Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Darcy on the Hudson - Research and Background - Dutch Colonial Architecture

When it gets to be this time of year, I think about the visit my husband and I made to the Hudson River Valley in the spring of 2010. The purpose of the trip was to conduct research for my book, Darcy on the Hudson, which is set in the months leading up to the War of 1812. Although I had read tons of books on the American Revolution and the Federal period that followed, there is nothing like being on-site. I thought I would share some of my findings with you. 

When Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy arrive in New York in 1812, they stay with Mr. Bingley’s Uncle Richard who was leasing a Dutch colonial house from his neighbor, Mr. Bennet, in Tarrytown. (Think Sleepy Hollow.) From Darcy on the Hudson:

Richard Bingley’s house was typical of colonial Dutch architecture in that there were no hallways, and a person must pass through one room to gain entry to another. A narrow staircase led to three rooms above, and for purposes of privacy, Georgiana was given the smallest room farthest from the stairs. Darcy and Mercer would be in the room next to Georgiana, and Charles would occupy the largest room, but also the noisiest, because of its location next to the stairs. But Georgiana would soon discover that there was an exterior staircase leading to a porch that wrapped around three sides of the house, a novelty the seventeen-year-old found delightful.

What did a house in the Dutch colonial style look like? According to the website, Life 123, most included the following features:

The door is almost always centered on the house - Cut horizontally, the bisected door allowed the top and bottom half to open separately if required. This enabled the flow of fresh air into the house while keeping domestic animals outside. It also allowed the owners of the house to keep the riff raff out. The missus could talk with visitors without the necessity of inviting them into the house.
Van Cordlandt Manor

Gambrel roofs are common - Long, sloping roofs overhang the doorway giving the appearance of a one-story home. Why? Gambrel roofs were said to have saved the Dutch from heavy taxes imposed on two-story homeowners. The Dutch were known for their thrift.

Two chimneys - Unlike classic Colonial homes with the fireplace in the center of the house, Dutch colonial homes had a chimney on each end of the house to radiate warmth.

Stone or brick exteriors - The Dutch were know for their stone and brickwork and brought their talents to the New World.

Porches – They provided shade.

Double-hung sash windows with wooden casements – They provided increased air circulation and allowed hot air to escape in the summer.

Pieter Bronck House
In Darcy on the Hudson, the Bingley house was modeled on Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Research on the traditions of Colonial Dutch New York was conducted at the Pieter Bronck House in Coxsachie, New York.

Next post: Boscobel, the home of the Bennets.

I am scheduled for a blog post on Austen Authors on November 21st, at which time, I will be giving away a copy of Darcy on the Hudson. More about that in later posts.


  1. Those houses are beautiful. I've always wanted to live in a house with a big front porch. Interesting about the gambrel roofs!

    1. I love porches! We have a place out front of our Flagstaff house. It's not a true porch, more like a cutout, but we enjoy it.