture.
Farmhouses tended to grow with the years as the farmer's family and prosperity grew. If you take a basic Georgian or Federal style house built in 1820, then somebody came along and added a whole new facade and porches and bays in the 1890's making the place look more like a Queen Anne, you can't describe the place as an 1820 Queen Anne, now can you?
Go with an airy, "Oh, it's just a comfortable old 19th c.farmhouse. It suits us to a T."

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 2:30PM
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Hi, Sarah from a fellow Cap. Dist. old house owner,

The cross gable and the overhang are interesting and unusual details. I live about an hour northeast of you, and your house doesn't look typical for my area for 1860's houses. Selkirk was probably more up-to-the-latest-style than where I live out in the sticks, but most of our 1860 houses are large 5-bay center hall, or gable-end late Greek Revival style (in a very vernacular way) structures. They have much wider and bolder dimensions and trim details. I can't think of a single building with the more fluid, assymetric massing like yours from that time period. Do you have timber frame or balloon contruction? Is it possible your building had a major structural remodel sometime closer to the turn of the century?

I like your house a lot; it looks like a very sheltering, house-y house, and well-loved and cared for!


    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 3:15PM
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The eve kicks, the comprehensive trim, and the wide bay (which doesn't seem to be exactly 45*) points me toward a late queen-anne shingle style kind of thing. They liked to border the shingles with horizontal bands of trim to de-emphasize the vertical tendancies inherent in QA massing, which this house has.
That said, it still could be a very-well-done remodel of an earlier building.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 7:39AM
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WOW...you guys definitely know more about this than I do!! Thanks so much for the responses already! I love reading this stuff!

What I do know is that there have been no additions to this since it was built (save for a very small mudroom off the kitchen in the back). My FIL grew up in this house from the 40's on...and it was one of the original three or four houses owned by the Selkirk family. I'm pretty positive there have been no additions to this house since the footprint of the basement is all the same throughout--these huge, gigantic blocks making up the foundation--it looks like it would stand up through just about any major catastrophe. We have pictures of it from the early part of the century and it looks pretty much the same (but with a much more ornate railing, as I said, and the wood siding with scalloping at the top by the attic and where it flares out right above the first floor (I'm sure there are more technical terms for these areas that I just don't know!!) Plus, the interior trim and hardwoods are all uniform throughout.

My personal favorite feature are the built-in cabinets that are original as well--they have been refinished at some point, I know, but I just love them to pieces--they are currently in the back of the house that we rent to a tenant, but we'll be opening it all up come July 1st and I CAN'T WAIT to have them in my dining room!!! No need for much other furniture, save the table, with these built-ins!

Thanks again for looking :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 11:17AM
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Your cabinets are just lovely!
I have to say then, the house can't be 1860's. There could have been an earlier house from then, but not this particular one. If there were no major structural changes to an older house, well, there you are...a late 19th c. farmhouse built in Queen Anne style. I keep thinking 1880's.
Have fun in there.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 12:06PM
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Are you going to move the built-ins or just open up the rented portion to use yourself? They are truly beautiful, but I would want to leave them where they are. Were they intended as cupboards in a grand butler's pantry, or in a more public portion of the house?

I'm curious about why you think the house was built in 1860. Perhaps it is on the site of an earlier 1860 house that was torn down or even burnt.

How was it heated originally? I can see one chimney at the intersection in the roof. Because we are here, so close to Troy (a major source of very early heating/cooking stoves), houses without fireplaces can be earlier than in other areas. (BTW, there is a wonderful exhibit at the Albany Institute of Hist. of early stoves. It's well worth a visit.) Is the foot print of your cellar an exact copy of the above-ground portion? For instance, is there cellar underneath the porch? And what kind of construction is the main body? Where I live timberframe was still the rule through about 1870, with balloon framing generally indicating a house was constructed after 1875 (timberframing for barns lingered longer).

