Adventist Mansion in Livingston, Columbia Co., NY
By Mindy Potts Jan 2002
Webpage and Notes by Cliff Lamere 9 Nov 2003
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This historical article about the Adventist Mansion in Livingston, southern Columbia Co., NY is part of series written by Mindy Potts for publication in the monthly newspaper "OK Times & The Hudson River Sampler", Northern Columbia County Edition. Published in Stuyvesant, Columbia Co., NY, the newspaper also distributes a Southern Columbia County and Northern Dutchess County edition. The text and title of the original article may have been slightly revised for this webpage so that they would be more meaningful to a geographically diverse audience.
Original publication: January 2002, pg 1
Original title: The Adventist Mansion in Livingston Has a Distinguished History
(Introduction by Cliff Lamere)
The Adventist Mansion in Livingston Has a Distinguished History
What would you do if your brother died and left you a house on 75 acres of land, and hundreds of
thousands of dollars? Ida Caroline Potts found herself in just this position in 1904. She was
responsible, community-minded, 52 year-old woman so she wasn’t likely to squander the fortune.
What she did do with that inheritance is remarkable. Because of her foresight, her family farm at
the intersection of Route 9 and Route 10, in Livingston, became the establishment it is today, the
Adventist Retirement Home, but the history of the mansion goes much farther back into the
history of Columbia County.
In the early 1770s the house was built by John Livingston. The Livingston family was one of the early families in Columbia County. They owned a great deal of land and many family members were politicians. As Captain Ellis writes about the family’s political tradition in his “History of Columbia County,” “the name Livingston occurs with a frequency which is almost wearisome.” John Livingston, son of Robert, the third lord of the manor had gotten married to Mary Ann LeRoy in 1775 and was starting to develop the village of Johnstown, now called Livingston. This house reflected the nature of the times in which John Livingston had built it. It has many fireplaces, which were used for heating and cooking. There were also servants rooms, and a tunnel which has been rumored to have been used in the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape, but more likely was just an easier way for servants move supplies to the kitchen or to reach other quarters on the property.
The house and its surrounding of land stayed in the Livingston family until 1839. The original 108 acres had been increased to 221 acres at one point and through various sales and inheritances, the property including the mansion, when it was sold in 1839 to Joseph and Elizabeth Russell, was back down to 114 acres. The property then changed hands a few times until it was sold back into the Livingston family, to Johnston and Silvie Livingston who then after 11 years sold the property to Stephen O. Potts.
Stephen Potts was in the freight hauling business and founded the Southern Express Company. After selling his business Stephen Potts had a sizable amount of money which he invested in the Livingston Homestead, which was now only 75 acres.
He renovated the entire mansion, changing the entrance from the northern side to the southern side by adding a large front porch with a portico and adding on a 2 story addition to the northern side, with a new kitchen and servants rooms above. He changed the roof from a gabled roof to a hipped roof with center gables and stained glass windows which provided light in the attic. In the attic was a room decorated entirely in pink. Stephen’s wife, Angenet (Nettie) and a maid both suffered from tuberculosis. It is surmised that either or both of these women might have stayed in this room since standard treatment for tuberculosis at that time was to place the patient in a cold room.
Stephen also familiarized himself with the latest farming techniques and began “renovating” the farm as well as the house, building many of the barns still standing on the property today. He also became first master of the Mutual Hope Grange #36 in Livingston 1875.
Stephen and Nettie, although never having children of their own, took in and cared for Ida Caroline Potts, Stephen’s half-sister, when she was 14. The orphaned girl was 30 years younger than her brother. Ida stayed with her brother, never married, and inherited his estate when he died at age 81 in the year 1904.
During the next 17 years, until her death, Ida C. Potts gave to many organizations in Columbia County. The Hudson Hospital, one of Ida’s favorite charities, was the beneficiary of one of the best equipped operating rooms in the state at that time and Ida also provided money to build a maternity ward. The Hudson Orphanage was another favorite charity of Ida’s and the village of Livingston was able to build a public library with considerable help from Ida Potts.
Ida, like her brother, died without having children, and left much of her fortune, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to family members, and friends and employees, and the house and property to a nephew, Ernest Potts. However, the most striking aspect of her will would prove difficult to fulfill at first. Ida wanted the remainder of her estate to be held until a hospital could be built in Columbia County, specifically for the care and treatment of patients with tuberculosis. The idea for a hospital, which Ida wanted to be called Potts Memorial Hospital, sounds simple, but after Ida drew up her will and before her death, Columbia County had already built a hospital in Philmont for this purpose.
The executor of Ida Potts’ will, Stephen Avery, was at a loss until he was contacted by Dr. H.A. Patterson, who was associated with the National Tuberculosis Association. The doctor had been talking with Laura Couter, a nurse from Columbia County who shared with him the dilemma over Ida Potts’ will. Before he had heard of Ida Potts, Dr. Patterson had had an idea for, not a hospital, but a community for tuberculosis patients discharged from the hospital, but not yet strong enough to go back to an ordinary life.
Potts Memorial Hospital would be a reality. The site would be the Potts farm, purchased from Ernest Potts. On June 26, 1925 the first cornerstone was laid beginning the construction on the dormitories. Residents would be men or women between 18 and 50 who were recovering from a hospital stay for treatment of tuberculosis. While at Potts Memorial, for a $15 per week basic fee, the residents would work at least part time and be paid for the various jobs as they built up their strength. Often the pay for the residents work covered the basic fee, but it was also believed that Potts Memorial didn’t turn away patients for lack of money.
A self- supporting operation, Potts Memorial had a woodworking factory, a printing plant, a candle making shop, a clothing factory and the farm with cows, chickens, pigs and honeybees. Vegetables and fruits and berries were also grown on the farm. Residents were also offered education at Potts Memorial. The mansion was used as a school to teach classes in English, business, laboratory technique, table service and maid’s work.
Due to the discovery, in the 1940s, of highly effective drugs for treating tuberculosis, such facilities such as Potts Memorial were not needed. In the early 1950s the facility closed its doors. The money Ida Potts left to create and run Potts Memorial Hospital is now Potts Memorial Foundation. The trustees for this foundation are people who specialize in diseases of the lungs and they try to follow as closely as possible, the wishes of Ida Potts.
The mansion remained vacant until purchased by the Adventist Church in 1955. The Adventist Church changed the Potts farm, Potts Memorial, into a retirement home. The Adventist Church was built in 1974, and additionally, they built on the property, a new 120 bed nursing home facility and modular and mobile homes have been brought on the property for the residents. The mansion itself is now three apartments, one used by the director of the Adventist Retirement Home.
What some may think of as just a retirement home, has a truly grand history with ties to early in Columbia County’s history and a legacy of a caring, giving woman who turned a parcel of land, a building constructed to be a home, and a big inheritance into a wonderful asset to the entire community.
Visitors since 9 Nov 2003
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