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HVVA Newsletters

From John Stevens...Report on a trip to the Netherlands and Germany.
September 21 to October 2, 2000..Our invitation from Dr. Ellen van Olst, Director of the Stichting Historisch Boerderij-Onnderzoek (SHBO) to join the British Historic Farm Buildings Group (BHFG), provided an unparalleled opportunity for Karen Gross, Roger Scheff, Peter Sinclair and myself to have an overview of historic Dutch agricultural buildings, and to see how they might relate to the Dutch-American context. Practically all regions of the Netherlands were covered, and the SHBO provided a magnificent guide to all the sites that were visited, copiously illustrated with maps, drawings and photographs.

Few of the buildings seen date before the 18th-century and some were from the middle of the 19th. These later buildings did snow a persistence of a conservative, traditional style. The advance of agricultural technology in the 19th century resulted in the construction of larger buildings, that sometimes retained components from earlier ones. It was evident that the high water-table and general conditions of dampness plus insect infestation of timber made the survival of early timber-framed buildings very problematical,especially in the countryside, so that few old farm buildings were to be seen. A fortunate exception exists at the Netherlands Open Air Museum at Arnhem where steps were taken in the early part of the 20th-century to preserve types of farm buildings which were once common, but now exist only in the museum village.

Several examples of "restored" farm buildings were seen, and in them there had been almost total replacement of timber elements made necessary by the conditions of dampness and insect infestation.

In the middle part of the country, west from the German border, the major farm type was the "hallehuis" characterized by its three aisled form and having anchorbeam-bent construction. The earlier form, going back to the Middle Ages and persisting into the 19th-century, was the "los hoes" in which there was no division between the animal and human parts. There was no chimney, and the smoke from the fire in the middle of the floor of the living area, found its way out through the roof thatch as best it could. This type of building seems to have been the prototype of the Dutch-American barn, and there is reference in early contracts of barns of considerable size being built in New Netherland that contained both animals and human living space. It would seem that separate residence for humans was an early development here but just how early is speculative, inasmuch as there are so few structures left from the 17th century, and since the loss of the Van Bergen-Veder barn in Greene County - no barns at all.

Many hay barracks were seen, most of them modernized versions, that had steel "I" beams with winches to raise the roof, although some with wooden posts were seen. One example was examined in a preserved situation which exhibited the screw-jack arrangement used in the past to raise a barrack roof (see sketch).

Anchor-beam (ankerbalk - Dutch) bent construction was seen to be common but was only one of a number of timber-frame structural systems. Another major type of framing used superimposed tie beams (dekbalk - Dutch), applying both to aisled and un-aisled buildings. Its use is known in timber-framed houses in the Zaan area, north of Amsterdam, where timber framing is used almost exclusively because of the unstable nature of the soil. These several types of framing were available to builders of houses, etc., in New Netherland, but it is interesting that in the American context only anchor-beam construction is found. It is possible that examples of alternate framing systems once existed but no longer survive. There are too few extant 17th-century timber-framed houses from which to draw conclusions as to what was typical.

Timber was a scarce commodity, certainly in the western part of the Netherlands, resulting in its importation from Germany at an early date. The consequence of this was the careful use of timber in what one might consider distorted shapes as long, straight pieces of timber were not to be had. Increasingly in the 18th-century, softwood timber (pine, etc.) was imported from the Baltic area that permitted the use of long and straight timber. The Zaan area, immediately north of Amsterdam, was the center of the timber trade. The wind-powered sawmill was developed in the area in about 1600, and many were employed in converting Baltic logs into framing timbers and boards. The houses in this area are predominantly weather boarded, striking a familiar note to "New World" visitors. In the re-created village, Zaanse Schans, among a number of preserved windmills, there is a saw mill which the writer saw in operation on his visit there. This mill was set up with three "gangs" of saws so that at optimum operation, three large logs could be converted into 1 inch boards at one time.

Framing to the "layout face" is the exclusive system used in Dutch-American practice, and shows up as early as the Jan Martenase Schenck house of the 1670s, now in the Brooklyn Museum. The idea is that all the elements of a bent are flush on one side, the "layout face," regardless of their thickness, and are numbered on this side and the pins connecting the mortise-and-tenon joints are driven from this side. This is distinctly different from what was seen in the Netherlands, and indeed in Germany, where framing was to a centerline so that smaller framing elements are centered on the larger ones. How did this major difference in Old World and New World practice come about?

