275 of History: Going, Going…

By the Casparus Westervelt House as recorded by Tim Harnett

By the time you read this, I may be gone. Since I’m still standing now, though, I have some time to share my story.

I was built in 1741 in Poughkeepsie, on King’s Highway between New York and Albany. Now, the Americans call this road “South Road” or “Route 9” because King George is no longer in charge. Back when the British were here fighting for him, they would often visit and demand food or accommodations. Casparus Westervelt, my owner and builder, had very little choice; if he refused, they would burn me down.

Legend has it that they were inclined to immolate me anyway, except that they much enjoyed the bread baked by Dena, one of the cooks. Hence, I was spared.

For the most part though, I sheltered Mr. Westervelt and his family as they worked their 1500 acre farm. Sadly, humans don’t last as long as some buildings and Mr. Westervelt passed away. He is buried across the street, so at least he’s close by. Maybe there’s some way he can still protect me.

For many years I was linked to that farm, as subsequent owners enlarged me and modified me. I didn’t mind though. It kept me relevant and useful. Besides, it was better than being demolished or burned.

In the twentieth century, I evolved into a commercial establishment. For years, I was named the Red Bull Tavern, and was a convenient way-station for travelers on the Albany Post Road (another of my road’s its formernames). The farm was also put to a variety of other uses.

In the middle part of the century, a new bunch of humans arrived on the former farm. They worked for a company called “International Business Machines.” I thought this was odd, as it originally made guns around here, (although I guess a gun could be loosely defined as a “business machine.”)

Regardless of what it made, business was good. In 1949, my name was changed to the “Treasure Chest.” My downstairs taproom was later dubbed the “Red Bull tavern,” in an homage to my past. This was likely my heyday. IBM was employing thousands of workers, and my road was busy with traffic. It was like I was the center of the universe.

In the 1980’s, things started to lose their luster. IBM was struggling, and my longtime owner decided to move on. I was relieved when a new owner continued business as the Treasure Chest. I was still relevant.

In late 1988, I was again worried. My owner closed me for “remodeling” and promised to reopen in two months. I worried because I know what remodeling feels like, and there was no such sensation. Within a month it was clear. He intended to sell me to a popular chain restaurant. At first I thought that another round of renovations would be in order, but I quickly realized that this was not the case. They didn’t want me. They wanted the land I was built on.

Fortunately, before it was too late, many of those who knew me rushed to my defense. Some knew my history. Some fondly remembered their own. They pleaded with their leaders to help spare me, and pilloried the restaurant chain in the press.

Finally, the restaurant relented. I would stand another day, perhaps longer. This was because the incident called attention to the lack of protection for me and others of my ilk. Many groups were formed by both the government and the citizens. These groups made it their business to identify and protect significant structures throughout the area.

And, ironically, I wasn’t on most of their lists. Remember the modifications and additions that were made to me to keep me viable? Those same modifications made me historically insignificant. I wasn’t saved. It was merely a stay of execution.

In the meantime, I had new owners, and apparently my earnings were adequate to them. Unfortunately, the value of the land under me, and the taxes associated with it, continued to climb. At the ripe old age of 275, I was back in a familiar spot.

This time it is a bank that wants my space. I had hoped that they could use me, but no, they want me gone. (Much like a Greek tragedy, the very corporation that had once helped me to thrive also spawned the bank that now seeks to annihilate me.)

Unlike 1989 though, supporters are few and far between. The human leaders seem downright enamored by my potential replacement, which is intended to evoke the history that I presently represent. Local societies have so far remained silent.

So here I wait, counting my final days.

I wish Dena were here to bake someone some bread.