Historic Structures

Schuyler Mansion, Albany New York

Date added: August 3, 2018 Categories: New York House Mansion Georgian

The Schuyler Mansion is a fine example of the fully developed Georgian mansion as it appeared in the American colonies. It served for over 40 years as the home of General Philip Schuyler, who played an important political and military role in the affairs of his colony and of the new nation.

Schuyler evidently began planning the house in 1760. Construction was underway by March 1761, when Schuyler sailed for England, leaving a friend to supervise the ongoing work. In England he purchased wallpapers, window glass, and fabrics for the house. Schuyler returned from England in 1762, and appears to have supervised the interior finishings, not completed until 1764.

When completed, the mansion is believed to have been the first full-scale Georgian house in the upper Hudson River Valley. Distinguished by ample proportions and felicitous setting, it was commented on by the many distinguished visitors who were entertained there during Schuyler's long tenure.

Stylistic features of the house, as well as the written documentation, reveal that gentlemen like Schuyler were well aware of architectural developments in England and in other locations within the colonies. Schuyler not only bought fittings for the house during his trip to England; he also sought out master craftsmen in those colonial cities that were the most advanced artistically. Brick for the house was made in Albany by Lucas Hooghkerk, and laid by a local mason, William Waldron. However, the staircase and other fine interior woodwork were made by John Gaborial, a master carpenter from Boston. Door and window frames, doors, and shutters were fabricated by Wert Banta and Andrew Gautier of New York City. The marble facings for the fireplaces, and marble hearths as well were ordered from David Chambers of Phi&delphia. The house is thus a product of the increasing cosmopolitanism of the American colonies.

Philip Schuyler was a descendant of one of New York State's leading landowning families. Although descended from a baker, the Schuylers had intermarried with the great patroon families. Philip's mother was a Van Cortlandt, and he married Catharine Van Rensselaer, whose dowry is thought to have supplied the funds for the Schuyler Mansion. Schuyler held various relatively minor political posts in the 1750s, and served in the French and Indian War, attaining the rank of major in the militia.

In 1768 Schuyler began the first of several terms in the New York Provincial Assembly, where he grew critical of the tax burdens the British were imposing on the colonies. In 1775-1777 and again in 1778-1781, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1775 he was also appointed as one of four Major Generals in the Continental Army and placed in command of the northern army in New York. He held command in the expedition against Quebec in 1775-1776 and in the defense of New York against invasion in 1777. However, when one of his subordinates surrendered Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot, Schuyler was accused of negligence, and replaced in command by Horatio Gates. Schuyler demanded a court-martial and was exonerated, but resigned from the army in April 1779.

Although they had been enemies, Schuyler offered his home as a place of detainment for General John "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne and his retinue, after the latter's defeat at the Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne is believed to have occupied the southeast bedroom. Another room in the house with important historical associations is the southeast parlor, in which Alexander Hamilton was married to Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780.

Schuyler became a political ally of his son-in-law, and played a key role in securing New York State's ratification of the Constitution. He served as a United States Senator in 1789-1791 and 1797-1798. He died at the Schuyler Mansion in 1804.

During most of the 19th century the Schuyler Mansion continued to serve as the home of prominent local families. Its first occupant after Schuyler was John Bryan, a furrier and close friend of the politically powerful Mayor Erastus Corning. Bryan bought the house in 1815 and is believed to have installed the octagonal vestibule and early 19th-century mantels. He lived in the house until his increasing financial difficulties caused its sale to Ezekiel C. Mclntosh in 1846. Mclntosh was president of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company. On his death in 1855, life rights in the mansion passed to his widow. In 1858 she remarried, with the nuptials celebrated in the same room in which Alexander Hamilton had wed Betsy Schuyler. The groom was former President of the United States Millard Fillmore. She then conveyed her life estate in the house to John Tracey, a distiller who was considered to be the sixth wealthiest man in Albany in 1863. Tracey added the large extension to the rear of the house, which included a kitchen, bathroom and other rooms. When Mrs. Fillmore died in 1881, the Tracey occupancy perforce ended. The fate of the house became a source of concern because the neighborhood had become industrial. However, by 1886 the property had been sold to the St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum Society, which occupied it under the name of St. Francis de Sales Orphan Asylum until 1913. Sold to the State of New York in 1912, the house was restored after it was vacated by the orphanage, and has been operated as a historic house museum since that time.