Rosslyn, the second oldest home on Essex, New York’s Merchant Row, is located just south of The Dower House. This historic home (also known as the W.D. Ross Mansion, Hyde Gate, and The Sherwood Inn) was built by William D. Ross for his bride Mary Ann Gould (c. 1826-8) (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 30).
Primarily Georgian in style, Rosslyn also exhibits elements of Federal and Greek Revival architecture. The central entryway of the five-bay facade is flanked by sidelight windows placed symmetrically on both sides of the doorway and an elegant fanlight above the doorway.
“The structure is noteworthy for its exceptional Doric cornice following a design from a pattern book by Boston architect Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (1826).” (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 30)
Rosslyn faces Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains beyond. Expansive lawns, locally quarried stone walls, an early 19th century inspired fence and the alignment (and spacing) of Rosslyn’s outbuildings contribute to the classical proportions of this stately property. Rosslyn’s whimsical boathouse, still visible wharves and a painstakingly restored waterfront recollect the Ross family’s shipping merchant heritage and The Sherwood Inn’s decades as a popular vacation destination.
Like many of the homes in Historic Essex, NY, Rosslyn has experienced many cycles of renovation, neglect, alteration and restoration. As the second oldest home on Merchant Row (and one of the oldest residences in Essex village) it is difficult to ascertain the property’s precise historic lineage. While construction of the original brick and stone structure most likely began in 1820, there are indications that it either replaced (or augmented) and already constructed wood frame house…
A significant rear wing was added to Rosslyn in the early 19th century for domestic services (kitchen, pantry, etc.) and servants quarters. It was once common for wealthy families to hire and house live-in servants (cleaning staff, cooks, gardeners, nannies, etc.), however shifting social norms and economics diminished the practice in the United States making servant quarters increasingly rare.
Early in the 20th century Rosslyn was converted into The Sherwood Inn, and the service wing was renovated to accommodate guest lodging, restaurant and tavern. When the Sherwood Inn ceased operation in the late 1950s or early 1960s the rear wing was mostly removed and the remaining addition was adapted to residential use.
“It’s worth noting that the house was constructed out of brick (with stone foundations) and not wood. But this detail — like the soft math when recollecting the number and function of servants — matters little and reveals the patina-ing power of time’s passage. The other notable difference between Hyde Gate as Lesh describes it and Rosslyn as she stands today is that the veranda has been removed, revealing an older — and most likely original — stone stairway and entrance. The owner from whom we purchased the property undertook this alteration in a nod to historic authenticity. He too felt obliged to leave his imprint on the front facade of the house and erected a Greek Revival columned entrance roof which incorporates subtle Georgian detailing…” (Rosslyn Redux)
The Rosslyn property once consisted of many outbuildings including an ice house, a carriage house, several barns, a granary, and a privy (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 119). The ice house was the best way to store and preserve food in the past before electricity and refrigeration. The house’s location next to the lake would have been advantageous because in the winter ice could be cut from the frozen lake and brought to the ice house to store for summer.
A note discovered at Rosslyn identifies June 13, 1908 as the date that the home was first hooked up to electricity by Guy H. Mason (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 87). With the increasing ease of indoor plumbing, electricity, and other conveniences many of Rosslyn’s outbuildings became obsolete and were eventually removed. Today the ice house, carriage house and a boathouse (dock house) which was likely constructed in the late 1800s remain and have been renovated.
Built on a pier jutting into Lake Champlain in Essex, NY, stands a charming dock house constructed in 1898 (“Essex: An Architectural Guide.” 30). Rosslyn boathouse is modeled on a late 19th century Eastlake Design, considered part of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture (Images of America: Essex on Lake Champlain. 118).
Popular boat races and regattas took place on the Essex waterfront drawing competitors and spectators to the Rosslyn boathouse and shoreline from near and far. While boating regattas have dwindled in the last half century, Rosslyn boathouse remains a spectacular spot for viewing the Essex fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Although Rosslyn boathouse is part of the original W.D. Ross family property, it was not constructed by or for the Ross family. The turn-of-the century building was most likely designed and built for the Keyser family to accommodate their 62 ft. long, steam-powered yacht, Kestrel. Constructed entirely of mahogany, the yacht plied Lake Champlain’s water the 1890’s through the 1930’s, becoming as much an iconic vessel in Essex history as the boathouse has become in the century since it first adorned Merchant Row.
Although the Keysers may have initially kept their yacht on their own waterfront north of Essex, their dock and/or boathouse was rendered unusable by ice or flood damage. Kestrel required local dockage for convenient access and an ample supply of coal to power the steam engine, so the Keyser family purchased a small piece of land on the lake from the Ross family and proceeded to build a dock, boathouse, and coal storage bin for the yacht. The Keyser boathouse has persevered through many floods and ice flows, and today it is once again part of the Rosslyn property. (The Kestrel: An Essex Icon by Morris F. Glen)
Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves
Rosslyn Redux is a vicarious plunge into the idiosyncrasies (and absurdities) of renovating a circa 1822 historic home and boathouse in Essex, NY. The memoir by flâneur and storyteller, virtualDavis, is available at www.rosslynredux.com.