Every preserved historic building represents thousands of decisions made by historians to craft a narrative about the space and the people who lived there. Often, a certain part of the building’s story is preserved at the expense of other parts of its history. It is difficult for a single building like Philipse Manor Hall to represent each part of its over 300-year history equally. The story that is preserved and told often reflects the things that our society deems important at that moment. But with each restoration or repair, pieces of history disappear while others are brought forward.
Past restorations have complicated the narrative of the Manor Hall. Owners of the house after the Philipse family left made changes here and there, some of which the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society tried to reverse in their 1911 restoration. By doing this, the society declared certain parts of the house sufficiently historic, while others were errors in the historic narrative that needed correcting. The choices they made ricochet across the history of the house, leaving a complicated architectural history for us to interpret today.
Teasing apart the different threads of history is a complicated process. We still have many mysteries to solve, including the ones below.
Buried in the ground behind the oldest section of the house (the southwest portion) is a stone foundation for a structure that no longer exists. We know from research that New York Dutch homes similar to the Manor Hall often had exterior kitchens. However, during the 1911 restoration, it was believed that the foundation belonged to a billiard room that was added during the ownership of William W. Woodworth. Did Woodworth use an existing foundation for his room or did the foundation of an exterior kitchen dating to the seventeenth century remain hidden until others dug deeper and discovered it?
Rooms on the second and third floors of the house were removed to make way for the Gothic Chamber, created when the Manor Hall was used by the City of Yonkers. We cannot know for sure what those rooms were used for or how they were laid out, since the city did not preserve any information about them. Were they bedrooms for the Philipse children? Were they living quarters for the enslaved? An important part of life in the Philipse family house is likely lost.
Most manors of similar size would have had multiple outbuildings detached from the main structure, serving all kinds of purposes. Even many humbler households would have had a root cellar for preserving food; some had an icehouse as well. As the property changed over the years, the existence and location of these more humble buildings was lost.
Were either of the basements used as a root cellar? Was there an exterior one?
Was there ever an icehouse?
We know that the grounds and gardens were almost as important to the reputation of the Manor Hall as the mansion itself. And yet, no writings or drawings of the gardens have been preserved. Were records of the gardens kept? Do they exist anywhere? Without them, an integral part of the manor cannot be brought back to life.
As more documents are discovered in locations around the state, it is possible that some open questions relating to Philipse Manor Hall maybe answered. Others may remain open forever.