Today houses usually are built all at once and stay put but this was not always the case. In the past unless one was wealthy, houses often started small and were enlarged as the needs of the occupants changed. Structures were also moved and reused. This gradual approach is understandable given the labor intensive and costly work required to shape wood and forge iron nails by hand.
Although the full construction history of the Knapp House on Old Crompond Road across from the Staple's Shopping Center may not be unraveled before it is demolished, like most of the earliest houses in Yorktown it was the product of a long evolution. On the exterior, it appears to have been built during the Greek Revival period of the mid-19th century when Americans adopted elements of ancient Greek architecture in order to symbolize of our strong belief in democracy. But something isn’t quite right- the windows are not symmetrically arranged on the front wall, the frieze board under the roof eaves is too wide and the corners lack the expected decorative pilasters.
In fact, records indicate that David Knapp – a local veteran of the Revolutionary War – bought the land that the house sits on in 1765 and the large fieldstone hearth with beehive oven in the lowest level, the early fireplaces above and the scribe-marked post and beam construction to the left of the front door (see photos) point to a construction date in the latter half of the 18th century. While this side was built according to English braced box construction technique typical of New England, however, the right side was built using the Dutch-derived H-bent construction typically found in the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey and might be earlier in date.
H-bents were an early form of modular construction consisting of two vertical posts connected with a tie beam that supported the floor of the second story. Lined up in a row, they could be added as needed to lenghten a house or barn when needed. While the vertical posts hidden in the walls were left roughly hewn, the large tie beams were planed smooth and painted – as they are on this side of the Knapp House – as they were usually left exposed before the Revolutionary War period.
What might the H-bent section of the Knapp House have looked like originally? A clue may be provided by looking at the mid 18th c. Holmes-Hendricksen House in Homdel, New Jersey that was moved to save it from demolition in the 1960’s. Like the Knapp House, this structure displays both English and Dutch influence. The deep overhang found on this house may explain the empty mortises found on the front of the Knapp House's vertical posts just below the tie beam pockets. These mortises secured horizontal memebers that are now lost. In addition, the large exposed tie beams at the ceiling may have looked similar inside both houses.
It is possible that the H-bent structure incorporated in the Knapp House predates David Knapp's purchase of the property or that it was reused from a nearby structure. Hopefully, more information on this question will come to light before the impending demolition. In any case, the combination of structural types is unusual and reflects the fact that Yorktown was a transitional zone between the Hudson River Valley and New England.
The interior of the Knapp house was stripped of detail long ago and it was subjected to terrible additions in the 20th century. But since its “extreme makeover” around 170 years ago, the structure of the central core remained intact until recent development caught up with it.