History of The Dutch House

The Dutch House originates from the late 17th century in New Castle, and constitutes one of the oldest houses in Delaware. This original house continues to exist as the structural system of the house, beneath a Federal period “skin,” or renovations that transformed the look of the house to what we see today. The Dutch House’s mystique has intrigued visitors and townspeople alike for three centuries. As an early 20th century raconteur suggests, “This (house) is always called the Dutch House…its story for the most part is lost in the passage of time. The Architecture is quaint and unusual.” The earliest indications of any building on the property are references to George Moore’s log house there in the early 1680s.

Period I.
The timber-framed first house on the site, c. 1690-1710, was a one-story house, measuring 24’ x 17’, with a one-room plan. An 8’ open hearth with four-foot deep chimney bay ran along much of the length of the north wall. Its exterior was frame, as were the vast majority of early colonial houses. The interior framing system still existent is original to this early house. Some exterior, horizontal wood siding survives at the gable end of the house. Both Dutch and English building traditions can be seen in the house’s construction. The first-floor ceiling beams and posts were finished and exposed. The beams show decorative finishes from this early period. No cellar or attic existed at this time.

Period II. The c. 1720 renovation added a lean-to and subdivided the large hall into two spaces. The north room was a working hall, comprising 2/3 of the floor plan of the house, with a direct entry through a central door. A tight, winder stair behind the chimney led to a low, half story above. The room to the south of this large working kitchen area, was an unheated chamber, thought to be for sleeping. There appears to be more soot on beams in the north room, where the large open hearth’s fire roared. In the smaller chamber to the south, surfaces on the beams show less soot and more whitewash, a technique used to lighten and brighten the space.
The rear lean-to had a smaller fireplace and functioned as the best room in the house, or parlor. This floor plan follows the characteristic feature of the kitchen and best parlor being at opposite ends of the floor plan, thus eighteenth century residents were able to separate working and social functions. The lean-to was subdivided into two, equal spaces. Throughout most of the 18th century, the Silsbee family of artisans lived here.

Period III.
Not long after the previous renovation, major work was done to the house in the mid-18th century. The house was raised off the ground, a cellar excavated, and the house wrapped on three sides in a brick exterior.

After remodeling in 1823 by a widow, a Federal style house joined the ranks of other Federal houses along Third Street. Federal style fireplaces, woodwork, and floor plan made the house appear as it does today. A full second floor was added at this time. In the late 19th century the house was primarily a rental property, used as a storehouse for Immanuel Episcopal Church, and as a home to “Miss Rachel Carter,” who reportedly operated a take-out luncheon shop and occasional speakeasy.

The house was purchased in 1937 by the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, and restorations done. It opened shortly after as a historic house museum, the Old Dutch House. The assembling of the objects on exhibit was a project of Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield. Mrs. Crowninshield, sister to Henry Francis du Pont of Winterthur, was a founder of the National Trust for Historical Preservation, and a prominent early preservationist. The minutes of the Society from 1938 indicate, “Mrs. Crowninshield reported that she was gathering furniture for the Old Dutch House. She said that she was strenuously opposed to placing a single piece of furniture in the house, unless it was the proper type and period. On motion of Mr. Bissell it was voted to give Mrs. Crowninshield full powers to furnish the house at her own discretion.” It was deeded to the New Castle Historical Society in 1946.