Skene Manor – Whitehall New York
Skene Manor during Autumn – almost ghostly!
As you drive over Route 4 and cross over a small bridge in Whitehall, New York, and look to your left up on the hillside, you’ll see a beautiful Victorian-Gothic house. This is Skene Manor. This huge magnificent home has a lot of history and maybe some ghosts lingering in its halls.
Philip Skene was born in 1725 in London, England. He was a military governor of Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War and a judge of Charlotte County. In 1765, Skene purchased the land that today includes Fort Ann and Whitehall. He named the part of the land, Skenesborough. This would eventually become know as Whitehall. It was a small town, and he became chief magistrate. Philip Skene then built his home on the site of Skene Manor, overlooking Skenesborough.
Skenesborugh, now modern-day Whitehall New York
He married a woman named Katharine. They had lived in Skene Manor for some time when Katharine became ill and died. Local legend has it that Philip put Katharine’s body in a coffin and left it in the cellar of the house. Later, when Skene was sent back to London and had to give up his town, he left Katharine’s body behind. He never returned to Skenesborough, and no one really knows what happened to Katharine’s body. Some say it is still in the cellar, while others say American Colonial troops removed her bones and used the lead from the coffin it as ammunition.
Ewer, Basin and Washbowl on Bedroom stand.
After Philip Skene went back to England and died there, the house was left abandoned until 1867 when Joseph Potter bought the property. Potter was a state Supreme Court Justice, and he built the Victorian Gothic-style mansion on the site today. He called the home “Mountain Terrace.” It took over two years to build for a cost of approximately $25,000. It was said that Potter had left Katharine’s coffin in the cellar untouched.
Potter’s widow sold Mountain Terrace in 1906 to Edgar Lowenstein. He changed the name to “Lowen’s Castle” and installed gas fixtures and a heating system. He also added a carriage house to the property.
In 1917, Dr. Theodore Sachs bought the huge house. While he was living there, he put a huge clock in the tower of the house. In 1939 when Sachs died, the property was left vacant for several years. The next people to own it were Clay and Pauline Scheer.
Stairway to Second Floor. Note stained glass window.
They purchased the house in 1946. They renamed the mansion “Skene Manor” in honor of Whitehall’s founder. They used the downstairs of the house for a restaurant business. Clay took advantage of Katharine Skene’s ghost story as part of the business. He placed a coffin to the side of the bar and had a mechanical hand that would come out and move around. In 1951, the manor switched owners again and the new owners, Richard Reynolds and his wife, continued to operate the restaurant.
The Tea Room.
Along with Katharine’s ghost haunting the halls of Skene Manor, it is said that in 1960 someone hung themselves in Joseph Potter’s old bedroom. No one actually knows how accurate the story is.
Second Floor Bedroom.
The restaurant went out of business and Skene Manor has switched owners several more times.
Today, Skene Manor is maintained by the Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation Incorporated. They purchased the property in 1995 after there had been some interest from an out of state party in moving the house. Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation Inc. is involved in on-going restoration through donations and a dedicated team of volunteers.
First Floor Parlor Fireplace.
People can visit the mansion for lunch in the tea room, visit the gift shop, and get free tours of the incredible mansion. It is an amazing, beautiful, and possibly haunted Victorian-gothic house, and a treasure for the area. Everyone should go and visit sometime, unless of course, they are afraid of running into Katharine Skene.
Stained Glass Window.
Second Floor Sitting Room.
Display in the “Gilly Room.”
See the Skene Manor website at: http://www.skenemanor.org/
© November 29 2012, Warren County Historical Society
This article was researched and written by Ellyn Fisher, who at the time of writing, was a student at SUNY Adirondack, for the Warren County Historical Society.