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A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times
20: Houses in Ancient Albany County

The Editor

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[This information is from pp. 441-450 of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times; being contributions toward a history of the lower Mohawk Valley by Jonathan Pearson, A. M. and others, edited by J. W. MacMurray, A. M., U. S. A. (Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, Printers, 1883). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 P36, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

[Copies of this book are available from the Schenectady County Historical Society.]

[The original version uses assorted typographical symbols to represent footnotes. To improve legibility, the online version uses the form (page number - note number.)]

The first settlements in the county were on Castle Island at the mouth of the Norman's Kil. Being a mere trading station, the buildings were simple in design, and probably after the pattern so common for a long period here and still common in the Netherlands. They were built by mechanics brought over for the purpose and it was long before there was need of any others. When the settlement grew in dimensions, houses were scattered along the river bank to suit the needs or convenience of the traders. Doubtless the log or block house was common but the Dutch gothic taste was most prevalent. They were either of usual Indian pattern or a simple rectangle in plan, from fifteen to eighteen feet wide and two or three times as long. The walls whether after the Indian pattern or of framed timbers boarded, (441-1) or brick filled, or partly one and partly the other, or of brick or stone masonry, were usually about eight to twelve feet in height. Across these were laid heavy beams, the covering of which, very heavy plank usually two and a-half to four inches thick, formed floor of upper and ceiling of lower rooms.

On each beam was framed a pair of rafters tied by a hammer beam, thus forming a triangular truss of simple construction and very great strength. The exterior was sheathed with broad heavy planks which in turn were thatched or covered with shingles.

No masonry save chimneys was used in any house in Albany prior to 1656 when father Jogues described the town of Albany.

The earlier houses of the average traders were built of poles after the fashion of the Indians in the locality, as later houses were erected and sawed lumber was introduced, the houses were framed of timber and boarded on the exterior, as in the description of the ancient commissary's residence at the fort. That they were poor, shabby affairs even as late as 1643, appears from the statement of Father Jogues who describes Fort Orange as a miserable structure of logs. The settlement about it consisted of some twenty-five or thirty houses roughly built of boards and roofed with thatch, scattered along near the river above and below the fort (about the site of the Susquehanna R. R. depot).

While in Albany he was lodged in a large building like a barn, belonging to a Dutch farmer. It was a hundred feet long and had no partition of any kind; at one end he kept his cattle and at the other he slept with his wife, a Mohawk squaw, and his children, while his Indian guests slept on the floor in the middle. (442-1) As he is described as one of the principal inhabitants it is clear the civilization of Rensselaerswyck was not very high. (442-2)

That the cattle were in the end of the house was not very peculiar, the practice is still common among peasantry of many countries, notably Switzerland, Germany and Holland; barns were uncommon during the early years of the settlement of this section of country and in transfers of hofstedes they are rarely mentioned, all crops being kept in cellars or under bergen or ricks. With woods full of roaming Indians, cattle could not be allowed to stray and they were housed in the end of the domicile or annexed to it under the same roof.

"It is said on New Year's night in 1655, during a controversy between Jean Baptiste Van Rensselaer and Governor Stuyvesant's officers, some soldiers armed with matchlocks sallied from the fort and fired a number of shots at the Patroon's house. Several pieces of wadding settled on the roof which was of reeds and had caused the destruction of the building had not the inmates been on the alert." — (O'Callaghan's Colonie of Rensselaerswyck).

Johannes La Montagne was appointed commissarie of Fort Orange in 1656. The residence of the commissarie was an old building about twenty-five feet long, one story and a half high with the typical Dutch peaked roof covered with old shingles. At the north end was a room about fifteen feet square and at the south, one about ten by fifteen, into which the door opened and was thus a sort of entry. The second floor was undivided and was under the roof, access being had by a straight ladder through a trap door. There was a cellar under the house.

This was condemned in 1756, and a stone house built, as one of timber would cost as much owing to the distance the timbers had to be hauled. This was to serve as a residence for the vice director as well as for a court of justice. It cost about $8,500 and was the first stone house in Albany.

The new building had a foundation of stone, brought from. a quarry four miles distant, three to four feet thick and six feet high, and the cellar was divided into two rooms each twenty feet square. The foundation was carried above the ground to a height of two feet of "baked stones three stones," or three bricks thick [probably about twenty inches] and on this were laid thirty-three floor beams. The walls were carried up, "a stone and a half" thick. On these rested the upper floor beams and nine pairs of rafters, of the roof was covered with sound tiles; there was a double chimney (double flued chimney?) in each gable, masoned of choice bricks and the whole was bound with forty-two iron anchors. The window frames were of white oak.

