Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Old Stonehouse

 

THE OLD STONEHOUSE

On a slope above the South bank of the Sparkill Creek, our old house has sheltered the Mouquin family for 100 years - a silent witness to the joys and sorrows of four generations of family history. Such a legacy does not come without the obligation to preserve the structure for future generations.

Henri Fredrick Mouquin purchased the house as a surprise for his wife in 1902. Land records in the Rockland County Court House indicate that he bought it for $3,000 from the children of John W. Ferdon. Henri's wife, Jeanne Louise, recalled that the house had been vacant for some time, and the ice on the kitchen floor in the basement was so thick she could skate on it.

Orangetown Tax Assessor's records indicate that the house was built about 1800. Yet, the Second Empire, Victorian style architecture, with its Mansard roof, reflects a later period of around 1870.

On closer examination, evidence of an 18th Century stone house is hidden under the 19th Century exterior. The stonewalls under the front porch still sport their original windows and shutters. Each window is framed with an outline of brick. This was commonly done in the 18th Century, when bricks were scarce.

The stones are hewn, possibly cut from a quarry. The house is built into the hillside with the backroom cooled by the perpetual dripping of a natural spring. Stone shelves, constructed in a corner, were designed to keep milk, butter, and cheese cool.

The Book, Piermont, Three Centuries, published by The Friends of the Piermont Library in 1996, describes an old mine hole cut in the rock along South Piermont Avenue, on a slope above the North bank of the Sparkill Creek. While no one knows the exact origin of this mine hole, the book gives one theory from the 18th Century:

"A local inhabitant, John Moore, operated a mill on the Creek and needed grinding stones for his mill. He found just what he was looking for on the nearby hillside and began to hack away, creating first a cave and then a mine. It was said that the walls of Moore's mine were as smooth as glass, and that he continued getting his millstones from the mine site until the early 1800's."1

John Moore was an enterprising free black. According to Frank Green's The History of Rockland County, he erected a sawmill and a gristmill on the Sparkill Creek in the early 1800's, on property he purchased from a Mrs. Graham. In 1810, he built a woolen carding mill that employed three men. William Ferdon bought this mill in 1815 and used it to supply blankets to the Union army during the Civil War.

"It may not be amiss to say a word further regarding John Moore. His trade was that of building mill wheels, and, among others constructed by him, was the wheel for De Pew's mill, ? in Nyack. He was also a partner of Mr. De Pew for some time, and was regarded as an intelligent, upright man."2

The cut stones used to construct our old house may have been quarried from the mine hole, along with John Moore's millstones. Rockland County Court House land records indicate that Edward and Susan Jackson owned the old stone house, selling it to John W, Ferdon for $180. in 1851. Edward Jackson would have been acquainted with Thomas Moore, and may even have learned how to cut stone from him.

Charles Mouquin remembers that Sara Jackson lived near the mine hole in the long-established black community along South Piermont Avenue. I have not been able to determine if she was related to Edward and Susan Jackson. When Edward and Susan Jackson sold their stone house to John and Harriet Ferdon, the recorder of the deed noted that Susan Jackson was interviewed privately to attest that she was not forced to sell the house against her will. Neither Edward nor Susan was able to sign his or her own names. Their signatures were indicated by an "X - his mark" and an "X - her mark" and notarized by witnesses.

  1. The Friends of Piermont Library, Piermont Three Centuries, 1996, page 20.

  2. Green, Frank, The History of Rockland County, A.S. Barnes & Co., New York, 1886, page 359

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