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HVVA Newsletters

Saturday, December 13
with Todd Scheff, we met
Nancy Ginsberg at The 1766 Conyn / Van Rensselaer/Ginsberg House (Col-Cla-6) in Claverack, Columbia County. Slightly smaller, 25-feet versus 31-feet wide for the Rensselaer Nicoll house in Albany County (*), this is also a center hall two story brick house with a gambrel roof. It is dated in the gable end 1766 and despite some Federalizing on the main floor, the house retains a number of unaltered first period features, like the stair case and it contains good evidence for much of its early mixed Dutch/English style. It has a complex of barns that contain reused beams from earlier structures. There are reused barrack parts in the shed attachment on the back of the house.

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The 1766 Conyn / Van Rensselaer / Ginsberg House (Col-Cla-6) Claverack, Columbia County, NY
The stone Kitchen wing was originally separate, and later joined to the house. The shed contains a reused barrack plate.

Nancy has owned the house for one year and has removed much of the later layers revealing early features and raising questions about the original fireplaces. In the right hand main floor room there is evidence of a jambless fireplace and she has discovered the front board of a crown molding for a jambless hood. It was found resting on the collar ties in the unaltered loft. The framing of the gambrel roof is Dutch, with braced ties on the lower rafters and no queen posts supporting the purlins.

Nancy and Todd would like to restore the first period fireplace in this room. The first two things that must be done I thought, were 1. look for more physical evidence and seek more opinions and 2. add structure to the three 23-foot internal anchorbeams which were damaged when the main floor of the house was given plastered ceilings, hiding the original ceiling. The deep exposed Dutch beams, especially the largest, the hood-beam, were often cut down as much as 4 or 5-inches to level the ceiling. This is a common problem in restoring 18th century Dutch houses that were later anglicized with plastered ceilings. Repair of these damaged anchorbeams have been done in a number of ways, including replacement. Several suggestions were made.

We hope to visit the Conyn/Van Rensselaer house and barns at one of our monthly meetings in the warmer weather. It might be a good site to spend one day measuring and documenting, perhaps a workshop.

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Scimeca 3-Bay Side-Entrance Basement Barn (Uls-Llo-2)

Wednesday, December 31 with Tom Colucci we visited Peter Scimeca and his son in Highland, NY to look at the barn that they want to remove. The barn is in the town of Lloyd. It is a side entrance basement barn of the mid 19th century with additions. It is probably contemporary with the Greek Revival house. The frame contains a lot of oak timbers. The frame is made with a kind of internal H-bent with two 24.5-foot long oak columns, 1 Ox12-inches, a braced tie beam at the top, but no anchorbeam. The lower beam in the bent does not support weight but like the beam in the front aisle, serves as a mowstead wall to keep back the loose hay. The barn's center floor plan with hay mows in the side bays and cattle in the basement is a common arrangement. Its framing solution is unusual.

The back wall of the Scimeca barn is water damaged and probably not salvageable because of a wind damaged roof, but the rest of the frame is relatively intact. Tom is going to do an estimate of the amount of salvageable timber, Peter's son will get an estimate for demolition and I will try and find a person interested in reconstructing the frame.

Peter Scimeca is the third generation to have farmed the land here. Like many of the local farm families, the Scimeca were early 20th century Italian immigrants who specialized, and still do, in apples and small fruits. The interrelated and extended families remains strong in the community. These two natives of southern Ulster County, Peter of Highland and Tom of Gardiner spent a good hour recalling old landmarks and the family genealogies.

Lots of open fields and orchards have survived development in Highland. The Simeca farm has a panoramic view of the Shawangunk Mountains. Peter sees small lot development coming and wants, if possible, to preserve the open landscape around him.

Thursday January 15 I had read an article. Evolution of a House, by Nick Biggs, in the Fall 2003 issue of Columbia County History and Heritage, published by the Columbia County Historical Society, about an historic site in the Village of Malden Bridge in northern Columbia County near the boarder of Rensselaer County. The article states that the large red building on Hoes Road, "was built in the 1760's, began as a barn, later was possibly a tannery, then was part of a manufacturing complex, became a theater in the early 20th century, later was an art school and gallery, and is currently the home of two New York Times best selling authors." The author of the article based his 1760's date on a 1989 article in a local paper and it illustrates that the physical evidence in buildings often conflicts with their written history.

I contacted the owners of the house, and with an old friend from Malden Bridge, Willard Vine Clerk, we went to examine the structure. The core of the building was enlarged in the early 20th century for a theater. It is a three bay Dutch aisle barn, banked with a full basement. The basement had an end entrance and the main floor above was framed for a side entrance. There is evidence on the internal columns of inset wagon doors on one side. The barn includes a number of reused timbers, they are apparently not from a Dutch barn but some other kind of structure. The light squarerule construction of the present frame with light sawn H-bent braces probably dates from about 1830 to 1850.

