Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Books and Old Dutch Stone Houses

A Hidden Corner of America

It may be a hard sell in our current culture to recognize that the Dutch actually had lived, breathed, worked, and read here on this continent, before there was any United States of America. And their influence still lingers in various parts of our own cultures, from words ("kit and kaboodle!") to architecture. One of the most extraordinary historical tidbits, which has presumably been relegated to the historical dustpan, is the fact that Sojourner Truth, who'd been born not too far from Kingston, NY, and lived here as a slave of Colonel Hardenbergh in the early 19th century, spoke Dutch as her primary language. Though, perhaps more accurately, it was not the Dutch of the Dutch Republic or Netherlands as we now know it, but a colonial and early American dialect; and even more precisely, as some have suggested, the slave dialect of Dutch. But the remnants of these historical kernels are far away now, far into history and non-existent in most people's minds. But what is present are those old stone houses first produced by the Dutch centuries ago. Kingston does have a fine example in its downtown village. Not too far to the south, in the town of Hurley, NY, one will find an extraordinary street, tucked away from most who drive down the adjacent Route 209 highway. The street is extraordinary, because it is lined with old Dutch stone house with incredibly telling histories, which are not simply "local histories," but greater and more influential national histories.

But first, I will start our tour with a visit to the Hurley Public Library, located in what appears to be an old wood-frame house. I first visited this library more than a year ago, when I drove by and found its quaintness to be irresistible. It is a very narrow structure, and inside the library itself, it feels very cramped: public and technical services merge into a space no larger than a large 1980s sedan, while patrons try to negotiate the walking spaces between shelves and desks and computer stations. Of course, as I've mentioned in other reports from the road on my biblio-tours, my favorite part of these off-the-beaten-path libraries is the used book sale. Now, in the case of the Hurley library, I found the most delicious little "used book sale" ever: in fact, it was more than just a book sale, it was its own little "used book shop!" As you can see in the photo here, there were two adjacent sheds (literally!), which served as book shops. In this photo you see the "Fiction Shed." What a delight!

After finding a few gems in the "Book Sheds" outside of the Hurley Public Library, I sauntered down the road. The image here is of the street, where the library is located. I took this photo while standing in the library parking lot, looking northeast. Now what is extraordinary about this street is that there are some dozen plus homes that are colonial Dutch structures all in a row. It is astounding, because of the unlikelihood of their survival into the 21st century, and yet "here they are!"

As I walked up (or down?) the street, I discovered historic marker after historic marker, noting some sort of significant event from the distant past. One of my favorite signs is the one below noting that the state capitol had been moved to this old house after the burning of Kingston by the British in 1777. One can just imagine the statesmen and senators rummaging about with quill pens scribbling and jowls churning out vitriol against the aggressive forces and bellicose arsonists, while supping pewter goblets of rum. Ah, the good ol' days of muskets and politics!

Not too far down the street, one of my other favorite signs (which I did not take a photo of) reads that George Washington "slept in this house." Yes, yes, I know what you are all thinking: it's the joke phrase of all old New England Inns, a mark of fame and distinction that has become all too ridiculous in its declaration. Yet, this was true Washington territory, and not to sound like a 4th grade schoolboy, but "he did, he did, he really did!"

Across the street from the famed Van Deusen House is the Hurley Historical Museum. This is a place, I must admit, that I've tried to visit many times, but have not managed to be in the right place at the right time. It's always closed when I'm around. Perhaps on my next trip to Hurley.

Up the road, near the entrance to this illustrious street is the old Hurley Reformed Church. Though this specific church didn't come into existence until about 1801, its "parent" congregation located just three miles away in Kingston, had had a community dating back to about 1670. The church in Hurley formed shortly after the creation of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, as noted in the fine historical piece on the church's website, which can be read at the following link:

And for those interested in the general delights of an old church you can take a look at the photos I shot, while visiting the old church. There was an old display case containing some even older books than the display itself: log books, psalters, and vintage photos. The Ulster County Genealogical Society is located in the basement of the church and consists of a little room full of files, or at least that's what it looks like from the little I could see through the window into the darkened room. I returned upstairs and into the main sanctuary area, where a man was practicing his hymns on the organ, presumably either the main organist or an itinerant church musician. I snapped away on my tiny camera and enjoyed the austere beauty of the old Reformed tradition and its interior architecture. I also snapped a few of some hymnals on a shelf in the narthex area.

More books, More Surprises...

I'm continually surprised by books or the presence of books of all varieties no matter where I am or where I go. After leaving the old Dutch street in Hurley, I drove south to Stone Ridge and discovered, among other things, a yard sale bountiful with books, and a library IN an old Dutch home!

I pulled the car over and jumped out to scan the boxes and boxes of old books. As you can see from the photos here (left and below) there were many of them, but unfortunately, the books were not worth much, if anything. And few if any held my interest. Of course, there is that rare gem of a book that might catch my attention and interest. At this sale, it was the multi-volume set of Bibles published in the 1820s, which were torn and raggedy, but had that gloss of intrigue. I am not 100% certain of the imprint and commentator, but I am now fairly certain that this was the work of Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), who was part of the "Seceder Presbyterian Church of Scotland." More can be read about him at the following link: (http://www.bible-researcher.com/campbell.html). It would make certain sense considering the Dutch and Reformed presence in this area, but from where or whose collection it came from, that is another mystery. Nevertheless, venturing forth from our Bible historiography, I ended up not purchasing the various tomes for a mere $5 a volume, because I had neither the cash nor the room nor the desire to cart home a dozen rust-flaked volumes to store indefinitely in my (or my family's) house.

And so they sat, those poor Campbells, to weather another attic's despair and quietude. But not more than a few hundred yards away sat a fine establishment of historic nature: the Stone Ridge Public Library. Unlike the old stone building of the Public Library of Hudson, which I wrote about some time back, the Stone Ridge Library was no mad house or home for orphans. Rather, it was, to the best of my knowledge, an old farm house, which had been converted into a library. I went inside and enjoyed the comfort of its size and "homeyness." It was cozy, with low ceilings, and old wide-planked floor boards, whom the likes of a George Washington or Governor Clinton could have walked upon with colonial foot-ware, oh!-so-long-ago. Today, though, one can go in, pull a fine book off the shelves, and sit by one of the non-active fireplaces, and read for as long as you want.

As you can see from some of these photos,
there are still many elements of the original architectural hardware(s). From wood joints, to locks, to door knobs, and more, you feel like you're still in a bit of a time warp.

But lest you have some sort of anxiety about retrieving that all-too-important "do-it-yourself" book, or favorite "Tex-Mex cookbook," or even the latest and greatest children book for your kids (they have a whole room devoted to children's literature), there is no need to worry about these lamps running out of oil, because they converted them to electric some time ago. So go on and read, read to your heart's content! And don't worry, there are more "cool" old stone houses to come in our next bibliotour.

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