For many people, the Hazard House leapt into existence in 2019 when it was purchased by David Muir, the anchor of ABC World News Tonight. But it has a longer history, and is actually and exactly the site where the Skaneateles we know today had its beginnings.
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In 1784, Simeon DeWitt, Surveyor General of New York, oversaw the survey of land grants for Revolutionary War veterans – land given in place of money which was in short supply in the young nation. Simeon chose a cousin, Moses DeWitt, to manage the survey in the field, which he completed in 1788. For his work, Moses received 50 acres for each section he surveyed. More importantly, he saw all the tracts being surveyed, which gave him an advantage over soldiers for whom the lots were a sight unseen.
Most soldiers sold their land as soon as possible. In 1793, Moses DeWitt bought Lot No. 37 and began parceling out the land to his sisters and their husbands. To his sister Janneke DeWitt Cuddeback and her husband Abraham, he leased a portion on the western shore of Skaneateles Lake. In the spring of 1794, Janneke, Abraham and their eight children left Minisink, N.Y., with a colt, 12 cows, and three yoke of oxen drawing a two-wheeled wagon. They traveled by way of Albany, then Fort Schuyler (now Utica), then to Onondaga Hill, the last settlement on the way. Abraham left his wife and younger children with Janneke’s brother-in-law, James Coleman, and went on with his two eldest – a daughter, 14, and a son, 12 – and the livestock, arriving at the outlet of Skaneateles Lake on June 14, 1794.
The forest around the lake was dense and swampy; there were no roads. A grandson, Lafayette Cuddeback, writing circa 1885, said, “On the bank of the lake there, he constructed a raft of logs, and, after completing it satisfactorily, put on his two-wheeled wagon and other things, and poled the raft along the shore to what is now known as the Dr. Hurd place. His two children then drove the cattle and a colt through the woods to the same locality.”
And so the first white settlers arrived. In the months to come, Cuddeback cleared the land, built a cabin and planted wheat. Abraham died in 1831, but his descendants were prolific and for years there were Cuddeback farms up and down the west shore of the lake.
At some point, the original Abraham Cuddeback farm came into the possession of Elias Hunsiker, who owned a farm in Niles, a store and a brewery in Mottville, and was said to be worth $400 a year, a princely sum.
In 1877, Hunsiker sold the Cuddeback farm to Robert Minturn Grinnell and his wife, Sophie Van Alen Grinnell, of New York City and Newport, R.I. (The land today is all that lies between Westgate and the Skaneateles Country Club, including the Hazard House to the north and the Mezzalingua estate to the south.) After buying the Cuddeback farm from Hunsiker, Robert Grinnell sold the northern half of the land to Lucy Van Alen Hurd, his wife’s sister, and her husband, Dr. Samuel Hutchins Hurd.
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And so Samuel Hurd came to Skaneateles. He was a physician, a graduate of Harvard University (Class of 1852), where “he received the respect of every one of his classmates,” and the New York College of Medicine.
Daguerreotype of Samuel Hurd, 1852, from the Harvard Library
By all accounts, he was a fine fellow. Early in the Civil War, he served as a surgeon in the Massachusetts 5th Army, and thereafter treated wounded men as they returned to Boston, providing free medical care for their families as well. In 1860, he married Lucy Van Alen, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and never wanted for money after that.
To the Middlesex Medical Society, he lectured on “Medical Knowledge among Indian Tribes” describing the benefits of the “vapor bath” and citing some possible additions to the Pharmacopoeia from among their herbal remedies. He was a member of the American Geographical Society and the New York Historical Society, and made donations of maps and documents to the historical societies of Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. One writer noted, “His bright spirit, his keen knowledge of human nature, soon drew to him a large number of friends.”
In June of 1879, The Evening Auburnian noted, “Dr. Hurd is also making elegant improvements to his house and grounds.” One of Dr. Hurd’s improvements to his grounds involved tearing down the last standing wall of a barn built by Abraham Cuddeback.
After his retirement from the practice of medicine, he and Lucy lived in New York City, visited Newport and Saratoga Springs, traveled abroad, and summered in Skaneateles, where he took to the water in “an elegant and gracefully modeled row boat.”
