Featured Story

Sylvester Manor makes State Historic Register

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Aerial view of Sylvester Manor that now has a listing on the New York State Historic Register. Staffers look to a future listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Aerial view of Sylvester Manor that now has a listing on the New York State Historic Register. Staffers look to a future listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

After more than a year of planning, paper work and coordination, Sylvester Manor is among 22 properties on the way to being added to the New York State Register of Historic Places.

Word came September 11, according to preservation programs coordinator Maura Doyle. She has spent more than a year working to bring about the designation. The recommendation that Sylvester Manor be among those properties added came from the New York State Board for Historic Preservation and was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The state’s historic preservation officer must approve the recommendations before they are nominated to also be added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Sylvester Manor application, like the others, must undergo another review prior to being recommended for inclusion in the National Register.

Guided by Coordinator Bill Krattinger of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and after filling out what amounted to almost 60 pages of details about the Manor’s history and significance to the community, word came from Albany that “All were awed by the magnificence of the Manor.”

That was an emailed response from Mr. Krattinger to Ms. Doyle on the day the state committee met to assess the application.

“The committee has not been this excited about a project in ages,” Mr. Krattinger told Ms. Doyle during the long months when he worked with her to guide the application through to final approval.

“What an incredible couple of months,” Ms. Doyle said, reflecting on the period from June, when Eben Fiske Ostby deeded 141 acres of land, including the Manor House, barns and other buildings to the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, and now the state’s designation.

Deeding of that final piece of property was a key needed to complete the application to the state, Ms. Doyle said.

The state and national designations have always been a goal for the staff of caretakers of the property, but first there was much work to be done establishing the Educational Farm and launching programs that have made Sylvester Manor a destination for visitors.

“They knew about us before we wanted them to know about us,” Ms. Doyle said, expressing surprise that even before the application was submitted the state had done its own survey that identified the site for future consideration.

The listing on the State Register of Historic Places and eventually the National Register are significant not just for the prestige, but for access to grants vital to restoring the Manor House, Mr. Doyle said.

“This property deserves to and needs to be recognized,” she said. “It’s a beautiful, old, important house and it needs a lot of love.”

But that love doesn’t come cheap. Just to paint the outside of the Manor House will cost about $150,000 and take six to eight months to complete, Ms. Doyle said.

Besides grant money, listings also provide access to experts in restoring old buildings.

At the same time, she acknowledged that the listing means losing “some autonomy, but we might really benefit from that. Anytime you invite outside scrutiny, it’s going to make anybody nervous.”

Even if money were available immediately, there are logistical issues to be resolved, Ms. Doyle said. Right now, a crew of young farm workers live in the Manor House. But alternative housing will have to be found for them, not just during renovations but for the future.

With restoration comes the need to ensure that the building will be protected from damage and maintained in top condition for visitors, she said.

Then there’s a need to be certain that work is properly undertaken so as not to compromise any historic aspects of the buildings and grounds. But that’s where the experts will be available for consultation and guidance.

Another challenge will be to combine the restoration with the operation of the working farm, Ms. Doyle said.

“We all really have the same goal,” she said about maintaining the historic integrity of the property. “Reasonable people will arrive at reasonable solutions.”