About The Freer-Low Family Association
History:Historic Marker Reads:
After decades of sojourn and relocation, a group of twelve Huguenot refugees from what is today northern France and southern Belgium and linked by family, religion, and friendship purchased nearly 40,000 acres along the Wallkill River in the Hudson Valley. They purchased this land from the native Esopus Indians, thus establishing a permanent home where they could pursue their Protestant faith free from religious and political persecution. They named the new town after die Pfalz, the region along the Rhine River where they had found temporary refuge before journeying to the new world.
The families began replacing their temporary homes in the early 1700s with stone houses along what is now known as Huguenot Street, seven of which survive today. The houses were added to over the first century or so of their existence to provide more comfortable living arrangements, and today the domestic environments of the colonial period and the early years of the Republic are preserved to inspire and to educate. While four of the houses are similar to their early appearance, the National Historic Landmark district also includes three original stone houses that were altered in the 1830s, the 1890s, and the 1940s, enabling three hundred years of history to be told on the street, displaying both continuity and change in American history.
Beginning in the 1890s, these homes came into the possession of the Historic Huguenot Street with the generous assistance of its affiliated family associations, the members of which are descended from the original founders and early residents of the community. Today the houses are furnished with period and heirloom artifacts, many of which descended through the families. Through the preservation of this remarkable site, we have the opportunity to enjoy and investigate the origins and development of our distinctly American culture.
Hugo Freer - The Patentee
Hugo Freer is a partial enigma as of the original Patentees the least is known about him. Family tradition has it that he came from Normandy escaping into the German Palatine hidden in a barrel to avoid his persecutors. Exactly who it was that was chasing him, or why, is lost to us. Whether Hugo had converted to Calvinism while in France or converted after arriving in the Palatine is not clear. But it is assumed his conversion happened in France and that is the cause of his need to flee.
There is speculation that he was the son of a Catholic family. As a result of his conversion to Calvinism he changed his name to "Frere," French for brother, (frére). This spelling of his name is actually supported by contemporary documentation. Family traditions say he adopted this name to indicate his association with the Huguenots declaring himself as a "Huguenot Brother" to the world.
What is definitely known of Hugo Freer is that he arrived in the Wiltwyck area (now known as Kingston) in 1675. In Wiltwyck and Nieu Dorpf he met the other Huguenots and became associated with the group that became the original Patentees of New Paltz.
Built 1720 by Hugo Freer,
one of twelve original
Patentees of New Paltz.
The Low House after 1732.
In 1692 the Freers began the building of their stone home, finished in 1694. Like most of the other structures built at this time it was configured as three rooms stacked one atop the other. There was a cellar, a ground floor room and a loft. The fireplace was located in the main ground floor room and originally would have been jamb-less, the style of building at the time.
Unfortunately Hugo's wife Jannetje died in 1693 before the house was completed, so never occupied it. Hugo himself died in 1698 just four years after completion of the original section of the house. Both Hugo and Jannetje are buried in the little cemetery of the old Walloon Church on Huguenot Street.
By 1720 the house had passed into the Low family through marriage to Rebecca, granddaughter of Hugo the Patentee. In 1735 the house went through a second building phase having a new room added on the south end. This addition doubled the size of the house. The new room mirrored the original structure with a fireplace directly opposite the original in the middle of the south wall. The original door was converted to a window and the new door for the front of the house was added to the center hall created at the time of the addition. Above the ground floor the loft was extended as a continuous space the full length of the house and a "mow" door was installed on the south gable end.
Later generations of the Low family put on a second addition in the form of a "frame shed" running the length of the back, or east, facade of the house. This "newest" addition to the house was undertaken at the time of the American Revolution. With this addition the house took the form that we see today. Most probably the shed addition acted as a workshop attached to the house.
The Freer-Low House has something unique among the original houses of New Paltz. On it's south facade is the only remaining "mow" door. When you look at the house from the south, on the level of the loft, or attic, there is a door leading directly into the loft space. In the houses of New Paltz the loft was primarily used for storage of goods and supplies. The Freer-Low House is the only one with it's door remaining intact. In addition to the door there would also, most likely, have been a device extending from the door to act as a hoist.
During the 19th century the original small windows of the house were replace by the windows that are currently visible. In the process, the openings were expanded substantially. The Freer-Low House is one of the best of the New Paltz houses to display this transformation. To enlarge the windows meant the knocking out of large sections of the original stone structure. Rather than replace the stone to the new sized openings, it was simpler to fill in with brick.
The house continued in the Low family into the early 20th century when it was sold out of the family. From that point it's history became that of a tenement and low class housing. In 1943 the house was purchased by a Reverend Follette, a descendant of Hugo Freer the Patentee. During his ownership he undertook major renovations of the interiors transforming the house into a Colonial Revival inside. At the same time he modernized the amenities by installing central heat, plumbing and electricity to make the house more comfortable for himself and his family. The result of this series of renovations was the near complete transformation of the original 17th & 18th century interiors. All that is still visible from the original interiors are the beams and floor in the original ground floor room. Rev. Follette occupied the house until 1955 when The Huguenot Historical Society purchased it with the help of the Freer-Low Family Association.
The Huguenot Historical Society determined to leave the Freer-Low house in this condition for very legitimate reasons. First among the considerations was the financial resources necessary to strip out and put back. The second and more important consideration was that leaving the house as a Colonial Revival interior acts as a splendid counterpoint to our perceptions of colonial life in America. The Freer-Low House interiors act as an example of our present day perceptions of what we think a colonial home "should" look like. The home was restored to meet 20th century conceptions of an English urban setting complete with an English fireplace and raised wood paneling in the main room.
Visitors are shown the main downstairs room of the original structure as well as the parlor on the second addition. The shed where Reverend Follette created the kitchen and a study are also parts of the tour.
As the tour of Huguenot Street is laid out, the Freer-Low House is the first that visitors experience. In it's current interior design it acts as a perfect tool to explain the layers of cultural interpretations that have been heaped upon our conceptions of colonial life. Because it has been restored as an "colonial" interior it also acts as a perfect way to explain that the English experience in the New World is but one of several traditions, that tradition coming late to the Hudson Valley well after other influences had become firmly rooted. In comparison to the English, the Dutch control of their colony in America was short, yet by the time it was over Dutch culture and traditions were so pervasive as to control the continuing development of the colony.