The construction date of the barn seems to put it to the time of Augustus and Parson Thayer who began manufacturing a wooden water pump at the site in 1837, Augustus received a patent for the devise in 1842 and it was sold to Robert Hoes, who continued to build wooden water pumps there until 1919. It is not clear if the present building was originally built for agriculture or industry.

Columbia County History and Heritage is an excellent Journal and like the article points out, the village of Malden Bridge on Route 66 just north of Chatham, has an interesting history and lots of well maintained, beautiful buildings and rolling rural landscape.

The building was registered: _/Thayer/Hoes/Gallaher, circa 1830-1850, 3-bay Dutch basement barn, side entrance (Col-Cha-3)

Thoughts on a Trip to Europe,
October 19-30, 2003
to Attend the ICOMOS-CIA V Conference at Amersfoort, The Netherlands
by John R. Stevens

PART Two; Germany
German timber framing is a vast and complicated subject, as I might say is English and French as well. In spite of the wars large and small that have ravaged Europe over the centuries an amazingly large stock of old buildings survive - houses going back to the Middle Ages, and churches that are even older.

While there are many Germanic timber framed barns in America, particularly in Pennsylvania, there are few domestic structures. Most surviving German-American houses are built of stone and most of the timber ones are of horizontal log. The roof framing of the Christian Herr House, built in 1719, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania (*), is clearly Germanic. Another good example of Old-World German timber framing in America is the Golden Plough Tavern in York, Pennsylvania, built in the 1750s. The second floor is built with fachwerk timber framed panels infilled with wattle-and-daub or with brick. The ground floor is of horizontal logs framed into vertical posts. In the Old World, the ground floor would more likely be built of stone. There are fachwerk buildings at Old Salem, North Carolina from the 1770s and at the open air museum, Old World Wisconsin. These last are from the middle of the 19th century.

We have a particular interest in German timber frame construction because of the significant immigration of Palatine Germans to the Hudson Valley after about 1710. It might be expected that these people would have brought their building tradition with them. What we have seen so far does not bear this out. Hudson Valley Palatine buildings are basically in the Dutch idiom. But there are hints of the Germanic in the design of hinges, and especially in the use of five-plate jamb stoves.

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Following the ICOMOS-CIA V Conference Peter Sinclair and I were invited to spend several days with Karen Gross and her husband Hans Georg who live in the Rhineland Pfalz in the village of Breitenheim. In 2000 when we also attended a conference in the Netherlands (with Roger Scheff) relating to historic farm buildings and their preservation. Karen arranged for an after-conference tour in western Germany, and we visited an open-air museum (Detmold) and also a number of farmsteads dating from the 1500s.

This time there was more emphasis on urban buildings, and we spent much of our time looking at them in the town of Meisenheim. This is a typical (?) Medieval walled town dominated by its church and formerly a castle as well - only ruins survive of it now. There must still be hundreds of similar towns in Germany and other European countries, some more elaborate - like Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, but Meisenheim is off the tourist track and therefore not exploited for tourism and all that entails. Karen is engaged in studying these buildings and has written the text for many of the nicely lettered description-plaques attached to a number of buildings. Dendrochronology has been carried out on many of the buildings, establishing accurate dating for them - something we need so badly in the Hudson Valley.

There are many gable-fronted fachwerk houses. In the past, many had their half-timbering stuccoed over, and some are left in this condition, but a goodly number have been extensively restored, more or less, to their original appearance by the removal of the stucco. Many have modern windows installed in them. It should be noted that the lower stories are invariably of masonry, and vaulted cellars are common.

Change is inevitable, and we are fortunate that the appearance of Meisenheim, and many other similar towns, remain as faithful as they do to their historic appearance. There was a wave of 'modernization, in the middle of the 18th century - this is probably when many buildings had their half-timbering stuccoed over. A number of fine street doorways, carved in sandstone and dated are to be seen. Some of the doors survive, of batten construction and made of oak, carved with false-panels in rococo designs. The pulpit in the church, carved in the 1760s is the ultimate production of a woodcarver of this time.

There is the understandable desire on the part of today's occupants of the old houses to live in as up-to-date style in as much comfort as possible. So out goes the old interior woodwork on to the scrap pile, just as in the 18th century the woodwork of earlier times was discarded. We know the process in the Hudson Valley quite well.

