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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Saratoga's Historic Homes: Inside the Batcheller Mansion

By | News

If an American equivalent to Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs were to be produced, it should be set in Saratoga and it should feature the Batcheller Mansion. That is because no other house reflects the family who had it built, the city it is built in, and America at the time it was built (1874) more than this great mansion.


Built to host grand affairs, its stately, intimidating exterior gives way to a gracious, embracing interior. With a formal foyer and parlor, the house was designed to insure the protocols of the Victorian culture.

The Batchellers were politically and socially connected and needed an elegant space in which to entertain. The dining room was conceived to comfortably accommodate more than twenty and its three main rooms can host receptions for over one hundred guests.

Both George Sherman Batcheller and Catherine Cook were from the informal aristocracy that formulated and directed the United States in the early 1800s. George always used his middle name, Sherman, because he was related to Roger Sherman who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. He was only 20 when he graduated from Harvard Law School; the young Batcheller was destined for greatness. Immediately after graduation, he moved from Batchellerville to Saratoga to read New York State law. By October 1858, having recently turned 21, he was nominated for the New York State Assembly by the new, upstart Republican Party. He won by a two-to-one margin. When he took office he was the youngest New York Assemblyman ever, at the age of 21 years, 5 months.

Throughout his working days, he would return to the Assembly on two other occasions. His career would include serving as a Lt. Colonel in 115th New York Volunteers, the Provost Marshal of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (age 25), the Inspector General of the New York State Militia, a Judge on the International Tribunal in Alexandria Egypt, the Acting Secretary of the Treasury, the Council (Ambassador) to Portugal, and the President of the Appeals Court of the International Court in Alexandria.

Batcheller was brilliant, born to an upper middle class family, and obviously extremely politically connected. It was in his selection of a wife where he truly excelled. In 1861, Batcheller married Catharine Cook, an educated, sophisticated woman who would support his career at a time when it was difficult for a woman to have a career of her own.

Catherine was only sixteen when her mother became an invalid. She immediately stepped in taking over as her father’s hostess. At the time, her father was the Superintendent of the New York State Banking Department. Before she was twenty she hosted senators, governors, generals and presidential candidates. While George was raised in a financially comfortable family, Catharine’s family was wealthy.

Catharine attended Albany Female Academy - which would later become Albany Academy for Girls - where she won an award for her language skills in French. While in Egypt, Catharine and George hosted a reception in honor of former President Grant. Catharine, who was fluent in several languages, introduced Grant to everyone in their native languages.

Catherine’s diplomatic skills were so respected that in 1903, the Khedive of Egypt hosted a reception in her honor. After she returned home, she suffered heart issues and died ten days later. The family took a year to have the grand mausoleum designed and built in Greenridge Cemetery. It was built to resemble those found in Egypt.

The Batchellers had three children. The oldest daughter, Anna, lived less than two months, a son lived six months, and the youngest daughter Katherine (Kate) who would eventually own the house.

After her father’s death in 1908, Kate returned to Saratoga. Having lived abroad for almost half her life, Kate had a beautiful house, but not a home. In 1910, Josephine Amelia La Saux, of Paris, became her companion. In 1916, Kate sold the house that had cost her parents over $65,000 to build to a member of the Mabee family for under $17,000. After the Mabee family sold the house in the 1930s, it started a downward cycle, eventually being abandoned in the 1960s. Rescued from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, the house was one of the first of Saratoga’s great mansions to be restored.

In each of the Batchellers’ wills, there was a codicil that if the family still owned the house when the last descendent died, the house was to be left to the city and set up as the Batcheller Memorial. Since the book on the family came out in 2009, there have been numerous opportunities for people to enjoy the house. It appears the family’s wish has come true; the house now stands as a memorial to the Batchellers and their era.


Interesting facts about the Batchellers and their mansion:

  • The house would belong to all three of the Batchellers; it was in Catherine’s name until her death in 1903, George’s until he died in 1908, before the house would become Kate’s.
  • Most people who pass the house never notice that not one porch has steps. Everyone who joined the Batchellers on their porch had to pass through the formal parlor.
  • When the house was completed, it had five bathrooms at a time when most homes had none.
  • When Catharine was returning from meeting with the Queen of Portugal in 1891, the axle on her carriage broke and she was hospitalized in critical condition. She would eventually recover enough to return to the United States that summer; however, when it was time for George to return to Lisbon in the fall of 1891, she elected to stay in Washington D.C.
  • An 1891 portrait of Catharine still hangs over the desk of the head of Girls Academy.
  • There are few families which left behind such a plethora of information to serve historians. In various archives are some of George’s Civil War letters, Catharine’s school diary from 1852, Kate’s diary, and 30 letters from George to Catherine during their engagement, two memoriam, calling cards and a day book. Most of these have been transcribed and are free to the public at http://www.batchellerpapers.com.
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