The fourth “H” in the official Saratoga Springs tagline should be “homes” — as in “health, history, horses, and homes.” Some of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen are here in Saratoga, and I’m not just saying that to put a meme out there that will increase my own property value (though I wouldn’t complain). If you’ve ever been here, you’ve no doubt strolled down the city’s famous streets — Union Ave., 5th Ave., Caroline Street, North Broadway, Circular — and seen some of the gorgeous old homes, once (and, in many cases, still) the summer “cottages” to the New York City elite.
One such home is the 1832 “Greek Revival mansion, summer home of the 19th-century social climber Madame Eliza Jumel, who married and divorced Vice President Aaron Burr. Asking price: $750,000.” A definite bargain if you’re used to Manhattan prices and are lucky to find a 2-bedroom apartment for that, but a pretty penny if you’re an average Saratoga resident. But where else can you find an old mansion with so much history and maybe even your own ghosts?
Built around 1832, the white-columned house was put up for sale after its most recent owner, Richard Speers, a popular mathematics professor at Skidmore College, died of a heart attack in February.
It was clear that Mr. Speers had a sense of humor about the home occupied by one of Saratoga’s most notorious residents. He named his two standard poodles “Madame” and “Eliza.”
“He had that same spirit of life that she did – in terms of parties,” said a friend of Mr. Speers’s, Claire Olds, a former dean of students at Skidmore. “She had a wild life.”
Mr. Speers, who raised his twin sons in the house by himself, was known for his gourmet cooking and dinner parties. He had done some restoration, including extensive work on the carriage house, the replacement of a slate roof and a renovated master bathroom.
Now that the house is on the market, the city’s historian, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, said she had fielded a number of calls about it – including whether it is haunted – as well as questions about Madame Jumel’s reputation.
“People are charmed by her – the stories about Madame Jumel,” the historian said. “I think it’s delightful. She loved Saratoga Springs. She spent time here. And she went out and about in her carriages.” As for the ghost stories, Ms. Fitzgerald said, “I cannot document hauntings, but Saratoga Springs loves hauntings.”
Many of the stories of Madame Jumel are composites of fact and fiction, some of which she promulgated herself. She is said to have been acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. Many of those accounts probably came from her own mind in later years, said Ken Moss, the executive director of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem. She lived there until her death in 1865.