Look at Them Now! Farmhouses of the New York City Area, 200+ Years Later

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Recently, we took a look at some of the old colonial houses featured in the second-ever issue of the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs, and investigated how one of them (Massachusetts’ Dalton House) has held up over the years. While some of the nation’s earliest architecture has been lost in the centuries since it was built, many structures are not just still standing, but more beautiful than ever. Painstaking restoration and historical preservation enables us to appreciate their many fine details in person. For virtually every Monograph issue published between 1916 and today, there’s at least one building that can be revisited.

The Monographs didn’t just gift us with rich historical accounts of these structures, they also provide a glimpse at what they looked like in the early 20th century through the photography accompanying each written piece. It’s fun to see how these houses, churches and other structures have changed since then. In a new ongoing series, we’ll examine more of these striking before-and-afters.

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This week, let’s check in with the farm houses featured in Volume I, Issue III of the White Pine Monographs. Built in what was then ‘New Netherlands,’ i.e. New Jersey and New York, these houses date back as far as 1790. While the prominently featured Board Zabriskie House in Paramus, New Jersey was demolished in 2012, the John Peter Westervelt House of Englewood, New Jersey and the Lefferts Historic House of Brooklyn still stand proud.

It’s no real surprise that few of these New Netherlands farmhouses exist today, given what New York City and its surrounding area was set to become. The Westervelt House, pictured top and built in 1808, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and appears to be privately owned, and its facade is immaculately well-maintained.

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The story of the Lefferts Historic House is a particularly interesting one. Before this white Dutch Colonial structure was built in the late 1700s, an earlier home in its place burned down just prior to the start of the Battle of Brooklyn. An heir of the builders, John Lefferts, left the house to the city in 1917 but required that it be moved to city property – and it was. Lefferts Historic House is now a museum situated in the Children’s Corner of Prospect Park, and it’s full of traditional tools, games and toys for visitors to engage with.

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While it’s looking a bit shabbier than the Westervelt House, it’s a wonder that it’s still in place given how much New York City and its boroughs have changed since the 18th century. You can see more historic photos of the house at BrooklynHistory.org, and recent photos at the blog Not Intent On Arriving.

Architectural Monographs: The Burlington Courthouse of Mount Holly, NJ

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Back in the colonial era, there weren’t professional architects to hire when you needed to build a house or a public building. If you were a landowner, you were expected to take on the project yourself, having received some measure of knowledge about the subject as part of your general education. That’s why the people credited with building some of the most notable 17th and 18th century structures in any given town in New England are typically ordinary, albeit wealthy and influential, local residents.

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When it came time to build a County Court House in Burlington County, New Jersey in the late 1600s, a group of gentlemen entrusted with the project decided to mimic Philadelphia’s grand City Hall to the best of their ability.This issue of the historic White Pine Monographs delves into the details of the design, including plans of all the building’s various elements.

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“The Court House which these amateur New Jersey architects conceived is not as well known to the architectural student of today as is ‘Congress Hall’ – not because they were unsuccessful in their purpose to create a beautiful and well constructed building, but rather because Mount Holly is in a ‘sand hole’ in West Jersey, if we use the geographical term used in the early days, several miles from the old city of Burlington, the first capital of West Jersey, and not on the beaten path of the architectural explorer.”

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One of New Jersey’s oldest buildings, the court house still stands today and is considered a ‘hidden gem’ of the state’s historic architecture.

Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: The Unique Farmhouses of Old ‘New Netherlands’

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The Colonial architecture of Massachusetts and Virginia tends to get all the attention and accolades when it comes to historical remembrance, but the Dutch had plenty of their own charming structures throughout their colony of ‘New Netherlands,’ in areas of what we know today as New York and New Jersey. By 1915, when this issue of the White Pine Monographs was written, many had been sadly neglected.

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The ones that remained at that time were photographed and displayed throughout this issue, and they’re brimming with beautiful and unique architectural details like gently curving roofs, railings along the rooflines and artistic stained glass around the doorways.

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While it’s hard to tell exactly when they were built, many seem to have been erected around the same time as the earliest remaining examples in New England and Virginia. While the English brought many of their home country’s architectural traditions with them to America, the Dutch seem to have started over altogether, with the houses remaining in Long Island and New Jersey resembling “nothing but themselves,” being even more radically different from the work of the Dutch in Holland than they were from the work of the other colonists.

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“This difference is not alone a question of material, which might be expected in a new country, but is also a question of form and detail. The steep-pitched roofs of Holland were here transformed into low gentle lines, and the narrow flat cornices of the mother-country were replaced by broad overhanging eaves, from which Classic treatment in general was absent.”

See the whole gallery and read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Wooden Architecture of the Delaware Valley

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While most early settlers in New England stuck to the architectural typologies they were used to in their home country – ignoring abundant timber resources in Pennsylvania to build brick or rock houses, for example – one particular region stands out as a notable exception. In the Lower Delaware Valley, including Eastern Pennsylvania, West Jersey and Delaware, wooden architecture was quite common despite the tendency of settlers to follow their ancestral traditions.

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In other areas, builders went to great lengths to bake bricks or source stone, but the people of the Lower Delaware Valley realized the futility of this endeavor and decided to go with the obvious solution: build with the pine that thrives in the area.

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This issue of the historic White Pine Monographs takes a close look at those houses. One example is ‘The WIllows’ in New Jersey, near Gloucester, built around 1702 and believed to be one of the earliest wooden houses in the region with some additions that came in later years. Writes the author, “The structure is really a piece of cabinet work rather than a piece of carpentry, and is a monument to the skill of the joiner – the old term is peculiarly appropriate for the artisan in this instance – who framed it together.”

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Read more at the White Pine Monograph Library.

Architectural Monographs: Early Dutch Houses of New Jersey

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On the banks of the Hackensack River in New Jersey stand beautiful colonial houses with quaint gambrel roofs, wide overhanging eaves, and broad, flat walls made of brown stone. While these houses have been deemed ‘Dutch Colonial’, that term isn’t entirely accurate. These homes, built in the 17th and 18th centuries, are entirely unique, owing to Dutch sensibilities, the building materials available in this New Jersey landscape and the virtually unlimited labor that came about due to a large influx of slaves to the region in the late 1600s.

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Practicality dictated many of the architectural elements of early Dutch Houses of New Jersey. The overhanging eaves divert water from the walls of the buildings to prevent washing out the clay joints in the masonry. But there are plenty of stunning details that are purely ornamental, such as the intricately wrought medallions (brackets used under cornices) seen in some of the houses’ gables.

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In Volume XI, Issue III of the White Pine Architectural Monographs, these Dutch houses are explored. Written in 1925, this architectural record details the aesthetic qualities of these homes, how they were built, and provides photos of notable examples, such as the Hendrick Brinkerhoff House in Teaneck, pictured above.