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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Close The Window. Hansel Ain’t Coming.

We need to go back before we move on to Victorians. We forgot some people. The Dutch, for instance.

It’s intensely regional, of course. New York, New Jersey, a little bit of Connecticut, Delaware, and a sliver of Pennsylvania. The crowning achievement of Dutch Colonial architecture, the Gambrel roof, is everywhere now, of course, but that’s about it. And that’s Dutch Colonial Revival, not Dutch Colonial.

New Amsterdam is the original name of New York. Dutch Colonial was its urban style. It was very like what a medieval European city would have, but most of that’s gone now. The real estate was too valuable in what’s now Manhattan and surroundings to have anything too ancient. But up and down the Hudson River, out in the sticks, you can still find plenty of Dutch inspired farm houses. The whole style was gone before the Civil War started.

We used to call the style “stone enders.” Like the house in the first photo, the ends of the house were of stone or masonry of some sort, usually with wood infill walls between them. The end walls were parapeted –project higher than the roof. Unlike the postmedieval British house, instead of a big center chimney with lots of flues, the end walls had chimneys in them, usually in both ends. The roofs would be very steep, as a rule. That goes back to when roofs were not very waterproof, sometimes thatched, and so the steeper the roof, the more likely you’d be dry inside.

Here’s a signature item that’s entered the lexicon: A Dutch Door. Open just the top, and let the fragrance from the garden, but not the livestock from the garden into the house. It’s still makes a great secondary entrance door.
Here’s a gambrel roofline. Multistory Dutch Colonials are pretty rare. They were most often 1-1/2 stories, and you’d live right under the roof. British colonial houses maximized space under the roof with dormers. The knee in the roofline in the gambrel pushed the stand up space in on the second floor out towards the exterior walls all along the eave, not just in the footprint of the dormers. This one needs painting or dynamite or something:
They’d flare the roofline at the first floor eave and kick the rain away from the sidewalls and add to the picturesque look of the thing:
Steep roof? Check:

The farmhouse version. Lower roofline, rambling a bit, flared eaves, gambrel roof:

The urban version. Masonry ends, parapets, wooden infill walls. Neat as a pin is another Dutch tradition. This one in Schenectady is:

Hey look, another term for the lingua franca: The Dutch Oven. It has a secondary, ribald definition now, but people used to call a brick oven using the preheated walls to cook things slowly a Dutch Oven. A lidded cast iron slow cooking pot is the most common word usage now, but here’s what a Dutch Oven used to mean:And of all the common details of the Dutch colonial style, the one I like best is the benches flanking an entry door. What a pleasant place to shell peas or shuck corn and smell the flowers in the beds.
If you’re going to steal anything from the Dutch, steal that. And sweep it ten times a day for the whole effect.

7 Responses

  1. But Wiiiillllburrr:
    What about Dutch[ed] cocoa?

    There are a lot of Hollanders in some places in Wisconsin. There’s one small town, Kaukauna, where the “V”s in the phone book have the most names. Van, Vander, etc… Frugal people, too. They make the Scottish look extravagant.

  2. There’s also Holland, Michigan. And Grand Rapids is a sort of Holy See for the Dutch Reformed. I briefly lived in Michigan as a kid, and I remember those Dutch Colonials — always thought they looked liked barns.

    This is what I love about America — a little bit of everything all mixed together and made better. There’s nothing we won’t cheerfully copy.

  3. Well, you need to be a little careful with the appellation “Dutch.”

    Around WWI the largest ethnic group in America was German-American. They of course were Deutsch, but were often referred to as Dutch.

    I worked in upstate New York for a little while, and the name of every town ends in “kill” Very Dutch. The style of Dutch Colonial never made it as far west as Central Pennsylvania.

    People picked it up again after WWI. I have pattern books from the twenties filled with tidy little houses in the Dutch Colonial revival style that were built by the hundreds of thousands in the midwest. That might be the greatest period in American homebuilding history. And a story for another day.

    Witold Rybzcinski wrote a book that outlines how the Dutch more or less invented modern domestic living arrangements. It’s called “Home.” I should have linked to it. Too lazy. Too stupid. Too busy.

  4. Yes, the Pennsylvania Dutch are actually German, aren’t they (“deutsch”)?

    I’m pretty sure the folks in Grand Rapids are actual Hollanders, though.

    I find the pockets of different immigrant groups fascinating. My in-laws live in Racine, Wisconsin — a little Danish island surrounded by Poles and Germans. And St. Louis has a little bit of everything.

    I’m sure you’re right about those Dutch Colonials in Michigan post-dating WWI, though.

  5. Terrific links, Pastor Jeff. The Wikipedia entry is interesting.

    Figures both of the links for Grand Rapids furniture museums are dead.


    Sometimes a poor swampbodger can’t catch a break.

  6. America hasn’t been around very long, but we have some fascinating history nonetheless.

    When my grandmother passed away, I found a newspaper obituary for her paternal grandfather. He had been born in 1823 in Georgia, moved to Texas and became a Ranger, fought in the Confederate calvary, and was the oldest man in the county when he died at 90 in 1913 (when my grandmother was four). His grandparents went back to the founding of the country. Can you imagine the stories that guy had to tell?

    Sorry about the furniture links. If you want to look at the historical homes in Grand Rapids, though, you can go here and scroll through the various styles.

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