(Click on graphics/photos for larger view)
HVVA Newsletters


Saturday, December 7, I drove the thruway north to the Town of Amsterdam, Montgomery County, NY, to see Russell Ley with a crew of six and a crane taking down the heavy timber-frame of a three-bay canted queen-post side entrance basement barn. It stood on the side of a long hill off Route 5S, between the huge new, but unused, K-Mart warehouse and the Mohawk River bellow. The barn is to be re-erected eight miles away at Glen as the new Conservancy Cultural Arts Center.

The first external bent was down when I arrived. The pegs were being removed and I the timbers separated. I waited for the second internal bent to be disconnected and brought down.

The barn measures 36 x 35-feet. The first bent weighed 4,200 pounds. It has a circa 1850 square rule frame and is entirely of round-sawn hemlock. It has 1 1/4-inch diameter raising-holes, closely spaced 2x5 studs and the major timber joints have through mortises. The major timbers are square.

The joining of the tie-beams to the posts and plates is unique. The tie beams or dekbalk (Dutch) are joined to the tops of the posts and the plates, with horizontal through-mortises, are slid on to the frame from the out-side rather than being lowered from above as is normally done. This makes a strong joining but is perhaps more difficult to assemble and disassemble. The rafters were gone when I got there but Russell said they were simply 2x8-inches and nailed to the plates. The design of the frame seems more a product of an inventive 19th American builder with a new set of tools and materials than a European adaptation, but more information about the builder and other regional timber frames might help explain it better. It's an idea worth saving. Wednesday, December 18 members of the Palatine Farm Committee met with Bill McMillan In Rhinebeck at the Neher House. Bill has had a long association with Historic Richmandtown on Staten Island and Eastfield Village in Rensselaer County. The group went through the house that has been undergoing the slow process of documenting and removing parts of later construction to view earlier construction. Bill talked in detail about moldings and hardware. Marylin Hatch made an audio-tape of his comments.

In attempting to understand the development of a house, knowing the types of mills used to saw the wood helps to date the construction. It is generally accepted that circular blades were not used prior to 1850.

The vertical blade of an up-and-down (reciprocal) sash or a muley saw mill leaves a distinct vertical pattern of lines. Occasionally an old vertically sawn board is found with a 2- or 3-inch tab at one end that shows evidence of splitting. Unlike the modern circular sawmill, the vertical mill does not cut the board clean from the log. Near the end of the cut the carriage stops leaving the board attached by a short tab. The carriage returns the log passed the blade with the board attached. The sawyer then splits the sawn board off the log.

One floor board that was removed in the Neher house revealed, on its underside, a distinct pattern of saw marks that is often encountered in early houses, especially on the wide unfinished pine floor boards in lofts. It is sometimes mistaken for evidence of pit-sawing because the lines slant, but pit-sawing leaves a more irregular pattern and pit-sawing evidence is rare in the Hudson Valley. These saw marks have an even1y spaced, angled and slightly curved pattern of lines about 1/2-inch apart. They have recently been called "chatter marks" thought to have been left by a mis-aligned vertical blade, but it never seemed the full answer.

Bill McMillen said that he had also wondered at the pattern and on a recent trip to the Ledyard Mill, are reconstructed water powered sash saw mill in Connecticut, he noted that the pattern was cut when the log carriage with the board returned past the moving blade. He also noted about these boards that on the surfaces of knots a vertical pattern can be seen.

The Christian Herr House, 1719
by John R. Stevens

The writer first saw the Christian Herr house in 1964 while staying near Lancaster, Pennsylvania at a Bed-and-Breakfast owned by a Mennonite family. Discovering my interest in old buildings, they thought I would be interested in seeing the Herr house and arranged for me to get into it. At that time I took several photographs and made sketch plans and details of it.

