The Story of a Homestead
By Lillian Dennegar
The charm of an old house along with the shadows of its former inhabitants lingers around the venerable stone dwelling at 492 Teaneck Road, which was built in the year 1668.
The old farmhouse is known as the Brinkerhoff-Demarest homestead, and has been occupied since 1828 by the Demarest family, descendants of French Huguenots. Mrs. Frederick DeGraw Schuh, great granddaughter of George C. Demarest, along with her husband now owns and occupies the dwelling.
Fashioned after Dutch architecture except for the high ceilings, the house has eleven spacious rooms, including a slave room and an open garret.
The original front and rear doors for the house are divided, Dutch fashion, into an upper and lower half and are hung on heavy iron hinges, with the original knocker of iron still being used.
There are six rooms and a large hall downstairs. Three of the rooms possess fireplaces, high and wide. One of the fireplaces contains a Franklin stove, a Benjamin Franklin invention. The place above each fireplace is paneled and has a wide ledge of mantelpiece. The mantle in the living room holds a pair of very old white and blue vases.
Original flooring of wide oak boards two inches thick, run throughout the house. Wine closets were built in the living rooms, and in the dining room old cupboards of pine with cut out shelves contain old china including a tea and dinner set of white with gold inlay, with platters and tureens more than one hundred and fifty years old.
In the living room there is a melodeon over 100 years old, belonging to Miss Mary Ella Demarest, and given to her by her mother another Mary Demarest.
Broad windowsills downstairs give proof of the eighteen inch walls of the house.
In a door leading from the living room are set two round bull's eyes of heavy greenish blown glass, which are definitely old Dutch and rare.
After seeing the fireplaces one can picture something of the domestic life of the former early inhabitants. On a winter's evening a glowing hearth, or a chimney comer where homemade candles shed light while the colonial housewife spun and knitted garments ever useful and welcome, so the family would be clothed in comfort.
Entering the beamed kitchen one wonders about the old Dutch oven which was removed with the ten feet taken from the house when Teaneck Road was cut through, and thinks of the old Dutch recipes for cinnamon cake and cookies; homemade headcheese and sausage meat with spices, along with Dutch apple cake and buns.
An old staircase leading to the upper part of the house is easy to climb and the steps seemingly the right distance apart. The roof of the house is extraordinarily steep and in recent years dormer windows have been added to that part of the house. The steepness of the roof provides a deep open garret. High rafters under the ancient roof were possibly once laden with hams and bacon, curing in the hickory and apple smoke common to attic smokehouses of that period.
The upper rooms of the house as well as the downstairs rooms contain many pieces of fine old furniture. The slave room upstairs at the Teaneck Road end of the house is large and well ventilated. Domestic servants and field help were scarce at that period.
The Dutch brought the first Negro slaves to America. In 1625 they were the property of the Dutch West Indies Company, which rented their services. The Demarest had a few slaves who were given their freedom at the end of the civil war.
Now surrounded by an acre of ground, the house once stood on a forty-seven acre tract, on which an Oritani village was located at the end of Fycke Lane. The place was surrounded by friendly Indians.
One can visualize a windmill where corn, grown on the farm, was ground or perhaps a spot on the river bank where youngsters of the family fished.
Out on the grounds a bell was once placed between two uprights. In case of fire the alarm was given by bell-ringing. All citizens owned buckets, and upon reaching a fire double lines were formed to the nearest . stream or watering place and the buckets filled with water were passed up the line to the fire.
Built in 1668 by George Brinkerhoff, it later became the property of Henrik Brinkerhoff, who in turn , sold it in 1828 to Casper Demarest, who gave it as a wedding present to his son George C. Demarest.
James Brinkerhoff Demarest was the next owner and at his death the house became the property of his wife, Mary Breeland Demarest, and in time was deeded to her daughters, Miss Saretta Demarest and Miss Mary Ella Demarest, who reside there still.
Mrs. Frederick Schuh's mother, Mrs. Lotta Demarest Treadwell, and George V. Demarest of DeGraw Avenue are also members of the family and were born in the old homestead. The Schuh's have one son, Frederick DeGraw Schuh, eleven and a half years old. Miss Saretta Demarest has been vice-president of the Bergen County Historical Society for many years, and has donated many pieces of furniture to the society, as well as a fine collection of glass, now on exhibition at the old Steuben House, North Hackensack.