Tour an Old Stone Home This Christmas

Step back in time this holiday season! Some of the most historic stone homes in the country are open for tours, teas and more. Check out this line-up to find an event in your community. Is your favorite stone home sponsoring a holiday event? Let us know and we’ll add details to this listing.

Christmas at Fort Hunter

Fort Hunter Mansion, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Christmas tours, old stone homes, old stone houses
Now Through December 23
Guided tours highlight holiday trimmings and Victorian-era customs
Fort Hunter Mansion and Park
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

38th Annual Festival of Trees

Pearl Buck House Festival of Trees old stone homes old stone houses holiday events
Now Through December 31
Holiday interiors designed by Bucks County’s best artists and decorators
Pearl S. Buck House
Perkasie, Pennsylvania

Puritan Past, Holiday Presents

Henry Whitfield House Connecticut holiday event Christmas old stone homes old stone houses
December 10-11
House tour, treats, ornament making and more
Henry Whitfield State Museum
Guilford, Connecticut

Christmas Carol Tea

Steppingstone Farm Museum Havre de Grace Maryland Christmas tea old stone homes old stone houses holiday events
December 10-11
Victorian tea with holiday storytelling
Steppingstone Farm Museum
Havre de Grace, Maryland

Historic East Berlin Christmas House Tour

East Berlin Pennsylvania holiday home tour old stone homes old stone houses
December 11
Six privately owned homes will be open to the public, as well as three Society Buildings, plus music, open hearth cooking demonstrations and refreshments
East Berlin Historical Preservation Society

East Berlin, Pennsylvania

St. Nicholas Days

Old Stone House Ramsey New Jersey St. Nicholas Day old stone homes old stone houses holiday events
December 11
Open house, cooking demonstrations, crafts, tree trimming and more
Old Stone House Museum
Ramsey, New Jersey

Holiday Candlelight Tour

Ramsey House Knoxville Tennessee candlelight tours old stone homes old stone houses holiday events
December 11
Period decorations and candlelight in the 1797 home of Francis Alexander Ramsey and his family
Historic Ramsey House
Knoxville, Tennessee

Holiday Open House

Sayler House Pearl River New Jersey old stone houses old stone homes holiday events dollhouse
December 11 and 18
Holiday decorations, dollhouse holiday show, carols under the tree and cookies
Historic Salyer House
Pearl River, New Jersey

Brandenburgers Holiday Concert

Old Stone House Brooklyn New York historic homes old stone homes holiday concert holiday events Brandenburgers
December 17
Violins, violas, cellos, bass and flute play music by Bach, Corelli, Dvorak, Glickman, Ostyn and Piazzolla
Old Stone House & Washington Park
Brooklyn, New York

Lantern Tours

Ephrata Cloister Lancaster County Pennsylvania Lantern Tours old stone homes old stone houses holiday events
December 27-31
Theatrical tours that present the religious community as it may have appeared in the 1700s
Ephrata Cloister
Ephrata, Pennsylvania

The Pieter Bronck House: New York State’s Oldest Stone Home

The oldest surviving house in the upper Hudson Valley also happens to be (from the research we’ve done) the oldest stone dwelling in the state of New York. The story of this sweetheart of a stone cottage begins with Pieter Bronck, a sailor from Holland, who emigrated with his wife, Hilletje Jans, to the colony of New Netherlands in 1653. They originally settled at Fort Orange (now Albany, New York) on the banks of the Hudson River, and made their living as tavern keepers and brewers.

Bronck. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like Bronx, right? Peiter happened to be a close relative of Jonas Bronck for whom the borough is named.


The life of a tavern keeper was not without its trials, and Pieter experienced his fair share of financial troubles. Hoping for a fresh start, the couple set their sights on the Catskills region of the colony and a life of farming (and perhaps fur trading). So in 1662, Pieter headed downriver to purchase 250 acres of land from Wappinger Indians in exchange for 150 guilders-worth of beaver pelts. He chose his tract of land, which native peoples called “Koixhackung” (now the town of Coxsackie), for its proximity to a major trade path.

