DeWint Digest Vol. 2, Issue 5

Tappan, New York

4 May 1995

 

Now We Begin Phase II

 

The restoration of the De Wint house was Phase I,” said Committee Chairman Paul P. DeweMathews, “and Phase II is the building of the kitchen.” Bids have been received by the Trustees of the Grand Lodge Masonic Hall and Asylum Fund for the addition of a stone and wooden replica kitchen to be added to the north of the house. The kitchen design is based on the earliest pictures of the house.

 

Site curator, Bill Maurer, said, “The addition of the kitchen will certainly give us more depth in our interpretation of the site. We want to present a balanced picture of life here at the De Wint House and Sparr Kill Farm. We stress General Washington’s four visits and now will be able to emphasize everyday life in the eighteenth century.”

 

The first dwelling on the site may have been just north of the present house. De Clark probably built a log or sod house to shelter the family until the crops were in and time became available for the luxury of building a permanent home.

 

One theory is that the next building was the De Wint House itself in 1700. The kitchen was then added on prior to 1718 between the temporary house and the De Wint House. When the house was expanded about 1850, the frame dwelling that was built on the north side obliterated the kitchen site. The Masons in 1932 -1937 removed the old wooden three story house to preserve the De Clark/De Wint house. Further archaeological digging may find the remains of the early kitchen or more of the kitchen midden (garbage refuse pile).

 

The kitchen will be completed by September.

 

 

De Wint House To Open June 11th

 

The day and time has been set for the re-opening of the De Wint House. The finishing touches are being made to the masonry, the paint is beginning to dry and the replica tiles from Holland for the north fireplace will be placed. Gala plans have been made for the re-opening on June 11, 1995, a Sunday. The ceremonial ribbon cutting will begin at 2:00 PM.

 

The restoration of the De Wint House began about a year ago. Beginning with a new roof and changes to the roofs shape, spring eves were added. The changes to the roof eliminated the sky lights and dormers added in the middle of the nineteenth century. The casement windows have been changed, fireplaces rebuilt, and the beams and timbers which suffered extensive termite damage have been replaced.

 

The goal of the restoration was to preserve and restore this important landmark to the period of 1780. This goal was kept even when the original 1700 jambless fireplaces were discovered and repaired. The date was chosen because twice during that year, General George Washington made the small house his headquarters during the American Revolution.

 

Plan to visit on Sunday, June 11th, 2:00 PM

 

 

ARCHITECT’S DRAWING OF ADD-ON KITCHEN: The kitchen add-on was designed after studying the earliest available paintings and drawings of the De Wint House which were c. 1850. This is the west side or front of the house. The north end will be stone and brick and contain the cooking fireplace.

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page 2

Curator’s Cuppert

 

 A WASHINGTON SHRINE
from Masonic Outlook, January 1932
by Harry S. Ashmun

 

Nestling behind a profusion of shade trees, in the quiet village of Tappan, New York, stands a modest brick -house. Seen from the road, the De Wint House, as it is known, might not attract a second glance, except from one interested in early American architecture, who would see in it an outstanding example of early Dutch design.

 

The house is stored with memories of our Revolutionary War. For on several occasions in 1780 and in 1783 General George Washington made it his Headquarters. On an otherwise uneventful day early in August, 1780, the General arrived in Tappan and graciously accepted the cordial invitation of Major Frederickus Blauvelt to make the home of his father-in-law, Johannes De Wint, his Headquarters. After a stay of about two weeks, the Army and its Commander-in-Chief moved on into Bergen County, New Jersey.

 

Events moved swiftly in those days and the coming months were to give birth to one of the outstanding episodes of our history, the treason of Benedict Arnold. If Arnold’s betrayal had proved successful, not only the outcome of the War, but the lives of all Americans would have followed other channels and would have been directed along other currents. Fortunately, Major John Andre was captured on September 23; Arnold’s plot was discovered, and the Colonies retained West Point, where nearly all their gun powder was stored.

 

Washington hastened back to the De Wint House at Tappan, once more making this delightful brick dwelling his Headquarters. The next day after his arrival (September 29, 1780), he summoned a board of General Officers, consisting of six Major Generals and eight Brigadiers, to inquire into the facts of the Andre case. The presiding officer was General Nathanael Greene; among the others were Generals Lafayette and Von Steuben, all three Craftsmen true.

 

Washington ordered General Greene to have Andre
guarded vigilantly – but he also wrote: “I wish the room for Major Andre to be a decent one, and that he may be treated with civility.” The tavern used as Andre’s prison is identical with what is now called the “76 Stone House,” an odd name for a structure erected, so the record state, in 1755.

 

The trial progressed rapidly. The fourteen American Generals had urgent affairs calling them elsewhere. Very quickly the group holding court in the old Dutch Church found the unfortunate British officer guilty of being a spy. Entreaties failed to change the sentence; even threats of reprisals from General Clinton did not avail. He was ordered to be executed.

 

Meanwhile, General Washington remained apart in the De Wint House, and daily sent food from his own table to the prisoner. Strangely enough, he never saw Andre. That Washington was greatly disturbed there can be no doubt. He even requested that the shutters of his room be closed so that he might not be compelled to witness the erection of the gallows and the execution. These shutters are still hanging on their original wrought iron strap hinges.

 

The Old House was built by Daniel De Clark in 1700. It is evident that he took considerable pride in his new home, since he went to the trouble to import brick from Holland and have the date “1700” set into the front wall in figures nearly two feet high. Little is known of the mansion until 1746, when it was sold by Rem Remson, of Brooklyn, to Johannes De Wint and his wife, Antje, of New York City.

