By Alice Begley
This historian had the privilege and pleasure to spend an evening recently at historic Norman Vale mansion locally known as the Nott House, on Nott Road. The home is owned by doctors Dilip and Ana Das.
The event was a Slava. It is an Eastern Orthodox Church tradition of the ritual honoring of a family’s patron saint. In this case, it was St. John the Baptist who was honored. His feast day is Jan. 20. Dr. Ana Das welcomed approximately thirty guests to her home, and Dr. Dilip Das explained the significance of the Slava.
The Dases have restored the beautiful interior of the house to its earliest beginnings. The eight-inch-wide original floorboards glowed softly by the light and warmth of several large fireplaces. Large crystal candelabra added to the ambiance.
Most of the old doors had their original black-iron latch closings, not doorknobs. The many downstairs sitting and drawing rooms held a splendid array of European antique furniture and paintings.
Second-floor bedrooms, six, I think, were decorated in silk accessories of gentle soft colors. Many came from Mrs. Das’s first home in Belgrade, Serbia.
After a lovely concert of chamber music by the Musicians of Ma’alwyck, guests had dinner, and then a tour of the Norman Vale House.
The basement under the two-and-a-half story center of the house has two attached brick rooms with no windows but a narrow staircase down from the first floor. It could have been “holding rooms for runaway slaves from the South heading for Canada,” according to Allan Deitz, Guilderland researcher.
On the second floor, one wing is called the Eleanor Roosevelt Wing since she visited there quite often, history records note.
The top floor is believed to have been servants’ living quarters. It has three rooms connected by narrow doors. Window panes in that area were of wavy glass that could have been made by the Hamilton glass factory that started operation in 1785 in Guilderland. The post-and-beam roof is marked by numerals, typical of a Dutch installation. In the basement, a stone and brick arch support in the west wing supports a first-floor fireplace and chimney.
The 24-room mansion was built in 1786 and owned by New York State Governor John Taylor. He was lieutenant governor in 1813 and became governor when Governor Daniel Tompkins resigned to become vice president under President James Monroe.
Taylor rose to the state’s highest office, reluctantly. He refused to take the oath of office and called himself “Acting Governor.” The following election, Dewitt Clinton became governor, and Taylor went back to being lieutenant governor.
Another renowned resident of Norman Vale was Eliphalet Nott, D.D. LLD., president of Union College in Schenectady who served 62 years in that position. In 1798, at the age of 25, Nott accepted a pastorship to the First Presbyterian Church in Albany. By 1800, he had become a trustee of the college, and in 1804 was asked to become the college’s fourth president.
The round, domed building at the symbolic center of the Union College campus is named after him. Dr. Nott was an avid abolitionist. “Viney” was Nott’s chauffeur, a former slave who had gained his freedom when Nott paid $800 for his release.
It was a lovely evening filled with the sights and sounds of much local history. I look forward to an early spring thaw when I can peruse the family cemetery on the many acres of Norman Vale.