In 1964 I was working as an architectural historian in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had only commenced this profession the previous year - although for a long time I had an interest in early buildings. In that year I prepared a report for the Canadian Federal Historic Sites Agency, at their request, on an 1Sth century house near Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. It was believed to date to the beginning of the 1St century, possibly of Acadian (French) construction. It was one of several houses I was asked to examine that were supposed to have Acadian origins pre-dating the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1750s. It has turned out that no pre-expulsion Acadian buildings have survived, or have not yet (unlikely) been identified.

The Paul Amberman house was built by or for a Dutch-American Loyalist from Jamaica, Long Island circa 1790. In 1964, I knew practically nothing about Dutch building construction, or about Long Island for that matter. There were features in the construction of this house I had not seen before, H-bent frames with large sectioned, smoothly finished anchor beams, the beams having three-quarter beads on their bottom corners. The outside walls had an infill of sticks, straw and clay that had been covered on the exterior with beaded weatherboards and on the inside had been worked smooth and whitewashed. There were two strange doors, constructed as batten doors but with false stiles added on the batten side, so from that they looked like two-panel doors. After I commenced research on Dutch-American buildings in the summer of 1967 for restoration planning for the Schenck house at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, I was to see many doors of this construction.

There was a German presence in Nova Scotia, both in Halifax and particularly at Lunenburg, south of Halafax. These 'foreign Protestant' settlers were largely recruited in the Palatine, and also included Swiss, as well as French speakers from an area near Switzerland, Montbeliard. These people were sent to Nova Scotia in the 1750s to replace the French catholic Acadians who were regarded as a threat to British control of Nova Scotia.

Only a few of the surviving houses in and around Lunenburg were known to have been built in the 18th century and these did not have a particularly 'ethnic' character - at least, such was not evident in the states in which they had survived.

So the opportunity to examine a German house from the first quarter of the 18th century was an intriguing prospect in 1964. By the time of my second visit to the Christian Herr house in 1971, I had immersed for almost four years in the study of new and old world Dutch houses and barns. It was interesting to compare the Herr house with the stone houses of Ulster County with which it had superficial resemblance. The unusual roof framing system and the insulated second floor construction was intriguing. I recorded fairly comprehensive measurements and took about thirty photographs.

I learned from out Mennonite friends that John Milner Associates had been engaged to restore the Herr house. In March 1972, I attended a lecture by John Milner at Columbia University about the Herr house and old world prototypes for its restoration. I related in its construction details to houses in south-eastern Germany and adjacent German-speaking Switzerland. Some of the information incorporated into my drawings, like the shingle-lath spacing and second floor construction derives from this lecture. I have seen the Christian Herr I house twice since its restoration, most recently in the fall of 1998.


Orientation: Faces south.
Walls: 20-inch thickness, constructed of field stone rubble (sandstone?). The walls appear to be more mortar than stone (like many early stone houses on Quebec as well as Ulster County, New York). The mortar used was mud-clay. There is an inscribed lintel stone over the entrance door (see sketch); this had been moved to a higher location to accommodate a transom as part of an early 19th century 'modernization' in which the original window openings were mostly enlarged and double-hung sash installed. Parts of original stone window jambs, heads and sills survived. They had shutter rabbets cut into them. The end walls extended almost all the way to the ridge with a triangular opening left that was probably filled with weatherboards. (?)
Cellar: Located under the north half of the house, it has a segmental ar.ch masonry vault. Floor Boards: First and second floors have two-inch thick oak boards in random widths. Cockloft floor, poplar, in 15-inch widths (little of this in place in 1971).

Second Floor Joists: 6 by 10-inch oak spaced about 3-feet on centers; east end; about 2-feet 4 inches at the west end of house. Channels cut in sides of joists below their centerlines, into which inch-thick oak sticks were set. Rye grass was wrapped around these sticks and they were daubed with clay. These units, called 'cats' were fitted side-by-side as tight as they would go. When they were in place, the space above them, between the joists was filled with clay, level with the tops of the joists, after which the floor was laid. The space under the 'cats' was leveled off with mortar almost to the lower faces of the joists.