Here, Samuel Hurd fostered the village’s first society for the protection of song birds, from “boy hunters,” even before there was an Audubon Society. At the Skaneateles Fair of 1878, he exhibited a collection of curiosities including “a pitcher carved from coquina, a geological formation found only in St. Augustine, Fla., and from which the fort at that place was built, Osage oranges and other vegetable curiosities.”
Samuel Hurd died in 1897, in Atlantic City. In his final days, “he gave full proof of his patience, courage, faith and consecrated heart.” The Hurd house was sold and afterwards, when in Skaneateles, Lucy Hurd stayed with her sister, Sophie Grinnell.
In 1915, at St. James’ Episcopal Church, a rood screen (a series of wooden arches) was given to honor the memory of Samuel Hurd. The local press noted, “During his stays with us he proved himself a genial and very esteemed neighbor. Possessed of ample means he made his house a most hospitable one, and it was adorned with all that shows liberal culture, and all that can make a home pleasant and attractive.”
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The buyer of “the Hurd place” in 1897 was William Fitzgerald of Chicago. He paid $11,000, called the house “Geraldine Lodge,” and planned to use it as a summer residence. Henry Evans, the former caretaker for Roosevelt Hall, was engaged to care for the property when the family was not in residence.
William Fitzgerald was born in Ireland, near the City of Cork, in 1842. As a boy, he lived in Skaneateles, then went to Auburn where he “acquired a knowledge of the tin trade.” In 1862, he moved to Chicago and established himself in the hardware business. When the Chicago fire of 1872 destroyed more than three square miles of the city, Fitzgerald’s hardware store escaped unscathed. With tens of thousands of people rebuilding, and many newly vacant lots going for a song, Fitzgerald sold building materials, bought land, and made a bundle. At one point he was said to be worth half a million dollars.
He was also interested in politics; he was a member of Chicago’s Board of Aldermen for eight years, served as the Sheriff of Cook County for one term, and was the elected Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. Although business called him often to Chicago, Fitzgerald spent more and more time at Geraldine Lodge, which he made “one of the prettiest places in the village.”
Geraldine Lodge in 1907
Late in his career, however, Fitzgerald contracted to build a sewer in Syracuse and make improvements on Onondaga Creek, and the projects turned into a Black Hole for his fortune.
In April of 1913, at the age of 69, suffering from throat cancer, he went to Chicago for an operation and died. The newspaper headlined, “Worried to Death,” and noted, “The disaster that overtook him in his contract work in this city was a cause of bitter anxiety to him and it is believed that the consequent mental distress aggravated the physical malady that led to his death. Mr. Fitzgerald was kind, companionable, quiet and unassuming—a man of vigorous mind and solid qualities—and the expressions of regret evoked by his death reveal an unusual note of genuine sympathy.”
William was survived by his wife and one daughter, Mary Frances Fitzgerald, two sons, William Fitzgerald Jr. and Albert Fitzgerald both of Chicago, and one brother Lawrence J. Fitzgerald of Auburn. His will left everything to his wife and daughter, but what the women would inherit was in question. In May of 1913, the Syracuse Herald reported that “his affairs are in so complicated a condition that it is impossible to predict with any certainty what the outcome will be. A local bank holds a heavy mortgage against his home in Skaneateles.”
On August 6, 1913, at 10 a.m., Mrs. Fitzgerald auctioned off the contents of Geraldine Lodge, giving us a glimpse of the home and its era. Up for auction with no reserve: a seven-piece black walnut suite, paisley upholstered; mahogany marble-top hall table; large mahogany onyx-top parlor table; mahogany couch; mahogany wardrobe; two black walnut center tables; two black walnut book cases; black walnut book case and writing desk combined; black walnut wardrobe with French plate glass; black walnut sideboard; black walnut bedroom suite, with bed, dressers and commode; 12-foot oak dining table; billiard table with furnishings complete. And in the spirit of “everything must go”: Victor talking machine with 54 records, 20 cans of fruit, 15 hens, 20 chicks, 19 cords of stove wood, a 75-foot garden hose and “other articles too numerous to mention.”
