Barn Preservation Society
to the Study and Preservation
of New World Dutch Barns
SPRING 1998, Vol. 11, Issue 1
Mabee House: Jewel of the Mohawk Valley
This issue of the Dutch Barn Newsletter is dedicated to the
Mabee house in Rotterdam Junction New York. The house is the
home of the Schenectady County Historical Association and is
a fine example of 17th century Dutch Colonial Architecture in
the Mohawk Valley. It is the hope and plan of the Schenectady
County Historical Society to relocate a Dutch barn to this site
within the next few years. In order to honor the initiative of
this society to preserve Dutch culture we dedicate this issue
to the Mabee House
An old photo of the Mabee Farm looking north. The
Mabee house has the steep pitched roof at the left side of the
photo. To the left of the house and extending off the photo is
the summer kitchen. This photo provides a good view of the house
and relative locations of the outbuildings. The Dutch barn shown
and outbuildings no longer exist. Photo courtesy of the Schenectady
County Historical Society.
A Brief Description of the Mabee House
By Christopher Albright
The Mabee House is located on the south side of the Mohawk River
about eight miles west of the Stockade area of Schenectady on a
tract of land that was known as the Third Flat. The Third Flat
consisted of about 127 acres of low land that was originally settled
by Daniel Janse Van Antwerp about 1670. Daniel Janse received a
patent for this land in 1680 from Governor Andros. The house is
believed to have been built during the period 1670-1680 by Daniel
Janse. In 1706, the west half of the Third Flat consisting of about
63 acres was sold by Daniel Janse Van Antwerp to Jan Pieterse Mabee.
The house remained in the Mabee family until being donated to the
Schenectady County Historical Association by a descendant, George
The house walls are constructed of stone and the gabled roof
has a very steep pitch. The current dimensions of the stone portion
of the house are 23 feet 9 inches by 35 feet 8 inches; however
its original size was most likely 23 feet 9 inches square. The
house was extended longitudinally to the southeast in the eighteenth
century, sometime after Jan Pieterse Mebie purchased it from Van
Antwerp. A jambless fireplace was on the northwest wall of the
original single room house.
A wood and brick summer kitchen stands just west of the house
and an all wood addition is attached to the northeast corner of
the house. The summer kitchen and wood addition are constructed
using Dutch timber framing methods. An original Dutch barn southeast
of the house no longer exists.
Understanding the Mabee House Fireplace
An illustration drawn in 1769 in the Netherlands
shows a kitchen interior with a jambless fireplace. From Bulletin
KNOB/volume 84/numbers 2 and 3/June 1985, 53.
By Shirley Dunn
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the European-style
"hung" or jambless fireplace was common in counties of
the Hudson Valley, in the Mohawk Valley and environs, on Long Island,.
in New Jersey, and in other places where the Dutch and Germans
settled in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This
open type of fireplace characterized the Mabee House in Rotterdam
Junction which is the subject of this issue of the Newsletter.
Madame Sarah Knight, a New England woman visiting some Dutch style
houses in New York in 1704, wrote, "The fireplaces have no
Jambs (as ours have) But the Backs run flush with the walls, and
the Hearth is of Tyles. . . and the piece over where the mantel
tree should be is made as ours with Joyners work. . . ." In
1748, Peter Kalm, a Swedish traveler passing through the Albany
region, whose diary was published as Peter Kalm's Travels in North
America, noted that "the fireplaces among the Dutch were always
built in, so that nothing projected out, and it looked as though
they made a fire against the wall itself."
Another traveler, Rev. Samuel Chandler, while visiting Albany
in 1755, reported that "The Dutch chimneys have very small
jambs with 3 or 4 rows of Tile. Some no Jambs at all." Kalm
had noted that "In Albany the fireplaces had small sides projecting
out about six inches made of Dutch tiles with a white background
and blue figures." The occasional small jambs were merely
decorative and not structural; thus, there was no conflict in the
A further description of the jambless fireplace was given by
Kalm. As he explained with regard to the small wooden houses which
he was seeing north of Albany, "The fireplace for about six
feet or more from the ground consisted of nothing more than the
wall of the house which was six to seven feet wide and made of
brick only. There were no projections on the sides of the fireplace,
so it was possible to sit on all three sides of the fire and enjoy
the warmth equally."
He continued, ". . .Above, where the chimney began, the
bricks rested upon rafters and cross beams on three sides which
had been arranged so as to support them. As the chimney was some
distance above the floor, they had put boards about these rafters,
or as was more common, they had hung short curtains extending downward
to prevent the smoke from coming in... The hearth itself was always
even with the floor. The fireplace was ordinarily six to eight
feet in width. Occasionally a shelf had been made above it upon
which teacups, etc. were placed." Peter Kalm explained that
there were no dampers in the chimneys and that the fire burned
during the winter all day, both in the houses in the towns as well
as in the country.
