From the end of the ice age to our present day, Warrensburgh has seen endless changes, and today, amid controversy, we might see the town altered yet again. The debate centers around weather a bustling Stewart's convenience store with gas pumps should be relocated into the historic residential heart of the village. It is for every citizen to have their own opinion about this 1.2 acre lot across Stewart Farrar Ave. from the historic old Presbyterian Church. There have been several meetings recently among citizens who fear for their beloved town's ambiance.
To give us perspective on the issue of Stewart's plans to build the new store, let's take a look at the history of that lot in question - and the house that once stood there - to give us some perspective on the issue.
A growing village
When Benjamin Peck Burhans brought his tanning business to Warrensburgh in 1836, he brought prosperity with him and put the village solidly on the map. The town began to grow - and the house that until recently stood on the corner of present day Stewart Farrar Ave. and Main street was built in 1850 by Joseph Russell..
Attorney Thomas Cunningham married Mary E. Burdick, 22, in 1858 and he then purchased this house and enlarged it to two stories. To make it more elegant on a tree-lined street among stately mansions, he had four tall columns constructed across the front which faced Main St. His family lived there for several generations.
Destined for greatness
Thomas Cunningham played a large part in Warrensburgh history. He was born in 1826 in the Town of Chesterfield, Essex County. He studied law with Kellogg & Hale of Elizabethtown and was admitted to the bar July 4, 1854. That year, he moved to the rough little frontier village of Warrensburgh and established a law practice here.
The Plank Road extends north
Cunningham became involved with the most important elements of the town's development. The Plank Road Co. had been established as early as 1847. It was the link that connected Warrensburgh with the outside world in the days when mail had previously been carried on horseback through the Adirondack forest. The road consisted of heavy boards laid crossways on timbers over a graded surface and it finally arrived in Warrensburgh in 1849. It was not extended north into the Chestertown wilderness until after 1850. Well maintained, the road was the only land path to the North Country and because of the big Concord stagecoaches that held up to 30 people, the battered road had to be constantly repaired. Cunningham, a large stockholder in the road enterprise was in charge of the Lake George-Warrensburgh branch and by 1885 he was on the board of directors.
A man never idle
Thomas Cunningham was one of the first trustees of the old Warrensburgh Academy in 1857 which stood about where the health center offices stand today on the north corner of Stewart Farrar and Elm streets. In 1864 when Abraham Lincoln called for a quota of 500,000 more men to help resolve the "misunderstanding" between the north and south in the Civil War, Cunningham was on the committee to raise a bounty of $800 for each volunteer in this area.
Cunningham was at one time Warrensburgh Town Clerk, Deputy Revenue Collector, and District Attorney. He was Warrensburgh Town Supervisor for 15 years, on and off between 1861 and 1883. During that time, the population was about 1,700. Today the residents number nearly 4,500.
Farm in the town's center
As busy as Cunningham was, he and his wife, Mary found the time to raise seven children. There was Charles B., Frank, Fred, Harry, Robert, Maude and Alice Cunningham. In his later years, he spent a good portion of his time managing his farm as his land stretched from Main St. to Milton Ave. and lower Library Avenue.
He was 81 years old when he died in 1907 after a busy and productive life. His beloved wife, Mary died in 1915.
20th Century brings changes
In 1902 his son Fred Cunningham controlled the land in the area of Ridge and Burdick streets. He cut up the land for building lots. All a man needed was to come up with $2 a week and he could be a landowner.
In April 1923, Robert Cunningham and Dr. C.B. Cunningham, with the help of surveyor H.D. Chambers, started selling lots in their development which stretched from Elm St. to Library Avenue Extension. The former convalescent home, "Cunningham Retreat" and later known as "Evergreen Haven" is still on Library Ave. facing Milton Ave. The house that is now across the street on the corner was once located on the lawn of the Cunningham homestead on Main St. and was used for Dr. C.B. Cunningham's dental practice.
Maude Cunningham, born in 1876, was the last of the family to live in the family home on Main St at Stewart Farrar Ave. She was rumored to have been a very rich. I have heard she confided to friends that she enjoyed having money much more than she did spending it. She died in October, 1962.
Group lobbies to save Cunningham house
The time of beautiful homes, quiet days, peace and tranquility were fast fading in the Queen Village in the early 1980's when the former Cunningham house was once again owned by another lawyer, Walter Rehm, and the law offices of Rehm, Krantz, Jordan & DeSantis were located there. In May, 1988 Walter Rehm put it up for sale.
But Warrensburgh Beautification, an independent town enhancement committee headed by Teresa Whalen, sought to acquire the house and preserve it as a landmark of local history, and keep the historic and architectural character of the area intact.
They envisioned the building as a site for a local historical museum, and perhaps their group's headquarters.
Saving the house from demolition also would block the construction of a commercial building which could be an affront to the beautiful homes nearby.
Enterprising plans were made to possibly landscape that piece of property as well as the Grand Union area to enhance the aesthetic and historical qualities in the heart of town and restore a part of the glory that was once Warrensburgh. This would hopefully attract tourists and businesses, and make the town a more pleasant place to live, reminiscent of what the town once was in its golden years.
Home destroyed, HHHN builds parking lot
Walter Rehm agreed to sell his building for $145,000 for historical use but sought $ 193,000 if it was converted to commercial use.
Warrensburgh Beautification members proposed to the town board to acquire the Cunningham house as a historic landmark. But the group's plans fell on deaf ears
The house and lot was sold to Jack and Polly Arehart and they sold it to the Hudson Headwaters Health Network which owned the former post office building at the back of the property adjacent to where the old Warrensburgh Academy once stood.
On Nov. 9 2000, after dawn, the house was attacked by bulldozers and demolished. It was a shock to the community. The home had existed in all or parts of three different centuries. Gone was the home's rich history and its fine old handmade bricks, the stately columns, the tall windows, the aged but sturdy hemlock beams and planks, nailed in place with old-fashioned square nails by hands that were long dead. All that was left was twisted rubble.
On the plot where the historic Cunningham house once stood, Hudson Headwaters built an overflow parking lot for their billing office, and the lot is now primarily vacant.
Many residents remember this loss, and understand what happens when a village loses its historical landmarks - how a town's ambiance and character can be diminished a little at a time, and it forever and irreversibly changes the quality of life.
Readers are welcome to contact Adirondack Journal correspondent Jean Hadden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-2210