The Blackwell House on Roosevelt Island finally opened for tours after a major renovation of the house. When I had visited Roosevelt Island the last time in 2017, the house was corded off and was not open for touring. It had looked like it was falling apart from the inside out.
The home has now gone through a major renovation. The grounds outside were beautifully landscaped and gave the house a very warm and welcoming entrance to the property. In the middle of the summer, the flowers and trees were all in bloom and it was a nice view from the street. The house is conveniently located in the middle of the island, so it is not far from the tram and the subway.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the tour of the house what there was of it. The house had gone through a renovation but not a historic restoration, so the house is not a period piece with historic displays of furniture and art objects. It was like touring a modern home. I felt like I was walking through a 1980’s McMansion.
When you enter the front hall, there is a reproduction of a portrait of Captain Blackwell, who was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. The house was built in 1796 for James Blackwell and added to in 1804, when the family fortunes had improved after the war.
The island had been ‘patented’ to Captain John Manning by British Governor Nicolls in 1668. Before the Dutch had arrived, the island had been used by the Native Americans for hunting and fishing. The island had been inherited by the captain’s stepdaughter, Mary Manningham Blackwell and her husband, Jacob Blackwell, thus named Blackwell’s Island, upon his death. The island passed to her children, James and Jacob. The island was sold to the City of New York in 1823 (Roosevelt Island history).
All around the first floor, which is the only floor you can visit, there are all sorts of reproductions of historical maps and pictures of the island. The tour guide who had lived on the island his whole life, told me that the house had always been in disrepair and the local kids had thought it was haunted.
Now you can walk the grounds around the house and admire the beauty of the home from the outside. The only thing historical that I saw inside is when the tour guide opened the door to the cellar and showed me the stones that made up the foundation of the home. They had been quarried locally and still had the look of that time period.
The home is nice for a quick tour but do not expect much from the history side of the house.
After visiting three historical homes in the Fishkill area covering the towns of Hopewell Junction and Wappingers Falls, my last stop of the day was the First Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill, NY. The church was closed at this point with services being on Sunday’s only starting at 10:00am. I was able to tour around the church admiring its architecture, looking over the DuBois House which is also owned by the church and exploring the cemetery.
The cemetery was the most interesting being the final resting place of many of the ‘first families’ of the area, including family plots of the Van Wyck and Brinckerhoff families, who also intermarried with each other. There were sections dedicated just to the families and then to the blended ones.
There were also members of the DuBois Family among others. What was interesting was toward the back of the cemetery near the new playground was the Van Wyck Family Vault. This large mound is noted with the stone maker in the front of the vault.
The Van Wyck family vault at the Fishkill Reformed Church Cemetery
The Church played an important role in worshipping in the community as it does today.
The Founding of the Church:
(From the Church records)
On October 10th, 1715, the Revered Petrus Vas of Kingston, NY under the direction of the Classis of Amsterdam, started two Dutch Reformed Churches, one in Poughkeepsie and the other in Fishkill. This occurred when the population of the are increased and they did not want to keep travelling to New Paltz for worship.
The First Reformed Dutch Church of Fishkill, NY at 1153 Main Street
The Church today:
(From the Church website)
The 20th Century brought additional changed to the property. Some gravestones were moved to make space for the Christian Education Building, which was constructed in 1964. The old chapel, a 19th century addition to the property was torn down. The playground is now located where the chapel was once. A Memorial Garden was added to the cemetery in 1980 and includes a columbarium for cremains. The sanctuary’s exterior was refurbished in 1975, the steeple reshingled and the rooster regilded in 1984.
In 1992, a condition survey was done (the church is the centerpiece of the Fishkill Village National Historic District). This report concluded that the sanctuary is one of the most significant nonresidential 18th Century buildings in New York, if not the country. The framing is a perfect example of an upside-down boat. While it was urged to pursue National Landmark Status for the church itself, it has not yet been done.
In 1995, a report on the preservation of cemetery gravestones was done. A Boy Scout Eagle Project, in 2002, recorded pictures and inscriptions of each stone in the cemetery and created a finder’s map of the cemetery.
The Enoch Crosby marker for a spy for the American forces during the Revolutionary War
The trial was performed here, and Enoch Crosby was allowed to escape. This marker is dedicated to that event.
The cemetery behind the church with the DuBois House and Church to the right:
The DuBois House:
(From the Church website)
The property was expanded in 1991 with the purchase of the DuBois House (named for the founding elder of the church). There is no record of when it was built but with structural similarities to the Van Wyck House made it believed to be built in the mid 1700’s. Abraham Brinckerhoff Rapalje purchased the house with fifty-four acres of land from his uncle, Abraham Brinckerhoff in 1790. Rapalje was the man hired by the consistory to do finish work after the church was enlarged following the Revolution. The house served as the hearing room for the court proceedings of the Committee of Safety over which John Jay, who would later become our nation’s first Supreme Court Justice presided.
