Steve Ives dreamed of owning an old home with color and got it.
He and his wife, Julie, and their children — Zadock, Hazel, Hannah, Daniel Elijah and Noah — landed a historic gem in the old Livingston Farm in Lewis.
The Iveses discovered the property on the Internet in September 2008. At the time, the asking price was a little high. Still, they checked it out and discovered the early 19th-century home needed a lot of fixer-upping.
"My wife was really reluctant," Steve said. "We let it go."
Early last March, he discovered the price had dropped, and they made an offer.
Steve, a native New Yorker, and Julie, a native Oregonian, had longed for the rural life. They took the plunge when Steve, a contractor, moved his family from St. Petersburg six years ago to rehab a client's Lake Placid home.
He and his family moved into the 19th-century Adirondack house, where they would live while he renovated it.
"It was like throwing lambs to the wolves almost," he said of that first winter. "We had to deal with snow and staying warm. The house didn't really have a heating system, per se. We froze that first winter."
But the experience was a good one.
"We decided we wanted to stay in this area."
The Lewis property was not easy on the eyes, but its history was fascinating. On the deed, the first owner listed was Platt Rogers, a Revolutionary War officer responsible for the survey of old State Route 9 from Albany to Plattsburgh. For this service, he was granted a large tract of land, which includes the Iveses' 24-acre parcel.
Rogers moved to Basin Harbor, Vt., and established a sail ferry to Westport. His daughter, Harriet, married John Winans. The Winans brothers, John and James, inn and tavern keepers, constructed the first steamboat, "Vermont," on Lake Champlain. It was the second steamboat in the nation.
Rogers sold his Lewis property to Continental Army Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler (1733-1804). Schuyler owned the property a year before selling it to Morgan Lewis (1754-1844), son of Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Lewis, a Revolutionary War officer at Sackets Harbor and French Creek, was the third governor of New York.
In 1779, Lewis married Gertrude Livingston, the daughter of Robert R. Livingston, (1718-1775), a prominent New York Whig. Robert R. Livingston was the son of "Robert of Clermont" (1688-1775), a New York colonial assembly member and the son of Robert Livingston (1654-1728), the first lord of Livingston Manor.
Livingston descendants include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush.
"It was like, you have to be kidding me," Steve said.
A RIPE-OLD AGE
Dr. William Livingston, a War of 1812 veteran, settled on the Essex County farm in 1817.
"He was the son of a Revolutionary War veteran. Being an amateur historian, this is a dream of mine … to live in a house that had some historic background to it."
The saltbox-in-appearance structure was built around 1820.
Dr. Livingston, originally from Washington County, was a politician and served four terms in the New York Legislature.
"He lived to be a ripe-old age," Steve said. "He was born in 1768 and died in 1860. He was the first-known doctor in this area. He started the pharmacy in Elizabethtown. He and his wife, Sarah Tracy, had eight children. His son, James Gray Livingston, inherited the home. He was the one involved, supposedly, in the Underground Railroad. He was a devout abolitionist and a deacon at the Lewis Congregational Church."
Steve learned much about the Livingstons at Thomas E. Burpee's website: www.BurpeeHistory.org. James Gray's daughter, Emily Amanda Livingston, married Stephen Aldophus Burpee.
Steve surmises that James Gray was an intimate of John Brown, who came to North Elba to assist black settlers at Timbucto founded by Geritt Smith, philanthropist and abolitionist.
Smith's mother, Elizabeth Livingston, was the daughter of Col. James Livingston (1747—1832) and Elizabeth Simpson (1750—1800) of Schuylerville.
During the American Revolution, Col. James Livingston fought at the battles of Quebec and Saratoga. Smith's aunt, Margaret Livingston, married Daniel Cady of Johnstown. Their daughter, suffragist and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was Smith's first cousin.
James Gray married Rosetta Woodruff, the daughter of Roger Hooker Woodruff and Sally Healy (Russell), early settlers in then-Willsboro. James Gray's brother, Robert Wilson Livingston, established two newspapers, the Essex County Times (1832) and Elizabethtown Post (1851). Robert Wilson married Lucy Maria Reynolds.
"Robert was the one, who, at 52, gathered up volunteers for the Union Army (Company F, 118th Regiment of the N.Y. Volunteers) and went off to fight the Civil War," Steve said. "He was seriously wounded and spent 14 months recuperating. He eventually died 20 years later."
Lt. Col. LaRhett Loralzo Livingston, James Gray's son, attended West Point (Class of 1853) and served in the Civil War. San Francisco's Battery LaRhett Livingston at Fort Miley is named for him.
On Dec. 6, 1854, when John Brown's body lay in state in the Elizabethtown County Courthouse, four men stood watch. Two were James Gray's nephews. One was A.C. Hand Livingston, Robert Wilson's son and husband of Sarah Ann Kellogg. The other nephew was Orlando Kellogg Jr., the son of Polly Woodruff, James Gray's sister-in-law, and Orlando Kellogg, an intimate of Lincoln.
The Livingstons owned the Lewis property for 60-odd years.
"James Gray lived here until 1880," Steve said. "As far as I know, he was a farmer."
The post-and-beam structure is covered with vinyl siding, which Steve plans to remove to reveal the original clapboard. The house features six-over-six windows.
"We believe they're quite old. We measured one of the floorboards on the second floor, and it is almost 3 feet wide. We believe some of the doors have original hardware."
There are five bedrooms upstairs and one large and two smaller rooms downstairs. The roof is covered with asphalt shingles, but there are cedar shingles on the original roof line.
"We would be interested in finding someone who has pictures that date back at least 100 years," Steve said.
The house is the only remaining structure on the property, which once had outbuildings.
John E. Milholland was one of the property owners after the Livingstons. Milholland, the first treasurer of the NAACP, was the father of suffragist Inez Milholland Boissevain.
Steve is absolutely gobsmacked about all the historical connections to his family's home.
"What a wonderful heritage for a property to have," he said. "It just astounds me that no one has stumbled on this before. We home-school our children. We really embrace learning history. These men were men of faith — godly men. To be on their land and living in their house is just a privilege."
E-mail Robin Caudell at: email@example.com