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HVVA Newsletters

From the Editor:

HVVA now has 153 paying members, $320 in the working account and $499 in the Oliver barn fund. We began 2000 with 74 paying members, $107 in the working account and $265 in the Oliver barn fund. During 2000 we took in $1,394 in checks and $225 in cash. We spent $1,172, primarily for printing and mailing costs.

The next meeting will be held at the Marbletown Firehouse, Saturday 10AM, February 24, 2001. Saturday, March 3rd is the Sally Light tour of houses in Austerlitz, Columbia County, New York and Western Massachusetts.

It has been a busy month here in the West Hurley office with the copy machine back in the shop but the busted truck back together and a big pile of firewood. There is a recently renewed HVVA effort to save a nearby vernacular wood-frame house in Stony Hollow. Details are on the center page. The plan is to get the story to the public and hold a meeting at a nearby inn and to organize a local group to save the house. It is a site with many possibilities. It is an urgent matter as the roof leaks.

On Saturday, January 20 about 15 to 18 people met at the Marbletown firehouse. A number of subjects were covered. What do we need money for? Enumeration of projects we have going. Alvin and I will work on filling out the US and NY State not-for-profit tax forms but tax-free status is retroactive on all dues and contributions after November 2000, the date of our charter. Conrad Fidalgo will work on a date for a Richmantown, Staten Island meeting and tour. Sally Svenson will plan an Ulster County barn tour. Pam Herrick reported on what she has found of regional colleges with which we might work, suggesting topics for student research, or library science students to help with archives. Jim Decker will check into web sites. Our eventual need of a fire-proof office for storage of archives was discussed. We need a mailing list for press releases for events.

After the meeting 6 to 8 people went to the Bogart barn (Uls-Mar-3) to examine the possible barrack pole-rafters re-used as mow-poles. Two were measured and photographed. They are unbarked sapling poles 14.5' to 15' feet long that taper from a 4" diameter to an approximate 2" diameter. The shaved down tenons would fit the center and side mortises of the re-used barrack-plate fragment that we found nearby above the back doors of the barn. There is no evidence of the minor rafter being nailed the top to the major as we expected. When it is warmer we hope to search for more possible barrack rafters in the mows of the Bogart barn and in the straw mow of the Oliver barn and study them more closely.

Another interesting find in January was the lower section of an 18-foot 4-pole barrack in Austerlitz, northeastern Columbia County. On Saturday, January 27, I went with Todd, Roger, and Alvin to meet with Sally Light, Austerlitz Town Historian, to see the Kern farm (Col-Aus-1) and meet past Town of Austerlitz historian, Marion Kern. What is now an addition to the large banked side-entrance square-rule barn turned out to be the scribe-rule frame of a large 4-pole barrack, cut down and converted with a fixed gable roof. It was a type of barrack known from a few surviving pole fragments, many illustrations and one surviving example reconstructed on Long Island at Bethpage Village, a type with four girts that supported a mow above an enclosed room and the movable roof above it. The girts of the Austerlitz frame are braced and the series of holes in the poles that supported the movable roof, begin above the girts. The fixed roof alteration seems 1830 at the latest.We found no plates or rafters of the original roof. The barrack should be better documented.

Sally has done historic research and documentation of houses for many years in this border area where Columbia County, New York, joins Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is an area that has a long history of boundary line disputes and a mixture of New England and Hudson Valley Dutch vernacular architecture. We will be seeing some of this mixture and cultural disregard for political boundaries on Sally's March 3 tour.

Shirley Dunn in her new book, The Mohican World 1680-1750, Purple Mt. Press, gives a very detailed and scholarly account of how the land of this area was gotten from the Mohican Natives by the early Dutch traders from Albany, especially Robert Livingston and his heirs. The complexity of the subject makes it a slow book to read but it is essential in understanding this fascinating early history of the Valley.

On the way home through Glenco Mills we found that the Ten Broeck house and 8-acres in the Town of Livingston are for sale: Bartalata Real Estate (518) 828-7111. This two-room Dutch frame house with corbled braces dates to about 1730 and is in good condition with many original features. It has been unoccupied for several years. John Stevens did some inspection and measurements five years ago but with its unpredictable future the Ten Broeck house is a prime site for further documentation.

