History of Crested Hen Farms in High Falls - Records from the U.S. Census Bureau and Ulster County indicate that the farm was established around 1791 by Simon Schoonmaker (1765-1827) when he married Margaret Louw (1766-1845). He willed it to his son, Thomas S. Schoonmaker (1799-1886), who lived on and farmed the land his entire life. In some of the historic records, the farm is referred to as the “Thomas S. Schoonmaker Farm”. Thomas married Elizabeth Aliger and together they had 8 children, 5 of which lived to adulthood. The farm passed through several generations of Schoonmakers until it was sold in 1919 to Elmer and Brigetta Smith, who willed it to their daughter, Virginia. Virginia lived on the farm for most of her life, although during her latter half of her life, she also had an apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. She married John L. Schoonmaker in 1962 and deeded some of the acreage of the farm to his children in 1983.

The barn at Crested Hen FarmsIn 2001,Virginia sold the house, barns and 32.45 acres of land to the present owners, Frank Macagnone and Keith Eddleman. The farm got its present name because Frank decided to raise chickens with crazy crests of feathers on their heads.

The classic Greek Revival-style story-and-a-half house was built circa 1830 by Thomas S. Schoonmaker. The story-and-a-half configuration results in a row of very short windows across the entire front of the house just below the eave of the roof. These short windows give the appearance of a human brow, thus the style is nick-named eyebrow colonial. During their renovation of the house, Keith and Frank made a great deal of effort to keep the original parts of the house intact and wherever possible, re-used or re-created parts that were no longer present, like some of the door hinges and latches. The did this with the help of an architect, Jim Joseph of Hottenroth+Joseph Architects in New York City, who is well-known for his painstaking detail in keeping houses and structures to their original period. For example, even though the kitchen has all of the conveniences of a modern kitchen, they are all hidden behind wide bead-boarded cabinetry so that one feels like they are in a kitchen from the 1800s. And, even though the floor in the kitchen had to be replaced, it was replaced with reclaimed wood from the late 1800s so it would match the floors in the remainder of the house.

The hens of Crested Hen FarmsThe barn and outbuildings are arranged in somewhat of a circle in configuration. The large barn was built in three sections, the first of which was built around the same time as the house. When farms of the region began to change from wheat-growing to animal husbandry and dairy production, the second portion of the barn was built around 1875. The third section was built soon thereafter and was a granary, which predates the traditional silos that most people are used to seeing, but had the same function. Due to these three phases of construction, the barn has elements of both an English dairy barn and a traditional Dutch barn. The barn was modified in 2015 to reinforce the structural components and provide a large space for entertainment and special events. The renovation was done with the blessing of the Town of Rochester Historic District and the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

Adjacent to the barn, there is wagon shed that was built around the same time as the barn. Attached to the wagon shed is a chicken coop, where the crested hens live and lay eggs. Next to the wagon shed/chicken coop there is a tiny locktender’s cottage, moved to that location from the other side of the Rondout where the Delaware & Hudson Canal flowed. The D & H Canal, as it was commonly known, operated from 1828-1904 and initially carried coal from western Pennsylvania and later, cement from Rosendale, N.Y. to New York City. It was engineered to overcome the 600 foot difference in elevation between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. This was done by a series of “locks” which could be filled and drained with nearby water (the Rondout, in this case) to allow for passage of barges to and from the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. When a barge arrived at a particular “lock”, someone needed to be there to operate the system to either drain or fill it, depending on the direction the barge was going. This person was known as a locktender, thus the name of the place where he (since they were universally males) lived. This locktender’s cottage was built sometime between 1828-1850 and is one of the few remaining intact examples of its kind.

A working farmOn the other side of the locktender’s cottage, there is an ice house that was built around 1900. Situated behind the ice house, there is an outhouse original to the property, but no longer in use. On the banks of the Rondout, there is a carriage house/equipment shed, built around 1900. The driveway passes from the outbuildings between the house and the Rondout past two large carved stone columns placed there around 1830. Beyond the columns situated in the tall evergreen trees, there is a two story building that was believed to have been used as another poultry house, built around 1895.

The earliest statistics about farm production are from the 1850 U.S. Census and indicate that butter was actually the largest commodity produced on the farm at that time. Grains and hay to feed the dairy cattle and working mules was also produced, as well as Irish potatoes for human and animal consumption. This remained the case for several decades. The farm was also used to grow corn for both human consumption and cattle feed. Today, the fields are sewn by a local dairy farmer and consist mostly of alfalfa for cattle feed. And, yes, there are also chickens, crested ones.