This was the mansion at The Flatts , after the Dutch “DeVlackte,” later called Schuyler Flats and Schuyler Farm. It was situated on the west bank of the Hudson in what is now Menands (then West Troy), opposite Breaker Island (formerly two islands called Culyer and Hillhouse). For a century, from about 1711-1806, the main public road from Albany to Saratoga ran between the mansion and the river.
The Flatts was (were?) owned and occupied by the Schuyler family for 250 years.
Because its history is so complex, and the Schuyler family history so confusing (how many of them were named Peter and Philip?!), I’ve broken it down into a chronology. Info gleaned from many sources. Please excuse the lack of annotation, I didn’t set out to write a term paper.
1630 Arent Van Curler, a cousin of the first Patroon Van Rensselaer, arrives with the first colonists of the manor, and is soon after made superintendent. He marries in 1643, and after a brief honeymoon in Holland, returns to work the farm. He establishes the Flatts as the heart of the area’s fur trade.
1660 Richard Van Rensselaer, a son of the Patroon, occupies the property.
1666 He builds the main house.
1668 The house’s roof caves in.
1670 Richard VanRensselaer returns to Holland. The Flatts is sold to Col. Philip Pieterse Schuyler. Schuyler repairs the old house and cellar, and builds an additional structure to the north. This begins a long Schuyler lineage in the area.
1683 Upon the elder Schuyler’s death, his son, Col. Pieter Schuyler (later the first mayor of Albany), inherits The Flatts.
1690 General Fitz John Winthrop sends the first detachment of his army from Albany for the invasion of Canada to the Flatts. The Flats become a staging ground for troops engaged in the French and Indian War, and many of their officers find entertainment. Here the gallant Lord Howe spends the night, and eating his breakfast on the march under Abercrombie to attack Ticonderoga. Here, the the barns are turned into hospitals for the defeated forces of Abercrombie.
1695 Pieter leases it to his son Philip.
1711 Col. Peter Schuyler, now married to Maria Van Rensselaer, the sister of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, moves to The Flatts.
1720 Philip Schuyler marries Margarita Schuyler, his cousin, whose father had for a number of years been the mayor of the City of Albany. Margarita is known during the latter part of her life as “Madame Schuyler.”
1724 Upon the death of Col. Peter Schuyler, his eldest son Philip P. Schuyler becomes the owner of the Flats and the mansion.
1752? A serious fire nearly demolishes the mansion, which is then rebuilt by British soldiers.
1758 Col. Philip Schuyler dies, survived by his kindhearted widow, by now known as “Madame Schuyler” or “Aunt Schuyler.” The property is willed to her until her death when it is supposed to be passed on to her nephew, Peter Schuyler.
Aunt Schuyler’s home becomes the place of gathering both men and supplies because it’s at the head of deep navigation of the Hudson and is convenient for those coming from New England either by way of Bennington or Kinderhook.
During this period, a large (100′ x 60′) barn that had been used for troop lodging and staging is torn down.
1771 Peter Schuyler dies, his will naming his grandson, Stephen Schuyler, as eventual heir to The Flatts.
1774 At The Flatts, Major Peter Schuyler forms his plans for the Revolutionary War invasion of Canada.
1782 With the passing of Margarita “Madame” Schuyler, The Flatts becomes the property of Stephen Schuyler, who has lived here since the 1740’s.
1808 Philip P. Schuyler dies and is buried in the family plot.
1820 The death of Stephen Schuyler leaves the property to Peter S. Schuyler , husband of Catherine Cuyler.
1832 Peter S. Schuyler leaves it to Stephen R. Schuyler. I’m not certain Stephen Schuyler lives in the mansion. In fact, this 1839 newspaper ad offers the place for lease. Not sure if there were takers.
1898 Richard P. Schuyler dies. His widow, the former Susan Drake, remains in the house twelve more years.
1910 Drake vacates The Flats, ending the Schuyler era. She rents the place to Guy Beattie, a farmer who had been working the land for a while. Over the years, various parcels of the estate have been leased to farmers and loggers.
1910-1948 The land is leased for farming and carnivals (Beattie’s Field”).
1928 Beattie buys the mansion and much of the farm, which he operates with his wife and his brother, William H. Beattie.
1935 The modern luxury of oil heat is installed, but the Beatties continue to use the house’s giant cast-iron stoves.
1946 In preparation for retirement, the Beatties sell the mansion to Charles Rivenburg.
1948 The Beatties sell the contents of their home and retire to Florida. Rivenberg opens the mansion as Sunny Crest Nursing Home.
1949 Carnival operator James E. Strates buys Beattie’s 30-acre farm for $60,000. Schuyler Flats become the area’s home for the Strates Shows.
