Barn Preservation Society
to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns
SPRING 1995, Vol. 8, Issue 1
THREE HUNDRED YEARS: The Van Bergen-Vedder
A barn built for Marte Gerritsen Van Bergen circa 1680 stood
on Vedder Road, near Leeds, Greene County, New York until a few
years ago. The barn collapsed,and finally was bulldozed away.
The following two articles, the architectural plans, and the
photographs record both the special characteristics of this barn,
and its place in the continuum of barn construction techniques.
Barn construction transferring the aisled forms of Northern
Europe to New Netherland began about 1626 when the first Dutch-style
farms were established at Manhattan. In 1630, farms were established
near Fort Orange on the upper Hudson. Some early barns in both
of these locations were built on the aisled plan, and included
housing for the farm family. These large combination buildings,
common in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, proved impractical
in the New World, and soon were replaced by farm compounds which
included small houses for families, hay barracks, and separate
barns for the storage and threshing of grains and for sheltering
horses and cows.
The separate barns retained the interior framing of the combination
buildings. Inside were large beams, supported by columns which
rose to the roof purlins. These beams hung over the center threshing
floor. Flanking aisles to the right and left of the threshing
floor housed livestock and often included a built-in manger and
a grain bin.
Barn construction in the aisled style stretched forward through
time until the 1840's in areas of entrenched Dutch and German
settlement. The Van Bergen- Vedder barn, which survived over
300 years, was an elegant example of the genre, now known as
the Dutch barn.
Earliest known photo of the Van Bergen Barn, 1928.
Dorothy Scanlon is seated on her horse Midgie.
Provided by Greg Huber from the collection of Dorothy Scanlon.
Marte Gerritsen and His
by Shirley W Dunn
Marte Gerritsen Van Bergen was not Dutch. He came from Bergen,
on the coast of Norway. As an outsider, he was typical of about
half of the early immigrants to the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
He arrived in 1630 to become a servant of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer
in Rensselaerswyck, near present Albany. Van Bergen rose to prominence
in Rensselaerswyck and Albany, established a family, and died after
more than sixty years in America.
A few farms had been established in the area of present Catskill
in 1650, by the Director of Rensselaerswyck, who bought the area
from the local Indians. Although the head of the Dutch West India
Company, Peter Stuyvesant, refused to give Rensselaerswyck a patent
for the land, the men who had leased farms from the Van Rensselaers
in anticipation of the patent were allowed to remain on the farms
in their own right. Thus settlement along the Catskill Creek by
the Dutch was begun. In part because the land did not belong to
Rensselaerswyck, and was free of payments to the Patroon, other
purchases of Indian land by Dutch investors soon followed.
In 1678, Marte Gerritsen Van Bergen and Sylvester Salisbury jointly
bought five flats, including one called Potick, on the Catskill
Creek at present Leeds, from Mahakniminaw, leader of the Catskill
band of the Mohicans, and other Indians. Salisbury died, and the
March, 1680 patent for the land was issued to Marte Van Bergen
and to Salisbury's wife, Elizabeth. In 1688, a new patent, encompassing
more land by expanding the boundary, (without buying more land
from the Indians, who protested) was issued to the purchasers.
Marte Van Bergen and the Salisbury interest represented by Elizabeth
and her new husband, Cornelis Van Dyck, shared the extensive lands
in their patent and shortly established at least two tenant farms.
On one, the partners persuaded the tenants to erect buildings in
lieu of rent. On the other, Marte Gerritse erected the structures,
including a barn, to attract the tenant, who was his wife's brother.
Marte Gerritse Van Bergen's barn was mentioned in both leases relating
to these two farms:
"March 7, 1681 ... Maerten Gerritz van Berghen acknowledges
that he has let to ... Gerrit Teuniz [Van Vechten] and Jonas Volckertsz
[Douw] his farm lying at Katskill [now Leeds] in the Maize land
(named Quaiack), comprising the just half of the foremost piece,
with house, barn and orchard, as it is occupied by the lessor.
The lessor shall lease therewith eight horses, eight cows and four
heifers, a wagon, four extra wheels, a plow, a harrow with iron
teeth, and a winnowing fan; the lessees shall likewise possess
and have the disposition of all the lessor's claims to the half
of Pooteeck [Potick] as of the said farm for the time of the next
six years... for the first three years, twenty-two beavers yearly...
and for the last three years, twenty-five beavers yearly, together
with a hundred skipples of maize yearly for the aforesaid six years
... The lessor promises to build a rick [hay barrack] there this
present year and to have doors made for the barn . . . " Jonathan
Pearson, trans. and A.J.F.