The Committee of Safety played an important role in the story of Enoch Crosby, the Revolutionary Spy. The house was originally located east of its present location and was moved in 1929 to make way for the expansion of the Albany Post Road, now Route 9. The building is used for service to the community and church. It contains the church parlor and offices for the Minister and Secretary on the first floor and the office of the Music Director.
The Brinckerhoff/Van Wyck family plots
The Van Wyck family plot
The full Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill cemetery and church
The Van Wyck Family Vault:
The History of the Dutch Reformed Church of Fishkill, NY:
By 1716, the population of the area had grown enough (though the whole county had only 440 people) that the settlers wanted their own church instead of having to cross the river to New Paltz or Kingston where the two closest Reformed Churches were located. Therefore, on October 10th, 1716, the Reverend Petrus Vas from Kingston under the direction of the Classis of Amsterdam started two Dutch Reformed Churches, one in Poughkeepsie and one in Fishkill.
While Poughkeepsie began building immediately, Fishkill did not begin building until 1725. Tradition and most published sources have it that Madame Brett by now a widow and the wealthiest landowner in the area gave the land for a churchyard while the land the church occupied was given by Johannes Ter Boss.
However, two deeds registered at the County Courthouse tell a different story. The first parcel of land, “it being that certain piece of land on which the Dutch Church so called now stands” was given by Madame Brett, through Jacob DuBois, it being the intent of him that the Reformed Nether Dutch Congregation of Rumbouth precinct “always be kept and preserved as a church or public edifice for the particular sole and only use and benefit of the aforementioned church to worship the Almighty God, in and to and for no other ends purposes use or uses whatsoever.” The second deed states that Obidiah Cooper and Esther, his wife, gave another small parcel of land to the church. These records were written thirty years after the fact and were not filed in Poughkeepsie until 1915.
There is also a deed from 1747 in which Johannes Ter Boss sells a parcel of land north of the Fishkill’s, reserving one acre for a meeting house. Every published history has this acre for the Rombout Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1747 about three miles from First Reformed. So, it would appear that there was confused between DuBois and Ter Boss, probably due to the old handwriting and a Frenchman, born in Leyden, Holland and a Dutchman. Another supporting piece of information is that there is no Ter Boss listed in the church records of The First Reformed Church, while the DuBois family is prominent, starting with Peter DuBois, the first elder.
It took seven years to build the original sanctuary. Field stone was brought by ox teams and the local inhabitants, and their slaves did the building. Work proceeded slowly because the men had fields to attend and families to support. The sanctuary was a small, square building with a hip roof and a cupola in the center, which supported a bell. The central door opened onto the street as the side door does today.
In 1785 the congregation decided to enlarge the original building. The east and west walls were taken down and the building was lengthened. A second story was added, and balconies suspended by iron rods were put into seat slaves. The tower and the steeple made with beams 18″ square and 80″ long rose 120 feet above the ground. The west end had four small windows.
In the midst of the reconstruction, John Stickland, an English traveler wrote “Here is a large Dutch Church, rapidly going to decay, probably never to be repaired.” However, construction continued, and the consistory hired Abraham Brinckerhoff Rapalje, who lived next door to build the new pulpit, new pews and to enclose the square lower section of the tower.
Five years later, in 1795, they hired him again to shingle the spire. With construction finished, the spire was topped with a gilded cock, symbolic of Peter’s denial of Jesus. It is actually about three feet high. It is one of the few left in the country.
The expanded sanctuary was remodeled in 1806. Columns were added to support the balconies and the pulpit and side pews were lowered to the level of the rest of the sanctuary. More alterations were made in 1854, when the balconies were narrowed and lowered. An alcove was made in the west end for the pulpit and the four small windows were replaced by the stained glass and painted windows. The alcoves and doors on each side of the tower were added.
The church decorated for Christmas in 2022
The chandeliers were imported from Holland and can be lowered by chains to the level of the pews for service. Gas replaced candles in the chandeliers in 1858. In 1908, they were electrified. In the late 1800’s, most of the ‘extra’ original property was sold for building lots at $100.00 each no one foreseeing the need for parking lots of the future.
(Disclaimer: I changed a few things around from the church history to make it flow better. More details are on the above link to the church’s history).
The entrance to the First Reformed Church of Fishkill in December 2022 decorated for the holidays.
Hope Historical Society at 323 High Street in Hope, NJ
I recently went on a Lantern Tour of Hope, NJ’s downtown district for the Christmas holiday season visiting this once Moravian founded town. The evening was an interesting tour of the history of this small town near the Delaware Water Gap with visits to historical homes of the residents of the town and the manufacturing hub.
