My wife and I are “curious neighbors,” a recognized type in the home-selling industry. It means we frequent open houses but never with an intention to buy. No, thank you… we’re just looking.
In other words, we go to open houses for the sole, voyeuristic purpose of seeing what they’re like inside.
For instance, we couldn’t resist a chance to tour a Gilded Age throwback that resembled a castle and indeed was called “The Castle.” It had 10 bedrooms, a grand dining room with a chandelier and, inexplicably, no kitchen — and it could be ours for $2.5 million. No, thank you… we’re just looking.
Then, there was that foreclosed dump fit for the Munsters. Needless to say, we skipped the basement. Breathing in the mildew, we felt much better about our own house and its many charming limitations.
Curious neighbors only go to open houses within walking distance — which for us means a small slice of that eccentric semi-metropolis called Yonkers. It was while walking one day that we stumbled upon an opportunity to tour one of the most unique homes in Yonkers, and for that matter, all of Westchester County — the Eleazar Hart House. It was listed for $599,000.
Located near the Bronxville village line, the Hart house is, in a word, old. The rear of the house dates to 1760, which makes it the oldest domicile in Yonkers still occupying its original site.
Nothing of great historic importance ever happened in the Eleazar Hart House. Nevertheless, the house is deservedly listed on the National Register of Historic Places because it is a rare example of a Colonial-era tenant farmhouse. It is unique for its remarkable longevity and the fact that it has always been in private hands. The house has weathered the changing seasons of all or parts of four centuries and has borne witness to the endless cycle of ordinary human life, from the joys of birth to the sorrows of death.
The Eleazar Hart House was built on what is today Bronxville Road. Originally, the road was the Aquehung trail, a dirt path along the Bronx River blazed by the Weckquaesgeek Indians. The region was settled by the Dutch, who were followed by the British — and it didn’t take long before the Indians vanished.
For almost 100 years, the old farmhouse and the property around it was part of Philipsburg Manor, a vast feudal-like enterprise in which tenant farmers worked the land and paid rent out of the profits of their toil. One of the tenant farmers was a man named William Dean, a loyal subject of the British Crown who made the costly mistake of being on the losing side of the American Revolution. After the war, Tory property was confiscated and sold in parcels to patriots, one of whom was Eleazar Hart. For £770, Hart got Dean’s house and 154 acres of land.
According to some accounts, Hart did a lot of home improvement. Around 1788, he added the Federal-style front, which remains intact. Otherwise not much is known about Hart, though his name is forever attached to the house, literally, in the form of an official plaque affixed to the right of the front door.
The pace of progress accelerated in the latter years of the 19th century. According to a letter published in an 1895 newspaper, the house had several occupants, including laborers who “greatly abused it” and a farmer “whose large family of youngsters did it no good either.” During the economic depression of 1893, the Hart house had fallen into disrepair and would have been torn down if not for the aforesaid letter writer, who bought and saved it from demolition.
The man wrote, “In front was a lovely old grey stone retaining wall topped with a sweet old-fashioned pink rose bush which I nursed.”
He loved the house. And surely every owner since has loved it as much if not more. At the open house, two sisters who grew up there came back, not to buy it but to just see it one more time. Now, they were like us, curious neighbors.
Today the property has shrunk to less than acre. Across the street are modern apartment houses, a striking juxtaposition that speaks to the passage of time. Indeed, one can practically hear the words of H.G. Wells whispering in the trees: “I saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams.”
Is that you, Eleazar?
The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org