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Decker House

Extracted from "Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley Before 1776," by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, 1929, The Holland Society, New York; pages 189-190.

DECKER HOUSE; Town of Shawangunk, Ulster County, NY; plate 65.  

One of the most delightful of the 18th century houses in Ulster is the homestead of the Decker family, a mile south of Bruynswick in the town of Shawangunk.  CORNELIUS DECKER married in 1695 to ELSIE TEN BROECK, daughter of WESSEL WESSELSE TEN BROECK, whose house at Kingston is shown in plate 87), and they - at an unrecorded date after their marriage - removed from Kingston to what was in their day an undeveloped, inaccessible region in the center of Ulster Co.  on the west side of Shawangunk Kill.  At the point where they settled, the kill follows a winding course, in a direction generally northeast, between low banks and with meadows on either side of it that form an arable tract.  This alluvial plain was an Indian maize-field and a place of gathering for the aborigine and the Decker homestead shown in plate 65 is close to the Shawangunk and looks across the stream, southward, to the field where Captain Kregier's expedition of 1663 surprised the Indians, whose white captives were being held in New Fort on the plateau east of the field.

According to tradition, a log house was built by CORNELIUS and ELSIE DECKER, which was followed by a stone house erected by their son Johannes.  From Johannes Decker, born 1696 (who married in 1720 Cornelia Wynkoop and secondly in 1726 to Marytie Jansen),  the property passed to Cornelis Decker (born 1731, died 1812), to Johannes C. Decker, born 1767, to John DePuy Decker, (born 1799; died 1881).  The heirs of John DePuy Decker sold in 1910 and in 1925 the place was purchased by Edward B. Edwards of New York City, with the intention of repairing and restoring the house in harmony with its eighteenth century character.

Three additions have been made to the house originally built on this site:  one to the west, then one to the north, and finally one to the east, so that the dwelling is now a T in shape, the long, low front (across which runs a nineteenth century veranda) being the crossbar of the T and the north wing forming the standard of the letter.  The oldest part is the unit in the center of the front, which contains two rooms and a crooked staircase by which to reach an upper half story.  The latest portion (at the east end) has a stone marked with the figures I 7 8 7 and some initials hard to decipher.  This part is more sophisticated in plan and proportion and finish than the earlier units and thus registers the improvement made in living conditions in the eighteenth century.  In the north wing the masonry is crude and in later years at least the slaves of the Decker family had quarters in it.  A large Dutch oven in the west wall of the kitchen is just visible in the plate.

Tradition in the Decker family dwells upon the kindly relations between the members of the family and their black servitors and records the instance of one old mammy, housekeeper for a bride of 1827, who refused to accept freedom under the state act of 1827.  Another story illustrates the difficulties pioneers have to meet.  Baptism was desired for an infant Decker, and the nearest domine was at Kingston.  The parents started to ride to Kingston with the baby, and one of their blacks.  It was midwinter, and as they drove across the frozen Rondout at Rosendaal, the ice broke and the father and the horses were drowned but the mother and the child were thrown out on the ice and rescued by the slave.

As a primitive structure the Decker house has suffered few changes and the fact that its new owner will give it sympathetic and understanding treatment is one that is cause for congratulation.  Many landmarks are now going to decay which intelligence and judicious expenditure would transform into desirable modern homes.

DECKER HOUSE, Town of Shawangunk, Ulster County, New York, Plate 66.  The house shown in plate 66 is a homestead of the Decker family.  It belongs in the class of pioneer dwellings and is rigidly plain in finish, but it is possessed of character and is an admirable example of a type.  It was built in two parts - first a small structure, nearly square, with primitive windows irregularly placed; then to the east of that a long low addition.  The seam in the masonry between the two parts is visible in the photograph as is also a difference in the workmanship.  The earlier west end is undated.  Over the door in the eastern portion is the inscription:

W G 1776

for William and Garret Decker, and the present owner, T. A. Terwilliger is a descendant, through his mother, from this Decker line.  The house stands in the hamlet of Dwaar Kill, just south of the bridge over the tiny watercourse from which the place takes its name.  The dutch word:  dwaars, means athwart or across, and this stream flows across a low flat area into the Shawangunk Kill.

(Special thanks to Mona Sarratt Knight for supplying this information.)

December 22, 2001