Annual DAR event returns to Van Bunschooten Home

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    WANTAGE-Wantage celebrated a brilliant colonial Christmas in July at the Elias Van Bunschooten Home on Route 23. The house was built in 1787 for the Dominie (Reverend) Elias Van Bunschooten, who came from the Netherlands to the Old Clove Church to serve a colony of Dutch Reformed settlers. On Sunday, 1860s-costumed makers of fine bobbin lace, buckskin-clad frontier guardsmen and fine craftsmen were on hand to show their arts. Visitors also could explore the museum, which contains some of the original furniture, as well as examples of Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Empire furniture donated by heirs of later owners. Many fascinating stories are told about Dominie Elias Van Bunschooten, all of them true. The pastor was one of the founders of Rutgers College (1766), the eighth-oldest college in the United States. A scholarship that has benefited more than 300 students still exists in his name. Rutgers was established under the name Queen's College at New Brunswick by a group of Dutch Reformed clerics who fought and won independence from the church in the Netherlands. According to Reformed church historians, at a meeting of the General Synod in New York City, June 9, 1814, Van Bunschooten walked up the aisle and laid down on the table ten bonds amounting to $13,800 along with $800 in cash and asked the Synod to accept the gift for the education of young men for the ministry. Later he added a bequest of $3,000 to his former donation, expressing in his will his desire "that he might be an humble pattern for others to copy after." Van Bunschooten died unmarried and childless in 1815 after serving the church for more than 40 years. He is buried in New Brunswick. Although several generations of subsequent residents have laughed, loved, wept, given birth and died in the house, the original structure is intact. The only modifications are the installation of plumbing, heating and electricity. Among the outstanding examples of antique furniture in the museum is an acorn bed that belonged to Revolutionary war heroine Elizabeth (Molly) Stark (1737 - 1814). Stark, the mother of 11 and wife of General John Stark, served as both nurse and doctor to her husband's troops during a smallpox epidemic during the war. General Stark is renowned for his defeat of the British at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont in 1777. Also open for exploration were outbuildings, including a wagon house filled with antique farm equipment and carriages, a Greek revival privy and an icehouse with milk room. Museum caretakers Stephanie and Gene Bootsma live in a portion of the old house and serve as caretakers. The couple raises Limousin cattle, a French breed that may be old as the European continent itself. Cattle depicted in 20,000-year-old cave drawings in the Lascaux Cave near Montignac, France, have a striking resemblance to today's Limousin. "Gene is descended from the early Dutch settlers, and living in this historic house makes me feel connected to colonial America in a very special way," said Stephanie Bootsma. "The cattle seem to like it as well." The golden-red cows, lowing softly, surveyed the celebration with eyes that looked like warm chocolate in July. When the Frontier Guard demonstrated how muzzle-loading rifles are operated and shot, the cattle protested loudly and fled into the woods. Many people living today in Sussex County are descended from the early Dutch Reformed settlers who organized the church in New York City in 1628. By 1664, when the colony passed from Dutch into English hands, 11 Reformed churches, with an approximate membership of 10,000, existed in the country, all located in New York and neighboring states. By the beginning of the 18th century, the number of churches had grown to 34. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and Places, the DAR Van Bunschooten Museum is open from 1-4 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays from May 15-Oct. 15, and also by appointment. The house is owned by the Chinkchewunska Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. DAR regent Bea Kota remarked that the chapter name derives from an American Indian name that means "town on the side of a hill," which perfectly describes the geographic location of Wantage. In June of 1982, the Old Clove Church was placed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. The church is available for weddings between May 1 and October 31. To make an appointment to view the church interior call either Lois Wright 875-3555 or Rebecca Schwarz 875-4587.