Dec 20, 2010

The House I Grew Up In

The Devenpeck House as it appears today in Google Maps' street view.  There used to be a large porte-cochère on the right side that was severely damaged in an ice and snow storm in the 1960's and had to be removed.
My father, Harold Richard Mead, was a dentist.  As was a common practice in the first half of the 20th century, his offices were in our house.  In fact our neighborhood, commonly called "upper Union Street" in Schenectady, was full of residences in which doctors and dentists maintained their practices.  The house in which I was raised has an interesting history.  And the way in which my parents became the owners is also worth telling.

Our home was built by Lucas Devenpeck at what was then 901 Union Street.  Mr. Devenpeck was a prominent citizen who owned a coal merchandising company.  The home, completed in 1904, was built by the Hanrahan Brothers' construction firm.  I met one of the Hanrahan brothers in the 1950's and he told me that the firm built the Devenpeck house to be a shining example of what their firm could achieve.  It was built of rare, glazed "Roman brick" and was the first private residence in Schenectady to incorporate steel support beams in its construction.  It had five operational fireplaces, each of which was spectacular in its own right.  The one in my parents' bedroom was surrounded by hand painted Dutch Delft tiles.  The fireplace in the entryway (which served as my father's waiting room) was flanked by two sculpted plaster lions' heads.  The woodwork in the house was equally stunning, with beamed ceilings of oak and cherry and matching wainscot, all hand made and finished like fine furniture.

Mr. Devenpeck left the home to Union College when he passed away.  In 1936, the college auctioned the home.  My father's practice was located at 619 Union Street.  My mother was expecting her first child and this house looked like the perfect candidate for locating a dental practice and raising a family.  My parents submitted an offer in the sealed-bid auction.  They were soon notified that their bid was the second highest and that the high bidder was a local physician.  Soon, however, they were told that the high bidder had withdrawn his offer because he had decided to move to Europe.  My parents were thus the highest bidders.

The Schenectady Gazette described the transaction on February 4, 1937: “Dr. Harold R. Mead, dentist, of 619 Union Street, has purchased the Devenpeck property at Unlon and Gillespie streets from the trustees of Union College. The sale was made through the office of E. J. Ryon and Son, local realtors. Dr. Mead and family will move into their new home within the next 10 days. A. H. Ryon is authority for the statement that this is one of the finest built homes in Schenectady. The dwelling was constructed about 33 years ago under particular-specifications and only the finest of materials were used. Dr. Mead will continue his practice of dentistry at his present location, 619 Union Street.”

My father had his practice in our home until he sold the building in 1960. Since that time it has served as a business location, first for a realty company, then as an orthopedic center, and then as a child care consultancy.  Our family was the last to use the building as a private residence.

I have identified the Devenpeck house in the Wikimapia site.

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