Schenectady’s Stockade District

img_3881I’VE BEEN TO TROY, N.Y. (and blogged about it here), and to Albany (likewise) and was impressed with both, but never to Schenectady, the third sister city in New York State’s Capital District.

But I’m not averse to covering a place I’ve never visited when photos come my way. These were taken by my wasband, Jeff Greenberg, who was in Schenectady recently for the first time and was wowed by the abundance of historic architecture, like the c. 1760 Dutch Colonial above.


Turns out that Schenectady’s Stockade Historic District is the oldest residential neighborhood in the country, where more than 40 pre-Revolutionary buildings survive, along with many from the 19th century in a wide range of styles.

Settled on the Mohawk River by Dutch fur-traders nearly 400 years ago, the area played an important role in Revolutionary war supply lines and became prosperous in the 1800s when the Erie Canal was built half a mile away.

Read more (much more) about its history on the Stockade Association’s website here, and listen to block-by-block narratives about the city’s historic architecture here.

Meanwhile, have a little taste of what Schenectady has to offer old-house aficionados, below.


Below, a Renaissance Revival style mansion with original woodwork, ironwork and tile intact. A similar house next door, which has been chopped up into 14 apartments, is on the market for $725K. Find the listing here.


Nearly Untouched 1829 Townhouse in Historic Center City Philadelphia $550K


IT’S ALMOST BEYOND BELIEF, that a grand 1829 townhouse like this, now on the market (<- Sotheby’s listing with many more photos) for only $550K in a primo Philly neighborhood, should remain in such antique condition to the present day.

Not that the owner of 31 years, a craftsman, didn’t put a lot of work into it. He did, even hand-laying slate tiles on the pitched roof.

29175352_bigThe current condition reminds me of the Dennis Severs House , which I once toured n Spitalfields, London, and which was never even electrified — this Philly house has much new wiring and plumbing — or the aesthetic of designer John Dorian’s New York apartment, where cracked plaster and scuffed wide plank floors were cherished, not renovated into oblivion.

Can you imagine granite countertops and a marble bath in this house? Sheetrock walls and recessed lights? Horrors. Sacrilege! Someone buy it, please, and live in it the way it is — or don’t live in it, just let it be. It’s a perfect house to do nothing to.

I’m sort of kidding. I would need to undertake some restorative plasterwork of the walls and ceilings, and there’s only one half-bath operational at present. No doubt one could sink millions into it. On the other hand, look at the asking price.


recent post on Curbed Philly says the house was built by Joseph and Eliza Shoemaker, Jr., who used the ground floor as a drug store.

It’s at 1221 Pine Street on the corner of Camac Street in the Center City neighborhood of Washington Square Park. It’s over 2,600 square feet, with six bedrooms. Only one half-bath currently functions; another full bath is almost ready to go.

The house is zoned RSA-5 for residential or mixed-use, with a historic designation the requires consulting with the city’s Historic Commission.

“Restore to historic grandeur”? Maybe. I like it the way it is.


More description gleaned from the Sotheby’s listing:

City records report 2,643 square feet, but the house could be over 3,000 if you count the basement was dug out and expanded top floor.
The exterior has two working gas lanterns, brick sidewalks and an iron fence.
The home has four entrances on both Pine and Camac Streets. The first floor has an entry vestibule and three large rooms with 10-12′ ceilings.
The second floor has three rooms with two fireplaces, one marble. The third floor has three rooms, one with fireplace, and the fourth floor has one large room with a fanlight window and a door leading to the roof.
The basement has been dug out, with high ceilings and a sidewalk entrance.
There are gas lines for some ceiling and wall fixtures.
The previous homeowner installed some new wiring and plumbing. There is one working half bath and a full bath will all new plumbing, but the water is not on to test it. There are two other bathroom spaces that have been roughed in.



Outdoor Shower of My Dreams & Other Home Improvements


AS THE SUMMER OF ’16 fades into memory (say it isn’t so!), I’m taking stock of what I’ve accomplished and trying to savor those accomplishments, instead of feeling, as usual, that I haven’t done enough.

By far the best and most ambitious thing I have to show for the season is a fabulous 5’x5′ outdoor shower designed and built by Max Greenberg of Works Progress, a young Philadelphia craftsman I happen to have given birth to.

I had had a generous platform built earlier in the summer, below, right outside my back door, and the shower plumbed against the outside back wall of the house, with a big rainhead showerhead, before construction of the enclosure began. (Yes, yes, I know… now that there’s a reason to go out back, I have to paint that side of the house. It’s never-ending.)

