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A REMINDER OF THE VAST SPACES and great bargains still available in bucolic Delaware County, this mid-19th century farmhouse, currently owned by an artist and writer, was once the centerpiece of a farm called “The Overlook,” and it does indeed sit on a hill above the hamlet of Meridale, N.Y. The 6-bedroom, 2-bath house is just one of a complex of buildings, including a massive barn and a charming old storefront, not to mention nearly 30 acres of pastureland. Taxes not bad either — under $5,000/year.

I can’t say it better than Lynne Resch of Two Stones Realty, who has the listing right here, where you’ll also find more photos to dream on. See below for Lynne’s words:

Not unlike the nearby Hanford Mills Museum, this charming homestead is “intact”. This is how folks lived in the 19th century. A complex of buildings servicing their needs in a cozy, contained environment. Very much, if not exactly as it was when it was the engine of “The Overlook” Farm. And the property does indeed ‘overlook’ the charming hamlet of Meridale.
Full disclosure… I am in love with the store… having passed it, and its enormous turn-of-the-century crock on the porch, hundreds of times on the way to Oneonta.
The immediate live/work complex with big red barn would be satisfying enough. But the nearly 30 acres includes pastures and long-range views that put this offering at the top of the list. Spectacular views and open meadows hosted the owner’s own wedding and could provide the ideal for weddings to come.
The location is perfect for work or play… for a Catskills entrepreneur to a NYC expat/escapee. Keep an eye on the store while rocking on the porch, toiling in the studio, negotiating that wedding party, or tending the flock and herd in the barns. The options satisfy a wide range of interests. Literally midway between two college towns… Delhi (15 mins) and Oneonta (15 mins) you will want for nothing. Mere walking distance to Greenane Farms’ bounty, their amazing CSA, The Dutch Deli for that quart of milk and the charming hamlet of Meridale’s Post Office.
Area attractions nearby include The Hanford Museum, The West Kortright Centre, Stone & Thistle with Fable Dining, Harmony Hill, and the entire Western Catskills. 3 hours from NYC, easy access to Delhi and Oneonta, area attractions from The Hudson Valley to the Glimmerglass Opera, Fenimore Art Museum, and not-to-be-missed Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, make “Wedding Hill” a base for any dream.
And yes, a Trailways bus stop, cell phone service, high-speed internet!… pinch me!
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HAPPY NEW YEAR, devoted readers and anyone who may have landed accidentally on my humble six-year-old blog.

For my first post of 2015, here’s a small sampling of seasonally appropriate photos from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s online photo database. It’s a tremendous resource, and great fun to search when you’ve got a free evening or it’s too damn cold to go outside.

The images in this post are lantern slides, glass transparencies to be viewed through a projector (called a ‘magic lantern’) that casts the image on a wall. They were all taken by Adrian Vanderveer Martense (1852-1898), a lawyer by profession and an amateur photographer. Martense documented houses, streets, and his friends and neighbors in Flatbush, as well as momentous events like the legendary blizzard of March 1888 and the moving of the Hotel Brighton in Coney Island in April 1888. He was a member of the Brooklyn Academy of Photography and served as its first recording secretary when it was established in 1887 (it later became the Brooklyn Camera Club).

Top: Adrian Martense, center, with pinhole camera, along with two other men and a boy on a tricycle, c.1880

Martense was descended from Dutch settlers who came to Brooklyn in the 17th century. His family’s land is now part of Greenwood Cemetery. Some of the photos in this post show a rural side of 19th century Brooklyn; others were taken downtown and show buildings that still exist. Most of these were taken on March 15, 1888, when Martense evidently set out to record the aftermath of the great blizzard in several different neighborhoods. And aren’t we glad he did?

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Men standing at side of stage sleigh after blizzard

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Men clearing snow from Flatbush Avenue train tracks after the blizzard

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Children climbing into the back of a horse-drawn sleigh at Flatbush Avenue and Clarkson Avenue following the 1888 blizzard

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Man standing in front of City Hall (now Borough Hall) and elevated train tracks after the blizzard

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Man in front of coal and wood shop, as other men work to clear snow from the streets at Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street

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Horse-drawn carriage stopped in front of 7 Sutherland Sisters, on Clinton Avenue near the corner of Fulton Street, after the blizzard

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People walking between piles of cleared snow at Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, following the blizzard

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Horse-drawn carriage in snow-covered street, c.1890

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Street car and horse-drawn carriage at Adams Street and Willoughby Street under the elevated train, with men standing on the sidewalk

This is just a tiny sample of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Martense collection; you can see them all right here.

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JUST BACK from a few days visiting a friend in Western Massachusetts, where I was amazed at the number of Victorian villas. The area is a catalogue of 19th century styles including Second Empire and Italianate, with details like arched, porthole, and bay windows; porches, balconies, and cupolas; and all manner of decorative molding.

Sadly, these grand dames of yesteryear are often located on now-busy roads, and they mostly look like white elephants  — enormous and drafty and difficult to heat without servants to stoke the many fireplaces. Some are in sorry shape. Others, like the blue- shuttered example here, in the town of Lee, seem well-maintained.

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We stopped in Lee for lunch at the Cakewalk Cafe, then checked out a couple of thrift/antique stores on the intact 19th century main street, below.

