Checkered House Ornament
Each year the CCS Alumni Association produces two ornaments depicting scenes from Cambridge’s history. In 2009 the buildings selected are the Mary McClellan Hospital and the Checkered House. While searching for photos of the Checkered House to use as a model for the ornament, Pearl Welling Brownell ’53 found the following history of the famous building that once stood on Turnpike Road south of Cambridge.
The date and author of this history are unknown. It was kept with a letter dated August 16, 1938 by James Hall Long. The letterhead has a color print of the Checkered House and is referred to in the letter as "… the Long ancestral homestead where three generations of ‘Ed Longs’ catered to the rest and comfort of the traveling public.". The letter is shown at the bottom of this article.
Ken Gottry, ‘68
President, CCS Alumni Association
History of the Checkered House
History tells us that the first settlers of Cambridge included thirty Scotch-Irish families from Coleraine in old Berkshire "each of whom received a farm of one hundred acres located on the banks of the Owl Kill if settled upon it within three years after the patent was drafted".
In 1765 Major James Cowden, who was one of the thirty men, built a large and commodious log house, which was known as Cowden’s Tavern. This became a popular hostelry, being on the post road between Troy and Rutland [editor’s note: the Northern Turnpike was built in 1799 connecting Lansingburgh and Granville, from where a secondary road connected to Rutland. The post road was what is now known as Turnpike Road and Union Street in Cambridge].
At the close of the War of the Revolution, Major Cowden remodeled the structure and the clapboards on all sides were painted in large squares of red and white. Checkers was a favorite game among the patrons and is supposed to have suggested the name by which the house has been so long and favorably known as "The Checkered House".
The original Cowden homestead, where in earlier days, Asa Smith lived, was just below the Checkered House site, a little diagonally on the east side of the road. The property is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Perry.
The Checkered House has become of historical interest as it marked an important episode of the Battle of Bennington. General Baum and a detachment of British soldiers encamped a short distance south of the house on the night of August 15, 1777 and Baum made his headquarters at the Checkered House.
The army’s encampment extended from Waite’s to Buck’s Corners. The hessians and Canadians were on the west side and the Indians on the east side of the present road. The horses taken from the settlers were corralled near the Checkered House and were watered at a spring back of the hill which received the name of ‘Bloody Spring’, so the legend relates, because of a settler who tried to defend the spring and was killed there.
On the night of August 15, 1777, one of Major Cowden’s neighbors named John Weir, who lived about a mile over to the north-west, heard that some British soldiers were on their way to Bennington to capture stores. Young Weir mounted hi s fleet horse and swiftly rode to give General Stark warning. Thus Stark was not taken by surprise but was ready to meet the enemy who were driven across the Hudson. John Weir has been called the Paul Revere of Bennington.
Tradition says that many of the wounded in that conflict [editor’s note: the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777] were nursed back to health under Major Cowden’s hospitable roof.
Another neighbor of Cowden’s was Caleb Wright who took the lead weights from his tall clock and molded them into bullets to fire at the British. This ancient clock is in fine condition and is a cherished possession of Miss Helena Wright and Mrs. Cramer, great granddaughters of Caleb Wright.
Still another neighbor of Major Cowden’s was Daniel Wells, a revolutionary soldier who, after serving out his enlistment under General Washington and also as minuteman at Hebron, Connecticut, moved to Cambridge and lived on the Curtis farm.
It is said that General Washington stayed overnight at the Checkered House in 1781 while on his way from Bennington to Saratoga on his tour of inspection of the North country. Here at the house of Daniel Wells the first Masonic lodge in Cambridge was constituted December 24, 1793.
Major Cowden died in 1800 and was interred in the ‘Old Burying Ground’. The stone marking the spot bears the inscription:
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me
After the death of Major James Cowden the Checkered House became the property of Edward Long Jr. His mother was first married to Thomas Comstock, who fell at the Battle of Bennington. The heroic death of her first husband made her a sort of heroine at the recurring celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777, which she invariably attended. Later Sarah Comstock married Captain Edward Long and after this death, Major Cowden. She died it is said, May 9, 1811, at the Checkered House, where she had lived so many years, aged sixty seven and a half. She is buried in the graveyard north of the Checkered House, beside Major Cowden, the name on the tombstone being Sarah Hall, as she married Burgess Hall after the death of Major Cowden.
Edward Long was a great lover of sports and was the owner of fine race horses, the turnpike affording a speedway for many fast races. His home was also a gathering place for fox hunters, General Scott of Mexican War fame being one of the noted persons who frequented the place. Town meetings were often held there.
