Schoolcraft Friends disband, town will carry on

Enterprise file photo

Alice Begley, at far right, in front, stands with some supporters of the Schoolcraft House near its historic marker, with the mansion as a backdrop.

GUILDERLAND — The Gothic Revival mansion that Guilderland’s former town historian, Alice Begley, saved from destruction a quarter-century ago is entering a new era.

Begley died on July 20 at the age of 95. This week, The Enterprise got a letter to the editor from Sally Lovering, treasurer of The Friends of the Schoolcraft Cultural Center, which is disbanding.

“I’m the last person standing,” Lovering told The Enterprise.

Lovering, who has moved to North Carolina, noted the many fundraising events the once-robust group had held over the years and said she hopes the house will continue to be used and appreciated.

The house was built in the 1840s by John L. Schoolcraft, a Congressman and a wealthy banker and wholesale merchant. He was born in Guilderland and built the house on Western Avenue as a summer residence. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Begley had done a lot of research into members of the Schoolcraft family, which she shared in Enterprise columns.

The remaining $17,030.40 raised by the Friends was given to the town and, said Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber, has been placed in a new reserve account for the care of the Schoolcraft House. 

“Despite some peeling paint, the place is not ignored,” said Ann Wemple-Person, who replaced Begley as the town’s historian four years ago. “I regularly check on the house … I talk to various groups that may be looking for a place to hold a meeting.”

Wemple-Person went on, “That was really Alice’s passion … The Friends were all older and, as time went on, they were just not as active. As the group aged, there were fewer and fewer members.”

Both Barber and Wemple-Person said that, before the shutdown caused by the pandemic, the plan was to host library and cultural events at the Schoolcraft House.

Wemple-Person is a librarian who works in programming and public service at the Guilderland Public Library. “My passion is outreach services,” she said.

Since the library will shortly be undergoing construction as part of an $8 million expansion project, the plan was to host some library events at the nearby Schoolcraft House, which is not far from the library, across Route 20.

“That location would be fantastic,” said Wemple-Person, adding, “The potential is there.”

“We had hoped to work more closely with the library, which is just up the street, to use it for talks and cultural events,” said Barber. “The pandemic has put a big stop sign on that.”

Asked if it is burdensome for the town to maintain two historic structures — the town also owns the 1802 Mynderse-Frederick House in Guilderland Center — Barber said it was not. He noted that the historical society and garden club regularly use the house in Guilderland Center and he doesn’t see the Schoolcraft House as extraneous.

“Hopefully, we’ll get more volunteers involved,” said Barber.

Asked if she might start a new support group for the Schoolcraft House, Wemple-Person said, “The residents of the town could do that. I would not take on that role as Alice did. I don’t have the time to dedicate like Alice did.”

The town’s 2020 budget includes $5,000 for maintenance and improvements at the Schoolcraft House, Barber said.

The downstairs of the Schoolcraft House is “substantially complete,” Barber said.

Although the first floor is usable, he said, there is additional finish work to be done there, including painting or staining trim, weather-stripping, upgrading the front entrance, and upgrading fixtures in the bathroom.

Recently, Barber said, the parking lot was paved, stumps were removed, landscaping was added, and improvements were made to the entry.

The next steps are roof repairs and outdoor painting. The house now is painted in faded chocolate brown.


Recent history

The Schoolcraft House had been slated for demolition or removal in the 1990s as the neighboring Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, itself an historic structure, sought more parking space. But Begley and a group of committed citizens convinced the town to purchase the property in 1994. The town paid half of the $140,000 purchase price while half was covered by a state grant.

Then, in 1997, the restoration project received a grant of $29,000, which was matched, for a total of $58,000. The project later received a $50,000 member-item grant from then-Assemblyman John McEneny.

Friends of the Schoolcraft Cultural Center organized numerous fundraisers, which generated over $7,000. Individual businesses made donations, too. For instance, in 2000, Caldwell Banker Prime Properties donated a percentage of every house listed in Guilderland, for a $10,000 contribution.

In 2013, Kenneth Runion, who was Guilderland’s supervisor at the time, said that over two decades the town had spent about $99,000 on the house, while the total spent by the town and state combined was $248,000.


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