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HVVA NEWSLETTER, JUNE 2004
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ORANGE COUNTY


Saturday, June 19, Eight HVVA members met at Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh. (*) for a tour of three 18th century museum houses in Orange County, organized by Jim Decker.

1724 Hearth Room
from The Empire State, 1883

 

Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh
lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1837

The early vernacular architecture of Orange County shows a unique mixture of Dutch and English styles. There was a settlement of Palatine German Lutherans at Newburgh in 1709, part of Queens Ann’s failed project to harvest naval stores in the Hudson Valley. Some of these Germans eventually acquired farms at Newburgh and one of them is thought to have built the original three-room stone houses, in 1724, that were the origin of what became known as Washington’s Headquarters (or the Jonathan Hasbrouck House) that we would visit in the morning.

The building is owned and operated by The NY State Department of Parks and Historic Preservation. It is the first building in America (1850) to be designated and preserved as an historic monument. Its association with George Washington and the final years of the Revolution have long given it status and made it a popular subject for artists. Its irregular exterior plan with long sweeping roof line and clipped peaks (jerkin heads) gives the building a medieval look that’s seen in the 15th and 16th century landscape art of Western Europe.

In a pamphlet about the house written by Neil Larson and published by the Hasbrouck Family Association, he argues that the three-room plan of the original Palatine house (built in 1724) indicates its German origin.

Main Floor Plan
Washington’s Headquarters, Newburgh, NY
after HABS drawing by Lorring

The three-room plan is certainly characteristic of 18th century Pennsylvania German houses but these examples of a New World German house are quite different in many ways from the original Hasbrouck House. Pennsylvania German houses, like the 1719 Christian Herr house in Lancaster County (featured in an article by John Stevens in this newsletter, Vol. 5 No. 1, February 2003), are two-story, have a center chimney with a jambed fireplace, and a jamb or five plate stove.

Aside from the two unheated rooms of the circa 1724 Newburgh stone house, the original story-and-a-half building had a typical New World Dutch plan and proportion with a jambless fireplace at one end. The House has two of about six smoke hoods that have survived in the Hudson Valley. The other of these is in the addition that Jonathan Hasbrouck built after 1750.

In 1914, when the museum restoration of the Headquarters House was begun, a jambless fireplace was incorrectly constructed to replace a jambed fireplace in the final 1770 Hasbrouck section. Typically, by the late 18th century the jambless fireplace was abandoned for the English jambed fireplace in the Hudson Valley.

It makes a lot of sense that early Palatine houses would show a Germanic style somewhere. Many people in Columbia and Dutchess County refer to “Palatine Houses” as those built by Germans and therefore distinct from the Dutch. Banked cellars and cellar kitchens are mentioned as Palatine features but these are also features in early houses built by families with no German background. One German touch in the Hasbrouck 1770 addition is the German double-pad hinges on the two-part front door. This door might have been reused from the original 1724 house.

I know of only a few examples of German two-pad hinges in the Hudson Valley. The Lutheran Parsonages in Germantown, Columbia County and the Lutheran Parsonage in Schoharie have them. Another set was on the 1752 Johannes Hardenbergh Stone House that was moved from Kerhonkson, Ulster County, to Wintithur, Maryland, where it was reconstructed. The hinges on the Newburgh house are the only set that are identical to sets found in Germany and Pennsylvania, with the nails set in a line. The other double-pad hinges have adopted the Dutch triangulated nailing pattern.

The New World Dutch house seems to have been an American development derived from Dutch and German models, but unique, a style that was adopted here by people of many different backgrounds. Last month HVVA visited The Perine stone house on Staten Island. Its first section was built in 1663 by a French Huguenot and its addition in 1689 by an Englishman. Their plans, with a jambless hearth and an unheated room, are very like the original 3-room Washington’s Headquarters. One difference was in their proportions: the 17th century hearth rooms in the Perine house are almost square while the 1724 hearth room of the original Washington’s Headquarters has the more typical wider-than-deep proportions. Room proportions and depth of hood opening make interesting comparisons.

