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VH Forum- House and Genealogy

Significance of Van Hoesen House
From National Historic Register Nomination Form, March 1979
by Ruth Piwonka

The Jan van Hoesen house is one of approximately seven brick dwellings that survive from the first half of the eighteenth century and that represent a colonial architectural style unique to the Dutch community of old Albany County during that period. The style originated in sixteenth and seventeenth century Netherlands and other northern European vernacular dwellings that were descendants of medieval longhouses. The form was introduced in the New Netherlands before the middle of the seventeenth century but did not gain prevalence in Albany County until ca. 1715-1740, a period free from military conflict and a time of economic prosperity. When the style is rendered in brick, it is most reminiscent of dwellings depicted in townscapes in Dutch seventeenth-century paintings, and is understood to be not a mere farmhouse but a substantial upper middle class residence expressing fashion and prosperity in a northern European manner.

Various evidence suggests that the Jan van Hoesen house was probably built by 1720--but it is not likely to have been built before ca. 1715, since freeholder houses of this style seem to date from the close of Queen Anne's war.

The van Hoesen house is characteristic of the steeply pitched roof, parapet gabled houses with abundant doorways and light-giving windows valued by Dutch and other northern European residents in the upper Hudson Valley. Usually built of brick over a timber frame, such residences varied in the arrangement of windows, doors, and rooms within the elongated rectangular form. The plans for such houses were determined by the person for whom they were being constructed and drawn up in contracts with carpenters and masons, who were obliged to follow the instructions enumerated in the contracts.

The house appears to be very similar to the Hendrik Bries house (now burned), illustrated in H. W. Reynolds Dutch Houses of the Hudson Valley Before 1776. The Bries house staircase was removed before the fire and installed in the Luykas van Alen house, Kinderhook. Its turnings are remarkably similar to the staircase in the van Hoesen house. A strong traditional date of 1722 is given for the Bries house. Another parallel feature are the tie irons that decorate the two houses. The similar room arrangement on either side of the central central passage are also significant. It is likely that the same craftsmen built most of these houses in the area along the east side of the Hudson River. While many of the more modest farmhouses of the period grew room by room and tended to develop an asymmetrical form, the more substantial brick and frame building such as the Jan van Hoesen house had symmetrical arrangements of doors and windows. The Luykas van Alen house (before its north addition), the Bries house, the Jan van Hoesen house, the stone van Hoesen house, the Jan van Loon house, the Gerret Vandenburgh house, and the Douw house of 1724 are all rural examples of symmetrical houses

Although the steep roof, large windows and doors, and overall long, narrow appearance are characteristic of many surviving (in fact or in illustrations) Dutch houses of the first half of the eighteenth century, this general plan left room for considerable variation of floor plan. Room layout that was either symmetrical or asymmetrical could be arranged, and the choice probably reflected the taste preference of the original owner.

The van Hoesen house reflects significant aspects of the social and cultural history of the upper Hudson Valley. A history of the van Hoesen family and their community at Claverack affords a balancing view of Hudson Valley colonial history which usually emphasizes manor lords and tenants at the expense of successful freeholders who established themselves in prosperous agricultural and mercantile activities.

The first occupant and owner of the house is identified through the masonry monogram worked in the gable wall of the house: [T. I. V. H.] A thorough study of church records, the 1720 freeholders list for Albany County, and the van Hoesen genealogy leads to the conclusion that the only I (J) van Hoesen who married a "T" is Jan van Hoesen (1687-1745) who married in 1711 Tanneke Witbeck, a daughter of Hendrick Witbeck of Claverack.

This Jan is the grandson of Jan Franse van Hoesen (Husem, Husen), born in 1608/9 at Husum, now in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. At the time of his 1639 marriage in the Dutch Reformed church at Amsterdam, he is described as a sailor . The couple came to New Amsterdam that same year. By 1652, they were at Albany and received a patent for a lot and garden there. In 1662 he purchased (confirmed , by patent after his death; dated 11 May 1667) from Indians a tract of land at Claverack, which embraced land beginning at the third Claver south of Major Staats ' Creek on the river to the land of Slichtenhorst (an agent for the van Rensselaer family who had also purchased this land in 1649) and easterly beyond the great (Claverack) creek. After Jan Franse's death in 1665, the estate was administered by his widow Volckje Juriaens and her second husband Gerrit Visbeeck. In 1703/4, the final division to the heirs of Jan Franse van Hoesen was recorded in Albany County Deeds 4 : 278-282. To Johannes, the second surviving son of Jan Franse, went the broad flats on the eastside of Claverack Creek. This Johannes (1655- after 1724) apparently transferred title of the land to his son Jan van Hoesen by 1720 when Jan is recorded as a freeholder at Claverack. The transaction was not recorded but may have occurred at the time of his marriage in 1711 to Tanneke Witbeck. A recorded deed of 1724 conveys lands around South Bay to Johannes' younger sons, Gerrit and Jacob (Albany County Deeds 5: 199-201). Although these two occupied the lands before they were deeded, they were not listed on the 1720 freeholders list - a fact that underscores the specific significance of the freeholders list for 1720.