Van Laer, ed., Early Records of the City and County of Albany
and Colony of Rensselaerswyck, Vol. 3, (Albany: University
of the State of New York, 1918), 508-509.
marker by Vedder house opposite Van Bergen Dutch barn. Photo
by Vincent J. Schaefer.
"March 23, 1682 ... Mr. Cornel is van Dyk, husband and guardian
of Elisabeth Beek, late widow of Capt. Silvester Salisbury, of
the one side, and Andries Janse, eldest son of Jan Thomas [Witbeck]
and Hendrik Janse, his brother... have hired... half of the arable
land lying in Katskill, consisting of the two flats, the first
where Gerrit Teunis [Van Vechten] lives and the second called Potick,
and that for the time of ten successive years... the lessor shall
deliver upon the said land four milch cows and four draught horses...
As rental of the said land, the said Andries and Hendrik Janse,
at the end of ten years, shall deliver a proper dwelling house
of twenty-two and a half feet square, covered with shingles and
having a stone cellar as large as the house, which house shall
be delivered over, glass, roof, floor, and wall tight; likewise
a barn of fifty-two and a half feet long and as wide as the
barn which Marte Gerritse has built there, which they shall
deliver over in substantial and good repair as to wall and roof...
the lessees shall have half of the land at Potick ... for which
they shall pay to the lessor fifty skipples of wheat or a hundred
skipples of maize... but if the lessees do not desire to hold said
land Potick any longer they shall be released from this obligation."
Jonathan Pearson, trans. and A.J.F. Van Laer, ed., Early Records
of the City and County of Albany and Colony of Rensselaerswyck, Vol.
2, (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1916), 153-155.
A "foot" was slightly over eleven inches by today's
measure, so the house and barn were not quite as large as the contract
reads. From these leases, it is clear that the barn of Marte Gerritsen
Van Bergen was built after March, 1680, when the Patent was given,
and before March, 1681, when the barn was mentioned in the lease.
Completion was apparently still in process in spring, 1681, as
the doors had to be added. Considering his age and position, it
is unlikely Van Bergen built the barn with his own hands. Where
the timber was cut, and who did the work, were unfortunately not
specified. While some barn contracts exist, there seems to be none
on file for this barn.
The barn of Marte Gerritsen is believed to be the same barn which,
somewhat altered, survived through much of the twentieth century
In 1884, when a history of Greene County was being prepared, historian
Henry Brace wrote about the barn. Brace had access, not only to
early documents, but to the traditions of the family and the locality.
He wrote in the History, "The first building at Old Catskill
[Leeds], and the first within the patent, was erected by Marte
Gerritse Van Bergen, about the year 1680. It was a barn of considerable
size, being more than fifty feet square, and stood near the spot
where Henry Vedder's barn now stands. It may have been on the very
spot, for it appears to be a well founded tradition that portions
of the oaken frame of the first barn are also portions of the second.
The records make no mention of a house in the neighborhood at this
time, but the probability is that one was built at the same time
with the barn.
"Marte Gerritse Van Bergen, the patentee, never lived at
Old Catskill. His elder sons, Gerrit and Martin, were brought up
on their father's estate near Fort Albany, and made their home
here only after they had become men. In 1721 they, their brother
Petrus, and Francis Salisbury and his son Sylvester, divided a
portion of the patent among themselves. Petrus then sold his portion
to his brothers," History of Greene County, New York with
Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, (New York, J.B.
Beers & Co., 1884), 96.
The frame remaining within the barn in the twentieth century had
rare curved soffits on the braces, large columns, and massive anchor
beams. There is every reason to accept the tradition that much
of the barn survived from 1680. Also, it is clear from Brace's
account that the alterations to the roof which are detailed in
the drawings and text accompanying this article, and other changes,
were made before 1884. Note that Brace had apparently not read
the lease quoted above, which mentions that a house, as well as
the barn, had been built. By tradition, this small house of stone
was opposite the barn, and later, in 1729, became a wing (now gone)
of a brick house built by one of Van Bergen's sons.