Fortunately, 'modernization' generally has not extended to the attics and roofs, .and certainly the ones we saw with Karen Gross remain pretty much as they have always been. The oldest house we saw, dated to the first decade of the 15th century, 200 years before Henry Hudson sailed up the river that bears his name. The house was lengthened later in the century and this section has a round stair tower (as do other houses in the town) with stone steps. The newest part has a roof from the 1730's. The earliest part has a simple rafter roof of fairly steep pitch. The rafters are fairly closely spaced; They are mortise-and-tenoned at the ridge and have collar ties mortised into them. Pantiles are hung on battens like shingle lath. The additions have 'liegender stuhls' as widely spaced trusses carrying purlins to support the intermediate rafters. All the early roof framing we have seen in Germany, both this trip and the one in 2000 was of partly hewn, mostly pit-sawn oak.

There is so much that could be written, or better illustrated, about the construction of the roofs' we saw, but space does not permit it. We saw many examples of the use of 'leigender stuhls' - in some instances on two levels within a roof of great width and height. We saw them in the 'modern' (relatively) roof of a watermill built in the 1780's in the village of Rehborn It is still in use milling specialty flour from quality grain, employing the most up-to-date machinery with computerized Karen Gross and Peter Sinclair examine Liegender stuhls in the lofts of Meisenheim control, within the original walls and covered with a 217 -year old roof. Alas, because of economics, difficulty in finding supplies of grain of high quality and fewer custom bakeries to provide with flour, this mill may soon become redundant.

One day, Karen took us to see the open air museum at Bad Sodernheim (Rheinland-Pfalzische Freilandmuseum) where we met its creator, Herr Klaus Freckmann. This is a work in progress with many moved-in buildings - some being worked on; some furnished and some used as exhibit space. The site is large with variegated terrain - a valley; a stream; woodland, with the buildings set out as individual farmsteads or in village groupings. The effect is very realistic. The quality of the craftsmanship in re-erecting and restoring the buildings is of the highest order. We were disappointed with the interior interpretation as many were done in the late 19th century - early 20th century style.

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Maybe because it is easier to obtain furnishings of this period? One would rather, I think, like to see the interiors of a 16th, 17th or 18th century house shown as they would have looked at the time the house was built. I note though, that this is a tendency seen at other museum villages.

There was an interesting exhibit of stove plates shown as 'works of art' but there were no complete jamb stoves to be seen.

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The Henry Britt barn 7-bay side entrance circa 1860 Holland Township Hunterdon County, NJ Plan and Photographs of Cow Stalls.

Four horses are stalled on the left and seven cows on the right with the threshing floor between them.

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HVVA Newsletters

He captioned his drawing, "The above figure represents ye base of a Barrack of 5 posts with a Plate & Sill 10 feet in the Clear marked A, B, F, E, G The figure within it is one of ye same plate & sill 4 posted whereby you may see the great Conveniency of 5 posts..." and he goes on at length and detail about the many advantages of the five sided barrack especially, that by adding one pole and one plate to a four sided barrack, so much more storage space is obtained.

Charles Read seems to describe the major/minor rafter system that we find in the above-ground archaeology but seldom in the written record. "Rafters of 9 ft. long will do as ye comer rafters do not come down & those to ye sides are shorter. The block in the middle should be of good wood trimmed to a point & tarred or painted."

Charles makes some questionable barrack suggestions. "Holes 9 inches apart. Plates, intertices & brace stuff 3 by 5 Rafter stuff 2 inches by 4 putt on yr Rafters with a Crow foot or Bird bill."

According to the evidence, people who drilled the holes in barrack poles usually spaced them about 12-inches apart and the rafter tails were shaved down and inserted in angled holes in the plate.

In 1756 Chas Read noted that his friend, Robert Ogden of Elizabethtown, had built a shelter in conjunction with a barrack for "about 30 cattle." "The Cattle had no floor but lay on ye Ground. There was a Plate supported by a Post here & there in wch was fixed one post fast above & bellow fastened to the front of ye trough the other post wch stands at ye distance of abt 8 inches from the other had a long mortise above & moved on a pin bellow so as to fall off from the other atop wide enough to Lett an axes head in & then it slipped up & an Iron long hasp came over so as to fasten in their Heads."

This certainly sounds like a stanchion. So how come this advance in technology took so long to be accepted by a New Jersey farmer like Henry Britt.

