HVVA NEWSLETTER, November 2004
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HVVA Newsletters


Saturday, October 16: Nine members of HVVA (*) met at the Cornelius Van Wyck Homestead Museum in Fishkill (Dut-Fis-2), a town in southern Dutchess County, When super highway 1-84 came through this peaceful valley in the 1960's, many early vernacular buildings were destroyed. The Van Wyck house was spared but abandoned and looted for years until a group of local people took an interest and were given the homestead for preservation. Today it is an active and growing educational tool in presenting the history and culture of the area.

The first house was built about 1732 by Cornelius Van Wyck (1694-1761) who had come here from Long Island as a surveyor of the Rombout Patent. He and his brother eventually obtained about 650 acres each from Madam Brett, of Beacon, who had inherited 28,000 acres of the patent. The present frame house is of three parts.

The first two frames of the house are thought to be pre-1750. They have no cellar, only a crawl space. This is thought to be on the original house site. The second frame is a short extension of the first. The third frame is a story-and-a-half center hall house two-rooms deep with a full cellar, built perhaps 20years later. This based on the original weatherboards of the earlier building exposed within the loft of the center-hall house.

During the Revolution The Van Wyck House was used as the headquarters for the American army at its Fishkill depot and many of the generals and leaders of the new nation celebrated their victories and planned their strategies in this house, Washington, Lafayette and Steuben, to name a few. It was close to The War's front line at the Wiccopee Pass, a strategic point that since the times of the Wappinger Indians had defended this valley from a southern invasion. During the Revolution the British, who occupied Manhattan, knew of the strong defense in the Wiccopee Pass and did not attempt to attack it. Instead they tried The River. Today the road that passes through the Wiccopee Pass is known as Route 9. It is an extension of Broadway on Manhattan. It is The Old Indian Trail from Battery Park through Times Square to Albany.

The Van Wyck house was Federalized during its prosperous days after The War and new trim and boxed gutters added in the 19th and 20th century, yet it maintains some well preserved 18th century features on the interior, especially in its lofts and cellar. There is no evidence of Dutch jambless fireplaces. The house seems to be the classic center hall two-room deep house with a blend of Dutch and English features. The framing is Dutch H-bent constriction with light cellar beams that span the width of the house and are supported on stud walls, very like the 1725-1730 Plume House in Newark, New Jersey we visited last month. The Van Wyck House is a large house with tall ceilings and a prideful history but it was and is a vernacular farm house rather than a manor showplace. It had a very modest beginning that along with the written and illustrated record of.the place helps sharpen our picture of the past.

Many of the small timbers in the frame, like the studs and braces, are riven or split. This is often a sign of early construction when mill sawn wood was not readily available. One of the impressive survivals in the Van Wyck house and of the next house we would visit, the 1738 John Brinkerhoff stone house (Dut-Fis-3), are the wood lathed walls and doors of cellar storage rooms. These were constructed of a crude but serviceable carpentry that kept the thieves out of the stores. They are made entirely of riven (split) slats and studs. The doors have primitive locks and are fit with salvaged strap hinges, wooden hinges and one is harr hung.

We were given the tour of the Van Wyck house by Todd Hiller, the new President of the Fishkill Historical Society, and Dick Valinski, who has done a great deal of work over the past 30 years to restore and study the building. We were given some background on the history of the house and the development of the area. Dick has a long standing and widespread interest in vernacular culture, from New England to Appalachia. He is putting together an historic structures report with his interpretation of the house and a magic-lantern presentation of its development and uses. It is shown as an introduction to groups of school children who visit the site.

I was especially interested in lantern slide #5 that shows an H-frame raising. Where did the illustration come from? Dick did not know. Perhaps some reader will identify it. #5 may answer part of a question long speculated on which is, how are the raising holes we find in the columns and posts of Dutch frames used. From #5 it looks like the frame is raised, in this case, with many pikes and two long poles attached to the raising holes with metal pins.

These poles help to raise the frame but also act as breaks to keep the bent from falling back. Raising a frame is a dangerous operation that, needed good cooperation. In this case the master carpenter, with the tallest hat and wearing a coat of stature, directs the event with his framing square. Two men with iron bars guide the post tenons into their mortises in the sills.

