Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Transformation of a Mansion

Recently, new windows were installed at 886 Columbia Street, in the now closed-in porch and elsewhere in the house. It appears that the tile roof is also being replaced, and we know that the brick is going to be re-glazed in the fashionable color of the moment: gray.

The transformation of the house once known as the Dinehart mansion, the palatial residence of Delbert Dinehart, inspired me to want to find a picture of the house as it was meant to be. My search took me to my very favorite source, Fulton History, and after two searches, using different key words, I found this picture, which shows the house in 1950, forty years after it was built, when the man for whom it was built, Delbert Dinehart, had been its only owner.

The picture accompanied the notice of the auction of the house which was to take place on Friday, August 11, 1950. The notice includes this description:
Two and one-half story brick building on marble faced concrete foundation, tile roof, copper leaders, brass plumbing, oil heat.
Fourteen rooms and four baths, hardwood flooring. Tiled baths. Fireplace. Some gold leafed ceilings. Spacious glass enclosed front porch.
Separate two-story brick garage with turntable and elevator. Separate hot water heating system.
Approximately two acres of land with beautiful lawn, shade trees, shrubbery and garden. Many other features.
Along the way to finding this picture, I learned a few things about Delbert Dinehart and the house at 886 Columbia Street. Dinehart moved to Hudson from Copake in 1900, when he bought 356 Union Street--a house now owned by the Galvan Foundation--from Dr. H. Lyle Smith. It was Dinehart who built the large barn behind the house.

While in his twenties, Dinehart had established Empire Farms in Copake, "one of the most successful breeding establishments in the State," where he raised trotters and pacers for harness racing. A remembrance that appeared in the Chatham Courier soon after his death in 1948 called him "one of Columbia County's most famous sportsmen" and recalled that "from his stables issued a steady stream of top flight trotters and pacers whose names are still remembered today by local devotees of harness racing."

Dinehart was a man of finance. He was involved with the management of a few financial institutions in Hudson. Most notably, he was the president of Hudson River Trust Company, the bank that was located in the building that is now City Hall. He was also an early "automobilist," being among the first in Columbia County to own an automobile. In February 1904, the Columbia Republican reported that he had ordered "the latest model wheel-steering tonneau auto-car." In May 1919, the same newspaper, in reporting that Daniel Farrell had been engaged as chauffeur by Dinehart, noted: "In addition to his large Parkard, Mr. Dinehart has purchased a Dodge car for runabout town use." In December 1921, the Columbia Republican reported that the Holbrook Company, which in August of that year had opened its new plant on Union Turnpike, "has just completed its first body on a Hudson car, that of Delbert Dinehart." The article goes on to say: "The body, which is probably one of the most beautiful and attractive ones seen here in some time, is of maroon set off with black trimmings."

The Columbia Republican often included items about Dinehart's grand new house on Columbia Street as it was being built. In May 1910, the Republican predicted that Delbert Dinehart "will have the finest residence and grounds in Hudson" and reported that "architect Michael O'Connor is now at work on the plans." O'Connor, of course, was a prolific Hudson architect who designed many public buildings (the original Firemen's Home, Allen Street School, Sixth Street School are examples) and private homes (8 Willard Place, 39 West Court, 339 Allen Street among them). In October 1910, the Republican announced: "The frame work is up for the new garage and stable Delbert is having built on his Columbia street property. The new mansion is having the roof put on and will be enclosed before winter sets in." In April 1911, the Hudson Register reported: "D. W. Alcott, a former Hudson boy, whose home is now in Weekawken, N.J., is in town. He is one of several men sent here by a New York firm which makes a specialty of hard wood floors to lay the parquette floors in the new Dinehart mansion on Academy hill." In July 1911, the Columbia Republican included this item, with the head "Fine Stretch of Sidewalk":
The nicest and longest stretch of cement sidewalk in the city is in front of the Dinehart mansion on Columbia street. Landscape gardeners are fixing up the grounds about this place and will make it one of the beauty spots of Hudson.    
In 1919, when reporter Gertrude Blunt flew in an airplane over the city, she reported in the Columbia Republican that the only residence she could recognize from the air was the Dinehart mansion.

What we know of Delbert Dinehart suggests that he was fond of gold and yellow. The barns at Empire Farms, we learn from the Chatham Courier remembrance, were painted yellow. He chose to have his house built with yellow brick. We learn from the description of the house when it was being auctioned in 1950 that there were some gold leafed ceilings. The inventory of the contents of the house, which were sold at auction soon after his death in 1948, not only attests to the opulence of the house but also betrays a fondness for gold. Here are some examples:
Exquisite eight-piece gold leaf parlor suite with golden upholstery consisting of curio cabinet, 2 arm chairs, rocker, 2 straight chairs, love seat, center table, . . . gold colored candelabra, . . . 4 pairs golden drapes, 2 pairs golden portiers, beautiful parlor mantel mirror in golden frame, . . . Limoges dinner set, 2 grandfathers clocks, . . . dinner chimes, . . . 4 wall tapestries, . . . 2 pr plush olive portiers, . . . gold colored corner chair, gold colored odd chair and stand, . . . two porch gliders, fourteen pieces porch furniture, like new, . . . green plush portiers, maroon plush portiers. . . .  
(Portiers, or portieres, are drapes hung in doorways.)

454 Warren Street in the 1930s
Photo by Walker Evans
There is no evidence of how successful the auction of 1948 was, and Gossips hasn't discovered who bought the house when it was auctioned in 1950. We do know that in 1958 the house was purchased by the Rip Van Winkle Foundation to expand its clinic. (The original clinic had been operated in another old grand house, the home of Dr. Henry Galster at 454 Warren Street, now the location of Nolita). The clinic closed its doors in the summer of 1964, "doomed by a $2 million deficit." When the Rip Van Winkle Clinic closed, the Dinehart mansion became McDonald's Funeral Home, which had previously been located at 432 Warren Street.


  1. Amazed at the amount of money and energy being thrown at that place to totally transform it into what it was not.

  2. What a pity. Just another example of Old Hudson disappearing before our eyes. Damn.

  3. The three architecturally / historically significant buildings that stood in that immediate location when I first came to town are no longer.