NEWSLETTER, May 2003
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FROM THE JOURNAL
Friday, April 15, 2003 Tom Coluci, a builder from Gardiner, Ulster County, answered two ads in the Want Ad Digest for barn timbers for sale in Schoharie County. He arranged two meetings by phone and I drove with him to see what was available.
The landscape of the Schoharie Valley is one of broad views with woodland and open fields. It is still an active farming area with little industry or corporate image. The farms and villages are rich with 19th century vernacular buildings. Settled in the early 18h century, many of its pioneer families were Palatine Germans. Most of its early houses and barns were destroyed by Tory and Indian raids during the Revolution. It seems that many of the post Revolutionary houses changed in style to 2-story Italianate and Classic Revival but the barns continued the New World Dutch tradition through the 19th century.
We first visited Steve Swift's timber frame shop in Middleburgh. Its three 300-foot long buildings with cement floors that once housed a gigantic herd of cows, now warehouse timbers and fabric reconstruction. In the back yard shop, three carpenters were at work repairing a frame, one hewing new sawn timbers with a broad ax. Behind the shop a 50-acre hillside field stretches down to the Schoharie Creek. Steve is preparing this for organic agriculture. He has begun with a small field along the edge of the river flood plain where he has grown potatoes and celery.
After Tom and Steve talk shop and business, farming and fishing, we were on our way to find a Dutch barn being dismantled by John Wigen of Cobleskill. This is a circa 1850 Dutch barn with three additions, one being a modern round roofed barn with laminated rafters that is being saved by the farmer. The Dutch barn and its two additions were being dismantled. Two man with ladders, hammers and pry bars were removing siding.
barn was converted to a three story chicken house, probably in the
early 20th century, and this interior fabric of 1-inch tongue and
grove pine had been mostly removed revealing a remarkably new look
to the patina of the upper timbers, some of which had been removed
in the modification of the frame. There are a number of features that
show the barn's development from an 18th century ancestor in Ulster
County, such as that featured in the last HVVA Newsletter. These differences
are in part due to the change from grain processing to hay storage
and dairy farming. The most dramatic difference is the change from
end entrance to side entrance, but there are also many differences
in the framing of these two New York State Dutch barns that indicate
the period of their construction.
The most telling difference between the two barn frames is the height of the anchorbeams above the floor, 12-foot for grain storage and threshing, 8-foot for hay storage and dairy. The dimensions of the two barns are almost the same but the figures are reversed making the 18th century barn wider by 2' 8" than long, and the 19th century barn longer by 1' 7" than wide. Although small, these differences are significant and characteristic of the ages of the barns as are the differences of roof pitch and side-wall height.
There is a great difference in column size but the anchorbeams are of similar dimensions. In addition the 19th century barn has beams set on "column-girts" (longitudinal struts, J. Fitchen) between the anchorbeams These unattached "girt-beams," as I call them, are a 19th century development in Dutch barn and house frames. In the Cobleskill Dutch barn they were needed to carry the heavy load of loose hay resting above which by volume was heavier than the sheaves of grain that was stored on the 18th century anchorbeams. The girt-beams may be original to the Cobleskill barn or added. This may be revealed when the frame is disassembled.
The two story Greek Revival house, 150 feet from the Cobleskill barn, is also very complex and individual with its inset porch on the second-story. The barn and house come from a time of customized and individualized vernacular architecture. The style of the house is clearly part of a national trend fed by popular publications but the side entrance Dutch barn is a late example of its New World tradition. Some might call it a Dutch-Anglo barn but its side entrance is not necessarily the result of the 3-bay English barn.
We next went down a narrow road to the Bozenkill to see some timber frame parts that were said to be from an 18th century house that had been taken down recently. Many parts were rotten or broken and had been burned. What we examined were two piles of mixed timbers and some photographs of the house being dismantled. It was a frame with closely spaced H-bents. There were some interesting features. The anchorbeams had been raised a foot by enlarging the mortises and a new diminished-shoulder cut to support the beam. Most puzzling was a rafter with evidence of a lapped collar tie and step-lap joining at the foot where it joined the plate. Step-lap joining is typical of New England.
Last winter's heavy snow collapsed a number of local barn roofs. The owner directed us to three examples within about a mile of his farm. We then drove to John Wigen's shop in Cobleskill, to talk about business, barns and lawn furniture.
John moved parts of a nearby Dutch barn to his place in the 1970s to use as a workshop and office. What was then a bright and new, unpainted white-pine siding, is now a deep gray that blends with its early spring setting like last years grass. Its subtle color so appealed to a recent passer-by, that John has sold the weathered boards to him and plans to reside the barn with new boards cut on his band-saw mill.
John's present wood shop behind the barn is in a large timber frame building that was originally a nearby church that he disassembled and moved here. Exposed in its loft is a very English system of king-post trusses and purlins. John sits at his desk downstairs near the phone, recovering from his 5th hip replacement, while one of his young assistants is building your typical American fan-back lawn chair with a little Wigen long-seat style and made of a dense southern pine, a wood that was recycled from the beams of a nearby factory, an imported wood guaranteed to hold up in the weather.
Saturday, April 19 about 15 people attended a tour of the Storm/Adriance/Brinkerhoff house (EF-6) in Hopewell Junction, East Fishkill, southern Dutchess County(*). Cheryl and her husband Jene, Bernstein have owned the house for two years and have researched some of its rich early history and in the process have recovered some of its fine biblical Delft tiles that had adorned its fireplace. The original 107-acre farm was purchased by Storm from Madam Brett of Beacon in 1747. She owned much of southern Dutchess County at the time. The present frame house seems to be three parts a 9-bay 1747 house with an added kitchen and a large Federal house of the late 18th century. The house contains original paneling, window frames and sashes.
From the Editor: The fate of the Wynkoop 18th century stone house in Saugerties, Ulster County, NY, (Uls-Sau-31) that is threatened with destruction by its new owner, is still unresolved, but local interest remains high. The new owner, who bought the 2 I/2-acre property on a busy highway at a Thruway exit a few months ago, wants to develop his commercially zoned site for a commercial venture. His plan is not clear. He has begun to remove the trees and bring in fill for a parking lot. The town has placed a moratorium on issuing a demolition permit but the fine for disregarding it is $250. All of the town's laws and the fact that the house is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places has proved to be of no effect in stopping him legally from demolishing it.
A small group of people and some of the town board members see the unique possibilities for the Wynkoop house as a public site that could serve a number of functions of benefit to the community. The Ulster County Genealogy Society had expressed interest in part of it but when they inquired about the price in February it was $495,000, much more than they could afford.
The new owner, who paid only $140,000 for it a few months ago, has now lowered his asking price to $300,000 and some have suggested that it would be a good investment for the town. This has been turned down because there is no money in the 2003 budget and they would have to borrow it and they would not do that without a public referendum. The town understands that the moratorium is not the final solution in saving historical sites and that "other action is needed," like a study and registration of the historic sites, but they are willing to help any group or individual who could purchase and preserve the house.
HVVA has been unable to find a secure public space to use for its proposed "Two-Year Material Culture Project" but we feel that it is necessary at this time in our history, when much of the material culture above-ground is about to be swept away in a flood of avarice and ignorance, unrecorded, unappreciated and misunderstood, that we should keep looking.
Peter Sinclair, Editor, West Hurley, Ulster County, NY
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