Girders: These support the second floor joists near mid-length. My notes show the east girder to be of oak 12-inch square, and the west girder about 12-inches deep by 9-inches thickness. The outer ends of the girders are bedded in the end walls; the inner ends in the fireplace masonry. Partition studs has been morticed into the underside of the girders - none of these survived. The mortices showed the studs were 7-inches wide and about 4-inches thick. In the reconstruction of the partitions the sides were channeled, like the second floor joists, and the intervals (except where there were doors) filled with 'cats' that were daubed smooth with the front and back sides of the studs.

Fireplaces: There is a large cooking fireplace in the east front room in which (in 1971) an old, if not original, wooden crane survived. In the back wall there is a firing opening for a jamb stove and this has been reconstructed as a masonry stove. In 1971, the fireplace hearth was flush with the floor and it has been restored this way, but John Milner found evidence that the hearth had originally been raised above the floor level, which is the way it would have been done in the old world.

On the second floor, on the east face and at the north side of the massive chimney masonry there is a small fireplace with an opening in the back of it for firing a jamb stove. In the restoration, a five-plate cast iron jamb stove was installed.

Roof Construction: All oak.

End of Tie Beams: Measuring 7 -inches wide by 11-inches height are set on the floor inside the end walls. They protrude about 4-inches outside the front and rear walls.

Front and Rear Wall Plates: Measuring about 12-inches square are set on top of low knee walls. They extend the length of the house and the ends are exposed on the exterior. They are let into the end tie beams.

Roof Trusses with "Liegender stuhls": There are two internal roof trusses spaced to divide the roof into three bays. The struts of the trusses (liegender stuhls) are 5 1/2-inches in thickness with a slight taper in their length, from about 6-inches at the bottom to 7 1/2-inches at the point where the jowled head commences. The jowl is 10-inches in width. The jowls are notched to carry 5 1/2-inch square purlins. The struts are morticed into the underside of the tie beam that override the purlins.

Cogs on their lower ends engage notches in the wall plates. Between the pairs of struts on each side of the roof there were descending braces (missing in 1971) that served as wind braces. These braces had been let into the struts and the top of the plate and pinned but did not have mortice and tenon joints.

Cockloft Floor Joists: The same sectional dimensions as the tie beams 7 1/2-inches deep X 5 1/2-inches thickness - rest on the purlins but are not fastened to . them. There are three of these joists in each bay and two in the middle bay (between the trusses) The cock-loft floor joists and the tie beams of the trusses are supported at mid-length on girders 8-inches deep by 6 inches thickness. At their outer end the girders are bedded in the end walls; the inner ends in the chimney masonry. The nature of the cockloft floor has already been described.

Rafters: of which there are eleven pairs, are about 4inches square at the plate which they engage with a cog. The upper part of the rafter feet project beyond the plates about 9-inches. The spacing of the rafter pairs is irregular. My notes do not indicate if the rafters are tapered, or the nature of their joining at the ridge.

Singles and Shingle Lath: Several original shingles were found loose in the house. They are oak, about three-feet long, tapered both lengthwise and sidewise. The roof had shingle lath when I saw it in 1971, spaced on about one-foot centers. I have a note that some of this was original and sawn (pit-sawn?) rather than being riven. I note that pit sawn shingle lath dating from the 17tih century survives on part of the roof of the John Bowne house in Flushing. In the restoration the shingle lath has been set on 15-inch centers.

Stairs: There had been an enclosed stair from the Kitchen to the vaulted cellar. The marks of this were plainly visible in 1971, and it has been reconstructed. An enclosed stair (vertical Boarding) from the first to second (attic) floors existed in 1971. It covered an end wall window. There were winders at the bottom. It probably dated from the early 19th century. A similar stair is part of the restoration.