Karen Gross of Manheim, Germany, found and translated parts of an illustrated Dutch study of raising timber frames in Gelderland, a province in the west of The Netherlands with H-bent aisle barns very like the American version. Karen's excellent report includes the use of the raising hole. According to Dr. Olst of SHBO, the raising hole is not known to be used outside of Gelderland. The report can easily be seen on the HWA web site, search raising holes and see DBPS Newsletter, Fall 2000, Vol 13 NO.2. The authorship is correct on the web site and incorrect in the paper version.

The last house visited was the John Brinkerhoff house." This two room deep stone house is dated in black brick in the red brick gable end "1738". Like the Van Wyck place, this farm was bought from Madam Brett. and the family also came from Long Island. The Brinkerhoff house is a very historic place being used by Washington in the fall of 1778 as a headquarters and as the inspiration for John Fenimore Cooper's novel The Spy. Charles Faverio, the present owner gave us a tour and some background on the building.

Helen Reynolds, author of Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776, includes both of these Fishkill houses in her classic 1929 House book. (plates 114 and 146). She describes the Brinkerhoff house as a center hall plan, which it is today. John Stevens felt that it may originally have been a one or two-door plan with no center hall. There is no conclusive evidence in the masonry but there was a supporting stud wall in the cellar that ran the width of the house as if to support a center wall rather than a center hall. One of the best preserved features in the house are two original, 1738, sash windows in the back rooms. In many parts of the Hudson Valley leaded casement windows were still being installed in Dutch houses.

Most stone houses in the Hudson valley have un glazed cellar windows with vertical square wooden bars set at 45degrees to the wall. These windows were left open in dry weather and closed during the winter. They served to ventilate the cellar, to regulate the temperature, and especially the humidity which is often a problem for the cellar beams of stone houses. The window on the right has a complete set of ten square bars divided by a center muntin. The shutters are missing. On the window to the left, the bars in the left section have been removed for a coal chute. One shutter remains, hinged with two Dutch strap hinges with pads. Normally the basement windows in stone houses are less elaborate, without muntins, shutters or hardware. They may have been closed with boards or hay from inside. No evidence has been found.

When George Washington stayed at Fishkill he heard the sermons preached in the low Dutch dialect of the area, yet the sash windows, the jambed fireplaces and tall plastered ceilings-of the John Brinkerhoff House are not Dutch. Another non Dutch element in the roof structure are king posts supporting the collar ties. This was also found in a late 1Sth century frame in the Storm/Adriance/Brinkerhoff house, in East Fishkill (see. HVVA Newsletter May 2003).

When Cornelius Brinkerhoff made his will in 1757 he provided for his wife Hannah (1700-1771), the use of the "large west room in his dwelling house with the "adjoining little room" with furniture "a chair and chairhorse" and a "negro wench." (Reynolds)

(*) Mary Ann Brandl, Carla Cielo, Randy Evans, Carrie Feder, Wanda Rossa, Alvin Shaffer, Peter Sinclair, John and Marion Stevens.

Sunday, October 24 Following a phone call, I drove to Samsonville in the Town of Olive, Ulster County to see two early to mid 19th century barns and frame houses. The first barn, _/Strach (Uls-Oli-7), is a 3-bay side-entrance basement banked barn with vertical siding. It needs some work on the back wall and I suggested some local names of carpenter/masons who could do it. We then drove to see his brother-in-law's farm about a mile away, -"Leonhard (Uls-Oli-8).

Samsonville is in a remote rocky area of the Catskill Mountains. It is a scenic place with dense forest and rock outcroppings. Farming was limited to isolated areas of tillable land and no one grew wealthy from it. The Leonhard farm is in a very scenic location, up against a hillside with a 40-foot cascading waterfall behind the house and a large banked barn about 200-feet away. The farm was associated with a mill that was located some distance from the house. The center hall frame house was probably built in the early 19th century, and has a Dutch frame. The narrow center hall is 2-bays wide. The rooms are 5-bays each. The beams in both Samsonville houses were exposed.

The Leonhard barn is of a unique construction with a heavy frame and a ridge beam that is supported by long poles joined to the anchorbeams (tussenbalken). The pole rafters are joined to the ridge timber but it was not clear how. I assume it is a form of 5-sided ridge beam It should be more closely examined and documented.

The photograph on the right shows the ridge beam pole support rising from the anchorbeam. The rafters show a later alteration where they were raised to accommodate an addition. The rafters were lifted from the plate and supported on short posts.


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