Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 12, Lot 30 Genoply (see Wooden School House)
Title: The Story of The Voorlezer's House
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: The Story of The Voorlezer's House The oldest known elementary school building in the United States
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 12, Lot 30 Genoply (see Wooden School House)
Physical Description: Brochure/pamphlet
Language: English
Publication Date: 1947
Physical Location:
Box: 5
Divider: Block 12 Lot 29, 30
Folder: Genoply B12-L30 (see Wooden School House)
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
22 Saint George Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Ribera House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 22 Saint George Street
Coordinates: 29.897284 x -81.313553
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00096040
Volume ID: VID00004
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: B12-L29

Full Text

The Voorlezer's House [

floor ceiling are planed and finely edge-beaded 'the Story of
while those of: 4he schoolroom above areou4h -.. ..
smoothed with the broad axe. No paint of any ph V er9
kind was applied to the beams or any of the other TheC Voorle er s House
woodwork until about 1800 when alterations were
first made. Mud filled walls, however, as well as (The olde t known elementary school building
the fireplaces, were whitewashed. in the United States)
Floors are laid with wide boards of white pine

are worn uneven by the treading of countless feet. ,
Windows and doors, while not original, are of the | .
same low and wide proportion as their fore-runners.
History turns back ovei-2i9fe rs when .yeu-enter ., &k '/'
the Voorlezer's House. The simple and sturdy life
of the times is reflected in the low beamed meeting I'
and school rooms with their whitewashed walls and J
fireplaces. As one of our oldest houses, as our
first known church and school and as the oldest
known elementary school building surviving in this
country, the Voorlezer's House may well become a '; .... J
symbol of the spiritual, the temporal and the social
forces which molded together the peoples, not only
on Staten Island but of thf nation.

Open by appointment with
custodian on the premises.

The House 'is located on the Arthur Kill Road
opposite Center St., Richmond, Staten Island,
AN APPEAL and can be reached directly by bus marked
"Richmond" from St. George Ferry, Staten
S- Island. By private car from St. George Ferry
No community is honored with a more remark- to and along the Richmond Road to the end,
able historical possession than the, VQO ER and from Tottenville by bus or car along the
HOUSE. Staten islid can be justly proud of such Arthur Kill Road to its end.
a heritage, which has been saved through the
generosity and sense of community and national
pride shown by a prominent citizen. A fund is -
needed to preserve this monument for all time; {or r
final restoration, furnishing, landscaping, and foria Prepared and Published by
maintenance fund. THE STATEN ISLAND
Will you contribute in any amount to this work? i HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Send check or. money order to the Staten Island 1947
Historical Society and list your name among the Second Pr
contributors who have recognized this worthy i
enterprise. No. 2 of Historical Pamphlets

AS the earliest known mention of the Voorlezer's
House is in 1696 and since the date of the
Rider Patent, on which the house stands, is
1680, it is assumed that the house was erected
during the intervening period.
The house is a two-story frame, clapboard build-
ing, which rises 2 feet higher in the front than in
the rear. This makes the roof have an unequal
pitch and the gable ends are to the side. The
building measures 25 feet across the front along
the Old Kings Highway, now Arthur Kill Road, and
28 feet in depth. The methods of construction are
interesting embodiments of 17th and 18th century
features and ones not seen in building construction
The foundation walls are 2 feet thick and are of
rough undressed fieldstone laid up in mud for
mortar. Successive coats of whitewash protected
these walls from the weather. Crudely though
clearly cut into one of these wall stones are the
letters I R and the date 1769, carved there by
Jacob Rezeau, an early owner.
On these foundation walls, timbers were laid for
sills and into these the vertical posts were notched
or mortised and tenoned, as the method is called.
All timbers are oak or whitewood and were cut
from the nearby forests. Hewn to the desired
size with the broadax, the timbers were matched
together into the frame-work of the house while
lying on the ground. When all was completed, the
men of the congregation and neighbors raised the
framework into the places prepared for it upon the
foundation walls.
Floor beams were in turn fitted into the vertical
posts and over all the roof rafters were raised, their
lower ends resting on the roof plate and their upper
ends mortised and tenoned. All joints were securely
fastened by driving in each a wooden peg or tree-r
nail (trennel). I
The spaces between all vertical posts measure
generally 4 feet and into these spaces, after leaving
openings for doors and windows, the old builders
fastened horizontal sticks or laths and pressed mud
about them which, when dry, made a solid wall
41/2 inches thick. Clapboards were finally nailed to
the outside and long 3 foot shingles were similarly
fastened to the oak furring strips on the roof.
At the north-easterly end of the house is built
a massive stone and brick chimney. In the cellar
the chimney work is entirely stone with the excep.

