Village to re-roof Crounse House in hopes door to past will open

Elizabeth Floyd Mair — The Enterprise
Authentic detail: One of the few remaining original features of the Crounse House is the front entrance with sidelights and molding surrounding a handcrafted door.

GUILDERLAND — The Crounse House, one of the oldest in Altamont — just outside the village line —has suffered the abuse of time and neglect.

The home of Frederick Crounse, Altamont’s first doctor, at 759 Route 146, the village’s main street, has sat empty for about three decades; roof leaks in the last few years have caused water damage inside.

To preserve the structure from further deterioration and avoid the ravages of another winter, Mayor James Gaughan and the village trustees have decided to have the roof repaired. 

Meanwhile, the mayor and the board will also start to discuss long-range plans for the 2.8-acre site, which is jointly owned by the village and the town of Guilderland. A decade ago, they bought it together from the county for approximately $40,000 in back taxes.

The roof will be paid for from the village’s general fund. The plan is then for the village to recoup the money through a legislative grant. The project will also include tearing down two small side rooms known as the summer kitchen and the potting shed. 

Guilderland Town Supervisor Kenneth Runion said that Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy has obtained a capital project grant for $175,000. Of that sum, $150,000 is earmarked for specific improvements to Guilderland’s park system, and $25,000 is designated for the Crounse House roof, Runion said.

Of the legislative grant to cover the cost of repairing the roof, Gaughan said, “The ability to get a small amount of money through another source encourages me. So this is like the last-ditch last try.” 


— Photo from Marijo Dougherty
A state historical marker announces that this was the home of western Guilderland’s first physician. Dr. Frederick Crounse practiced at this site on Route 146 at the Corner of Gun Club Road for 60 years. The property is now owned jointly by the village of Altamont and the town of Guilderland.


The past

Gaughan also said, “I personally would not like to lose the historic house owned by Altamont’s first doctor and in which he practiced.” The mayor added that he has worked hard with the trustees for a long time to find ways to raise seed funds for the rehabilitation of the house.

“It’s about the person more than the building, and to have a recollection of him just on a historic marker on the corner that no one looks at, doesn’t fit it, for me,” Gaughan said.

According to the late historian Arthur B. Gregg, in his book, “Old Hellebergh: Scenes from Early Guilderland,” Dr. Crounse was born in his father’s tavern in Sharon in 1807. His father, Jacob Crounse, had left Guilderland to seek his fortune in “the West,” Schoharie County.

According to Gregg, after studying under his cousin, Adam Crounse, who was a minister and classical scholar, Dr. Crounse studied medicine with local doctors and then attended Fairfield Medical College in Herkimer. Fairfield, which is considered a predecessor of the medical school at Syracuse University, was the first institution of its time outside of New York City, Gregg writes.

Soon after leaving Fairfield, Crounse came to Altamont, where he built the house on the corner of Gun Club Road and married Elizabeth Keenholts, the daughter of large landowner Frederick Keenholts, “considered the wealthiest man in the district," Gregg writes. Crounse also built an office on the property, since moved. 

One night during the Civil War, the 134 Regiment came from Schoharie and camped in front of Dr. Crounse’s house, Gregg writes. Crounse stayed up the night, helping the regiment doctor with the sick and wounded soldiers, Gregg writes.

Crounse’s daughter, Mary, wrote letters home to her parents when she left Altamont to attend teachers’ school. Those letters formed the basis of a play written by Rebecca Fishel as part of Altamont’s centennial celebration.

Gregg writes with admiration for Crounse, who, he says, brought more of the region’s inhabitants into the world than any doctor before or since.

“In sickness or in trouble, the panacea was ‘Go see old Doc Fred,’” Gregg writes. “There is something grand and inspiring about his life from beginning to end.”

Crounse died in 1893 and was buried in the Fairview Cemetery. Beneath his name, his grave says simply, “Graduated at Fairfield Medical College, 1830.”


Elizabeth Floyd Mair — The Enterprise
The potting shed, one of two rooms at the Crounse House slated for demolition, features a six-over-six handmade hung sash window.


The present and future

Three years after graduating from medical college, Crounse built the Federal-style home in western Guilderland.

“We have had people look at the house over the last several years, including our architect, Dean Whalen,” Gaughan said, referring to a village trustee, “and the conclusion has always been that the structure in the main building is still intact behind the walls.” 

Whalen said that he was last inside the property in August. While the house was still structurally intact, rehabilitating would definitely involve taking everything back to the studs “because of the mold and water damage.” He noted that mold had been a problem ever since the building was closed up many years ago. Extensive renovations of that sort, he said, would be “an opportunity” to put in better insulation and update the wiring. 

About 10 years ago Gaughan, together with village archivist Marijo Dougherty, the village board of trustees, and Guilderland historian Alice Begley formed a committee that looked into ways the house might be restored to honor Dr. Crounse. The Crounse House Committee explored the idea of turning the property into a historic center for the Village of Altamont and the surrounding rural areas of Guilderland and up through the Helderberg Hilltowns. 

Gaughan has not given up on this dream, he told The Enterprise, which included moving the village archives from their current cramped quarters at the Village Hall and also establishing a Visitors’ Center “at the foot of the Helderbergs” that would provide information on all of the area’s attractions, including the apple orchards, the golf course, the fairgrounds, Thacher Park, and the many area trails and cemeteries. 

There may be some, Gaughan said, who would argue that the house should just be torn down so that the village can receive taxes on the property. But, he pointed out, “because it’s in Guilderland, not in Altamont, we wouldn’t get taxes. Guilderland would.” The village would get no benefit at all from tearing it down, except, “hopefully, getting back the $20,000” originally invested. 

The town already has invested in two historical properties, the Mynderse-Frederick House and, more recently, the Schoolcraft House. Runion noted that the Schoolcraft House project started in the 1990s and “is only just now nearing completion.”

He added, “I think the original estimate for the Schoolcraft House was that it was going to cost a couple of hundred thousand to rehabilitate it. And I can tell you that it cost much, much more than that over the years.” 

Tearing down the Crounse House, of course, would be easy, Gaughan said. “It could have a Dunkin’ Donuts, which doesn’t quite make me happy that way.” 

At the next village board meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m., the board will begin to discuss publicly the long-term use of the property. Gaughan said that he hopes that the villagers who over the past year rallied against the proposal for an expanded Stewart’s will continue to play a part in shaping the village’s future, and turn their interest toward the questions of whether and how the Crounse House should be saved.

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