and other unique history from one of sneden`s landing`s oldest

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and other unique history from one of sneden`s landing`s oldest
Washington
and other unique history from one of
sneden’s landing’s oldest dream homes.
by jenny higgons
photographs by mark vergari
t’s Rockland County during the
American Revolutionary War. As the
conflict between England and her
colonies rages on, Martha Washington, the wife of General George, intently
stares out the kitchen window of a rustic
Victorian home in what’s now the Palisades
hamlet of Sneden’s Landing. She’s looking
Sneden’s Landing
Named for the Sneden family, who
operated a ferry service across the
Hudson. Molly Sneden (1709-1810)
was a ferry mistress.
east to a path that leads up from the Hudson
River, hoping to eventually see her husband
trudging up for a much-needed hot meal.
With him is French general and ally Marie
Joseph Lafayette, who’s accompanied by his
aide-de-camp, Jeremiah Keeler.
Today, Lynne Sandhaus, the greatgreat-great-great-great-granddaughter of
Jeremiah Keeler, is looking out the very
same window that Mrs. Washington once
gazed through. But instead of seeing troops
out there, she’s more likely to see her two
dogs—yellow Lab Samantha and Jack
Russell terrier Mickey—romping in the
backyard. Washington and other Revolutionary War dignitaries visited her home,
explains Lynne, “because the owners at the
70
time were patriots, and this was considered
the manor house in the area.” Although it has
been expanded over the ensuing centuries,
many historians say the original structure,
which Lynne lives in with her husband,
Jeffrey, dates all the way back to 1685.
Lynne has developed a sentimental attachment to the structure, known for generations
as “The Big House.” Yet, ironically, she
wouldn’t even live there if not for the positive karma (or dumb luck) that sent her on a
blind date with Jeff. Before the meeting, Jeff
had already purchased the home from a man
named Joe Hyde, a former White House
chef under Eisenhower. And after their
courtship, fate kicked in, returning Lynne
to her ancestor’s old stomping grounds.
Everything in this serendipitous scenario
may have never come about had Jeff not
seen beyond the home’s rundown condition.
A mixture of Dutch and Victorian architectural styles, complete with a fieldstone façade
Fieldstone
A stone found in the fields and used
(often in unfinished form) for decorative walls, façades, and walkways.
and an extensive porch, it had character
to spare. But on the flip side, it was also in
disrepair and a motorcycle sat in the front
hall, dripping oil on the late-1800s tile. “Its
Pets Samantha (left) and Mickey
welcome visitors to the Sandhaus home.
BELOW : At 150 feet, The Big House’s
porch is one of the longest in Rockland
County. RIGHT: The home’s verdant backyard was put in the capable hands of a
garden designer. (inset) The front of the
home, which faces south, in the 1800s.
ABOVE :
Ate Here …
before
www.rocklandmag.com • 71
LEFT: The Sandhauses excavated the
foundation to help form the far wall.
BELOW: A plaster banister leads to the
lower part of the lavatory.
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charm just overtook me, and it was very
comfortable and inviting,” he says. “I was
a single guy coming up from the city. I’d
looked at smaller homes, and this one, at
5,500 square feet and on almost five acres,
was rather large. I loved its historical aspect,
and the more I learned about, the more it
drew me in.” In fact, he notes, it’s one of
the oldest homes in the United States that
people have lived in continuously.
There were plenty of things about the
300-plus-year-old structure that should
have scared off buyers: the old plumbing,
the lack of insulation, the overall poor
condition. Yet Jeff, a bachelor with no
construction experience, wasn’t at all
fazed. “The fact that it needed so much
work never entered my mind,” he says.
The reason? In addition to being a
welcome renovation challenge, The Big
House also had the priceless designation
of being on the Historical Register.
The National Register
of Historic Places
The criteria for a building to qualify
for the Register include the quality of
the structure’s significance in American history, architecture, and culture.