The first floor was divided into three compartments; in the centre was an entry or vestibule separated from the hall, five feet wide by a four inch brick wall. At the north end was a room about twenty feet square with a stone chimney, at the south end a kitchen about twenty by fifteen with a chimney, a recess for a bed and pantry.

The upper floor was divided into two rooms about twenty feet square, access was gained by a winding stair which also led to the attic where ammunition and other stores belonging to the fort were stored. (444-1)

This building corresponds in description very closely to many old Dutch buildings the writer has examined.

The Bratt house now standing on the hills overlooking the first lock to the west of Schenectady has the central hall, the rooms to correspond with their great fire places, a jutting partition which forms an alcove for a bed on one side and a pantry on the other, the winding stair leading to the upper floor and to the attic. The walls of this house are of bricks; dark colored arch bricks being laid to form diamonds all over the face. In a brick in the front is cut the inscription "A Bradt 1736." The building may have been built some time then.

The following are a few citations from common authorities referring to buildings:

(1640.) Ship Houtluyn was freighted with goods for the Colonie (Rensselaerswyck) * * * four thousand tiles and thirty thousand bricks. (444-2)

(1646.) The greater number of the houses around forts Amsterdam and Orange, were in those days, low sized wooden buildings with roots of reels or straw and chimneys of wood. Wind or water mills were erected here and there to grind corn or to saw lumber.

(1646.) The city * * [of Albany] contained in 1616 not more than ten houses.

(1646.) Bricks $4.16 per thousand in Albany.

"Conditions and terms on which Juffrouw Johanna De Hulter (444-3) proposes to sell her brick kiln (Steen bakkerij) as it stands:

"First. The brick kiln shall be delivered to the buyer as it stands fenced and shall be shown to him, in free ownership except that he shall pay as an acknowledgment two guilders yearly to the patroon. The delivery shall be made 8th Nov., 1657," &c.

Adrian Jansen Van Ilpendam bought for 1,100 guilders.

Madam Johanna De Hulter proposes to sell at public sale her tile kiln (pannen backerij) on the same terms as the brick kiln.

Peter Meese (Vrooman) purchased for three thousand seven hundred and seventeen (3,717) guilders. Pearson's Albany County Records.

(1658.) A claim for value of pan tiles and bricks furnished for the church. (445-1)

(1658.) Claim for payment for 12,000 bricks and 1,600 pan tiles. (445-1)

(1658.) Claim for 5,500 bricks. (445-1)

(1658.) Tjerk Claesson for laying bricks. (445-1)

(1658.) Noted, — the Hoogeboom brothers tile makers in van Slechtenhorst's bakery or kiln. (445-1)

(1662.) Pieter Jacobse Borseboom de Steenbakker sells his Steenbakkerij prior to moving to Schenectady of which he was one of the first proprietors.

(1671.) Saw mill in Bethlehem.

The Patroon had saw mills prior to this.

(1683.) House sold for 95 beavers (or about $300.00).

(1683.) Tjerk Harmenson Visscher contracts to build a house for Hendrik Roseboom, 18 feet x 10 feet, with a standing gable; a garret and floor. One cross bar window and door case in the front gable. Strips for tiles, likewise a back door and light over the door, a chimney and a mantel, for ten beavers ($32.00).

(1690-1734.) Bricks are quoted at $2.00 to 3.00 per thousand in Schenectady. Albany rates about the same.

(1704.) Wouter Quackenbos bill for 1,300 bricks with carting to the fort, £1-2-0

(1723.) Granted to Lambert Radley and Jonathan Broecks, one acre with the clay in or near the same fit to make bricks to the west of Luykas Hooghkirk's brick kill. (Albany)

(1736.) Granted to Wynant Van De Bergh ground where he makes bricks. (Albany)

(1725.) Van der Heyden Palace, erected 1725, demolished 1833.

"Built, by Johannes Beekman in 1725." Dimensions 50 x 20 feet, having a hall and two rooms on each floor.

This building stood in Pearl street near State street. It was said to have been constructed of bricks, etc., brought from Holland.

Munsell's note to this says: "This is a common tradition of all the old houses, yet there were many brick and tile makers here and abundant material for the manufacture of the article. Probably bricks were brought over as ballast in some cases. It is also asserted that the timbers of certain houses were imported from Holland, although the best of timber abounded here which could be had at the mere cost of cutting and hauling.

