Brooklyn’s Boweries

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.

Simon Benepe. New York (N.Y.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Wyckoff House. 1988. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.7902

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.

Josephine Barry. Wyckoff House, oldest bldg. in the 5 boroughs. 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.13

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.

Van Pelt manor house. 1911. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7899

Well at the Van Pelt house. 1903. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7900

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.

Josephine Barry. Van Pelt Manor House, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. ca. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.15

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.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Vechte-Cortelyou House at Gowanus in 1699. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1889

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.

Elijah C. Middleton. Cortelyou House, a Relic of 1776. ca. 1800. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3546

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.

Lefferts homestead. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7679

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.

Lefferts homestead. ca. 1935. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7841

Click on this link to view more images of Brooklyn’s boweries. These images are all available in various sizes as museum quality archival prints. If you see something you want to hang on your wall, email us at reproductions@mcny.org

One response to “Brooklyn’s Boweries

  1. During the 1940′s and up to the time nyc took over the property in 1965,
    the Wyckoff stood off alone, in a field, but near the road.My father would always point it out, as we were driving past.There was someone living in it, then, as a TV aerial was attached to the chimney.We would drive past this house, perhaps, once a week.

    I remember the house as having one chimney.Is the fact that it now has two, a reconstruction? I would love to have a photo as I remember it.I’m afraid I don’t like the way it looks today.It’s too neat.

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