“It was a labor of love,” Jeff says. “As I
gingerly stripped away some of the more
recent construction, the past unfolded.” For
example, he discovered cherry-wood ceiling
beams hidden above a heat-conserving low
ceiling in a recreation and family room they
dubbed “The Big Room.” Its original oak
floor was in good condition. In the formal
living room, he encountered wood paneling
from 1720 hidden under about 15 layers of
paint. One of Jeff’s very first undertakings
on the house’s exterior was to sandblast the
fieldstone walls—each 23 inches thick—to
remove decades’ worth of whitewash.
Watching the power-washing at work, someone from the local government demanded,
Lynne’s parents gave her and
Jeff the chandelier as a wedding present.
RIGHT: The kitchen wall that looks tiled is
actually covered with wallpaper.
ABOVE:
“What do you think you’re doing? This is a
historical home!” Jeff shot back, “I’m taking
it back to its original state.”
“It was ignored for a number of years because everyone thought it was just another
Victorian house in the area,” explains Lynne,
who grew up in Westport, Connecticut.
“And, because the house sits sideways on 9W,
many people just didn’t see it.” They also
didn’t realize its significant role in America’s
past. A plaque on a wall in The Big Room
reverently chronicles the structure’s early era,
from being built in 1685 by a General Lockhart, to being refurbishing after a fire in the
early 18th century, to its briefly becoming the
Palisades Library in the early 1900s. Even the
basement, once a general store, has history.
In 1981, Lynne, a former stage and TV
actress, and Jeff, a urologist from Long Island,
got married in The Big Room of The Big
House. “Though I always liked this house,
I was overwhelmed by it for at least a year,”
Lynne says while relaxing on the living
room’s blue humpback couch. Next to her
is a Rumford fireplace, one of the home’s
five hearths, and one that may well have
Rumford fireplace
Designed by Anglo-American
physicist Sir Benjamin Thompson
(aka Count Rumford), its height
and depth draw the smoke up the
chimney and heat up the room.
been cranking out heat when Washington
and Lafayette visited long ago.
“I wasn’t sure what I would do with the
house,” Lynne says. “I think I have good taste,
but decorating doesn’t come to me naturally.”
So she hired professionals to help her pick out
rugs and fabrics. Luckily for Jeff and Lynne,
they both loved antiques, so they slowly started to buy pieces that would serve the house.
“We like to mix them up,” says Lynne as she
points to items in the living room. “That chest
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of drawers was once owned by actress and
millionaire Barbara Hutton, and that little
candlestick table are Queen Anne.” Perhaps
no room in the house better captures their love
of antiques than the dining room. In addition
to its largest pieces—an 11-foot-long French
harvest table, eight Windsor reproduction
chairs, and two large antique cupboards—the
room is also carefully ornamented with smaller decorative touches, such as a team of decoy
ducks bought at an auction.
But not everything about the house is
old. Take the Sandhaus kids: son Keeler,
15, and daughter Austin, 17. Austin may
be headed for college this fall, but relatively
speaking, they’re both the youngest things
in The Big House. Following their births,
Lynne and Jeff renovated and expanded the
sparse second floor to have three bedrooms,
two bathrooms, and a master suite with a
sitting room. They also added central air
and fixed up the attic for nannies and visiting
relatives. “Our architect, Jeffrey Hall, was
the best thing that ever happened to this
house,” raves Lynne. “We’ve done a lot of
work on it over the years, and it’s almost
as if it yielded to Jeffrey because he had its
74
ABOVE: A relative gave the Sandhauses
the piano and mirror when she moved to a
smaller home. RIGHT: The Big Room when it
was the Palisades Library’s reading room.
best interests in mind.” As Jeff puts it, “The
house is very accepting to transition.”
This much is clear when you look at The
Big House’s patchwork evolution. It began
as a downstairs kitchen and a couple of upstairs bedrooms. But between 1740 and 1750,
a dining room was added. And in the 1760s a
hallway was installed (its original hardwood is
still in place). The Big Room—the last major
addition—was constructed in the first half of
the 1800s. The 150-foot front porch—which
needed to be dismantled and reassembled by
contractor Henry Ottley five years ago—is one
of Rockland’s longest. It dates back to 1867.
As with renovating any ancient building,
one of the Sandhauses’ biggest challenges
was maintaining its historical character.
