Disappearing Old Dutch Farmhouses and Brooklyn’s Housing Boom
by HAROLD EGELN
Once farmhouses built by Dutch colonial settlers and their descendents dotted the flatlands of southern Brooklyn when their fortunes thrived with their farms until the housing boom in the 1920’s forever changed the landscape, putting chickens out and real estate in business. “In the 1940’s there were over 70 old Dutch houses in Brooklyn. Now there are only 14.”
Citing that fact was urban archeaologist Dr. Chris Ricciardi, standing before a crowd recently at the historic New Utrecht Reformed Church, itself an historical and functioning Dutch artifact on 18th Avenue between 83rd and 84th streets in Bensonhurst. The parish was founded in 1677, and the present church and parish house date to the 1700’s and early 1800’s.
The Dutch houses in the old Town of New Utrecht, built mostly in the 1600’s and 1700’s, are rare today and need to be preserved, said Ricciardi, who is principal of the Chrysalis Archealogy Research Center [www.chrysalisarchaeology.com] consulant-client service based in Midwood.
His topic “Disappearing Dutch Brooklyn – Where Have All the Houses Gone?” was hosted by the Friends of Historic New Utecht, a grassroots activist membership organization founded in 1997, that has received help, through grants, the city Department of Cultural Affairs, and government restoration funds secured by Council-members Vincent Gentile and Domenic Recchia. The group holds popular events, lectures, school children tours and concerts to highlight its history and celebrate the neighborhood [www.historicnewutrecht.org].
The old Dutch farms throughout south Brooklyn were the region’s breadbasket, Ricciardi noted with his powerpoint presentation. The land of south Brooklyn below what is now Eastern Parkway was Ice Age glacial soil, perfectly fertile for farming with very few trees. Trees were abundant above the Eastern Parkway line.
A real estate heaven quickly blossomed in the late 1920’s into the 1930’s, when there was a housing and commercial building boom, bringing with it a huge influx of new families causing the rise of schools and many commercial business centers, triving on the boom, Ricciardi noted. The urbanization of Brooklyn made it into a triving New York City borough, which it became in 1898, and is at a zenith today.
BUILDING BOOM MAKES DUTCH HOUSES DISAPPEAR
The spark for that housing boom starting in late 1927, said Ricciardi, was the installation of a sewer and water pipe system for running water throughout Flatbush (founded in 1652), the Flatlands (1636), Gravesend (1645) and parts of Bensonhurst, boosting real estate and greatly increasing the population. “As soon as the sewers were in place, developers bought up land,” he said.
The old Dutch farmhouses were usually one-story high structures with slanted roofs, Ricciardi said, many with lean-to additions, as well as barns for farm animals such as chickens and cows. “With the destruction of the Dutch barns, most barns are gone forever,” said Ricciardi.
Of the rising city buildings preservation movement that first stirred in the 1960’s and the focus on the old Ditch houses in Brooklyn, Ricciardi said, “The New York City Landmarks Commission took action, such as ensuring that the Henrick Lott house was preseved, despite faults in the house.” The Lott farmhouse, at 2138 McDonald Avenue, is under restoration.
Up to four of the remaining 14 Dutch houses, he added, are protected by the City Trust of New York. Very little has been written about the disappearing Dutch houses in literature, except for a book published in 1998, he said.
Among other remaining old Dutch houses are The Peter Claeson Wyckoff House, built in 1652, now a museum, at 5816 Clarendon Avenue, the city’s oldest remaining house and first official landmark; the Wyckoff-Bennett House built in 1766; and the Dyckman Farmhouse at 4110 Quentin Road.
Also, the Dyckman Farmhouse at 4110 Quentin Road, and the Nicholas Schenck House built in 1776 in Canarsie. The latter has not stood on land for over 80 years because it was moved inside the Brooklyn Museum. The Van Pelt Manor House, built in 1686, was in Milestone Park one block north of New Utrecht Reformed Church, with its iconic milestone still in place.
The Old Stone House at Fourth Avenue and Third Street in Washington in Park Slope is a reconstruction of the Vecht-Cortelyou Stone House built in 1699. It serves as a museum marking its role in the American Revolutionary War.