The Restoration of Historic Odell House

Great enthusiasm and high expectations inspired the crowd of residents attending a lecture on the future of the historic Odell House, in mid-January at the Greenburgh Public Library. Funds from the State of New York – a $600,000 matching grant for the Odell restoration – were approved on December 19, 2019, followed in January by the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) officially deeding ownership of Odell House over to the Town of Greenburgh, which means donations can be raised and the restoration work can begin.   

 

The lecture was delivered by Susan Seal, a long-time champion of saving Odell House and the founder of the Friends of the Odell House Rochambeau Headquarters (OHRH), a nonprofit dedicated to this cause. Seal’s presentation incorporated a primer on the house’s famous past which explained why it is so important, and laid out her vision for turning the eighteenth-century Dutch Saltbox, what remains of it, into a museum. After the year-long effort it took her and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner to get to this point, Seal would like to see the project get off the ground as soon as possible. 

Seal talked about possibly organizing the museum in three periods, roughly pre-Colonial, Revolutionary War, and post-Colonial. From pictures Seal showed during her presentation, the home seems filled with cardboard boxes and antique trunks, presumably containing the Odells’ documents and other possessions. They are yet to be inspected, as the Sons of the American Revolution retain ownership of the artifacts. Seal is optimistic they will be granted access by the Sons. Remaining too, a spinning wheel, other pieces of furniture, and the home’s original fireplace.  

In fact, one of the most startling revelations about the Odell House is its condition. “It’s an eighteenth-century farmhouse with its original details intact. It’s never been modernized, it possesses no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no heat,” said Seal. 

Another is its history. The OHRH’s website calls it “one of the most important sites of revolutionary history in Westchester County.”  General George Washington and General de Rochambeau devised the battle strategy which ended the American Revolution while stationed with their troops at the farmhouse from July to August 1781. 

The story of how the generals and their troops ended up being stationed in Hartsdale and of the Odells themselves are interesting and could play a part in the museum. Also, each generation of the Odells, the lecture explained, enlisted in America’s wars, including Edna Odell who was a nurse stationed in France in World War II. “We don’t want to just emphasize the Revolutionary War aspect of it. It’s very important in that it’s an example of the way one Westchester family lived in the eighteenth century right through the twentieth century,” said Seal. 

The large audience that attended the presentation suggests a community enthralled by this story and invested in preserving it. Tarrytown resident Marcia Case spoke to River Journal for this article and shared her memories of visiting the Odell House as a child, possibly on a school trip. She thinks she may even have met a member of the Odell family, Edna’s adopted son Roland, who is believed to have lived in the home until his death sometime in the early nineties. “I feel an attachment to what happened in the past,” she said. “I grew up believing it would be restored.” 

The quarter millennial celebration of the American Revolution will occur in 2026. “We expect this to be open and to be a centerpiece of that celebration,” said Seal, adding another dimension to the hoped-for success of what is quite an ambitious endeavor. 

For more information, to send donations, or to sign up to volunteer, visit their website: www.odellrochambeau.org. To join their mailing list email odellrochambeau@gmail.com

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About the Author: Wendy Mbekelu