Skip to main content

Full text of "The story of Van Cortlandt"

See other formats





Ce < 






REF 974.7277 B , 

The Story oil 1 

Van CortlcJhdt 


10974 3803 \y 

SEP 1 9 1997 


2555 W ~ m 

re a 


t^an Cortlanbt 





■ S3 





Katharine M. Beekman 


Norman Morrison Isham, F. A. I. A. 

Printed by the Colonial Dames 

of New York. 




n Hi 













By Katharine M. Beekman 

North of the Island of Manhattan, and across the 
Harlem River lies a long flat valley, bounded on one 
side by the wooded hills which, crossing the state 
boundary, form the mountain ridges of Connecticut, 
and on the other by those which gradually rise into 
the Highlands, bordering the Hudson. Watering 
this valley is a brook, known as Tibbits brook, but 
called Mosholu by the Indians, which, as it ap- 
proaches the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, loses itself in 
ground so low that it is wet by the tide when high; 
and just at the head of this Marsh stands Van Cort- 
landt House, in Van Cortlandt Park. 

This valley was originally the hunting ground of 
a tribe of Indians, members of the Mohican family, 
who had settled in a large village, near where 
Yonkers now stands, on the bank of a stream which 
there emptied into the Hudson. They called the 
valley Neppenhaem, and used its flat fertile centre 
to grow corn, while the wooded hills were cleared 
of underbrush, for hunting. They were friendly 
Indians until 1642-43, when, through the misman- 
agement of Governor Kieft, there was a rising of 
the tribes, and of the inhabitants of Westchester, 
called by the Dutch, "Oost Dorp," or East Village; 
some fled to Fort Orange, or Albany, and some to 
Holland, while many were massacred, among whom 


was the well known Anne Hutchinson and her 
family. The settlements on the west side were all 
destroyed, and the county abandoned. 

In 1645 a peace conference was held in New 
Amsterdam. Governor Kieft met the chiefs of the 
different tribes, the pipe of peace was smoked, and, 
before they left, the Indians were all given hand- 
some presents. To buy these presents, Kieft bor- 
rowed the money from Adrian Van der Donck, a 
gentleman who had come over with Killian Van 
Rensselaer in 1641, and was at this time the Schout 
Fiscaal, or High Sheriff, in charge of that patroon's 
property, at Rensselaerwyck near Albany. Van der 
Donck desired to be a patroon himself, and had tried 
to get a grant of land near Catskill; but this debt 
from Kieft gave him another opening, and in 1646, 
just before the arrival of Stuyvesant and the resigna- 
tion of Kieft, he bought from the Indians, and had 
confirmed to him by a grant from the Governor, land, 
embracing the country from Spuyten Duyvil Creek, 
along the Hudson to a creek called Amackasson, and 
then inward to the Bronx River. This was called 
Colen Donck, and it represents the only patroonship 
in Westchester, and the first large grant, made in 
that county. Van der Donck, in spite of the late 
Indian Massacres, which kept many settlers away, 
took possession of his land, built a sawmill near 
Yonkers, on a stream still called Sawmill River, the 
same on which stood the Indian Village, and a bow- 
erie or farmhouse not far from the present Van Cort- 
landt House. 

In the fall of 1910, while laying a sewer across the 
Park, the workmen found the foundation of a house 


directly in front of the present one. These founda- 
tions of stone were in good repair, about ten feet 
underground, and still with the whitewash on their 
interior surface. They showed a house about twenty- 
five feet deep by fifty feet long, facing east and west, 
and with a wing at the south side. It was built of 
flat, red, Holland brick; and, as much black brick 
was also found, the walls were probably picked out 
in pattern, in black. The windows had lead frames 
and exceedingly thin white glass, quite different 
from the window glass of the later colonial houses. 
Bits of delft china, and a silver button found, of a 
kind made in Zeeland, showed that not only the 
house, but its furnishings, and the dress of its in- 
habitants, were all of Dutch manufacture. 

This is all that remains of Adrian Van der 
Donck's home, evidently one of the best of its kind. 
In plan it seems to have been much like Governor 
Stuyvesant's bowerie, which was built a few years 
later and stood in Second Avenue, near St. Mark's 
Church. Van der Donck did not live much at his 
bowerie. He was too busy in New Amsterdam, for 
it was he that arranged for the incorporation of that 
town, and instituted the first municipal organization 
of what is now the City of New York. He was one 
of the two lawyers in New Netherland, had been 
educated at Leyden University, and was well fitted 
to take a leading part in the government of the col- 
ony, while his birth was such as to command respect. 
To this the city of Yonkers owes its name, for his 
property there lost the name of Colen Donck, and 
was called Jonk Heers, or the young nobleman's 
land. He was a friend of the Indians, and describes 


them in a book published in Holland in 1655. Their 
dress of skins and ornaments of shells, or red dyed 
hair, their upright carriage, and out-of-door life, are 
all described ; and he exclaims at the fact that they 
had no set time for meals, but ate when they were 
hungry. To a conservative Hollander, accustomed 
to regular hours in all things, such habits must have 
been the most surprising of any. 