The kitchen, the oldest room, ended up
being the only one that Lynne and Jeff left
virtually untouched. A second-floor study
overlooks the space, and a wood laboratory
cabinet sits in the middle of the kitchen’s
pine floor. The couple made some minor
alterations—carving our space for a sink
and a dishwasher—but Jeff was careful to
buy an industrial stove that blended with
the room’s theme. But the thing that best
exemplifies the Sandhauses’ blending of Colonial and modern is the beehive fireplace,
an original feature. It wasn’t exactly easy
to cook on, so Lynne rigged a four-legged
Tuscan rack from Smith and Hawken
inside the hive to give her a grilling surface.
And then, like her ancestors, she proceeded
to dine with distinguished guests.
Ask Lynne about the importance of
preserving America’s—and Rockland’s—history, and her voice rises
a few decibels. “Jeff and I believe in
restoration and preservation, so we
can see where we’ve come from.” But
today’s McMansions, she says, “have
nothing to do with family. They separate
human beings, so you don’t need to listen
to, discipline, or be responsible for people in your house.” Lynne likes that she’s
able to—from just about any room—hear
her family and pets living in her house.
(Also part of the family: cats Peter and
Mittens and cockatiel Mo.) “People in
McMansions don’t interact for days,”
Beehive fireplace
One that resembles the moundshaped hives in which bees
were once kept. Also called a
Kiva fireplace.
she laments. “I think that architects and
builders have done everything they can
to break up the family.”
Though the Sandhaus home may sound
more like a museum than a home, there are
plenty of modern-day amenities: skylights, a
large flat-screen TV, a cushy L-shaped couch,
a pinball machine, and a whimsical poster
by Fernando Botero. OK, so the famous Colombian painter and illustrator was from the
mid-1900s, but his poster, hanging above the
toilet, brings us to another subject: the Sandhauses’ first-floor bathroom. Besides a steam
room, whirlpool tub, shower, and 3x5 (feet,
that is) photo of the couple (circa 1981), it’s
also bi-level. The commode and a sink are
on the top, while stairs lead to the other facilities. An original wall with the fieldstones
stands on the far end. Aside from providing
sturdiness and character, the stones are also
an ingenious Colonial-era way to trap wintertime heat and summertime cool. Even
here, in one of the most customized parts of
the house, the past still pokes through.
“My husband had the foresight to buy a
historical home and I brought the pedigree,”
says Lynne. But even if her grandfather from
five generations ago hadn’t been in The Big
House, she’d still adore living there just as
The hidden door in the master bedroom
suite leads to Lynne’s study.
much. “I love spending a lot of my free
time at home, whether it’s alone or with
my family,” she says. The Sandhauses’
friends and relatives are also smitten with
the dwelling’s ambiance and momentous
ties to the past. “I think some of that is
attributable to us,” says Lynne, “but it’s a
happy house all on its own.”
LOCAL TRADESMEN
Looking to have some work done on
your house? Lynne Sandhaus offers
her local picks:
GENERAL CONTRACTOR:
Henry Ottley of Recam Corp. (725 Oak
Tree Rd.; Palisades; 365-1520).
Inside Scoop: “Henry renovated
the front porch, installed copper
gutters, and was instrumental in
setting up the pergola and columns outside in the back. He did
top-notch work, was very amenable, and gave us lots of ideas.”
PLUMBING:
Bruce Kuhn Plumbing & Heating Service (2 Daniel Ct.; Suffern; 735-2713).
Inside Scoop: “An old house really needs a good plumber. Bruce was
smart, nice, competitively priced, and
didn’t waste my time.”
ARCHITECTURE
& INTERIOR DESIGN:
Jeffrey Hall of JP Hall Architect (42
Voorhis Ave.; Nyack; 353-8007).
Inside Scoop: “His renovation
of the second floor was important to
the structure of the whole house. I
trusted him because he always kept
the house’s historical value at heart.”
GARDEN DESIGNER:
Elisabeth Voigt (537 S. Mountain Rd.;
New City; 634-6716).
Inside Scoop: “She arranged the
driveway’s entrance and terraced the
property. The azalea, pachysandra,
and ivy she put in married the house
to the landscape.”
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