NEWSLETTER, July 2005
From the Editor...HVVA has been a member of the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) for several years. This is a large national and primarily academic organization that publishes a quarterly journal and runs an internet chat line. Their geography and definition of "vernacular" are quite broad and seldom pertinent to us here in The Valley but the other day messages came through that were hard to delete and I will share some of them with you. I had never heard of a coffin door in The Hudson Valley and associated it with New England center chimney houses where the tight entrance hall made them put another door into the parlor through which large tables and coffins could pass.
It began with an inquiry from Will Garrison, an historic resource manager in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, who is often asked about coffin doors in their 18th century historic homes. Will, like his New World colleagues, is a skeptic about all the stories, but his question brought in a flurry of mail. "Coffin niches" on tight staircase landings in Kingston, NY and Nantucket Island and "coffin doors" from Utah, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Then Jeroen van den Hurk, a PhD Candidate and member of HVVA from the University of Delaware wrote the following:
I don't know if this solves your myth or makes it more mysterious. I had never heard of coffin doors, so I thought it was an interesting coincidence.
Jeroen sent the following reference for his Dutch information, H. Janse, Houten . Huizen, een uniekebouwwiize in Noord-Holland, Zaltbommel: Eur:opese Bibliotheek, 1970 (ISBN 90 2884367 1) and added some German lore.
It's new to me but perhaps some reader out there has seen one here in The Valley.
Peter Sinclair, Editor Ulster County, NY
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