The Old Place – the Bockee Farm in Shekomeko

July 16- A property of considerable interest is available to that particular buyer who esteems the history of the place over modernity, who can see charm in antiquity, who can identify with landscape made by nature over that made by garden designers.  The history books refer to it as The Old Place, because that it was called by the Bockee family whose connection with the land began in 1698 with a purchase of an interest  from one of the original nine partners.  The back country of Dutchess was still lived in by the Shekomeko Indians until 1746.  It was largely unsettled until the latter half of the 18th century.  

Abraham Bockee, a grandchild of the original purchaser, settled on the land, cleared a house site and fields forcrops, and in 1761 built a house. Abraham died in 1766, bequeathing the land to his son, Jacob who was then a student at King’s College (later named Columbia University).  After his service in the Revolution he married Catherine Smith whose sister lived nearby at Lithgow. Jacob became a member of the New York State Assembly and was known as an early abolitionist. After freeing his own slaves, he introduced a bill that would have freed all the Negro slaves in the state.  That bill did not pass, however, until 1827.  Jacob died in 1819, leaving the property to his son Abraham (1784-1865).  Abraham became a lawyer, a judge, a member of State Assembly in 1820 and then to Congress in 1829 to 1837.  He served in the State Senate, 1840-44. He moved into The Old Place in 1815 and lived there until his death in 1865.   

It was Abraham who built most of the house as it now stands with distinct Federalist elements seen in the doorways, fireplaces and decorative woodwork.  Part of the earlier house may be seen in the west rooms.  

The house and its history is described in Dutchess County Doorways by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds (1931) one of the best records of old houses and their interiors.   

At the time she wrote, the house and land were still owned by the descendants of the Bockee family.

The house sits in a valley surrounded by forested hills, all part of the 325 acres that have long been part of the Bockee holding.   When you are at the front door you look around and think you have gone back 200 years or more.  The silence of the place, its seclusion, and its simplicity is its charm.  It overcomes all your 21st century notions.  You are back in time and it feels right.      

The Bockee who built the modern part was a Federalist.  He added rooms of good proportions with details in the doorway and fireplaces that make it appropriate for a collection of antiques of that period if you should have one, or might inspire you to start one if you don’t.   The house is full of surprises, a tiny hallway, bright, cheerie rooms with plenty of windows overlooking a landscape that takes you back to the days when haying was done with a team of horses and men pitched hay with a pitchfork.  There are plenty of fireplaces with mantles decorated in the Federal style. Chestnut floors and beams, a shingle roof, a cellar once used for storing root crops  and suitable for wine are treasures not found in modern structures.  A small greenhouse is a recent appendage, perfect for starting transplants, kitchen herbs or raising orchids.   

When Michal Hoffman purchased this property in 19   he was the first non-family member to live on this land.  He added modern plumbing, heating and other amenities. He lived there lightly, not changing the character of a house whose history was so present.  He added to that history, entertained distinguished guests who inspired him to rescue and recreate Aperture magazine, the foremost publication of art photography.  Minor White, the first editor, was a frequent visitor.

Hoffman’s Aperture published the work of Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, W. Eugene Smith and Dorothea Lange and many monographs of art photographers.  Hoffman lived in the Old Place until he died in 2001. 

Embued with a history, the Old Place nevertheless is liveable. One can move in tomorrow if one appreciates quirkiness, the rough edges of a simple life, the stone walls and the old barn with a center bay suitable for hay wagons.  A tenant house is occupied by the caretaker.  The most recent owners have left well enough alone.  They too respected its history.  

Part of the charm is the entrance from the village of Shekomoko, a cluster of period buildings on Route 83.  You go up a road which once was the cart lane into a secluded valley with a view west and south.  Extensive fields are in tillage rented by a local farmer.   When you arrive you are in a place out of this world. No power lines, no visible neighbors, no lights. What a place to look at the stars on a summer’s night.     

The Old Place is listed by Heather Croner Real Estate.