Chuck D’Imperio is an author, newspaper columnist and an award-winning, hall of fame radio broadcaster. But above all else, D’Imperio is an Upstate New York fanatic.
D’Imperio has written several books on various facets of Upstate New York, such as A Taste of Upstate New York, Monumental New York!, Upstate Uncovered, Unknown Museums of Upstate New York, Upstate New York In 100 Words or Less and Great Graves of Upstate New York. Recently he published his latest novel Open House: 35 Historic Upstate New York Homes.
It took him a year to write the book – six months on the road, photographing and interview members, and then six months to write out his experiences.
D’Imperio said he visited 50 households and narrowed down the list to 35 when it came time to write the book. The only qualifier was that the homes must be open to the public. The list of 35 households range from the Hyde Hill mansion in Cooperstown to John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge in Roxbury.
“Hyde Hall is a story about the Hyde family and Clarke family … they were landed gentry who were here before New York State was a state,” D’Imperio said. “They had all kinds of money. British roots. John Burroughs, as his story is told, was a spartan man who had a long beard, carried his lunch box everyday up to the top of the mountain to have lunch. And yet, he was internationally known, was sought out by presidents and millionaires. And yet, he stayed true to his roots as a Catskills mountain man in this log cabin.”
One of the households featured in the book is the Southworth homestead in Dryden. Prior to writing the book, D’Imperio had never heard of the Southworth home, but after taking a tour of the place he was amazed by its “combination of greek revival and federal style” as he put it.
“It’s elegant in a country manner style,” he said. “There’s surprises around the corners, every corner. The rooms are beautiful.”
He said the house became one of his favorites that he visited because of the history of the Southworth lineage.
“When five generations live in a house, you’re talking about hundreds of people – little kids, older kids, older people, marriages. People died in that house,” he said. “Different collections from a century and a half. Different interests of famous people in and out of the house.”
The house was built by John Southworth in 1836, and was owned by the family up until 2011 when it was purchased by the Dryden Town Historical Society following the death of Rebecca Southworth. He said he was enthralled by the wall sconces in some the the rooms, which have a little bit of history behind them.
“We come to find out that they were taken from a German luxury liner named the S.S. Vaterland,” he said. “It was one of the most extravagant ships afloat. When World War I broke out, that ship happened to be in New York City. It was seized by the American government on April 6, 1917. It went a total renovation, and John H. Southworth, who was the grandson of the house builder, was in the shipping business, and he managed to get in there and acquire these gorgeous, elegant art-decaled wall lamps.”
“They add such a wonderful touch of old-world elegance to several rooms in the Southworth homestead.”
Through his research, D’Imperio discovered an unusual custom that people would perform in one’s abode.
“In the very old days, sometimes when people came to the mansions or the houses, before they left … they would actually sign their name with a diamond on a window,” he said. “I found that on three of the houses in my book.”
As it turns out, one of those three houses – The Gage home located in Fayetteville – has a signature of Susan B. Anthony, who carved it in with a diamond ring.
D’Imperio said what he relishes the most is seeing his readers explore upstate New York with the help of his books.
“One thing I like is when people come up and they say … ‘I have that book and I keep it in the car, and if I pull into a town, I go into your book and if you’ve got something there, which you usually do, I go and I explore it,’” he said. “That really makes me feel good, because there’s so much history in upstate New York, there’s so many famous people, there’s so many famous places to go to that I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do over all these books … there are very few communities in upstate New York that I haven’t been to and I haven’t written about. That is the satisfaction I get out of it.”