Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Building on the Farm: A Legacy of Architecture at the Mabee Farm

Drawing of buildings at Mabee Farm by Keith Prior. From Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

The Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction is where visitors can find the oldest house still standing in the Mohawk Valley. The Jan Mabee House (also known as the Stone House) dates from around 1706 and remained in the Mabee family for almost three centuries. In 1993, George Franchere, last direct descendant of Jan Mabee, made a gift of the Mabee Farm property to the Schenectady County Historical Society. The three historic buildings on the farm -- the Stone House, Brick House, and Inn -- are examples of early Dutch American architecture and are unique in that there has been minimal change, remodeling, or reconfiguration of the structures. The Mabees also left behind a treasure trove of architectural artifacts, remnants, tools and documents which give us glimpses into the lives of Jan Mabee and his descendants. The surviving houses provide insight into early building techniques and skills and illuminate life along the Mohawk River over the course of three centuries. Study of the farm's architecture and artifacts continue to provide us with insights into the journey of the family and life on the early American farm.

Floor plan showing first floor of the Stone House (also known as the Mabee House).  The drawing was made in the 1930s as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. The original blueprint drawings are collected in the Mabee Family Papers. This digital image can be found at the Library of Congress website (www.loc.gov). 

Many of the buildings on the farm date from the eighteenth century, including the Stone House (built ca. 1706; stone addition ca. 1755), the Brick House (built ca. 1750), and the Inn (built ca. 1790). Additionally, a Dutch barn built around 1760 was acquired by the Society in 1997, dissembled and moved from Johnstown, New York, restored, and re-erected on site. The sheer age of the Stone House is significant in the history of the settlement of the Mohawk Valley by Europeans, and it is truly the centerpiece of the farm. The Brick House is especially noteworthy as one of the earliest unaltered colonial buildings in the area; it has been referred to as "essentially a time capsule from the later half of the eighteenth century" for the lack of alteration over the years.

The architecture of the farm is heavily influenced by Dutch architecture, and the buildings are typical of the Dutch-influenced homes and agricultural buildings in the Hudson Valley and the Mohawk Valley. The exhibit explores the interior and exterior features of the farm's buildings that are typically Dutch, and what they can tell us about the lives of the people who lived there.

The Dutch Barn being reconstructed at the Mabee Farm. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

The exhibit also includes information about using techniques such as dendrochronology, reading architectural clues, and examining artifacts in finding information about the history of the buildings on the farm, how they have been altered over the years, how the uses of the buildings have changed over time, how the land on the farm has changed over time, and how principles of historic preservation and restoration have been used to preserve the buildings and to restore the look of the buildings as they were in earlier days.

The Stone House and Brick House. Undated print from a glass plate negative. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.  

Learn more about the architecture of the Mabee Farm by visiting the exhibit, Building on the Farm: A Legacy of Architecture at the Mabee Farm, at the George Franchere Education Center at the Mabee Farm Historic Site, 1080 Main Street (Route 5s), Rotterdam Junction, NY 12150. The exhibit opens on Saturday, May 4 at 10:00 a.m. and continues through July. Admission is free for members of the Schenectady County Historical Society and $5.00 for non-members. Call 518-887-5073 for more information about the exhibit.

We hope you will join us for the exhibit's opening on May 4, when artist Len Tantillo celebrates the public unveiling of Legacy, his new painting of the Mabee Farm finished this year. Trained as an architect, Tantillo uses modeling and historical research to make history come alive in his paintings. Legacy helps capture and reflect the spirit of the Mabee family and of life on the early American farm. Don't miss this special moment at 1:00 p.m. on May 4.

Shortly after the unveiling of Legacy, John Stevens, author and premier expert on Dutch architecture in early America, will give a comprehensive record of buildings constructed by the Dutch. The features of Dutch-American buildings will be compared with Old World prototypes. Stevens will also discuss the decline of Dutch characteristics in second half of the 18th century, as well as the persistence of Dutch timber-framing technology into the middle of the 19th century. Copies of Mr. Stevens' book, Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America 1640-1830, will be available for purchase. His talk will be featured at 2:00 p.m.

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