Year buildings was constructed: 1798
Constructed by: Unknown, although some believe Philip Hooker.
Original purpose: Home for Abraham Ten Broeck, Revolutionary War General and Albany Mayor.
Current Owner: Albany County Historical Association
Current purpose/plans: Historic House Museum and Cultural Center.
If this building could speak, what would it say? "Secrets are everywhere"
High on a hill in Arbor Hill rests the iconic Ten Broeck Mansion, home of the Albany County Historical Association. The Mansion was built in 1798 by Revolutionary War General Abraham Ten Broeck, a man who was considered one of the wealthiest in Albany. During his lifetime Abraham Ten Broeck wore many hats, including Mayor of Albany, New York State Senator, Judge on the Court of Common Pleas, and first president of the bank of Albany. Ten Broeck also helped establish the Albany Public Library and Union College in Schenectady.
On August 4, 1797 a fire destroyed more than fifty homes in Downtown Albany, including Abraham Ten Broeck's on Columbia Street. The Albany Centennial described his home as a "very elegant, large brick dwellinghouse (sic)," The tragedy gave Gen. Ten Broeck leave to create a structure that would rival the famed Schuyler Mansion, home of fellow General Philip Schuyler. The Federal-style Mansion was built outside of the Albany city line in what was considered the township of Watervliet. The Mansion, now protected from further fires, overlooked the Hudson River and was witness to the rapid evolution of the City.
The Mansion walls have observed new owners and new faces, and watched the landscape change from pastoral farm land to the crowding of Erie Canal Lumber baron's homes at either sides. Many of these stories are told by the Ten Broeck Mansion docents, who welcome visitors from around the world every year to tour the home. But there was a time when the Mansion was in peril and its stories almost lost forever. That is, until the Albany County Historical Association investigated the walls.
Starting in 1848, The Ten Broeck Mansion was home to the Olcott family for almost 100 years. The Olcott's called the home Arbour Hill because Thomas Worth Olcott planted arbor trees around the home. In later years, this would become the name of the surrounding neighborhood surrounding the Mansion. The Olcott's were a wealthy banking family and the house was often used for lavish parties. Dudley Olcott was a wine connoisseur and known for buying and importing the finest wines from around the world. When Dudley died in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment passed, outlawing the purchasing, sale and distribution of alcohol in the United States. Though Dudley's collection was grandfathered in and protected, Dudley's nephew Robert feared for the collection. He sealed the wine cellar up in the Mansion and, it appeared, told no one of the treasure. When possession of the Mansion passed to ACHA in 1947, descendants of the Olcotts had no idea of the wine cellar's existence.
Except for one person.
Bob Olcott was an Olcott relative who served as an ACHA Trustee. He knew the secret in the cellar of the Ten Broeck Mansion and would sometimes secretly slip a choice bottle out of the cellar though a hidden opening. The Mansion was in financial straits at the time and there was some question as to whether ACHA could remain in the Mansion. When Bob Olcott died in the 1970s, it appeared the secret of the wine cellar died with him. Then, in 1977, the Trustees finally decided to examine the walls.
In what we can only imagine was a truly breathtaking discovery, ACHA uncovered Dudley Olcott's rare, and untouched for fifty years, wine collection. ACHA contacted Alexander "Sandy" McNally, a trusted wine connoisseur from Heublein Inc., to examine the collection. Describing his experience of visiting the Mansion, McNally was reported to have said, "My heart was beating as if I were entering King Tut's tomb." Among other things, most prized was a collection of rare mid-19th century vintages that were bottled before a grape vine blight in France. As to be expected, the majority of the wine had spoiled, with the exception of a few fortunate bottles. Still, there was significant value in the bottles and the labels. The collection was appraised and estimated as one of the most valuable collections in the country.
Could the ACHA sell the collection? After all, it was the Olcott family home and the Olcott's donated the Mansion to ACHA without knowledge of the wine cellar. Luckily for ACHA, Bob Olcott, who kept the secret for all those years, left documentation stipulating that if the wine cellar was opened profits from selling the wine would go to Ten Broeck Mansion and ACHA. Desperately in need of funds to preserve the ailing Mansion, The ACHA auctioned the unspoiled bottles and raised over $100,000. The remaining bottles are still housed in the original wine cellar and on display for visitors during tours.
The walls of Ten Broeck Mansion kept a precious secret for a generation and its revelation ensured that its legacy would be preserved for future generations to come.
The Ten Broeck Mansion is open May-October or by appointment. Seasonal tours are offered:
Thursday & Friday: 10 am - 4pm
Saturday & Sunday: 1 pm - 4pm.
Students & Seniors: $4
Children 12 and Under: $3
Member Admission: Free