"Although it had been somewhat modernized internally, the massive beams and braces projecting into the rooms, the ancient wainscoting and the iron figures on the gable ends, carried the mind back to days of old.

"Washington Irving described it in "Bracebridge Hall" as the residence of Heer Antony Vanderheyden.

"The iron weather vane, a running horse, was placed above the peaked turret of the door at Sunny Side."

(1743.) In contract for a house: prescribed that there should be built: "Stone foundation above the ground with lime, new roof of squared white pine boards; to make a chimney and to mason it with hard bricks and lime above the roof." (446-1)

(1749) Peter Kalm.

"The houses in the town (Albany) are very neat and partly built of stones [brick?] covered with shingles of the white pine. Some are slated with tiles from Holland because the clay of this neighborhood is not reckoned fit for tiles. (446-2) Most of the houses are built in the old way with the gable end towards the street, a few excepted which were lately built in the manner now used. A great number were built like those of New Brunswick which I have described; the gable end being towards the street, of bricks and all the other walls of planks.

* * * "The gutters on the roofs reach almost to the middle of the street. This preserves the walls from rain but is extremely disagreeable in rainy weather for the people in the streets."

The street doors are generally in the middle of the houses and on both sides are seats.

(1755.) "The Dutch Chimnies have very small Jambs with 3 or 4 Rows of Tiles, some no Jambs at all. * * * Some Stone Houses many Brick. * * * The Brick houses many of them curiously floured with Black Bricks and dated with the same, the Governour's house has 2 Hearts in Black brick. Houses chiefly but one storey high and Brick ends notched like steps. Window shutters and loop holes in Sellars. On top of the Houses for weather cocks Horses, lions, Geese, Sloops," &c., &c. (446-3)

(1780.) Albany had 550 houses.

(1789.) Morse's Geography, Edition 1789.

"The houses are mostly built in the old Dutch gothic style, with the gable end to the street, which custom the first settlers brought from Holland with them. The gable end is commonly of brick with the heavy moulded ornament standing with notches like stairs and an iron horse for a weather cock at top. The houses are seldom more than one story and a-half high and have but little conveniences and less elegance, but they are kept very neat."


"The town is compact and regular, built of brick and excepting a few, in the old Dutch style, on a rich flat of low land surrounded with hills."

(1795) Rochefoucault Liancourt.

"Skenectady is a small town and containing mostly old houses built in the Dutch style which gives it altogether the appearance of an ancient European city."

(1795.) Isaac Weld, Jr.

"Albany contains 1,100 houses. * * "In the old part of town the streets are narrow and the houses are frightful; they are all built in the old Dutch taste with the gable end to the street and ornamented on top with large iron weather cock."

(1798.) Dr. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, says: "The houses (of Albany) are almost all built in the Dutch manner, standing endwise upon the street, with high sharp roofs, small windows and low ceilings. Their appearance is ordinarily dull and disagreeable."

(1800.) Worth's Random Rec. — "All the old buildings, and they constituted a large majority — were but one story high with sharp peaked roofs surmounted by a rooster, vulgarly called a weather cock. Every house having any pretense to dignity was placed with its gable end to the street, and was ornamented with huge iron numerals announcing its date of erection."

There is a popular belief in some quarters that in the Dutch times houses in Schenectady were built of bricks brought from Holland. To support this it is advanced that the bricks are exactly similar to bricks of Holland cities and that vessels coming out for cargoes of furs, brought bricks as ballast.

As Dutch steen backers (brickmakers) had brick yards in Albany prior to 1650, and there were a number of brick yards and pantile (roofing tile), bakeries as appear by their sale (447-1) in Notarial papers. The business of brick making is one of the least skillful arts, (one skilled brickmaker diluting the ignorance of many common laboring men,) brick clay of good quality and quantity was exposed on the hillsides — wood for burning was near the clay the bricks were small and were largely the hard burned arch bricks made in small kilns, especially kilns built to make a small number of bricks. Many of the so-called Holland Dutch bricks contain the gravels of this region (mostly argillaceous shales), and besides nearly all the old Dutch "brick houses" are not built of brick but of strong yellow pine timber and have only brick fronts which were added in later years of prosperity and comparative wealth. There is no evidence that a single brick house was built before 1710-15.

