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A History of Holcroft House

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John Charlton Clarkson (Annie’s great uncle) was the first member of the Clarkson family to settle in the North Country, succeeding Benjamin Raymond as land agent in Potsdam in 1818. John built Holcroft House close to the entrance to the estate from the Canton Road in 1821-22. First called “The Mansion House,” the Greek Revival-style home was later renamed Holcroft after Elizabeth Holcroft, daughter of Sir Henry Holcroft, East Hampton, England. Said to be “of royal descent,” she was married to the Reverend David Clarkson (their son, Matthew, was the first Clarkson to come to America. He came to New York about 1691, commissioned as Secretary of the Province of New York). The home was built with two stories and a flat roof. The original kitchen was in the basement with an open hearth and a dumbwaiter to the pantry on the main floor next to the dining room. With four branches of the Clarkson family subsequently living in the house, Holcroft is Clarkson’s oldest building.  

Sometime after John C. Clarkson left Potsdam to return to New York City in 1835 or 1836 his father’s cousin Levinus (1765-1845) came to Potsdam and lived at Holcroft until his death. After the family of Levinus Clarkson left Holcroft, Bloomfield Usher of Herkimer, NY (who came to Potsdam as the first president of the Frontier Bank) lived in Holcroft for a short time until he bought his home at 10 Elm Street (now the Elks Club). After Usher moved from Holcroft, it was occupied successively by W.A. Fonda and a Mr. Cool, about whom little is known.

Holcroft c1853
Holcroft House from an 1853 map of Potsdam.

T. Streatfeild Clarkson (1824-1902) took over Holcroft and remodeled it sometime after 1853, adding the third floor and the Second Empire-style mansard roof and making other improvements.

Holcroft after 1853
Holcroft after 1853.

 T. Streatfeild and his wife, Ann Mary Clarkson (1831-1895, Thomas’ sister), had two daughters: Annie (1856-1929) and Emilie Vallete (1863-1946). Emilie was married to William Alonzo Moore at Holcroft in 1901.

Holcroft porch
The view from Holcroft porch.

Holcroft barn
The barn near Holcroft House.

Caretakers cottage
The caretaker's cottage near Holcroft.

The house was inherited by both daughters when T. Streatfeild died.  Mrs. Moore eventually sold her share to her sister, Annie, who used the house as her Potsdam home (she also lived in New York City) until she deeded it to Clarkson College in 1927.

Holcroft 1927?
This photo is attributed to 1927, but the clothes and air conditioners in the windows suggest a later date.

After Annie’s death in 1929, the house remained vacant for several years. During the Depression years, students lived in Holcroft and were not charged rent; they did all the work themselves except for the cooking, for which “a responsible woman was hired by the College and paid for by the boys.” The February 1940 Bulletin cites Holcroft and Woodstock as “two former homes now used as dormitories. . . when these buildings were reopened, they were furnished through the kindness of Mrs. W. A. Moore, a sister of the late Annie Clarkson, who is a constant benefactor of the College.” The 1941 Clarksonian yearbook has a picture of 18 members of the Holcroft Club, “This is the third year that Holcroft has been in existence as a cooperative dormitory.” The Second World War reduced the number of students on campus, and the April 1945 Bulletin reported that “the cooperative dormitories were closed as too few were interested.”

Holcroft was reopened in March 1946 by students formally organized as “Holcroft” (sometimes also referred to as the “Holcroft Gang”). Officers were elected and a constitution was adopted. The last entry in the Holcroft Minute Book was on May 25, 1954, with the note that in the fall the building would be a freshman dormitory. Extensive renovations were made that summer to house 28 students in the fall. When additional residences were opened on campus by 1957, Holcroft ceased being used as a dormitory for nine years, during which time it housed visiting athletes, and, one winter during a flu epidemic, was used as an infirmary.

Holcroft 1965
Holcroft c.1965.

Holcroft interior c1965
Holcroft interior c.1965.

