6 Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, New York Brownstones
Oftentimes, you'll hear people using the term "brownstone" to incorrectly describe any old townhouse, regardless of the material used in its construction. Sometimes even experience real estate agents get it wrong. So, what true is a brownstone?
#1 A real brownstone is made of brick, only the facade is brownstone.
Brownstone is a kind of sandstone that's known to vary in color depending on the location where it was quarried. It can be purple, red orange, or pink in color.
A brownstone home will always have brick at its core. Stone featured on a brownstone is a veneer that's attached to the front brick wall using raw metal ties. Schist was used to construct the foundations of the homes, with the upper floors having window sills, door surrounds, lintels, and stoops made out of stone.
#2 Brownstone was picked for being plentiful.
Availability was a big deciding factor behind the use of brownstone in Albany, NY; Troy, NY; and Schenectady, NY. The heyday of brownstone in the area ran from the 1870s through the 1980s as it was very easy to come by in nearby New Jersey and Connecticut quarries.
Following flooding, the primary quarries were closed in the 1940s but reopened in the 1990s, becoming an excellent source of stone used for repairs. However, environmental regulations have led to them being closed down again, which makes it tough and expensive to handle renovations.
#3 Most craftsmen were German immigrants.
Brownstones were mostly cut and carved by German immigrants who worked tirelessly in stone-cutting yards. In fact, the New York Times wrote an article about them in 1852, speaking about the “surprising perfection of the work” and described the jounalist's shock at the “hacking coughs and emaciated appearance” of some of the workmen."
#4 Some faces memorialized their owners.
At one time in history, it was popular to depict a celebrity on a residence. While Brownstone experts in the area haven't ran into much of that, they have seen a lot of carved faces--inspired by the building's owner or mythical characters. The facial features of these carvings, however, quickly wear away.
#5 The stoops aren't all that glamorous.
A classic brownstone's most distinctive feature is it's stoop. The Dutch built stops initially to raise the floor of their parlors above the floor water, but some posit that the stoops in our area were actually put in to raise the floor above a “sea of horse manure.”
This theory is supported by a lot of research, including an old article in Gothamist that read: "In vacant lots, horse manure was piled as high as sixty feet. It lined city streets like banks of snow. In the summer time, it stank to the heavens; when the rains came a soup stream of horse manure flooded the crosswalks and seeped into people’s basement."
#6 Restoration is time consuming and expensive.
But, if you're going to restore a Brownstone, you should really go about it in the right way. After all, these are truly historical buildings and they need to be restored with great care and dignity. Substandard work like “the stucco schmear technique" may involve painting or putting down stucco on the surface, which ruins the structure, aesthetically and historically.
When you are looking for a home inspector to perform a home inspection on a brownstone it is a good idea to make sure he is familiar with the construction of the structure. Your local home inspector should be familiar with the brownstones that are located in Albany, NY; Troy, NY; and Schenectady, NY.