Historic Happenings and Specialty Tours at The Old Fort House Museum for the 2023 Tour Season (Schedule to come 6.2023)

Fort Edward Annex Building

As a part of the annual budget for the Fort Edward Union Free School District, voters will be given the chance to vote on whether or not the school district will be authorized to give part of the property located at 220 Broadway to the Town and Village of Fort Edward for public use. This transfer of property would include a building known as “The Annex” building, which has a relatively interesting history. the original house was partially demolished before being rebuilt into the present structure. It is thought that people might like to know the historical significance of the building. The following article was written by Maureen Culligan Zajkowski about the Annex Building and it’s history.

What is known as the “Annex” property on the south side of the Fort Edward High School on Upper Broadway was purchased by the District in fall 1950 for conversion to classrooms and a home-making department.  A July 23, 1951, article in the Glens Falls Times describes the property as the former Murray residence “located on top of Fort Edward Hill in a setting of trees and shrubbery and commands a birds-eye view of the village, surrounding landscape and distant mountain ranges.”  This site was not only the home of prominent people from the early days of the village, but also the location of the death of Jane McCrea in 1777, which stirred up resentment against the British Crown which helped contribute to Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga.

In 2005, sponsored by the Fort Edward Historical Association, a monument was erected on the lawn in front of the Annex to honor Jane McCrea.  On the monument is carved “Jane McCrea was murdered near this site on July 27, 1777.  The Road that passes this way was known as the Military road.  McCrea Street was laid out in 1852 beginning from this location.”

The property where the “Annex” now stands, was the original site of the home built by Joseph Bence Palser, born 1811 in Gloucester, England.  He was in the paper making business in England prior to coming to the United States in 1852.  He was involved in various paper manufacturing partnerships in the Fort Edward area forming Howland, Palser, & Co. which was destroyed by fire in 1866.  Hodgeman & Palser then formed to rebuild the mill which was also destroyed by fire in 1872.   An article in the Troy Daily Times, dates April 21, 1870, stated that J. B. Palser sold his “fine residence on Fort Edward hill to Hon. David Underwood for $30,000.”  Mr. Palser subsequently moved to Aiken, South Carolina where he purchased about one hundred acres of land for farming cotton and other crops. 

Even though an 1870 newspaper article stated that J. B. Palser sold his home on Fort Edward Hill to David Underwood, William H. Hill writes in his book “Fort Edward: The End of Nineteenth Century and Later as I Remember” (Fort Edward, NY: Honeywood Press, 1944-1956) that north of the Murray home (site of the Palser residence) was a brick house sold to the local high school and torn down.  Mr. Hill states that it was the home of David Underwood.  Mr. Underwood came from Vermont where he was born in 1810.  He formed a lumber business in partnership with George Bradley.  Mr. Underwood served the Fort Edward community in many capacities until his death in 1885 including as representative on the Board of Supervisors, as President of the village, and in the legislature. 

In 1895 Mrs. Francis Breese Davis, the daughter of David Underwood, and her husband moved to Mr. Davis’s farm on Fort Edward Road in Moreau.  The farmhouse, known as Iron Gate, contained an intricately wrought gate that had been on David Underwood’s property in Fort Edward.  Samuel Finley Breese Morse, inventor of the electrical telegraph was a relative and some say he worked on his invention while visiting the Davis home.  Josephine Davis, David Underwood’s grand-daughter, married Frank Doerhoefer; they came to reside at the Davis home after the death of Mrs. Doerhoefer’s mother.  On Labor Day weekend 1946, Josephine and Frank established the Iron Gate Antique Shop which was widely renowned for its quality.  While Josephine Doerhoefer died in 1950, Frank kept the shop until his death in 1970 with the auction of its merchandise conducted by Marshall and Martin Seelye.

Eventually, the former J. B. Palser residence was acquired by the family of Judge A. Dallas Wait (1822-1914).  In the 1840s, Judge Wait formed the law office of Wait and Perry in Fort Edward.  He was elected Washington County judge in 1855 and was twice re-elected to the same office.  He also held the office of district attorney of Washington County for two years.  For over thirty years he was a member and president of the Fort Edward Board of Education as was one of the directors of the First National Bank of Fort Edward.

The house on “the hill” was now occupied by Judge Wait’s son, Sheridan Paul Wait (1858-1897).  Sheridan and his wife Lydia Eva Ashton (1858-1935) had six sons and one daughter.  In Mr. Hill’s book “Fort Edward: The End of Nineteenth Century and Later as I Remember” he states that he remembered the old house was torn down (“it was of English design, in general, and originally built by a Mr. Palser”) though it could well be that the original Palser house that underwent extensive renovations by the Waits.  Given the early death of Sheridan Paul Wait, his father Judge Wait, helped raise his grandchildren.  While Judge Wait did not live in the house on “the hill” a picture of him used to hang in a niche which is still in the south wall of the Annex in what was the living room.

A “Washington County Advertiser” newspaper article, dated August 8, 1888, provides this tidbit under “Local and Personal:” “Two thousand feet of pipe has been laid from the boiler room of the shirt factory to the Underwood house on the hill, occupied by Sheridan P. Wait, in order to furnish a supply of water for domestic purposes.  The pipe was laid above ground for an experimental test, which has proved successful.  The pipe will soon be placed under ground, below frost line.”

By 1919 the Wait property was purchased by Richard F. Murray (1881-1940) and occupied by the Murray family until the residence was sold to the Fort Edward School District.  Mr. Murray was prominent in the paper making industry having worked his way up to Assistant Superintendent of the International Paper Company then being promoted to Superintendent of the Iroquois Paper Company at Thomson.  He served as mayor of Fort Edward, was well known in Washington County Republican circles, had been the coroner of Washington County, and was a long-time member of the Fort Edward School District Board of Education.  At his funeral, members of the faculty of the Fort Edward schools attended in a body, the schools being closed that morning.

From the Glens Falls Times, February 1, 1952:

“An estimated 2,000 persons from the tri-county area inspected the Fort Edward High School annex at an Open House conducted there last evening. Members of the board of education and school officials were congratulated on this newest addition to the public school system of the village. Baskets of flowers, gifts from various organizations, adorned the rooms, The new homemaking department which occupies the second floor of the building was a special attraction since here was displayed the most modern equipment in the two practice kitchens, the laundry unit and the clothing center and, also, modern decorative settings in the living room and bedroom. The two sixth grade classrooms on the first floor received favorable comment from the visitors, also.