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In Middleburgh, volunteers want help to make Best House last

Sunday, April 27, 2014
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Landmarks


Bobbi Ryan, director of the Best House, is shown with bags used by Dr. Christopher Best and his son, Dr. Duncan Best. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)
Bobbi Ryan, director of the Best House, is shown with bags used by Dr. Christopher Best and his son, Dr. Duncan Best. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)

— For nearly 100 years, the Best House at 1568 Clauverwie St. in Middleburgh provided village residents with an abundance of tender loving care. Now, the 130-year-old structure needs a little love in return.

“We’re trying to keep this establishment alive,” said Bobbi Ryan, director of the Best House and Medical Exhibit in Middleburgh. “Our house is in dire straits. We depend solely on the generosity of the community along with a dwindling bequest to keep this treasure alive. We have to let people know why it is so special, and why it’s so important to keep it going.”

The Best House was built in 1884 for Dr. Christopher Best, who moved to Middleburgh sometime soon after earning his medical degree in 1876. His son, Dr. Duncan Leonard Best, a Union College graduate, was 29 when he took over the practice in 1932. Duncan Best worked out of the home until 1986, and died in 1991 at the Baptist Retirement Center in Scotia. He was 88.

When he died, Best willed the house to the Middleburgh Library Association and left a bequest of $100,000. His sister, Emma Best, a school teacher, also had lived in the building until her death in 1982 at the age of 82.

“My grandmother was delivered by Dr. Christopher Best, as were five of her six children,” said Ryan. “The Best family was an integral part of the Middleburgh community, and they were both very beloved doctors. Emma was a religious instructor and music teacher. That family served this area for 100 years.”


The Best House in Middleburgh was built in 1884. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)

After moving to Middleburgh, Christopher Best quickly became one of the most prominent men in the area. He was founder of the Middleburgh Telephone Company in 1897 and was its president up until his death in 1934. He also was president of the Middleburgh and Schoharie Railroad.

“Dr. Best got a group of businessmen together and formed a telephone company,” said Charley Spickerman, the town of Middleburgh historian. “There were a lot of small telephone companies in those days because the technology was still pretty new. He was also president of the Middleburgh and Schoharie Railroad, one of Middleburgh’s claims to fame. It was only four-to-five miles long so it was known as the world’s shortest railroad.”

Spickerman suspects that Christopher Best was well-loved by his patients and the community because that’s pretty much how everyone felt about his son, Duncan.

“I do remember Duncan very well, and he was a kind, very friendly person who had a very good bedside manner,” said Spickerman. “He handled all the school physicals for years and was very involved in the community.”

Christopher Best’s first wife, Laura Scott, died in early adulthood after giving birth to one child, Blanche Best, who married into the Vrooman family. His second wife, Ursula Leonard, came from a medical family in Delaware County, and that couple had three children, including Duncan and Emma. James, the other child, died at the age of 7.

It was Emma who spent her entire life living in the house, and many of the items that visitors see on display at the Best House belonged to her.

“I like to think that it was Emma and Ursula that were the two keepers of the house,” said Ryan. “We have all of the beautiful Madonnas that Emma collected, we have a vintage hat collection, and we have other lovely pieces of art sprinkled around the house. And obviously, we also have all the medical equipment that Dr. Best used.”

The house, a two-story flat-roofed structure built in Italianate style, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Christopher Best made some major renovations between 1890 and 1912 that enlarged the home, which also has a carriage house and a garage on the grounds.

There are 14 rooms and two full baths in the house, and one of the things that makes the place so special, according to volunteer docent Patrice Kindl, is that all of the items in the building were owned by the family.

“Everything in the house belonged to the Bests, and that really makes what we have here quite remarkable,” said Kindl, a Niskayuna native who moved to Middleburgh from Burnt Hills 18 years ago. “There are so many house museums where there’s only one or two original furniture pieces that were actually in the house. Here, everything belonged to the family. Nobody went shopping for antiques and brought them back here. Everything here is 100 percent authentic. This place is a treasure trove.”

Ryan confirmed that Kindl isn’t overstating the case.

“Soon after I became the director I brought my mother to the house and she was amazed,” said Ryan. “She looked at me and said, ‘this is exactly how I remember the place.’ ”

Along with all the medical equipment and countless number of pharmaceuticals still filling up the shelves, the house also has a display of about a dozen doctor’s bags.

“These people didn’t throw anything away,” said Ryan. “All these doctor’s bags, and there must be at least 50 in the entire collection, are really time capsules. Unlike a purse that a woman would carry, these bags had the contents left in them.”

The Best House and Medical Exhibit opens for the season on May 1, but tours are restricted in May and June to Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The house also opens up on Saturdays in July and August from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and special events will be held throughout the summer. Ryan is hoping the site will be able to expand those hours in the future.

“We are looking for more volunteers,” she said. “We’d like to be open more. It’s a wonderful house with beautiful detailed woodwork throughout the building. We have local newspaper articles from the 1930s referring to the place as the ‘gem of the county.’ It was a special place to be, and we want to keep it that way.”

For more information, check the Dr. Christopher Best facebook page or visit www.drbesthouse.org.

 
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