1957 The State Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America, and Albany County Historical Society team up to recognize the historic site with a plaque. It’s affixed to the house, now painted white. Present at the unveiling are Susan Schuyler Cornthwait, 11, daughter of Mr & Mrs Schuyler Cornthwait, Hyde Park, Vermont, and Catherine Rhodes, 11, daughter of the Rev. James R. Rhodes and Mrs Rhodes of Slingerlands, both descendants of Richard P. Schuyler, last of the direct family line to occupy the house. The historical societies express hope that James E. Strates, who owns the property, might donate the house to the state. They neglect to ask him, though, and when interviewed, Strates admits no one even told him about the plaque.
1959 James E. Strates dies, leaving the property to his son, E. James Strates.
1959 The mismanaged Sunny Crest Nursing Home goes out of business.
1960 The mansion sits abandoned.
1962 The mansion is destroyed in two consecutive fires, which – while the fire chief admits were deliberately set – are blamed on children playing with matches. [Of course, it’s preposterous to imagine the blazes could have been set by parties disinterested in the bothersome historic dimensions of potentially profitable property.]
1968 William A. Wells of Buffalo purchases the 50-acre plot for $600,000, the only bidder at a public auction for the land. He expresses a desire to build an office complex, apartment houses and commercial buildings.
1968 In drawing up plans for the I-787/NY-378 interchange, the Department of Transportation makes accommodations to avoid the historic Schuyler site. It opens in 1970.
1970 Colonie Town Board hearings proposes rezoning from business E to commercial-multiple housing. The potential developer wants to integrate apartment housing and a shopping center. Archeological surveys conducted on a proposed sewer line result in a more thorough excavation of the Schuyler House by Paul Huey, historical archaeologist for the Office of Historical Preservation. His discoveries cause a flurry of local media attention, and Colonie’s Town Historian, Jean Olten, lobbies for its purchase.
1975 The Town of Colonie buys 2.5 acres to preserve for an historic park.
1990 Albany County transfers an additional nine acres.
1992 The National Park Service designates the site a National Historic Landmark.
1992-2002 Spearheaded by Paul Russell, Conservation Officer with the Town of Colonie, the idea for a park moves from a concept to reality, The Open Space Institute funds acquisition of another twenty-odd acres. The Town and the Hudson River Greenway contribute additional funds.
2002 Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park opens. The plaque, rescued from the 1962 fire, is rededicated.
Today the park offers outdoor recreation like walking and biking and an interpretive exhibit on the history of the Flatts. The Park includes a walking and jogging trail with access to the Hudson-Mohawk Bike Path. The park itself is a tranquil, wide-open green space for strolling, picnicking.
Website for the park:
A descendant of Guy Beattie created a webpage about his great-grandfather’s tenure at The Flatts. It includes some wonderful photos.
The New Netherland Institute has a wonderful, multi-page article on excavations at The Flatts:
There’s a nicely detailed article about the Schuyler burial ground at The Flatts here:
- The channel that formed Breaker Island was filled in by the construction of exit 7 of Interstate 787 with NY Route 378. The Hudson River remains on its east bank, with various creeks, ponds, small lakes, and marshes on the west side.
- The Schuyler house was the prototype of the Vancour Mansion in Paulding’s “The Dutchman’s Fireside.”
- Some think the arsenal was built at Watervliet because Troy was an important iron-producing city, but it’s quite possible that location was chosen because of Schuyler Flatts’ history as a strategically-situated arsenal.
Mrs. Anne Grant wrote a book about Madame Schuyler, called “Memoirs of an American Lady.”
In this passage she describes the interior of the mansion:
“It was a large brick house of two, or rather three stories (for there were excellent attics), besides a sunk story, finished with exactest neatness. The lower floor had two spacious rooms, with large, light closets; on the first there were three rooms, and in the upper one four. Through the middle of the house was a wide passage, with opposite front and back doors, which in summer admitted a stream of air peculiarly grateful to the languid senses. It was furnished with chairs and pictures like a summer parlor. Here the family usually sat in hot weather, when there were no ceremonious strangers.
“ One room, I should have said, in the greater house only, was opened for the reception of company; all the rest were bedchambers for their accommodation, while the domestic friends of the family occupied neat little bedrooms in the attics or the winter-house. This house contained no drawing-room — that was an unheard-of luxury; the winter rooms had carpets; the lobby had oilcloth painted in lozenges, to imitate blue and white marble. The best bedroom was hung with family portraits, some of which were admirably executed; and in the eating-room, which, by the by, was rarely used for that purpose, were some Scriptural paintings.
“ The house fronted the river, on the brink of which, under shades of elm and sycamore, ran the great road toward Saratoga, Stillwater, and the northern lakes; a little simple avenue of morella cherry trees, enclosed with a white rail, led to the road and river, not three hundred yards distant.”
[Note: All corrections are welcome. I am not a historian, just a curious researcher. Most of this information was completely new to me, so forgive me any lapses or errors.]