In 1965-66 Holcroft was again remodeled and used as a dormitory for Clarkson women until 1979, when it was converted from a dormitory into office space for freshman admissions and the alumni office. The first floor was refurbished and fire resistant paneling and fire doors were added. The siding was stripped from the exterior to reveal the original wood finish. Additionally, internal and external aesthetic changes that recreated a “period piece” from the 1850s established this historic building as an ideal location for interviews of prospective freshmen and for receptions for alumni.  It was at this time that the Clarkson family crest in stained glass (see bottom of the webpage Clarkson Family Stained Glass)was removed from Lewis House and returned to its original home at Holcroft and installed at the second floor staircase landing. In addition to freshmen admissions, it also housed transfer admissions and the student health clinic in the basement.

Holcroft c1972
Holcroft c.1972

The alumni office was moved into Woodstock Lodge in 1987, and today Holcroft House is home to the new student and transfer admissions offices.

Holcroft Flagpole 
The flagpole in front of Holcroft was erected in spring 1942 as a memorial to Jack St. Leger who died shortly before the beginning of the fall 1941semester. Robert F. Powers ’47, president of Holcroft, wrote of the project:

“As the plaque attached to the concrete base of the pole states, the flagpole was erected by the men of Holcroft in memory of Jack St. Leger who was killed in an automobile accident shortly before the start of the fall 1941 semester.  But known only to a handful is the labor of love that went into the fabrication and erection of Jack’s memorial. The record of Holcroft weekly meetings shows that on April 7, 1942, Reese May ’44 called for a discussion of a St. Leger memorial, and Bob Hanson ’44 suggested raising a flagpole.  Anything involving an outlay of much cash was out of the question—even the sum of $4.50 a week for room and board was a burden for most of us."

"We managed to hold the cost to $26.41 by doing all the work ourselves.  Hanson, who claimed he knew how to weld, and others salvaged pipe of telescoping sizes from the junkyard on the Canton road.  Behind Old Main, Bob succeeded in welding them into a pole.  The civil engineers, with Carl Lawton ’42, leading, mixed and poured the concrete into which the support channels were embedded.  The large bolts which pass through the channels and the pole were turned on the old belt-driven lathes in the machine shop in Old Main."

"Reese May, I believe, with the help of Mac Ryan ’42, and others, made the sand mold and poured the plaque. The gin-pole rigging equipment from the ROTC department was borrowed for the erection job, but we were able to man-handle the pole into an upright position, and slip the lower bolt into place. I wish I could say that a girl from Potsdam State had made the flag for us.  The flag itself was one of the few things we didn’t make; it was donated by Luke Higgins’ father."

"A dedication ceremony and dinner was held on a beautiful sunny day, with Jack’s parents the guest of honor.  To those of us who stood on the hill that day, the flagpole is more than a memorial to Jack; it is an instant reminder of full days when a group of Clarkson/Holcroft men put their hands and hearts into a real labor of love.”

Clarkson Traditions: Orientation and "Holcroft Knight"
The opening days of each academic year offer the opportunity for new students to be welcomed into the Clarkson family. "Holcroft Knight" is a warm welcome and enjoyable display of fireworks and Clarkson lore to help first-year students become acclimated to campus life. On "Holcroft Knight," all first-year students gather on Holcroft green to forge new friendships and build cooperative bonds for facing the academic and personal challenges ahead. "Holcroft Knight" offers new students a time to put their collective voice behind some traditional Clarkson cheers and the Alma Mater, and for a true celebration of their new status as first-year students at the University.

(Facts and paragraphs related to the history of Holcroft House are taken from “A Clarkson Mosaic,” by Bradford Broughton, “The Clarkson Family of Potsdam,” by Marguerite Gurley Chapman, and “Clarkson at 75, A Portrait of the College” and “The Holcroft Story,” by Donald Gale Stillman.) (rev 11/2013)

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