The Voorlezer's House

tion of the brick oven. This oven opens directly
into the huge fireplace in 17th century fashion. The
targe oak lintel which spans the fireplace supports
much of the brick work above. There are three
fireplaces above the cellar, two on the first floor
and one on the second. These are simple yet their
plain whitewashed surfaces, devoid of panelwork
or shelf surrounding the 17th century arched open-
ings speak most vividly of the times and the people
who built and gathered about them. On one of
these is scratched the initials S. V. P. (Susan Van
The huge fireplace and oven in the cellar indicate
that here the Voorlezer's family did their cooking
and baking. As this cellar-kitchen is only a few
feet above the water line of the Fresh Kills Mea-
dows, on whose' edge the house is built, the floor
is often damp. It is probable then that the fire-
place in the little room directly above did its share
of the cooking. A partition long since removed,
once divided the cellar into two rooms, and a door
closed up at the south end, gave access to the
Originally it is thought each floor was reached
by a steep straight staircase more like a ladder.
About the year 1800 these were removed and the
present interesting staircases with landings were
constructed in their places.
The first floor was for many years divided into
two rooms; a small one partitioned off in the north-
west corner by a mud-filled wall on one side and a
vertical board partition on the side separating it
from the remaining room. This small room, men-
tioned above, was used by the Voorlezer for gen-
eral living purposes. In the large room, it is sup-
posed, services were held. When the staircase was
uilt a partition was constructed forming of this
room a smaller one and a hallway.
Until about 1825 the construction of the second
floor was similar to the first. The small room was
used as a bed chamber and it contains no fireplace.
The large room which contains a fireplace and has,
an extra set of floor beams for reinforcement, is
probably the school room. This room, about 1825,
was divided into two small rooms and a hallway.
The garret is a fascinating place, for here dis-
cernable among the shadows and the cobwebs, is
the unaltered handiwork in hewn beam and rafter
of the old builders. The battened door at the head
of the stairs has an HL and an H wrought iron hinge
and a wooden latch with string.
The floor beams were exposed from below on
both the first and second floors. Those in the first


The Voorlezer's House

"Some bui l'ings are distinguished from the moment they
are finished, and the future may destroy them only at great
loss. Some building's' achieve importance by- withstanding the
assaults of time and so gaining values that they did not have
while in company with many of their kind. Other buildings
have greatness thrust upon them by acts of man that create
hallowed association. * These are part of our inheritance
from three centuries past, and they come down the years to us
bearing messages. To recognize and understand such buildings
is our birthright, and to protect them is our duty. It can be
our achievement, having added to the inheritance, to pass it on."
-Laurence Vail Coleman.

A shrine of national historic interest.

Built for the Dutch Congregation before

The earliest known elementary school
building standing in the United States.

The oldest existing building used for
religious purposes on Staten Island.

Contains many interesting architectural
features of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Rich in Colonial and Revolutionary

T HIS is the story of the oldest known elementary
school building in the United States. Built
before 1696, it stands in Richmond, Staten
Island, New York, and came into the possession of
the Staten Island Historical Society, as a gift from
an interested member in 1939, whose ancestor
James Hanse Dye first leased the property to the
Dutch Congregation on March 6, 1696.
This building is located on the west side of the
Arthur Kill Road at its junction with Center Street
and is within sight of the Museum of the Staten
Island Historical Society.
It is called the "Voorlezer's House," for as such
it was first referred to in a deed written July 17,
1696--"beginning at a Flat Rock below the Voor-
lezer's House." Voorlezer (or Forelezer, Vorleezer,
etc.) was the name given to a layman chosen by the
Dutch Congregation to teach school and conduct
church services. This position usually occurred in
communities which were unable to obtain or sup-
port a minister.
The Voorlezer's House is an example of the
economy of the early Dutch settlers who designed
this building to fulfill three functions that of
school, church and residence for the Voorlezer. An
interesting evidence of this is found in the original
lease: "Ye sd land shall be inhabited by no other
as by ye person that serves ye sd congregation"
also "and ye sd James Fetcheth children shall have
free schoelling if ye sd person shall teach both
English and Dutch."
As a church, the Voorlezer's House was the earliest
of which there is definite known record upon Staten
Island. The French Church, located upon the Belle-
ville Patent only a mile south upon the Arthur Kill
Road, was erected about 1698. This building unfor-
tunately is no longer standing and its exact site has
been lost. The Church of Saint Andrew, known as
the English Church, was built 1709- 1712, and part
of the original walls were incorporated in the present
By 1705 the Voorlezer's property had come into
the possession of John Androvette who sold it in that
year to Rene Rezeau. From that time until 1872 it
remained in the Rezeau and Van Pelt families. Since
that date it has passed through three sales and one
mortgage foreclosure before returning to the hands'
of the descendant of the original owner.
The Voorlezer's House is now the oldest relic of
a once thriving and beautiful, village. In 1729 the
court house at Stony Brook was abandoned and a
new one set up at Richmond. The County Gaol
had been located there since 1709. The natural

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