The home built on the site a year later reflected rural Northern European home building practices of the time. The one-room 20′ x 20′ structure (we’re talking only 400 square feet!) featured 12-inch-thick fieldstone walls and massive 14- by 8-inch beams that supported a small storage garret and roof above. Wide-planked 18-inch floorboards and a hand-dug cellar were more defining features. The home was expanded in 1685 with a hallway, main room and loft, and in 1738, Pieter’s grandson, Leendert and his wife, Anna de Wandelear, built a brick home that was then connected to the stone cottage by what was called a “hyphen hallway.”

Farming as a profession proved a wise choice for this family, as through the years, they expanded the property with outbuildings. The estate passed through eight generations of the Bronck family until 1939, when the last family owner, with no heirs, gifted the farming estate to the Greene County Historical Society, which has maintained the home and land as a museum ever since.

Wondering how the original stone home has survived nearly four centuries? Credit must go to caring members of the Bronck family and their ability to keep this home within the family. Its location also played a part – off the beaten path, away from the harsh elements of the coast, etc. And lastly, its solid stone construction. Those New Yorkers know a thing or two about building homes that last ;-).

Resources:
“Bronck House Celebrates 350 Years” by Ann Gibbons
“Bronck Family” by Greene County Historical Society
“Pieter Bronck” by Jonas Bronck Center

Step Inside an Old Stone Home This Holiday Season

The holiday season is fast approaching. Searching for festivities that will spark some holiday spirit? Step inside an old stone home! We’ve rounded up our top six Christmas home tours and holiday events, sure to warm your heart.

1. Firelight Festival, Henry Whitfield State Museum, Guildford, CT


On December 4, from 4 to 8 p.m., Connecticut’s oldest home, illuminated by outdoor fires and luminaria, will be open for a holiday home tour. Popcorn, marshmallows, s’mores, hot cider and hot chocolate will be served and a special reading of “The Night Before Christmas” are among the planned festivities. Guests are encouraged to view the Holidaze exhibit and try their hand at natural holiday ornaments crafts.

2. Holiday Candlelight Tours, Mount Vernon Hotel, New York, NY


On December 4 and 5 at 6:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. nightly, one of Manhattan’s oldest stone structures, a circa-1799 carriage house, and, later, a posh vacation retreat for wealthy New Yorkers, will be open for holiday tours. Visitors will be treated to holiday and period music as well as traditional holiday refreshments and reenactments.

3. Holiday Candlelight Tours, Kip’s Castle, Verona, NJ


On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during December, this circa-1905, 9,000-square-foot stone castle, inspired by the design of medieval Norman structures, will be open for nighttime tours. The home, originally that of a textile baron and later used as a monastery, will be adorned in circa-1920s holiday finery. The history of the home as well as its Tiffany windows will be shared during tours.

4. Christmas City Stroll, Bethlehem, PA


This holiday season, surround yourself by old stone homes and structures in the historic town of Bethlehem, a mission community established by Moravians in 1741. Running through January 10, certified guides, dressed in period costumes, will lead visitors on tours of Bethlehem, highlighting town history, colonial and Victorian architecture and holiday decorating traditions, including candles in windows and the Bethlehem star. The tour route is part of Bethlehem’s National Historic Landmark District, designated by the Secretary of the Interior in 2012.

5. Midnight Madness, Ellicott City, MD


On December 4, beginning at 6 p.m. and running through 12 a.m. on December 5, the historic town of Ellicott City, founded in 1772, will be alive with holiday spirit. The historic district, replete with old stone structures, will be open all night for shopping and dining, as carolers stroll through the streets and Santa pays a surprise visit. Shop windows will be decorated for the holidays with a contest crowning the best decked.

6. “Christmas Around the World” Tours, Belle Grove, Middletown, VA


How did early American’s celebrate the holiday season? Find out at Belle Grove Historic Plantation, which will be open for tours from Friday, December 4, through Wednesday, December 30. The Shenandoah Valley manor home, built by Major Isaac Hite and his wife Nelly Madison Hite, sister of President James Madison, will be adorned with themed decorations provided by regional garden clubs. A grand Christmas tree will be on display in the historic parlor and spiced tea and cookies will be served by the warming fire of the kitchen’s expansive open hearth.

