The Schuylers, Guy Beattie, and Albany’s Forgotten Park

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This was the mansion at The Flatts , after the Dutch “DeVlackte,” later called Schuyler Flats and Schuyler Farm. It was situated on the west bank of the Hudson in what is now Menands (then West Troy), opposite Breaker Island (formerly two islands called Culyer and Hillhouse). For a century, from about 1711-1806, the main public road from Albany to Saratoga ran between the mansion and the river.

The Flatts was (were?)  owned and occupied by the Schuyler family for 250 years.

Because its history is so complex, and the Schuyler family history so confusing (how many of them were named Peter and Philip?!), I’ve broken it down into a chronology. Info gleaned from many sources. Please excuse the lack of annotation, I didn’t set out to write a term paper.

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Arent Van Curler

1630 – Arent Van Curler, a cousin of the first Patroon Van Rensselaer, arrives with the first colonists of the manor,  and is soon after made superintendent. He marries in 1643, and after a brief honeymoon in Holland, returns to work the farm.  He establishes the Flatts as the heart of the area’s fur trade.

1660 – Richard Van Rensselaer, a son of the Patroon, occupies the property.

1666 – He builds the main house.

1668 -The house’s roof caves in.

1670-  Richard VanRensselaer returns to Holland. The Flatts is sold to Col. Philip Pieterse Schuyler. Schuyler repairs the old house and cellar, and builds an additional structure to the north. This begins a long Schuyler lineage in the area.

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Col. Pieter Schuyler

1683 – Upon the elder Schuyler’s death, his son, Col. Pieter Schuyler (later the first mayor of Albany), inherits The Flatts.

1690 – General Fitz John Winthrop  sends the first detachment of his army from Albany for the invasion of Canada to the Flatts. The Flats become a staging ground for troops engaged in the French and Indian War, and many of their officers find entertainment. Here the gallant Lord Howe spends the night, and eating his breakfast on the march under Abercrombie to attack Ticonderoga. Here, the the barns are turned into hospitals for the defeated forces of Abercrombie.

1695 – Pieter leases it to his son Philip.

1711 – Col. Peter Schuyler, now married to Maria Van Rensselaer, the sister of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, moves to The Flatts.

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1720 – Philip Schuyler marries Margarita Schuyler, his cousin, whose father had for a number of years been the mayor of the City of Albany. Margarita is known during the latter part of her life as “Madame Schuyler.”

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Philip Schuyler

1724 – Upon the death of Col. Peter Schuyler, his eldest son Philip P. Schuyler becomes the owner of the Flats and the mansion.

1752- A serious fire nearly demolishes the mansion, which is then rebuilt by British soldiers.

1758 – Col. Philip Schuyler dies, survived by his kindhearted widow, by now known as  “Madame Schuyler” or “Aunt Schuyler.” The property is willed to her until her death when it is supposed to be passed on to her nephew, Peter Schuyler.

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“Madame/Aunt Schuyler”

Aunt Schuyler’s home becomes the place of gathering both men and supplies because it’s at the head of deep navigation of the Hudson and is convenient for those coming from New England either by way of Bennington or Kinderhook.

During this period, a large (100′ x 60′) barn that had been used for troop lodging and staging is torn down.

1771 – Peter Schuyler dies, his will naming his grandson, Stephen Schuyler, as eventual heir to The Flatts.

1774 – At The Flatts, Major  Peter Schuyler forms his plans for the Revolutionary War invasion of Canada.

1782 – With the passing of Margarita “Madame” Schuyler, The Flatts becomes the property of Stephen Schuyler, who has lived here since the 1740’s.

1808 – Philip P. Schuyler dies and is buried in the family plot.

1820 – The death of Stephen Schuyler leaves the property to Peter S. Schuyler , husband of Catherine Cuyler.

1832 –zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzto-let-1839b

Peter S. Schuyler leaves it to Stephen R. Schuyler. I’m not certain Stephen Schuyler lives in the mansion. In fact, this 1839 newspaper ad offers the place for lease. Not sure if there were takers.

(Year?) Stephen R. Schuyler leaves it to Richard Philip Schuyler.

1898 – Richard P. Schuyler dies. His widow, the former Susan Drake, remains in the house twelve more years.

1910 – Drake vacates The Flatts, ending the Schuyler era. She rents the place to Guy Beattie, a farmer who had been working the land for a while. Over the years, various parcels of the estate have been leased to farmers and loggers.

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Guy and Mary Ann Killough Beattie, with their granddaughters Rosamund Patricia Beattie and Linda Beattie. 1945.

1910-1948 The land is leased for farming and carnivals (Beattie’s Field”).

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Guy Beattie oversees circus setup. Photo from Brian Abbott’s website.

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The Flatts, 1942. Photo from Brian Abbott website

1948 – The Beatties sell the contents of their home and retire to Florida. Rivenberg opens the mansion as Sunny Crest Nursing Home.

1949 – Carnival operator James E. Strates buys Beattie’s 30-acre farm for $60,000. Schuyler Flats become the area’s home for the Strates Shows.

