Historic Structures

Building Description Schuyler Mansion, Albany New York

The Schuyler Mansion is a large (67.5 feet wide by 47.5 feet deep), 2 1/2 story Georgian house, built for General Philip Schuyler between 1761 and 1764. It occupies a sloping site in southern Albany, facing east toward the Hudson River. The walls are brick, laid in English bond with tooled joints, over a stone foundation. Horizontal divisions are marked by a molded brick watertable with cyma recta curve, and a belt course, consisting of two courses of stretchers. The latter runs between the first and second floors on all but the west facade. The building is covered by a double-pitched hip roof, originally wood shingled, but now of standing seam metal. A wooden balustrade with Chinese fret panels and posts topped by urns surrounds the roof directly above the cornice. This feature was an addition, installed in the first few years of the 19th century, but remains an early example of the use of the Chinese motif. The present balustrade is a replica, which replaced the badly deteriorated original in 1973. The plain block cornice with built-in gutter is probably a mid-19th century alteration. The three small gabled dormers on the east and west sides of the roof are, however, probably original. Two brick interior chimneys rise above the roof.

The east facade is seven bays wide and symmetrically disposed, although the openings are not all of the same size. On the second floor, the two outer windows and the central window are of a size to accommodate 12/12 sash, while the two windows flanking the center are narrower, with 9/9 sash. This forms what could be called a pseudo-Palladian arrangement. The first floor undoubtedly had a similar configuration, with the narrower windows flanking a pedimented doorway, as is the case in Johnson Hall National Historical Landmark. The latter building, erected in 1763, bears a considerable resemblance to the Schuyler Mansion, although it is frame rather than brick. The original configuration of the eastern entrance to the Schuyler Mansion was altered c. 1815 by the addition of a 1-story octagonal vestibule. Reached by a flight of brownstone steps with a fine wrought-iron railing, this vestibule is entered through double-leafed doors topped by a rectangular transom, which is ornamented by a leaded fan. The vestibule has a block cornice and is topped by a balustrade with vase-shaped balusters.

The north and south facades are four bays in depth. The windows are not evenly spaced, reflecting the plan, which provides larger rooms along the eastern front.

The west facade has been the most altered. Presently restored to its original configuration, it has three symmetrically placed doors on the first floor, and three irregularly disposed windows, which light the hall on the first and second floors and the stair landing. An arched opening (now closed), which once provided access to a bulkhead entrance to the cellar, is beneath the landing window.

The two outer doors relate to 1-story flanking buildings that once stood to either side of the main house. The building to the south housed an office, while that to the north accommodated a nursery. These flankers, each measuring 20 by 24 feet, were connected by an enclosed passage. There were also originally other outbuildings, described below, west of the house.

By 1818 the south flanker had been taken down, and the north flanker, converted to kitchen use, had been rebuilt or enlarged. This too was removed c. 1860, and a 2-story wing was built across the west facade, with the two upper windows converted to doors providing access to the wing. In the late 19th century, when the house was used as an orphanage, a large dormitory section was added to the west. After the property was acquired by the State of New York in 1912, a major restoration effort was undertaken in 1916, with the object of displaying the property as a museum, a function it has served ever since. The western appendages were removed, and an open porch built across the west facade. This in turn was removed c. 1950. These various alterations, as well as misguided early restoration and preservation efforts, which included sandblasting, repointing with Portland cement, and the application of silicone waterproofing, have left the west wall in somewhat deteriorated condition.

The interior, although largely intact, has also been subject to alteration and restoration. The original plan is the conventional Georgian arrangement of two rooms on either side of a central hallway. The placement of these rooms is not entirely symmetrical. Those to the east are larger than those to the west, with the southeast room being larger than the northeast room. The most striking feature of the plan is the spacious hall, which measures 20 feet in width. On the first floor, the hall is divided by a transverse partition, forming an entry and stairhall. The latter is occupied by an elaborate staircase, with three balusters to a tread, each with a different spiral turning. On the second floor, the hall runs uninterrupted the full depth of the house. In Philip Schuyler's day, this space was evidently used for formal entertaining; he referred to it as the "saloon." Above the paneled dado the walls were papered with scenes of the "Ruins of Rome," framed in wallpaper borders simulating stucco scrollwork. Presently the upper hall is hung with a reproduction of a mid-19th century scenic paper. The walls of other major rooms, now painted, were also originally hung with brilliantly colored papers.

