Bethlehem House (aka the Nicoll-Sill House)
The Rensselaer Nicoll House, also known as the Bethlehem House, represents an architectural growth not a type. In its multiple additions lie the buildings immense historical interest as the expression of changing needs and life-styles of one family throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Located within the Van Rensselaer Patent, the building site was determined by its proximity to the falls in the Vlaumanskill where a sawmill was built in the mid-seventeenth century… Rensselaer Nicoll, the fourth patroon’s nephew, built his house here in 1736… at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Salisbury… its scale and elegance show a marked resemblance to her father’s house in Leeds near Catskill.
Just over sixty years after the house was built, Francis Nicoll made the southern addition to his father’s house… his addition reflects architectural originality and sensitivity…
Francis Nicoll had been a member of the Albany Committee of Public Safety throughout the Revolutionary War and continued to be a prominent local political figure. His enthusiasm for updating the family house showed again in a second addition made at the end of his lifetime around 1810, the west extension with the first permanently attached kitchens and the slave quarters above.
The family slaves were freed by William Nicoll Sill (1786-1844), Francis’ grandson, who inherited most of the family estate sharing part of it with his brother John. This first subdivision of the property between the Sill brothers was the beginning of a trend which… whittled away the size of a once self-sufficient estate.
(The above is paraphrased from the house’s National Register nomination form.)
Bethlehem House was documented by the Historic American Building Survey in 1934.
To see photos and drawings, click here