1957 – The State Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America, and Albany County Historical Society team up to recognize the historic site with a plaque. It’s affixed to the house, now painted white. Present at the unveiling are Susan Schuyler Cornthwait, 11, daughter of Mr & Mrs Schuyler Cornthwait, Hyde Park, Vermont, and Catherine Rhodes, 11, daughter of the Rev. James R. Rhodes and Mrs Rhodes of Slingerlands, both descendants of Richard P. Schuyler, last of the direct family line to occupy the house. The historical societies express hope that James E. Strates, who owns the property, might donate the house to the state. They neglect to ask him, though, and when interviewed, Strates admits no one even told him about the plaque.

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Plaque on the mansion, 1957. Photo from Brian Abbott website.

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In The End... All You Really Have Is Memories

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1967 -When Cohen Construction fails to deliver its part of the deal, Murray-Simon sues. Development plans go on hold, and the land is put up for auction.

1968- William A. Wells of Buffalo purchases the 50-acre plot for $600,000, the only bidder at a public auction for the land. He expresses a desire to build an office complex, apartment houses and commercial buildings.

1968 – In drawing up plans for the I-787/NY-378 interchange, the Department of Transportation makes accommodations to avoid the historic Schuyler site. It opens in 1970.

1970 – Colonie Town Board hearings proposes rezoning from business E to commercial-multiple housing. The potential developer wants to integrate apartment housing and a shopping center. Archeological surveys conducted on a proposed sewer line result in a more thorough excavation of the Schuyler House by Paul Huey, historical archaeologist for the Office of Historical Preservation. His discoveries cause a flurry of local media attention, and Colonie’s Town Historian, Jean Olten, lobbies for its purchase.

1975 – The Town of Colonie buys 2.5 acres to preserve for an historic park.

1990 – Albany County transfers an additional nine acres.

1992 – The National Park Service designates the site a National Historic Landmark.

1992-2002  -Spearheaded by Paul Russell, Conservation Officer with the Town of Colonie, the idea for a park moves from a concept to reality, The Open Space Institute funds acquisition of another twenty-odd acres.  The Town and the Hudson River Greenway contribute additional funds.

2002 -Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park opens. The plaque, rescued from the 1962 fire, is rededicated.

2016 – The remains of 14  unidentified Schuyler slaves found  on Flatts land were re-interred in St. Agnes Cemetery.

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Website for the park:
http://www.colonie.org/historian/historical/schuyler.htm

A descendant of Guy Beattie created a webpage about his great-grandfather’s tenure at The Flatts. It includes some wonderful photos.
http://brianabbott.net/projects/family-photos/then-and-now-photos/schuyler-flatts

The New Netherland Institute has a wonderful, multi-page article on excavations at The Flatts:

http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/digital-exhibitions/arent-van-curler-and-the-flatts/the-story/rediscovering-the-flatts/

There’s a nicely detailed article about the Schuyler burial ground at The Flatts here:

https://albanychurchgrounds.wordpress.com/the-schuyler-flatts-burial-ground/

Trivia:

  • The channel that formed Breaker Island was filled in by the construction of exit 7 of Interstate 787 with NY Route 378. The Hudson River remains on its east bank, with various creeks, ponds, small lakes, and marshes on the west side.
  • The Schuyler house was the prototype of the Vancour Mansion in Paulding’s “The Dutchman’s Fireside.”
  • Some think the arsenal was built at Watervliet because Troy was an important iron-producing city, but it’s quite possible that location was chosen because of Schuyler Flatts’ history as a strategically-situated arsenal.

Mrs. Anne Grant wrote a book about Madame Schuyler, called “Memoirs of an American Lady.”
In this passage she describes the interior of the mansion:

“It was a large brick house of two, or rather three stories (for there were excellent attics), besides a sunk story, finished with exactest neatness. The lower floor had two spacious rooms, with large, light closets; on the first there were three rooms, and in the upper one four. Through the middle of the house was a wide passage, with opposite front and back doors, which in summer admitted a stream of air peculiarly grateful to the languid senses. It was furnished with chairs and pictures like a summer parlor. Here the family usually sat in hot weather, when there were no ceremonious strangers.

“ One room, I should have said, in the greater house only, was opened for the reception of company; all the rest were bedchambers for their accommodation, while the domestic friends of the family occupied neat little bedrooms in the attics or the winter-house. This house contained no drawing-room — that was an unheard-of luxury; the winter rooms had carpets; the lobby had oilcloth painted in lozenges, to imitate blue and white marble. The best bedroom was hung with family portraits, some of which were admirably executed; and in the eating-room, which, by the by, was rarely used for that purpose, were some Scriptural paintings.

“ The house fronted the river, on the brink of which, under shades of elm and sycamore, ran the great road toward Saratoga, Stillwater, and the northern lakes; a little simple avenue of morella cherry trees, enclosed with a white rail, led to the road and river, not three hundred yards distant.”

[Note: All corrections are welcome. I am not a historian, just a curious researcher. Most of this information was completely new to me, so forgive me any lapses or errors.]

From Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

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