Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Early Architecture of New York City (1)

The early architecture of New Amsterdam was wholly utilitarian. Within the stockade enclosure of the fort the most conspicuous building was a church of substantial masonry, but of the severe simplicity characteristic of the Calvinist faith. The Governor's house, a barracks, a storehouse, and a jail were the other chief buildings. The Governor's house was of good size and built of Dutch brick. There were two windmills to the west of the fort in 1639, one a sawmill and the other a gristmill. The church had been erected in 1642, but gave way to the march of progress in 1693.

A description of the buildings erected during the administration of Outer Van Twiller is contained in the deposition of Gillis Pietersen van der Gouw, master carpenter. With the exception of the Governor's house there were no important residences on Manhattan Island under Dutch rule. Most of the burghers were content with houses costing not more than $125 to erect and of which the rental averaged $25 per annum. Later, as the colony prospered more pretentious private residences were built, of which the only remaining example was erected during the British rule, the old Lefferts House at 563 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, which dates from 1750.

The royal archives in The Hague contain water color drawings of New Amsterdam's first buildings, with a manuscript table of contents, but no text. Master carpenters and builders might easily have erected these structures without recourse to the professional aid of the architect. Among the most conspicuously beautiful structures of the early British period was the home built for himself in 1758 by Roger Morris, a British officer, whose property was confiscated during the Revolution. For a time this was Washington's headquarters and later it became the property of Madam Jumel, who married Aaron Burr when he was in his seventy-eighth year. As the Jumel Mansion it was maintained in 1927 as a public museum.

One of the oldest of New York's churches is St. Paul's Chapel, at Broadway and Vesey streets, in which George Washington had a pew. It was designed by McBean, a Scotchman, then residing in New Brunswick,New Jersey, and supposed to have been the associate or pupil of Gibbs, in London, because of the similarity of their effects. Richard Upjohn was the architect of the Trinity Church of today, at the head of Wall Street. Philip Hooker was the early architect of Union College building and Albany Academy.

To be continued: Early Architecture of New York City (2)

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