Pro Bono


VH Forum- House and Genealogy

A Dutch Past Worth Preserving
Closer look at 278-year-old house in Claverack reveals architectural gems in the rough
By Times Union Newspaper, Albany, NY
Copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, NY

BOB GARDINIER Staff Writer Date: Thursday, January 11, 2007

CLAVERACK - Standing in an orderly trailer park off Route 66 is a scruffy brick building with broken windows that looks like it might collapse.

A casual passer-by might think the building on a knoll overlooking the Claverack Creek and on the property of the Dutch Village Mobile Home Park is a storage shed for the park. Look closer. It's much more than that.

The bricks in its construction are smaller than the common building brick. Wooden pegs and hand-turned screws were used as fasteners instead of nails, and wrought-iron fleur-de-lis beam anchors can be seen in both gables. Visible in the brick of the east-facing gable are the large initials "T", "I" (the Dutch "J"), "V" and "H" fashioned from darker "clinker" bricks.

The house was built 278 years ago by Dutch seafarer and farmer Jan Van Hoesen. He came from a family of freeholders and was the grandson of Jan "Jan the Red Head" Van Hoesen, who bought the land that is now the city of Hudson and parts of Greenport from the Mohicans in 1622.

The "T" is for Tanneke Witbeck Van Hoesen, Jan's wife, who bore him 11 children. The house is the only known surviving example in the region of the type of monogramming in masonry done between 1715 to 1750.

"Those initials show that the builder was very proud of his home, which was upper class at the time," said Ed Klingler of Chatham. "It's worn at the heels but full of details from that peri od and certainly worth saving."

Klingler is president of the Van Hoesen House Historical Foundation Inc. which is working to purchase, clean up and save the structure, which was added to state and federal historic registers on its 250th birthday.

Some historical journals say Van Hoesen built the house using bricks that were ballast in his ships that crossed the Atlantic and brought goods up the Hudson.

"I don't believe that is accurate," Klingler said. "Bricks were being made here in those days, and I don't think they would have wasted space in a ship with them."

The house is one of about a dozen pre-Revolutionary War Dutch homes still standing in New York. It is just south of the circa 1737 Luykas Van Allen House, which is now maintained as a museum by the Columbia County Historical Society in the town of Kinderhook on Route 9H.

Inside the house, which has not been inhabited since the 1960s, the floors are wide planks. Huge hewn beams make up the low ceiling, and most people have to duck going through the doorways.

There are fireplaces on both end walls that were originally Dutch jamb-less style, with open hearths with large brick smoke hoods. They were updated with jambs and mantels during either the Federal or Victorian periods, which also are architecturally significant, Klingler said.

"This is why I got excited about this house," Klingler said. "So many things are still intact."

Some original brass locks and latches, which used huge keys to bolt the doors against intruders, are still intact, as are several original door hinges. The 13 stair steps leading to a second floor were described in the paperwork for the state and national historic registers as extremely unusual in their architectural beauty and simplicity.

Original polychrome Dutch-style decorations still can be seen painted on some door frames. The two-story house also likely had the old Dutch double doors, which are gone.

The home's location on a high rise above fertile creek flats was common in rural construction in the early 1700s, Klingler said. The rectangular house also conforms to another rural pattern - the main entries are in the side walls and its chimneys in the gables. The arrangement was reversed in urban construction.

According to the New York Historical Society Collections, Jan Van Hoesen was a mariner and a freeholder, meaning he did not have to answer to the king of England or later the Van Rensselaer patroons.

"He had a significant occupation beyond that of a farmer, following perhaps in the tradition of his grandfather, and opportunity to substantially increase his income," according to the collection. "Such prosperity would be necessary for him to build such a substantial house reflecting northern European elegance."