Voorlezer's House

The Voorlezer's House is a historic clapboard frame house in Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island, New York. It is the oldest known schoolhouse in America, although it became a private residence for more than a century, and it is now owned and operated by the Staten Island Historical Society. It was built before 1696, and the date of the patent on which it is located is 1680.

"Voorlezer" is a Dutch word that can be translated as "Fore-reader". A voorlezer is an assistant to a pastor who, in the absence of a pastor, may hold religious services and read scripture, as well as run a school.

Though well-maintained for many years, by 1936 it had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and was added to National Register of Historic Places when that registry was created in 1966.

Description

The roof has an unequal pitch because the front of the house is 2 feet (0.61 m) higher than the rear. The foundation walls are 2 feet (0.61 m) thick, and constructed of undressed field stone laid up in mud and mortar. All timbers are of oak or white wood, cut in nearby forests and hewn to size with a broadaxe. A massive stone-and-brick chimney is at the northeast end of the house. Around 1800, the present staircases were substituted for the straight, ladder-like stairs believed to have been used originally.

The first floor contains a small room used as living quarters and a large room for church services. The second floor has a small bedchamber, and a large room that is believed to be the one used for the school. The extra set of floor beams indicate that the room was designed to accommodate a large number of persons. The floors in the house are of white pine boards, 14–16 inches (36–41 cm) wide. The windows and doors, the originals of which have been replaced, have the low and wide proportions of the originals.