Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology
Master of Arts
In this thesis the author uses oral histories to study vernacular architecture, analyzing the changes in the way people in the Catskills have used buildings, specifically farm dwellings, to make a living, first as farmers and then as proprietors of boarding houses. The Catskills region in upstate New York is well known for its dairy farms and also for its resorts, but little has been researched to trace continuities and discrepancies between the rural residents and urban visitors. Boarding on farms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries showed continuity between the two groups: recent immigrants who lived in New York City and rural families, whether long-established or recently arrived. The two groups used their living spaces in similar ways, one to achieve a healthful family vacation and the other to earn a living for the family on the farm. They made generalized use of unitary spaces (rooms), accommodating multiple activities and numbers of people in ways that were antithetical to the suburban middle-class' prescriptions for individual privacy, family privacy, and the specialization of spaces. Using oral histories and other primary sources, the author describes these similarities in space utilization as a commonality between urban and rural people in the Catskills, demonstrating that neither group is a passive consumer of architecture. Instead, they not only modify the rooms in the farmhouse but also continue to use or actively revive ways of using space that meet their goals, within the material resource at hand. Vernacular architecture is sometimes inaccurately equated with buildings that lack style. For architecture that may not seem to meet the criteria of the historians of style, people's words are the most eloquent interpretation of buildings and of the lives they sheltered.
Architecture | Folklore
Scheer, Virginia, "Farmhouses That Became Boarding Houses in the Catskill Mountains of New York State" (1999). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 755.