More than two dozen local history enthusiasts embarked on a walking tour of the 300-acre Emmons family property Sunday.
The Greater Oneonta Historical Society hosted the tour, which sells out every year, according to organizers.
Walter Haupt, a sixth-generation descendant of Carlton Emmons, who was born on the property in 1804, began the tour at the former site of Emmons Tavern, which sits along state Route 7 about a mile and a half outside Oneonta city limits.
Carlton purchased the tavern in 1835 with the help of his father-in-law, William Fairchild of Cooperstown, and operated it until it burned in 1886, Haupt said, describing his ancestor as a “jovial, successful innkeeper.”
Formerly located at the bend of county Route 47, which crossed the Susquehanna River from Charlotte Creek Valley, just before it turned toward Oneonta, “it was a natural place for a tavern,” Haupt said.
“The big business of the day was timbering,” Haupt said.
Ira and Asa Emmons, a pair of brothers who arrived from Connecticut at the turn of the 19th century, made their money timbering large tracts of land they purchased and floating the logs down the Susquehanna to Baltimore, where massive ships were constructed from the wood, Haupt said.
The now currently used as the Farmhouse restaurant — the oldest structure on the property — was built by Carlton and his wife Maria and moved from its original location farther up the hill around 1850, when a new residence was constructed, Haupt said.
Haupt said he lived in the building for several years as a child, before its transformation into a restaurant in 1975.
Haupt said his grandfather built a two-story English Tudor house further up the hill in 1906. The exterior stucco texture was created by applying wet burlap sacks to the drying cement and ripping them off.
The yard contained a rose garden, site of lavish garden tea parties; a lily pond, fountain and Japanese garden, which was put in around 1920, Haupt said.
Haupt showed visitors the remains of the foundation of the three-story “large barn,” which burned to the ground in 1939. Police later apprehended an arsonist, who was thought to be mentally unwell, Haupt said.
After the fire, Haupt said a relative of his, who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, brought up a locomotive bell and affixed a sign reading “ring in case of fire.” The family also owned a horse-drawn fire truck, which is still stored on the property.
Haupt said many of the buildings remaining on the property that once spanned 700 acres were transformed into rental units by his grandmother in 1964, “because she had a lot of real estate on her hands that she didn’t know what to do with.”
Connected by winding stone driveways lined with daylilies and other wildflowers, the former granary, greenhouse, feed house, well house and root cellar and others — each painted slate gray with white trim — are now occupied by 17 families, Haupt said.
“I guess it’s sort of a romantic cottage in the woods,” he said.
Located directly above the site of the former tavern with a sweeping view of the valley below is Woodchuck Knoll, which Haupt said was built in 1929 as a residence for his grandmother, a three-time widow, and her four children.
The white clapboard wooden house, later faced with stone, “was built in a completely different style than anything else on the property,” Haupt said.
While the Emmons family descendants no longer live permanently on the property, Woodchuck Knoll serves as the summer home for about 15 members, who have dispersed across the globe, Haupt said.
“This has been here so long that there are so many interactions with the community one way or another,” he said. “Everybody knows something about this place.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.