Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in Ridgewood: 5 Dutch Days at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House

It was a glorious afternoon, quite mild and finally sunny - a rare event in mid-November New York City. We took advantage of the clement weather to walk from Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg just over the border into the borough of Queens.

Our destination: the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House, the oldest Dutch Colonial stone house in New York City, on Flushing Avenue near Metropolitan Avenue. It's usually closed on Sundays but was open this afternoon for the annual 5 Dutch Days celebration by the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, whose website explains the home's significance:

Peter Stuyvesant granted the land it sits on in the mid-seventeenth century, and by 1660, Hendrick Barents Smidt occupied a small house on the site. In 1709, Paulus Vander Ende of Flatbush purchased the farm and began construction of the current house. The building was a prominent marker in the 1769 settlement of the boundary dispute between Bushwick in Kings County and Newtown in Queens County.

During the 1820's, Adrian Onderdonk erected a small frame addition to the stone house immediately above the remnants of the foundation of the 1660 building. Its architectural features are typical of Dutch buildings in this period: a gambrel roof, Dutch doors, central hallway and double hung windows with shutters.

The Greater Ridgewood Historical Society was established in 1975 by a group of local residents to prevent the demolition of the Vander Ende Onderdonk House. From 1975 until 1981, the GRHS raised funds to reconstruct the house which had been seriously damaged by fire, and in 1976, published a history of the greater Ridgewood area, entitled Our Community, Its History and People.

In 1977, the House and property were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1978, granted the same status on the New York State Register. The House was given New York City landmark status in June of 1996. With the help of Federal, State and local funds, the Onderdonk House was opened to the public in 1982.

The House serves as a museum for a permanent exhibit on the archaeology of the Onderdonk site, as well as changing exhibits relating to history, the arts and culture. The Society also maintains a history and genealogical research library, and offers many cultural events annually, including: guided house tours, history lectures and programs, genealogy workshops, craft classes and special events, such as St. Nicholas Day and other Dutch celebrations. The history and location of the house provide a rich educational and cultural experience for visitors.

A man wearing a Dutch colonial hat in front of the house turned out to be Arthur Kirmss, an artist and musician who serves as historic interpreter and curator of exhibits. Since we were the first person to arrive, he and his wife Evelyn gave us what amounted to a private tour of the house, or at least the parts that are open to the public.

Some of it, like the downstairs, are closed off right now. We heard a lot of fascinating details about the house and the area from colonial times through the 19th century. Arthur's knowledge about the architecture and crafts of the house, and about the families who lived there, is encyclopedic. Later on, a few more people came to see the house, and he turned us over to Evelyn, who explained how they got involved in Greater Ridgewood Historical Society and its work in restoring the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House.

We looked at the 5 Dutch Days exhibit they curated: a salute to the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau (pronounced Nass-OW), from its founding by William the Silent, who revolted against Spanish rule of the Netherlands, to his down-to-earth 20th and 21st-century descendants, like the three most recent monarchs: Queen Wilhemina, who reigned from 1898 (her mother was regent for the prior decade) to 1948; Queen Juliana, who reigned from 1948 to 1980,

and currently reigning Queen Beatrix.

We were really impressed by the care with which the rooms and structure of the Vander Ende-Onderdonk house has been restored. Frankly, we'd only heard of it a few years ago, but it's well worth a visit, even a long walk from Williamsburg.

But as it was gettng dark when we left, we got the Q54 bus by the mammoth Western Beef supermarket and were home in no time. We're grateful to the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society for their terrific work.

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