Of all the countless historic sites in Bergen County, few hold as much significance – or held as much importance in their day – as Seven Chimneys in Washington Township.
Built in the mid-1700s at what became 25 Chimney Ridge Court, near the intersection of Pascack and Ridgewood roads, Seven Chimneys is the oldest house in the township and reportedly the third oldest in the county. Named for its seven chimneys, the house and several outbuildings remain in excellent condition and largely unchanged since the 1700s.
Nicholas Zabriskie, grandson to Albert Zabriskie and nephew to Jacob Zabriskie, built his home between 1745 and 1750 as part of a 500-acre farm. Alongside such noted sites as the Steuben and Demarest houses, Seven Chimneys remains today as one of the dozen or so prime examples of Dutch sandstone architecture in Bergen.
Seven Chimneys' foundation consists of rough stone and lime mortar, while the handcut beam frame was constructed without nails. Instead, the builders favored mortise and tenon joints, an advanced style of woodworking in which the tab on one piece of wood fits into the slot on another, and strengthened them with pegs.
Typical of the Dutch construction in the Hudson Valley at that time, the exterior was constructed using hand-chiseled Hudson River sandstone, which was finished on three sides and unfinished on the north. The interior lath walls were finished with horsehair and plaster, and the floors were built using random, original-growth pine fastened with handmade square nails.
According to the Bergen County Historical Society, the left and right wings were added in or around 1770, and 1812 saw the addition of a second story atop the original native sandstone.
Less typical of Dutch homes is Seven Chimneys' pedigree. George Washington, who spent a great deal of time in Bergen during the American Revolution, ?s thought to have visited the house frequently. Seven Chimneys even appears on maps Robert Erskine produced for the Continental Army. The house was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped smuggle slaves from the South into the free North and Canada.
For 160 years or so, the home remained within the extended Zabriskie family, which included a veritable who's who of notable Bergen surnames – Ackerman, Haring and Van Emburgh among them. But in the 1900s, the house changed hands several times.
In 1915, William Bailey Howland, the publisher of several magazines, bought Seven Chimneys as a country home. (At the time, Washington Township was, after all, even more rural than it is today.) After his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt spent part of his summers from 1915 through 1917 at Seven Chimneys, writing for Howland's publications, including Outlook, of which Roosevelt once served as editor.
In 1920, Willie Curtis Foster bought the home and turned it into a working farm. And so it was until 1965, when Reid Construction bought the house and built the aptly named Chimney Ridge Court around it. The house, occupied by the Burde family until 2001, joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.