The story of John Howard, first owner of the property now known as the Altamont Old Stone House Inn
John Howard came to America before the Revolution, and built a stately mansion near Altamont in the historic Helderbergs. His story follows:
In March 1773, John Howard left Birmingham, England and after a three month journey arrived in New York City. He then traveled north and arrived at Kings Arms, Albany County in October 1773. He then purchased land near Altamont (then known as Knowerville) consisting of 350 acres on which he built the colonial homestead know as The Baronial Mansion on the Hill. John Howard was known as a Baron and was a very influential person of his time. John was also known as a large slave holder and it is noted that he treated his slaves very well. He buried his 8 faithful servants, who died in the service of the family, in a graveyard located on the south side of the waterfalls at the rear of the property. John Howard married Margaret Hurst; the Hurst’s were a prominent family in Altamont. John and Margaret had four children. We have record of only one surviving son, Robert Hurst Howard, who died June 4, 1852 at the age of 71.
In 1912 the Howard family of five generations was trying to lay claim to an estate valued at four million dollars and also to prove their aristocratic ancestry in England. In order to lay claim to the estate they needed two items, the family Bible and a locket worn by Margaret. One member of the Howard family in England was Lady Anna Howard, who was a serving maid to the queen of England. This proves that the family once occupied a high position in the royal circle. It is certain that the family was wealthy. John Howard never could have built the substantial, and in many ways beautiful colonial homestead in Altamont unless he was a man of wealth. The most interesting accounts told by older members of the Howard family are those concerning the family Coat of Arms, its disappearance, and its possible rediscovery. Evidently the importance of the Howards in America to the Howards in England was not underestimated by members of the family. But in a strange manner both copies of the family crest disappeared many years ago. The Howard family placed advertising in the Knickbocker Press of 1912 looking for the Bible and locket. The Bible was found but the locket never was. It is thought that John had the locket in his pants pocket to be taken for repair and while purchasing an item from a local merchant, John inadvertently mistook the locket for a coin. In conclusion, the Howard estate of England was put into the general fund of England. The family to this day retains the Bible printed in 1769 by John Baskerville, Birmingham, England.
It is thought that at some point during Howard Family ownership the house was used as part of the Underground Railroad. However, no documentation has been found.
When John Howard died (sometime between 1815 and 1819) he willed the property to his son Robert. Robert’s widow, Gitty Bowman Howard farmed the land until 1869 when it was sold to Isaac Strevell.
Isaac farmed the land until 1880 when he conveyed the property to his son William Denison Strevell with the provision that William provide a home in the house for his aged parents. At this time, the wooden addition was added to the western end of the house. William Strevell had served as Supervisor of the Town of Berne and in the early 1880’s was elected to Albany County Clerk. He was close friends with and a political ally for the Cassidy, Thacher, and Peckham families who were powerful in the local, state and national Democratic Party at the time. These families were also large land owners located within a mile of the Strevell farm. William maintained the property until its sale in 1892 to Gardner C. Leonard, a prominent lawyer in Albany.
Gardner C. Leonard used the property as a summer home. Shortly after purchasing the property Mr. Leonard spent seven thousand dollars to have the sunken garden and the stone walls surrounding the house constructed. Gardner was also known for his prized Jersey cows. In 1923 Mr. Leonard succumbed to his death falling from the roof of his Albany office. In January of 1925 his widow sold the Altamont property in an Estate sale to Mrs. Martha T. Cameron. Mrs. Cameron and her daughter lived in the house until November 1948.
In 1948 Irwin A. Conroe purchased the house, living here until 1962. The family has visited the inn and enjoys sharing many family memories of “good times had” in the house on the hill. We have artwork in our parlor obtained from the Conroe family.
In December 1962 the property was sold to La Salette Seminary (bordering the property) to be used as housing for seminary students, lovingly referred by those students as the “frat house”.
The property then changed hands five more times before being acquired by the Turner’s, Bill and Nancy, in the fall of 2002. We opened as an inn in November 2003 after a year of extensive renovations to the house and land. And, as any owner of an old house can attest to, we are still working on the house.