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HVVA NEWSLETTER, September 2003


From the Journal

Tuesday August 26 drove to Everett Rau's farm in Guilderland, Albany County, a hilly rural area that lies to the west of the Albany Schenectady sprawl. Ev was born on this hill farm of 120-acres 84-years ago. It has been in his family since the late 18th century when this area was first settled. The Rau family had a slave or two before emancipation by NY State in 1824. Ev has taken a special interest in the agricultural past of the area and works hard to pass his knowledge on. He is a founder of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society and is active in the educational programs of the Altamont Fair and the Mabee Farm Museum in Rotterdam Junction.

Ev learned a number of things about the family farm from his uncle Willard Ogsbury, his mother's brother, who was born in 1888. Will could recall the cradling, flailing and winnowing of grain. The family had arrived, he said, when they got their first fanning mill. This machine could separate grain into three grades, seed grain, feed grain, plus weed seed and small grain for the hogs. Will could recall a hay barrack that stood on the farm. It had a center pole, he said, with a pulley at the top and bottom. The rope ran through a box and the roof could be raised with a team of horses.

No picture or other description exists of the type of barrack that Will described but recently Ev found a 12-foot fragment of a barrack pole reused as a sill in a small shed. It is 8-sided and tapered with holes on 14 to 15-inch centers. The workmanship and design match closely the upper sections of the barrack poles we would see later in the day, a few miles away, in Schenectady County, reused in the Blessing barn.

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When I arrived at the Rau farm Ev was in his "quarry field" with two men loading a truck with bundles of Rye for a thatching project in Lenox, Massachusetts, a project in preparation for the eventual historic reconstruction of the 17th century Globe theater there. Ev cut the crop on July 25 with Michael Burrey and Harold Kahn, two interpreters from Plimoth Plantation Museum who specialize in early building techniques.They had borrowed an old horse-drawn reaper-binder from the Altamont Fair Museum that they pulled with a tractor. When the rye is to be used for thatch, care must be taken not to damage the straw. On this warm August day, two months after the mowing, Michael and Stuart had returned to take their share of the harvest. A foot-deep carpet of thick clover, hard to walk on, had already grown up through the rye stubble.

Rye straw had several uses in the 19th century. In addition to thatch, it was used in pressing apples for cider, for packing glass, for paper pulp and for stuffing horse collars. Surplus straw and hay was baled with a large vertical bailing machine that was horse-powered. Sometimes called a stationary bailer, they were often taken from farm to farm, getting the crop ready to be shipped to market. The 200 to 250 pound bales were weighed on a steelyard off-center balance scale, and Ev's uncle, Will, said that the man at the scale would mark the weight of each bale on a roof shingle and wedge that under the binding wire. They would write the number of pounds using a lamp black ink.

Lamp-Black Ink was made by turning up the wick of a kerosene lamp to blacken the chimney and then mixing this soot with the lamp oil. We still see this black ink harvest writing on the interior beams and boards of our barns.

 

They record lists of bale weights, 19th century dates and the names of the farmer and his neighbors that worked with him. Clever caricatures and barnyard humor add to the interest of this harvest writing.

Harvest writing is sometimes faded or rubbed off and difficult to read but it is cherished by those who might still recall their authors or have an interest in the regions past. It has a fluid character and I had imagined that the person writing used a soft brush, but Ev suggests, from what his uncle had told him, that it was often applied with the fingers.

With Michael and Stuart, we all drove a few miles north to the Blessing farm in the Town of Princetown, Schenectady County, near the Normanskill. We met with Marvin Blessing and his wife. Like the Rau farm the Blessing family has owned the farm since the late 18th century and Marvin, who was born in 1938 can recall, as a young child, his grandparents threshing grain on the plank floor of their Dutch barn. There is rare evidence of the use of a removable "threshold board" between the door posts of Bent 1. of the Blessing Dutch barn. As its name suggests, the board would hold the threshed grain, scattered loose on the threshing floor, from spilling out of the open barn door.

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Blessing family tradition says the 2-bay Dutch barn was moved to the property in about 1830 from a Guilderland Center farm. Of special interest is the reuse of four barrack poles as H-bent columns. They suggest that the barrack was the pioneer structure on the farm and that it was later added to and reconstructed as a 2-bay Dutch 3-aisle barn. No other example of this conversion is known. The barn was later moved to the Blessing farm where a 2-bay carriage barn with a straw mow was added to form a classic sunwise south facing barn yard. Finally a 20 foot bay was added off the north end of the barn with a hay track in the roof peak and a partial basement for chickens.