It is tricky dating houses solely on human occupation ("one of the Selkirk family's houses") as houses were often altered, moved or lost to fires. My own farm has been lived on continuously since the 1790's, but none of my existing buildings date from that era.

How about the other remaining Selkirk family houses, are they similar to yours? In a family compound, it is often likely that one daughter (or DIL!), or even grandaughter, was more fashion-forward, and so for a variety of social/human reasons you can have a multi-age/style grouping.

You mentioned a double-landing front stairway ... what are the bannisters and newel post like? And where is it inside the building?

I hope you won't feel bummed by our (admittedly from a distance)impressions that your house is 1880's not 1860. We are not trying dampen your pleasure in such a lovely house, just make some observations about its style and age.

Have you chained your deed, or examined the 19th c tax records? Often very valuable clues are contained in those. I have done some research in the Albany Co. clerk's old records and they are well-kept and accessible. It should be an easy task since you have such a long family association with the property.

At any any event your house is very cool! Are you planning on removing the siding and exposing the older boards? That's probably a lot of work, but the results would be worth it. (Easy for me to say, since I won't be the one doing the scraping or painting!)



    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 2:34PM
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Oh no, Molly, don't worry about offending me! I really do just want to find out more about the house. I'm a history teacher, so you'd think I'd know more about my own house than I do!

OK...without getting the real specifics from my FIL and husband, here's why we were pretty sure it was late 1860's...

--found an old plot plan from the county that showed it here in 1873
--the upstairs attic has a separate bedroom in that top left eave that used to be rented out to train workers during that era (possibly builders? not sure...)
--old handpump still recognizable in the crawl space under the kitchen....but that could be later 19th century, I guess

other reasons, I'll find out later--because I really want to date this too!

As to your very helpful questions...
--the built-ins are in the dining room--public area, not a pantry by any means. This picture may make more sense (although, again, please ignore dear tenant's mess)

No, we are not moving them! As you can see that boarded over door is simply going to be opened up and that is our part of the house--we have the front 2/3 up/down and he has the back 1/3. That was the deal when we bought it three years ago--that the owner could live here and rent from us for two years (which has turned into three years and one month--but he's out for good come July 1st!!!!)

The reason I found this board is because we have a complete kitchen overhaul slated for this summer/fall.

There are three Italian marble (I think) fireplaces in the first floor of the house (you can see one of them in the above picture), but they never had wood-burning fireplaces in them--just coal-burning stoves. Have obviously been plastered over some years ago. Makes sense with your Troy reference. It is my understanding that they're original to the house--but who knows! The chimmneys have been capped off in the attic--why, I have no idea.

As far as framing, neither my husband or I know what kind of framing it is--how can we tell?

As far as the porch goes...I don't think there is basement underneath it...I'll have to check, I guess. It seems to me there isn't. So possibly an add-on section, you're saying?? I know the basement goes at least up to the porch/bay window area. I'm also not sure why the whole basement is full-size except for the area under the kitchen--that's a crawl space. But the foundation doesn't change at all...weird...and annoying for a kitchen rennovation!

I don't really have a good picture of the stairway in the front--the back one is more non-descript--goes straight up from just inside the back door in between the dining room and kitchen.

The front stairway goes up to the left once you enter the front door (the one on the right in the first picture). Two steps--then landing where you see that window to the left of the front door--then 8 steps up towards the back of the house--then five steps up to the right. Two spindles on the railing per tread. Large pillars at each turn with big round wood tops. (like my technical description?? I'll post pics later)

I wish I had a scanner because I could show you the old picture I have from the 30's/40's. It's really quite neat with the wood siding, scalloping, porch railing, and working wooden shutters all the way around.

