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The Original Hermitage

The 18th Century House

The Hermitage that one sees today contains parts of a stone house that was probably built by the Lane family circa 1760. Remaining early fabric includes the east, west, and north stone walls of the home’s main block. The south wall was removed for the addition of a new stone wing in 1847–48. 

A description of the house has survived in the advertisement for its sale in 1763 by Elizabeth Lane:

A choice Plantation at Ancocus Brook, (or a Place called Peramos) in the county of Bergen, and Eastern Division of the Province of New Jersey; containing about 105 acres of good arable land, part of which is cleared, the remainder well wooded; there is on the same a good new Stone Dwelling House 40 foot front, and 23 foot back, the front is all of hewn stone, a Cellar under the Whole, and a Well of good Water before the Door; the Walls are near two Foot thick, and good Sash Windows to the House; there is also a good Kitchen 23 Foot one Way, and 20 Foot the other Way, and a good Fire-place therein; The House contains four Fire-places and is two Story high, is pleasantly situated between two Main Roads, and has an entry through the House into the Kitchen, all very beautifully contrived: There is also on the said Tract a small Barn, a good Gristmill, and a good Sawmill, all in good Order, and has not wanted for Water in the driest times; there is likewise a thriving young Orchard on the same, ‘tis as publick and pleasant a Place as is in the Country fit for Merchant’s business, a Tavern, or any other business.

[View the advertisement for sale in 1763.]

Hermitage Floor PlanPhysical evidence suggests that in the late 18th century, the house was symmetrical, with three bays and a central hall with a room on each side and a fireplace in the center of the end wall. The second floor rooms also had fireplaces. Archeological evidence was found that supports the 1763 advertisement’s description of the kitchen wing that extended from the north side of the house. Although most people associate the gambrel roof with Dutch American architecture because of its popular use in Dutch colonial revival designs, the 23 foot depth of the original Hermitage suggests that it originally had a gable, not a gambrel, roof. The shape of the current roof dates to the mid-19th century remodeling.

We do not know whether the 18th century Hermitage had a complete second floor or a half-story under its roof. Early stone houses in Bergen County usually had stone walls that were only one full story high or only partially extended into the second story. The upper rooms were under the roof. Only two houses survive in the region with stone walls that are two full stories high, and both date to the 19th, not the 18th, century. Interestingly, one of these houses is now the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn.

Because the original house that became The Hermitage was constructed by Henry Lane, an affluent person of English birth, its architectural style may have been vernacular Georgian. However, the existing reddish brownstone walls show local workmanship, and existing woodwork that was reused in the remodeling of the house in the 19th century put it clearly within the local Dutch American vernacular building tradition.

Dutch Door DiagramThe Hermitage is included in the survey of early stone houses compiled by Bergen County in 1978. At the time, 222 stone houses were surveyed. The typical early stone house had four exterior walls of stone. The front wall often consisted of more finely dressed stone than the other walls, as is the case at The Hermitage. The early walls are of the reddish-brown Triassic sandstone that is indigenous to the area. The house type had doors that were split so that the upper half could open to provide access and ventilation while the lower half kept out wandering animals. These “Dutch” doors remained popular in the region for many years, and a Dutch door, which is probably earlier fabric reused in the remodeling, is present today in the kitchen at The Hermitage.

Circa 1766, Captain James Marcus Prevost bought a 150 acre tract of unoccupied land adjacent to the Lane property. In 1767, he bought the Lane parcel. Soon after the purchase, Prevost sold the home that became known as The Hermitage to Ann De Visme, the widowed mother of his wife, Theodosia. A newspaper advertisement published in 1780 describes “an exceeding commodious stone dwelling house, well finished, and pleasantly situated; a good barn, stable, out-houses, &c.,” indicating that during the Revolutionary War, the house was a farmstead. 

The Prevosts built a second home near Ho-Ho-Kus Brook that became known as the Little Hermitage. Little is known about that house; a brief extract from a letter sent in 1782 by Aaron Burr to Theodosia Prevost mentions a “common room and one of the back rooms.” Both house sites appear on maps drawn in 1778 for the Continental Army. No drawings or other visual images of either of the 18th century houses on the Hermitage property have ever been found. Because The Hermitage was so extensively remodeled in 1847–48, its earlier appearance is highly conjectural.

 Early 19th Century

After the Revolutionary War, The Hermitage property passed through the hands of a number of owners before it was purchased in 1807 by Dr. Elijah Rosegrant. The fate of the Little Hermitage by the brook is not known, but it does not appear on 19th century maps.

It is possible that Elijah did some remodeling when he purchased The Hermitage. However, Budd Wilson, an archaeologist who studied the in-ground remains of the north wing in 1973, believed that the original house was removed circa 1800. A west wing was probably built in the same location as the current kitchen, as the foundations of the current west wing suggest construction in the early 19th century. Also, the exterior stone walls of the house were coated with a lime wash and then painted a cream color, a “modernization” that was probably designed to bring the house into conformity with the classical taste of the Federal period. The coating is visible today on the rear of the main block of the house, under the porch.

Hermitage Stone SmokehouseThe surviving free-standing stone smokehouse was erected around this time. It is a sturdy building with ashlar brownstone walls, a gable roof, and a single doorway. Its chimney is missing. The smokehouse is an excellent example of the kind of accessory building that was common on early farms in the region.

Among its mysteries, The Hermitage has two diamond-shaped stones prominently set into its front wall on each side of what is now a dining-room window but that earlier was the front entrance doorway. One stone shows a T-square and dividers; the other shows a hammer and trowel. These symbols associated with the Masons, a secret society of men. [Tell me more about the Masonic symbols.]

Continue to The 1847–48 Gothic Revival Remodeling

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