This type of fireplace was used both for cooking and warmth.
An iron fireback was set behind the fire to prevent the back wall
from cracking, as bricks and stones will do in time. Notice that
no oven is mentioned in any of the travelers' descriptions. The
Dutch-American cook or her servants generally baked in utensils
over coals on several locations on the hearth. [See illustration.]
Ovens, when they existed, were located separately.
As Kalm noted, the weight of the chimney was borne above the
first floor, on the beams (joists) crossing the room and on trimmers
(supplementary framing). In the garret or attic above rose the
broad brick chimney, tapering to the ridge. There was no fireplace
in the attic, which was intended for storage. Neither was there
usually a fireplace in the cellar. Because the chimney began above
the fire, only a small support under the hearth was needed in the
There was more than one way to support the hearth. In earlier
houses, when the cellar was not the full size of the house, the
hearth rested on the ground, as it might have in the Netherlands,
where cellars were not common. The hearth resting on the ground
was the case with the original jambless fireplace in the Mabee
House. As full, deep cellars became the norm, a half-arch of brick
or a cradle of thick planks underpinned by a few light beams was
used to support the hearth area above.
The brick half-arch or wooden cradle was inserted between a projecting
rock ledge included half-way up the cellar wall (or a narrow ledge
carved in the cellar wall,) and the first joist in the cellar.
The cradle or half arch could not fall down unless the joist twisted.
The cradle or half-arch was framed above by trimmers which were
part of the cellar framing. The open
sides were boarded in. The resulting triangular space was filled
with stones and gravel, topped perhaps with sand on which to level
the hearth tiles.
There was third element to
the jambless fireplace, the hood over the hearth. This was suspended
from a large beam (joist) and the trimmers over the first floor.
In the Jean Hasbrouck House at New Paltz, where an eighteenth
century jambless fireplace survives, the fireplace hood rests
on a timber frame. The timber frame is supported in the stone
wall which forms the back of the fireplace, and is suspended
on the front from wooden hangers attached to the joist. Above
its wooden frame the hood is made of bricks, one brick thick,
which run up to join the bricks of the chimney. The hood bricks
have been given a coat of plaster inside and out. A deep crown
molding or cornice, attached to the front and sides of the hood,
holds a shelf. Plates have been set on the mantel shelf and printed
cloth is hung along the bottom to catch smoke.
Some hoods shown in old Dutch paintings do not fit this description.
Unfortunately, there are few paintings done in America which show
early fireplaces. However, from the fragments of jambless fireplaces
that remain in houses, it is clear there was variation among the
hoods. They reflected style, height of ceilings, and location in
the room. Although some hoods were constructed with bricks, others
were made of boards or were merely cloth hangings.
The original Mabee House and its kitchen addition each had a
jambless fireplace. Moreover, there was a jambless fireplace in
the separate summer kitchen. Although all have been altered or
removed, the Mabee complex retains valuable evidence of the forms
of jambless fireplaces. The hearth in the original house was supported
by a bank of earth, intentionally left in place when the cellar
was constructed. This technique suggests the house was built in
the late seventeenth century before full cellars became common.
Fortunately, when the original fireplace later was removed, the
sides and front of the cornice used for the mantel were carefully
stored in an attic and preserved until the present. This mantel
cornice is a rare survival. (See illustration of the profile of
Because the first floor ceiling was relatively low, the hood
of the Mabee fireplace apparently consisted of a set of three boards,
only one board in depth, suspended from the overhead beam and trimmers.
On the board was mounted the cornice molding. Shadow marks and
a single board remain as evidence of the construction. This hood
likely did not contain bricks as did the deeper hoods of some other
Considerable information about jambless fireplaces exists. Parts
of jambless fireplaces persist widely in pre-1755 buildings in
Dutch areas. Surviving cellar arches or cradles, the ceiling and
cellar framing, and the stones or shelf in the cellar wall, as
well as tell-tale shadow marks on beams and in attics, attest to
their former presence, as in the Mabee House. In addition, travelers
described them, and jambless fireplaces were mentioned in building
contracts and in other documents.
SECTION THREE PIECE CROWN MOLDING IN JAMBLESS FIREPLACE:
Profile of the cornice which formed the mantel
on the jambless fireplace in the original part of the Mabee House.
Drawing by Peter Sinclair, April, 1998.
Drawings are from Historic American Building Survey (HABS) of
Mabee house floor plan. Click to enlarge.
The Mabee House is shown in a picture
probably dating from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
A slight change in the roof line at the ridge can be seen above
the right roof dormer. This identifies where the eighteenth century
addition began. The original house is to the left. An early door
was located at the window at left. The wooden porch is a late
addition. Photo courtesy of the Schenectady County Historical
SPRING 1998, Vol. 11, Issue 1 Part Two
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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