Thanks again for all the insight--keep it coming!! :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 4:08PM
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Okay, you have several possibilities here. One is that there was a house on that spot that was torn down, burned or otherwise removed and replaced with this house.
Another is that the old house is hidden somewhere within the walls of the present house. You would be able to tell that only if you started doing renovations that gave you clues, or if you found a picture of the house in the 1860's or early 70's and found something within that picture that definately corresponds to something in the present day house.
There's a very old house down the road from us that was purchased some years back by a very wealthy couple who were sure that it was the oldest house in town. The oldest part of the house was deep within the existing structure, which had been added on to several times during 150 or so years.
Old timers all knew there was an old house inside the other old house, they also knew that the old old house the wealthy couple thought they owned actually buned down many years ago after it had been moved to the other side of the river. There was quite a bit of a to-do and arguing about it. Suffice to say the wealthy homeowners were not happy to find out they didn't own the oldest house in town after all. They did though, keep insisting they were right and everyone else was wrong. They sold the house after a couple of years. Some think they decided that maybe the 2nd or 3rd oldest house in town wasn't good enough for them.
I'm telling you this story because if you're sure the house existed in the 1860's it's got to be buried under a bunch of other stuff. You'll have to do some hunting if you want to find out the truth.
Another hint that could help you could lie in your town library, that is if you had one of those people who a hundred years or so ago decided to write a town history. We've been blessed with at least one person like that here. In the stories he wrote, he also made note of various places and people just in passing. That was how even I, a newcomer, knew that the old house the wealthy couple thought they had was long gone.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 5:15PM
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It's basically a vernacular farmhouse. It could well date from the 1860s, but if so, it's been through some changes. Like the others, I'd guess a bit later.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 8:47PM
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Here's a useful set of papers on old houses and their care:

#17 and #35 will help you "see" your building and understand how it came to look like it does. Plus there's tons of really good technical info in the rest of the series.

PS: Have you discovered Historic Albany's Old House Warehouse? Great for salvage, and useful for help on local style details. Open late in the week and on Saturday.

Here is a link that might be useful: National Park Service Preservation Brief Series

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 1:25AM
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Thanks, guys! I'm checking into it already...I want my husband to prove he found that 1873 survey/plot plan...let's see if he can produce it! And if so, make sure it's the same house!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 8:23AM
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Before I had a scanner I used to take photos of old photographs that I wanted to reproduce. I'd load the disc into the computer, then crop the picture. Sometimes it would need a slight brightening, though to tell you the truth, if you posted just a half decent image here, I could download it into my computer and perk it up for you. I did that for someone on another board once. She downloaded the fixed picture back onto her computer because she didn't have a clue how to fix it herself.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 10:30AM
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Good thinking! I could do that! I guess I'll do that tomorrow after I download all the other pictures off my camera from the past couple of weeks :)


    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 10:30PM
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Your pictures bring back so many memories for me of my very first home and I loved that house. My old house was built in 1890 and had very similar cabinetry and the hardware appears identical. Thanks for posting so many pictures. I loved my old house.

It is very interesting to do research on a house and it is done in the same manner that you do genealogy research. Land records and tax lists are very easy to research and in most states the Recorder's Office is very helpful. It is not expensive to send for land records and the highest I've paid is $1.00 per copy which is nothing for original documents. Even if there is no Will at a time of death, sometimes a Settlement Deed will name all surviving heirs. You can also find Deeds of Gift which is land deeded before death to avoid taxes...yes there was a death tax on land even back in the 1600s!

Tax records will reveal how the land was used. For instance in most states land and horses were taxed. But in PA not only land and horses, but cattle, oxen, sheep and even dogs were taxed. Oxen were rare and basically revealed that the owner was doing quite well financially. And if there were dogs, being pets were not popular with the working class until the 1900s, dogs were working animals and used for herding or pulling carts.