Another early pioneer in Orange County was the English mason William Bull, who built his two-story English style stone house in the 1720’s with tall plastered ceilings and a corner fireplace. He went on to build other stone houses in the county, like the two story Georgian stone house known as General Knox’s headquarters, another state historic site. We visited this house in Vail’s Gate in the afternoon. It was built by Bull for Thomas Ellison, a wealthy English mill owner and trader in 1754. The symmetrical Georgian style of its façade would not be out of place if moved to Main Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

One interesting aspect of this house is that the back of the building maintains a low medieval look, very like Washington’s Headquarters. Both houses are filled with furniture, restoration and interpretation, and are well worth visiting.

Back of Knox’s Headquarters
Vail’s Gate, Orange County, NY
from a faded 1870 stereo photo
owned by Jim Decker

The last site visited was the Edmonson House built by James Edmonson, an English blacksmith who came here in 1730 and lived in a log cabin until 1755, when he built a two-story stone house that is the left side of the present two-family building that is unconnected on the interior. The original house has tall ceilings and exposed beams. The right side was added before The Revolution. It is cruder in detail, with heavier beams.

The site contains a blacksmith’s shop moved from nearby with a forge and collection of tools. There is a small stone building constructed from a demolished building on the nearby Nicollsestate which is presented as the home of Caesar Mitchell, a slave of the Nicoll family.

In 1960, the Edmonson House was used to store used car parts and the floors were saturated with motor oil. The National Temple Hill Association, a local private group, acquired the property and has been responsible for its restoration and use ever since. A small group with their own history, they’ve been generous, dedicated, and hard-working, despite a lack of government funding. They’ve enjoyed most of it and learned to laugh about the rest. Can the public institutions say as much?

(*) Jim Decker, Bob Eurick, Ted Farhangi, Amy Steckel, Todd Scheff, Peter Sinclair, John Stevens and Dennis Tierney

Five-Bay Single Aisle Dutch Barn _/(Uls-Roc-14)

Three-Bay Single Aisle Dutch Barn with Two-Bay Addition _/Gazlay/Marinesco (Uls-Roc-6)

Drop Ring Handle, Washingston's Headquarters.


FROM THE EDITOR; Dennis Tierney, presently living on Staten Island, has organized a Sunday, July 18 tour of some early houses and barns in Sommerset County, New Jersey. Carla Cielo, of Ringoes, NJ, is organizing a tour for September 18 of sites near Newark, New Jersey.

Late September/early October will be an active time for vernacular architecture here. Keith Cramer. President of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society (DBPS), has been organizing the Annual Barn Conference to be held this year on October 2nd at the Mabee Farm Museum in Schenectady County. John Zulien, director of SHBO at Arnhem in the Netherlands, will arrive with staff and friends September 24 to take a look at some New World Dutch architecture and work with their American counterparts on methods of documentation. They want to see some of our restoration and archaeology work. Walter Wheeler of Hartigan Archaeological Services in Albany, suggests we examine HABS 1930-40 and other attempts. “We could discuss exactly what it is that we want to preserve by taking field notes,” he writes.

Keith has contacted Ed Cook, the Dendrochronologist from Lamont-Doherty labs (Columbia University) and Ed has expressed interest in presenting their latest work in dating the timbers of the region’s buildings by matching the tree rings of timbers.

There is a growing interest in the architectural heritage of the Town of Saugerties, in Ulster County, NY, where an 18th century stone house was threatened with destruction in February 2003. An emergency ban on demolition was put in effect. It did not stop the speculator from playing with his chainsaw and dozer but it may have saved the Wyncoop 1740-1790 stone house for a more sensitive local owner who is now returning it to its public use. She has been working with the newly formed Saugerties Historic Commission in been holding public meetings each month. A new issue before the Commission is another 18th century stone house in West Camp. It seems a local developer has acquired it with its 24 acres and adjoining land. The impact of a development in that area should be considered carefully and there seems to be a local group forming to see that this is done.

West Camp was the 1710 landing site of thousands of homeless Germans, many of whom would settle in East Camp across the River in Columbia County. They were given home sites to build six small “do-it-yourself” mill towns. The small stone house that is of immediate concern is a banked house with a jambless fireplace, a cellar kitchen fireplace with a brick by-pass chimney that had a reproduction 5-plate cast iron stove upstairs until it was stolen along with the old double front door. The house has been semi-abandoned for many years. Its exact history is still speculation.

Peter Sinclair, Editor
West Hurley, Ulster County, NY

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