There are a number of questions concerning the form of the original 4-pole barrack. It was of the type with an enclosed space below and hay storage above. It is a type of barrack that is often illustrated and occasionally fragments of poles are found. One example was preserved at Bethpage Village on Long Island. What is unusual about the Blessing barrack is that it seems to have had the proportions of a Dutch barn with the girts (beams) set at least 11.5 feet from the ground. Did it have any kind of lean-tos? Closer study of the frame might show the 3-part wagon doors were part of the original barrack. It seems to have been thought of as a design for the first stage in building the barn.

A closer study of the Blessing barn should be undertaken. It has received a NY State funded repair grant and while this repair is being done, it would be an ideal time for a group to visit it. It should also be compared with the barrack fragments in the Kern barn in Austerlitz. Columbia County.

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One 14.5-foot fragment of a barrack plate was found in the Blessing barn re-used as a stud in the south end-wall. It measures 4.5- by 5.5-inches and has five surviving rafter holes, 26-inches on center. Plate fragments from the Snyder farm in Ulster county (*) have rafter holes on 30-inch centers. I had estimated the original Snyder plates were 18-feet long and supported 7 rafters on each side. The Blessing barrack plates were probably more than 20-feet long and this suggests that they may have had 9 rafters on each side. Another unusual feature of the Blessing plate is that the rafter holes are not bored through the timber as is normally done on barrack plates to the south.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday August 30

Eight Members of HVVA (*) met in the Village of Warwick in southern Orange County, on the border of Bergen County, New Jersey. Dr. Richard Hull and Raey Webster gave us a tour of the Shingle House one of six historic buildings owned and interpreted by the Warwick Historical Society. It is a village worth visiting for its many interesting 19th century vernacular buildings, its good food as well as its knowledgeable and friendly volunteer interpreters of the historic buildings that are open free during July and August.

The Shingle House was built by Daniel Burt and his son in 1764. The house was clad with shingles and legend has it that they were riven (split) from one tree. The Burt family were Old School Baptists and had come from Ridgefield Connecticut. The house is a good example of a Connecticut 2 story center-chimney house. It is a plan that uses the masonry of the chimney to support the timber frame. The plan results in a building with many rooms. The Shingle House had five fireplaces, one later converted to a stove and maybe ten rooms, five to a floor. some of which could be subdivided further.

The Sly barn behind the Shingle House is an 1830 carriage barn moved to the site in 1965. It contains an excellent collection of local farm tools and sleighs. Of special interest is an early quarterscale Pennsylvania farm wagon with an interchangeable box and hay rick. It is just a toy but it shows lots of use.

We next visited Bairds Tavern, this 2-story stone house with a gambrel roof was built by a New York City merchant in 1766. The framing of the roof is especially interesting. It had queen posts with two tie beams. The lower ties were removed during the Revolution when troops were housed in the loft. It would be interesting to know more about the design of the frame. The next house visited was the 1810 1 1/2-story center-hall frame house built by the Olmsead family. This is a very simple 2-room frame house with end wall fireplaces and a narrow center hall with open stairs. Originally there was no internal access to the cellar. It is a Hudson Valley Dutch house with English fireplaces and a modest Federal style.

The last house visited was the Azariah Ketchum House built 1809 or 1810. It is a 2-story side hall house with very individualized Federal Style entrance and fireplace mantle. It is the home of the carpenter who built the Old School Baptist Meeting House that we went to visit nearby, One of the most impressive early churches in the Hudson Valley. Its white interior and clear windows soften the space. No image of man or God is on display here but a small gold bird with outstretched wings is perched on a plaque high above the hood of the wineglass pulpit. The words on the plaque are too dim and far away to read but the message seems clear.


