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HVVA Newsletters

Part TWO

From the Editor:

Haio Zimmerman, our German friend who recently submitted some observations on the sun wise orientation of houses in Europe, has raised awareness of local buildings here and sun wise has become a popular topic in the Hudson Valley. Barry Benepe of Saugerties, architect and author of Early Architecture in Ulster County, 1974, wrote, me "When I conducted an architectural survey of Easthampton, Long Island, I found that most early 19th century houses along Main Street are at right angles to the road with their long sides and front entrances facing sun wise to the south." I also received a long and interesting letter from Karen Gross of Breitenheim, Germany that I will edit and include.

Hubert deLeew of Belgium has informed us of a conference being planned in Holland for the fall of 2003, The Year of the Farm. It is being sponsored by the Dutch Government and a number of us are hoping to attend.

Work has begun on the NY State funded barn repair grant at the Snyder farm (Uls-Sau-5) in Saugerties. The repair of a one-bay 19-foot square straw mow that was built 16-inches from the side of the Dutch barn and the mow's later 2-bay extension have added some new ideas and questions about early hay barrack construction here.

Snyder is one of the Palatine German families that came to Ulster and Dutchess Counties in the 1710 immigration. Ken is the 7th generation of Snyders to have worked this farm. Family tradition says that the family came here in the late 18th century and first lived in a log house near a spring in a field bellow the present stone house built in 1820. A barn had soon followed the log cabin and Ken can point to the spot higher up the hill from the present 3-bay Dutch barn where it stood.

The farm is essentially a hillside facing south. The house is located higher than the bam on a steep bank close to but above the old road. Its entrance faces south toward the road but .the kitchen door and the working yard with the well are an extension of the barnyard to the west. The buildings seem oriented to their use and to what the hilly land will allow. The barnyard is sun wise.

The present barn is a unique form of modified Dutch barn. It has a side entrance and its wagon doors are set in an open side bay. It was constructed using some parts of an earlier bam frame. If, according to family tradition, the present barn was built circa 1823, the straw mow is circa 1830 and its addition circa 1840.

Little of the original 19-square-foot straw mow survives. Bent 1 was totally rebuilt with round sawn white oak timbers in the late 19th century along with the two wall plates and the rafters. Ken's father, John, attempted to replace the center beam in 1978 with one of red oak that he had cut in his woodlot and squared with a chain saw. He rebuilt the back wall using a design that replaced the decayed bottom of the center post with a wide red oak timber he cut and formed a slot at the top to receive the tenon of the new center beam whose other end rested on the front girt.

Some of the stones in the back foundation wall are large worn and broken bridgestones from the nearby road. John's design for the repair included two re-used telephone pole arms for girts. It was a good design but the massive new center beam soon proved a disaster as it had a bad spot and broke. The building's use, for storing hay and unused lumber, was only saved with cribbing that John built of reused railroad ties. The Snyders have a long history of frugality, saving and reusing things. This includes two barrack screws, perhaps the only examples to survive in America. This tool was used to raise the barrack roof (*)

Two girts in the back wall (1.) and (2.) of the original mow frame are parts of reused barrack plates with angled 1 1/4" diameter holes spaced 30-inches apart and suggesting an 18-foot barrack.

The post in bent 2. (3.) with lap dovetail brace pockets I have speculated was one of four barrack girts (**). There are barrack plates reused in the 1840 addition but their angled holes are on 33-inch centers indicating a larger barrack. What seems to be of most interest in the addition is a 3-inch diameter pole 11' 3" long. It has long tenons at either end and a 3/ 4-inch diameter through hole. It was re-used as a mow pole. It looked to us like the major rafter of a barrack. Along with the two other possible barrack rafters found in the Bogart barn they suggest the framework of the barrack roof was tied together using no nails.

