Early American Architecture

Dutch Farmhouses,
page 6 of 7

In the house of Mayor Rombouts in 1690 were fine chimney-cloths trimmed with fringe and lace, and worth half a pound each, and humbler checked chimney-cloths. Cornelius Steenwyck a few years earlier had in his “great chamber” a still gayer valletje of flowered tabby to match the tabby window-curtains. Peter Marius had calico valances for his chimneys.

A description given by a Scotchwoman of fireplaces in Holland at about this date shows very plainly from whence this form of hearth-dressing and chimney were derived:—

“The chimney-places are very droll-like; they have no jams nor lintell, as we have, but a flat grate, and there projects over it a lum in a form of the cat-and-clay lum, and commonly a muslin or muffled pawn around it.”

When tiles were used for facing the fireplace and even for hearths, as they often were in the kamer, or parlor, they were usually of Delft manufacture, printed in dull blue with coarsely executed outline drawings of Scriptural scenes. In the Van Cortlandt manor-house, the tiles were pure white. I have some of the tiles taken from the old Schermerhorn house in Brooklyn, built in the middle of the seventeenth century and demolished in 1895. There were nearly two hundred in each fireplace in the house. The scenes were from the Old Testament, and several, if I interpret their significance aright, from the Apocrypha. The figures are discreetly attired in Dutch costumes. Irving says of these Scripture-tiles: “Tobit and his dog figured to great advantage; Haman swung conspicuously on his gibbet; Jonah appeared most manfully bursting out of the whale, like Harlequin through a barrel of fire.” To these let me add the very amusing one of Lazarus leaving his tomb, triumphantly waving the flag of the Netherlands.

Sometimes the space between the open fireplace and the ceiling of the kamer was panelled, and it had a narrow ledge of a mantelpiece upon which usually were placed a pair of silver, brass, or pewter candlesticks and a snuffers with tray. Occasionally a blekker, or hanging candlestick, hung over the mantel. In some handsome houses the surbase was of tiles and also the staircase; but such luxuries were unusual.


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