Dutch Barn Preservation Society

Dedicated to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns

NEWSLETTER Spring 1993, Vol., 6, Issue 1

A Tale of Two Barns

by John R. Stevens
Photos are by the author unless noted.
In June, 1967 the writer commenced working as an architectural historian at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island. This museum village project had been started a few years earlier by the Nassau County Museum. He was immediately confronted with a daunting project - the restoration planning for the Minne Schenck House, built c.1730 at what later became Manhasset, on the north shore of Long Island, which was moved to the Restoration. This Dutch - American house represented a building heritage with which the writer was largely unfamiliar, although in 1964 he had surveyed a house at Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia which he later realized was of Dutch ancestry. This latter house had been built, he found out, by a New York Loyalist named Amberman, who may have come from Long Island. There had been a barn at the Nova Scotia site, an interior photograph of which the writer later obtained, showing anchor beam construction with extended wedged tenons. In 1964 the Nova Scotia house was believed to be of French origin, and to date to the early 1700's!

The writer found the literature about Dutch-American buildings was exceedingly scanty. There was little written about them except several picture books of Hudson Valley houses and the largely genealogical books by Helen Reynolds and Rosalie Fellows Bailey, the first covering the Hudson Valley and the latter western Long Island, Staten Island, Rockland County and areas of Dutch settlement in New Jersey. These books were published by the Holland Society in 1929 and 1934 respectively.

To develop an understanding of the Dutch-American building tradition so that the Minne Schenck house could be accurately restored, the writer commenced an intensive study of the construction details, molding profiles, and so on, of many of the houses covered in the Reynolds and Bailey books. Other houses of considerable interest were found along the way that added much to his knowledge.

As time permitted over a period of years, field trips were made to areas where houses of Dutch ancestry could be found. Houses were measured and photographed and this information was a great assistance in the restoration of the Schenck house.

The Van Nastrand-Rattkamp Barn standing at Elmant, an the Hempstead Turnpike, in 1967.

Through the course of his studies the writer inevitably became aware of the special kind of barn that was characteristic of the areas of Dutch settlement. Helping him in this direction was Darrell Henning, the curator concerned with agricultural interpretation for the Nassau County Museum. Darrell had studied the few Dutch barns that had survived on Long Island in some detail, and his knowledge stimulated the writer to an interest in them. One of the finest of the Long Island barns was the four-bay Van Nostrand barn which was located on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike (Route 24) in Elmont, about a mile east of the New York City line. It was owned by a farmer named Rottkamp and used for agricultural purposes. This barn would make an excellent addition to the Schenck house site at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. A large barn, presumably of Dutch type, was known to have existed at the original site of the Schenck house at Manhasset. Regrettably, the Van Nostrand barn was not available at that time, not was it to be in the foreseeable future.

On July 6, 1968, while driving from Cooperstown to New York on Route 20, the writer noticed, on the north side of the highway a short distance west of Carlisle, a rather dilapidated barn very similar in size and shape to the Van Nostrand barn. An inspection of its interior revealed a fine Dutch frame, again similar to that of the Van Nostrand barn, in excellent condition. A year later, the writer purchased a copy of the late Dr. John Fitchen's 1968 book, The New World Dutch Barn (Syracuse University Press), which, in addition to opening a new vista on the number and variety of surviving Dutch barns, illustrated the barn he had seen, and identified it as the "East of Sharon" barn. (Fitchen, No. 33; drawings 4G, 5G, 17C; plates I, 2, 31-33) Inquiries made in the area elicited the information that the barn was owned by Mr. Walter Quackenbush. The writer informed Mr. Edward Smits, the Director of the Nassau County Museum, about the barn and recommended its acquisition for the Schenck house site inasmuch as it seemed unlikely that a Long Island Dutch barn would become available.

The East of Sharon Barn on its site west of Carlisle in 1969. It measured 45 feet in width and 40 feet in depth. The ridge ran the shorter distance, in a north-south orientation. Photo by Charles Tichy.

Mr. Quackenbush was contacted and agreed to donate his barn to the Museum. It was dismantled by the Old Bethpage Village carpentry crew and moved to Long Island in September, 1969. It was re-erected in 1971, a number of the bents being raised by the E.W. Howell construction crew on May 14 on the occasion of the annual meeting of the Early American Industries Association which was held at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration site. Work on the barn was completed in August, 1971 except for the installation of the hinges on the large doors. The west gable (south gable on its original site) was unfortunately struck twice by lightning before lightning arrestors were installed.

The frame of the Schenck-East of Sharon Barn after reconstruction at Bethpage Village Restoration, June, 1971.

The completed Schenck-East of Sharon Barn at Bethpage Village Restoration, December, 1971.

Over the years, the writer occasionally passed the Van Nostrand barn, which continued in agricultural use and appeared to be well-maintained. Then in January, 1991, Mr. Smits requested that the writer inspect the barn and evaluate its condition. The Rottkamps had no further use for it and the land it sat upon had considerable commercial value. The writer took advantage of the opportunity to measure and photograph it so that it could be drawn up for inclusion in a proposed book on Dutch-American buildings. He stressed to the museum director the importance of this fine building, which he considered to be the finest Dutch-American building standing on its original site on Long Island east of the New York City line. To save it meant that it would have to be dismantled and moved to another site. One possibility was that it be taken to Old Bethpage Restoration and set on the foundation of the Schenck barn, formerly the "East of Sharon" barn. The latter would be disassembled and offered for sale. Alternatively, even if the Van Nostrand barn could not be brought to the Old Bethpage Village site, there were two other sites where a Dutch barn would be an appropriate addition. One of these was the Queens County Farm Museum, with its c.1770 Adriance house, located only two-and-a-half miles north of the barn's site. Another possibility was the Pieter Wyckoff house site in Brooklyn for which it was hoped to obtain a Dutch barn.