I visited the abandoned Robb House (Dut-LG-l) (see HVVA Newsletter, vol 1, no 9) that we had examined a year ago and spoke with John Haight, the owner, and his friend and neighboring farmer who maintains the fields around the house and for whom John wants to build a pole structure to shelter his farm equipment. He wants to stabilize the house on the first day spring weather allows. I offered my services and hopefully some others. It is in the Town of La Grange, southern Duchess County.

Chuck Bardes of Ghent, in northern Duchess County, has read the July August, Volume 26, number 4, issue of Der Holznagel (The Wooden Nail), a bi-monthly journal of IGB (Farmhouse Association), a large preservation group in Germany. It contains advertising and regional IGB people to contact. Chuck will be submitting material from it in the future when it seems most pertinent to the Hudson Valley. This issue covers policy concerns such as the need for better demands on quality of work and more awareness in preservation not only of great monuments and noble architecture but of the "humble vernacular buildings." There is an illustrated article of how "an inadequate historic preservation agency destroys an historic landmark." It exposes how a local government agency failed to implement official preservation policies and neglected. an 1861 barn that was in the end bulldozed. There is an article praising the preservation of a 17th century farmhouse and one about a 1761 farmhouse and barn in former East Germany that are for sale and need attention. Copies of Der Holznagel will be available to interested HVVA members.

The above barrack originally stood as an independent building. It had an enclosed room below and a movable roof above the mow. It was later moved to the side of the barn to form an addition. The poles were cut short, two plates were added and a fixed hip roof constructed. No rafters or plates of the original movable roof were found.

a society for the study and preservation of traditional archItecture and material culture
Box 202. West Hurley, NY 12491 (845) 338-0257
January 9, 2001

To the Railroad Advisory Board:

You may recall my letter to you of October 24, 1995 about the Madden house in Stony Hollow which I had offered to stabilize in an attempt to restore it so that it might eventually be used as a public site to interpret the history and culture of this area of the Catskill Mountains. Although the house is owned by Ulster County it is located 16 feet from your track and so, as I understand, part of the present railroad. I live a few miles away and did what I could for several years to save the building. This included the removal of many truck loads of junk, rebuilding stone foundation walls and replacing beams and sills. In the last year or two I have moved on to other projects that seemed more hopeful of success and I have neglected the Stony Hollow site. The blue roof tarps that once protected the house need replacement. I would volunteer to repair the roof if I had help from the Catskill Mountain Railroad.

After Kingston, the first stop on the old Ulster & Delaware Railroad was Stony Hollow a nearly forgotten place on a side road with an old and interesting history. When the Dutch first began to settle the Esopus Valley in the 1650s this place was the land of Preuwamackan (Preumacker or Premacker) and his people the Esopus. Today the small stream that flows through Stony Hollow to the Esopus is known as the Preymaker Kill. Preymaker was the oldest and principle sachem of the Esopus Indians. It was his capture and murder by Ensign Smit in 1660 that led to the conclusion of the First Esopus War and the surrender of this land to the Dutch.

In 1709, the Preymaker Kill was sold to Capt. Matthys Ten Eyck, "yeoman", and Gerrit van Newkerk, "carpenter," for ten pounds and sixteen shillings to construct dams and mills. Eventually a road was built up into the valley to Stony Hollow. The continuation of this Preymaker Road is Wauganuk Road, now a dead end, but before the Kingston reservoirs were built it was the original road into Zena and Woodstock. Seven mills were constructed along the stream below Stony Hollow to grind grain and saw wood. The last saw mill to operate was run by a black man named Jake Williams, this was just after the Civil War. Today the road is abandoned and the Valley of the Preymaker has returned to forest. It is a wild landscape now of large trees, rock cliffs, cascades and waterfalls. Fred Steuding of the Rondout Esopus Land Conservancy is working to create a hiking trail there.

When the U & D was built it followed the old plank road through Stony Hollow to West Hurley that was begun as a turnpike to Pine Hill in the late 18th century. The Madden house seems mid19th century and was probably there before the railroad came. It is believed locally that the house was owned by the railroad at one time and given as compensation for a house destroyed by the sparks of a steam engine. Its documents have not been researched.

The taverns and inns of Stony Hollow flourished in the 19th century with the bluestone industry and the railroad. The village declined in the 20th century with the extinction of them both and with new State Highway 28 that would by pass it. In the late 19th century it had been a community primarily of the working poor, many recent immigrants from Ireland. Their frustration with harsh conditions led to the stone strike of 1879 during which the railroad bridge in Higensville was burned and the roads blockaded to stop the flow of stone to the markets. It ended with some interesting results. The importance of the Madden house is in its common or vernacular style and its relatively unaltered condition. It is a site that helps us experience the lives of the ancestors of many of the people who still live in the area.

