Brinkerhoff-Demarest HouseA WELL-KEPT SECRET: Landmark a hidden treasure

By Kevin G. Demarrais, Staff Writer


Were it not for the somewhat faded silver-and-blue plaque posted near the curb, most travelers along Teaneck Road in Teaneck would have little idea of the hstorical significance of the Brinkerhoff-Demarest House.

It's easy to miss. Only a small part of the pre-Revolutionary War Dutch Colonial is visible from the street, partially screened by a row of evergreens.

Roadside PlaquePenetrate that wall of privacy, however, and you'll discover a magnificent red-sandstone-and-clapboard house that has stood since 1735 on this gentle hillside overlooking the Meadowlands salt marshes.

Best of all, it has been carefully restored to retain its 18th-century charm while incorporating 20th-century features.

Only the bathrooms (including the Jacuzzi-equipped master bathroom) stray from the effort to preserve the heritage that has earned the house a place in the National Register of Historic Homes.

Such a designation is appropriate. The building was home to members of two of Bergen County's most prominent pioneer families for about 250 years.

According to a history of Teaneck written in 1977 by Mildred Taylor, the house was built between 1728 and 1735 by Hendrick Brinkerhoff on property purchased in 1686 by his grandfather, Hendrick Jorisse Brinkerhoff. The main house and a small wing were built at the same time. A second story was added in the early 1800s.

The farm property was probably used to grow melons (and, according to the Bergen County Historical Society, was tended by slaves). It was passed on to the younger Hendrick Brinkerhoff's son, James H. Brinkerhoff, in 1827. Two years later, it was sold to Jasper Demarest, whose Bergen Counry roots also reached to the 17th century.

The house remained in the Demarest family until 1984, when it was purchased by Patrice and Tom McMahon for $120,000.

The McMahons spent about $225,000 on restoration, which included removing plaster that had been put over the rough-hewn beam ceilings and stripping paint off the floors. Eight years ago, they sold the place to the current owners, Roman and Martha Nowygrod.

The Nowygrods have put the house on the market through the historic homes division of Weichert Realtors in Oradell, with an asking price of $419,000.

One of the first things a visitor notices is that the front of the house faces the well-manicured side yard, not the street. That seems unusual today, but the Dutch traditionally built houses facing south to capture maximum sunlight, regardless of the position of the road.

Also surprising is the house's placement near the edge of the nearly one-acre plot, not much more an arm's length from the road. That, too, was common in houses of that era because it made access to the one-lane road easier, says Mary Grobel, a Weichert agent.

The house would be even closer to the street, except that 10 feet of kitchen was lopped off in 1941 to permit the widening of the busy north-south thoroughfare.

Dining area foyer plank floors

Despite its trancation, the kitchen remains spacious -- it is nearly 12 feet by 24 feet -- and combines Colonial charm with modern amenities.

Thick ceiling beams, restored by their natural wood tone throughout the rest of the house, are painted blue-gray in the kitchen and are decorated with sprigs of dried herbs. A large brick-and-sandstone fireplaces in the house -- dominates the dining area.

The kitchen fireplace looks similar to original ones in the dining room, library, and front parlor, but it is barely a decade old, recreated by the McMahons to replace one lost to the road construction.

The kitchen is one step lower than the rest of the ground floor: The McMahons had the floor dug out, to create more headroom.

Walking through the rest of the house -- four large rooms off a wide center hall downstairs, and four bedrooms and two baths upstairs -- a visitor can appreciate the care taken to restore the home without ever losing its sense of history or livability.

For example, the broad floor planks (each is 8 to 10 inches wide) are a bit uneven, as might be expected in a house this old, but their original look has been preserved with polyurethane. Gas heat for the hot water is provided through unobtrusive baseboard units, and the owners' large-screen television in the den is encased in a Colonial-style cabinet. Electricity and plumbing were installed in 1913.

One of the more intriguing rooms is the center hall, it's 9 1/2 feet wide and is bracketed at both ends by the original split-leaf (or Dutch) doors, hung on strap hinges. A carved transom light above the front door allows sunlight to illuminate the room.

The most unusual feature of the exterior is the overhang of the roof, which extends around the gable ends that were usually left unprotected.