The first picture, then, of Van Cortlandt Park 
is of the fields and woods around the low Dutch 
farm house of Adrian Van der Donck. Its double 
pitched roof, covered with dark-red tiles, its walls 
of richer red, ornamented with lines of black, and 
its hinged windows, reflected the sunlight from bril- 
liant diamond panes, of thin, perfectly annealed 
glass. Its wide oaken door, with the upper part 
flung back, opened on the stoop, which no doubt had 
seats on each side; and there the patroon could sit, 
and see his fields beginning to show the effect of 
labor and planting, or turn to the salt marsh at the 
south, which would bring remembrances of his old 
home in Holland, until, perhaps, his reveries were 
interrupted by a visit from his Indian friends, ad- 
vancing from out the woods in single file, to squat 
on the ground beside the stoop. Then no doubt 
clouds of smoke filled the air; for the Hollanders 
and Indians had two tastes alike, they loved silence, 
and they loved tobacco. 

It is too long a story to tell why Adrian Van der 
Donck, after all his work for New Amsterdam, was 
forced in 1653 to sail for Holland, to plead his own 
and the colony's cause before the States General. 
There he was detained until 1655, when, having 


gathered much to add to his home on this side, a 
vessel was loaded ready to sail for America. But 
he was not to see his comfortable "bowerie" again, 
for he died and was buried in Holland. He is said 
to have had children, who were probably very 
young, as his property was inherited by his wife. 
This lady made a second marriage soon afterwards, 
and accompanied her husband, whose name was 
O'Neale, to his home in Maryland, and for ten 
years Colen Donck lay quite uncared for. 

In 1666 the colony had come under English rule, 
and all the great land owners proceeded to make 
their titles perfect by procuring a further grant from 
the English Crown. Among the patentees who ap- 
peared before the Governor were the O'Neales; and 
after the Indians had been questioned and had re- 
plied that Van der Donck had honestly given them 
all that they asked for the land, the patent for all 
the Colen Donck property, except the most southern 
part, which was taken into the Fordham Manor, 
was made out to the O'Neales. It was then sold in 
small parcels; and the purchase of a part of it by a 
man named Tibbits, gives its present name to the 
brook, through which Van Cortlandt lake empties 
into Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The ferry, where the 
Kingsbridge is now, was so much used at this date, 
that a causeway was built from its terminal to the 
land. The tide, in rising, formed a second tideway 
near the Westchester Shore; and across this the 
causeway was built, it being the first step in the 
Albany Post Road which was to come later. Travel 
toward Albany at that time was entirely by water, 
and not until 1694 was the Kingsbridge built; but 


as early as 1673 a post rider crossed the ferry once a 
month for Boston, to carry the mail between that 
city and New York, the letters being paid for when 
received, like any other package. The bridge was 
built by Frederick Philipse, to take the place of the 
ferry. This gentleman was Lord of the Manor lying 
north of the O'Neale patent, and he gradually by 
purchase added property to that which he already 
possessed, until his land extended from the Croton 
River to Spuyten Duyvil Creek. 

Frederick Philipse married a Van Cortlandt, 
from the manor at Croton, for a second wife, and 
her brother Jacobus proceeded to fall in love with, 
and marry, Philipse's adopted daughter Eva. To 
fit themselves out with a home, he purchased from 
his father-in-law, in 1699, the fifty acres now in- 
cluded in Van Cortlandt Park, the same land which 
was conveyed to the city in 1889 by the direct de- 
scendant of Jacobus and Eva Van Cortlandt. In 
1700 another house was built, at a point nearer the 
stream than Van der Donck's and the brook 
was dammed to give power for a mill, to be used 
both for sawing wood and grinding corn. This mill 
endured until 1889, after which it fell into disrepair, 
and was finally burnt during a thunder storm in 
1901. All that remains of it is one of the mill stones, 
which, being cut from a single rock, instead of being 
in several pieces, bound by iron, serves as a base to 
the sun dial in the present garden. 

We must try and understand how far away 
Jacobus Van Cortlandt lived from any town, to im- 
agine life in Van Cortlandt Park early in the 18th 
century. To ride from the little city of New York, 


