History Lives in Oakland
by Marisol Kozlovski
“Hendrick van Allen was a farmer and settled here over 250 years ago. He married a lady by the name of Elizabeth and together they had 6 children….
What famous person marched through this area about 230 years ago? Yes, George Washington….
And that is why the van Allen house was declared a historical place….”
For over 30 years, children who have attended public schools in Oakland have visited the Van Allen House with their 2nd grade classes and heard these words. Volunteers from the Oakland Historical Society don period clothing and present this unique, unplugged program. The students each get the opportunity to “play a part” in history. They learn about typical Colonial lives, see antiques and feel the presence of history as they walk through the stone building. They are shown a copy of the letter which states that George Washington and his troops got stuck in the mud and stayed at the Van Allen house. And, they comment on the “difficult font” only to discover that this is what hand writing looked like and there were no computers then….
When asked about the Stream House, which sits closer to Franklin Avenue at the high traffic intersection, volunteers explain that this building was built before 1905. It was built straddling the stream so that the water passing beneath the stone would keep stored dairy products chilled in a time before refrigeration. Over the years, this building served many purposes including housing the town’s first public library.
The Hendrick Van Allen House and its property sharing neighbor known as The Stream House are owned by the Town of Oakland. For decades, the Oakland Historical Society have been the stewards of the Van Allen House, filling it with treasures of the town’s past.
“What is important is that we (the OHS) turned the building into a Hands On Museum.” explains Judy Gray, former President of the Oakland Historical Society.
“…Most folks know the Dutch Christmas Program, but we also had Child & Doll Tea Parties, craft evenings, sewing & quilting events, scrapbooking crops, musical programs, author & historian presentations and the Open Houses for folks to come learn various aspects of Colonial life.” The treasures within the VAH; from the random bits of pottery, to the Portraits and silhouettes, to spinning wheels and the beloved Harpsichord, can be enjoyed due to the OHS.
OHS member, Mame Schwarzfisher is of Native American descent and clarified why the Van Allen House and Stream House are important to her, “When I was 5 years old my Ohma (grandmother) would tell me and my cousins stories that her Ohma told her. …. The stories taught us how to live, how to share with others and how to respect what the creator has given us. … The Van Allen house is not just a home, it was a way of life. It is a visual story that can be told to anyone willing to take the time to learn…I volunteer my time to the Historical Society because children need to know who they are.”
But, time is not kind. Recent storms and more serious deterioration set in while the town was at a loss at how to pay for the major repairs to both buildings. The Van Allen House, being a National Historical Landmark, being more sound structurally, and having been better used over the years; was the priority. The town commissioned experts to analyze the viability of the Stream House and it was reported that the Stream House was a rare concrete constructed architectural wonder of the early 20th century and was also worth saving, but the costs mounted.
Like a Superhero coming to the rescue at the darkest hour, in swooped the Ramapough Conservancy to save the houses.
Founded by Judith Sullivan and Monte Marfilius, the Ramapough Conservancy is a non-profit charitable group dedicated to protecting, and promoting the Ramapo Mountain region. “The Van Allen House and the Stream House are our first two architectural/structural projects.” explained Ms. Sullivan. In August of 2012, the Conservancy was awarded a 20-year lease by the Town of Oakland. “We have hired architects, engineers, historians, and contractors to make sure the properties are repaired correctly…there is a plan in effect and Phase 1 of that plan has been completed.”
In a relatively short amount of time, a tremendous amount of work has been accomplished by the Conservancy. According to Ms. Sullivan, the roof of the Van Allen House has been stabilized and all breaches in its integrity have been secured; a new cedar shake roof has been built on the larger section of the house, interior structural supports have been added and the stonework and the ductwork of the chimneys has been strengthened. The front landing handrails are being replaced and a complimentary shade of green paint now graces the exterior.
Phase 2, which will include the continuation of the roof line and repairs across the second part of the VAH, is scheduled for Spring 2016. The Stream House is scheduled for repairs once the Van Allen House has been completed. A blue, roof barrier has been installed to help prevent erosion and curb any further deterioration of the Stream House.
“The amazing aspect of this project is that the Conservancy is accomplishing all of this work without using a single taxpayer dollar.” Stated Mayor Linda Schwager. “It is truly a heroic effort and a benefit for our town.”
The projected costs for the repairs to both building exceeds well over half a million dollars. The Ramapough Conservancy is accomplishing this daunting task through a combination of donation money and grant monies. But, the need is never ending.
Tax Deductible donations are needed to continue the work of restoring these treasures to our community. “Without our community’s required 25% match to the government grants we are working hard to secure for our community, we cannot proceed further. So, please contribute today.” Asks a social media post from the RC. If each household donated a mere $5, the RC would have an additional $20,000 for repairs and greater levity in gaining matching grants.
For more information and to make donations to the Ramapough Conservancy, simply go to their website at: http://www.ramapoughconservancy.org/home.html . Tax deductible donations can now be made at the website through Paypal. The Ramapough Conservancy are also found on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Ramapough-Conservancy-169348366482237/timeline/
What of all those Programs and events at the VAH?
The Conservancy is opening the doors of the Van Allen House to the public on Oct. 24th at 1pm for an author presentation: Patriots, Redcoats & Spies. Robert J. Skead with his father, Robert A Skead, Wyckoff residents and authors of this wonderful children’s book, set this story in 1777. The book was inspired by a childhood visit Skead made to the VAH and the house is prominently featured in his tale. Click here to find out more details about this event on facebook. Other groups are welcome to use the House for programs and presentation. Simply contact the Ramapough Conservancy directly for availability and scheduling.