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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 15, 2009

The Scallys restore Hiram Griggs’s home so that he would recognize it

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT — The home of Altamont’s first mayor, The Hiram Griggs House on Prospect Terrace, will be placed on the National Register of Historic Places this year, the centennial of his death.

John and Bridget Scally bought the late Victorian Italianate, across from the Agway, only two-and-a-half years ago from Stephen Shaw. While the Scallys credit Shaw with most of the ornate and precise exterior renovations, they took on the mammoth job of restoring the interior to its original form after 126 years of alterations.

The most satisfying renovation for John? Tearing out the upstairs kitchen that was installed when a previous owner turned the second floor into a separate apartment.  For Bridget? “Putting the touches to the house that reflect John and I building a home together.”   

The Scallys said they were thinking of the house’s long-term future when they decided to pursue placing the house on the national register. “With old houses, it’s such a shame when they are torn down,” said Bridget. “Being on the National Register will prevent future owners from tearing this one down because we won’t be the owners forever.” 

“We’re just the caretakers,” added John.

Due to the house’s historical significance, explained John, getting on the national register was not difficult and mostly involved paperwork, waiting, and a visit from a representative from the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

He cited another reason for getting on the register — “maintaining the integrity of the house.” Based on advice from his real-estate agent and his own historic sensibilities, Scally said he kept a question in mind as he and his wife planned the renovations. “If the original owner walked in to the house, would he recognize it?”

Village father

According to Travis Brown of the New York State Historic Preservation Office, Hiram Griggs, the original owner, “embodied the term ‘town father.’” In his lengthy analysis of the significance of the house in Altamont’s history, Brown lists Griggs’s involvement in many pivotal historical moments in the village.

In 1862, Griggs began practicing law in Knowersville. He became legal counsel to the railroad and helped to facilitate the rail stop in town on the new line being built between Albany and Schoharie. Through his political connections, Griggs also assisted in the naming of the village for Lucie Rochefort Cassidy’s summer estate at High Point on the Helderberg escarpment.

As villagers witnessed a series of traumatic fires in the 1880s, sentiment among the Altamont’s leaders, including Griggs, moved towards the idea of becoming independent from the town of Guilderland and solving their own fire protection and water problems. In 1890, a special election was held to decide and villagers overwhelmingly voted for establishing themselves as an independent entity. Griggs, who had led the charge for independence, was voted mayor the same year.

Griggs held the post for eight consecutive one-year terms and began his tenure by holding true to his promise of solving the village’s water problems. In a then-novel way to fund public works projects called bonding, Griggs obtained the funds to pipe water from the town of Knox to a town reservoir and into seventeen hydrants throughout the village.

But Griggs’s signature on the village didn’t stop there. He was also involved with making the Altamont fairgrounds home to the annual tri-county fair, and he was one of the principal investors of the Altamont Illuminating Company, which built an acetylene gas manufacturing plant that provided public gas lights for the village until electricity was established in 1916.

The Griggs home still has the original fixtures that once connected to the company’s gas line and, in a nod to the past, the Scallys installed reproduction gaslights in the twin parlors.

 John Scally said that, while the interior renovation process is not complete, the next step, installing Victorian-era wallpaper, would have to wait until his son, Padraig, and any future children they might have are past the crayon stage. 

The couple also has not finished deciding on the color scheme. “We don’t always agree on what we like,” said Bridget Scally, “but we agree on what we don’t like. John is a High Victorian, where the more ornate it is the better, and I’m a Colonial Federalist. I like nice clean lines.”

The house will be included in the Victorian Holidays House Tour, held on Dec. 6, and John Scally plans to be home to answer any questions visitors might have about the house’s history.

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