all of it below Wall Street, on not the best of roads, 
the length of Manhattan Island, was really a jour- 
ney; so his place at Little or lower Yonkers, as it 
was called, had to support itself, and all living on 
it. Thus the second picture of Van Cortlandt is a 
busy place, where all are at work. Sheep must be 
raised to provide wool, which was spun and woven 
on the place, flax must be grown to make linen, and 
both then used to make the clothing needed by 
Master and Mistress, as well as the family and the 
slaves, who were the servants. Wood was cut and 
sawed, not only for building purposes, but also to 
burn. In the fall, great wagons filled with grain 
from the outlying lands were brought in, drawn by 
patient oxen; and it must be ground and stored, or 
sent away for sale. At the same time of the year the 
smoke house begins to work; and hams, bacon, and 
brisket are made ready for the winter's food, while 
sausages and head cheese are made, to be eaten 
sooner. Then there was cider, blackberry, and cherry 
brandy, and currant wine, to make; rose water for 
flavoring, and innumerable preserved or dried fruits 
and vegetables; while all the seed for the coming 
spring planting had to be prepared and carefully 
kept, and the various roots, vegetables, and apples 
stored in the deep cellars, dug to keep them from 
freezing. There was the raising and care of the 
stock needed on such an estate, while artisans of 
every kind, from cobblers to wheelwrights, and car- 
penters to masons, were busy on the place. Van 
Cortlandt Park was then a Southern plantation, or 
Western ranch, within what is now the limits of our 
city; and so successful was the place that, at the 


death of Jacobus, his son Frederick van Cortlandt 
inherited a flourishing estate, and was ready in 1748 
to build the present larger house. 

By this time New York had begun its commer- 
cial existence, and most of the gentlemen of that time 
were interested in the importation and distribution 
of the necessaries and luxuries demanded by the in- 
habitants of the Colony. Up to 1700 there had been 
no money to speak of, and all trade was a matter of 
exchange of commodities. Now this was changed, 
and men were growing rich in the sense of the word 
as used at present. This made much more passing 
to and fro through Westchester, over the Boston, or 
the Albany Post Road ; and, running as the last did 
directly past Cortlandt House, many more visitors 
were brought to the place, while the growing settle- 
ment about it and the Manor Houses on the near-by 
estates, also supplied many guests, who were enter- 
tained with that hospitality which made America 
known throughout the world. It is hard in these 
days of hotels and rapid transit, to understand the 
continual and open handed hospitality of the times, 
when travelers could move no more rapidly than a 
horse would take them, and inns were few and far 
between. Then no one was turned from the door, 
and the fact that the rooms of a house were already 
filled was no reason for refusing an added guest. 
For evening parties the guests came from far off; 
and they were expected to stay the night, the latter 
part being spent on any couch which could be pro- 
vided by the host, and sometimes that was the floor. 

The wine cellar was stocked by private importa- 
tion in those days, and well stocked, direct from 


Madeira or Spain. So generous was the supply that 
it was used by some of the gentlemen to purchase 
goods from the pirates and freebooters, who were 
able to supply articles unique of their kind, and bet- 
ter and cheaper than those ordinarily brought to the 
colony; and to them good wine was the best pay- 
ment. Each householder had his own bottles, with 
his name blown in the glass; and some of these, 
marked Van Cortlandt, can be seen now at the house. 
This then is the third picture of Van Cortlandt, a 
charming country house, filled with joy and hospi- 
tality, sunshine and laughter all about it. The 
garden filled with flowers behind the box borders, 
lies in front of the house; and the trees, grown large, 
shade it on each side, while both in summer and 
winter gay parties in post-chaise, or in sleigh, come 
and go to its hospitable doors, always welcome, 
while, in the dreaded cholera years, it was filled 
with those seeking refuge. 

And so the years rolled by, until the horrors of 
war arose; for the colonists protested against their 
government by men so far away and so little con- 
cerned for their prosperity. The proprietor of Van 
Cortlandt at this time, having inherited it from his 
father in 1750, was a man of such character, that all, 
of every shade of opinion, trusted him, and it is said 
that he was even able to influence the British Com- 
manders, at times, in favor of the Americans. West- 
chester County, however, was, more than other 
counties, divided in opinion between those who asked 
for liberty and those who remained loyal to the 
Crown. These last were somewhat in the majority, 
and bitter party feeling at once began to show itself; 


some of the inhabitants going into the different 
armies, but a large number remaining to harry one 
another and the country side. 

In 1775 the Sons of Liberty in New York City 
managed to transport a quantity of cannon from 
there to Kingsbridge, only to have them spiked and 
rendered useless by a band of Tories. Afterwards, 
in anticipation of the arrival of British troops, it 
was decided to carry more cannon to Kingsbridge; 
but horses could not be found to do the work, and 
General Charles Lee, when appealed to, said "Chain 
twenty damn Tories to each and let them drag them 
out," evidently thinking that a fit retaliation for the 
spoiling of the others. The first orders of General 
Howe, in 1776, when he arrived in New York, sent 
vessels of war up the Hudson to Kingsbridge, which 
was then held by the Americans under General 
Mifflin; and from that time until 1783 that bridge 
was in the hands of one side or the other, the fighting 
between them being continual except in winter, when 
the British retired to quarters on Manhattan Island. 
Before the battle of White Plains, the Continental 
army, under Washington, passed from Harlem 
Heights across Van Cortlandt Park; and, after that 
battle, a military order of General Howe, dated 
from the house, shows that it was headquarters for a 
short time. Augustus Van Cortlandt, who had been 
Clerk of New York, brought away with him the 
records of the city; and, as a really safe place, buried 
them on Vault Hill, just back of the house, the place 
of burial of his family — while an old servant of the 
family emptied the wine closet, placing all the bot- 
tles in the vault dedicated to the departed Van 


Cortlandts. This wine was afterwards brought back 
to the house, none the worse for its ten years or so 
in the tomb, and was afterwards called "Resurrec- 
tion Madeira." 