That bricks were brought from Holland as ballast, seems very unlikely especially as to bricks for Schenectady. Almost immediately after the settlement of Schenectady, the colony passed into the hands of Great Britain and all direct trade with Holland ceased at once. If we follow the course of a vessel from Amsterdam to Albany by the then common trading routes, we shall see that such bricks even as ballast would be expensive. The Dutch West India Company freighted a ship with a cargo of strouds and duffels, hardware, cutlery, arms and similar goods. She cleared for a market and arriving in the Dutch Islands of the West Indies, traded for rum, sugar and molasses, an amply heavy cargo without ballast. She then in regular course sailed for the South (Delaware) or North (Hudson's) river — and supplied traders with goods from Holland and some of the rum, molasses and sugar for the Indian trade, taking on furs which were as good as gold — then her route lay home, via, Isles of Shoals or the banks of New Foundland, where she took on as many quintals of fish as she could purchase. When the trade here was more important and carried on more directly, heavy hardware, etc., served ample purpose as ballast for the small ships of that time.

Grant that some cargoes of brick ballast were landed at Albany from the sixty ton ships of that day, would any one be justified on commercial grounds, which the Dutch closely considered, in hauling them through the woods and over the sand hills twenty odd miles, via, Niskayuna or the Norman's Kil? There were no real roads for a hundred years and even now the same trails used then are impassable most of the year for heavily loaded wagons.

From the foregoing quotations it is manifest, that except in the very first settlement of the colony, bricks were made in this locality, that they were very cheap, costing less than one-half or one-quarter the present market price, and that houses cost very little to construct or at any rate as they were in the main alike in style and character, they sold at very moderate prices.

Bricks that were brought from Holland were sent for building a house for the commies of the colonie by the Patroon's company and do not appear as imported on private venture.

Stone walls were ordinarily laid up "dry," or with mud mortar, only using lime on the exterior and exposed sides or above the ground. Chimnies were usually erected inside the houses and were likewise built of stone or bricks, with clay mortar within the roof, and bricks laid in lime mortar above the roof. In the earliest times chimneys were built of wood, plastered, or daubed with mud. Probably this was commonly done in log or block houses.

Of the notable houses in Albany, the oldest dated is the Pemberton house, corner of Pearl and Columbia streets. This is brick on the two street sides and wood on the others. The gable is the normal Dutch gothic with the indented steps filled with oblique courses of brick. The house fronted on Columbia street and had the side extension, and was otherwise almost identical in appearance with the Abraham Yates' house in Schenectady. The house was one and a half stories on Columbia street, and was doubtless one of those referred to in the preceding quotations from accounts of travelers in the last century.

Another ancient house on corner of Steuben and Chapel streets, is of two brick sides, one of which, the gable, looked down on its accompanying garden which extended to Pearl street. Several years ago there were visible on the boards on the Chapel street side, the pocket knife records of long byegone day's amusement, in cutting names, initials and dates as early as 1708 or 9 and later. Whether these dates were correct or only cut carelessly or were the dates of birth of the artists, cannot be known of course, but the entire building in materials and details of construction, indicate that it may be as old if not many years older than the Pemberton house.

Another similar house is buried amid modern surroundings on Maiden Lane above Pearl street. It is now (April, 1883) being removed.

At Schenectady "the oldest house" is that built by Capt. Arent Bradt, on State street near Washington. Its front is essentially that of the Pemberton house in Albany in almost every detail, its date is from 1715 to 1730. The house is heavily framed of timber, and the front is of bricks anchored to the front of the frame. It is the writer's belief that the front was added after the construction of the house.

The Vrooman house at the Brandywine mills, about the same date, is entirely of bricks. It is well built and is staunch enough to stand more centuries if modern improvements do not sweep it away.

The Van Gyselling house on the flats is a wooden building and is a remarkable specimen of early Dutch architecture. The house is largely roof, a form of building both easy and economical of construction, requiring the minimum iron work and nails and yet standing firmly against the winter's blasts.

It is claimed to have been built in the 17th century, which, if true, makes it the oldest house in the valley, unless the Mabie house out dates it.

A part of one of the buildings at the Schermerhorn's mills, dates about 1715 to 1720.

The Abraham Yates house on Union street near the Dutch church, dates about 1730. It is brick fronted, whether so built or added later to the timber frame is unknown.

The Bratt house in the Woestyne, the Glen houses in Scotia, the Mabie house in the Third flat have been described elsewhere.

The town was doubtless as much Indian in appearance as Dutch, for many years. In 1643, according to Father Jogues, the houses of Albany (then the frontier), were roughly built of boards and rudely thatched, with no masonry save chimneys. Up to the early part of the 18th century when there was a period of peace and confidence, greater population and prosperity, Schenectady was doubtless in about the same condition architecturally.