In March of 1914, the foreclosure sale of Geraldine Lodge took place at the court house in Syracuse.
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In 1917, John Gibson Hazard bought the home of William Fitzgerald from the Syracuse Trust Co.
Born in 1877, John G. Hazard studied for three years at the Thudicum boarding school in Geneva, Switzerland, then at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and finally at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School where he studied chemistry. Hazard began as a chemist at the Semet-Solvay company, and rose to the positions of director of the Solvay Process Company, vice-president of the Semet-Solvay Company, and an officer in several “allied concerns.” His brother, Isaac Peace Hazard, also active with Semet-Solvay, summered on Skaneateles Lake at a cottage near Ten Mile Point.
In June of 1917, John and his wife, Ada DeKalb Hazard, came to Skaneateles to get their house ready, and planned to return “as soon as school closes.” The Fitzgerald property was then assessed for $18,000. The house was three stories high and contained eight bedrooms and a large living room with a fireplace. The winter caretaker was Charles B. Day of the village. The Hazards called their Skaneateles summer house “Westmoreland,” the same name given to a Hazard home in Narragansett Pier, R.I.
John G. Hazard had a short time to enjoy Skaneateles. He died of pneumonia at home in Syracuse on December 27, 1918. He was 41 years old. In Skaneateles, Westmoreland remained the summer home of his widow, Ada, and the children, Barbara Peace Hazard, John Newbold Hazard and Gibson DeKalb Hazard.
Ada Hazard had life-use of her husband’s estate, which was valued at more than a million dollars. In the 1920s, she was often found hosting and guesting in the society pages of the Syracuse newspapers. Her primary home was on the “James Street hill” in Syracuse. She summered in Skaneateles, and traveled to Santa Barbara, Narragansett Pier, and abroad.
Her daughter Barbara graduated from the Walnut Hill school in Massachusetts as president of her class, and graduated from Smith College with the Class of 1924. Her brother John described her as “Ruddy-cheeked, well-scrubbed, athletic, a good mixer but always holding boys at arms’ length, she was one of the attractive girls of Syracuse.” Shortly after college graduation, she married Hugh Rodman Leavell, a graduate of the Harvard Medical School.
In 1924, Ada’s eldest son, John Newbold Hazard, sailed for France to see the Paris Olympics and tour Europe with classmates from The Hill School. From his prep school, John, like his father, went on to Yale. He was a member of the glee club, the debate society, Alpha Phi Delta fraternity and the invitation-only Elizabethan Club. As a senior, he was one of 16 men tapped for the Wolf’s Head secret society.
In August of 1930, in Skaneateles, Ada Hazard was making preparations for a grandchild’s birthday party when she was stricken by a heart attack. Her son John later wrote, “She had been as vivacious as ever the night before.” A second attack the next morning was fatal. Barbara Leavell was visiting in Skaneateles and at her mother’s bedside when she died.
Ada Hazard died without a will, but her children were heirs of their father’s trust and Westmoreland remained in the family. Barbara, the eldest of the three siblings, held the title. Gibson, a minor, was assigned a legal guardian.
John had just graduated, and was about to take a trip around the world with three classmates from Yale. His sister urged him to go, and he did. It was an eye-opening experience. Of Russia, he wrote, “Leningrad had its palaces, but its squalor was pathetic although grand. Paint was peeling off buildings; people looked threadbare. Moscow was even more foreboding, and there was the tragic moment outside the Grand Hotel when the quartet found the body of a starved boy lying in the gutter.”
In August of 1931, after returning from his trip, John hosted a “friendly party” and supper in Skaneateles before returning to school. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1934, and then his life took an unusual turn. In August of 1934, he left Skaneateles for Moscow. He had received a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs to be the first American to study Soviet law at the Moscow Juridical Institute.
And so Hazard found himself in the Soviet Union that autumn, learning to speak Russian, taking courses in the history of the All-Russian Communist Party and Dialectical Materialism, and studying the principles of Soviet Law.
