Opera house plan aims to revive old home

ANCRAM—The Stiehle house is a building on the edge in many ways.

The 250+year-old, two-story building is situated on the south side of Route 82, within inches of the highway, and just east of the firehouse at the County Route 7 crossroads. The highway is its front yard and its backyard is steep. The house also does not have an adequate septic system.

The place is not suitable for a full-time residence, but Ancram Opera House proprietors Jeff Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi believe the old place might be perfect as an administrative office and intern housing for the opera house.

Mr. Mousseau and Mr. Ricciardi came before the Ancram Town Board at its July 18 meeting to see if the board would support them in their effort to get a grant to find out if their idea is possible.

The men seek a $20,000 State Regional Economic Development Corporation Capacity Building Grant through the Office of Community Renewal to fund a feasibility study.

Space at the opera house is limited, said Mr. Ricciardi. Currently, the theater and a small office are situated on the main floor, with the owners’ living quarters upstairs and an apartment for artists, who perform at the theater, in the basement along with two public bathrooms, which are not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant because of their location downstairs.

Mr. Ricciardi said the opera house has a partnership with Dutchess Community College, which provides interns. The interns must now commute from the college 35 minutes away, because the opera house does not have room to accommodate them.

The grant would allow the opera house owners and the Ancram Preservation Group (APG), which owns Stiehle house, to work with an architect/consultant to figure out if the idea to put intern housing, an administrative office and an ADA compliant bathroom in the Stiehle house would work. The grant application is due this week.

If by the end of 2020 the idea is deemed feasible, Mr. Ricciardi and his partner would apply for a half-million dollar grant to “revitalize the Stiehle house,” stabilize it and solve its septic issues.

Mr. Ricciardi said he has been asked why he doesn’t look for a less problematic house, which would probably be cheaper.

“Having energy in the center of town is what the grant is intended to do,” he said.

“The two-story building is thought to be one of the oldest domiciles in the Town of Ancram, constructed in the first half of the 18th century, and stands as a ‘gatepost’ to the entry of the town. Along with Simons General Store and the ‘Tinsmith’ house opposite it, the Stiehle House helps form the center of the Town of Ancram,” according to the APG website.

If both grants are secured and the work successfully completed, Mr. Ricciardi said in a follow-up phone call that the APG has “verbally agreed” to turn the place over to the opera house owners. Parking for the Stiehle house would be on opera house property, he said.

The board unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Ancram Opera House’s grant application for funding under the New York Main Street Technical Assistance program because it will “contribute to ongoing community revitalization efforts” in the Ancram hamlet, which is recognized as an historic district on both the state and national Registers of Historic Places.

In a subsequent discussion among board members, two expressing criticism about some of Supervisor Art Bassin’s recent mass emails, Councilman David Boice said that while he supports what the opera house guys are doing, he does not think it is the town’s place to facilitate business meetings between them and the Schweitzer-Mauduit Ancram Mill.

The mill property borders the Stiehle house and may figure into the success of installing a working septic system in the house.

Audience member Devon Rueger, an Ancram assistant fire chief, Ancram resident and business owner of DTR’s Tree Removal and Home Remodeling, questioned why the town was trying to assist the opera house. “I have a business, why don’t you come and help me?”

In defense of his actions, the supervisor said the Comprehensive Plan wants the town to encourage business and “that’s what we should do.” He said introducing “the guys to the mill is consistent with the Comp Plan… if my colleagues [on the board] disagree, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue to do it. I’m not giving up my right to do it.”

Mr. Rueger said the board should be willing to help every small business and what it is doing is “getting into a gray area.”

Mr. Bassin suggested that Mr. Rueger become a member of the town’s just forming Economic Development Committee and get his business listed in the Ancram Business Directory.

Mr. Rueger still wanted to know how fixing up the Stiehle house was going to bring business to Ancram.

Mr. Bassin pointed out that if the grants are secured, a half million dollars worth of work will be done on the house. Those doing the work may be local and they may go down to the not-yet-open Little Store to get something to eat. And instead of just sitting there, the revitalized building will “make an enormous difference in the Town of Ancram just by looking better,” he said.

To contact Diane Valden, email

EDITOR’S NOTE: Associate Editor Diane Valden will appear in the “Real People Real Stories” program at the Ancram Opera House Saturday, July 27 at 8 p.m.

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