Good afternoon, welcome to the Historical Society of Rockland County. If you have any questions please feel free to ask. I will do the best I can to answer them for you. If you lived in Rockland County during the 1830s when the house was built, you probably would have made your living as a farmer, like the original owner of this home, Jacob Blauvelt.
Jacob Blauvelt was the great-great-great grandson of Gerrit Hendrickson who came to this area from Holland in the early 17th century. Gerrit worked on a farm near Albany until he could purchase his own farm in lower Manhattan. By the late 1600s, seven of his fifteen children left NYC to settle what today is Rockland County. The land that we are standing on was bought by Jacob Blauvelt's great-grandfather in 1741 and passed from father to son for the next four generations.
Jacob and his wife Margaret had been married 16 years, and had five children ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old when this house was built around 1832. The property also consisted of 100 acres of soil, a large Dutch style barn, a vegetable and herb garden, a woodlot and several out buildings.
The Blauvelt house is of special interest because it is one of the few remaining examples of Dutch-Flemish architecture, once prevalent throughout Rockland County. The house was constructed in three sections with an out-kitchen, common room and main house. The main house dates from the 1830s and is constructed with a mixture of hand hewn and machine sawn lumber and bricks from nearby brickyards.
It is important to remember that the Blauvelts were a middle class family. The style of the house, its furnishings and decorative elements reflect what a typical family of this area would call home. The house was used by the Blauvelt family from its construction in 1832 until 1970 when it was given to the Historical Society of Rockland County. During the over 100 years that the Blauvelt family lived in the house, many modifications had been made. When the Historical Society of Rockland County became the new owners of the home, it was decided to restore the house to its original period, and furnish it with original family pieces as well as ones from Rockland County.
Like our own homes, the Blauvelts had a mix of old and new furnishings placed side by side. Few rural families could afford to purchase a household full of new pieces as styles changed. Instead they kept old pieces and passed them down in their families. The Blauvelt home is no exception and illustrates this blending of old and new with its woodwork, wall paper and floor treatments.
As we go through the house, keep in mind that family life was structured around the changing seasons. Each day started and ended with chores for each member of the family from cleaning, cooking and mending, to feeding and grooming the animals, to sowing, tending and harvesting crops and preparing salable goods for market.
The floorcloth in the front hall is a beautiful and practical item for a rural farmer's main entryway. The cloth is made of heavy canvas, stenciled or painted with a pattern and sealed with several layers of varnish. Cloths like these were considered stylish yet practical. Mud and dirt were easily removed by mopping.
The wallpaper is a reproduction of the roll-printed variety. Roll-printing replaced the individual block print method and was relatively inexpensive because it could be manufactured in America rather than being imported from England or France.
Candles were the only source of light once the sun went down. Often mirrors would be carefully placed to enhance the effect of the light from the candles
Looking at the parlor, you can see how much color was used in a typical 1830s home. The Venetian rug and rich cream and mauve wall, the mantel and moldings were all considered very up-to-date. 1830s parlors were often furnished with a number of unmatched chairs that could be pulled around for conversation. In the winter the chairs were gathered towards the fireplace, in the warmer months they might be arranged near the windows or door.
This room served multiple functions: entertaining room, family room, work room, office and more. It seems likely that the family did a great deal of entertaining in this room, especially during the winter months. Evening parties gave the Blauvelt adults a chance to mingle with friends, while providing an opportunity for chaperoned courtship for the young people. Guests might arrive by horse drawn sleigh or coach. The room would be illuminated by candlelight, with the table set with food and drink. The hosts and their guests might spend time singing popular songs. These songs were often accompanied by flute or piano. Parlor games like twenty questions, charades, puzzles and riddles were enjoyed by all. Women often brought sewing or embroidery projects to social gatherings.
The Blauvelt bedroom was used in much the same way we use our own bedrooms today, with a few notable exceptions. The similarities include its use as a dressing room, a place for storage,an area for sleeping and personal time between the adults of the family. Unlike modern bedrooms, it also served as the family birthing room. The bed has a simple frame strung together with ropes. A number of mattresses, called ticks, were placed on top of the ropes.