Old Stone Homes of Southern California

My sister and her husband are in the first phases of a new home search near their current digs in Laguna Niguel, California. A few weeks ago, she directed my attention to a certain Zillow listing. I assumed, at first, that I’d click the link to see another perfect-for-two townhome. But no. This was different. The property, surrounded by live oak and sage brush, was perfectly nestled in picturesque Trabuco Canyon. And right smack dab in the middle? A simply adorable circa-1907 cobblestone cottage.

“See! There are old stone homes in California,” she said. “You could move out West, be close to me and still live your dream!” I have to admit, the notion of old stone homes in California intrigued me: Was this home an anomaly or some sort of regional vernacular that to this point had escaped my notice.

I’ve always assumed that those who moved West in the mid to late 1800s constructed shelters of log, timber, sod brick or adobe. But a quick google images search surfaced pictures of stone ruins — a foundation here, walls there — mostly in the arid desert regions of California and Nevada. The story continued to unfold: Ranchers, gold and silver prospectors and then homesteaders staked their claims in the Southern California deserts and built their first homes with materials easily accessible to them. And that meant lots of rock. From what I could tell, homesteads were often destroyed by fire or slowly crumbled to dust, abandoned by prospectors who moved on to bigger and better things.

My sis was apparently on a roll. A few weeks later, she sent another Zillow listing, a plot of land in Modjeska Canyon. I couldn’t resist the note attached, “Would love to know the history … stone foundation, fireplace.” Game on!

I first reached out to the realtor, who knew only a legend shared by locals: Sometime during the 1960s, hippies living in the area started a fire that destroyed the homestead. Interesting, but who knows if it’s true. I next reached out to the Orange County Historical Society. History buff and Silverado Canyon resident Mike Boeck asserted that the remains sit on land that was once homesteaded by beekeeper Joseph Pleasants in the late 1800s. Could the stone walls and chimney be the remains of some early shelter? I love that theory! But archivist Chris Jepsen noted that Pleasants’ homestead was incorporated into the estate of famed actress Helen Modjeska in 1888. Clearly as curious as I, Jepsen took a closer look at deeds and tax records and found that in 1937 there was no home listed on the site. By 1939, one appeared. And it’s hard to say if the home was made entirely of stone or stone paired with timber, sourced in the Riparian forest that surrounds the site.  Regardless, the remains could easily be incorporated into a new build. An exciting prospect!

Thanks to my sis, I am now keeping a close eye on California real estate listings, hoping that a property pops up with terribly old stone ruins — and a wickedly interesting story to tell.

The Rock House: Georgia’s Oldest Stone Home

Stone homes don’t immediately come to mind when one thinks of Southern states and early American architecture. That’s why the Rock House, located in Thomson, Georgia, is of such particular interest.

The oldest stone home in Georgia, the Rock House was built by Thomas Ansley, a farmer born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1737. After 1760, Ansley lived in North Carolina and then moved to Wrightsboro, a Quaker village located in Warren County, Georgia, before 1773.

It was here in Wrightsboro, between 1783 and 1785, that Ansley built his stone home, using construction methods brought with him from the Delaware Valley of New Jersey. The weathered granite that was used to form the home’s two-foot-thick walls was quarried near the home site and locally sourced pine and cypress comprised the timbers and shingles respectively. The one-story fortress-like home featured a raised basement with large walk-in fireplace where meals were cooked, a main floor with parlor and bedrooms and a full attic.

The Rock House is owned by the Wrightsboro Quaker Foundation, which restored the house in 1981. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is said to be haunted.

Source, color photography: Chasingcarolina.com

The Mystery of the John Shopp Farm

John Shopp Farm, abandoned farm house, Camp Hill, Industrial Park Rd., Route 581

The John Shopp Farm, located along route 581 in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, dates back to the late 1700s. After passing through several members in the Shopp family, the property was acquired by the Bohn family.

If you live in south central Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, to be exact) on what’s called the West Shore, you’ve probably traveled along Route 581 more times than you care to remember. And if you’ve traveled east-bound, you may have seen the crumbling limestone home that abuts the beltway as you near the 83 and 11/15 split. If curiosity gets the better of you (as it did this blogger), you probably go home, do a bit of research on Google Maps to discover that the home actually sits on Industrial Park Road, a quick turn off of St. John’s Church Road.

