By Jorge Batlle
Skaneateles Village Historian
The original house at (now) 77 E. Genesee St. is on one of the original village lots. The property ran from the rocky shores of the north end of Skaneateles Lake all the way north to Academy Street. In 1802 Norman Leonard bought the property for $200. About 1822 John Legg purchased the property from Leonard. Legg also owned the Stephen Horton property to the immediate west.
One of the earliest merchants in the village, John Legg was a noted carriage maker, blacksmith and business man. It is estimated that he built the Italianate style house around 1830.
Born in Ontario County, New York on July 18, 1812, Joel Thayer came to Skaneateles in 1835. He had little money to invest, but his enterprising nature got him a job as a clerk and superintendent in Legg’s carriage and wagon shop. In a short time, Thayer’s business talents made him and Legg wealthy. The two of them engaged in numerous successful business ventures.
Their relationship became more than business. Shortly after becoming a resident of Skaneateles, he married Legg’s daughter Juliette.
According to Historian E.N. Leslie, “Mr. Thayer was an excellent citizen. He was enterprising and public spirited, and always willingly aided every public project that was brought to his attention. Upright and honest in every deed, he possessed the entire confidence of the community, and often rendered valuable and gratuitous service to those in need of counsel and service.” Speaking of Mrs. Juliette Thayer, Leslie writes, “the life of Mrs. Thayer was of generous and kindly acts, devoted to charity, and strengthening and upholding everything, not only pertaining to the interests of her husband, but to the community at large in which she lived.”
Thayer served as postmaster, founded a library, he brought the railroad to Skaneateles. He owned a distillery, various mills and was the founder and president of The Bank of Skaneateles in 1866.
After Legg’s death in 1857 the Thayer’s took over his estate. They remodeled the house, turning it in to a veritable showpiece. They added a mansard style roof, and much ornate ironwork, cupola, a solarium, aviary, and formal gardens. This renovation was in the “second empire” style of architecture.
The local newspaper said ” Among the signs of reviving prosperity in our little burgh, we notice that Mr. J. Thayer is making a very great improvement to his elegant residence…. enlarging his garden to nearly double its previous size and opening a fine view of the lake. Across the road he had laid out on the margin of the lake a complete and cozy park, quite in keeping with his magnificent dwelling house, which one would almost pronounce a paradise with its well and tastefully arranged yard. The park, (now known as Thayer Park) and the residence, were a reflection of Joel and Juliette Thayer’s reputation as a truly public-spirited and genial members of the community.”
In the rear west corner of the property was a two story carriage house (barn) that matched the grandeur of the main house.
Built in 1873 with “JT” initials over the main door. It was said to cost over $6,000. The horse stalls had a hand carved oak arch with the name of the horse and were separated by handsome iron grillwork. April 1974 it was torn down. The stalls were carefully removed and purchased by Fred Weber owner of the Wayside Inn in Elbridge. Much of the oak interior was salvaged by a local architect for use in his own residence.
Joel Thayer died May 19, 1881. Mary and Eva Webb, granddaughters of Joel were heirs to the estate and lived there for many years. They formally deeded Thayer Park to the village in 1922. In 1930, first cousin Mrs. Helen G. Webb Edgcomb, wife of State Supreme Judge Ernest Edgcomb resided there for about two decades. Mr. and Mrs. A.H. DeRouchie were the next occupants. June 28, 1950 Leonard C. Dell announced the opening of the Dell Funeral Home. His wife, Louise, ran a hair care salon in the southwest corner of the house. Dell operated the funeral home until his death in November of 1967.
In February of 1960 a zoning change was proposed by a local developer for the Dell property. He wanted the “mercantile district” extended easterly by one lot in order to build a home for 30 “well-aged” residents. The plan shows a one story motel style building running off the back wing of the main house, northerly about 400 feet to beyond the existing carriage barn, which they indicate that it will be removed. March 15, 1960 it was the unanimous opinion of the village board to deny this request as “it would not be in the best interests of village or its residents to extent the Mercantile Use Zone easterly and northerly into a distinctive and unique residential area.”
Over a period of 100 plus years, many of the intricate, showy details have been removed, probably due weather and for maintenance costs. Gone are the three porthole style windows in mansard roof on the west side. Gone is the elaborate wrought iron trimmed full front porch, Gone is the octagonal aviary on the south west corner. The ironwork on the roof edges is no longer there. The tower and cupola were removed in 1929.
In 1970 the next owner of 77 E. Genesee St. used the property strictly as a private residence. In 1972, B.L. Bush & Sons purchased the property and operated a funeral home until the early 2000s.
The property was sold to two local developers and a local architect in December of 2003. They said that they did everything possible to salvage as much as possible of the old house. “It was a treasure trove of elegant period wood moldings, walnut inlaid floors, bead board paneling, embossed tin ceilings, and imported tile.” Work started on the conversion to four condo style units. In the back two more new buildings were constructed using the architectural features of main house. On the property there are a total of six condo units.
In June of 2005 there were two open house events. The units then were offered between $650,000 and $850,000.
In the early original offering the house was painted a sunflower yellow with a Tuscan red trim. This brought out a lively debate some complaining the colors were too bold.
The Village’s Historical Landmarks Preservation Commission responded back saying that these were the colors specified by Joel Thayer in 1858. The developers, after much discussion, felt that the colors of 100 years ago, don’t match up with the colors of today’s taste. The trim color was changed to an olive green, which it is now.