Later, in 1776, General Howe ranged the front 
of his army at the Kingsbridge, while the Americans 
placed theirs at Tarrytown, and so they remained 
for seven years. The intervening land, w T hich a 
glance at the map will show, was mostly the Van 
Cortlandt property, was called the Neutral Ground; 
but, alas, its name did not mean that hostilities 
ceased there. On the contrary, it was one continual 
scene of skirmish fighting. Twice during that time 
the Continental army pushed its outposts to Kings- 
bridge, and twice the British pushed theirs to Tarry- 
town; while time out of number strong detachments 
from either side made forays across the country, 
always crossing what is now Van Cortlandt Park. 
Worse almost than the movements of the regular 
troops were the marauding expeditions of the guer- 
illa companies, formed of the natives, who, as I 
have said, were opposed in politics. The American 
sympathizers were called "Skinners"; the Tories, 
"Cow-boys," this name being gained by their acting 
as guides and guards to parties of farmers who 
wished to bring their cattle within the British lines 
at Fordham, for the price they could get in New 
York was better and surer than that gotten from the 
Continentals. These trips were made at night 
through the woods or over untraveled roads, and al- 
ways under guard. To head of! these parties was 
the business of the Skinners, and warfare between 
them was more like that of Indians than of civilized 


beings. They had no pity on the inhabitants of the 
countryside, who woke to be plundered by one party, 
only to be tortured by the other before nightfall; 
and, when the two met, the results may be judged 
of by the story that an oak tree not far from Van 
Cortlandt House was found one day to have thirty 
cow-boys hanging from its limbs. 

In 1780 Washington returned to Westchester and 
took command of the Continental Army. Aaron 
Burr was given command of the neutral ground, and 
the French officers, who had come to help the 
Americans, were with General Washington. These 
foreign officers were most anxious to force battle 
with Lord Howe, and take New York. If their 
plans had been carried out, Van Cortlandt might 
have been a battlefield renowned in history; but the 
decisive battles were, in the end, fought far away 
from there, when Vault Hill played its part, for on 
it was lighted one of the watch fires by which Wash- 
ington misled the British, who fancied his army still 
there, after they had started their long march to 
Virginia, and to victory at Yorktown. 

It was in the year 1780 that the Van Cortlandt 
property was filled with British troops. An officer 
of the Green Yagers, named Von Kraft, has left a 
diary of that year, which he passed with his regi- 
ment, and two others, in huts, which they built on 
Spuyten Duyvil Hill, and, as he says, "near Cort- 
landts." He complains of being kept awake by 
mosquitoes, and of the lack of food, and especially 
that they had neither beer nor vinegar. Whether 
one was considered an equivalent of the other, as a 
beverage, he does not say. In August they held a 


large Church parade, under the apple trees at Van 
Cortlandt; but by October they had evidently left 
the house, as he records the fact of an attack on his 
outposts by some rebels who came from "Cortlandts." 
These rebels gave the sentries a sound drubbing, 
took their horses and their arms, and then let them 
go free. Though pursued, they were not caught, at 
which the captain says the Yagers were much 
ashamed. This was on the 11th of October; but on 
the 22nd the English were back at Van Cortlandt 
house again, while, on the 26th, they patrolled as 
far as the Philipse Manor House in Tarrytown; 
and by December Van Cortlandt House was the 
headquarters for Sir Henry Erskine, who, in con- 
junction with a force going up the Hudson by boat, 
marched from there to Tarrytown, to crush the Con- 
tinentals, only to find that they had left two days 
before. It was these Hessian Troops, the Green 
Yagers and Emmerich's Chasseurs, who fought with 
and exterminated the band of Indians who are 
buried in the park, in what is called Indian Field. 
Beside the regular troops and the guerilla bands 
who harried the neutral ground, a company of 
devoted men acted as guides and as spies for the 
Americans, who should not be forgotten. They must 
have been well known at Van Cortlandt House. The 
names of several of the best known were Oakley, 
Odell, Young and Dyckman, a name kept alive by 
a street and a station on the subway. There were 
two brothers Oakley, and two brothers Dyckman; 
and as one of each couple had a tavern, one on 
Manhattan Island, and one on the Post Road in 
Westchester, the brothers had the best of chances to 


gather news, and outdo the enemy. They were not 
afraid of a fight, indeed gloried in it, as one of their 
adventures show. Three of these men were guiding 
a company of Continentals, who were in pursuit of 
a party of British troops, guarding some cattle to 
Fordham. They failed to catch their prey, but were 
persuaded by a unanimous request of the guides to 
follow across the Van Cortlandt property, and into 
the camp at Fordham. There the Hessians had re- 
tired into a house for the night. Nevertheless, the 
guides who were in advance, stole up on the sentries, 
whom they seized and gagged; and then Dyckman 
climbed up on the windowsill, and tried to look 
through the crack of the heavy shutters. All the 
soldiers within were asleep, except four who were 
playing cards. These men were disturbed by the 
movement of the shutter, and Dyckman, seeing he 
had no time to lose, threw himself through the glass 
of the window, falling full length on the floor. He 
was instantly followed by the other guides, and their 
rather surprising entrance so paralysed rh^ soldiers 
that there was time to pick themselves up and un- 
lock the door for the American troops, before they 
were attacked. All the British were taken prison- 
ers, and led quietly ofT without alarming the rest of 
the camp. 

