A Visit to Philipsburg Manor

Places: Philipsburg Manor; Stew Leonard’s

Last weekend, my fiancé Colin and I decided to get out of the city for a bit, in search of a peaceful place with a little greenery where could spend a Saturday. Westchester County neighbors New York City, but the feeling is wholly different – there are trees, quiet outdoor spaces, and small-town restaurants. Although it only takes us an hour to get there from our Brooklyn apartment, it feels like a little getaway.

I recently read an excellent book about Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, a Dutch woman who came to New York (then Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam) in 1659. She was a businesswoman, or a “she-merchant” as the Dutch called them, and she was an awesome lady! She owned and traded ships, furs, slaves, and real estate (among other things) and she was the epitome of an independent woman.

After Margaret’s first husband, Peter De Vries, died, she married Frederick Philipse. Philipse was already an international businessman and merchant. His talents combined with Margaret’s business acumen and connections made them the ultimate 17th-century “power couple.”

Philispburg Manor, located in Sleepy Hollow, NY, was built on land Frederick Philipse owned (he owned most of Westchester County by the 1680s). The 17th-century stone manor house, reconstructed gristmill, 18th-century barn, and slave garden on the Upper Mills of Philipsburg Manor are open to the public as part of Historic Hudson Valley.

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The eastern part of the stone manor house was built in 1680 (!), and the western side was added on in 1720. However, the manor house is restored to the year 1750. This is the year that Adolph Philipse (Frederick and Margaret’s son) died without a will. Although it was not good for his heirs that he didn’t have a will, Adolph’s lack of legal planning turns out to be great for historians. In the year of his death, a probate inventory was taken, which includes remarkably detailed descriptions of the house’s decor- down to a description of a dried ham that was hanging from one of the rafters. (This probate inventory is actually housed at the New York Public Library, and you can make an appointment to look at it!)

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In addition to the stone manor house, there is a reconstructed water-powered gristmill on the Upper Mills property and a wooden 18th-century Dutch barn to visit. The gristmill was my favorite part of the tour – it is a working mill, in which you can still crank up the water wheel and watch the millstones grind wheat (from the property) into fine flour. Of course, the hard labor that the mill requires to operate highlights the people who were behind this grueling work – the 23 enslaved men, women, and children that lived and worked on the Philipse property.

The story of Philipsburg Manor is not complete without significant attention paid to the enslaved Africans that supported the property and the greater Philipse fortune. In addition to having their own slaves, the Philipse’s were in the business of slave trading. The Philipse’s financial success was completely dependent on the labor and trade of enslaved Africans. Enslaved men on the Philipsburg Manor property, such as Caesar, ran the mill for 10 hours a day, six days a week. Others, like Diamond, were boatmen. (They also maintained the grounds, worked as coopers, etc.) Enslaved women, such as Dina, worked at the dairy, tended the garden, cared for children, and did many other things to support daily life at the Upper Mills, as well as produce export products. The enslaved population was without question the backbone of Philipsburg Manor.

There are cooking demonstrations on an open fire near the property. When we were there, they were making “Indian slapjacks” and Johnnycakes from cornmeal. Yum!

Smelling those slapjacks got us hungry – so we  hopped in the car and drove 10 minutes south to the mecca of grocery stores, Stew Leonard’s. If you have never been to Stew Leonard’s, you simply must go. There’s site-made soft ice cream, hot food, an espresso bar, and more – plus tons of meat & produce…and (slightly creepy) talking animatronic displays throughout the store. We had a little ice cream, a lot of coffee, and picked up some steak and potatoes to cook for dinner. Overall, an awesome way to end a fantastic Saturday exploring 17th and 18th century New York!!

Your little Dutch explorer,

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