Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back to the Future in Loosdrecht - Part 2

Last September I posted some slides of Loosdrecht, Grandma VandenBergh's hometown in the Netherlands, that my mother took on a trip there in 1971. I have come across yet some older images of the village in the notebook that Mom's cousin Jasper put together for her many years ago. These photos date back to the first decade of the 20th century. Jasper's commentary accompanies the pictures:

"Old postcards have their charm, especially if you know the region. So it is with the cards on this and the next page. They were printed in 1904, and quite accidentally my father got them from the man who made them, and who is still living. Above you see the NieuwLoosdrechtse Dijk [New Loosdrecht Dike]. Just at the corner left stands the house of Jasper Daams Sr. Sr. The road is better now, but for the rest nothing has changed. This road is still very picturesque in the neighbourhood of Oom Kees' [Uncle Casey's] house.

Loosdrecht - the North Road
At right some views along the same road, which our parents knew very well as they walked it daily to school or on Sunday to church.

The old dilapidated house below stood next to the old school, the old prison type building, where I too spent six years in a time when everybody still went on wooden shoes, which was very convenient in fights. We did not like, however, that on Saturday we had to brush and whitewash the wooden shoes.

View of New Loosdrecht, 1904

I lived for the first eight years of my life in our grandfather's house. I still remember the rustic atmosphere of the old smithy with its roofing frame. On the other side of the road was the old-fashioned workshop of a cart-wright and coach builder, crafts that have completely disappeared in our era of plastics. 

A View of New Loosdrecht

Some newer postcards below show the old castle Sijpesteijn and the beautiful Gothic church in Nieuw-Loosdrecht. The castle is a museum now and contains a wonderful collection of antique furniture and porcelain. Loosdrecht porcelain is rather famous and very expensive now. In 1770 a Dominee de Mol [Pastor de Mol] started a porcelain factory to help the unemployed peatworkers. It lasted only a few years as the dominee was no businessman, but his ware was magnificent. 

Sijpersteijn Castle, New Loosdrecht

The castle looks very old, but it is not so old. Originally built in the 13th century, it has been destroyed many times in noisy meetings of the old masters. Completely pulled down by the French in 1672, nothing was left of it, till a descendant of those old warriors rebuilt it completely with medieval bricks and other materials. It contains now a wonderful collection of antiques.

Dutch Reformed Church, New Loosdrecht
The old church dates back to the 15th century. It is late Gothic style. Of course built as a Catholic church, it came into the hands of the Protesants (even the priest converted) around 1570.  

The Daams family were members of the Ned-Hervormde Kerk (the Dutch Reformed Church) until 1886, when they left this to establish the Gereformeerde Kerk, because they did not agree with the tendency in the Reformed Church. 

The church is a beautiful example of late Gothic style. It offers a delightful silhouette from the lakes. 

In our youth those were important days for us, when Oom Freek [Uncle Frederic] took us with him, to put out the flag on national festival days."

One last postcard shows a view along a canal in the area around Loosdrecht, similar to the scenes painted by the old Dutch masters.

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For other excerpts from Jasper's red notebook, see the following posts:

- "The Red Notebook"
- "Back to the Future in s'Graveland"

In an earlier post showing slides of Loosdrecht in the early 1970's, you can see an aerial view of the old Gothic church: "Back to the Future in Loosdrecht, Part 1."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Mabee Farm Historical Site - A Photo Essay

Mabee Farmhouse
We tend to think of our pioneer ancestors as living in log cabins carved out of virgin forests. But rather than wood frame houses, many early Dutch settlers on the 17th century frontier in what is now Upstate New York may have lived in stone houses such as the one pictured above. This house stands on the Mabee Farm Historical Site just west of the city of Schenectady, New York. It is described as the oldest house still standing in the Mohawk Valley. The house has survived 300 years of floods and wars that constitute the vagaries and vicissitudes of history.