This will give some idea of the fourth picture of 
Van Cortlandt, in the seven years that it was the 
centre of the neutral ground. Its beautiful fields a 
wreck, its woods filled with Skinners, or Cow-boys, 
both utterly unthinking of the rights or life of any 
one. Its mill still working, sometimes at the order 
of the British, and sometimes at those of the Con- 


tinentals, but always under such orders, so that the 
owners could not profit by its work. At times, the 
old-time hospitality is shown. Generals Washington 
and Rochambeau dined at Van Cortlandt House on 
January 2nd, 1781, as the guests of Mr. Van Cort- 
landt; and no doubt at other times, there were guests 
of the same quality; but even though the house itself 
and its inhabitants escaped real hurt, they must have 
been made unhappy by the miseries suffered by all 
about them. 

In November, 1783, Washington was again at 
Van Cortlandt House, where he supped and slept 
before leaving the next morning, surrounded by a 
brilliant staff of American and foreign officers, to 
ride to New York, on its evacuation by the British. 

Since that time the Van Cortlandt House has 
been the home of the family until 1889, when it 
passed to the city. During those years it was kept 
up in the same hospitable way, a way inherited, like 
other virtues, in our older families. Among the 
distinguished guests were the Duke of Clarence, 
afterwards William the Fourth of England, and 
Admiral Digby of the British Navy. This gentle- 
man left behind him two rather impressive black 
and white fowl, made in India and captured on a 
Spanish Man-of-War, called Vultures, though of 
rather a conventional type. These birds ornamented 
the gate-posts of the place for years, and may now 
be seen in one of the rooms of the house, attracting 
much attention, in as far as they are so very different 
from any known fowl, even transcending our own 
national bird as he appears on the shield of the 
United States. 


In 1896 the city leased Van Cortlandt House to 
the Society of Colonial Dames of the State of New 
York, and by them it has been set apart and dedi- 
cated to giving the school children and public of 
New York some idea of what life was in the days 
of the Colonies. 

To achieve this end, a special Act of Legislature 
was necessary and this was gotten by the work of a 
few devoted members of the Society, headed by its 
first president, Mrs. Howard Townsend, under 
whose ennobling influence the Society had so grown 
in its few years of existence, that it was ready to 
undertake successfully the work entailed in the hold- 
ing of this house as a trust, for the City, and for the 

To her indomitable energy, which brought every 
influence possible to bear in Albany, the public is 
indebted for a museum, visited each year, by from 
seventy-five to a hundred thousand children, and its 
work towards Americanizing the many foreigners 
among those children, is acknowledged to be of the 
greatest importance, by the other museums, and by 
the teachers of the City. It stands also as an added 
honor to the wisdom of Mrs. Townsend, whose name 
was already known, in the annals of the Women's 
Auxiliary, to the Sanitary Commission of the Civil 
War, and by her services at Mount Vernon, the 
home of Washington, the saving of which from ruin, 
is perhaps the greatest monument to the power of 
women's work in the United States. This sacredly 
historic spot was first acquired by a corporation of 
women, representing the States of the Union, in 
1856, but the breaking out of the Civil War, stopped 


any work of improvement upon it, although it was 
held to be neutral ground, and passed through those 
years of conflict, unharmed by the soldiers of either 

By 1876, the year that Mrs. Townsend was ap- 
pointed vice-regent at Mount Vernon, she had al- 
ready shown her interest in the work, as the head 
of a Mount Vernon Aid Society, in this State, and 
through this Society, passed the first really large sum 
of money to the endowment, while by 1879, this was 
added to so materially, that the special work of her 
State, the renovation and furnishing of the Banquet- 
ing Hall, was assured. In 1891 Mrs. Townsend was 
elected Regent in Chief, and by that time, owing 
largely to her wisdom and energy, Mount Vernon 
had begun to be, what we know it has since become, 
under her care, a fitting resting place for America's 
greatest hero, and the end of many a pilgrimage, 
from the world over. Mrs. Townsend was honorary 
Regent of Mount Vernon, and Honorary President 
of the Colonial Dames of the State of New York, 
and of the National Society of the Colonial Dames 
of America until her death, but no honor shown her 
can be a full expression of the gratitude and admira- 
tion the women of those Societies feel they owe to 
one whose patriotism and public spirit suggested 
their work, and whose wisdom guided their course 
and whose unstinted affection and approbation helped 
their efforts and rewarded their success. 

In May, 1897, the Van Cortlandt House was 
opened to the public, furnished as a residence of a 
Colonial family, though with rooms set aside for 
museum exhibits. In these rooms were to be found 


the Revolutionary relics picked up about the park 
property, the remains of the many forays made 
across it; or, as in the case of a collection of bone 
buttons partly cut or entirely finished, the reminder 
of those Hessians who lived in huts on Spuyten 
Duyvil Hill for so long a time that they started a 
button manufactory. 

And thus we reach the last picture of Van Cort- 
landt. Its fields still lie green and fertile about the 
house, while the wooded hills rise on each side. But 
no longer are they used to grow the corn, or shelter 
the game used by the Indians, or to support the 
patriarchal surroundings of its early proprietors. 
Tibbits brook flowed is changed, for that part which 
sunlight and shade, and find rest and recreation 
within its borders. Only the marsh through which 
Tibbitts brook flowed is changed, for that part which 
falls within the Park boundaries has been re- 
deemed, and is now a garden. 

This garden is in the same place as the one which 
Frederick Van Cortlandt laid out; and for a second 
time the land is reclaimed from its swampy condi- 
tion. In the older garden, the terrace at the west 
side was planted with apple, plum and pear trees, 
while that to the east was filled with flowering 
shrubs, such as althea, snowballs, lilacs and flower- 
ing currants. Across the top of the north terrace ran 
a hedge of box trees, planted to keep the north 
winds away from the garden; and the huge size this 
hedge attained gave rise to the idea that the air, 
blowing over it, caused the curious disintegration of 
the glass in the windows of the house. To the west 
of that building a lawn stretched beyond the present 


Broadway, then called the "Turnpike," to the old 
Albany Road; and, on the west, the entrance to a 
lane which ran down the hill to the mill, and on to 
the farmer's house, was guarded by gate posts, 
crowned by the vultures already mentioned. The 
dyking of the lowland then was more perfect than 
the present draining of the garden, for the land to 
the south of it was in good grass for hay and graz- 
ing while now it is useless swamp land, and can only 
be crossed by the causeway on the southern boundary 
of the park. 

The garden has been a pet scheme of the Society 
of Colonial Dames, who have watched with interest 
the draining of the land by canals and its filling in 
with loam. Of its kind it is the only one in the 
parks about New York; and it is becoming more 
perfect each year, so that the hope that it may in 
time be the model for more old-fashioned gardens 
does not seem misplaced. Van Cortlandt House 
stands firm and strong in spite of its many years of 
life, and its door is still hospitably opened to all 
visitors. Beside it lie two cannons from Fort Inde- 
pendence, perhaps some of those sent from New 
York by General Charles Lee; and another re- 
minder of the time when Van Cortlandt was neutral 
ground is a window from one of the sugar houses, 
though not the oldest, used as prisons in the city, 
when every large building, even the churches, were 
filled with American prisoners. 

One of the reasons for the existence of the Society 
of Colonial Dames, is to stimulate a spirit of true 
patriotism and a genuine love of country, and to 
impress upon the young the obligation of honoring 


the memory of those men of the Colonial period, 
who, by their rectitude, courage and self-denial, laid 
the foundation of this nation; and the holding of 
Van Cortlandt House in trust for the public by the 
Colonial Dames of the State of New York, beside 
being the preservation of an old and historic build- 
ing, is an effort to teach such history. The land 
bears -the name of a family whose roll of honor shows 
a Governor of the State, an Officer high in the ranks 
of the Continental Army, and, earlier still, a man 
who filled with honor almost every office in the gift 
of the Colony. To study their lives, and those of 
others of the same name, in the long list of the men 
who, from Colonial times have filled their years with 
right living, would teach much that I have men- 
tioned ; but when we turn to the history of the ground 
in the last two hundred and fifty years, and add to 
that the history of others of the Colonies to which 
the many exhibits draw attention, it seems not too 
much to claim a great usefulness for the Museum, 
and to hope that it may be open to the public for 
all time. 


By Norman Morrison Isham, F. A. I. A. 

The taking of the Dutch Colony by the English 
in 1666 marked the beginning of a change in the 
architecture of the New Netherlands. This change 
seems, however, to have been of exceedingly slow 
development, and, in the remoter settlements, of 
almost no effect. The farmers and the village peo- 
ple generally would have little to say to the English 
fashions. The mercantile class would be the first 
to show the effect of the new style, and even this was 
probably very slow to take up with it. The com- 
mercial supremacy of England, as the eighteenth 
century grew older, began, however, to show itself 
in the buildings of the wealthier classes, at any rate 
in the large towns, which show dwellings like the 
Van Rensselaer and the Schuyler house at Albany. 
Another instance of the English character of even 
the later country dwelling built when the wealth 
of the family had increased, is the new mansion 
erected on the banks of the Mosholu Brook by 
Frederick Van Cortlandt in 1748. 

