Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
A few months ago I attended the Wyckoff House’s country fair, held on the grounds of New York City’s oldest surviving building. The house is an anachronism among the car lots and fast food restaurants dotting the intersection of East 58th Street and Clarendon Road in the East Flatbush-Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Built around 1652, the Wyckoff House was originally a Dutch West India Company bowerie, or farm. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, a Dutch immigrant and indentured servant, acquired the farm in 1652 after his term of servitude expired. Succeeding descendants of Pieter Wyckoff continued to live in the house and farm the land until 1901. Miraculously, the structure survived the rapid development of Brooklyn in the 20th century, and was the first landmark in the five boroughs designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission upon its establishment in 1965.
Of course, Brooklyn was once home to many Dutch farms, whose landowners took advantage of the fertile land and surrounding marshes and basins. Vestiges of this heritage remain, in one form or another.
The Van Pelt Manor house was built around 1686, at what is now the intersection of 18th Avenue and 82nd Street in Bensonhurst’s Milestone Park.
The Van Pelt family lived in the house until 1910, when Townsend Cortelyou Van Pelt deeded the estate to the city’s Parks & Recreation department on the “express condition that the said premises be used and maintained as a site for exhibiting and preserving thereon a certain old Dutch milestone.” The milestone in question is the oldest extant in the city, in the possession of the Brooklyn Historical Society. A replica can be found inside the park. The house, unfortunately, burned down in 1952.
The Vechte-Cortelyou house stood on what is now 4th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets in Park Slope. Built by Nicholas Vechte in 1699, the farmhouse was well situated near the Gowanus Creek, facilitating the harvest of oysters and the transport of goods down the waterway to Lower Manhattan.
The house also played an important role during the American Revolution. During the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, British troops took over the house and used it as an artillery position against patriots running for their lives across the Gowanus Creek. After the war, the house was sold to the Cortelyou family. The original structure is no longer standing, but in the 1930s a replica was built in an adjacent space, using some original stones. It is now called the Old Stone House.
The Lefferts house was built around 1783 by Pieter Lefferts, a fourth-generation Dutch American and lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Here it is below, in its original location at 563 Flatbush Avenue in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens section of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
In 1917, the estate of John Lefferts, Pieter’s son, offered the house to the City of New York, on the condition that the house be moved to Prospect Park. The move took place in 1918, and the house remains in the park today.
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