We went wood-shopping here in East Hampton for clear red cedar (cost a fortune, worth every penny). Then Max and his friend Curtis, working partly under a tent in pouring rain, constructed the shower, with slatted segments for ventilation and a fitted interior, in just two days.

An outdoor shower enhances the beach-house experience like nothing else.


Earlier in the summer, a friend helped me insert some cedar logs and railroad tiles into a sloping wood-chip path, below, to make climbing easier and prevent all the wood chips from ending up at the bottom of the hill when it rains hard — a definite functional improvement.


I also had a Suffolk County water line run from the road to the house, so I’m no longer dependent on my private well, wondering the water is really OK to drink.

That was a disruptive day-and-a-half, involving the invasion of a backhoe (remarkably, they maneuvered skillfully around all my plantings) and the digging of three enormous deep holes, two within the property line and one outside, to snake the new water line to my pump under the deck.

The water pressure is great, but now I’ll have to pay for water, something I didn’t think of before (duh).


I then had to repair the damage made to the soil, as the backhoe had turned over massive piles of orange-y dirt in three places. (Not that the quality of my soil is so great. In fact, when I realized I have only a few inches of decent topsoil over driest sand, I’m amazed I’m able to grow as much as I can).

02Outside the fence, stretching along about 150′ of roadside, I decided to plant a 6′-wide swath of evergreen ground cover called purple wintercreeper, at the suggestion of Brooklyn-based landscape architect Kim Hoyt.

(Those are not my initials on the photo at left; it stands for Classy Groundcovers, the name of the Georgia mail-order company they came from.)

I ordered 500 bare-root plants and spent two days in early September putting in 350 of them, using a combination of bulb digger, trowel and Japanese hori hori knife to dig the holes. Then, in severe pain from two days of crouching and kneeling, I called in reinforcements to plant the last 150.


To address the damage to the area just inside my entry gate, which had been a natural path through soft gray beach sand, I decided to avail myself of the free scallop shells some seafood operation had piled at the local dump, a wonderful resource where compost, mulch and wood chips are also available to residents.

I’d used scallop shells whole as a decorative mulch in one small area, but now I decided to use them in lieu of gravel, crushed, as the early Americans did (you can see them at Williamsburg, Virginia, used as path material between raised planting beds).

Dumping about 10 buckets of lightweight scallop shells, then stomping on them, was simple and rather fun, but whether it was a solution to anything, or whether I’ll be able to live with the look of it, remains to be seen. The jury is still out on the aesthetics of that one.

Hopefully they’ll bleach in the sun and mellow over the winter to look more organic, and I ought to plant something along the sides, perhaps. Right now, “It’s… crunchy,” is the best one friend could come up with upon seeing my new scallop shell path. That it is.




Summer of Sunsets


LIVING A SIX-MINUTE WALK from a west-facing bay beach on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., I’ve become something of a professional sunset chaser, often with wine glass in hand.

The sunsets here are particularly gratifying. I’ve learned you can’t tell beforehand how spectacular a sunset will be, and that the colors only grow more vivid after the sun dips below the horizon, reaching peak saturation about 20 minutes later, and then beginning to fade.

Since last May, I’ve missed very few sunsets, from the fair-to-middling to the wowie-kazowie. Here, a few of the latter.

May 15


June 10


June 15


June 16


July 10


July 26


August 26


September 2


September 11 (Montauk)


September 20 & 21


Posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, MISCELLANEOUS | Tagged | 9 Comments

Two Days in Vermont

FullSizeRender 8

IT TOOK ME A WHILE to get this blog post up, mainly because I’ve been annoyed at myself for all the images I did not capture on a recent two-day trip to Vermont.

Where are the über-charming farmhouses with their gaudy cottage gardens, the spectacular barn architecture, all the square-ish Italianate Victorians? In my head, but not in my camera.

It’s hard to keep stopping on a road trip, especially when you’re not the driver. You’d never get anywhere, and we had just two days for this pilgrimage from the small state’s southwestern-most corner, up through Bennington to Burlington, on the shore of Lake Champlain, then back down through national forest and dairy lands dotted with cows.

But enough with the apologia. Here is some of what I did see of midsummer Vermont.

Top: Hummingbird wall in surprisingly urban Burlington, Vermont’s largest city


A 19th century commercial building in Bennington, housing the South Street Cafe & Bakery (“Coffee – Community – Culture”), a perfectly timed lunch stop.

Vermont’s college towns, of which there are many, are good places to find hip (but not too hip) cafés, with house-made bread and desserts, and really good local cheese.

FullSizeRender 2

Storefronts on Bennington’s Main Street retain their vintage character.


Ye olde covered bridge, one of several 19th c. lattice-truss bridges over the Waloomsac River in Bennington, where there was once a paper mill.