Yet the Van Cortlandt mansion is not thoroughly 
English. It has an English dress, indeed, for the 
State apartments are quite in the new manner, but 
some of the more domestic rooms show stronger 
Dutch influence, till we come to the kitchen which 
is the most Dutch of all. 


The plan of the building has the L-shape which, 
whether it was built at one time, or was the result of 
additions, was beloved of the Dutch craftsmen. 

Neither wing of the "L" is more than one room 
deep. In the main block, which faces about south, 
are two rooms, an East Parlor and a West Parlor, 
which have each a chimney, and which are sep- 
arated by an entry or passage containing the prin- 
cipal stairs. The fireplace of the West Parlor is on 
the outer wall of the house, and that of the East 
Parlor is on the same wall which is continued east- 
ward along the south side of the passage, or entry, 
in the "L." This passage, which also contains a 
staircase, separates the East Parlor from what was 
probably the original Dining Room at the north end 
of the "L." 

Both these stairs are carried up into the garret. 
There is a little Dutch feeling in the main flight, 
but it is not obtrusive. The strongest touch of it is 
in the balusters of the last run of the staircase in the 
passage. These are sawed out of boards and not 
turned, but the profile is quite Netherlandish. 

The West Parlor has now a late mantel of 1835 
thrust into the old panelling, while the fireplace 
which it surrounds has been built into the older and 
larger one. The whole end of the room is panelled, 
with a closet in each side of the chimney, and this 
work is probably contemporary with the house. It 
seems to be entirely English in its character, and 
shows that this room was originally meant to be the 
finest in the house. 

If the East Parlor was originally panelled like 
the West Parlor that panelling was soon taken out 


and a mantel put in which is a beautiful example of 
the Georgian manner, and which very probably was 
imported. It seems certain, however, that this was 
not at first the principal room, that it had originally 
no panelling at all and that the mantel was put in 
only when it was thought proper, after fashion had 
changed, to finish up the apartment, so as to make it 
the chief room of the house. Our ancestors did much 
more of this piecemeal finishing than we have yet 
given them credit for. Indeed, we are learning some- 
thing new about their building methods almost 

At some later time the room was done over in 
the style of the Greek Revival, with a plaster cor- 

In restoring this room it was determined, with- 
out disturbing the mantel of course, to panel it as it 
might have been panelled from floor to ceiling, on 
all four sides, with the raised and bevelled panels 
which succeeded those with the heavy bolection 
mouldings so much liked by Wren. 

The "L" was not occupied by the Kitchen, as it 
would have been in a colonial house of the English 
type, but by the Dining Room in which the present 
woodwork is later than 1800. The Dutch tradition 
prevailed and the Kitchen, in many ways the most 
interesting room in the house, was put in the Cellar. 
Its fireplace, with an oven at one side, is a veritable 
cavern, though it is small compared to some of the 
seventeenth century specimens. There is no mantel- 
tree, but a bent iron bar sustains the very flat ellip- 
tical arch which spans the opening. The ceiling is 


not plastered and the beams of the floor above, 5x10 
nearly, and about 1 1 inches apart are plainly to be 
seen with all the marks of the broad-axes of the old 
workmen. It is a mistake to call these old cuts adze 
marks. The adze was a tool for use when the surface 
to be cut was horizontal and could not be turned to 
a vertical position, and thus could not be attacked 
with the axe. It is more a shipwright's than a house- 
wright's tool. 

In the chambers the west room is panelled on 
the fireplace end with considerable elaboration, 
while the East Room is quite plain, showing indeed, 
only a mantel, a fact which supports the theory that 
the East Parlor below it was originally a very plain 
room and that the mantel, one of the best on the 
seaboard, was added later. The North Chamber is 
more elaborate again than the East Room, though 
not so much so as the West Room, which was evi- 
dently the State Sleeping Apartment. It is this 
North Room which has been fitted up as the princi- 
pal apartment of a prosperous Dutchman of the late 
seventeenth century. The transition from the 
negative type to that which came in during the 
eighteenth century, under the English rule, can thus 
be very clearly seen within this one building. 

In the garret of the front block are two rooms, 
one of which has been fitted up with New England 
panelling. In the "L" garret there are several rooms 
which probably do not go back to the original house. 
The Dutch flavor here, however, is more pro- 
nounced. There are two doors and some hardware 
which are strongly of that character. Perhaps the 
doors were brought from the story below, for it is 


not certain that the present roof and garret are orig- 
inal, even if there were rooms in the third story at 
the beginning. A hip roof, however, was to be ex- 
pected, as in the Glenn-Sanders house at Scotia, and 
the pitch of the roof is what we should look for. 

It has been the general intention to keep the 
house furnished as it would have been in its prime — 
the time from the date of its building to the Revo- 
lution. The Dutch Room, of course, is a thing by 
itself, and even in the other rooms some fine seven- 
teenth century pieces have been displayed for their 
educational value. Now and then, also, a late piece 
of exceptional merit has been used. 

