A Tale of Two (or More) Knapp Houses

The earliest houses of Yorktown often started as small stuctures that ere enlarged over time but these alterations tell an important story and do not detract from their historic interest.

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. 

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Scott Petricig December 13, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Thanks! This is very interesting reading and educational too. The pictures are great too, though I hope that more were taken? If we're going to lose the house, we might as well at least have a photographic memory of the details.
Bob Rohr December 14, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Can't these historic homes be inventoried and registered so they cannot be demolished. On the corner of my street is the "Andre" house. The original house is protected. The later addition is not.. Am I being too simplistic?
Evan Bray December 14, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Protected by the state or fed is the question. In NYC the have a Landmarks commission with some teeth. It's a bit unruly if well meaning. They can tack on 6 months and untold sums in added construction costs. It's a delicate balance. Regardless of who has jurisdiction, there should be a designation report. In that text would be the answer. Quite likely that the original house is protected and the later addition is not. Wouldn't surprise me if you would still need something akin to a letter of no effect to alter the addition.
Jonathan Nettelfield December 14, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I would hazard a guess that officialdom in Yorktown "really do not care" because, they believe most of the voters do not care. Thanks to the efforts of Jean-Francois and others, perhaps we can stir community feelings that history does not exist purely in museums or indeed, in recreated edifices such as monuments and statues. It's all around us, only if we can be taught to look.
Evan Bray December 14, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Mr. de Laperouse is a great asset to this town and I admire his research skills. Jonathan is right. Apathy is rife 'round these parts and contributes overlooking the historic character of these lands.
Demelzabunny December 15, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I only moved to your area (Mahopac) a few years ago, but have been in and out of your lovely town many times. And I am still sad that the old farmhouse by the high school on 202 was demolished, as well as the large 18th century house down 202 closer to the Taconic, only to be replaced by an ugly modern house. A loss to history and society. Doesn't anyone CARE about these historic edifices? Once they're gone, they're GONE, and will never com back. That's not OK. Merci a Dieu for you. Mr. de Laperouse for keeping us focused on our historic houses.
Jean-Francois de Laperouse December 17, 2012 at 06:00 PM
As a matter of fact all of the taxpayers of Yorktown paid for a detailed survey that was completed by the well-respected architectural preservation firm Larson-Fisher as part of the Comprehensive Plan. The Knapp House was included on their list as a Greek Revival structure of the early to mid-19th century so it is surprising why this issue never came up during the planning process. My research has indicated that this house was began much earlier in the 18th century and may be among the earliest buildings in town. In addition the Knapp family played an important role in Yorktown for many years. I support affordable housing but this house could have been preserved on site or treated with more respect than it has received. Yorktown has a rich history but advocating for historic preservation in this town seems like a hopeless task. Thanks to all here for your comments.


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