The first gun shop I saw, above, was shocking. Then you get used to them.

FullSizeRender 10

Vermont’s roads are in tiptop shape. They’re constantly working on them. We were stopped four times in two days for periods of up to 15 minutes to accommodate road work.

FullSizeRender 9

Though I’m no longer interested in stopping at every antique shop or barn sale, there are some that look intriguing.

FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4FullSizeRender 5

A fine, faded Greek Revival outside Bennington.


No interstates for us.


The 19th c. brick commercial architecture of Burlington rivals that of Boston and New York, on a smaller scale.

FullSizeRender 6FullSizeRender 7

Sparkling Lake Champlain at close of day, seen from Burlington’s waterfront. Credit longtime mayor Bernie Sanders for the exquisite mile-long recreational development of the waterfront, including parks, bike lanes, marinas.

We found a terrific dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant called Hen of the Wood.

FullSizeRender 12FullSizeRender 11

A detour in search of scenery took us through the minuscule town of Wallingford, where we stumbled on Handmade in Vermont, a shop worth a half hour’s browsing, in a two-century-old stone building that once housed a pitchfork factory.


Scenery found.

Posted in ROAD TRIPS, TRAVEL | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

My Friends’ Gardens


FROM THE SUNNY SANDS of Far Rockaway in eastern Queens to the backyards of Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, from the Connecticut shore to the Long Island beachfront, many of my friends are enthusiastic amateur gardeners, and often share photos with me. It’s a varied lot, to be sure, but there’s a common denominator: we are all nurturers who delight in wresting beauty from sometimes-unlikely places.

Susan in Connecticut turned her driveway, below — the sunniest available spot — into a tidy and productive vegetable garden, with gravel pathways separating the raised beds.

Barbara created an appealing oasis in a Manhattan backyard with virtually NO direct sunlight, making the most of it with a wood deck and filling in with shade-loving container plants.


Nancy’s 30-year-old Boerum Hill garden, though north-facing, receives lots of sunlight. The climbing roses and hydrangea, along with stands of wood hyacinth and irises, do their thing year after year with a minimum of attention. The dark-leaved shrub with pinkish flowers is a lacy elderberry planted last fall, after a tree peony in that spot gave up the ghost.


On Long Island’s South Shore, Irvina created what she calls her ‘Giverny-inspired’ stoop. Yellow and purple flowers in blue and terracotta containers bringing abundant summer color to her gray-shingled house and cedar steps.


And a view of Marlene’s sun-drenched Far Rockaway beach cottage garden in its exuberant summer prime, along with one from last May when irises were exploding…


Finally, on Shelter Island between Long Island’s North and South Forks, Debre’s envy-inducing profusion of recent blooms included lilies, echinacea and dianthus. She’s worked hard to improve the rocky soil, and it seems the flowers have responded. (The photo at the top of this post, of the bee on the echinacea, is also from Debre’s garden.)


Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING | 1 Comment

Behold the Lilies


CONSIDER THE LILIES of the field, and let’s not forget the hydrangeas, ladies’ mantel, astilbe, verbena and other things… July here at Green Half-Acre is turning out OK after all.

Lilies — whether fancy ones from a catalogue, yard sale buckets of roadside orange day lilies, hybrids passed on by a friend, bulbs picked up last summer at the Long Island Daylily  Society show and sale in Farmingdale — all seem to do well here, and they’re so EASY. More lilies, I say!

Above: Showstoppers alongside my front walk (Netty’s Pride, and mine too.)


The purple things are verbena bonariensis, said to be a self-seeding annual, and I hope it is in years to come. That backdrop of greenery is sweet-smelling native bayberry, which was here on my arrival three-plus years ago.


Your classic Hamptons blue hydrangea. True, I don’t have many such, but even a few are spectacular.


More rhodies! These a later-blooming native type, of which I have inherited some two major stands. I  missed seeing them last July and the one before (when the house was rented) and am thoroughly enjoying them now.


The long-blooming yellow ladies’ mantel in the foreground is a treat; I’ve tried it before, elsewhere, without success. Here it’s become a standout.


In the wooded part of the property, still largely ‘undeveloped,’ a profusion of white hydrangea blossoms from a bush bought for $5 from a local couple who have a nursery of sorts in their modest backyard.


I am pleased with my scallop shell mulch on one side of the front walk. The shells are available at the local recycling center, i.e. dump, where some commercial fishing operation evidently dumped them for the taking. The grasses are chasmanthium (sea oats) and, if I remember correctly, Prairie Fire grass that isn’t getting enough sun to turn red.


Things to come: Turk’s cap lily buds in abundance.

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, MISCELLANEOUS | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments