The Hart-Cluett Historic House Museum
Amid the 19th century townhouses in the downtown Troy Historic District sits a white marble house, intact and immaculately cared for since its construction in 1827. Wealthy New York merchant and banker William Howard constructed the house as a gift for his only child, Betsey Howard Hart, and her husband, Richard P. Hart, a wealthy banker-businessman and philanthropist. Six decades later, the home was sold to the George B. and Amanda C. Cluett family who resided there for 20 years. In 1910 their nephew, Albert E. Cluett, and his wife Caroline purchased this architectural gem. In 1948 Albert and Caroline bequeathed the Hart-Cluett House to the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Understanding the significance of the house, they challenged the Rensselaer County Historical Society to raise funds to support transition of the property from a family home to a museum. Today, the Hart-Cluett House serves as a history museum both architecturally and culturally significant to American life.
Technologically advanced, as evidenced by its heating and plumbing systems, the structure exhibits many stylistic details associated with homes built during the same period in New York City. While its contemporaries in NYC have all been destroyed, the Hart-Cluett House, supported by the stories of its former occupants, continues to exemplify Troy’s shift from a commercial to industrial economic base.
Richard P. Hart was a successful businessman and entrepreneur, mayor of Troy and a president of the Troy Savings Bank. He invested in the Erie Canal and the early railroad system and actively supported the educational institutions in the City, including Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary and the Rensselaer Institute (later Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).
After her husband’s death in 1843, Betsey Hart raised their 14 children and continued his philanthropic interest in the educational institutions of the city. She was a founder of the Troy YWA and the Troy Day Home, a charity for the city’s indigent children all the while skillfully managing her finances and accumulating one of the great private fortunes in Troy.
The house’s second and third owners, George B. Cluett, and his nephew Albert E. Cluett, were both involved in the collar and shirt manufacturing business that bore the family name, Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc. At its height, this company's 3000 workers were predominantly women. Through their business and philanthropic ventures, the Cluett’s helped give Troy the nickname, “The Collar City.”
Over time, RCHS has united architecture with public records, oral histories, documents, photographs and an extensive collection of historic artifacts. In 1983, a collection of wooden trunks bearing Betsey Hart’s name, were discovered at the Troy Savings Bank. Thanks to these elements and the careful preservation of the building by both families, RCHS provides a rare view of the occupation of the house over 125 years by private residents and 50 years of museum use. The ability to say with such certainty what was going on in the building at a given time is extremely unusual for most historic house museums and makes the preservation of the Hart-Cluett House ever more valuable. The house, the documents and the collections, taken as a whole, are of great significance to the study of American life.