Even as my parents have lived in Savannah for a decade, my visits with them centered on exploring nature out by the rivers, not in exploring the charming city. So a couple of days ago I ventured in, and found that Columbia dwells there, too.
On Monday I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying Ken Bowling and some George Washington University undergraduates on a trip to nearby Mount Vernon. We visited the estate’s gristmill and distillery, as well as a slave cabin and threshing barn. These sites elucidated food production at our first president’s estate as part of their class, “George Washington and His World”.
I first met Ken last winter when I interviewed him for my video documentary on the history of the Columbia name. His book, The Creation of Washington, DC, particularly suited him to explaining the origins of the District of Columbia. Since then, I have enjoyed stopping by to see him and his fellow historians at the First Federal Congress Project in downtown Washington, DC.
I hope you enjoy these images and the notes that accompany them.
My great-great-grandmother, Martha Brandt, grew up in Ancram, Columbia County, New York. The Brandt’s neighbors possessed a good Dutch surname—Kipp. Just this October I was two towns north from Ancram, in Claverack, and stumbled upon an 1847 Greek Revival farmhouse for sale, and photographed it with the owner’s permission. Their last name is Kipp.
This line of the Kipp family had purchased the farm around 1900 from the Van Rensselaers, who had built it (see note below about my own descent from the early Van Rensselaer family). I had the pleasure of meeting two of the grown children who are selling the property—I thank them for the opportunity to record this place! The realtor, Tammy Molinski of Coldwell Banker, was also wonderfully gracious and patient as I pored over every detail of this remarkably preserved Greek Revival home.
The Greek Revival style was popular during the Early Republic, both as a show of solidarity with Greece as it fought its own war for independence, and as means of imbuing our new country with a semblance of history. Miss Columbia, America’s secular goddess symbol, was born from this same urge toward creating an American culture rooted in European history.
Background on me and Columbia County: Though my paternal grandmother’s farm in Pine Plains, New York was just 10 miles south of the Columbia County border, I’d never crossed that line until this year. The Shekomeko Creek passed through her land on its way north through Dutchess County to rendezvous with Columbia’s Roeliff Jansen Kill. The word kill, Dutch for creek, highlights the region’s history.
The Roejan, as it’s locally known, flows through the Town of Ancram. My maternal grandmother’s grandmother, Martha Brandt, was born and raised on Ancram’s west side, which could place the Brandt farm on the Roejan.
My mother’s mother had said that the Brandt family was Hudson River Valley Dutch. My own research showed this was mistaken: just as the Pennsylvania Dutch should be called Pennsylvania deutsch, Martha’s ancestors were born in Germany. Martha’s great-grandfather was a Hessian soldier hired by the British, who then defected to the Patriot side of the Revolutionary War. He settled in Ancram at the cessation of hostilities.
While the Brandts are on my maternal grandmother’s side, as noted in a previous post, my maternal grandfather descends from the Van Rensselaer family. The Van Rensselaer name passed from my lineage when Maria Van Rensselaer married Pieter Schuyler in 1691.
I like the word adventure, especially in its older sense: that which “happens by chance, fortune, or luck”. Today we’d typically call this serendipity. Adventure’s meaning grew to include taking a risk, “a trial of one’s chances”. The word adventure implies much greater agency or intent than serendipity. Going toward risk makes things happen.
When I set out in the morning seeking America By Another Name, I never know what I’ll find. One trip to the New York Public Library supplied my first knowledge of a patented creation called the Columbian Press. Many months later, I had a mere five hours to explore the northeast corner of Columbia County, New York. To my immense delight, there I met a man who actually owns a Columbian Press.
The man is Don Carpentier, founder and owner of Eastfield, a school for historic preservation in Rensselaer County. Amidst the buildings on this beautiful museum-of-American-architecture compound, Don has a print shop featuring the Columbian Press. The building itself came from Columbia County, just a few miles to the south. You can just make out the letters “Columbia Co. Agency” below the eave facing the lane.
The Columbian Press provided excellent pressure to the paper with little exertion by the pressman. It seems only five were sold in its namesake country; with the East Coast market already supplied with presses and the frontier market demanding portability, the Columbian Press made its mark in Europe. As an early and great American technological export, it was produced in the markets that it supplied.
The Columbian Press I photographed was purchased by Mr. Carpentier in England, place of its manufacture. As a device for communication marked by ease of use and unforgettable aesthetics, I suggest, with some irony, that it was the Apple Computer of its day.
Here are photos of the press and of Eastfield from that rainy October day last week. My first time excursion into Rensselaer County also had personal significance: the Van Rensselaer family are among my early American ancestors. I am particularly proud of Maria Van Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, the patrooness at Rensselaerswyck. Of all the women in the Dutch Colony of New Netherlands, perhaps more is known of her than any other.