In 1721, when Van Bergen's three sons made a division of the
farm at Leeds on present Vedder Road, and of the Potick flat to
the northwest held in common with the Salisbury heirs, the deed
of partition mentioned Gerrit Van Bergen's dwelling house, suggesting
that Gerrit, the elder son, was living on the property, perhaps
in the old house. Gerrit and Martin in 1726 traded land at Coxsackie
with a third son, Petrus. According to tradition, about 1729 the
two built themselves substantial houses on the 1680 farm established
by their father. One of these two houses was pictured on the well-known
Van Bergen Overmantel. The Overmantel, a painting on boards, survived
when, in the 1860s, the old stone house was torn down and a new
Victorian house, (still standing), was erected on the site. The
Dutch barn shown in the Overmantel painting was not the 1680 Van
Bergen barn mentioned in the leases.
The second house, which was built of brick, still stands today,
a half mile to the west of the stone house shown on the Overmantel.
The brick house stood opposite the 1680 Van Bergen Dutch barn,
and, according to tradition, incorporated the original stone house
as a kitchen wing. This part of the Van Bergen farm, containing
the brick house and the Van Bergen barn, in 1 774 became the property
of Arent Vedder, of Schoharie. The house and some acreage have
remained in the hands of Vedder family descendants to the present
Marte Gerritsen Van Bergen came to New Netherland in 1630. He
was probably close to twenty at the time. How was it that he had
young sons, who, in 1729, were just getting established? What appears
to be a generation gap relating to the Van Bergen barn and the
Overmantel painting can be explained by his late second marriage.
Marte Gerritsen and Jannetje Teunis Van Vechten, his wife, had
no sons before she died, leaving him a widower.
On January 21, 1686, Marte Gerritse Van Bergen, by then an old
man in his seventies, took as his second wife Neeltie Myndertse,
young daughter of Myndert Fredericks (Van Iveran). In the ten years
before he died, Neeltie and Marte Gerritse had five sons, two of
whom died, one as an infant, and one as a young man. The survivors
were Gerrit, born in 1687, Marten, born in 1692, and Petrus, born
in 1694. This later family was far removed in time from Marte Van
Bergen's early years in New Netherland.
Marte Gerritse died in May, 1696, leaving a large estate including
his share of the land at Catskill, two parcels at Coxsackie, a
sawmill on Marte Gerritsen's kill at Coxsackie, pastureland on
the Bevers Kill on the outskirts of Albany, the house and lot in
the City of Albany, and his farm, lying opposite the south end
of Castle Island, where his widow, Neeltje, lived. Van Bergen's
will directed that when his sons came of age or married, they were
to have the land at Catskill. Once the division of the Leeds property
had been made, sons Marten and Gerrit did settle down at Leeds
in sight of Marte Gerritse's barn. They used and preserved it until
the property went out of the family's hands in 1774.
A Last Look at the Van Bergen-
Bergen Barn, circa 1980. Photo by Jeanne Litwin.
by John Stevens
The writer first saw this barn on Wednesday, September
10, 1969. I had for several years been collecting information on
Dutch-American buildings (see DBPS Newsletter, Spring, 1993,"A
Tale of Two Barns.") At a convention of the Society of Architectural
Historians in Boston, in January 1969, I had bought a copy of John
Fitchen's The New World Dutch Barn, which had recently been published.
I had been aware of and appreciative of the distinctive qualities
of Dutch-American barns, but the book was a revelation in making
known to me the relatively large number of these barns that survived.
I particularly wished to see the Van Bergen-Vedder barn which was
described in the book (Fitchen, 37), but for which there were no
photographic illustrations. With a dating of c. 1680, it was the
earliest Dutch barn known to exist.
The Van Bergen-Vedder barn was a most impressive structure. Apart
from the massive size of the anchor beams, I was impressed with
the curved-soffit anchor beam braces which were similar to specimens
in the Jan Martense Schenck house, c. 1677, in the Brooklyn Museum,
the Luykas Van Alen house, 1737, at Kinderhook, and the Leandert
Bronck house, 1738, at Coxsackie. Braces of this form seemed to
be characteristic of Dutch-American timber-framing practice, at
least as far as it applied to houses in the earlier period. In
the Old World Dutch context, anchor beam braces which were occasionally
curved were more often shaped with an elaborate profile. The presence
of curved-soffit braces in the Van Bergen-Vedder barn with their
affinity to the Jan Martense Schenck house seems to be a confirmation
of the barn's early date.
