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HVVA NEWSLETTER, February 2005, PART THREE
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Davis Stevenson, a young Civil Engineer from England was visiting America to observe the practices of civil engineering here, the "harbours, river and lake navigation, lighthouses, steam-navigation, water works, canals, roads, railways, bridges, and other works in that country."

"The lowest wages in the United States for labourers employed at railways or canals, in 1837," Stevenson wrote, " were one dollar or about 4s. 2d. a day, while the same class of workman in this country (England) receive 2s. per day. In consequence of the great value of labour, the Americans adopt, with a view to economy, many mechanical expedients, which, in the eyes of the British engineers, seem very extraordinary."

Stevenson had come to New York City during a time when the old narrow streets in the city were being widened and straightened and buildings were being moved to accommodate the plan, even those built of brick. He became so interested in one project at 130 Chatham Street that he delayed his passage home for three days to see it completed. "Mr. Brown", who was supervising the operation, had been moving houses with his father for fourteen years and had moved "upwards of a hundred" in that time, many made of brick.

The brick house on Chatham Street, Stevenson wrote, "measured fifty feet in depth by twenty-five feet in breadth of front, and consisted of four storeys, two above the ground-floor, and(i garret-storey at the top, the whole being surmounted by large chimney stacks." The building was moved 14-feet_6ifnches back' onto a new foundation to accommodate a wider street.

The house was supported on 12x12-inch timbers set on 3-foot centers (bb in figure 2.). 40 or 50 screw jacks were set under the projecting ends of the timbers and the building raised to allow the insertion of two pairs of timbers (d & e). The lower timbers (e) served as tracks resting on the old foundation and extending to the newly prepared one. The upper timbers (e) were fastened to the timbers (bb) above and the timbers were greased to slide on one another. A pair of horizontal screw jacks (h) were fastened to the lower timbers and the house could be moved 2-feet before the jacks were reset. The whole preparation took about 5-weeks, Mr. Brown said, but the actual moving of the building 14-feet 6-inches, could be done in 7-hours. The contract was for $1 ,000.

The lower part of the house on Chatham Street was occupied by a carver and guilder's shop and after the move, when Mr. Brown took Stevenson up stairs to assure him that there were no cracks in the walls, he was "astonished" to find one room filled with picture frames and plates of mirror glass. Mr. Brown estimated it was "not less than $1500" in value. The owner had not taken the troOble to remove them.

(*) It would interest this editor if anyone can explain what is happening in this hand engraved photograph above. Is the house being moved or turned; how do the horses operate the capstan?

The Vogt house has similarities with Dutch/Palatine stone houses of the early to mid 18th century in the Mid Hudson Valley. The roof is of common rafters with collar ties. The rafter feet are flush to the plate. The beams appear to be continuous between the side walls. It is a bank house with a cellar kitchen, a plan associated with Palatines, but the Vogt house is different in many ways from its northern Palatine cousins who were more under the influence of the Dutch. Like many of its southern neighbors it is a two-room deep center hall house. What seems especially German are the square proportions of the ma.in rooms where Dutch/Palatine rooms of this period are normally wider than deep.

The Voght House is of modest size but its structure is substantial, indicating a prosperous family. One of the most unusual features of the house are the decorative plaster ceilings in three of the rooms and the center hall. The Clinton Historic Commission is trying to learn more about this feature. They seem to be part of an early phase in its construction. From looking under the floor of the loft it can be seen that the mud and plaster ceiling is not fixed to lath but to a kind of woven wattle that is set in holes in the beams. Is this a traditional ceiling treatment or does it just show a lack of nails? The ceiling of each room has a unique design. The center hall is a long twisting snake which has begun some thinking about what the religious significance might have been and what colors or designs might eventually be found under the many layers of paint.

The Vogt house has similarities with Dutch/Palatine stone houses of the mid 18th century in the Mid Hudson Valley. The roof is of common rafters with collar ties. The rafter feet are flush to the plate. The beams appear to be continuous between the side walls. It is a bank house with a cellar kitchen, a plan associated with Palatines, but the Vogt house is different in many ways from its northern Palatine cousins who were more under the influence of the Dutch. Like many of its southern neighbors it is a two-room deep center hall house. What seems especially German are the square proportions of the main rooms where Dutch/Palatine rooms of this period are normally wider than deep.

The Voght House is of modest size but its structure is substantial, indicating a prosperous family. Henry Z. Jones, in his book Palatine Families of New York lists Simon Vogt as born in Merchingen in 1680 and his wife Maria Margretha born 1684 in Bonfeld. They came with the 1710 immigration but seem to have gone directly to New York City rather than the "camps" up river. His father and grandfather were both judges, a level of privilege seldom found among the "poor Palatine" families.

One of the most unusual features of the house are the decorative plaster ceilings in three of the rooms and the center hall. The Clinton Historic Commission is trying to learn more about this feature! They seem to be part of an early phase in its construction. From looking under the floor of the loft it can be seen that the mud and plaster ceiling is not fixed to lath but to a kind of woven wattle that is set in holes in the beams. Is this a traditional ceiling treatment or does it just show a lack of nails? The ceiling of each room has a unique design. The center hall is a long twisting snake which has begun some thinking about what the religious significance might have been and what colors or designs might eventually be found under the many layers of paint.

Since our visit a similar stone bank house has been found nearby with evidence in the beams of the same kind of woven support for ceiling plaster. There is also the 1755 Kershner house from Berks County, Pennsylvania, that was moved to the Winterthur Museum. It has an almost identical ceiling treatment.

One aspect that is often missing from the histories of Dutchess County, New York, are the contributions of black slaves and farm laborers who left little of themselves in the official records. This has been addressed in a brand new book by William P. McDermott, Dutchess County's Plain Folks. Enduring uncertainty, inequality, and uneven prosperity. 1725-1875. (ISBN 09754601-0-2) It is a very scholarly and well written account that innumerates and interprets the unsteady and ever changing rural economy of the mid Hudson Valley and the lives of the common people it effected.

An extraordinary life of suffering and success that McDermott has extracted from the scattered record was Elizabeth Flagler Allen (1688-1755). Known as Widow Anna Elizabetha Schultz in'1710 when she arrived here with the 2,000 other homeless Palatine Germans who had survived the trip. In March 1711, living in one of the "camps", Elizabeth remarried a widower of the journey, Zacharias Flagler, In 1715 they purchased 22-acres of raw land near Poughkeepsie. In 1720 she became a widow again with four Flagler children. By 1724 she was re married to John Allen who evidently had some money and they moved with their children to a larger farm where they established a mill. John died in 1734 but Elizabeth went on to become a successful businesswoman buying up real estate along the Wappenger Creek and fighting a number of court cases to keep it.

One of the best chapters is that on slavery and its distribution in the communities. In 1755 only 6.4% of the German families, that made up 2/3 of Rhinebeck's population, had slaves while 37.2% of the Dutch families had slaves. McDermott suggests several reasons. The first, based on the 18th century observations qf Peter Kalm and Robert R. Livingston, that the German women traditionally worked in the harvest and haying and used indentured help so that slaves were not as necessary and that there were also religious beliefs that had turned the German farmers in Pennsylvania away from owning slaves.

McDermott points out that the Dutch had inherited black slavery while it was unknown to the Germans who arrived later and that by 1790, when slave ownership began its decline, many more of the prosperous German farmers, proprietors and tradesmen had adopted the Dutch practice and owned slaves.

The book can be purchased directly from the publisher with a $21.95 check, postage is included. Kerleen Press, 2229 Salt Point Turnpike, Clinton Corners, NY 12514

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