The Madden house is in the Town of Kingston, and I would suggest that it be dedicated to the memory of Harry Siemsen and his sister Marie who loved their community and worked for many years to preserve its songs and stories.

I look forward to hearing from you
Peter Sinclair, president

Harry Siemsen

The following article (short version #4) is in the process of being written. It is based on an unpublished Master's Degree thesis, Harry Siemsen: A Traditional Singer in a Changing Society, written by Robert G. Atkinson and submitted to the faculty of NYSC at Oneonta at its Cooperstown Graduate Program in 1969.

Born in Brooklyn in 1898, Harry Siemsen lived in the city for the first eight years of his life. He came to the Catskill Mountains, to a place called Sawkill in the Town of Kingston, Ulster County, New York with his family in 1906. It was a time when the bluestone quarries, the areas major income and sources of work, were shutting down, giving in to the cheaper and more popular cement. In a few years most of the local quarrymen were out of work. When Harry was young he enjoyed hearing the old people tell of how it had been. When Harry was old he wrote that he knew nothing of his own ancestors and had always felt like an outsider, a newcomer in this place where he would come to adopt the people, collect their songs and save the memory of things that would otherwise be forgotten. When Harry died in 1975,? his songbook contained the transcribed words of almost 200 songs.

When the Siemsen family first began farming on the Sawkill it was a typical diversified operation with lots of animals and a variety of crops including eventually some summer boarders. Harry's father died when he was ten. He took on farming responsibilities early and never married. Harry was told at twelve you can start working the quarries but on a farm you start whenever you can handle the job. His schooling was sparse. "In fact," he said in an interview with Robert Atkinson, "I never attended enough to get working papers. I didn't know whether I really had the right to work."

In the early years the Siemsen farm was a mile from the nearest neighbor. Anyone that had a cow here fenced the garden and let the cows roam the hills and woods free. It was Harry's job to round up the cows in the morning. They could roam five-miles in a day especially in apple season.

In this way Harry learned to track in the woods, to know the animals, and where to find flowers. He learned to plant the fields, to use a cradle and a flail to harvest grain, to shoe a horse, to hive a swarm of bees, to tap a maple tree and to make repairs when things broke down.

Harry walked a mile and a half and over the Old Powder Mill Bridge to a one room school on Jockey Hill. The bridge had six foot wide planks, rotten and full of holes and there was no railing on it. After the ice took the bridge out in 1911 he would ford the stream with his horse and when he got to the other side would send the horse home and continue on to school.

For entertainment in Sawkill, that Harry recalled, the young people would get together and have a house party. The girls brought sandwiches and cake and the boys brought some change to pay the musician, usually a local who could play an accordion and knew the dance calls. Sometimes when they were rich they would add a fiddle or a banjo.

Harry recalled when he was young, working on the town roads. It was a hard ten hour day, rain or shine. After chores and breakfast in the early morning he would harness up the family horses and worked as a teamster. There he met the men of the town, learned their songs and stories. At twenty-one his name was put on the Town's ballot and he was elected Tax Collector so that the first time Harry voted it was for himself. Two years later he became Town Assessor and was eventually selected as the Town Justice. Harry had never been to a real wedding before he married his first couple. "They were as nervous as I was," he said.

Harry had trouble understanding war and avoided the first one as a farmer but served the Civil Defence during the Second World War preparing for air raids and collecting aluminum and tin for the war effort. Over the years he volunteered on many committees and served his community in many ways but when the Ulster County Home Bureau appointed his sister Marie Siemsen "folklore leader" of the "Sawkill unit" in 1943 or 1944 Harry recognized his long held interest and joined her in collecting the oral history, the songs and stories of the town. In 1945, in order to gain access to the town records Harry had himself appointed the town's first historian.

Harry was twelve years old when he first heard Frank Joy Joy sing. Frank was a quarryman from Hallahan Hill. Their friendship continued throughout his life. Frank Joy was in his eighties by the time Harry recorded him singing. He normally accompanied himself playing the accordion but his hands were too stiff by then. Many of the songs he sung were from his parents. The Lexington Murder is from an 18th century broadside. It was a song that came in many versions and was once popular from Maine to Appalachia to the banks of the Ohio.

