Founded as a Dutch colony early in the 17th century and later a British colony, New York distinguished itself as the most culturally diverse of the nation's thirteen colonies and a colonial leader in politics, commerce, religious tolerance and culture. From the moment settlers first arrived bringing their own rich culture and traditions, the story they created is one of a strong work ethic that has lasted generations and the struggle many encountered as they chose to be independent or stay loyal to England.
Historic homes are fascinating not only for their architecture and artifacts, but for the stories they tell of those who lived there. Other colonial sites go the next step with demonstrations and hands on exhibits that replicate the trades and crafts of the colonial era, from farming to milling.
Below are ideas to help you get started on your Colonial Path Through History!
- Housed in one of the finest pre-Revolutionary War homes on Long Island, the Rock Hall Museum in Lawrence offers fascinating views of the rarely seen working areas of an 18th-century plantation-style home, including a warming kitchen, cold storage room and wine cellar. Also located in the cellar of the 1767 building is the museum's archaeology exhibit room, displaying 18th and 19th century artifacts that continue to be uncovered during excavations.
- Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, an illiterate teenage farm laborer, arrived in the New Netherlands in 1637. After serving his indenture to the van Rensselaer family, he and his wife settled in the village of Nieuw Amersfoort (now known as East Flatbush-Flatlands, Brooklyn) where Wyckoff became a successful farmer and magistrate. The Wyckoff Farmhouse & Museum, built circa 1652, is New York City's oldest structure and first landmark. From seeing 350 year-old corn cobs to stepping inside the original one-room structure that housed a family of 13, visitors can find out what life was like during European settlement and learn about the experiences of Kings County residents over three centuries.
- Fraunces Tavern Museum was built in 1719 and purchased in 1762 by tavern-keeper Samuel Fraunces, who turned it into of the most popular taverns of the day. It was here in 1783 that General George Washington gave his farewell address to the officers of the Continental Army. The tavern was reconstructed and returned to its Colonial-era appearance in the early 20th century. Today, visitors can see the museum's collections of artifacts, paintings, drawings and documents related to the Colonial, Revolutionary and early Federal periods of American history, with a focus on New York.
- The African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan is the first National Monument dedicated to Africans of early New York and Americans of African descent. From about the 1690s until 1794, both free and enslaved Africans were buried at this site. Lost to history due to landfill and development, the grounds were rediscovered in 1991.
- Located at the end of Wall Street in the Financial District, Trinity Church is a distinctive Gothic Revival style landmark that is one of the earliest churches established in New York in 1697. The original parish was destroyed in a fire during the Revolutionary War and the second one was demolished in 1838 after structural damage. The current church was built in 1846 and designed by prominent 19th century American architect Richard Upjohn. Some of New York's most prominent citizens are buried in its churchyard cemetery, including Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton and James Lawrence. The church offers tours and concerts, and a museum, which hosts a number of special exhibitions that rotate throughout the year.
- Manhattan's last Dutch Colonial farmhouse, the Dyckman Farmhouse and Museum, has overlooked Broadway for more than 200 years. Constructed in 1784 mostly of fieldstone and clapboard, this farmhouse features sloping spring eaves, wide porches and a simple brick facade facing the street. In 1915, the daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up in the house bought the building, and filled the rooms with objects that evoked their vision of New York's Dutch heritage. In the garden, a fieldstone smokehouse was added and a half-timbered wood hut, originally built in the area by Hessian soldiers during the Revolutionary War, was reconstructed. When the restoration was completed in 1916, the sisters donated the house and grounds to New York City as a museum of early American life.
- In Sleepy Hollow, enter the year 1750 at the Philipsburg Manor. Guests can explore what was once a thriving farming, milling and trading center owned by a family of Anglo-Dutch merchants who rented land to tenant farmers of diverse European backgrounds and relied on a community of 23 enslaved Africans to operate the complex. A tour of the 300-year-old manor house and its period artifacts and touchable reproductions provides an understanding of the people who lived and worked here. Visitors can step into the working gristmill and learn about Caesar, the enslaved African miller, and take part in hands-on activities to experience life in the 18th century.
- The sturdy homes along New Paltz's quiet Historic Huguenot Street date back 300 years and once belonged to families of Protestant French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in Catholic France. Now a 10-acre National Historic Landmark District, Historic Huguenot Street is home to a visitor center, seven stone house museums, a reconstructed 1717 French church and an early burial ground. The historic district also maintains an extensive archive that preserves early local history collections and family papers along with a research library.
- In Hurley, the Dutch Stone Houses of Hurley Village, a 330-year old Dutch village, contains 25 of the oldest private homes in the United States. Tour some of these historic homes on Stone House Day, the second Saturday in July, and let the costumed guides, exhibits, antiques, crafts, books and military encampments whisk you back in time to Colonial America.
