This past weekend I visited the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY. It's a magnificent Georgian brick house built by landowner, merchant, and politician General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) between 1761-1765, the one-time centerpiece to a sizable 125-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River.
But what makes the house important to me is that the heroine of my new book, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, considered this house both her childhood home and her adult retreat. Here Eliza met her future husband, Alexander Hamilton, married him in the family parlor, and gave birth to their first child. The estate - then known as The Pastures - was an important place to her, and I'll be writing several blogs about it over the next few months.
Philip Schuyler was determined that everything in his new house would be in the latest style, and while on a trip to London in 1761-62 on business, he went on something of a buying spree. He had both considerable wealth and considerable taste, especially for a young man; he was only 28 when the house was begun. It's easy to imagine fashionable shopkeepers racing to bring out their best wares for the consideration of the New Yorker with deep pockets, and I only hope that his wife Catherine, left behind in Albany with their growing family (she'd eventually bear fifteen children), had some say in the decoration of their new home.
Among Philip's stylish indulgences were flock wallpapers. Mimicking the elaborate patterns of woven silk damask, flock (the flock was pulverized, powdered wool, a by-product of the woolen industry, that was applied to the paper with a turpentine-based glue) wallpapers were the height of luxurious display in the 18thc, and the richly patterned and textured papers hung on the walls of royal palaces. The scale of the patterns tended to be large, and looked best in big rooms like the ones that Philip was having built in his new house.
Miraculously, the record of exactly what he purchased remain in an "Invoice of Sundries to America." He bought flock wallpaper, listed by color, as well as "caffy," a kind of flock that copied damask patterns, enough to paper nearly every room. (He also purchased a special scenic wallpaper that I'll discuss in another blog.) While the original 18thc papers have long vanished from the house's walls, replicas have been created and hung in their place - the expert work of the Peebles Island Resource Center of the Regional Alliance for Preservation.
As you can see from these photographs, the effect is stunning, the mixture of colors and textures both bold and sophisticated. (It's also tempting, and visitors are cautioned not to touch the lushly fuzzy patterns.) Impressive as it all is today, 18thc guests to the house must have been left in amazement by so much colorful splendor - exactly as Philip would have wished.
The Schuyler Mansion is now a state historic site, and open to the public. See their Facebook page for more information about visiting and tour reservations.
All photographs ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.