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[From the 2023 Holiday Magazine]

WRITTEN by Samantha Bosshart, Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation
Photos provided (unless Noted)

As you drive north on Broadway on a snowy day, you most likely will be stopped at the long light where Broadway intersects with Route 50, Van Dam Street, and North Broadway. Take a moment to go back in time, nearly 200 years ago. Imagine trains slowly passing through that intersection, not cars. Imagine rolling hills as you look north, not grand mansions. One of the first houses built north of that intersection is 581 North Broadway. Today, it is considered the oldest house that remains on North Broadway.  

The two-story Greek Revival style residence was built on the land that had been previously owned by Judge Henry Walton. Walton, who was born in New York City and studied law under Aaron Burr, came to Saratoga Springs in 1816 to take possession of real estate that "descended to him from his father and uncle," who had received this land as part of the Kayaderosseras Patent in the Partition of 1792. Within a few years he became one of the largest landholders in Saratoga Springs, and his real estate "included all of the present village, except that portion lying south of Congress Street and the mineral fountains." Walton was the first Surrogate Judge of Saratoga County, and he built “Wood Lawn,” a "beautiful country-seat," today the site of Skidmore College.  

A historic photograph showing the Gothic Revival style porch that was added after the house was built. The Gothic Revival style was popular from 1840 to 1880.

A 1976 photo showing the porch
removed. In 1999 the front porch was
restored based on the historic photograph.

According to Reminiscences of Saratoga, Isaac Taylor purchased several lots, including what today is 581 North Broadway, from Henry Walton in November 1828. Taylor enlarged an existing farmhouse and established a boarding house named Washington Hall. In 1836, Taylor sold Washington Hall and the property at 581 North Broadway to Joel Root. Unfortunately, early tax assessments do not provide specific addresses for taxes paid. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the exact date of construction and who built the house. Most likely, Joel Root built the house at the time he purchased 581 North Broadway. 

The house was built in the Greek Revival style, the dominant style of American domestic architecture between 1830 – 1850. The front gable with a wide band of trim forms a pediment that gives it the appearance of a small Greek temple. Typical of the style, it has a symmetrical design, engaged pilasters at the corners, and a front door surrounded by narrow sidelights and transom above.  

Joel Root was born in 1790 in Connecticut.  In 1815, he married his wife Piera, also from Connecticut. He owned Washington Hall that was located north of 581 North Broadway. Reminiscences of Saratoga described Root as someone who “retained his vigor of mind and body to the close of a long life, studded with many charitable acts. He was strictly temperate in every sense of the word, and to this is owing the hardiness of his later years.” According to the deed records, Joel and Piera Root and Chauncey Ives and his wife Amanda sold 581 North Broadway in 1850.  

The property then had a series of owners between 1850 and 1858, including DeWitt C. Hay, a bank-note engraver and landscape artist who in 1850 was one of the founding members of the New York Watercolor Society; John A. Dake, a produce and commission merchant; Chauncey Kilmer, owner of a large paper mill in Rock City Falls; Stella and Gideon Putnam and Henry and Sarah Munsell, residents of New York City. John H. White acquired the property in 1858 and owned it for 20 years until he defaulted on his mortgage in 1878. 

That year, Samuel Freeburn acquired the property. Samuel Freeburn was born in Ireland in 1819. He moved to Saratoga Springs in or around 1850. He was a mason who is known for discovering the Hathorn Spring in 1868 while he was employed to excavate and build the foundation for the new ballroom for the Congress Hall, a grand hotel that was located across Spring Street. The spring was named in honor of Henry H. Hathorn, the owner of Congress Hall who developed the spring. According to 1878 Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester’s History of Saratoga County, New York, the Hathorn Spring became “one of the most valuable springs in Saratoga” and large quantities of water were bottled and sold in the “leading towns and cities of the United States and Canada.”  

Freeburn was married to Jane, who was also from Ireland, and together they raised their two daughters, Eliza and Margaret, at 581 North Broadway. On April 29, 1890, Eliza married Lewis H. Hays of A.S. Hays & Son, a confectionery shop at 425 Broadway, at the residence. Two years later, Samuel passed away at the house. His death notice in The Argus, an Albany newspaper, dated December 27, 1892, said he had “accumulated a modest competence and did much practically to build Saratoga.”  

Following Samuel’s death in 1892, Jane continued to reside in the house. According to the City Directories, Eliza and her husband Lewis moved into the house in 1895 with their two young daughters, Margaret and Katherine. After several illnesses, Jane died in the home at age 85. Her death notice in the Daily Saratogian on December 4, 1909, noted that she was one of the oldest members of the First Presbyterian Church, where in her younger years she took active interest in the societies of the church. 

Eliza and Lewis, who continued to operate the confectionary store at 425 Broadway, remained at 581 North Broadway. Margaret, a high school teacher, appears to have always lived with her parents. A year after Eliza and Lewis celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Eliza passed away on April 15, 1941, at the house where she was raised and married. Lewis passed away in 1948. Margaret continued to live in the house until 1952 when the property was acquired by Murray and Eta Teig, ending the 74-year history of the Freeburn family owning the home.  

Murray and Eta lived and operated Teig's Guest House, a boarding house, at 581 North Broadway. In addition, Murray sold paint and wallpaper at this address as indicated by classifieds listed in the Saratogian. In 1969, the Teigs sold the house. There were a series of subsequent owners: Edward and Mildred Hellmich, Martin and Nancy Rosenkranz, David Ash, and Lance and Shannon Bell. For periods of time the house was vacant or rented out to others.  

Jessica Niles, who was raised in the area, purchased the house in 2020 and lives there with her two dogs – Beau and Murphy. “I love the architecture and history of Saratoga Springs. Our city would not be what it is without preservation, which was why I was attracted to this house. It is one of the earliest houses in Saratoga and has great historic character – the fireplaces, the trim, wood floors, and the windows,” shared Jessica.  

The house needed extensive work. “With the knowledge I had gained from my time serving on the board of directors of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the guidance I knew the Foundation could provide during the work, I had the confidence to take on the challenge of a historic house,” said Jessica. It was through the Foundation that she learned about the New York State Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Credit program, which provides a tax credit equal to 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenses. “I have saved thousands of dollars through this program,” continued Jessica. 

In 2022, Jessica received a Preservation Recognition Award from the Foundation for her efforts restoring the historic wood windows, significant character-defining features of the house. “I love the wavy glass and how the natural light comes into the house. Given the condition of the windows, restoring them was an immediate priority. I had custom wood storm windows made, which has substantially reduced noise and my energy bills,” she shared.  

Jessica plans to do more work to the house, but for now she is looking forward to cozying up with her dogs by the fireplace during the holiday season in her beautiful historic home. Thank you, Jessica, for being a wonderful steward of this home that has such a rich history.  

A photo looking north at the railroad crossing at Van Dam Street and
North Broadway, date unknown. George S. Bolster Collection, Saratoga Springs History Museum.