- With National Historic Landmark structures, the Bronck Museum and Green County Historical Society in the town of Coxsackie reflects over 200 years of architectural history. Pieter Bronck's single room stone house, built in 1663, is believed to be the oldest surviving house in the valley. The simple, sturdy one room stone structure is typical of the practical homes favored by many of the valley's first Northern European settlers. The house built in 1738 is a three-story home possessing the rawboned elegance that distinguishes classic Dutch Colonial dwellings. In both dwellings, and in the kitchen dependency, visitors can see 18th and 19th century family furniture, regional art, textiles and household furnishings.
- The Van Rensselaers were part of a group of wealthy and powerful families known as the Hudson River manor lords, and could trace their roots back to the original Dutch patroons. Built in 1787, Historic Cherry Hill in Albany has been the home of five generations of the Van Rensselaer and Rankins families. Their collection of personal papers and possessions during their 176 year occupancy at Cherry Hill are on display at the home. Guided tour tell the dramatic story of the family and their home.
- In Rensselaer, Crailo State Historic Site, built in the 18th century by Hendrick Van Rensselaer, tells the story of Colonial New Netherland history in the upper Hudson Valley. Learn about the early Dutch inhabitants of the region through exhibits highlighting archeological finds from the Albany Fort Orange excavations, special programs and guided tours of the museum.
- The oldest house still standing in the Mohawk Valley, the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction was originally settled in 1671 as a fur trading post to meet Native American traders before they reached Schenectady. Starting in 1705, the house was handed down through the Mabee family for 287 years. The original structures include the stone farmhouse, brick slaves quarters and a frame pre-Erie Canal Inn. A family cemetery holds graves dating to the 1700s. Also on site are a 1760 Nilsen Dutch barn, which houses displays, an English barn, and several outbuildings.
- Sir William Johnson was the largest single landowner and most influential individual in the settlement of the Mohawk Valley. As the British-appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs, he forged beneficial relationships with Native Americans, helping to stabilize the region. In 1763 he began planning a Georgian house of wood made to look like stone. Today, guests can travel to Johnstown to tour the house and walk the grounds and gardens of Johnson Hall State Historic Site, imagining a time when Johnson Hall bustled with activity as Sir William's home and business headquarters.
- The original limestone house built by French and Indian War hero Sir William Johnson, known today as Old Fort Johnson in the town of Fort Johnson was home to Sir William and his family throughout the war. Today the fort is a museum presenting the social, cultural, military and industrial past of the Mohawk Valley. Among the exhibits is the Richmond/Frey Collection of Ethnological Artifacts, which reflects the wide-ranging interests of two 19th century amateur archaeologists from the Mohawk Valley. Take a fascinating look at what people were collecting in the late 1800's through the collection of ancient artifacts from around the North America and the world.
- The German Palatines were natives of the wealthy Electoral Palatinate region of Germany, which faced repeated invasion from the French. Seeking refuge, some 13,000 "Poor Palatines" came to England in 1709. The English go
vernment tried to settle them in England, Ireland and the American colonies, transporting 3,000 Palatines to New York in 1710. The 1747 Nellis Homestead tells the story of Palatine Germans who settled in the Montgomery County town of St. Johnsville. Discover their culture and way of life, which is reflected in the restored farm house's two ground floor rooms, hall and cellar, and includes the 18th century structure's original fireplaces, huge ceiling beams and 300-year-old "wattle and daub" construction techniques.
- Also, just east of St. Johnsville, you can visit the 1750 fortified home of fur-trader Jo
hannes Klock, now known as the Fort Klock Historic Restoration. This 30-acre Colonial settlement of the French and Indian period is a National Historic Landmark and includes a 1790s Dutch barn, blacksmith shop and 1825 schoolhouse.
- Walking the grounds of Sainte Marie among the Iroquois Living History Center i
n the Onondaga County town of Liverpool is like finding yourself within the French Mission that stood on the shores of Onondaga Lake from 1656-1658. This recreated mission features a museum related to 17th century culture of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and their meeting with the French Jesuits. Converse with costumed interpreters about daily life in the 1650s and enjoy demonstrations in carpentry, blacksmithing, cooking and other activities.
- The Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor stands at the location of what was one of the 17th century's largest and most vital Seneca towns. Three hundred years ago, the French led an army from Canada against the Seneca here to annihilate them and eliminate them as competitors in the international fur trade. Visitors can tour a full-size replica of a Seneca Bark Longhouse and walk miles of self-guided trails.
- The oldest building along the Great Lakes is located at Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, whose history spans more than 300 years. Today at this New York State Historic Site and National Historic Landmark, visitors discover an amazing collection of military architecture, including the impressive "French Castle," constructed in 1726 when the fort was under French control.