The Checkered house remained in the possession of the Long family for over twenty years and was then sold to Mr. William Brown, who for many years conducted a hostelry and at the same time tilled the productive soil for which that section of Cambridge Valley was renowned. On February 10, 1907, the Checkered House, the oldest landmark in Washington County, was burned to the ground. Shortly after this, the property was purchased by Dr. H. S. Blackfan of Cambridge, New York.
On the site of this old landmark, Dr. Blackfan erected a bungalow, on a part of which, in keeping with the old tradition, has been preserved the checker board marking of this historic landmark.
The Ondawa Cambridge Chapter D. A. R. unveiled on August 25, 1921 a bronze tablet near the site of the old Checkered House, as a memorial to mark for further time the historical relation of the Checkered House and the American Revolution. The exercises on this memorable occasion were begun with a bugle call and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ was sung. This was followed by the song ‘America’ rendered by the assemblage. The invocation was opened by the Rev. Thomas Cull, Dean of all the clergy of the town. Miss M. Blanche Cramer, Regent of the Chapter, presided. The boulder was covered with a large American flag which was then raised by Betty Blackfan, the five year old daughter of Dr. and Mrs. H. S. Blackfan Jr., and Elizabeth Parrish, the six year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Parrish, unveiling the bronze tablet artistically set on the large granite boulder. At the conclusion of the Address by Rev. John R. Fisher, there was a salute of the flag.
Dr. H. S. Blackfan, after forty successful years practice of medicine retired and with his wife, Estelle Chase Blackfan, made their home on the site of the Checkered House. Following Dr. Blackfan and his wife the home was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Harry Brownell.
After four years Mr. and Mrs. Brownell sold the home to their son and daughter in law, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Brownell, who now reside at this location.
The ‘Ed Longs’ and the Checkered House
This composite print is that of the ancestral Long homestead where three generations of "Ed Long’s" catered to the rest and comfort of the traveling public. My father was Edward III.
The original building was the first Inn in the Old Town of Cambridge, N.Y. Location: about two miles south of the present Village of Cambridge on the Lansingburgh-Burlington Turnpike. British General Baum took it for his headquarters August 13, 1777. It was used as a Continental Hospital August 18, 1777, following the Battle of Bennington.
The original Mrs. Ed Long (Sarah Comstock-Comstock) lost her first husband – a cousin – in that battle. He was Captain of a Militia Company from Sunderland, Vermont (q.v. Vt. Hist. Gaz., Vol. I, pgs. 239-240). Both were related to General Ethan Allen. About twelve years later widow Comstock married a Captain Ed Long of Salem, N.Y., who also captained a Militia Company in the Bennington Battle. Mrs. Comstock-Long was ever afterward, during a celebration in Bennington of that Battle, an honored guest riding in the four-in-hand coach.
Ed Long II and his wife, nee Prudence Wells, gave a banquet to Commodore MacDonough following his victory on Lake Champlain. In 1824 La Fayette was entertained at this Checkered House. Gov. De Witt Clinton, who commissioned my mother’s father, Joel Rich, Sr., as a Lieutenant (later Captain for the War of 1812), was frequently a guest. Volunteers and drafted recruits bivouacked there in the 1812 period on their march to the Lake Champlain battle fields. "The soldiers to be" had to march from their homes to Plattsburg, N.Y. at their own expense, in order to be enrolled by the Commissioned Officer detailed for that purpose. Aaron Burr also visited this House during his travels.
There were 103 acres in the farmstead. ‘Ed Long’ was the first man in the North to import a horse from Europe. That horse was named "TORNADO". A one-half mile track was South of the road for racing purposes. "Young Eclipse was so wild to run it was necessary to give him long hard rides in order to keep him worked down so that he would be safe to handle". Uncle Berry (Col.) Long "often rode Eclipse sixteen miles on a gallop over that track. Each time Young Eclipse made the lower turn toward the gate, he would lay back his ears and run at the top of his speed. The races were always run in front of the Checkered House on the Turnpike".
"Eclipse was so hot-headed to run his trainer had to stand him in reverse to the other contestants. At the word ‘Go’ he would rear and turn. At the quarter pole he would be ahead of his competitors", said Judge Bartlett Stafford to me.
The House was repainted in 1853 with only the front left in Red and White checkers about fourteen inches square. The Longs disposed of the property prior to the turn of the century. The house was destroyed by fire on February 10, 1907.
Dated: August 16, 1938 Signed: James Hall Long
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