Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER, FALL 1998, Vol. 11, Issue 2

The Palen Dutch Barn and House of c.1800 MARBLETOWN, ULSTER COUNTY, NEW YORK

By Peter Sinclair

The range of the Dutch barn extends from New Jersey to upstate New York. In this area where the Dutch settled, they developed a distinct style in their barn building. The basic similarities such as the center threshing floor and side aisles, H shaped bents and gable end wagon doors with pent roofs are what make a Dutch barn. As the Dutch period waned and grain production moved to western New York and the Midwest, changes in the basic Dutch barn style took place. These later barns are often referred to as "transitional Dutch barns" because they incorporate one or more of the basic characteristics of the Dutch barn but also deviate from the basic characteristics in some way. The changes vary greatly. Sometimes they are regional and sometimes they are not. The following article is about one example of a transitional Dutch barn the author calls a V-barn, and about the adjacent stone house.

The barn and house of this turn-of-the nineteenth-century Ulster County homestead have retained much of their original condition and so are good examples to examine together. They represent a regional expression of their time and culture. When the traditions of Colonial Hudson Valley architecture were established in the early seventeenth-century, they were based primarily on building traditions of the Netherlands. In the transference of these European ideas to America, they were selected, simplified and changed to suit a new environment and situation.

Above: Palen Dutch barn looking southwest. This photo shows how the right side aisle was originally built lower than the left aisle and threshing floor to accommodate the sloping terrain. The exterior doors and siding are not original. All photos by Peter Sinclair.

Below: Palen House looking west. The dormer windows in the roof and the open porch are recent additions. Ten two-panel shutters were found in the cellar. These originally flanked the windows and added an impressive decorative effect to the facade of the house.

In the Netherlands many types of timber frame barns developed from the prehistoric aisled-house model to suit regional and individual tastes.(1)

The first carpenters and farmers of the Hudson Valley chose the simple anchorbeam aisled-barn type and later generations maintained its basic true form, it seems, until the last-half of the eighteenth-century.

The Palen barn represents a regional elaboration of the true-form Dutch barn. Three of these elaborations are 1) the lowered side aisle, 2) the U-Barn plan (U-barns are Dutch barns with only one gable end wagon door due to the last bay in the center aisle being used for hay storage) with lowered anchorbeams in the back bents and 3) the open bay. Many variations and combinations of these changes are found in post-Revolutionary barns in the mid-Hudson Valley.

The timber frame of the Palen barn has no marriage or two-foot marks, indicating that it is a square rather than scribe rule frame. (2) The square rule was a system developed in America that replaced European scribe-rule methods. Square-rule was a concept of measuring and joining the frame which saved time and standardized rather than individualized the cuts. In Pennsylvania, scribe rule was still being used in the late nineteenth century, but in the mid-Hudson Valley square rule seems to have been introduced at the beginning of the century. Local written accounts of its introductions date to the first decades of the nineteenth century. It seems to have pre-dated the first written instructions (by Edward Shaw) in the 1830s (4) which were typically less instructive than the oral tradition must have been.

The Palen House is built of limestone and has a two-room center-hall plan. There is also a cellar kitchen, a feature that has been found in other and earlier Dutch stone houses like the 1700 Kipp house in Dutchess County and, possibly, the 1712 Jean Hasbrouck house in New Paltz, Ulster County. In addition to the barn and house, there are the partial remains of a three-bay banked carriage barn that seems contemporary with the other buildings.

Longitudinal sections-In all the aisle bays of section A and in aisle bay 4 in section S, aisle struts between the bents are joined to alternate side wall posts and rest on the longitudinal struts. This is a later method of timber framing6 often seen in house frames to increase the number of joists without using more bents and may imply a more permanent floor above the horse side aisle, Center section C shows how the lowered beams in the back bay form a lower hay storage area and give better access to the main loft in the front three bays. All drawings with this article by Peter Sinclair.

Interior of Dutch barn looking North toward the right side aisle. Notice the lower loft bay over what would normally be the center threshing floor aisle (in this case an open bay) in the foreground (bay 4). This shows how a wagon could not have been able to enter at one gable end of the barn and exit at the other gable end as is the case in a true form Dutch barn. This particular style of barn has been seen in several cases throughout the range of Dutch barns (Deertz barn, Schoharie County, NY and barn at the Bronck House, Greene County, N.Y.) and is called by the author a "U-Barn".

Floor plan of the Palen Dutch barn. There is some question as to the original plan of the barn. Manger evidence in the left side aisle in bay 2 and 3 indicate space for four horses and a colting room on the end in bay 4. The use of the right side aisle is unclear. There is no evidence of cows but this may be gone. The space in bay 4, right side aisle originally had a four foot ceiling on its first level suggesting it was for pigs. A similar pig pen was part of the original 1813 construction preserved in a nearby barn (Bogart barn).

All three buildings have timbers reused from earlier buildings. The property is rented and the barn is unused. There are a number of structural problems developing in the barn that need attention, yet, paradoxically, it is often the neglected barn and house that contain the best aboveground archeological information.

The back doors to the open bay, their hardware and some clapboard siding to the side of the doors is the only original external surface of the Palen barn surviving. The clapboards contain the carved letters "FRP," probably for the original owner, and above the letters is a larger "AL" perhaps for the builder. John Fitchen, author of The New World Dutch Barn(5), visited the Palen barn in 1965 and numbered it 66 of the 76 he documented in New York and New Jersey from 1962 to 1965. Of the eight Dutch barns that Fitchen documented in Ulster County in the 1960s only three remain standing in the 90's, giving a sense of their rate of destruction. I know of eight or nine Dutch barns remaining in the township of Marbletown and maybe some are still undiscovered.

Fitchen described the Palen barn as a "4-bay, about 50 feet long, N-S orientation." My compass says, "N-E to S-W orientation," reminding us to always question the written word and the accuracy of a scientific instrument and the person who interprets it.

Fitchen went on to observe, "Wagon entrance to threshing floor occurs only at north (northeast) gable end. Unplanked floor of southernmost bay (open-bay) is about 5 feet below level of threshing floor. Two anchorbeams (bent 2 & 3) are 10" x 14 3/4" in section. Where drop in floor level occurs, two beams (bent 4) 6 1/2" X 8 1/2", and one above the other, serve in lieu of an anchorbeam. One alone of the anchorbeam braces (bent 1) is curved instead of a straight diagonal member. Anchorbeam tongues do not project(6) pairs of rafters. Regular pattern of very short sway braces (3 1/2' legs on purlin braces)."

The author has studied early American structures extensively, especially in Ulster County, New York. He is coauthor of the book "Town of Rochester, Report on Historic Barns and Timber Framing" and has written several other reports on subjects such as thatching, five-plate wall stoves and early Ulster County houses. This article is one of several that he has written on Dutch barns for the Newsletter.

Bent sections of Palen Dutch barn. Unlike the true form Dutch barn in which the internal bent sections are all the same, like Bent 2 and 3 of this barn, the design of bents 4 and 5 is altered to eliminate back wall wagon doors and develop a larger space for hay storage. Fitchen is correct in calling the lowered beam in bent 4 "in lieu of an anchorbeam" because it is not as massive as the internal anchorbeams of bents 2 and 3, and because it is not a free span but supported by posts and studs.

 

Part Two has the notes on Palen Dutch Barn and House.

NEWSLETTER, FALL 1998, Vol. 11, Issue 2, Part Two

The Dutch Barn Preservation Society

c/o The Mabee Farm Historic Site
1080 Main St. (Rt. 5S)
Rotterdam Junction, NY 12150

Site Phone: (518) 887-5073

 

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