(*) Diane Abel. Robert & Amelia Andersen, Michael Barber, Jim Decker, Bob & Shirley Dearest, Bob Erich, Robert Hedges, Charles Greene, Maggie McDowell, Brian Parker, Alvin Shafer, Peter Sinclair, Paul Spencer, John & Marion Stevens and George Van Sickle. (***) HVV A Newsletter September 2003

From the Editor; The Annual HVVA show-and tell meeting at the Marble town firehouse went well with 18 members (*) from Long Island, Ulster, Columbia and Dutchess Counties, New York attending plus Bob and Shirley Dearest and their neighbor Diane Abel. from the Delaware River Water Gap area of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Millbrook Village is an active living history museum there(**). Three long tables were covered with an assortment of things, tools, architectural fragments, measured drawings, photographs, books, and objects whose use was in question. These lead to a lively tell session; filled with the history of things, lots of geography and good stories, some genealogy. Bob Erick spoke about the Hake house in Orange County that was destroyed a few years ago. John Stevens brought drawings of it and Jim Decker displayed a large set of photographs of it. Some from the 1930's HABS documentation. They spoke of what they personally recalled about the unusual early log and frame house.

In the more formal business session the present HVVA statistics were given:

membership of about 225
monthly Newsletters mailed about 250
production of each Newsletter issues cost about, $300
present bank account, $1785

Membership and newsletter distribution have remained constant over the past two years. Cash on hand is much better due to the increase in membership-dues and some generous gifts. It was agreed to open a special bank account for the publication of John Stevens' coming book on New World Dutch Architecture. Our application for a 'Furthermore' grant for the book was turned down but we intend to re-apply. A Long Island fund-raiser is still in the works and when the book is ready for the printer there will be a pre-publication sale.

The future and direction of HVV A was discussed and a number of suggestions were made from applying for grants to building a web site. There was a widely expressed feeling that HVVA needs a home base, a site that can house an archive and museum and include a shop for the repair of timber frames. The fate of the 1727 brick Van Huesen house near Hudson, Columbia County was discussed and John Stevens donated drawings of it.

A recent article by David Vorhees in the Columbia County History and Heritage journal points out the importance of the Van Housen house, it being one of 7 of this type of early 18th century Albany brick/frame houses to have survived and in this case it was little altered before its abandonment, maybe 50 years ago.

It was decided to meet at the Marble town Firehouse at 10 AM on Saturday, February 14 for further discussion. It was urged that the HVVA Trustees and others interested in participating attend the meeting. It was decided that our regular Saturday meetings should be held on the third Saturday of the Month. The regular February meeting to be held 10 AM Saturday the 21st at the 1747 stone parsonage off 9H in Germantown, Columbia County, NY.

In addition to the hay barrack, I have been interested in finding out more about how animals were kept in Hudson Valley barns two hundred years ago. Very few examples of stalls remain in barns that have not been altered over time. Often changes were made because of the increase in size of the horses and cows that the farmer kept and sometimes it seems because of what the law dictated or the agricultural societies suggested. Because of this missing and fragmented early evidence, there is a lack of knowledge about how animals were traditionally stalled and if there were regional patterns.

Many of the Dutch aisle barns in the Hudson Valley have evidence in the longitudinal struts (**) of notches or holes for a stake manger for hay for horses stalled in that aisle. One early 19th century example of a traditional horse manger survives in the Deertz barn (***) moved from Montgomery to Columbia County in the late 20th century.

Normally, the horses were stalled in one aisle and the cows in the opposite aisle facing the wooden threshing floor between them. Often the longitudinal struts for the cow aisle are missing in Dutch barns because of later changes made in the cow stalls. Aside from the Snyder barn in Saugerties, no cow aisle I know of does not have a modern concrete floor and stanchions, either home made of wood or manufactured from iron, but in a number of Dutch barn frames that have survived the longitudinal struts have 1 1/2-inch vertical holes drilled through for stakes that formed a wall. I have assumed that this was the earliest method of tethering cows, by chaining them to vertical stakes or poles.

Carla Cielo of Ringoes, New Jersey, who has been studying and documenting the vernacular architecture of her area for many years, sent me some interesting pictures and a drawing of some unaltered horse and cow stalls in the 7-bay side entrance, circa 1860, Henry Britt barn, near here.

The plan of the Britt barn is like that of a Dutch barn. The cows to one side and the horses to the other and the threshing floor between them. It has wagon doors to either side of the threshing floor and small animal doors in the corners. The barn held seven cows and four horses. It is noteworthy that there is no partition between the team of horses stalled in the lower left. The arrangement for the cow is very like a horse stall, the animal being chained to the feed box. Some of the cows are separated by small angled partition walls. Perhaps this form, like the stake-wall, predates the stanchion.

Charles Read of New Jersey wrote his notes on agriculture in the 1750's. "Your grain is best Kept in Barracks with Intertices supported & the Bottom supported abt 15 or 18 inches from ye ground so that dogs & Catts may go under it & place these so near ye barn End as to pitch in at a hole on ye thrashing floor wch should be at one End of a Small barn."

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