For village residents it’s probably safe to say we have all caught a glimpse, stopped and awed, or looked on with curiosity at the amazing piece of art that graces the shore of the lake, right here in the village. Locals often refer to it as “The Gingerbread House”. This piece of architecture is none other than the estate located at 28 West Lake Street. You may know it as the Feldmann family home; however, maybe you aren’t familiar with the rich history that surrounds this gem.
It began with Reuel Smith Sr., a partner in a NYC shipping firm, when he purchased land in Skaneateles to build his summer retreat. In the 1840’s prominent New Yorkers were turning to the acclaimed Alexander Jackson Davis to design their “country cottage”. A.J. Davis is recognized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the most notable architects of the time, he pushed the boundaries of traditional architecture. Rather than designing box like homes as many of his counterparts, he incorporated high peaks, extensions in many directions, unique windows and verandas. The “Reuel Smith” house was built between 1848-1852.
After the passing of Reuel Smith Sr. in 1873, his son E. Reuel Smith, or “E.R” as he was referred, was next in line. E.R. traveled the world on various expeditions and attended Georgetown University. He settled in Skaneateles and married a local girl, Elizabeth DeCost. He famously humiliated himself by critiquing his new neighbors in a New York society piece. He quickly apologized for his writing and found his way back in their good graces having earned praise for lectures on his travels.
One of E.R.’s sons, DeCost Smith, who was born and raised in Skaneateles, explored the American West many times. He gathered Indian artifacts from his travels and his collection is now located in the Smithsonian. His writings and paintings taught of a quickly disappearing culture as the West was “won”.
E.R. left Cobweb Cottage to his youngest son Sedgwick. Sedgwick spent years in the US Army and in 1920 returned to Skaneateles and became a teacher at the high school, a hockey coach, and part of the team that brought forth the famed Lightening Sailboat. In 1975 his wife Elsa Watts Smith sold the home to Robert and Shirley Feldmann.
The Feldmanns embarked on a journey of preserving “Cobweb Cottage”. Over the course of many years intricate details of the home were lost. Their labor of love restored those features and the home was returned back to its original charm. They carefully choose architects, contractors and advisors which aided in securing a its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information on the Alexander Jackson Davis and the Smith family you can visit
alexanderjacksondavis-skaneateles.com. It was lovingly written by Scott Feldmann as an ode to his family homestead.
For more information on becoming the next heir to one of the few remaining examples of one of America’s most influential architects visit 28westlakestreet.com or contact Jerry Morrissey at Finger Lakes Realty Partners (O:685-9755).