Christy Mathewson’s Cure Cottage
Christy Mathewson’s Cure Cottage
by Cary Greene
February 25, 2022
In considering my answer for next week’s Tuesday Discussion question about the greatest right-handed pitcher of all-time,. I thought of my memories that related to the career and life of the great Christy Mathewson…
I taught 12th Grade English at AuSable Valley High School early in my career and I coached varsity Baseball and Basketball there. One of our rivals was Saranac Lake and Mathewson actually moved there to seek treatment for tuberculosis, which he of course died from.
On one bus ride through town, I had the bus driver stop in the Highland Park section of town, at 21 Old Military Rd. The cottage that Mathewson was a resident at was called a “Cure Cottage” and it still stands on a little knoll there. Saranac Lake was a renowned center for tuberculosis treatment. I’ll explain more about the cottage below, but it is unknown as to whether or not Mathewson owned it or rented it.
Nearby Tupper Lake was another rival of ours and they were also a treatment location. I coached baseball games on both of their fields many times and always felt Christy Mathewson might be looking down on the boys and watching over the games from heaven.
Here’s a link that gets into the history of the treatment centers and also sheds light into how some of these towns grew and became meccas for veterans. They take baseball pretty seriously in the Adirondack region, as they do in many areas of the country.
I gave the team a little baseball history lesson that afternoon and after I went over Mathewson’s career with them, I spoke about his heroism and the final chapter of his life. You could have heard a pin drop, the team was so fascinated.
The history of this area of the state is interesting. Many heroes spent the last chapter of their lives in the Adirondacks.
Christy Mathewson was a true hero, a war vet (where he contracted Tuberculosis from being accidentally gassed during training), an unspoken leader, and a player known for great sportsmanship. He was also one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
More on Mathewson’s Cure Cottage: The house at 21 Old Military Road was built by Harry Hull in 1924. Though he owned the house, he never lived in it; and it was designed specifically for the man whose name it bears.
In September of 1923, Hull had purchased the triangular lot at 21 Old Military Road from Katherine McClellan and Daisietta McClellan. At that time the property was just a low field, but it was soon redesigned—custom-made, one might say—for the house. The knoll at the rear of the lot is a man-made feature that gives the cottage a commanding position over the intersection of Old Military Road and Park Avenue. The relationship of the knoll to the intersection is, in fact, evocative of the relationship of a pitcher’s mound to home plate—a shrewd and subtle statement by the builder about the occupant.
The cottage is a dignified and beautifully balanced building, two and a half stories high, with a centrally placed portico under a gabled dormer and two single story extensions which are the porches. The portico and these porches have balustraded roofs. Both porches have been altered—the west porch was open with roof “supported” by decorative columns, which have been removed and the space screened; the east porch was enclosed by six sets of French doors which have been replaced with sliding windows—but the alterations have been done with sensitivity to the overall character of the house.
An interesting treatment of the façade is the way the elevation has been stretched vertically to compensate for its great length. This has been accomplished through a deft manipulation of the fenestration. The second-story windows are placed high with their heads against the frieze, where the walls meet the soffits. The ground floor windows, conversely, are placed quite low. This treatment gives a good wall to window balance and adds an illusion of height that is very pleasing. It was an approach often used in Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture.
Inside the Christy Mathewson Cottage, there are five bedrooms, three baths, living room, dining room, kitchen, the two 10 x 20 foot porches (one of which has been converted into a den), and a very generous central hall.
After passing through a small vestibule that holds a facing pair of settles, one enters this “great hall,” which spans the width of the house. It is eleven feet wide by thirty-three feet deep and gives access to the 18 x 20 foot dining-room on the west and the 18 x 24 foot living room on the east. The broad, “J”-shaped stairway begins midway along the great hall’s east wall, and the newel post at the bottom of the solid cherry handrail stands at the center and is essentially the vertical axis of the house. Seen from the landing in the wide stairwell that is the focus of the entire second story interior, this is geometrically a very striking feature.
All the major, second story rooms open onto this central, open space into which the stairs rise. The two largest bedrooms occupy the front corners of the house and have French doors giving access to the roofs of the ground floor porches. There are no true porches on the second floor; but two small rooms, one at either end of the house, were originally unheated. One still is.
Mrs. Mathewson had the interior of the cottage painted and decorated in an oriental motif to the last detail. The light-switch plates were, in fact, painted in an oriental style by an artist who was brought up from New York City especially for that purpose. The only deviation from this theme was the living room fireplace which was clad in autumn-leaf tile imported from Italy.
There are a few other interesting points relevant to the unique first occupant of this cottage. Christy Mathewson was a tall man (6 feet, 1 1/2 inches), so the original bathtub was six feet long, and all the mirrors were placed too high for the average person. The risers on the stairs are quite shallow—an inch and a half shorter than normal—to accommodate a large man who had difficulty breathing. Finally, the length of the diagonal of the main part of the house was supposed to be the distance traveled by a pitched ball in the major leagues.
The general belief locally is that Christy Mathewson owned his house. He may have, or he may have rented it, or there may have been some other financial arrangement between Harry Hull and the Mathewsons. Whatever the arrangement was is still unknown; and there are no documents in the Essex County records room to prove that anyone other than Mr. Hull owned the Christy Mathewson Cottage until October 1955, when he sold it to William and Lenore Meyer.