My tender parents brought me up, Provided for me well.
Then in the town called Lex-a-ton, They employed me in a mill.
It was there I met this pretty fair maid, On her I cast my eye.
I asked her if she would marry me, And she believed the lie.

Beginning in 1950, Harry Siemsen made his annual visit to Camp Woodland in Phoenicia, a summer camp for city children founded in 1939 and under the direction of Norman Studer. Here he met other musicians and collected songs and later entertained the children. By the late 1950s Harry had become part of the group of entertainers, fiddlers, ballad singers and square dance callers that gathered in Woodland Valley for the annual Folk Festival of the Catskills that ended in 1963.

Alf Evers was a writer living a few miles away in Woodstock and specializing in children's books with a Catskill Mountain background. He was president of the Woodstock Historical Society. Alf and Harry worked together on many programs. Alf wrote Harry a song, The Sorrel Mare with six verses and two choruses about a horse who wouldn't go till it was bribed with beer and then it would go like a bold lightening and couldn't be found. Harry, with a lifelong experience of working with horses made changes "to make it more reasonable." Barbara Moncure, a friend of Alf also from Woodstock, wrote a melody for the words and Harry made it part of his collection.

Once I had my sorrel mare hooked up to go to town.
I said to that mare, now giddy-ap there, she answered by setting down.

Harry Siemsen met Barbara Moncure in 1958 and they played and sang together at many events from Schenectady to Brooklyn. Together they visited Mary Every of Town of Olive? and learned a number of her songs including a version of the Quaker Courtship, a 17th century satire.

Madam I have come a-courting, Oh Dear, Dear Oh.
Not for courting or for sporting, Oh Dear, Dear Oh.

Well a-going to bed is my desire, Fol da riddle i de i.
And you must sit alone by the fire, Fol da riddle i.

Now here's a ring cost forty shilling, Oh Dear, Dear Oh.
And you must wear it if thou art willing, Oh Dear, Dear Oh.

Now I want none of your rings or money, Fol da riddle i de i.
But give me the boy that calls me honey, Fol da riddle i.

In 1960 Barbara and Harry met Peter Seeger at his log cabin in Beacon and they sang together and exchanged songs. One of Peter's songs was Apple Growers' Complaint about the Hudson Valley Apple industry, probably written by Les Rice. The last of the three verses of it goes:

In my time I've raised enough apples,
To feed the whole State of New York,
But i've never had enough money,
To buy me a good roast of pork.
The apples are raised in the valley,
But the money is made in New York.

Harry tried singing it once in an apple-growing area and said, "they were not interested - they either have a good year or a bad year - but most of them do better than the general farmer." Harry wrote two other versions The Hunter's Complaint and The Chicken Grower's Complaint about subjects he was more familiar with.

In 1961 Barbara Moncure and Harry Siemsen recorded an album for Folkways Records, Folksong of the Catskills, and it was released two years later. Alf Evers did an ink drawing of a rugged Catskill mountain for the cover.

Harry Seimsen's interest in the songs was primarily to keep the history of the people alive. "In school we are taught wars and politics but you have another classification," Harry said, and that was the regional and oral history, its songs and stories, its artifacts.
Peter Sinclair
(845) 338-0257

Map of Sally Light's Tour of houses in:
1. Spencertown, NY
2. South Egemont, Mass. and
3. Housatonic, Mass.

The cultural geographer, Stewart G. McHenry, published an article in 1977, Eighteenth-Century Field Patterns as Vernacular Art. Using property and census records and maps as well as aerial photographs, he identified areas of six field-pattern types in Vermont. There is a distinct area in south-western Vermont where the New York Dutch established a pattern of low-terrace fields in and near the flood plain after their settlement beginning in 1724. Canadian French and Yankees from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire each established distinct field patterns where they settled in Vermont. Sally Light said that she understood, the Yankees built roads over the hills and the Dutch around them.


"Elevation of the Barrack".
Unpublished Verplank Farm Book
late 18th century, HHV
Figure 3., on the right, gives a clue to the pattern of rafters in a movable roof. The many surviving fragments of barrack plates which accommodate this rafter pattern indicate that the design was in widespread use during the 18th century in the Hudson Valley.








Underside of a movable-roof on the"Dutch Barn" (Barrack) Plimoth Plantation
Plymouth, Massachusetts
This small thatched roof is a museum model of a probable structure built at the Plimoth Colony in Massachusetts in about 1624. The plate and rafter system are more primitive than the Hudson Valley model but the basket like structure with tied saplings may be similar.

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