From Broadview Lodge to Skidmore's Surrey
Biannual house tours sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation are always a community favorite, but when the tour includes the city's North Broadway mansions, it's invariably a crowd-pleasing sellout. On the most recent tour of North Broadway, the eye-catching yellow stucco and slate-roofed building across from Skidmore's main campus was the last stop.
First called Broadview Lodge, this English Tudor— style house was later known as the Surrey Inn, and for three years in the 1940s it was the Brown School for Boys. Broadview was built in 1918 for E. Clarence Jones by the firm of William J. Case and Son. The younger Case, who was the father of Esther Case Williams '24, died while Broadview was being built. Jones, it is said, had shown the architects a photograph of an old manor house in England's Cotswolds district, instructed them to replicate the house, and then departed for a trip abroad. Upon his return, he stood some distance away to view the completed house and noted with dismay that the roofline sloped toward the middle. The builders assured him that they had gone to some trouble to replicate the roofline as pictured in the photo.
The property looked across North Broadway to Henry Hilton's former Woodlawn Park (now the Jonsson Campus), an abandoned estate that once consisted of handsome Queen Anne—style houses, greenhouses, stables, 30 miles of carriage roads, and sheep to keep the vast lawns under control. Jones apparently liked the romantic notion of being an English country squire, and he spared no expense when designing his Saratoga estate, although with only 10 acres he kept it to a smaller scale. The plans included a private home, superintendent's cottage, farm building, and garage. The former garage and chauffeur's apartment are today the College's Eissner Admissions Center. The superintendent's quarters, aptly called Overlook Cottage, today houses Skidmore development-staff offices and is renamed Colton House.
The main building was designed as a private home for Jones, a New York City stockbroker, and his wife, the English actress Marjorie Blossom. It had 21 rooms (12 of which were full baths), a glassed-in breakfast porch, and a wide double staircase off the entranceway. The service section on the ground level contained a kitchen, butler's pantry, refrigerator room, servants' dining room, flower room, and the butler's bedroom and bath. The grounds were beautiful, half in woodland and half lavishly landscaped with stone walls, statuary, flower beds, a sunken formal garden, and a goldfish pool. Summer houses provided shady resting places on warm days, and a vine- covered pergola led to the tennis court.
Jones died in 1926, but his widow did not sell the property immediately; she evidently enjoyed the whirl of horse racing and social events every August in Saratoga. It was through her summer connections that she found either a tenant or a buyer in a Mrs. Amscott Wilson. A wealthy horse owner, Wilson used the estate as a summer home until it was bought in 1945 by former State Senator Thomas Brown of Schenectady for his daughter, Elinor, and her husband, Roy Wright.
The next year Wright, who had been the principal at the North School in Herkimer, and Larry Pike, a teacher at Albany Military Academy, opened the Brown School for Boys on the estate's grounds. They completely renovated Broadview Lodge and converted the garage for recreational and dormitory use–the boys later dubbed it "the catacombs." The school was designed to prepare boarding and day students in grades 10, 11, and 12 for college, but over half the students were in their early 20s, World War II veterans who needed a year of college prep before entering four-year colleges on the GI Bill. (In 1946, Skidmore's GIs, those veterans attending the Glens Falls Extension, challenged the Brown School to what has gone down in Skidmore annals as its one and only football game. In the winter of 1947, Skidmore "girls" and Brown "boys" competed in a skiing meet at Alpine Meadows.) Brown graduates were accepted at fine colleges including Yale, Georgetown, and St. John's in Annapolis; however, in 1946-47 Brown enrolled just 28 students, and in '47-48 only 22. The school held a total of three summer sessions and graduated two classes before closing in September 1948.
In the summer of 1949 the Wrights opened the Surrey Inn in the former school and operated it as a 20-room hotel. Roy Wright's daughter (coincidentally in the hotel business) recalls that her father and stepmother "lost their shirts, as so many people do, offering three meals a day. There was insufficient volume to carry a chef (so-called), so they sensibly changed to a bed and breakfast operation." Later, when the house and annex were offered for sale, a four-page illustrated brochure suggested the property was suitable for "a fine restaurant, an old people's home, a quiet religious institution, or a hospital." It was offered, furnished, at $65,500.
Robert Ducas bought the property in 1964 and established the Surrey Inn Corporation. In January 1967, under the leadership of President Joseph Palamountain, Skidmore College acquired the main house and the former garage through a "gift-purchase" arrangement. The College at that time was in the early stages of moving from its downtown campus to the current site opposite the Surrey. The 50-year-old inn and its annex-garage were ready-made quarters, but the College's plans, as reported in the Alumni Quarterly, were "to continue the Surrey Inn as a commercial hostelry for the present time." By the early '70s, the College's admissions operation was moved from the old-campus library building on Union Avenue into the annex-garage, called the Surrey Cottage. In 1981, an addition–sans slate roof–made the building more comfortable for the growing admissions staff. Meanwhile, Anne Palamountain, the president's wife whose portrait hangs in the inn's living room, obtained donations of furniture, carpeting, and draperies for the main building; other antiques and furnishings came from the houses of former presidents and of College founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner. Once refurbished for College use, the Surrey living room became a popular venue for receptions, faculty-staff events, board meetings, and academic symposia.
Today, the graciously appointed rooms on the first floor continue to be used for College events and by Skidmore community members for weddings and other gatherings. Guest rooms on the second floor accommodate up to eighteen people: usually visiting alumni, trustees, or guest speakers. In the summer of 1999, to honor longtime trustee and benefactor Susan Kettering Williamson '59, Skidmore renamed the mansion the Surrey Williamson Inn. –ACH