We toured the historic downtown district that was ablaze with lights and garland learning about the residential and commercial district and the role it played in the development of the town. We toured the former Grist Mill, Cannery, Distillery, homes and former barns and churches and given a short history of them.
We toured the Historical Society which had a collection of artifacts from the town including pictures of the town at various times of history, resident’s personal affects including gloves, shoes and glasses and family heirlooms. There is also a small assortment of vintage furniture from different periods. The building may have been small but it was packed with information.
The displays included old photographs and local memorabilia, an 1850 map of Warren County, NJ, genealogy of the town’s residents and historic documents, primitive furniture and Moravian history (Hope Historical Society). Two of the major fundraisers that the Society has is the Christmas Craft Market and the Lantern Tour.
The Hope Lantern Tour on December 11th and 12th, 2021
This is the ‘Hope Lantern Tour’ on December 11th, 2021:
We continued the tour as the night grew darker and the town lit up with all its Christmas glory. There were supposed to be 1500 luminaries but because of the upcoming rainstorm that was supposed to arrive later that evening, they canceled them. The rest of the town was adorned with white lights and garlands. We started the tour at the Hope Community Center where food and bathrooms were available.
The Hope Community Center on Hope Blairstown Road
We moved to what was once the manufacturing center of the town and passed the former factories and manufacturing took place. We then walked down the hill to the Inn at Millstone Creek, where the Christmas tree display was located. We then moved up the hill to visit the Hope Historical Society.
High Street leading to the Inn at Millrace Pond
This is “Trout Pass” where people avoided paying the tolls on the bridge
We then walked to the home across the street from most of the buildings where the businesses were located and heard the tales of Moravian Christmases past. All that talk about Gingerbread house making and baking to get ready for the holiday feast made us all hungry.
The home on High Street across from the businesses
We made our way to former homes that are now a local bank were light with white lights along the doors and windows. The First Hope Bank was once known as the ‘Gemeinhaus’, which was the church/community center of the Village of Hope. It was built in 1781.
The walking tour showcased the town beautifully
The First Hope Bank at dusk
The home on High Street where the “Live Nativity” was located
Our last part of the tour, we visited someone’s garage for a ‘Live Nativity’ of the Baby Jesus and was told the story from the Bible about the birth of Christ. The actors involved were very interesting but they could have cleaned the garage of the modern items located on the side of it.
Downtown Hope, NJ is so beautiful at Christmas
We ended up back at the Community Center as they were cleaning up and I went to visit the ‘Festival of Trees’ at the Inn at Millrace Pond that itself was closed for renovation. I was the last one on the tour to visit what was the dining room to see various Christmas trees decorated by members of the community. It was a very festive room with Christmas of various shapes and sizes each decorated with a different theme and tables set elaborately for Christmas Dinner. I really liked the one that the elementary school students had created with the handwritten artwork and letters to Santa.
After I left the Inn at Millrace Pond, everything had wrapped up for the evening and the town was really quiet. I was starved and found the only open restaurant in the area, Hope Pizzeria at 435 Hope Blairstown Road located in a small strip mall. The pizza here is excellent (see my review on TripAdvisor).
The last part of the evening was spent at the Moravian Candlelight Service at the St. John’s Methodist Church. This beautifully run service included all the traditional Christmas Carols, a very engaging talk by the former pastor and a candlelight ceremony towards the end service. You can see the whole service on the St. John’s Methodist Church’s Facebook page.
This took about an hour. By the time I got to my car, it started to mist and then rain. It was pouring by the time I got on the highway. Still, it was a wonderful evening of touring and it put me in the Christmas spirit.
The History of the Hope Historical Society:
(From the Hope Historical Society website)
The Hope Historical Society & Museum are located at 323 High Street (Route 519 North) at the top of a stone bridge within the State and National Historic Register District in Hope Township, NJ. The tiny frame building was thought to be the original 1820’s toll keeper’s house. It was used as a private home until 1955, when it was restored by the Hope Historical Society and became the current museum and organizations headquarters.
Historical Society meetings with guest speakers of topics of historical interest are held April-November on the first Tuesday of the month, generally, at the Hope Community Center.
I put my walk of the Garment District on hold as many of the museums are having their Private Members nights before the holidays get into the full swing. It gives the members a chance to really enjoy the museums before the City gets crazy with tourists and people are beginning to return to the City.
It really was a wonderful night. First it was a warm and clear evening and you could see the stars because it gets dark at 5:00pm. We as members got to the museum before 5:00pm and waited in a long line by the Member’s Entrance on…