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November 29, 2014
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Love and lilacs; Living history revealed in the Skinner House

The Skinner House/Hickory Lane Farmhouse is an original modular unit, comprised of three buildings in one. The center, oldest structure dates back to 1794, the southernmost to the 1800s, and the northernmost structure to the early 1900s, which is now rented as an efficiency apartment.
TRR photos by Amanda Reed

By Sybil Sanchez

When Gina and Tom Kaufmann share how they met, they evoke a scene from the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” They grew up 20 minutes apart on Long Island, vacationed 20 minutes apart in the Upper Delaware River Valley region and even closer on Long Island, but only first met when they went horseback riding together in their mid-to-late teens. Then, there’s the house. They were dating about a year when they first entered the Skinner House, visiting family friends. Gina recalls thinking it would be romantic to live there one day. As rare as childhood sweethearts who are happily married for 34 years are, it’s equally rare for an off-the-cuff romantic notion like that to come true.

But the Kaufmanns are no common couple, and theirs is no simple house. Known today as the Hickory Lane Farmhouse, on Tammany Flats in Damascus, PA, the Skinner House dates back to 1794, although the site was first home to an earlier building that burnt down in 1788 or 1789. Like a tell, an archaeological mound created by centuries of human occupation and abandonment, the Kaufmanns’ home resembles an excavation, revealing layers of history as they discover artifacts in its walls and grounds, and create new legacies, adding their own 20th- and 21st-century layers.

Place of the Wolf, a Peaceful Chief, and Temperance

The house served as the birthplace of river rafting. Placing the Upper Delaware region on the map, the industry was founded by the Skinners in the 1750s and timber was shipped as far downstream as Philadelphia. First owned by Joseph Skinner, family patriarch and founding head of the Delaware River Company, the house was subsequently acquired by his son Daniel, who took over after Joseph’s death in 1759.

The Skinners named the site “Ackhake,” meaning “place of the wolf” in the language of the Lenape Indians. They also called the area Tammany Flats, a name still used today, referring to Lenape Chief Tammanend, who helped establish peaceful relations among Native American tribes and settlers. The house served as St. Tammany’s Masonic Lodge No. 83 as well.

Thereafter, the house was a temperance inn. Owned by proprietor George Bush and holding “Bush’s Eddy,” the home is mentioned in Clara Gillow Clark’s historic children’s novel, “Hill Hawk Hattie,” as a place where the raftsmen tied their boats and then made off for the more jovial, and wetter, town of Callicoon. One of the Kaufmanns’ findings is an 1853 business card from a wholesaler on Greenwich Street, with a signature stamped on it by George Bush, Esquire.

Hidden History Revealed