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Then into nearby Lenox, where my friend had managed to dig up the one historic house in the area — of some 75 such Berkshires “cottages” — open on a mid-winter weekday: Ventfort Hall, below, a 28,000-square foot Jacobean Revival mansion with 54 rooms, designed in 1893 by the Boston architectural firm Rotch & Tilden for Sarah Morgan, sister of financier J.P., and her husband George.

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Like so many unwieldy mansions of that era, it had been abandoned for some time and fallen into ruin. As recently as the 1990s, the floors were ice-covered and littered with chunks of fallen ceiling plaster. Oak wall panels were missing, and the exterior was crumbling.

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Docent Marsha McDermott, above, showed us ‘before’ photos — that is, before a small group of concerned locals formed the non-profit Ventfort Hall Association and purchased the property, then raised $4million in private and public funds to restore it and open it to public view. Then she sent us off to explore, giving us carte blanche to open doors and poke around.

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Being avid Downton Abbey watchers, my friend and I could well visualize the family that lived here, enjoying such amenities as indoor plumbing, electric and gas lighting, radiant heat in the basement ceiling, a burglar alarm system, internal fire hoses, copper speaking tubes in the walls, and an electric elevator. Above, the Great Hall. Newly carved American red oak panels were left unstained, below, to distinguish them from the original woodwork. Unfortunately, there are no original furnishings left in the house; they were sold off long ago.

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Below, the dining room, which suffered a great deal of water damage. The Cuban mahogany ceiling was restored with new Honduran mahogany.

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Below, new plasterwork recreated from molded casts of the original ceiling.

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Delicate plasterwork and an onyx marble fireplace in the drawing room, below, which was used by Sarah Morgan and her daughter Caroline to entertain guests. It’s now a gift shop.

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We exited onto the rear verandah, below, made of wood painted a ruddy color to match the stone facade. (If this elevation looks familiar, it’s because it was used as a set in the film The Cider House Rules.) The breeze coming off Stockbridge Bowl Lake, now obscured by trees, gave the house its name: Ventfort means “strong wind.”

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Open 360 days a year, Ventfort Hall is available for weddings, receptions, dinners, parties, corporate meetings, and Victorian teas — not to mention picnicking on 12 acres of surrounding park. For more info: 413/637-3206, www.GildedAge.org

A FRIEND ALERTED ME to these two Catskills listings, about 7 miles apart in Ulster County, near the historic Mohonk Mountain House. They both seem astoundingly inexpensive, or perhaps I’m just used to Long Island prices.

Both are 19th century farmhouses that have been degraded over the years (while their well-meaning owners thought they were improving, of course). Lots of brown paneling and linoleum. But there’s nothing easier or cheaper than ripping out paneling and linoleum (it’s what you may have to patch and repair underneath that’s the problem).

The first house, above, asking $130,000, has 2BR, 2 baths. It’s on half an acre in quiet Alligerville, near Accord, NY. The wraparound screened porch, right, looks lovely, and there’s a detached garage with workshop area.

For a whole lot more photos, including the interior, go here.

In High Falls, there’s this circa 1800 (take that with a grain of salt) farmhouse, below, on a 3-acre property with mature trees and old stone walls. Though it, too, has just two bedrooms, it measures 1,800 square feet. Asking price is 125K.

I’m not very familiar with the area, but I used to work with someone who lived in High Falls and commuted daily to Manhattan (not recommended).

You can see the full listing, with more photos, right here.

A NOTE ON PHOTOGRAPHY: For the past month or so — since my proper camera was stolen out of my checked luggage on my way to the Canary Islands — all the photos on this blog have been taken with my iPhone 4S (beginning with my posts from Lanzarote). Although the iPhone camera doesn’t do as well in low light and certainly doesn’t have the flexibility of the Canon S95, which regular readers may remember I had just learned to use, it certainly does render outdoor color very well indeed (perhaps even pumps it up a little, but who’s complaining). I didn’t mention this before because… well, because I was embarrassed about my stupidity in having packed my camera in a bag I decided at the last minute to check through.

SO MUCH FOR PRECONCEIVED — or rather, outdated — notions. I hadn’t been to Jersey City in probably ten years, so when I went there yesterday (a distance of 7 whole miles from my home in Brooklyn) to visit a friend, my first reaction on driving through the streets was a surprised “This is NOT BAD!”

In fact, it’s pretty great. There are plenty of grubby areas inland, but the waterfront sections, with their sparkling views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and many blocks around, have been totally spiffed up. It’s not just hi-rise city, either. Fine blocks of 19th century row houses in the historic neighborhoods are likewise in good shape, which means we’ve missed the boat on real estate investment.

For better or worse, depending on your P.O.V., Jersey City has gentrified, and it happened while I wasn’t paying attention. Walking around with my friend Joe (for as long as we could stand in the bitter cold), we passed a brick row house, right, with a nice Greek Revival doorway, colorfully painted, and a ‘For Sale’ sign. “It’s probably over a million,” Joe said. Said I, ever the victim of wishful thinking. “I’m guessing 899K.” Joe quickly found the listing on his iPhone. He was close: the ask is $1.15M, in ‘as is’ condition.

Of architectural delights, there are plenty. They’ve been hiding in plain sight all this time. Have a look.

 

 

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