Woodwork throughout the house is an amalgam of original detailing, alteration, and "restoration." Throughout the house, the window jambs house original paneled interior shutters. The Adamesque detailing of

the octagonal vestibule remains intact. In the hall the paneled dado and cornice are original; the arched opening in the partition has been altered more than once. On the first floor, the woodwork of the southeast room is largely original, with the exception of alteration to the chimney breast. In 1916 the overmantel panel was lowered and inverted, and a scroll pediment, bolection molding and mantel shelf added. The northeast parlor was considerably reworked in 1916, with the addition of the present cornice and paneling south of the fireplace. The chimneypiece was also elaborated, so that only the architrave surrounding the fireplace is original. The cornice and paneled fireplace wall of the northwest room are a product of the 1916 restoration. The southwest room is now smaller than it was in the 18th century because of the insertion of a back stair and closet between it and the hallway. It is the simplest of the first floor rooms, with a plain early 19th-century mantel.

The second floor, unlike the first, retains its original flooring. Again the southeast room was always the largest and most elaborate. It retains its original paneled fireplace wall and chimneypiece, although the latter was altered in the 19th century by the addition of reeded pilasters and a mantel shelf. The cornice is probably also 19th century. The other rooms on the second floor have simple early 19th-century mantels. However, these, like most of the mantels in the house, retain their original Schuylkill marble facings. The Schuyler Mansion was the centerpiece of a large property that served Schuyler as both gentleman's seat and working farm. Thus besides the mansion house and its two flankers, there were in Schuyler's day, on the property presently owned by the state, a kitchen west of the south flanker, and a gardener's shed and a large barn further to the west. Portions of the brick drains of the latter were revealed during excavations made in 1977. Further from the mansion were a coach house and ice house. There was an orchard north of the house. The area south of the house was laid out as a formal garden with parterres. These plots were surrounded by trees, among which was the Schuyler Gage plum, which was grafted and sold as a standard after the middle of the 19th century. The slope south of the house was also bordered by trees. These areas were enclosed by post and rail fencing, which also bordered the drive that led up along the northern side of the house. The yard behind the house and, the south side of the orchard, and the drive in the immediate vicinity of the house were demarcated by board fencing.

After Schuyler's death in 1804 the property was subdivided as he had directed. Following this subdivision, the house stood on a lot measuring 112 feet on Clinton [then Church] Street and 396 feet on the new Catherine Street. It was acquired in 1815 by John Bryan, who subsequently added the adjoining lot to the south, which measured 60 feet by 396 feet. A watercolor drawing of the property, made by Philip Hooker in 1818, shows a gazebo south of the house. There is a picket fence with urn topped posts, and evergreens planted by Bryan.

By the third quarter of the 19th century, all of the Schuyler outbuildings had been removed. There was still a garden south of the house, now planted in the romantic style. There was also a greenhouse west of the house. Starting in about 1860, the rear half of the property was sold off and houses on narrow lots were built along the south side of Catherine Street. In 1912 the State of New York acquired the remaining property and began a restoration program for the mansion and its grounds. Surviving from this period is the Dutch Colonial caretaker's cottage, designed in the office of the State Architect.

A major restoration was carried out by the state, under the guidance of a Board of Trustees in 1916. This included removal of some 19th-century features, structural repairs, and "improvement" of some 18th-century features, such as overmantels. In 1948-1950 research on paint colors was carried out, and the window sash was returned to its 18th-century configuration. In 1973-1974 further structural work was undertaken; the brickwork was repaired and repointed with lime and sand mortar, and the roofs and balustrades were replaced.

During the 19th century the configuration of the hill on which the Schuyler Mansion stands had been altered to accommodate such changes as the construction of streets and of additions to the building's rear. To prevent erosion of the steep slopes formed by cutting for Clinton and Catherine Streets, the state erected stone retaining walls along these street fronts in 1916. The wall along Clinton Street, topped by an iron fence, is presently severely out of plumb due to pressure from the hill above it. Probably at the same time, steps of matching stone were built leading from Clinton Street to the front of the house. In addition to the changes in contour related to the cutting through of streets, changes in grade have occurred around the perimeter of the house itself. This is particularly the case around the west wall, where the grade may be as much as two to three feet higher than it was in the 18th century.

In 1971 the grounds west of the mansion were landscaped. Raised flowerbeds surrounded by dry-laid stone walls were established at the approximate locations of the 18th-century flankers. An orchard to the south is a reminder of Schuyler's interest in pomology. In 1974 the state aquired additional land to the west, on which five houses, numbers 22-38 Catherine Street had been built. Three of these closest to the mansion have now been razed and a new entrance created. Stone piers now flank a driveway leading from Catherine Street into a concrete parking lot. A garage on the original state property was removed and the caretaker's house was adapted to serve as a visitor center in the mid-1970s.