Jan van Hoesen and his wife had eleven children, of whom three sons appear to be at the locality of this house on the 1779 Claverack tax lists. Jan also appears to be the Jan or John who is mentioned in New-York Historical Society Collections, 1909: 189, where he is identified as a mariner in 1725. As a mariner, Jan had a significant occupation beyond that of farmer, following perhaps in the tradition of his grandfather, and opportunity to substantially increase his income. Such prosperity would be necessary for him to build such a substantial house reflecting northern European elegance.

Jan also served as a deacon in the Lutheran church at Lunenberg (present Athens, Greene County, New York) and was extremely active in church affairs, particularly in connection with supervising the building of a home for Pastor Wilhelm Berkenmeyer. His wife Tanneke in 1745 made a contribution of ten pounds for some project--appreciably more than most parishioners made at this time.

The significance of the van Hoesen family is discovered in records of the Athens Lutheran church, Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York, Court Minutes of Albany, Rensselaerwyck, and Fort Orange, The Albany Protocol, and by omission in the Claverack Reformed Dutch Church records, and in van Rensselaer family genealogy.

Claverack in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries comprised the central third of present day Columbia County. According to authoritative records and traditional local history, Claverack was the sole property of the van Rensselaer family--with patroon Kiliaen giving the whole of Claverack to his younger brother Hendrick of Fort Crailo in 1704 (a detail undoubtedly linked to the recording of the division of the van Hoesen patent 1704). Along the eastern shore of the Hudson River, the central part of Claverack included a highly desirable promontory of land flanked by a north and south bay suitable for landing of sloops and sailing vessels. This land between the two bays was what Jan Franse van Hoesen purchased. It became Claverack Landing which served not only local farmers and residents, but also traffic which came from western New England to take advantage of the Hudson River to carry goods to market. From the time of Jan Franse van Hoesen's patent through the Revolution, van Rensselaer family members repeatedly attempted to wrest these lands from the van Hoesens. The van Rensselaers were ultimately foiled when the van Hoesen family members sold the promontory and the north and south bays to thirty-one New Englanders in 1784 who in turn established an ambitious and successful city based on mercantile pursuits. This successful city of Hudson and the subsequent creation of the town of Greenport obscured the colonial period history of the area. Furthermore, local histories are largely based on Dutch Reformed church records, which in turn are the basis for genealogical histories of families associated with the same area. The van Hoesen family is infrequently mentioned in the Dutch Reformed church records and members of the family did not frequently marry the "Claverack families."

The van Hoesen history of Claverack reveals another aspect of the colonial period in the upper Hudson Valley. Many settlers who came to Albany and Rensselaerwyck in the seventeenth century were not Dutch, but Belgian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German, Flemish, and French. Their religions were also varied and a sufficient number of them were at variance with Dutch Reformed doctrine to support the small Lutheran congregation which was established in the 1660s at Albany. This church made the Dutch Reformed authorities nervous and was disbanded --but by the end of the seventeenth century when pro-Leisler sentiment still lingered among some quarters of the area, the Lutheran-minded families moved about twenty-five miles south down river and formed a community that embraced both west and east shores at Lunenberg and Claverack Landing. The fact that Lutheran van Hoesens had already owned land in this area for nearly half a century may have governed their choice of settlement.

Baptism and marriage records for these families are found largely in the Zion Lutheran Church of Athens records and indicate that to a large extent the families tended to maintain social ties with each other to the exclusion of Dutch Reformed families. These people reacted with caution to the Palatine population that came into the area after 1710. Families with Lutheran affiliations also lived at Nutten Hook and Kinderhook. Lutheran families tended to be freeholders rather than tenants of van Rensselaer or residents of the city of Albany.

In this connection it is particularly significant that of the thirty-five freeholders listed in Claverack in 1720, at least twenty-one of them are associated with land ownership in the van Hoesen Patent. Furthermore, of the thirty-five freeholders, four were van Hoesens--Jacob, Kasper, Jan, and Johannis, and one Jurie Jan, probably the fifth van Hoesen. Another twelve of the freeholders were married to van Hoesen women or had daughters who were married to van Hoesens. Many of these twelve appear to have gained land through their van Hoesen relationships. All of the twenty-one freeholders have distinct and sometimes important associations with the Lutheran church congregation that by 1720 was establishing itself in the Lunenberg - Claverack area. The marriage in 1717 of Gerritje Herdyk (granddaughter of Jan Franse van Hoesen ) to Pastor Justus Falckner, the first Lutheran minister ordained in America (Delaware, 1703), signals an intensification - of Lutheran commitment in the community along the Hudson.

As the most intact remaining example of a type of non-British architecture of the colonial period which is unique to the Hudson Valley, the van Hoesen house is of state significance. It reflects the taste and lifestyle of an important and frequently overlooked socio-economic category--the Hudson Valley freeholder. Its builders were important catalysts to regional development throughout the eighteenth century--development which had religious, social, economic, and artistic manifestations which are still evident in artifacts in the written record.

It is likely that significant historic period archeology relating to the van Hoesens exists on the area immediately surrounding the structure. However, no testing or research has as yet been undertaken.