This room and the attic were used as sleeping spaces for the Blauvelt children. There probably would have been more than one bed in this room. Children customarily slept 2-3 in a bed, in simple rope supported cots or trundles.
Hall bedroom bed picture
Most clothes were stored in blanket boxes like this painted one. Typically children did not have a great number of toys, but the ones they did have were used to teach them the skills they would need later in life. Tiny toy irons, churns and cooking tools, miniature carved figures of animals, dolls and wagons are some examples. Toys were usually stored in the barn or in the common room rather than the bedroom.
THE COMMON ROOM
A common room of the 19th century was a place that served numerous functions. It was an informal place where the family could gather and discuss the day's events. The young children probably played here while the older children did their homework and helped with household tasks such as sewing, mending, laundering and cooking.
The central focus of the room was the fireplacewhich was used as a source of heat, a place to cook and to heat water for laundry. As in our own home, many things might be going on in this room at the same time. One child might be making butter in the churn while another sat at the table doing arithmetic homework or practicing penmanship. The toddlers might help by scrubbing potatoes or shelling peas. It took everyone's cooperation to keep the household running smoothly.
BREAKFAST: In the 1830s farm breakfast was usually served between 7 and 8 AM usually after the completion of one or two hours of early barn chores. The type of food varied depending on the season and weather. Period breakfast foods include: cornmeal mush, oven baked bread, butter, scones or griddle cakes, potato hash, herring, fresh berries, tea and coffee. Some breakfasts also included roasts, steaks and chops, broiled fish, boiled potatoes, cheese, cheese pies and beer.
NOON DINNER: A large dinner served at noon was the next meal. Pea soup, mutton broth, venison, meats and fish, fresh vegetables, relishes, cole slaw, breads, pies, coffee, tea, cider, ale and beer. In the busy summer months, Jacob and his family probably took the period equivalent of the boxed lunch, a basket of bread and cheese, to the fields instead of coming into the house for lunch.
TEA TIME: Originally a break between the heavy noon dinner and supper, it traditionally included tea, simple buttered bread and cakes. Here in the New World, tea time gradually moved to a later time of day, becoming the evening supper for many farm families. The food also changed dramatically to include smoked beef, sliced ham, roasted chicken, waffles, wafers, pancakes, fresh fruit and cheese.
SUPPER: If a fourth meal was served after tea, it was likely to be supper, taken at about 9 PM. This meal was usually small, consisting of fresh apples, leftovers, bread with butter, milk or cheese or porridge. Supper was usually served cold and was flexible depending on social life and work schedule.
Work in the kitchen was most intense during the late summer harvest when fruits and vegetables were preserved, pickled and canned. With the increased activity came an increase in social time. Women frequently hosted "apple bees" where neighbors would arrive, paring knife, bowl and apples in hand to share conversation and work. Out in the barn, threshing parties gathered neighbors together to work by day then dance and drink by night.
The mix of tools in the kitchen reflect a blend of English, Dutch and American culture. Just like our own homes that display a mix of old objects alongside newer ones, the Blauvelts lived with family heirlooms and newly purchased pieces. Some important kitchen tools, found in nearly every 1830s home include a crane, used to bring pots forward and back and trammel to adjust the level of the pots. These two tools helped cooks regulate the temperature of their food, much the same way we adjust the racks closer or further from the broiler in our ovens.
Many of the tools in this kitchen are directly related to our own kitchen gadgets. Although most of these historic tools are made of iron, brass, wood and ceramic instead of our aluminum, Teflon or plastic, you will notice obvious similarities.
It's always interesting to think about how strange our lives may seem in 100 years. No doubt future generations will visit our homes, examine our tools and wonder about our odd ways.
This concludes our tour of the Blauvelt House. If there are any questions I will try my best to answer them. You are welcome to take a look around the property. You will also want to see the exhibit in the gallery and visit our gift shop. Thank you for visiting the Historical Society of Rockland County.