Monday, June 9, 2014

A Visit to the Bronck Museum

Yesterday afternoon, the Husband and I took a spur of the moment drive down Route 9W to see if the Bronck Museum was open.  I've driven by a million times and keep meaning to visit. We had a wonderful tour of this historic property. Amazingly, it stayed in the family for 8 generations of Broncks, from Pieter and Helletje in 1662 to Leonard Bronk Lampman who willed the property to the Green County Historical Society in 1939. (And yes, Pieter is a brother of Jonas Bronck founder of that famous Bronx to the south of us.)

When Pieter, a Swede and his Dutch wife Helletje bought their three square miles from the Mohicans in 1662, what is now a tame and manicured farm with a lovely view of the correctional facility in Coxsackie, was deep forest and true wilderness. Our guide pointed out that northern Europe where Pieter and Helletje grew up had very little forest left. The wealthy might keep a wooded hunting preserve, but the common folks were certainly not allowed in.  Deep and scary woods were unfamiliar territory for these two.

By 1663, Pieter and Helleje had built their sturdy, one room home from local  limestone and hard pine (it is the building on the left side of the picture above.)  The large, hand hewn beams inside are remarkably smooth and the floor boards are amazingly wide.  What interested me is that this house, the oldest surviving in the entire Hudson Valley, is not very Dutch.  The museum's brochure says it is "an excellent example of the utilitarian dwellings favored by many of the first Northern Europeans to settle the valley."

The house next door (on the right in the photo) was built in 1738 during Leendert Bronck's tenure and has all the Dutch-ness one could want.  Dutch doors, H-bent beams, gables with "mousetooth" brick work, steep roof, jambless fireplaces, etc.  Interestingly, the brick walls are a veneer attached to the sturdy wooden frame. Our tour guide assured us that the bricks could all fall down and the house would remain standing. Those fancy porches out front were added in later years to give the home a more symmetrical Federal feel.

5.  Historic American Buildings Survey, Thos. T. Waterman, Photographer '36. - Peter Bronck House, West Coxsackie, Greene County, NY
A 1936 photo from  HABS shows the gable end of the 1738 house and the passage way that connects the two houses. 

In the beginning, out here in the wilderness near the Indian trail, Pieter thought he could make a living trading for beaver pelts.  When that didn't work out, and after Pieter died, Helleje and her son exploited the timber on the property adding a saw mill and grist mill.  Records indicate that grinding stones for the grist mill were purchased from our very own Albert Bradt who was an early settler in what was to become Bethlehem.

Our tour included the separate, one room kitchen building, and we explored the many red painted barns on our own.  Sadly, we couldn't go in the 13 sided barn - happily the Dutch barn was open and stuffed with farm equipment, carriages and even a sleigh.  Another barn was open with displays about Greene County history including a model of the Catskill Mountain House - I didn't realize just how huge a place that was. We concluded our visit with a tranquil walk by the family burying ground near the Coxsackie Creek.

This place is a gem - go and visit!  Check out the Greene County Historical Society's website for more info.

You can go to the HABS webpage for more 1930s pictures

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