A feature of the Van Bergen-Vedder barn that was unlike any other
Dutch-American barn was the series of trusses erected on each of
the six "H"
bents that carried purl ins on which the rafters were supported
(see centerfold drawing). The column purlin plates were redundant,
and yet had been used at one time to support the rafters because
they were chamfered at the locations where the rafters had lain
against them. The rafters, themselves, had redundant notches, some
with broken pins in them that indicated they had originally been
supported by the now disused purlin plates. The craftsmanship of
the trusses was of a high order and comparable to the "H"
bents. The timber used in them appeared to be the same (a species
of pine) and the patina the same. The purl ins carried on the trusses
were slightly smaller in section than the "H" bent purlin
plates and the wind braces of the trusses appeared to be marginally
lighter than those of the "H" bents. The pattern of the
two sets of wind braces was not the same, there being a greater
number of braces in the "H"
Interior of the Van Bergen Barn,
1969. Note sidewall girt and post system. Photo by John Stevens.
The barn seemingly had a major rebuild in the early nineteenth
century when the present side wall height and roof pitch were achieved.
John Fitchen was of the opinion that the trusses and the purl ins
on them that carried the rafters were part of the rebuilding. And
yet there was something about these trusses - their form, quality
of workmanship and patination - that made it seem just possible
that they might have been part of the original construction. The
writer somewhat reluctantly decided against this possibility because
it seemed that it would not work out to have the rafters in contact
with both purl ins on each side because it would make the roof
pitch excessively steep, and the side aisles abnormally narrow.
Also, if the existing rafters were the original ones and had been
in contact with both the "H"
bent purl in plates and the truss purl ins, one would have expected
that they would have shown two redundant notches, but I could not
see evidence of double notches on each rafter.
The form of the trusses was much the same as similar trusses
the writer had seen and measured in the Clark-De Wint house, built
in 1700 in Tappan, Rockland County, and in the c. 1700 Van Hoesen
house at Greenport, near Hudson, Columbia County. Both of these
houses have walls of masonry construction. Evidence of the former
existence of such trusses survives in the c. 1722 Ariantje Coeymans
house, and William McMillen of Richmondtown Restoration on Staten
Island found evidence of roof trusses in a fire-damaged early eighteenth
century stone house on Staten Island.
While roof truss systems are rare in Dutch-American usage, they
were the normal, characteristic practice in the Old World in buildings
of all types as can be seen in the sectional drawings that illustrate Het
Nederlandse Woonhuis by Meischke and Zantkuijl, published
in 1969. A difference that exists between the trusses in the Van
Bergen-Vedder barn and the ones in the Clark-De Wint and Van Hoesen
houses is that in the barn the tie-beam is mortised into the canted
struts, and in the two houses the canted struts mortise into the
undersides of the tie beams. This latter condition is the one that
prevails in Old World examples. Another difference between Van
Bergen-Vedder and Old World usage is that in the latter the canted
struts stand directly on the beams, while in the former they stand
on longitudinal timbers that are let into the anchor beams. These
footing timbers, like the purlins, are in one piece the whole length
of the barn.
On my first visit to the barn, I sketched a cross-section of it
and made notes, but did not take any measurements, in part because
a ladder was not available to measure the height of the columns
and the trusses. I did take a number of photographs.
In 1970, my wife and I made a month's visit to Belgium and the
Netherlands to look at old buildings that had structural and decorative
characteristics that related them to New World examples. My contact
in the Netherlands was Henk Zantkuijl of the Amsterdam Bureau Monumentenzorg
(Conservation of Monuments) who had an extensive knowledge of Netherlands
timber-framed buildings. One day, Friday, April 10, Mr. Zantkuijl
and his assistant took me to the Openlucht museum (Open Air Museum)
at Arnhem. It happened that on the way (I did not make a note of
the village it was near) we passed a large, weatherboarded barn
with its gable end close to the road. Its end wall siding had been
removed for some reason, fully exposing the construction. It had
a roof truss system almost identical with the Van Bergen-Vedder
barn, and its rafters were supported on the upper and lower purl
ins. The driver was anxious to get on to Arnhem, and I had the
briefest look at this barn and did not have the opportunity to
take photographs of it! An opportunity missed that I have regretted
The parallel of the Van Bergen-Vedder barn with this Old World
barn stayed with me, and in 1972 I went back to the Van Bergen-Vedder
barn equipped with a two-piece aluminum ladder so that I could
properly measure the upper part of an "H" bent and a
truss, and plot on paper if it was possible that the trusses were
integral with the original condition of the barn. If I could lay
down accurately the relative positions of the purlins, the pitch
of the rafters could be plotted in contact with both purl ins and
it could be demonstrated if the trusses were, or were not, part
of the original construction. This I did on May 28, also on this
occasion taking more interior photographs. I missed taking some
important measurements. I did not determine if the longitudinal
head-height struts and transverse struts were the same height on
both sides of the threshing floor. I concentrated my measuring
on the north side of it. At the time, I was not as conscious of
the customary difference in the height of the longitudinals as
I became later on. Also, I was not able to determine the threshing
floor structural system. The original floor planks seemed to be
in place, each in one piece, about 28 feet long and lying in rabbets
in the column sills. At the west end of the building, because the
ground sloped in that direction, it was possible to see the underside
of the floor planks, which were rough hewn.