In the East Parlor a fine secretary of about 
1760 stands between the windows on the eastern 
wall. It once belonged to Mr. Canfield and is 
very probably an early piece by John Goddard, of 
Newport, one of the finest of our Colonial cabinet 
makers. It is the eighth of his secretaries known to 
be in existence. 

The lowboy between the southern windows was 
made by William Savery, of Philadelphia, another 
noted Colonial craftsman, whose advertisement is 
pasted in the top drawer. 

All Sorts of Chairs and 
Joiners Work 
Made and Sold by 
At the Sign of the 
Chair, a little be- 
low the Market, in 
Second Street. 



Over this piece is a fine gilt mirror of Chip- 
pendale type. 

Two other Chippendale pieces are the elegant 
sofa against the west wall, north of the door, and the 
delicately beautiful Pembroke table in the corner 
next to the chimney. 

The middle of the room is occupied by two won- 
derful Chippendale seats and a magnificent tripod 
or tip table with a pie-crust and claw-and-ball feet 
— an astonishing specimen — a present from General 
Nathanael Greene, of Rhode Island, to Madam Van 
Vechten, of Finderne, New Jersey, at whose house 
he stayed in the winter of Valley Forge. From the 
Misses Frelinghuysen, descendants of Madam Van 
Vechten, the table came to Mrs. Margaret Elmen- 
dorf Sloan, whose children gave it to the Society 
of Colonial Dames of the State of New York. 

In the center of the present Dining Room, the old 
West Parlor, is an American gate-legged or "thou- 
sand-legged" table with an oval top. It has beside 
it two very fine walnut chairs, one with cane seat and 
back, of about 1700, the other with a banister-back, 
of a little later date. 

Another seventeenth century American piece is 
the fine oak chest with one drawer. This stands be- 
tween the southern windows and has beside it still 
another early example in the very interesting but- 
terfly table on the west wall. On the other side is a 
Turkey work chair that can hardly be excelled. 

On the east wall is an extremely good six-legged 
highboy with a cushion-front drawer just under its 
flat top. 


In the East Parlor Chamber there is, on the 
door to the north stair hall, a very curious bolt 
which, by means of a cord, could be released by a 
person in bed without getting up, so that the servant 
could come in to make the wood fire in the morning. 

On the south wall of this room is a fine block 
front dressing table of mahogany, possibly by John 
Goddard, while the walnut period is represented by 
the highboy with its curved broken pediment. Near 
by is a notable "wing" or easy chair with claw-and- 
ball feet. 

The Dining Room Chamber — once the West 
Parlor Chamber — contains a bed of the early eigh- 
teenth century with hangings covering all its posts, 
as was the fashion at that date. 

Over the mantel is a mirror of 1680. Near the 
bed is an excellent example of a couch or day-bed, 
the precursor of the couch of the present time, and 
against the wall stands an inlaid lowboy. 

The Dutch Room has a very fine painted Kas 
cupboard, and a most interesting model of a Dutch 
sloop. This model, which dates from 1705, came 
from the counting room of an old shipbuilding firm 
after the last member had died. It was wont to be 
taken out and blessed whenever the real vessel which 
it represented put out to sea. 

The sleigh is Dutch also, that is, Holland Dutch, 
and was brought over by the first Van Rennselaer 
who came to this country. 

In the further left hand or northwest corner is an 
excellent example of a ship's treasure chest of paint- 
ed iron — one of the kind which figures in the fabled 
burials of money by Captain Kidd. Above it is a 


very noteworthy Dutch china cupboard with a curv- 
ing, well carved, and with glazed doors. 

On the floor is a real Dutch rug or carpet. 

A beautiful maple desk and a wagon chair, as 
it was called, are notable exhibits in the Southeast 
Chamber of the Garret. 

Perhaps the most interesting piece in the South- 
west Garret is the Doll's House made for a mem- 
ber of the Homans family, of Boston, in 1744. It 
is now being filled with furniture which repro- 
duces in miniature that in the Van Cortlandt House 

There are also some remarkable early toys in this 
room, a cradle covered with leather and a very good 
gate-legged table. 

The preservation of this house means far more 
than the maintaining of a museum, and thus of an 
object lesson in the domestic life of our fathers. 
Such a house is not a mere landmark in our social 
or military history, it is a monument in the history 
of our architecture as well. Even with the restora- 
tions which have been made for the purpose of 
showing special periods in the manner of a museum, 
the house is practically undisturbed and forms, just 
as a fabric, just as a matter of design and construc- 
tion, a most important and valuable example of the 
Georgian or English type of Colonial house, tinged 
in the most interesting way with the Dutch influence 
of the former New Amsterdam. 

Norman Morrison Isham. 





"History Westchester Co." 

Shonnard and Spooner 

"Journal of Lieutenant John Charles Philip Von Kraft 
of the Regiment Von Bose, 1776-1784." 

"Westchester Guides" 

Manuscript in New York Historical Society, by 
John M. McDonald 


28 WEST 27th STREET 








The Branch Libraries 

The New York 
Public Library