If you make the trip to the home site, you notice first that the property is overgrown, shaded by pine and oak trees. But the home, springhouse and adjacent barn seem at peace in this protected setting. Cedar Run meanders right through the property, fed by a spring that bubbles up from beneath the ground. The mind then wanders: Who built this home? Was it a dairy farm? Who owns it now? Are there plans to restore? And then comes that sad realization that property may be too far gone and the home razed by the time you pass by this way again.

Getting to the bottom of the home’s history took some digging through old deeds, an email to the Cumberland County Historical Association and a quick note to the folks at Hampden Township. Finally, some concrete info, via a Pennsylvania Historical Resource Survey Form! The property is known as the John Shopp Farm. The Georgian-style limestone and brick home was built in stages. The stone portion came first, circa 1775-1800, and the three-bay, side-passage double-pile house with a six-bay brick ell came next, circa 1850-1875. And then there are the outbuildings: A two-story brick kitchen sits behind the home, a stone springhouse with brick cellar sits to the south of the house and, across a gravel path, rests a large frame bank barn (which once served as a furniture store).

John Shopp House, Camp Hill, PA, Abandoned Farmhouse, 3824 Industrial Park Rd.

The John Shopp farm comprises an original limestone home and an addition. Outbuildings include a kitchen, barn and springhouse.

So who was this John Shopp? John was the son of Ulrich Shopp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ulrich purchased 209 acres of  the original Louther Manor in 1774 from Conrad Manismith. John inherited the land from his father and most likely built the stone structure himself. The home became a center of United Brethernism in the area until a church was built in 1827. The property was passed down through several members of the Shopp family, some of the earliest settlers of Cumberland County. The property then passed through the hands of a few development/mortgage companies and landed, finally, in the possession of the Bohn family, which owns it today.

What will family members do with the land? No one seems to know the answer to this burning question. In the meantime this lovely old stone mansion sits (quite sadly, might I add), waiting for someone to make a decision.

If you can fill in some blanks or know a bit about the farm’s history — or future — please share with us!

A Quaker Estate That Grew From a Humble Log Cabin

The Richard Wall House, circa 1682

The Richard Wall House, circa 1682. Source: Eric and Noelle Grunwald.

We have a devote Quaker to thank for the oldest stone home in Pennsylvania. Richard Wall came to America in the mid-summer of 1682, after purchasing 600 acres of land directly from William Penn. His land grant, along with 13 others, came to form Cheltenham Township, named after Cheltenham, England.

Penn's Treaty with the Indians

Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, c. 1830-1840, an oil-on-canvas painting by Edward Hicks

Wall’s home, coined “The Ivy” for the series of vines that once climbed its stone walls, certainly played its part in the early history of America. The humble Elkins Park abode served as one of the earliest Quaker meeting houses (and wedding/reception site for families within the congregation) and, later, a very important stop along the Underground Railroad.

And like most old stone homes in the states, the Wall House was a work in progress – at least for the first 245 years of its life. In 1682, shortly after arrival in Pennsylvania, Richard Wall built an 18’ x 30’ two-story log cabin with grey fieldstone end and fireplace. This style was in keeping with William Penn’s own suggestions on home style and construction and adapted from methods learned by the first wave of Quakers who migrated to New England during the 1650s-1670s and brought the building style back with them to England. (See our feature on construction method by region; New England stone enders). Subsequent tweaks and additions to the home came in 1730, 1760, 1760-1790 (when the log portion was removed), 1805, 1860 and 1927.

John Wormley's family home Camp Hill Pennsylvania

The original portion of the Richard Wall Home, constructed in 1682, may have looked quite similar to John Wormley’s family home, a circa-1769 log cabin located in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

After serving as the residence of four families, the property was purchased by Cheltenham Township in 1932 and served as the home of township managers. In 1980, the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission took the property under its wing and today operates a museum of local history at the site.

Resources:
Richard Wall House Museum
Restoration Offers House Historic Future by Rhonda Goodman