Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Van Cortlandt Manor, Historical Hudson Valley Sites Series, Part III

Quote of the Day:
The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," 1841
This week, we visited Van Cortlandt Manor, our third stop in our series of visits to Historical Hudson Valley sites. The first stop was Kykuit, followed by Philipsburg Manor.

By sheer luck, our visit on Monday, September 7, 2009, was the last day of the season the site will be open, except for special events and group visits. The Jack-O-Lantern Blaze is scheduled for evenings in October and looks like it will be fabulous.

Van Cortlandt Manor is a home on the Croton River, built in 1749 by Pierre Van Cortlandt, who had made his fortune in the breweries of New Amsterdam.

 A Patriot during the American Revolution, his family and heirs were able to continue ownership after the War for Independence was won, unlike the Loyalist Philipse family. In fact, we were told by one of the interpreters with a touch of rivalry in her voice, that Cornelia, a Van Cortlandt daughter, had the foresight to buy a parcel of Philipsburg Manor when the Philipses were forced to give up the land and head for England.

To get from NYC to Van Cortlandt Manor, we took Metro North to the Croton-Harmon station, then walked ten minutes to the site. Anything to accrue those extra miles on the old pedometer. Got to get those 10,000 steps a day!

When we got off at the Croton-Harmon station, we got walking directions from a friendly taxi driver. We just had to cross the street, turn left ...

and walk over these imprinted river-life illustrations to the blue house.

Turn right at the blue house, ...

and walk to the end of the street where there was a sign to Van Cortlandt Manor.

Walk right into the parking lot at the end of the road, ...

... and voila! Van Cortlandt's home and Ferry House are situated on the Croton River.

Stage coaches coming from New Amsterdam up the Albany Post Road (renamed the Queen's Road during British occupation), needed to ferry across the Croton, stay overnight at the Ferry House inn, and then continue on the road toward Albany. This road, created by the Dutch along a well-used Indian trail, provided a mail route by the mid 1600s.

Our tour began at the second floor porch entrance of the manor house. Photography inside is not allowed.

The house is very elegant with it's salon, dining room, office, and a third floor with bedrooms for the family and attending slaves.

The kitchen, with its big open hearth, is on the lower level and was probably the main work, gathering and even sleeping area for the household slaves, each listed as part of the inventory. It was the center for food, medicine, and even fragrance preparations. Many recipes and records still exist today.

Looking out the back door of the Manor House, the structure on the right is an outhouse, and the one in the shadows on the left is a smoke house.

We left our interpreter and walked past the well toward the vegetable gardens.

The operation of the Ferry House was managed by a tenant who paid rent to Van Cortlandt as well as a share of the profits.

Inside, on the first level, is a bar room (not shown) where travelers often drank themselves into oblivion with shots of gin and other alcohols identifiable by the shape of the bottle for the sake of the mostly illiterate public. Playing cards were marked only with pictures for the same reason.

Pictured above is the dining room where you can see attractive furniture and settings, though not as elegant as in the Manor House. Clay pipes could be rented, as one did not travel with his own since they were so breakable.

Also on the first level is the family's combination bedroom/kitchen/sitting room where they prepared the many-course meals for the travelers. Records show the comments of people who enjoyed the fresh and delicious food served for dinner and for breakfast.

Upstairs is the large room furnished with several rope beds. Travelers slept 4 and 5 to a bed, side-by-side with strangers, a good way to keep warm in the winter, and a good way to shared the ubiquitous bedbugs. The matresses were supported by sometimes sagging ropes, which could be tightened by twisting a large key, hence the expression, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."

The tenant manager's children slept on palettes in the travelers' room so they could be awakened as needed to empty the chamber pots.

In the morning, guests mounted their coaches and resumed their ride on the Albany Post Road.

A tenant farmer lived in a one-room house. In addition to rent, he would have shared part of his crops with the Van Cortlandts. Furnishings inside were simple and the space in the one room was used efficiently. Because this was a reconstruction, photographs of the interior were allowed.

Ah, the aroma of apple pies, roasted meats...

In the hearth-side rotisserie, an interpreter was slow-cooking a roast.

But - ... working in these open hearths while wearing long dresses made infections from burns the number one cause of death for women. They wore wool instead of cotton because it's not as flammable, but still smoldered and caught fire , though not as fast as cotton.

To cook anywhere on the hearth, you can pull embers from the fire and place them on top or under the pot. To cook directly over the fire, you can hang the pot by its handle on swinging iron arms.

Churns and presses were probably pulled out from corners as needed, just as beds were probably put out of the way upon rising.

Clean-up could not have been easy.

In a new, added on lean-to,
there was a spinning demo. Turns out, according to the interpreter, that using the old spinning wheel was a very relaxing colonial times activity. Preparing the wool for the wheel was a multi-step job, starting with 2 to 3 year olds who did the "pulling" which was mainly picking the fibers apart so the dirt could fall out.

An itinerant blacksmith used to set up shop for about 2 weeks and make all the orders for nails, tools, horseshoes, and cast-iron pots and pans, some for tin plating. Apprentices, aged nine and up assisted.

The tinsmith offered his many wares, happily demonstrating the short life of tin-plated items, as the tin plating wore off, users were forced to order new ones. Sounds like the built-in obsolescence of so many objects today.

A touch of flamboyance: the tinsmith's hat.

At the end of our visit, we took a last look at preparations for the famous Jack-O-Lantern Blaze event planned for October (linked in intro).

And we are off to hike the Greek Isles for the next 2 weeks. See you in October. Yah sahs!