By Gwendolyn Craig
A publicly owned historic mansion and surrounding forestland in the middle of the Adirondack Park could have a new private owner in the next few weeks.
The State University of New York’s Environmental Science and Forestry College Foundation has accepted a purchase offer on the Masten House, said Brenda Greenfield, executive director of the foundation. In recent years the home in Newcomb was used for educational purposes and eyed as a potential attraction for hikers approaching the Adirondack High Peaks from the south.
Vincent McClelland, real estate agent for the property, said the offer is from a private buyer. Greenfield declined to provide more information “since the sale is not yet complete.”
The news that there is a pending contract disappointed Michael Barrett, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He said ADK had visited the property, but it was under contract privately. ADK and others had envisioned the mansion as another possible gateway or visitors center to the High Peaks Wilderness. The club owns and operates a public lodge of the same 1920s vintage — Adirondak Loj — that is popular with hikers entering the High Peaks from the north.
“Too bad,” Barrett wrote in an email to Adirondack Explorer. “We need to think strategically about how to spread out hikers and this could have been part of a larger strategy.”
It’s not clear whether the private party’s offer on the listed $1.45 million property is for residential use or something else. SUNY ESF most recently used the property for educational purposes.
Paul Hai, associate director of ESF’s Newcomb Campus, had told Adirondack Explorer in a previous interview that the college foundation was selling the property because of “financial priorities.”
“The challenge of Masten is the larger fiscal challenges the SUNY system is facing, and ESF individually,” Hai had said last year.
The Masten House has gone through several transformations since it was built in the 1890s. The eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom home on 46 acres is a short walk from Henderson Lake, with views of several High Peaks.
The original home burnt down in 1926 but was rebuilt in 1927, according to real estate documents. Arthur Masten and his heirs continued to live on the estate until 1947, when National Lead turned it into a retreat for its executives.
The Open Space Institute purchased the Masten House along with 10,000 acres of the Tahawus Tract from National Lead in 2003. OSI sold the house and some of the surrounding property to the ESF Foundation in 2012.
The foundation and the institute also entered into a conservation easement agreement in 2013 in order “to conserve the scenic, historic, open space, and natural character of the protected property while allowing certain residential and not-for-profit commercial activities,” records show. The easement has multiple stipulations preventing development including the building of new roads, new structures and new trails.
The easement travels with the property in perpetuity and allows for OSI to check that the easement isn’t violated.
“Although our preference was for SUNY ESF to maintain ownership and its commitment to public education at Masten House, we wish the new owners well and fully expect their fulfillment of OSI’s carefully crafted conservation easement that will forever preserve the character of the property,” said Eileen Larrabee, a spokesperson for OSI, in an email.
OSI is still working on a 60-car parking area and trailhead at the Adirondac Upper Works property as a southern gateway to the High Peaks Wilderness area. It is expected to be completed next year.
Meanwhile, McClelland said he expects the contract to close for Masten House within a couple of weeks, though it’s not a done deal until money is exchanged.
Asked if ADK is looking at other properties for a larger hiker traffic strategy, Barrett said: Not right now.”