New Netherland's Legacy

Art and Architecture

Dutch influence remained strong in New York and New Jersey material culture until the American Revolution. King William III and Queen Mary introduced Dutch early baroque styles into England, which also became popular in North America. Moreover, an individual preference for traditional Dutch medieval and renaissance decorative forms resulted in distinctive provincial products.[1] Particularly in rural areas traditional Dutch forms persisted, such as the use of jambless fireplaces lacking side walls with an open hearth. Imported blue and white or mulberry and white Delft tiles often adorned the back wall of the fireplace.

One quintessentially Dutch furniture form that long persisted in colonial New York and New Jersey is the linen chest or kast. These large storage chests for linens and other textiles reflected William and Mary forms but became more simplified in the Hudson River Valley than the Dutch prototypes.[2] Another survival until the twentieth century was the spoon rack to display ornate silver spoons.[3] Colonial New York and New Jersey silverware enriched with distinct engravings, embossings, or applied castings reflected a merging of English, Dutch, and Northern European forms.

The Dutch also brought with them a fondness for framed artwork. Inventories, estate sales, and auctions frequently mention historical and biblical prints, still lifes, maps, landscapes, and portraits. When European artistic products were not available or were beyond the reach of ordinary people, itinerant artists known as limners provided provincial works of art based on European prototypes. The result was a rich artistic genre unique to the North American Dutch cultural area until the middle of the eighteenth century, when wall paper replaced the practice of hanging framed pictures.[4]

Few material objects more aptly express the survival of Dutch culture than vernacular architecture. Architectural historians note that the H-bent system, two principal posts connected by a tie beam, is a defining characteristic of New World Dutch vernacular architecture, and, despite variations in building materials and changing architectural tastes, continued to be built throughout the region until the use of the balloon frame in the mid-nineteenth century. High ceilings on the first stories of buildings, sometimes ten to twelve feet high, and large windows are other characteristics. While Netherlandic architectural features, once common throughout the region, such as cupboard beds, jambless fireplaces, wall anchors, and brick tumbling, disappeared in the late eighteenth century, the basic underlying structure remained based on Dutch prototypes.[5] Moreover, architectural histories reveal that beginning in the 1680s architects in the Republic were the first Europeans to widely accept the sash window and that the stepped gable had largely disappeared from new constructions by the 1660s. Architectural historian Juliette Roding notes that by the end of the seventeenth century, Dutch and English architecture was virtually indistinguishable “because both the Dutch and English architects of the period to a great extent used the same architectural treaties and visual models."[6]

1. Roderic H. Blackburn and Ruth Piwonka, Remembrance of Patria: Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America, 1609–1776 (Albany: Albany Institute of History and Art, 1991).

2. Peter M. Kenny, Frances Gruber Safford, Gilbert Tapley Vincent, American Kasten: The Dutch-Style Cupboards of New York and New Jersey, 1650–1800 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991).

3. Wallace Nutting, “Carved Spoon Racks,” Antiques (June 1925), 312–315.

4Hudson Valley Paintings 1700–1750: The Schuyler Painter, The Gansevoort Limner, Aetatis Suae Paintings, Anonymous Portraits, Religious Paintings (Albany: Albany Institute of History & Art, 1959)

5. Jeroen van der Hurk, “The Architecture of New Netherland Revisited,” Building Environments: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 10, Kenneth A. Breisch and Alison K. Hoagland, eds.(Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2005), 133–152.;  John Stevens, Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640–1840 (West Hurley, NY: Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture, 2005).

6. J. G. Roding, “North Sea coasts, an architectural unity?,” The North Sea and Culture (1550–1800), Juliette Roding and Lex Heerma van Voss, eds. (Uitgeverij Verloren, 1996), 97.

Kast, 1690–1720; painted yellow poplar, red oak, white pine

Kast, 1690–1720. Painted yellow poplar, red oak, white pine

Rogers Fund, 1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unidentified Limner, ‟Adoration of the Magi,” (c. 1741).

Unidentified Limner, ‟Adoration of the Magi,” (c. 1741).

Gift of Samuel A. Ten Broeck and Miss Mary Ten Broeck, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, N.Y.

Unknown, ‟A View of the Houses in the City of Albany,” line engraving

Unknown, ‟A View of the Houses in the City of Albany,” line engraving

Columbia Magazine, December, 1789.

In 1744, Doctor Alexander Hamilton of Annapolis, Maryland, found the houses of New York City  “compact and regular, and in general higher built, most of them after the Dutch model, with their gable ends fronting the street."[1] Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm noted in 1749 that most of the houses of Albany are “built in the old way with the gable end towards the street."[2] Richard Smith in 1769 found the buildings of Schenectady in the “old Dutch taste."[3]

1. Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton’s Itinerarium: Being a Narrative of a Journey from Annapolis, Maryland through Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire from May to September, 1744, Albert Bushnell Hart, ed., (St. Louis, Missouri: William K. Bixby, 1907), 13, 51.

2. Pehr (Peter) Kalm, Travels in North America — Adolph B. Benson, The America of 1750, Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America: The English Version of 1770, rev. and ed. Adolph B. Benson, 2 vols. (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), 1:341.

3. Richard Smith, A Tour of Four Great Rivers, the Hudson, Mohawk, Susquehanna and Delaware in 1769, Being the Journal of Richard Smith of Burlington, New Jersey, Francis W. Halsey, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906).

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. More


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