The Snyder's 19-foot one-bay straw mow was evidently a replacement and an improvement on their 18-foot barrack. It served as a year round storage for their wagon and reaper. It was a more permanent building than the barrack with its poles set in the ground. The posts of the mow were joined to sills that were raised above the ground on a stone foundation. It had a wood shingle roof that might last 50-years or more, rather than 5 to 10 years which was the life of straw thatch on a barrack. Perhaps the introduction of the mechanical reaper made the mow necessary for its storage. It was soon added to with a two-bay frame that increased mow storage and had room below for small animals like pigs and sheep. Eventually a machinery shed was added and constructed with a light nailed stick-frame.

The Snyder farm in Ulster County and the Neher farm in Dutchess County, were both founded by Palatine Germans in the 18th century and they are within 20 miles of each other but they are separated by the Hudson River. Despite this barrier they shared many of the building and farming traditions of the Mid-Hudson Valley that we sometimes call New World Dutch. Both farms are rich with evidence of an invisible and forgotten past.

Peter Sinclair, Editor
Spillway Farm, West Hurley, NY

(*) See HVVA Newsletter, October 2000 for a John Steven's drawing of a barrack screw and hardware from the Netherlands.
(**) See HVVA Newsletter, January 2001 for the drawing and description of the remains of an 18 foot barrack in Columbia County that may be the same type as the snyder example and two possible barrack rafters found in the Bogart barn, Marbletown.

A straw thatch workshop is being planned for Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts by Peter McCurdy, Jack Sobon and other people from the Timber Framers Guild. It will be held in late September or early October. They are looking for people who would be interested in attending and also looking for a source of rye or wheat straw. If you are interested or can help, contact: Michael Burrey: home (508) 747-0854; cell phone (508) 277-44468.

Ken Sandri of the National Parks Service of the Delaware Water Gap area in Milford, New Jersey, called to inform us that a Dutch barn at Minnisink Village is to be re-sided soon. When the siding is off new information will be revealed about the frame, The Park Service is planning to spend a day of documenting it sometime on a Monday or Friday in late September. I will have a date in the next newsletter. This is a Dutch barn of late 18th century construction with a major minor rafter system. It is in close association with two houses of the 1730s. It is hoped that the event will attract a number of knowledgeable people to help with the interpretation and documentation of the building. If you are interested in attending contact Ken Sandri (570) 420-9782.

"We notice that regards of the sun, Lower German hall houses in the Netherlands have the living quarters at the front; German ones have them at the back. I am certain that this is a difference in culture. The Dutch don't usually have curtains, so everyone can look in when the lights are on. They don't feel this is an invasion of privacy and enjoy looking out at what's happening on the street. The Germans tend to shroud their windows in glass curtains and drapes, erect walls and fences. Their porches and benches face toward the backyard not the street.

In all the farmyards I know, the back or side door was almost invariably used and life was lived in the kitchen, not only to keep the dirt out of the rest of the house but because it was closer to the barn and an eye could be kept on the animals and the hired hands. This is one of the reasons given for the lack of walls between the living quarters and animals in hall houses. Here, when a farmer stopped farming, the house was usually remodeled and the front door became the main entrance. I am finding that houses that had a courtyard or even a passageway on the side in Meisenheim, did not have a front entrance until the second half of the 18th century.

The Romans appear to have preferred a southern exposure for their villa rustika. The state archeologists just spent two weeks digging out the remains of the main house of one about four minutes away from us. The location is typically Roman; a hill facing the south. The house at the back, probably an atrium between it and the outbuildings that are closer to the brook and - as far as we know - the 'farm road.' The main roads were along the crests of the hills; the connecting roads to the isolated farms were minor at best."

I have put what I hope is the last blue-tarp on the roof of the Madden House and we have begun to bend the pans for the standing seam roof. Work has been slowed by the illness and eventual death of my truck. I have heard that there are some miracle mechanics hiding out in the woods near here who can fix pretty much anything and if they get here before the funeral we will all be in luck.

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