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Spring Home and Garden Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 21, 2009

The delicate balance of nesting in a historic home

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Times change but pieces of history are preserved in pockets across the country.

More than 80,000 properties, in almost every county in America, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including several in Guilderland, New Scotland, and the Hilltowns.

The Register is a product of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, but the country’s interest in recognizing and cataloguing its architectural history goes back decades. 

The Great Depression allowed for the creation of the Historic American Buildings Survey, which was meant to employ a thousand out-of-work architects.  Charles Peterson, of the National Park Service, planned for a 10-week project to document “America’s antique buildings,” according to the Library of Congress; HABS later became a permanent program in the Park Service, which runs today’s National Register. 

The HABS project, said Susan Holland, executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation, created not only an inventory of buildings, but a collection of beautiful drawings.

The National Register, she said, is basically a listing, but also a glorification, of historic buildings that are rated on national, statewide, or local significance.  It is not only the structures that are taken into account, she said, but also the events that have taken place in or around them.

When people look to buy a historic home, as she has done, Holland said, they are looking for a “sense of uniqueness, first of all,” and they appreciate a well-built house.

Finding a house with character was important to Amy and Josh Martin, who bought the historic Hayes House, on Fairview Avenue in Altamont, about a year ago.  “We like all sorts of homes,” said Mrs. Martin, who grew up in what she called a normal, mid-size, split-level house.  The first place that the couple bought was a contemporary style house in Saratoga, which appealed because it was located on seven acres with a pond.

Mr. Martin grew up in Altamont, in a Victorian house on Maple Avenue, and didn’t want to move back to his hometown, his wife said.  When they saw the Hayes House, she recalled, he said, “If we can move to that house, we’ll move to Altamont.”

After the house was built by Miles Hayes in 1903, it was left to his maid, and then became a museum, owned by the Altamont Fair, in 1972.  When Jackie and Jeff Genovesi bought it several years ago, they updated the major systems, like plumbing and electric, and when the Martins bought it in late 2007, there were less vital, but still significant, updates left to be made.

“We’ve done a lot,” Mrs. Martin said, listing the projects that the couple has done, largely by themselves, including finishing a new bathroom, new kitchen, taking down wallpaper, painting, roofing barns, laying a patio, and putting up a pressed tin ceiling.

When doing the work, they’ve been mindful of the era of the house, Mrs. Martin said.  “We tried to keep it as natural with the house as we could,” she said, adding that they had chosen kitchen cabinets that would tone in with the original woodwork and drawer pulls similar to the early-Twentieth Century pulls in the pantry.

“There is definitely a segment of buyers who like the idea of a house being preserved,” said Troy Miller, owner of CM Fox Realty, which handles sales in and around Altamont.  The village has a relatively large historic district.  Homebuyers around Altamont in general appreciate the historic value, Miller said, adding that houses that have been well preserved are sold at a premium.

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