Now a property of the Schenectady County Historical Society, the farm was originally settled by Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen, who received the land via a deed from the English Governor Francis Lovelace in 1671. Its location on the river, just west of the village of Schenectady (founded ten years earlier) made it an idea spot to build a trading post to welcome Mohawks carrying their beaver skins to sell at Schenectady or Albany. This was indeed the frontier in that long ago era, the last outpost of European settlement beyond which lay the Mohawk villages scattered along the river that bears their name.

View along the Mohawk River
Yes, the river  --  before there was the Erie Canal, there was the river, which had been a major corridor linking the Atlantic coast to the interior of North America for thousands of years before Van Antwerpen built his stone house. How many Native Americans chose to make their way to Schenectady and Albany (earlier known by its Dutch name, Beverwijck) by way of the paths through the forest, and how many came by way of the river in birch bark or hollowed-out log canoes we cannot now know. What we do know is that the Mohawk River originates in the valley between the Adirondack Mountains and the Tug Hill Plateau. It flows 140 miles eastward, to where it plunges over the Cohoes Falls before emptying into the Hudson River just north of Albany.

The river's watershed drains 3,460 square miles in Upstate New York; it includes all of Montgomery County, most of Schoharie County, and parts of twelve other counties. Along most of its trajectory, the river is lined by hills, some steep, some sloping, that are the remnants of the banks of the mighty Iro-Mohawk River formed by the meltwaters of mile-high glaciers as they retreated 10,000 years ago. Later, it was the highway into the interior, rich with beaver, bear, and mink waiting to be captured and bartered for trade goods at a venue such as the Mabee trading post. In our era, the river is now the purview of pleasure boats quite different from the canoes and bateaus that plied this route a few hundred years ago.

I have seen bald eagles soar above its banks and perch on trees waving in the gentle wind. They were long absent from this valley, but in recent years have returned to their old haunts along the river.

Open hearth
How did the house's original inhabitants prepare their meals? In an open (jamb-less) hearth, which was typical of Dutch houses of the era. Our guide pointed out the wooden beams that frame the hearth. Although most of the smoke and much of the heat generated by a fire here was sucked up the chimney, this fireplace was the only source of heat in the large room where the family cooked, ate, and carried out other daily activities such as spinning wool from the farm's sheep.

The wide hearth allowed the lady of the house to have several pots simmering at once, and perhaps a turkey or slab of meat roasting on a hook over the flames. For some ideas about what dishes the family may have learned to prepare from their Mohawk neighbors, go to A Taste of the Iroquois Harvest.

Table at the Inn

A small inn was added to the original stone structure early on. Travelers along the river or road could stop to rest, or refresh themselves before continuing on their journey. The table is set as if a group has just abandoned their card game to move on toward their destination. Won't you sit down and enjoy a pint of home-brewed beer?

There is some debate about whether the house originally had a cupboard bed, which was typical of Dutch houses during the era when it was built. The bed displayed in the house today is from a later era in colonial America, with a rope mattress and homespun coverlet.

Bathed in sunlight, the whitewashed walls and china wash basin form a stark counterpoint to the highly polished dark wood. Three hundred years ago you might have peered out this window to see a group of Mohawks approaching, laden with beaver skins.

A circle of gravestones marks where the Mabee clan rest among the trees. Many of the graves date back to the 18th century. May they rest in peace among the trees.

Mabee Family Graveyard


- Dunn, Russell: Mohawk Region Waterfall Guide. Hensonville, NY Black Dome Press; 2007.

- Gehring, Charles T. and William A. Starna, trans.: A Journey Into Mohawk and Oneida Country. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1988.

- NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation: Mohawk River Watershed: ; accessed 9/20/2012. For a detailed map of the watershed, see:

- Snow, Dean R., and Charles T. Gehring, eds.: In Mohawk Country. Syracuse, NY; Syracuse University Press, 1996.

