Recognizing

DUTCH-AMERICAN HOUSES

 

“Dutch,” or “Dutch-American” Farmhouses are often difficult to identify from the exterior. Like the Dutch Barn, however, the key is in the structural system, and a few important details.

The defining characteristic of Dutch-American houses, like that of the barns, is the series of braced H-frames, or “bents,” which form the core of the building.  The braced cross beams (“anchor beams”) were usually left exposed and can be seen in the living room ceilings of these houses.  Most often, the brace is a solid piece of timber known as a “corbel,” usually curved.  The bents run perpendicular to the gable end, and typically spaced about 4 feet apart; the latter is unlike non-Dutch-American, box-style structures, where the vertical posts are more widely separated.  The English system is basically a box, with major timbers outlining the outside framework, which is then filled in with smaller structural members; sometimes it can be two boxes, with a central fireplace framed between the two.  In Dutch-American houses, since the H-bent posts extend above the anchor beam, many houses are 1½ stories.

A second characteristic is the jambless fireplace.  While not always present or visible, like the H-bents, it is a defining characteristic — that is, if there is evidence of a jambless fireplace, it shows the influence of the New Netherland settlement.  The jambs are the sides of the fireplace; in a Dutch jambless fireplace, there are no sides, just a fire back and a hood.  The chimney is large, and most often goes straight up.  Both characteristics are found in houses in the Netherlands from the 13th century through the period of the New Netherland settlement.

Many other characteristics may indicate Dutch influence, but they are not definitive:

 

  Steeply pitched gable roof

Vlechtingen (triangular bricks underlining gables)

Dutch doors (multi-part), often with stoops

Gambrel roof (having two slopes on each side)

Flared eaves

Dutch cross bond brick pattern (see other handout)

 

David Cohen identifies 4 regional subtypes in his book on the Dutch American Farm (The Dutch-American Farm, New York University Press: NY, 1992, page 46):

 

1. The red sandstone houses of Bergen, Morris, and Passaic counties, NJ, and Rockland County, NY.

2. The wood frame houses in Brooklyn and Monmouth County NJ.

3. The gray fieldstone houses in the middle Hudson and upper Delaware Valley.

4. The brick houses of the upper Hudson valley.

 

While Cohen gives a number of examples, it is perhaps more useful to flip through John Stevens’ book (Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830, HVVA:West Hurley, NY, 2005), which has a vast amount of photographs, plans, and drawings.

 

(Notes by Ned Pratt, September 2006)


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