Following the SHBO tour in the Netherlands, Karen Gross and her husband, Hans-Georg, took us in their Volkswagen bus for an examination of timber-framed buildings in western German. It is the feeling of Dr. van Olst of the SHBO that three aisled, achor beam construction originated in this part of Germany, and it was a opportunity for us to see manifestations of this kind of construction. Karen arranged for us to be guided by Doctors Heinrich Stiewe and Dietrich Maschmeyer who are leading authorities in German timber-frame construction. We started out at the Westphalian Open Air Museum at Detmold, the largest such project in Germany, where we saw an undivided "hallehuis" called in Germany a "smokehouse from the fact that there was no division between humans and animals, and no chimney. Meat and sausages were smoked over the fireplace area, and the upper parts of the roof were filled with smoke that helped keep the stored grain and hay dry.

A number of fascinating, unrestored buildings were examined in Germany, including a wonderful large barn of 1577, a three aisled"smoke-house," but of superimposed tie-beam (dekbalk) construction. This barn retained panels with wattle-and-daub fill, and one gable still had most of the original oak vertical boarding. it is to be noted that in Germany, oak was seen to have been almost exclusively used, and almost all of it had been pit-sawn. The amount of pit-sawn timber was mind-boggling.

Elements of the German buildings seen, especially doors, were familiar in Hudson Valley usage, i.e. false-panel construction. But the type of hardware used, hinges and latches, were not so familiar to us. On the other hand, a lot of the door hardware, wall anchors, etc. seen in the Netherlands have their exact counterparts in the Hudson Valley.

This trip to the Netherlands and Germany gave us an insight to many things that were familiar to us in the New World, but also revealed a greater range of possibilities for construction, practices and building details. It was an excellent learning experience and the opportunity to gain it was greatly appreciated.

A last comment; Dr. Maschmeyer, who is a chemical engineer with an enthusiasm for historic timber-framed buildings, showed us several sets of the measured drawings he has produced, of superlative quality. These drawings showed existing conditIons, and then took the buildings back through various stages of enlargement and alteration to their original form. These drawings were the best of their kind I have seen, and were a model for how a record should be kept. I want to stress how important it is that record drawings be made of our barns and houses, as these drawings unfortunately will, with photographs and contracts, be all we have to look at in the future as our old buildings continue to be lost to neglect or are altered to suit the needs of new owners.

John Stevens

From the Editor...Our application for a charter from the NYS Department of Education has been re-submitted for the November meeting of the Board of Regents.

HVVA now has 134 paying members, $268 in the working account and $484 in the Oliver barn fund. The next meeting will be held on Saturday, November 5, at l0 AM in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey and visit sites in Rockland County New York.

We received a 6-page copy of the Application & Guidelines for the New York State Barn Restoration & Preservation Program. It will pay as much as 80% of costs up to $25,000 to repair barns and farm building 50-years and older. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will administer the program. Priority will be given to certain projects where structures are being improved for agricultural use, are visible from scenic highways, or are fixtures in rural landscapes, also structures eligible for state and national registers of historic places. The older the buildings are, the better their chances. Buildings being converted to non-agricultural use will not be considered. Application forms are available at regional state parks offices. Those people from Hudson Valley counties interested in the program, should contact:
Ron Rader,
Mills Mansion,
Staatsburg, NY 12580;
(914) 889-4100.
More information is available at:
Applications are due December 15, 2000.

Tour of the Netherlands.

We had a wonderful 4-day tour of historic farm buildings in the Netherlands and 3-days in Westfalia, Germany. The tour of the Netherlands, organized by Dr. Ellen van Olst and her staff of Stichting Historisch Boerderij-Onnderzoek (SHBO) is based at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem. 64 people were bused 400 miles in a rough ring around the Zuiderzee. Many farms and open air museums were visited. The tour was organized for the Historic Farm Buildings Group (HFBG), an English organization. 32 of those attending were from the United Kingdom, 15 from the Netherlands, 2 from Italy, 2 from Germany and us-3 from America. One of the most important and impressive features of Dr. van Olst's organization of the tour was the 113 page book, in English, with excellent maps, photographs, measured drawings and descriptions of the sites visited, plus the summary texts of 13 lectures given at night.

While there are many roots of New World Dutch architectural tradition apparent in the farm buildings of the Netherlands and Westfalia, the New World separation of house, and barn is a clear difference that, after their establishment here in the 17th century, lead to the development of a house and barn distinct from their European origins. One of the unexpected differences for me was in the timber frame lay-out system that in Europe seems to measure from a center line on the internal bents, rather than a lay-out face. Someone referred to this as "continental" and pointed out the "pick and flick" marriage marks that I was unfamiliar with, but made a lot of sense. There were no two-foot or level marks which we are familiar with in the scribe-rule frames here. Perhaps the New World lay-out facer scribe-rule tradition was adopted from English timber framing. I believe Pennsylvania/German framing also uses a lay-out face. Details of Dutch hardware, window and door construction show a clear affinity with those found in the Hudson Valley.