Interior of the Van Bergen Barn,
1969, showing granary room. Photo by John Stevens.
When I saw the barn in 1972, its condition had deteriorated.
The last time I saw it, on June 21, 1975, the roof had collapsed
along with the west gable, but the east gable, on the roadway,
still stood. After the barn at Phillipsburg Manor was destroyed
by fire, and while the major part of the Van Bergen-Vedder barn
was still in reasonably sound condition, I recommended to John
Harbour, Sr., the Director of Sleepy Hollow Restorations (now Historic
Hudson Valley) in a letter dated April 15, 1976, that it be salvaged
and restored to its original configuration to replace the burned
barn. Unfortunately nothing was done to save this exceptionally
The c.1680 construction date for the barn seems to be firm. The
principal points of conjecture are the original form of the roof
and the width of the side aisles. The late Vincent Schaefer was
of the opinion that the trusses were an original feature, and that
the rafters had originally been supported on the column purlin
plates and the truss purl ins. However, he had not measured the
bents and trusses and could not be sure how the slope of the rafters
in this arrangement (if not in itself excessively steep) would
affect the width of the side aisles.
The. writer's measurements, as laid down on the drawing, seemed
to show that the use of lower and upper purlins to support the
rafters did indeed produce too steep a roof, and too narrow side
aisles. And yet there is precedent in Old World Dutch barns for
truss systems carrying upper purlins. The early date of the Van
Bergen-Vedder barns made it seem all the more probable that it
might have followed Old World precedent.
On the drawing, the large scale section shows the building as
found; the smaller scale section shows, on the left, a reconstruction
of the original roof pitch retaining the present aisle width. On
the right side the roof is shown as proposed by Mr. Schaefer. This
arrangement results in a side aisle width of eight feet. With the
resulting steepness of roof, and elongation of the rafters, there
would likely have been collar ties. Collar ties would probably
have been a feature of the roof without the trusses. Regrettably,
the rafters were not examined for the presence of lapdovetail notches
for collar ties.
Close-up of lower hinge on small
door beside wagon doors of the Van Burgen barn. Photo by Vincent
While the writer's suspicion is that the trusses were in fact
part of the rebuilding that the barn underwent in the early nineteenth
century, one ponders the fact that the form of the trusses so closely
follows Old World precedent, and how the carpenter who framed them,
if, in fact, they dated to the early nineteenth century, could
have designed them so true to form. The only places where trusses
of this type existed, in the two New World Dutch houses that have
been cited, would not likely have been known to him. It is just
barely possible that in the early 1800s there still existed in
the Hudson Valley a few barns from the seventeenth century that
had trusses and a double purlin system that inspired the man who
altered the roof of the Van Bergen-Vedder barn using this rather
complicated method. In the early nineteenth century, many Dutch
American barns had their roofs altered by extending the columns
in relatively simple ways. The Decker-Bienstock barn in Ulster
County can be cited as an example.
On the other hand, it is possible, as Vincent Schaefer believed,
that the trusses were an original feature, if we can accept a side
aisle that was a bit narrower than usual? Alas! it is regrettable
that this rare barn, and Mr. Schaefer's Teller-Schermerhorn barn
with its steep roof, were not more exhaustively studied, or, better
still, allowed to survive for our wonderment and enjoyment.
Drawing of the Gerritse Van Bergen
Barn, c. 1680. by John Stevens.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
JOHN STEVENS served
for many years as historic preservation consultant to Old Beth
Page Village, a living history farm and museum on Long Island.
SHIRLEY DUNN was first president
of the Dutch Barn Preservation Society and editor of the Newsletter
for six years. Her book, The Mohicans and Their Land, was published
Dutch Barn Preservation Society
The Mabee Farm Historic Site
1080 Main St. (Rt. 5S)
Junction, NY 12150
Phone: (518) 887-5073
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