Monday, September 1. I met with Bob and Marge Hedges at Malcom Kirk's Dutch barn in Ancramdale, Columbia County, New York. Malcom moved the Deertz barn in 1988 from Middleburgh, Schoharie County, to make it his home here in Columbia County. (*) It is one of the largest Dutch barns, and like the Wemp barn that was moved from Montgomery County to Albany County, the Deertz barn is one of the largest, most finished and masterfully built of the New World Dutch barns that have survived, It is clearly a square rule frame, a carpentry technique that is associate with timber framing after 1810. Dendrochronology could help date the barn. Its plan. is a 6-bay 3-aisle Dutch U-barn with lowered anchorbeams in two bays. The design of the frame adds extra struts and descending braces to the more simply framed 18th century true form Dutch barn

I had come to measure the rare surviving horse manger that was reconstructed when the barn was reassembled. There is evidence in one side aisle of most Dutch barns of built in horse mangers but few complete examples have survived, most have been totally reconstructed and the stake manger, that held hay, is removed, Often the horse stalls are later closed off from the threshing floor with a plank wall and a horizontal flap door.

Originally, as the evidence shows, there were horse Horse Manger mangers in 5 of the 6 bays, indicating the builder was planning Deertz Dutch Barn for a large number of horses. However, the one surviving intact manger shows almost no use. The holes in the "backboard" show no wear and there are no typical chewing marks that horses leave. I believe that the two large 2 3/4-inch diameter holes in the back board were for inserting "separating poles" and the small 1 1/2-inch holes were for light chains with toggles. The chains were attached to the horse halter. When the horses entered the side-aisle the separating poles lay on the floor and the horses stepped over them. After the horses were tethered to the back board the separating poles were raised and set in the large holes.

There may also have been some sort of hanging separation between horses in the Deertz barn. In the Snyder barn in Saugerties the horses were separated by a partition hung on ropes from the mow poles above. This method is similar to the hanging pole illustrated in the book, Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566, by Rien Poortvliet, published by H. Abrams, 1992.
(*) Silent Spaces: The Last of the Great Aisled Barns, by Malcom Kirk, Little, Brown and Company, 1994
The New World Dutch Barn, by John Fitchen, 2na edition edited by Greg Huber, Syracuse University Press, 2001. The Deertz barn is #2nd, see illustrations page 149.

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John Fitchen's photograph of the Deertz manger, taken in the 1960s, shows two light boards nailed to the sides of the anchorbeams and resting on the stake manger. These boards in turn supported a wide loose board that held the hay against the stakes. A similar wide board is found in the other two known mangers, the one in the Snyder Barn in Saugerties and the one in the Fulton Dutch Barn in Rhinebeck.


From the Editor: We are looking forward to the Dutch barn conference in Ancramdale, on Saturday, October 4 as well as the Year of the Farm conference in Holland to be held later in the month. Members of HVVA and the Dutch Barn Preservation Society will be attending both. Plans are also underway for some of us to visit Karen Gross in Westphalia, Germany while we are in Europe. Karen has offered to show us some of the museums, tool collections and sites in her area. I hope to have reports on these events in an October/November issue of the newsletter.

For some time, HVVA has been looking for a site that could serve as a museum, library and archive. A few weeks ago a Dutch stone house with 26-acres, located in West Camp, Town of Saugerties, Ulster County, NY, has come on the market. The house is interpreted with an unfinished loft, a Dutch jambless fireplace and a five-plate stove on the main floor, kitchen and cold storage rooms in the cellar. The house is dated "1735 W. TenEyck" but its exact history is yet to be uncovered. The house retains exposed beams and many early original features.

The property includes a grave yard and lots of trees, water and rock. West camp is where, in 1710 approximately 2,000 poor Palatine German refugees landed to set up temporary camps on the east and west banks of the Hudson River to begin work on the English naval stores project for the Queen. Five years later most of the Palatines had moved on to Pennsylvania or north to the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. The temporary villages of both West Camp and East Camp would be interesting archaeological sites that could find widespread interest.

After visiting the West Camp property a few weeks ago, some members of HVVA expressed interest in forming a company to buy it. Maggy MacDowell of Gardiner, has offered to act as the agent for-such a purchase. In my conversations with a handful of interested HVVA members, 1 believe we could easily raise $10,000 and with some work find another $40.000 to begin the purchase. Input on this matter would be appreciated.

HVVA would continue to work with the Palatine Farmstead in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County. Plans are underway there to do major sill repairs to the 1770 Dutch barn there. It is rumored that the Northeast Solite Corporation Dutch Barn that was to be gone from its industrial site by September will definitely be moved to its new home at the Kierstead house in Saugerties, Ulster County, before the snows of winter come and my neighborhood project, the Madden House of Stony Hollow, is being repaired and will be given a standing seam tern metal roof as soon as the rain stops.

Peter Sinclair

Editor West Hurley, Ulster County, NY

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