Photo Courtesy of Dorothy Stacy
I have loved old houses since fourth grade, when my class read a children’s ghost story. The mystery of a house that had seen memories both good and bad – take the death of that ghost for example – enthralled me. What secrets could old walls provide?
Sometimes, people buy a house and live in it without ever looking deeper than safety features (Is the roof good? Are the windows drafty?). Other people choose to uncover those secrets of the past. A writer friend of mine who purchased a house in Sauquoit did just that. When you hear Dorothy Stacy, author of the Erie Canal Cousins series, talk about her home, a content glaze drifts over her eyes and she smiles with the kind of pride that an old house would relish.
Cruising up Dorothy’s driveway, you can picture a horse and buggy clopping over pebbles and dirt toward the garage. Walking up to the house, I could imagine carrying a basket and calling cards with me. Then, actually stepping inside, you can imagine being greeted by a woman in a hoop skirt and a man with a pipe and a bowler hat. The ballroom amazed me the most, with its gentle colors and an exposed beam acting as a focal point.
“This used to be the ballroom,” Dorothy explained. “After Jerusha got her husband, Spencer, to join the Methodist Church, they didn’t have any other dances here.” Now the room is divided down the middle by a new wall, but the hardwood floor was just made for tapping your heels – literally.
I suppose I should rewind and introduce you to this Lieutenant Spencer Briggs and his wife, Jerusha Marsh. Spencer Briggs used to own all of East Sauquoit. He and Jerusha lived in a small log cabin until he built the house Dorothy now lives in, back in 1800, thereabouts. In a letter given to Dorothy when she and her late husband purchased the house in 1077, “There was no saw mill near so the timers are all hewn timers, some being the whole trunks of trees with the bark on as can be seen in the cellar. It was put up as a raising, same as a barn. The frame was pinned same as a barn. The great posts of red and white elm in all the corners. Then pinned with two-inch planks as high as the attic floor. The original clapboards were very wide. And all the nails used were hand-made nails. The floors are hemlock boards and were all lined floors. The brick partitions in the cellar were made of the bricks taken out of the old fashioned fireplaces many years ago.”
The letter also mentions that a Jared S. Allen repaired the house in 1905. New floors were placed over the old ones – how interesting to take up that floor and see what’s underneath!
Spencer and Jerusha were quite busy. Spencer bought great portions of land, which he later sold, and he also built another home, which he died in. They deeded land to the Methodist Church, and a church was built on the corner of Pinnacle Road and Mohawk Street in Sauquoit. A new church was built in 1842, this one of brick, and constructed over the graves, which had been moved. The old church became the Academy.
After Spencer and Jerusha gave up their home, now Dorothy’s, it belonged to a Jared P. Todd, then to Mrs. Samuel Allen. It was passed to Julie and Jared S. Allen. Now, concerning Jared Allen, one Sunday in November of 1910, he and Julia were going to take a buggy ride to Utica. Julia waited in the house while her husband hitched up the team, but when it took him longer than usual, she went out to check and found him hanging from a barn rafter. When I asked Dorothy if his ghost wanders the barn, she said she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Hmm, I may have to take some pictures in there someday to see if I catch any orbs.
After the Allens, the house belonged to John and Agnes Brayton, and then to Charlotte Hopkins. The house ownership continued to Kenneth and Margaret Hillman, and then to Sherrill and Margery Sherman. I have a bit of Sherman blood in me…perhaps there is some relation there. John and Dorothy Stacy bought their house from that last Sherrill Sherman. You can find Spencer and Jerusha Briggs buried on Pinnacle Road. How comforting to know they get to stay near the land they loved.
Now comes the most fantastic part – for me, a history lover, at least. Dorothy showed me the artifacts that had been found in her cellar wall. Her husband and children participated in archeological digs to find things buried inside. I’ve always dreamed of finding wonderful treasures somewhere in my house. Dorothy took the items out of a box and actually let me hold them. I couldn’t believe I was able to touch the eyeglasses owned by someone years ago. Amongst the baubles were inkwells, a doll’s head, broken jewelry, and dishes. At one time, the building had been used as a nursing home, but judging by the amount of inkwells, it might have been a school as well. I could almost imagine what the late owners had been like when I held their old belongings. A broken teacup might not have much value to the common person, but to someone who has always loved the past, it was as good as a diamond.
You never know what you’ll find when you start to explore an old house. It may not be an actual item, like an old watch, but the facts are titillating. Everything holds a story…what story is your home waiting to tell?