GCSD to sell Cobblestone Schoolhouse

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Nineteenth-Century neighbors: The Cobblestone Schoolhouse, built in 1860 by R.E. Zeh, stands on Guilderland Center’s Main Street next to an Italianate church built in 1872.

GUILDERLAND — A remarkable piece of Guilderland school history will soon be up for sale.

The school board here, by unanimous vote on Feb. 15, resolved to sell or auction off the Cobblestone Schoolhouse in Guilderland Center.

Built in 1860, the one-room schoolhouse was used as a classroom until 1941. It stands on land deeded to the school district in the early part of the 19th Century by Stephen Van Rensselaer, the Dutch patroon, for the purpose of creating a schoolhouse.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Guilderland School Board has debated and discussed what to do with the unused building.

Several years ago, descendents of the Ogsbury family received a quitclaim deed for the property, then established a limited liability company called Ogsbury Cobble, transferring the deed to the LLC.

They also set up an endowment to allow them to take care of the schoolhouse in perpetuity, Kim Carlson, an Ogsbury descendent, told The Enterprise two years ago.

The original deed included a reversion clause, which states that, if the school district ever became unable to use the building, the schoolhouse would return to the heirs.

In early December, the school district finally gained a clear title to the property, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise this week.

“We had to do an advertisement for heirs. Nobody came forward to make a claim,” he said.

Sanders said that the “genealogical claim to the property” brought by Carlson’s family was “dismissed by the judge so [there was] no basis for the Cobblestone Schoolhouse belonging to their family, their heirs.”

Sanders went on, “With the sale of the building, they could certainly come forward and place an offer when we’re at that point if they so desire.”

When The Enterprise asked Kim Carlson this week if her family would be interested in buying the schoolhouse, she said she had no comment.

Later, she texted The Enterprise, “We’ll just have to wait and see how the school district’s plans play out.”

She went on to thank The Enterprise for its coverage over the years. “It is through you the school has stayed in the hearts and minds of the general public,” Carlson said. “I would also like to thank my family and all of my old time Guilderland Center friends, for all their love and support.”

The school board’s Feb. 15 resolution says the schoolhouse property “is declared to be of no further use or value to the District and in fact, continued ownership of Property is fiscally detrimental to the District.” The resolution goes on to authorize listing the property for sale or auction.

Sanders said that the district is currently getting the property surveyed, which he described as a “first step” in moving toward its sale.

Asked about setting a price for the property, Sanders said, “With an auction, we wouldn’t necessarily have to have a price. Trying to get an appraisal is a difficult thing on a property like that.”

The board has yet to determine whether the property will be auctioned or listed for sale. “We’re not that far along yet,” said Sanders.

According to the Albany County assessment rolls, the property, which is an acre, with the schoolhouse, has a full-market value of $167,400.

Asked how much the school district had spent on legal costs to get a clear title or on maintenance and repairs for the schoolhouse, Sanders said he didn’t know off the top of his head.

In 2017, the district had estimated that it was going to cost $5,000 to $10,000 to get the title report. 

“We have a whole file box here,” said Sanders this week, commenting on the decades the district has been contemplating the unused schoolhouse. “I pulled that out the other day and walked down memory lane, that’s for sure.”

 

History

In 1982, the Cobblestone Schoolhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places along with a slew of other buildings in town — including the Helderberg Dutch Reformed Church, which has since burned, and the Mynderse-Frederick House, both also on Guilderland Center’s Main Street, as well as Rose Hill, the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, and the John Schoolcraft House, all on Route 20 in Guilderland.

The National Archives Catalog says that the schoolhouse “is one of only several cobblestone buildings in the county” and was “carefully maintained by the Guilderland School District since its construction in 1860.” The catalog goes on to describe the traditional 19th-Century construction technique as “exceptionally well executed.”

The catalog notes the building’s “smooth ashlar quoins,” the “stone lintels and sills,” and the “open bell tower … with curvilinear hipped roof.” In addition to picturing the schoolhouse, the catalog also pictures the privy in back, a structure that still stands. The schoolhouse has no indoor plumbing.

The Cobblestone Museum says of the schoolhouse, “Its solid foundations and walls remind one of a Revolutionary blockhouse.” The museum also notes that an inscription, carved on one of the upper front quoins, says, “R.E. Zeh, mason, 1860.”

That was first noted in a 1961 Altamont Enterprise column by Guilderland town historian Arthur B. Gregg, who wrote of the few rare cobblestone structures in town. Gregg wrote that cobblestone construction took place just from the 1820s until the Civil War era. Rochester is the center of the cobblestone region with few far-flung cobblestone buildings elsewhere. 

Building with cobblestones was a laborious process, Gregg wrote, and it typically took to or three years to build a cobblestone house.

Guilderland Center’s Cobblestone Schoolhouse was used as headquarters for the now-defunct Guilderland League of Arts and had been the site of sporadic school field trips over the years.

In 2017, descendents of the Ogsbury family came forward, saying their family owned the land on which the schoolhouse stood. That same year, the district’s superintendent of buildings and grounds requested $30,000 to make needed repairs, at which several school board members balked.

This brought many members of the public, town officials, and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy to the board’s April 2017 meeting after which the board approved the repairs.

Floor joists and floorboards were replaced with fir appropriate to the age of the building and the roof soffit and fascias were replaced. The roof itself had been replaced in 2003 with era-appropriate cedar-shake shingles.

Until 2017, the schoolhouse still held items from the days when children studied there, including old-fashioned desks and maps on the wall. Those items remain in storage, Sanders said this week.

In 2017, as Guilderland School Board members listed their priorities for the coming year, two of the nine members — Catherine Barber and Allan Simpson — said that restoring the Cobblestone Schoolhouse was a priority.

That year, Sanders characterized the view of the board majority, saying, “We would be in the position of restoring a historic structure, and the conversation we’ve had so far is that our mission is to educate students, not restore historic buildings.”

Blaise Salerno, who had been superintendent of the Guilderland schools from 1993 to 2000, had, during his tenure, started a committee to look into possible uses of Cobblestone Schoolhouse and grants to restore it. He had thought it could be used as a meeting center and also be “recreated, so students could come in and see what schools were like, back in the day.”

People in town had volunteered to donate old books and other objects they had saved to help transform the schoolhouse into what it was like when it was used, he said.

“One thing that’s really sad about our focus on the future is that we forget about our past,” Salerno said. “I really think that that building, and the whole concept of Guilderland Center — back then it was … a thriving little community — to me that has real value, to be preserved.”

More Guilderland News

  • Guilderland is on the cusp of forming a District Facilities Committee to map out the district’s next capital project. It will dovetail with work currently underway by a Future Ready Task Force.

  • “This means a great deal to not only this community, but my family as well,” said Councilwoman Amanda Beedle on flying the pride flag. She said she had brought the matter to the board because she wanted “to show that this town is very open and inclusive and welcoming to all.”

  • The acreage is located near the intersection of Pine Lane and Rapp Road in Albany, and backs on to the side of Crossgates containing Macy's, Regal Cinema, Best Buy.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.