This old stone house is an intriguing one — full of history, real and perhaps fantastical. The address is an education in itself, 361 Onesquethaw Valley Road in Feura Bush, N.Y., about half an hour outside of Albany. The name Onesquethaw — which is given to a road, a creek, falls and more in the area — is said to derive from a Mohawk word.
The area was originally Mohawk land until the late 17th century. By the 18th century there was a smattering of dwellings in the small valley settlement. Today, Feura Bush is a community within the larger town of New Scotland.
The stone house is believed to date from the 1750s or 1760s, according to the National Register survey form filled out for the building — it first appeared on a map of the area in 1767. Perhaps it’s not unusual that a house with over 250 years of history would have almost as many names, making the tracking of its history a fairly complicated task. A search found the house referred to as Nisquethaw, Oriskatach, van Rensselaer House, Gerrit Van Sante (Van Zandt) House, Bleeker House and the John Vadney House.
The name Oriskatach appears on a New York State history sign in front of the house. The sign also makes a case for one of the long standing legends about the property, that it housed “as many as 100 soldiers during the French and Indian Wars.”
A Knickerbocker News article from 1950 makes an even stronger claim — that the house was originally built as a garrison and that “the sturdy iron bars in the basement windows, nicked and stained through years of violence, still remain.” While the basement supposedly served as a prison, a large room on an upper floor “was used to house troops during the French and Indian Wars.” To keep the building secure, “a trap door opened onto the roof to enable the occupants to extinguish the flaming arrows.”
The article also tells of a family ghost — although not a very scary one, it would seem, as the only report was that it “pulled covers off the beds at night.” Perhaps it just meant to supply a turn-down service for guests.
While the tales make for interesting reading, their veracity is doubtful at best, and very difficult to prove in any case. The Albany area was definitely affected by the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), but no definitive proof of the use of the house as a prison or soldier’s quarters has turned up.
The Knickerbocker News article and others from the 20th century do shed some important light on how the house managed to survive: It was fortunate to have been owned by at least two families who were passionate about its preservation.
The Ernest Jordan Jr. family purchased the house around 1939, named it Nisquethaw and began to restore it while adding modern conveniences. According to local newspaper coverage, the Jordans furnished the house with authentic and reproduction furniture. Some of the antique pieces had been left in the house when they purchased it.
Carl Touhey, a local businessman, philanthropist and history enthusiast, purchased the house sometime in the 1970s and continued the restoration process. He passed away in 2013, and the family has put the house on the market.
Today, the house reflects the centuries of history, with the work of the various owners still in evidence. There’s the thick-walled stone house as well as what appears to be an early 19th century wood-frame wing.
Inside there are almost 5,000 square feet of living space with plenty of vintage details in evidence, from beamed ceilings to wide planked floorboards. There’s even a Dutch or split door at the entry which, according to the listing, will “encourage elegant living.”
There are two large parlors, a dining room, study and living room. The listing images show three wood-burning fireplaces, although there are probably more.
The living room includes some features most likely added by the Jordan family in the 1940s or 1950s. The tiles of the floor appear to be those that, once again according to that chatty Knickerbocker News story from 1950, were “procured by the Jordans from an exhibit brought over from Italy for the New York World’s Fair.”
There are four bedrooms in the house, although they aren’t all depicted in the listing photos, so it is tough to tell how atmospheric they might be. There are no images of the 3.5 baths, but presumably all are indoors so one doesn’t have to live with total historic authenticity.
While the historic hearths still exist, a modern kitchen has been tucked into a corner.
There’s no shortage of land, with 105 acres surrounding the house. On the grounds are modern amenities such as a tennis court and in-ground pool.
Pictured in the listing but apparently not included in the sale is the Wemp Barn, an early 17th century Dutch barn constructed by Jan Wemp in Montgomery County. The barn was moved to Feura Bush in 1990 by Carl Touhey and restored in collaboration with the Dutch Barn Preservation Society.
The house is listed for $990,000 by Frances Ingraham-Heins at Heather Croner Real Estate Sotheby’s International.
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