Saturday, October 19, 2019

Cebra Quackenbush - The American House Hotel

Peter, the father of Cebra, was a powder manufacturer at Fair Haven, Vermont, in the firm of Quackenbush, Steer, & Armstrong, and was a leader in that manufacture. After retiring from that business he was a frequent visitor to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he had, besides his son, Cebra, two daughters, wives of cashier E. S. Wilinson, of the Adams National Bank, and A. E. Richmond, proprietor of the Richmond House in North Adams. He led a very quiet life while in the county, and was of a very retiring disposition, but he nevertheless became well known and won the esteem of the best citizens of Pittsfield and Adams.

He married, November 13th, 1833, Mary Cebra, daughter of James Breese, who, in 1805, had married Maria Cebra, of Greenbush, New York. James Breese was a descendant of Hendrick Breese, one of the early settlers of Albany, and whose son, Anthony, was high constable of that city in 1695. Mr. Quackenbush purchased the farm of his wife's father at Hoosick and lived on it for many years. Mrs. Quackenbush is described in the Annals of Hoosick as "a lady rich in graces and virtues," an opinion which will be fully confirmed by those who have known her in Berkshire. She is still living. Among the notable ancestors in the Breese family were Mara Bogardus, whose mother was Anneke Janse, from whom Trinity Church, in New York, obtained its immense wealth, and William Cebra Breese, who became a successful banker in South Carolina.

Anthony Breese, son of Henry Breese and Wyntje Van Vechten Breese, married Carayntje Yates about the year 1759. John Yates Cebra, a great uncle of the subject of this sketch, in April, 1809, married Mary Harriman, a daughter of a distinguished Long Island family. He was himself a merchant and politician of great note and much influence half a century ago. From him Mr. Cebra Quackenbush received his name.

Cebra Quackenbush was educated at the Bell Seminary in Hoosick Falls, founded by Honorable L. Chandler Ball, and at the Hudson River Institute at Claverack, where he graduated July 23rd, 1857, delivering an oration upon mental culture. He was clerk in the store of A. Theyer & Son, in Hoosick Falls, at the wages of $5 a month and board. He began his business life for himself in 1861 by purchasing the Phoenix Hotel and Hoosick Falls, which had been erected by Judge Ball, more as a matter of public spirit than with a view to profit, and was one of the finest public houses outside the large cities.

In 1865 he removed to Pittsfield and purchased the American House, which was not of very large capacity and was just beginning to rival in reputation other hotels which had the prestige of years. It was not long before he made it not only the first, but the only house which was visited by the highest class of travelers; and in a few years he almost doubled its capacity.

In the meantime Pittsfield became the county seat of Berkshire, with very costly county buildings, but it had absolutely no hall suitable for public meetings, theatrical, or musical entertainments. This public want, Mr. Quackenbush, associating with himself the Messrs, Munyan, builders of high reputation, determined to supply. Purchasing a most desirable site belonging to the estate of Honorable Phinehas Allen, at a cost of $40,000, they erected upon it a very large, elegant and substantial building, the architect being Louis Weisbein, of Boston. The lower story contains six fine stores. The second story forms the Academy of Music, one of the most admirable theatrical rooms in the country, with all the parlors, offices, and other accessory rooms which can be desired. This was constructed under the direction of F. W. Mazart, of Boston, one of the most noted and skillful theatrical machinists and builders, and cannot be surpassed in its acoustic qualities, the good taste of its architecture and decorations, or its provisions for the comfort of the audience. In still another story is an excellent music hall. From the roof of the building, which is properly protected, there is one of the finest views in the country. Soon after the dedication of the Academy, in December, 1872, the building came into the possession of Mr. Quackenbush alone, and in 1880 four stores were added to the building. The academy has been occupied for every variety of purpose for which such a hall can be employed. It has enabled the people of Berkshire to enjoy at home theatrical and musical pleasures which they would without it have been compelled to forego, or seek at a distance. It has been constantly used for political, religious, educational, and charitable purposes, and its use has so often been given freely that it would amount to a large contribution in money. In 1877, although the building was supposed to be constructed as firmly as it could be, was certainly built without any niggardly regard to expense, an extraordinary gale destroyed a portion of one of its end walls. About one hundred of the leading citizens of the town seized the opportunity to show their appreciation of the benefit which the building had been to the town by arranging a complimentary benefit to the proprietor, and in announcing it they said:

"The obligations of the town of Pittsfield to the proprietorship of the Academy of Music are not diminished by the fact that its membership is individual, and has not sought aid outside of itself in erecting and maintaining a building which contributes to the pleasure of every liberal minded citizen. Had the injury inflicted by the late gale been sufficient to destroy the building the town might have waited long for another like it."

Among the pleasant things connected with the occupation of the American House by Mr. Quackenbush were frequent public dinners and reunions; but the one in which he took most pleasure was that given by the people of the town, June 30th, 1870, to those of its citizens who had reached or passed the age of seventy. Honorable Thomas F. Plunkett presided. Speeches were made by him and other distinguished citizens, and a poem was read by Pofessor W. C. Richards. The occasion was one of great and unique interest, in which Mr. Quackenbush shared warmly.

He has been a lifelong and earnest democrat and represented the Eleventh

Congressional District of Massachusetts in the national convention in 1876, where he voted for the nomination of Samuel J. Tilden. He was the democratic candidate for presidential elector in the same year and received a larger number of votes than any other democrat save one. He has never been an office seeker, but has always attended to his duties as a citizen, politically as well as otherwise. Being a democrat, he has naturally contributed liberally to the support of that party.

He still retains the management of the American House at Pittsfield through an agent, but giving it his constant personal supervision. In 1876 he removed to Albany, and in 1879 became connected with the management of Stanwix Hall. In the following year he assumed the exclusive management of this popular establishment. Here he has shown the same energy and ambition to excel which he manifested at Pittsfield. The hotel, a granite building of large area and six stories high, was built in 1832-3 by Herman and Peter Gansevoort, and now belongs to the estate of Peter Ganesevoort, whose daughter in the wife of Honorable Abraham Lansing. The house was named for Fort Stanwix, where General Gansevoort gained fame in the Revolution.

It has always been a favorite with travelers for its convenient location, its genial management, it luxury without pretense--which means comfort--and its spacious proportions. It had some connection with Pittsfield, as Herman Melvelle, the author, was a descendant of the Gansevoorts, and always made Stanwix Hall his home when visiting Albany; and he also always praised its management.

In 1878 it had become somewhat antiquated and was remodeled internally at a cost of $100,000. Since Mr. Quackenbush took possession it has been luxuriously and elegantly refurnished at a cost of $60,000. It has thus been completely modernized, and in all respects is one of the best appointed hotels in the country. Its management has also of course been made to conform to modern ideas, but with all that modern life demands of a leading hotel, it retains its old genial, comfortable spirit.

In 1859 Mr. Quackenbush married Miss Annette, daughter of George A. Gillette, a merchant residing on Long Island. Mr. Gillette had two daughters, Helen E. and Annette. Helen married William Adams, a New York banker, and brother-in-law of Edwin Croswell, editor of the Albany Argus. Mrs. Cewbra Quackenbush is a lady of culture and refinement, but devotes herself so closely to her children and family that she deprives society to a great extent of a pleasure which would be very grateful. Mr. and Mrs. Cebra Quackenbush have three daughters: Ada Cebra, Mary Annette, and Florence Dewey, the latter receiving her name from Judge Dewey, of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, who himself bestowed it upon her.

Mr. Quackenbush has one brother. Livingston Quackenbush, of Le Sneur, Minnesota, a banker and real estate dealer. Through a life of great activity and frequent changes he has maintained an unblemished character and adhered to pure and elevated principles, winning deserved success by honest business ability and energy.

Source: The History of Bershire County, Massachusetts Volume 2

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