Real Estate

Yorktown Home of Historic Distrinction: Van Cortlandt Tenant Farmhouse

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The Van Cortlandt tenant farmhouse
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YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Most residents of Yorktown consider themselves lucky to trace the ownership of their property back 50 or 60 years. Very few, however, are fortunate enough to possess a copy of a deed tracing their home as far back as the original Van Cortlandt land grant and a date of 1769.

After some sleuthing, Croton Heights resident Jean-Francois de Lapérouse, whose house has recently been declared a Home of Historic Distinction by the Yorktown Landmarks Preservation Commission, discovered this and more.

His property was originally owned by Cortlandt Skinner, a grandson of Stephanus Van Cortlandt, who in 1697 was granted 6,000 acres of land in Westchester County. Skinner inherited his mother’s share of the acreage, and, in 1769, sold the house and 200 acres to Zadock Birdsall.

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Before the sale, the land had been rented out to a tenant farmer who built the original house on the site. Although every 21st century comfort has been added, features of that small pre-revolutionary home remain today such as the large hearth and beehive oven in a lower-level room.

During the Federal period, the structure was expanded into a center hall colonial with chimneys on both ends. An entry door on the south side of the house was replaced years ago by a window in the first floor hallway but the original sidelights still remain.

Later in the 19th century, a lean-to addition, which now contains the kitchen and a bathroom, was added. In 2011, de Lapérouse continued that addition across the rest of the house to provide an entry foyer and den.

De Lapérouse was fortunate in that several of the building’s previous owners were astute record-keepers. The Waite sisters—Minnie Etta and Louise—who purchased the house in 1925 and occupied it until the late 1950s learned much about the property’s history. Over the years, the house had been referred to as the Gallagher Farm, the Birdsall House, the “Tumble Down House” (no doubt a reference to its condition at the time) and later, in keeping with the 20th century trend of naming country properties, christened “Fanadikwah Lodge” by the Waite sisters.

Today, the home still looks as though it had been taken from the pages of an American history book. The de Lapérouse family has carefully maintained and polished it, restoring some outbuildings and adding two fanciful playhouses for their daughters on the park-like grounds.

The Yorktown Landmarks Preservation Commission is always seeking applicants for the Homes of Historic Distinction Program. To qualify, homes must have historical significance based on age, architectural style, past ownership or association with a person or event important to Yorktown’s history. Through the program, plaques designating the basic facts about each house’s history are fabricated and installed on or near the home. The commission will work with each homeowner on appropriate wording for the plaque and will assist in research. The cost for the application and the plaque is $100. Applications are available online at yorktownny.org/planning or by emailing nmilanese@yorktownny.org.

Other Yorktown Homes of Historic Distinction:

This article was submitted by the Yorktown Landmarks Preservation Commission as part of a series highlighting Yorktown Homes of Historic Distinction.

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