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Felseck, circa 1900. Fred Thatcher Photo.

Felseck, circa 1900. Fred Thatcher Photo.

Felseck: The House at the Center of a Circle of Friends

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When the renowned philosopher Susanne Langer was a child, she spent so much time in the woods around her family’s house in Bolton Landing that she was nicknamed “waldhexe” (witch of the woods) by her German speaking relatives.

That house, situated on a hill sloping toward Lake George, was built in an Alpine style in 1898 by Langer’s father, New York lawyer Antonio Knauth. It stands to this day, relatively unchanged in appearance, and is now for sale. Select Sotheby’s International Realty has it listed for $2.9 million.

“With a house like this, you’re a caretaker, a steward; we pass through, the house remains,” said Peter Cossman, who owns the house with his wife Barbara. “It’s gratifying to feel that we’ve made a contribution to its preservation.”

Since the 1950s, the house has been known as High Point. The Knauths named it Felseck, or “corner in the rock,” a nod to the ingenious stone masons who created a building site within a granite cliff.

Knauth’s brother, Percival, had built his own house, Waldeck, two years earlier closer to the outlet of Finkle, or Artists, Brook.

According to several memoirs, both families were vital parts of a circle of friends that included the founders of the experimental Alma Farm, the Meyers, Drs. Abraham and Mary Putnam Jacobi, George and Marjorie McAneny, Carl Schurz and his family and many other summer residents of Bolton Landing: the Congers, the Loineses and the Simpsons.

Abraham Jacobi is known as the father of American pediatrics. His wife, Mary Putnam Jacobi, won equal renown as the nation’s most eminent femal physician and as a political activist.

Carl Schurz, Jacobi’s closest friend, was accomplished even by the standards of this group; a refugee from Germany, he served as President Abraham Lincoln’s minister to Spain and as the Secretary of the Interior.

A frequent visitor to the Knauths’ homes was the anthropologist Franz Boas, who owned a home on the hill above the Knauths’ wooded acres which they called Hinterlands. One of Boas’ daughters, the choreographer Franziska Boas, conducted summer sessions of her New York City-based School of Creative Dance in Bolton Landing.

Susanne’s closest friend was a girl of her own age who lived nearby named Helen Sewell, who grew up to become one of the nation’s foremost book illustrators. She’s most closely identified with her illustrations for the first editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books. In fact, Langer’s own first book was not a work of philosohy but rather, a volume of fairy tales illustrated by Sewell.

Another, much younger friend was Hugh Allen Wilson, who achieved fame as a musician, teacher and conductor without ever leaving Bolton Landing except to attend college and graduate school at Yale.

Late in life, Wilson would speak affectionately of “Susie” and of her nephews and nieces, with whom he created plays using costumes found in steamer trunks in the attics.

As a budding musician, Wilson must have found the Knauths’ home an intriguing one.

Antonio Knauth played both the cello and the piano; he taught his five children to play instruments so they could form themselves into chamber groups to entertain themselves and their guests.

Although Knauth himself died in 1915 at the age of 60, his family remained in the house, continuing to play music until his widow, Else, sold the house in the late 1940s or early 50s (at which point she turned the family’s grand piano over to Hugh Wilson.)

“Filled with music, the scene of so many joyful occasions, it couldn’t help but be a house of happy memories,” said Barbara Cossman.

“It’s a house that lends itself to friendships and extended families,” said Peter Cossman. “With twelve bedrooms, guests are never an inconvenience. There’s always room for one more person.”

Peter Cossman first came to Lake George with his younger brother more than fifty years ago. Intending to camp somewhere in Canada, they were diverted to Lake George, where they spent ten days on Turtle Island. Since then, he’s never missed a summer. Barbara first saw Lake George on their honeymoon.

“I thought it was gorgeous. I’d never seen such a beautiful place or a lake where the bottom was visible at 80 ft,” she recalled.“After all these years, I still say a prayer of thanks for giving my family so many perfect days.”

The Cossmans purchased High Point after renting it for roughly three decades.

“We have such a deep love for this love for this house and its history,” said Peter Cossman. “When Antonio Knauth came here, Lake George was on the edge of the wilderness. It’s still so bucolic. The Mohican that passes along our shore is the same boat the Knauths saw every day. The view from this porch hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. And it never will.”

For information, contact Select Sotheby International’s Bolton Landing office at 518-644-9500.

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