GREENWICH — For about as long as she can remember, Washington County historian Debi Craig has held Susan B. Anthony’s Battenville home and the story of Anthony’s Washington County roots close to her heart.
“My dad was a real history buff,” said Craig, who heads the NorthStar Historical Project in Greenwich. “He’d always point to the Susan B. Anthony House and say, ‘Don’t forget. Don’t forget what she did for women.’”
Determined to keep Anthony’s local story alive, Craig applied to the Cultural Landscape Foundation — a national education and advocacy nonprofit organization based in Washington — last year in the hopes of having the Susan B. Anthony home selected as a site for the foundation’s annual report.
“I was contacted by them in the summer and I had to apply with details about the home,” Craig said. “They were looking for historical sites that were potentially at risk.”
In late December, Craig found out that Anthony’s home was one of the projects selected for the “Landslide: Grounds for Democracy” report.
“The people and events that helped shape our democracy are often strongly associated with cultural landscapes,” said Charles Birnbaum, president and chief executive officer of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. “As we near the centennial of women’s suffrage, it’s important that a place that bore witness to one of the movement’s most consequential leaders endures.”
Anthony lived and worked in Washington County for nearly 20 years, and Craig said many people are not aware of her long connection to the area.
“So many things happened here. She formed her opinions here,” she said.
Since 1998, the Landslide report has brought to light key cultural landscapes that, while key to the remembering of U.S. human and civil rights struggles, have been neglected or threatened by impending development, industrial activity, dwindling funds for upkeep or even the forces of nature, according to the 2018 report.
Regarding the Susan B. Anthony house, the report paints a dismal picture of its potential for extinction:
“On a small and unassuming plot of land sits a house on the verge of collapse, a two-lane highway passing uncomfortably close to its front door. An easy-to-miss placard suspended from a post in the yard is the only indication that this derelict property is the Susan B. Anthony Childhood Home, where, between 1832 and 1839, the future champion of women’s rights would first form her rebellious ideas about gender and racial equality. This significant piece of our nation’s history is also the linchpin of a potential historic district integral to Susan B. Anthony’s story. Sadly, this site may soon be erased by long-term and continuing neglect.”
Additionally, the report urges readers to contact area lawmakers, giving names, numbers and other contact information.
“I am hoping it will bring more attention to it,” Craig said, pointing out that it has been featured in the January 2019 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.
The circa-1832 home has had several owners over the years and, after it went into foreclosure in 2006, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation bought the home for $1, according to Craig.
The three-story home sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the Batten Kill along Route 29.
“They made all the brick for the home on site,” said Craig, who has been inside the house several times.
She said there have been many changes over the years and, while much of the early elements remain, the home’s footprint has changed.
It’s Craig’s dream to create a Susan B. Anthony trail starting in her birthplace of Adams, Massachusetts, and passing through all the places she lived and worked in the area, and then on to Seneca Falls, site of the first Women’s Rights Convention.
“They could do the trail in their car and stop and stay at places along the way,” Craig said. “They would spend money on history.”
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.