Thursday, October 30, 2008

Freer-Low House

This past Sunday, October 26th, I was able to finally take the tour of Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, New York. I had joined the Huguenot Historical Society several months ago and was sent a pass that allowed up to four people to take the standard tour.

At the beginning of the tour, the guide brought us outside in front of the main building housing the exhibits and gift shop - it is the DuBois Fort - and asked: which two homes would you like to see? Since there are seven original stone houses on the street, and the tour was scheduled to last 60 minutes, we had to choose only two of the seven.

Not being shy, I selected the Freer-Low House and then let the other party in the tour select one, which they did - the Bevier-Elting House.

We walked down the street about 500 feet to the historical marker in front of the Freer-Low House.

Freer-Low House Historical Marker. Digital image, taken Sunday, Ocotber 26, 2008 in New Paltz, New York. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, IL. 2008.

The stone house was started in 1692 and finished in 1694. The tour guide was able to point out the original entrance which is now the second window from the left. The home was built in the standard three-level configuration of the time: cellar, ground floor room or "great room," and loft. The cellar would have been used to store items especially root vegetables and liquor or brewed items and the loft was used to store grain.

It is said that Hugo Freer and his wife Jannetje Wibeau never occupied the house since she died in 1693 and he died in 1698. By 1735, the home had made its way into the hands of Hugo's grand-daughter Rebecca and Johannes Louw, her husband. At that time a new addition was made and the right-half of the home was added.

Around 1776, the back end of the house, which was later used as a kitchen and breakfast room where added, being wood frame in construction.

When we first entered the home and turned to the left, ending up in the Great Room, I was a bit disappointed. It seems that in 1943 when the house was purchased by Rev. John Wright Follette, a direct descendant of Hugo Freer.

Rev. Follette took up the project of modernizing the house which included the addition of indoor plumbing and electricity. What was a typical 17th century Huguenot home became a 1940s/1950s colonial style home.

Here is a photo I took of the Great Room as it exists today. The only original items are the floor boards, with their square nail heads, and the beams. Everything else, including the hearth was renovated during the 1940s. The original hearth would have been jambless which was the style of the 17th century Huguenots.

Freer-Low House Great Room. Digital image, taken Sunday, Ocotber 26, 2008 in New Paltz, New York. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, IL. 2008.

The tour guide did make it a point to discuss the hardware which Rev. Follette had specifically made true to the Huguenot style which was used for all the doors. I took this photo of the door leading from the Great Room to the wood frame addition in the rear.

Freer-Low House Great Room Door. Digital image, taken Sunday, Ocotber 26, 2008 in New Paltz, New York. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, IL. 2008.

I did some research as to why the historical society decided to leave the Freer-Low House in its current altered condition and to me, the reasons make sense. Besides the money needed to restore the home and the possibility of damaging the stone, leaving the home in its mid-century colonial period points out to people the various ways - successful and unsuccessful - in which these and many other historical homes have been altered.

The Huguenot Historical Society got its start from just such an alteration: when the Deyo House was severely altered in 1894, the local outrage and the tearing down of other stone houses, led to the preservation of the Jean Hasbrouck House in 1899 thus launching the society.

At the end of the tour, I snuck back to take this photo of the chest which my 9th great-grandfather, Hugo Freer, used to transport his personal items across the atlantic with him in 1675, arriving in Kingston, New York.

Chest belonging to Hugo Freer, the Patentee. Digital image, taken Sunday, Ocotber 26, 2008 in New Paltz, New York. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, IL. 2008.

For a more detailed description of the evolution of the Freer-Low House to what it is today, see


Apple said...

It's a shame you could only tour two of the homes. Maybe you can go back on a spring visit. Did they say how far they had to go to quarry all that stone? Amazing that there are so many left, so close together.

Thomas MacEntee said...

Apple - there was little information on the source of the stones for these houses, at least during my hour of research on the Internet. I know that nearby Hurley was known for its bluestone quarries (bluestone being the preferred stone for sidewalks in the late 19th century) and Rosendale was known for its cement later in the early 19th century).

So I emailed Leslie LeFevre-Stratton, Curator of Collections at the Historical Huguenot Society and here is what she found:

"My understanding is that the stone was culled as land was cleared for farms and fields. It is not quarried stone. Some dressing might have taken place to square up the stones depending on where they were used (outside walls, etc.). The stone is leftover from glacial activity and there is a lot of it throughout the area. I believe it is a limestone sometimes referred to as Schwangunk grit. That last bit you might want to research more, but it is definitely local rock. We believe our first generation of settlers might have lived in some sort of wooden frame house. The end result of clearing all those fields to settle down, was an abundance of stone – to be used at a later date for house more substantial house building."

Apple said...

I can't imagine the work that went into clearing the land and later constructing the buildings!

JoLyn said...

What a terrific experience! I think the most intriguing thing of all is the chest. Wouldn't you love to own an item like that?

I guess you have to descend from the oldest son of the oldest son to have stuff like that...

Great post - thanks for your comment on my blog - and for guiding me to this!