Nicholas Holdrum - Van Houten House

Nicholas Holdrum, the builder of this house, was born November 12, 1740. He was the fourth child and eventually the eldest surviving son of William Holdrum and Margaret Peterson.

The exact date of construction is not known, but in Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York, by Rosalie Fellows Bailey (published in 1936), the author writes: "This house was built about the time of the Revolution; the date 1778 is said to be cut in an attic beam." It is possible that the 1778 date represented a recording of the time when the house had reached that point of construction. Further progress may have been delayed because of unsettled conditions during the war, and the lack of available laborers and artisans. The work may have been continued after the war was over, with other decorative details added in subsequent years.

Although he had a small family, which by 1780 was reduced to one son and one daughter, Nicholas Holdrum undertook the building of a substantial homestead to replace whatever former building he had occupied from the time he had settled in what is now Montvale. He probably decided that using local sandstone for the walls was the best guarantee against the danger of fire, which caused the loss of so many frame buildings in those days. He may have also been influenced and guided by the house built by his brother, William Holdrum, Jr., now located at 606 Prospect Avenue at the northwest corner of River Vale Road in River Vale. That house is thought to have been built about the same time, if not a little earlier.

The Montvale property remained in the Holdrum family until 1854, when it was sold to James Van Houten. It remained in the Van Houten family for almost seven decades, and in 1922 the home, then situated on 22-1/2 acres, was sold to a real estate dealer for only $3,500, the low price probably being due to neglect and the home's age.

After many additional years of neglect, Dorothy E. Woodward-Edgren bought the homestead and farm in 1939 for $17,500 and entered into a period of restoration, modernization and renovation, which returned the house to its former glory.

The plan of the house is the classic type of local Dutch architecture having a broad façade aligned to catch the sun, topped with a gambrel roof and featuring a central hall flanked on both sides with living rooms to the front and bedrooms in the rear. The sandstone is smooth cut on the south wall and rough on the other three sides, with cut quoins on all corners. The east wall shows signs of changes and restoration. The window lintels are stone with flared ends. A frame kitchen wing at the west and one step lower, has its front wall flush with that of the main house. The wing was originally about 16-1/2 by 14-1/2 feet in size and has been enlarged by a six-foot addition to the north. The original door and window on the south side have been replaced by a modern bay. The fireplace here is large, although the mantel is not original. In the ceiling are hewn beams 7-1/2 inches in height with varying widths from 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches.

Both the dining room and living room have fireplaces of the same size and mantels carved with identical designs. The beams in these rooms are smooth, those in the living room being more finished and beveled. They vary in size from 9 to 9-1/2 inches in height and between 6 and 7 inches in width. Some have been painted over. The doors between these rooms and the hall are only six-feet high. The hall runs from front to back with doors at each end. The present staircase is of a later period. The original was probably small and enclosed; also at a different location. Evidence has been found during renovations that the lath used in the main part of the house is all hand hewn and covered with a mixture of mud and straw.

The house evidently never had a porch platform across the front, but only a stoop with side seats by the door. Two outside entrances to the cellar were placed beneath the outer windows of the first floor, the one to the east now being closed. For many years, the roof was unbroken by dormers, and the second floor remained an open attic. A small center dormer was installed before the 1930s, and the present arrangement of three windows some years later when the attic was renovated into bedrooms.

The cellar has large hewn beams averaging from 8 to 9-1/2 inches in height and between 7 and 8 inches in width, all in a near-perfect state of preservation. The fireplace supports at each end are identical in form and size. Most of the beams extend from the front wall to the rear wall with a large cross beam, braced with upright supports, under the division between the front and rear upstairs rooms. The original northwest first floor bedroom is now the kitchen, and the northeast bedroom recently became a computer room.