Timber was plenty and immediately at hand, and the writer believes from careful study of the subject that there was not a single brick dwelling house in Schenectady prior to 1700, probably not before 1715, and that the houses were rarely ever more than one and a half stories high. The Capt. Arent Bratt house was built by the wealthiest man in this section of the country and was doubtless the best here.

The wood built Glen house, of the usual Dutch pattern, probably soon followed, and then the large square gambrel roofed house of Quarter Master Glen, in 1713.

A wooden house of uncertain date, stands on the north side of Union street between Ferry and College streets. It is of the same patten as the Abraham Yates house including the L, and it still has its ancient Dutch door cut into upper and lower divisions, serving as door and window all in one. In the cut of the church of 1733/4 this form of door is shown.

There is not an ancient stone house in the city. This material was not popular with the Dutch, they prefering baked steenen or bricks for their masonry.

All the earlier churches, save possibly the first, were built of stone; its permanency and massive character commending itself for that purpose.

About the middle of the last century the English taste began to prevail and walls were carried higher and gambrel roofs came in fashion. The platform on the top served for a family gathering place on hot nights and the view of the valley bounded by the spurs of the Helderbergs and the Kayaderoseras hills was secured, unencumbered by the dense foliage and thickening houses of the town.

The place was peculiar and quaintly old in appearance, until the fire in 1819 swept blocks of the densest portions of the town away. On the site arose modern styles of buildings in no wise different from the heterogeneous styles of brick, wood and stone, common to all small cities and towns. The depot of the great railroad suggests a town of yesterday that might be hurried out of existence by extension of the road beyond, rather than a place of the hoary age of two and a quarter centuries and yet in the bed of the trackway was found a skull cleft by an Indian tomahawk in 1690.


(441-1) The dwellings in the Jarseyes are wretchedly constructed, "most of the English, and many others, have their houses made of nothing but clapboards, as they call them there, in this manner; they first make a wooden frame, the same as they do in Westphalia and at Altona, but not so strong; they then split the boards of clapwood, so that they are like cooper's pipe staves except that they are not bent. These are made very thin, with a large knife, so that the thickest end is about a little finger thick and the other is made sharp like the edge of a knife, they are about five or six feet long and are nailed on the outside of the frame with the ends lapped over each other. They are not usually laid so close together as to prevent you from sticking a finger between them in consequence either of their not being well joined, or the boards being crooked. When it is cold and windy the best people plaster them with clay. Such are most all the English houses in the country except those they have which were built by people of other nations." — Danker and Sluyter [i.e., Jasper Danker and Peter Sluyter, Journal of a Voyage to New York], 1679.

(442-1) This description implies a long house built after the general plan practiced by the Indians and the easiest thing for the first settlers (all Indian traders) to erect.

"Iroquois and Huron dwellings were fifty yards or more in length and twelve or fifteen wide, framed with sapling poles closely covered with bark, each containing many fires and many families." — Parkman's Pioneers of France.

(442-2) Parkman.

(1679.) "Their [the Indians'] house was low and long, about sixty feet long and fourteen or fifteen feet wide. The bottom was earth, the sides and roof were made of reed and the bark of chestnut trees; the posts, or columns, were limbs of trees stuck in the ground and fill fastened together. * * * * On the sides, or walls, of the house the roof was so low that you can hardly stand under it. The entrances or doors, which were at both ends were so small and low that they had to step down and squeeze themselves to get through them. The doors were made of reed or flat bark." — Danker and Sluyter's Journal [i.e., Jasper Danker and Peter Sluyter, Journal of a Voyage to New York], description of Indian house.

(444-1) First stone house in Albany. — E. B. O' Callaghan.

(444-2) O'Callaghan's Colony of Rensselaerswyck.

(444-3) Johan De Hulter one of the partners of Rensselaerswyck embarked in May, 1653, from Amsterdam in a vessel called the Graef with different families, taking with them a number of freemen among whom were several mechanics, as one extraordinary potter (Steenbakker), who intended to settle in the colony or any other convenient place. — Albany Records, IV, 93.

(445-1) Notarial papers — Magistrate's Court Albany.

(446-1) Albany Annals, X.

(446-2) Yet there were pan tile (roofing tile) bakeries here a century before.

(446-3) Journal of Rev. Sam'l Chandler, Chaplain Mass. Troops, 1755.

(447-1) Peter Jacobse Borsboom de steenbakker sold his brick kiln in Albany just prior to taking part in settlement of Schenectady, in 1662.

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