Good luck and I love your house!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 12:54PM
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This is such an interesting thread. It makes me chuckle because as Molly mentions the wealthy couple who had to buy "the oldest house in town" and nowadays it seems like we are a dying breed (although after reading on the kitchens forum and this old house forum, I am starting to wonder--there are a lot of people who so lovingly care for these old houses, unlike the area where we live). So many people want new houses and the newer the better (even ten years old is old to them) and it also made me smile when someone mentioned to not be disappointed because the OP's house might actually be twenty years younger (1880s not 1860s) than previously thought. That makes me heart smile because I know that when we found out our house was built in 1941, not 1929, I was really disappointed!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 4:09PM
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Your house looks like a modest Queen Anne to me. I live in one myself. It was built in 1887 by a reasonably well-to-do family, but they were not obscenely rich, so it is more toned-down than some of the Queen Anne's that make it into picture books.

Clues: asymettry, massive roof (this was to give the house a more vertical aspect ratio, as the victorians wanted their houses to be castle-like), second floor overhang over bay (I have that), the 2:1 aspect ratio of the windows. Also check out house of antique hardware and see if you can find some patterns that resemble the latches on your cabinets; it's hard to see the exact details but they look a bit Eastlake style to me.

Other things that will help to place your house include looking for gas lines in the walls and near light fixtures (you might try unscrewing a ceiling fixture and looking for a capped off gas line; we have them everywhere). I don't know what decade that would put you on one side or the other of, but a wikipedia or similar search on electrification would tell you. If you have dual gas/electric fixtures that would give you a decade (see rejuvenation lighting). Also the number of panes in your windows can be tied to a time period. I wish I remembered all of this off the top of my head, but it can be looked up. Your doorknobs might give you another clue.

Victorians were not all about gingerbread and frills; they were into enjoying nature and maximizing comfort; thus the large windows, high ceilings, and window placement that maximizes natural light and cross-ventilation. My husband and I both have engineering training so we really appreciate the ergonomic aspects of living in a Victorian. Sunshine and fresh air never go out of style. Enjoy your wonderful home!

Here is a link that might be useful: House of antique hardware

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 1:30PM
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I was searching for something else completely and came across this old post of mine. Just resurrecting it, seeing if there were any other opinions on date of this house before I go off on the hunt with old records in the town's offices.
Here is is, circa 1940-something before the aluminum siding was put on it. Small community 8 miles south of Albany--so very rural for the time period, I would imagine.

More guesses on architectural style or age??


    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 9:14AM
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Hey Sarah!

I'm going to vote for 1880's. There may very well have been an earlier house or a hidden house, but the details you have showing now are too similar to parts of ours for me to say anything else.
Just last year, in the new part of the house we actually found a builders block in our wall with the date of 1898!!! So, even though we were unable to date the remodel before- we now know from the builder himself. Our interior trim in the 1890's looks just like yours.
Our older part is pre-civil war. The window panes are small and plentiful and the trim is mitered.
The "new" part has 2 larger panes like yours. I remember reading somewhere that the window panes had to be smaller due to manufacturing/shipping constraints before a certain time period.
We knew one part was much older but it was hard to find out where. The part that fooled us for so long was the roof. After the remodel they put on an entire new attic and roof of slate- so no seams or construction differences- until the walls came crumbling down.....then we could see balloon framing in one part and platform framing in the old part.
I hope you find more records, ours apparently have burned and/or flooded over the years.....
Good Luck,

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 5:41PM
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Thanks, Heather!
I've always been convinced it's 1880's-1890's--just recently I read that by then, regular, fairly well-off families were able to afford these large Victorian homes but not with the all of the super-fancy frills of some of the homes they copied. My husband still thinks it is 1871 or earlier...hmmmm ;)
I think the term for this type of house was "Folk Victorian." There are a handful of these pretty massive old homes in the area with the same thick bandboards, the scalloping, and heavy trim in the eaves. Most have the same shutters too--louvered with a center stile and tilt rod.
I'm guessing the railing should be a clue, too, but I have no idea how to date this stuff. I have to get digging--I really am curious about it! We know what happened to it from the 1940's to present as my in-laws lived next door and my husband's uncle on the other side (both originally parts of this house's property), but prior to 1940 we just don't know.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 5:59PM
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    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 11:03PM
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