A Family For All Seasons

Three Generations Call Saratoga Home

Story and photos by Lawrence White

As Saratoga Springs has evolved, three generations of the Witt family reflect that growth and commitment to community.

John Witt, president of Witt Construction, hand-draws his designs in 3-D. Hesees the image clearly—that’s the way he thinks and creates. This natural talent is reflected in all the award-winning homes he builds—an instinctive talent that the three generations share.

Family patriarch Stuart Witt discovered Saratoga Springs after graduating from Columbia, getting his doctorate at Syracuse University, and moving to Albany to work for the government as a budget analyst. By then he was married and son John had been born. Two more sons soon followed, and Saratoga seemed an ideal place to raise them. He joined the faculty at Skidmore College in 1966, teaching government until retiring in 2002.

“We started the Beagle School in our home, which ran all the way up sixth grade; it is a preschool on Regent Street today,” Professor Witt reflects. “It was great. The kids learned leadership and sociability, and there was much mutual regard for each other—very important lessons.”

“It wasn’t long before I got involved in local politics,” he says. “I started a food co-op, a civil rights organization, an Economic Opportunity Council, the legal aid society, and a one-man campaign against police brutality, while home schooling John and the other boys at the same time. Saratoga Springs inspired me, and I was a busy man.”

“All of my sons are artists in one way or another,” Stuart tells me with great pride.”When Adam, my middle son, was 16 he worked with Michael London when he was on Phila Street. In fact he worked with Michael in starting the Rock Hill Bakery. When Rock Hill got famous Michael would make a deal with someone in another part of the country and Adam would go out there to set up their bakery. He would bring the staff back here to Rock Hill, train them, then take them back to the new bakery and work around the clock to open the shop for business. He is still baking for Ms. London’s on Broadway today.”

“Stu, my youngest son, became head baker for Micheal as well. Not long after that he fell in love with the pastry chef and they moved to Massachusetts. They opened a bakery name Nashoba and their adjoining cafe quickly became a favorite hang-out for the locals. They sell their breads to gourmet markets, sandwich shops, caterers, restaurants, supermarkets, hotels and cafes. In fact their bread was just voted best in Boston.”

John jumps in: “By 9th grade I was being home schooled by my father in the morning, then I would hitch-hike over to the Willard ski area in the afternoon. One of the ski instructors would drive me home at night.”

In the 1980s John was the U.S. free-style skiing champion two years in a row, ranked number two in the world. He won seven World Cups and was an alternate for the Olympics. His office on North Broadway is full of awards and mementos, and he is still an avid skier today.

John landed a job framing houses in New Hampshire for one of his ski coaches, who was building row houses at Lake Winnipesaukee, and he started to think about a company of his own. “I read about construction and design every opportunity I had. While traveling with the ski team, I saw amazing architecture all over the world,” John says. “It was a great education and real inspiration.” He built his first house on Monument Drive in Schuylerville in 1987 and retired from pro skiing in 1988.

Today, his portfolio includes hundreds of artfully designed homes in the Capital-Saratoga Region, garnering him awards from the National Associate of Home Builders, Custom Home Magazine, andregional Showcase and Parade of Homes.

“All of our homes are green to start with. Passive solar design and working with knowledge of the land is key,” John says. “We can also go entirely off-grid if the client wishes. We built a very large off-grid home 12 years ago. It has a 32-kilowatt solar field, wind spheres. Very organic. The client loves it.”

Daughter Aspen has now joined the Witt Construction team. “When I was a kid I would visit the job sites; I loved the smell of sawdust. I guess you can say it is in my blood,” she says. So is her love of freestyle skiing: she attended Stratton Mountain School and won a bronze in the Junior Olympics.

After graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in exercise and movement science, Aspen started creating interior designs for her father’s homes, exhibiting the same innate sensibilities.

John revisits all the homes he builds. “I love that so many life stories happen in my homes,” he says. “It is important to me that the families who live there will be comfortable for many generations to come.”

 

Lawrence White is chief photographer for Saratoga Living.