NEWSLETTER, March/April 2005
FROM THE JOURNAL Saturday, March 5 We (*) met at the Marmaduke Foster House in Pleasatville, Westchester County, NY, for a tour of sites organized by Carsten Johnson, the village historian who had heard of us on the internet. This frame house is undergoing restoration to a 19th century condition and will be used for offices but will take advantage of the historic character of the building. The restoration architect, Charles Henkels, AIA, who gave us the tour, we had met at the Lott house in Brooklyn a few years ago. He said that the Lott house continues to have good local input and had recently received money to continue the restoration.
Marmaduke Foster House
Many of the walls of the Forster House are open now and make it easy for inspection, looking for its beginnings in 1785-1788. It was twice drastically altered in the 19th century so that evidence of its original late 18th century condition is scarce and fragmented. After a few-hour search, samples of the original red, one-inch beaded weatherboard siding were found and evidence on two studs of lead-weighted window sash. The look of the original house began to re appear, a five-bay fagade, story-anda-half, four-room, center-hall house with tall plastered ceilings on the main floor, lengthened soon after it was built with a small addition. It originally had an open center stairs, as it does today, indicating that the loft had finished rooms.
It was a large well built house with a Dutch frame (3-foot knee-walls), and refinements like fancy narrow flooring in the best-room, and joists in the two center-bays of the cellar so that long floor boards could run the length of the center-hall, rather than across it.
The cellar has an extra tall ceiling, impressive stone work and wide (5-foot) exterior entrance. It is said that animals were kept here. The Forster House and the John Rosell House we would visit next, both have partial rather than full cellars. The Forster house had a secret brick lined cellar room accessible only by trap door. The two houses seem to represent a large and small model of a similar 2-room deep plan. They are like post war frontier houses built in the hilly land of northeastern Phillipsburg, the wealthiest manor on the Hudson River before The War and after The War dissolved, because of the family's loyalty. The land was then open for ownership rather than lease holding.
There were some features found in the house that were unknown to most of us. They might represent regional practice in the framing. The joining of the rafter to the plate in the Forster House is very like that illustrated in Jack Sobon's book, Historic American Timber Joinerv. A Graphic Guide, page 36 (**) that he found "in a well crafted 18th century barn formerly in Hoosac, New York," on the Vermont boarder.
John Stevens submitted this drawing of the Foster rafter foot (right) and one from an English frame dendro-dated 1680, on Long Island (left). Of this English "step-lap rafter seat" e Jack Sobon, who lives in Massachusetts, writes, "... the joint found more often than any other. It was used on one of England's oldest buildings, the Barley Barn at Cressing Temple, ca 1200 and was a standard here in America."
However step-laps are rather rare in the Hudson Valley and here in Ulster County they cut the rafter foot flush with the plate, no birds-mouth, two large forged nails and they work fine, for hundreds of years.
Another notable feature of the frame is that the studs are all riven (split) and very twisted. It seems to indicate that the builders were far from a saw mill and making do with a froe, a maul and an axe and leaving the bark where it didn't interfere with the lath and plaster. There was no evidence of brick or of mud-and-straw infill in the frame.
The John Rosell House, circa 1790, is located on the campus of Pace University and is used as an environmental center. It is remarkably un modernized. Its rafters and plates are visible and it is presently used as an environmental office with a collection of small friendly caged animals, live birds, turtles, reptiles and snakes.
In 2002, John Stevens wrote about a frame design that he found in the Lower Hudson Valley that he also found in the Rosell House (***). The front wall posts are10-inches higher than the back, suggesting it originally had a front overhang. These roof line extension over- hangs, characteristic of Long Island and New Jersey houses, have been ascribed to Flemish influence but John found that they developed in the 18th century and are more likely a New World development. Another notable feature of the Rosell house are its two corner fireplaces.
The John Rosell House, circa 1790 Campus of Pace University Westchester County, NY
John and Marion Stevens, Dennis Tierney and Rob Yasinsac.
From the Editor: A $25,000 Dutchess County Industrial Development grant has been awarded the Quitman Resource center for ongoing restoration work an the Palatine Farmstead in Rhinebeck. Work on the restoration of the circa 1840 front of the house is complete and ready to paint. Work on the back of the house is underway and preparations for the April barn repair workshop are underway. We have had six enquiries.
The Dutch Farm Survey of New Netherland 2005-2008, The ambitious project we are undertaking with The Dutch Barn Preservation Society, is also underway.. A letter written by Ned Pratt has been sent to all county historians in the area and it is being included with this newsletter. Wally Wheeler is doing the computer work, forms, and data base. HVVA is serving as coordinator of the 15 New York counties bellow Albany and DBPS is taking the northern New York counties, New Jersey and four other states.
The problems I have been having with my two computers lately have been the reasons this newsletter issue is so late. I have one computer for internet use, a world I can get to about half the time, because of my primitive phone line hook up, no cable here. My writing and record keeping computer, free of virus, is supposed to be reliable but isn't, is supposed to talk with its partner but doesn't, and spends a lot of time in the shop, giving me more time to shovel snow and chop wood.
Peter Sinclair. Editor
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