Hazard returned to spend the summer of 1935 in Skaneateles, and while here he traveled to Rochester and the Monroe County Courthouse where he was admitted to the New York State bar. He had passed the bar exam in 1934, but was required to appear in person for admission. He returned to Moscow in the fall.
In 1937, he received the certificate of the Moscow Juridical Institute. Returning to the U.S.A., Hazard continued his education, earning a Doctor of Juristic Science degree from the University of Chicago in 1939. In 1941, he married Susan Lawrence of Springfield, Massachusetts.
When the United States entered World War II, Hazard joined the government. He helped negotiate the conditions under which the Soviet Union joined the Lend-Lease program, through which the United States furnished food and machinery to its allies, and became the deputy director of the Soviet branch.
An expert on the USSR, Hazard accompanied Vice President Henry Wallace on his mission to Russia in May of 1944. The following year he assisted Robert Jackson, America’s chief prosecutor, prior to the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals.
In July of 1945, Hazard and his family managed to get away from Washington D.C. to spend the 4th of July at Westmoreland. Returning to civilian life in 1946, Hazard joined the faculty of Columbia University, where he would teach for 48 years. That summer he was again at Westmoreland; in August, Susan Hazard was the guest of honor at a luncheon at the Country Club.
In July of 1947, Hazard delivered three lectures at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, mentioning that as a boy he studied violin at Crouse College, just fifty feet from where he was speaking. (His mother insisted upon it, believing that silent films would always need musical accompaniment and music would provide an income for the boy if all else failed. Hazard recalled climbing the steps to Crouse College “against the driving snow of that snow-laden city.”)
Appearing as part of a Russia Workshop, he noted, “The Iron Curtain is not so iron if you can read Russian.” Hazard spoke again at the Maxwell School in August of 1948.
In the summer of 1951, John and family spent time at Westmoreland in June, then went to California where John was teaching a summer session at Stanford University, and returned to Skaneateles for the latter part of the summer.
In 1956, Robert R. Bowie, a Harvard Law classmate with whom Hazard spent several summers on canoe and pack trips, and the Best Man at his wedding, spent the summer at Westmoreland with his family.
In 1958, Barbara Leavell, John’s sister, died, and the title to Westmoreland passed to John.
In May of 1960, John Hazard received a cable from attorney Alexander Parker of Richmond, Virginia, asking for help in preparing a defense for Francis Gary Powers. The pilot’s U-2 spy plane had been downed by a missile over Russia; he was captured alive and given the bum’s rush to Lubyanka prison.
L. to R.: Barbara Powers, wife of Francis Gary Powers, with attorneys Alex Parker, John N. Hazard, John C. Parker and Frank Rogers
Hazard was the first and perfect choice for the defense team, fluent in Russian, well-versed in Soviet law. But Russia never replied to his request for a visa, and he was unable to defend Powers at the trial.
In June of 1960, John with wife Susan and four children, John, William, Nancy, Barbara, returned to Skaneateles after an absence of two years. However, Professor Hazard had to leave in three weeks to travel to Warsaw for a conference on international law and Luxembourg to teach a post-graduate course on Russian law.
On August 19, Francis Gary Powers was convicted of espionage. In September, Professor Hazard returned to Skaneateles, and told the Skaneateles Press that he felt Powers had done well testifying during the trial, adding, “Of course, no one can tell what he would do or say in the same circumstances.”
Active as a teacher and writer all his life, John Newbold Hazard died in April of 1995 at the age of 86. He was survived by his wife, Susan; two sons, John G. of New York City and William L. of Santa Barbara, Calif.; two daughters, Nancy of Greenfield, Mass., and Barbara P. of Frankfurt, Germany, and six grandchildren.
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The Hazard House was next owned by Dr. Michael and Carol T. Parker, who in 2019 sold the house to David Muir, who said it was a rare opportunity to save an historic home. And he added, “This job takes me all over the world, and I can’t think of a better place to catch my breath.”
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For further reading about John Newbold Hazard, I recommend Recollections of a Pioneering Sovietologist (1984).