The writer did not hear anything further about the Van Nostrand barn and assumed that it was "safe." In September, Louis Caputzal, a Dutch Barn Preservation Society Trustee who has family connections on Long Island, went to look at the barn and found that it was gone! The barn had been demolished about two weeks previously. When the writer visited

the site, nothing was left. The ground surface on which the barn had stood had been graded, obliterating every trace of its existence.

The writer found the elder Mr. Rottkamp at the site, cutting a piece of grass along Hempstead Turnpike. Mr. Rottkamp said that the barn had been broken into on numerous occasions and had been used as a hangout by "crack" addicts. A demolition permit was obtained from the Town of Hempstead, and the job was duly carried out. The Rottkamps had indicated to Mr. Smits that they were interested in the preservation of the barn, but did not inform Mr. Smits that they had obtained a permit to destroy it! A sad loss, indeed.

The author, an architectural historian, serves as historic restoration consultant to the Nassau County Museum.

Excerpts from Architectural Analysis Report, Schenck-East of Sharon Barn

by John Stevens

Foundation. The ground frame of the building was supported on a series of stone piers, spaced in accord with the bents. As the ground sloped down from east to west, there was a crawl space under the west side of the barn.

Sills. Sills were of oak, each in one length, mortised and pinned at the corners. There were three inner sills, two corresponding with the line of the main posts, and one in the middle of the building. The two side inner sills were let into the end sills with a half lap dovetail while the center sill had a full lap dovetail. The side inner sills had a rabbet 3 inches in width and 1 1/2 inches in depth on the inside edge to receive the flooring. The center sill had two such rabbets. Transversely, at each inner bent the three inner sills were supported on oak sleepers that consisted of tree trunks flattened on two faces. These in turn were supported on stone piers. Timbers were laid on these, halfway between the side inner sills and the center sill to bear under the flooring.

Floor. The center aisle (threshing floor) measured 23 feet in width. It had loose floor boards, 1 1/2 inch in thickness, laid in the sill rabbets.

Framing. All exterior wall posts were of oak. The purlin posts, anchor beams and plates were of pine. The side wall posts were slightly more than 13 feet in height, and about 9 inches square. The purlin posts were slightly over 22 feet in height. They measured about 9 inches transversely and 12 inches on the face; slightly less in the end bents.

  • The outside wall posts were connected with the purlin posts by horizontal timbers set at 6 feet 9 inches above the threshing floor on the west side and at 6 feet on the east side, a difference not understood.
  • The purlin posts were connected at a height of about 11 feet above the floor by anchor beams. The three inner anchor beams measured about 12 inches in width by 20 inches in depth. The end anchor beams were 17 inches in depth. The tenons of the anchor beams protruded about 12 inches beyond the outside faces of the purlin posts through which they were mortised. They were each slotted for two wedges that bore against the face of the posts. In addition, they were pinned through the post. The ends of the tenons were shaped in a rough semi-circle. The anchor beams were also braced to the posts. Braces of the end bents measured 6 feet in length, exclusive of their tenons, while those of the inner bents measured 4 feet on the west side and 4 feet 6 inches on the east side, corresponding with the difference in the height of the side wall ties on each side aisle.
  • Additional transverse links were applied to the first, third and fifth bents from near the top of the side wall posts to the purlin posts and connecting the purl in posts near their tops. The protruding tenons of these ties were wedged and shaped in a rough semi-circle.
  • The bents were connected by timbers at the same height as the lower side wall ties, as well as by the plates. There was an intermediate post between each bent in the side walls. The plates were braced to all posts in a regular pattern. Braces were also applied in the end walls between the horizontal ties and the posts.
  • The rafters were regularly spaced at each bent, with an intermediate rafter between each of these. The foot of each rafter was made with a cog that lay in a slot in the side plate and bore against the tenon of the side wall post. The rafters were mortised and pinned at the ridge and lay on the purlin without being fastened to it.

Doors. There had been double wagon doors in each end wall. They were outward opening and had been hung on wrought iron strap hinges. The pintles for the north doors were in place. A pair of doors, possibly original, survived in the north opening, of three-batten construction with braces, nailed with rose-head nails. The marks of strap hinges were without the characteristic Dutch nailing pad. These doors had been secured with hooks and eyes to a vertical pole that went into a mortise in the underside of the anchor beam and into a corresponding socket on the floor. In addition, there had been a door in the south wall at the extreme east side, to admit animals to the stall area. There was also a door in the west wall, towards the north end of the barn.

Martin Holes. On the north gable, where part of the original siding survived, was one of probably three martin holes. The main part of the opening was 7 inches wide. It had a pointed top, above which was a small inverted triangle. These openings were characteristic of Dutch barns of the Upper Hudson and Mohawk valleys. The shape of the opening in this barn can be found in a number of other examples.

Roof. The roof was boarded with waney-edged boards, approximately 6 to 10 inches wide, laid with a space between them. The shingles probably had an exposure of about 12 inches.

Pent Roof. On each end wall, over the main door openings and extending about one foot six inches beyond them on each side, there had been a shed roof. The projection of the roof could not be determined. Each of these roofs had been supported by three horizontal struts, about 4 inches square, made with tenons that went through mortises in the end anchor beams. The tenons extended about 10 inches past the inside face of the anchor beam. A vertical wedge through a mortise in the tenon bore against the anchor beam to secure the strut.


Detail of an anchor beam tongue, Van Nostrand-Rottkamp Barn, February 1991. ->


(Click above photo for more views of the Van Nostrand-Rottkamp Barn.)

NEWSLETTER Spring 1993, Vol., 6, Issue 1, 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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