The stair from the second floor to the cockloft is of unusual construction and is undoubtedly original. It consists of twelve, rather crudely carved solid steps spiked or pinned to carriage timbers. The upper end rests against the mid-girder and the steps are as long as the space between two cockloft floor joists.

Question: Why are the details of the houses built by the Palatines in New York State in the early to mid 18th-century not more like the 'Old World' constructional features exhibited in the Christian Herr house? The one 'Old World" export that seems to have caught on, in the Hudson Valley, was the use of the five-plate jamb stove.



Wednesday work parties over the past two-months have been making progress clearing the 3-acre site. The frame house is undergoing a careful documentation and study with exploration behind later construction. Photos and information can be found at www.geocities.com/palatinefarms. Tours of the farmstead can be arranged by appointment. Call (845) 876-6326 or leave a message at (845) 871-1798. Anyone wishing to support the project and be added to the mailing list please send your donation to Palatine Farmstead c/o Ernie Steubesand, 15 Cedar Heights Road, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.


Dutch Colonial Homes in America, with text by Roderic H. Blackburn and photographs by Geoffery Gross was published by Rizzoli International Publications this fall and has been well received. It was conceived as a cocktail-table book, 9x 11-inch format, 240 pages. and is filled with carefully lit and staged photographs that reveal the space, color and texture of the buildings. The early maps and engravings are welcome as is a short, well written, historic background that helps explain the colonial culture of the New World Dutch and its evolution expressed in its vernacular architecture and material culture. It is a book that should help widen the awareness of this heritage.

The books photographs and text concerning the Dutch barn have already brought about a response. The owner of a farm in Ghent, Columbia County, NY contacted the author and told him he has owned the farm for a number of years but till reading the book did not realize he owned a Dutch barn. Blackburn wrote that, "they have a remarkably intact set of farm structures including a large barn which has been altered from a Dutch barn, maybe parts of two other Dutch barns." HVVA will visit and document the site on Saturday, February 15.


Knowing the origins of anchor beam construction in Europe is important in understanding the roots of Hudson Valley vernacular architecture. Dr. Heinrich Stiewe of Blomberg, Westfalia, has been reading the HVVA Newsletter with, "great interest," he writes, "and appreciate your an your friends' engagement for the vernacular buildings of your country. The similarities between the 'dutch barns' and our hall-houses, especially those of western Westphalia and the Netherlands, seem fascinating to me.

Dr. Stiewe enclosed some of his writing, done in English for the three-volume Encyclopedia of Architecture of the People, edited by Paul Oliver and published by Oxford University in 1997. It is 2500 pages long, filled, with drawings and photographs and is the work of 750 specialists from more than 80 countries. It costs $900. Under the heading Lower Saxon: hall-house, Stiewe writes;

In the Netherlands and western Lower Germany is the so-called 'anchor-beam construction' with a tie-beam tenoned through the posts below the wall plate. This construction was developed in the medieval towns of Flanders and The Netherlands and spread northwards during the 15th to 18th centuries.

From the Editor: The Date for the next HVVA meeting at the Marbletown Firehouse has been changed to Saturday, January 25, 2003. Some HVVA members plan to attend the Annual Meeting of the Friends of New Netherland to be held in Scotia, Saturday, January 18.

At the Marbletown meeting we hope to set up some house tour dates. Two have been suggested by John Stevens in the lower Hudson Valley. They are, the Bowne and J. Adriance houses in Queens, and the Wykoff and Lott houses in Brooklyn. If you have a regional tour idea bring it to the firehouse in Marbletown.

Some HVVA and Dutch Bam Preservation Society (DBPS) members are planning to attend the farm conference being organized to be held in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, in October and hopefully to visit some friends in Germany.

A 132-page soft-cover comb-bound collection of HVV A Newsletters Volumes 3 and 4 with a 3-page index is now available for $30 plus $2.50 (US) postage. A bound collection of volumes 1 and 2 is being prepared.

Peter Sinclair, Editor
Spillway Farm, West Hurley, NY

Copyright 2004. Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.