The second day we drove north from Amsterdam through North Holland and Friesland making seven stops. The dominant farm building is the stolp a thatched pyramid of space supported on four columns perhaps an enlargement of the 4-pole barrack. The stolp is a house-barn that developed in the 17th century and continued in use through the 19th century. Hay is stored in the center, animals and other functions in the surrounding aisles. The stolp and its larger relative the stjelp of this region are excellent designs for enclosing a large space with the minimum of timber. We visited the reconstruction of the last Frisian longhouse with a hay-barrack. The cow-shed, a small three-aisle building in which the cattle face out, is the precursor of later farm types of the northern costal region. The farm's reconstructed 6-pole barrack uses a major/minor rafter system in which the six major rafters are set at one end of each plate and these are supported, each to its neighbor, by two light horizontal-spars that support even lighter minor-rafters and a reed thatch cover. I could not find how the roof of the barrack was supported. No pins were visible.

The third day we visited seven sites in the eastern inland provinces: Drenthe, Overijssel and Gelderland. Five-types of aisle frames with anchorbeam H-bents dominate here. One 18th century frame had reused 16th century parts of a los hoes, the farmhouse, before the development of a smoke hood and chimney, soot on the reused timbers showed evidence of this. The day ended at the Arnhem Museum where we visited the reconstructed los hoes from Gelderland, but did not have time to examine reconstructed barracks.

The fourth day we visited six sites in Gelderland and Utrecht. A well interpreted tobacco barn museum with an H-bent frame of light timbers, and a working farm in Gelderland that had two thatched aisle-barns with projecting end roofs supported on extended plates, reminiscent of Mid-Hudson valley pentice roofs, however these extended gable ends are not only a protection for the wagon doors but are used to load hay into the mow. We had lunch at a farm restaurant on a natural elevation of land along a river where a tower was built as a refuge from floods in 1200 to which was added a church in 1350. Today the farm is an excellent restaurant-museum filled with good food, tools and material culture. Their five-poll thatched barrack had a rafter system different from the barrack at the long house visited the first day but the hardware that held the roof plates to the poles was made evident and John did excellent drawings of the barrack screw and the hardware. Has any of this hardware survived in America?

In Utrecht we visited a large estate founded in 1647 and put into trust in 1935 to preserve it as a cultural and natural heritage. The oldest farm of the two visited is dated 1602. Both buildings have H-bents with "Dutch" style trusses as is found in some early Hudson Valley Dutch houses. The first barn had part of a barrack plate re-used as a mow pole. From what I could determine it was identical to the Hudson Valley four pole hay barrack plate with the major rafter set at the middle of the plate.

The second farm visited was established in 1834 on the site of a former manor mentioned in 1315. One structure dates to 1.600. A modern six sided barrack, still in use, has three posts instead of six, and they are made from Iron I-beams with pulley wheels at the top and a cable system to raise the roof. The barrack is still in a state of development in the Netherlands. In Germany, as in America, the barrack is extinct since about 1950. In order to have a simple one pole example for their open-air museum in Westfalia, the Germans had to go to the province of Drenthe in the Netherlands.

Interior and exterior of door latch, Tielerwaard farmstead, Gelderland, the Netherlands.
Door with a cam operated latch and canted staple on the interior side and a ring handle with heart-shaped metal plate on the exterior side, has many close relatives in the Hudson Valley.

Tour of Germany

Karen Gross, who had been on the Netherland tour with us, organized a German tour. Karen's husband Hans Georg met us with the family van which took the five of us comfortably through the Westfalian landscape. The first day we went to the open-air museum at Detmold. This 80 hectare site has 90 restored buildings and two wind mills. There are many examples of leaded casement windows very like the Hudson Valley form that stopped being used here in about 1750. In Germany they were used until about 1850, I was told.

In the afternoon we went with Dr. Heinrich Stiewe, author of an important book of local documentation and history and many articles and studies of regional farms, to visit local sites and an active 19th generation Meyer family farm with early barns and a granary.

The last two days we traveled with Dr. Dietrich Maschmeyer to a number of house-barns, some in use, some abandoned and unrestored. We visited a restoration work shop where many disassembled timber frames are kept in storage. We visited several small towns with castles and early houses with exposed timber frames.

Dr. Maschmeyer is president of Mitteilungsblan der Interessengemeinschaft Bauernhaus (MIB), a 26-year-old German preservation organization with 6,000 members and a small-fat bi-monthly newsletter named Der Holznagel (the wooden nail) filled, with articles on vernacular architecture and historic archaeology. We have arranged to exchange five copies of each of our newsletters. I have a few back issues of Der Holznagel. The pictures and drawings are informative and I have bought a German dictionary but I am looking for some interested translators who could extract material for our HVVA newsletter.

Peter Sinclair, editor

Part Two

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