 

De Wint was reputed to be a wealthy West Indian planter who retired to Tappan, where he lived in comfort from the income’ derived from his sugar plantations on the Island of St. Thomas. Of his eight children, his daughter, Anna Maria, the wife of Major Frederickus Blauvelt, was living with him when Washington was invited to use his home as his own.

 

The principal room on the lower floor was turned over to Washington. The feature of the room was the mantelpiece. The New York Evening Post, for April 26, 1882, states: “In the many published descriptions of
this room, mention is made of the old Dutch tiles that ornamented its fire-place. These tiles, considering their age, position, delicate workmanship, and freshness of color, form one of the most interesting studies to be met with in America…” Each is “painted in one color – purple, on a white ground, and bears on its surface a Scriptural design, vivid in color and perfect in execution.”

 

The tiles no longer ornament the fire-place, for the room was in recent years used as a kitchen, and to make room for a cooking stove the tiles were removed, but not lost. They are carefully preserved and a chart still in existence shows their exact location, so that in good time they can be restored to their original place.

 

Although it is now a kitchen, the room is substantially as it was when Washington occupied it. The pegs in the closets where he hung his clothes are still there, and fortunately some of the furniture and all of the fixtures which adorned it in 1780 have been preserved.

 

The stage of the Revolution moved to other parts of the Colonies. Southward the hostilities swept and at last, in 1781, Cornwallis surrendered. The War was over, but the British troops stayed on American soil, a year elapsing before the treaty of Paris was signed.

 

The Following May, Washington and General Sir Guy Carleton, commanding officers of the opposing armies, met for the first time – and in the De Wint House. On May 3, Sir Guy and his suite came up the Hudson on one of his Majesty’s warships. Washington personally met him and his staff, conducting them to the De Wint Headquarters, where a “sumptuous dinner” was served by Samuel Fraunces (also a Craftsman), imported from New York City for the occasion.

 

The “conversations” lasted until May 8, when final arrangements were concluded for the evacuation of his Majesty’s forces. In the meantime, May 7, Washington paid a ceremonial visit to Carleton on board the British man-of-war lying at anchor in the Hudson. The incident marked the first salute fired by the King’s Navy to the American Flag.

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 Page 3

 

Once more, and for the last recorded time, Washington stayed at the De Wint’s. Coming up from Hackensack on his way to West Point he and his party arrived at Tappan on November 11, 1783. Here the party, overtaken by a severe snowstorm, were unable to continue their way until it had abated. Thirty-seven years later, an interesting letter was written to Mrs. John De Wint, Jr. who at the time was staying in the home of her father-in-law This letter presents an intimate picture of the final visit of Washington when storm-bound at Tappan. The letter follows:

 

“Cedar Grove, Nov. 18, 1820 “Fishkill Landing, N.Y.

 

“Dear Maria,
I was very happy to receive a letter from you and find that you were Comfortable Settled in your winter quarters before the great Snow Storm, which nobody remembers the like but myself, and which I believe I shall never forget, as it was the first Snow I ever saw, and was the cause of my enjoying the Company of General Washington for nearly three days. It was in November, 1783, the day of the month I do not exactly remember. He was going to West Point with 8 or ten officers to march the troops to the City to take Possession when the British Evacuated it, they all called to visit at your Grandfathers and were detained there by the Snow Storm. I introduced Cards by way of amusement. Colonel Humphries told me it was the first time the General had played cards since the Commencement of the Revolution.” (Cedar Grove was the name of the De Wint Homestead at Fishkill Landing, now Beacon, N.Y.)

 

Since that memorable November, 1783, Washington’s Headquarters and the five acres on which it stands have passed into other hands. Patriotic societies have serious considered buying it; from 1879 until this very year the New York State Legislature has entertained bills to take possession, but politics, and again politics, have interfered. The past summer it was common knowledge in Rockland County that when the new road, now building from the new George Washington Bridge to Nyack, was opened, the historic house might become a roadhouse, or even a “tea shoppe.”

 

At news of this possibility M.. W.. Charles H. Johnson, Grand Master, acted, and entered into negotiations to purchase the property. “Never,” he declared, “will Washington’s Headquarters at Tappan risk being `padlocked. ” He sent his own check as a binder on the property, and on November 21 he signed the purchase contract.

 

The purchase price of $30,000 must be raised this winter by the Brethren of this State if the patriotic purpose of our Grand Master is to be realized and the memorable old structure be presented to Grand Lodge as a George Washington shrine.

 
It is a glorious opportunity for us, Masons of New York, to preserve, through the earnest efforts of M.. W.. Charles H. Johnson, this, the oldest authentic Headquarters of George Washington still standing, and still well preserved. The project calls for quick action, and the assistance of every Mason in the State.

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Note by Grand Master Johnson:

 

The accompanying article tells in a graphic manner the story of the De Wint House at Tappan, and of my wish that it be preserved to Masonry, as a Washington shrine. Since the article was written I have issued an invitation “to any Lodge or individual to join me in this endeavor.

 
I believe that it makes a strong appeal to the patriotic instinct which is alive in the breast of every Brother and I wish to be able to present it to the Grand Lodge at its next Annual Communication, to be a Memorial Masonic Washington shrine in commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of his birth. “
It is my wish that all contributions be such, however, as can be made without affecting any of the Grand Lodge projects now before you.”

 

This article was written in January, 1932 – 63 years ago – prior to Grand Master Johnson presenting a proposal to Grand Lodge to purchase the De Wint House site as a memorial and lasting shrine to Brother Washington.