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 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 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).
Visiting the Van Wyck Homestead is like stepping back into the past to see a part of our nation’s history. The homestead sits at a once pivotal point location in the Hudson River Valley and during the Revolutionary War, George Washington established his main northern supply depot here in October of 1776. After the war was over, the Van Wyck family returned to the home and lived here for five generations until the late 1800’s. The last member of the family, Sidney Van Wyck hung himself in the barn on the property (Van Wyck Homestead pamphlet).
The house was built in two sections. The original section of the house off to the right of the building is the original section of the home that was built in 1732 and the larger section of the home was finished in the 1750’s.
When you enter the homestead, you are greeted in the hallway that runs the length of the main part of the home. To the right of the hallway is old living room and to the right of the hallway is the combination kitchen and dining room. The stairs leading to the upstairs, now serving as offices, are at the end of the hallway.
The former Dining Room of the Van Wyck home with the fireplace of the addition of the house. The crib in front of the fireplace is a recent donation from the Van Wyck family and had been used by the family for generations.
The family portrait above the fireplace was recently returned to the home and fit perfectly above the fireplace. The Spinning Wheel is another family heirloom donated to the house.
An original piece of Van Wyck furniture returned to its home
When you step down the stairs into the smaller part of the original part of the house, you will be greeted in by the original kitchen and living space. This was used by the family for all functions of work and social aspects of the farm.
Items used in Colonial and Victorian kitchens
Items in the Colonial kitchen display which have not changed much over the years.
The Colonial Kitchen at the Van Wyck Homestead
To the right of the hallway is the old Living Room that is now used as a lecture hall and where meetings are held. The room was dedicated to George Washington for the service that he did for the area during the war.
The old Dining Room and lecture room
The Revolutionary War displays in the old Living Room
The room is lined with displays that are dedicated to the family and the war years. All sorts of artifacts and pictures are displayed here.
The display case in the old Dining Room
In the back of the home is the old Library that is now used a Research Library on the history of the area and of the Van Wyck family. Here you can research your roots in the community.
The Research Library at the Van Wyck Homestead
The Research Library at the Van Wyck Homestead
When you walk the grounds, the story boards tell the story of the home as it played a role in the history of the region and its place in the war years.
The Path to Victory
On the grounds of the home is also a working garden and the working beehive oven that is a recreation of the original that once stood on the property.
The Van Wyck Garden and outdoor over towards the back
History of the Van Wyck Homestead:
(From the Museum pamphlet)
In 1732, Cornelius Van Wyck from Hempstead, Long Island, acquired 959 acres from Madame Brett. He built the small east wing of the Van Wyck Homestead. By 1757, the larger west wing of the home had been added. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington established his main northern supply depot here in October of 1776. The Van Wyck house was requisitioned by the Continental Army to serve as the depot’s headquarters.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, the house reverted back to the owner, Issac Van Wyck. The old barracks and huts used for the war were torn down and the land went back to farming. The Van Wyck descendants lived in the house until the late 1800’s.
The original part of the house was built in 1732
By the mid-twentieth century, the house stood empty and was slated to be torn down for the new Interstate 84. The Fishkill Historical Society was formed in 1962 and after going to Albany, members were successful in getting the historical building saved and I-84’s plan changed. The Fishkill Historical Society was able to purchase the property and begin the restoration. This work is ongoing as we maintain this historical structure and grounds.
The Homestead is listed on the National Register and is part of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. It is also part of the Rochambeau Trail which celebrates the French Alliance with the new United States.
The historic marker outside the house donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. A cemetery for soldiers of the American Revolution were buried somewhere near the estate. When graves were discovered south of the museum, this could have been one of the resting places for them (Van Wyck pamphlet).
There is a true beauty to a historical cemetery with its old tombstones, its interesting artwork on the grave sites and the history behind the famous families who are buried there whose homes we tour and roads and parks that are named after them. The cemetery is located right in Downtown Salem, which serves as the County Seat for the County of Salem.
It was also home to one of the oldest oak trees in the country which fell in 2019. The over 500 year old oak tree has been part of the original virgin forest and is said to where town founder, John Fenwick, met with the Lenape Indians for the establishment of a settlement and for peaceful negotiations.
All that is left of the tree now is the rotting stump but three of its saplings still exist on the grounds and they look about two hundred years old. They grow majestically amongst the gravesites.
Inside the cemetery, the graves bear the names of founding fathers of the Town of Salem and prominent families who once made up the population with names such as Thompson, Reeves, Abbott, Wister, Bacon, Griscom, Waddington, Sickler, Lippencott, Goodwin, Bullock, Woodnutt and Bassett.
You will see these names on artifacts in the Salem Historical Society such as clothes, business document and household items. There names and influence still hold a position in the community.
The Salem Oak in the Friends Burial Ground before it fell in 2019 (Salem County Historical Society)
This is the spot where founder John Fenwick met with the Lenape Indians in 1675.
Take time to walk amongst the family plots and pay your respects to these important families who were once the founding members of both the community and of the great State of New Jersey.