To view a webcam photo of the Mohawk River at the Cohoes Falls, go to this link provided by the US Geological Survey (updated three times daily).

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Netherland Institute Seminar

Mabee Farmhouse
This weekend I attended the annual seminar of the New Netherland Institute. You could not think of a more appropriate setting for such an event than a 300-year old Dutch farmhouse in the Mohawk Valley: the Mabee Farm Historic Site, a property of the Schenectady County Historical Society, and most likely the oldest house still standing in the Mohawk Valley.

The Seminar has grown over the 35 years of its existence; this year there were a total of ten speakers, who came from the Netherlands, France, and Canada, as well as from several prestigious universities in the United States. Attendees also toured the Stockade section of Schenectady and enjoyed a dinner at the Stockade Inn.

More about the Mabee House next week . . . But first, I invite you to tour New Netherland , where my ancestors lived a few hundred years ago. Click on this link to begin your trip back in time: New Netherland Virtual Tour.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Button Hooks and Hairpins

Great-grandma Kittie Van Slyke cut a stylish figure in her youth. Both garments and hair styles were elaborate in the mid-1880's, when this photo was taken. Keeping up appearances must have necessitated a range of accoutrements and accessories that seem quaint, if not obsolete, to us today. In Kittie's day, button hooks such as those in the photo below were used to fasten up dresses as well as shoes and boots.

Button hooks and hairpins

Thank goodness for the modern zipper, which spares us the tedium of fastening dozens of buttons when we dress for work every morning. But who ever heard of its inventor  -- Whitcomb Judson -- who developed and marketed a "Clasp Locker" in 1893? Although this gadget was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair that same year, it apparently met with little commercial success until the next century. Judson's clasp fastener was improved upon twenty years later by a Swedish immigrant who became head designer at Judson's Universal Fastener Company. The name "zipper," an example of onomatopoeia, was given to the device yet later by the B.F. Goodrich Company when they used the fastener on rubber boots.

And what of Kittie's elaborate hairstyle? Opening a dresser drawer in what I remember as Kittie's room, I discover a small paper packet containing her hairpins. The braids encircling the crown of her head were certainly held in place by hairpins such as these. I held them in the palm of my hand, encapsulating a bit of family history as tangible as my own plastic comb.


To learn more about the invention of the zipper, go to:

The History of the Zipper:

Inventor of the Week Archive at:

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Summer Picnic

This is the long Labor Day weekend in the United States, when many people have their last picnic or barbecue of the summer. Did you ever wonder what picnics were like for our forebears a hundred years ago? I came across some photos of a family picnic of July 4, 1908 in a drawer in my grandmother's house:

Picnic at Big Nose, July 4, 1908

The photo is labeled, "Big Nose, July 4, 1908." My great-grandparents, Kittie and Fred Fineour, are center rear; my grandfather Will Wetterau is at the front left; Grandma Minnie is second from right in the front. The other picnickers are their friends, the Glockners. They all look so serious, don't they? I suppose it was not easy to organize transportation and food for seven people on a hot day, with no air conditioned car. Behind the group is the Mohawk River, and beyond the river a mountain called Little Nose.

The ladies went wading in the river:

Kittie Fineour and Emma Glockner wading in the Mohawk River

It looks like the party livened up a bit later:

"Are we having fun yet?"

The family and their friends must have had fun, because it appears that they went back to the same place the following year. Another photo labeled July 4, 1909 shows the same group in slightly different garb:

Picnic at Big Nose, July 4, 1909

I believe that the young boy in the photo may be Minnie's younger brother Frederic, who would have been about four years old at the time. Notice the hats: Mrs. Glockner had a wide-brimmed hat to protect her from the sun, her husband a smaller one, and great-grandpa Fred had a bowler that looks a bit small for his head. But long-sleeved shirt and tie were apparently de rigueur for all the men, as was long skirt and shirtwaist for the ladies. Quite different from the skimpy costumes we see at picnics in our day!