Those of us who live in Upper Westchester and Putnam Counties may sometimes take the short cut from Yorktown and back by driving on one of the oldest roads in the region, once an native American path from their Mohansic Village to their burial ground north above Rt. 6 at Indian Hill.
Now known as Rt. 132 or Old Yorktown Road, this was also one of the major routes through our farm district from the 1700s to the 1950s, and many of the original farm houses still exist along that route. One of them, midway between Rt. 202 and Rt. 6, may have caught drivers’ attention as forlorn and abandoned for many years.
It is the Adams-Bernstein House on the west side of the road. And it has a story.
When someone says something clever or insightful in my presence, I like to remember it for my own use, either for my own real estate practice or my columns. A while back, my friend and colleague in real estate, Andi DePalma said, “every house has a story,” her point being that when realtors market homes for sale, they should tell the “story” of the house through the sellers who live there, or may have lived there long ago.
I’ve remembered that and used it every time I do a listing. True, some houses have more interesting stories, or longer stories than others, but they all have one, including new construction, if only in the story of the builder and the plans and materials he or she used.
As an example, one of the houses I have listed in Bronxville was built in the early 1800s by the man whose family founded the City of New Rochelle. Another of my listings that will come on the market next month was built by hand 75 years ago by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first apprentices. And, the house my wife and I live in is one of the earliest built on the vast Van Cortlandt land grant. After the Revolution, the house was host to George Washington who just visited but didn’t sleep there, as well as Thomas Paine who did sleep over a number of times.
In the case of the Adams-Bernstein House, its story was forged through ownership of two significant families in town, first the Adamses whose families were farmers from the 1800s until the 1930s, and the Bernsteins, an affluent couple who used the house as a weekend and summer retreat from the early 1940s.
Helen Bernstein was interested in the theatre and would invite her friends to visit and enjoy theatricals performed on a stage she had constructed in the historic barn on the property. When her husband, then she died, the house was left through her estate to the Town of Yorktown, with the expressed wish that it be converted into the town’s museum. But, either for lack of interest or some other motive, the town let it fall into disrepair, then dilapidation. Its life and story were all but extinguished. But then another chapter opened, one of “resurrection.”
When I was awarded the contract to sell the property on behalf of the Town of Yorktown, I had hoped that I could attract a buyer who would agree to save the house. I knew that it would not be easy, considering the expense of historic restoration. But I approached the most formidable contractor in our region, the well-known Mark Franzoso of Franzoso Contracting and when I told him the “story” of the house, he was hooked.
We then came up with a plan that made sense: Mark agreed to restore the house with the help of his suppliers of materials, and the town would be favorably disposed to let him build another market-rate house on the seven-acre property, five acres of which are designated as open space.
It worked for Mark and it is working for the Town in that an historic house of some note was saved and restoration has just begun this week.
There are other episodes in the Adams-Bernstein history, including the fact that a descendent of the Adamses who had moved to the south in the 1950s was accused of and questioned about having ties to the planning of the assassination of President Kennedy. And more recently, it is reported that the town’s maintenance crew witnessed a “haunting” on the property emanating from the historic cemetery across the road from the house. How can you beat that for storytelling?
And that’s just one house. Consider all the stories involved with all the houses in our communities. What’s the story of your house?
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with Coldwell Banker, as well as a marketing practitioner and columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions about home maintenance or to inquire about buying or selling a home, he can be reached at bill@PrimaveraHomes or called directly at 914-522-2076.