This post was written by Joseph Ditta, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.
In her 1945 book Old Dutch Houses of Brooklyn Maud Esther Dilliard (1888-1977) recorded the stories of “all the ancient dwellings” which were then in existence around the borough so “that their early owners, the founders of Kings County, [would] not be forgotten in the hurly-burly of [the] twentieth-century.” She chronicled thirty-one houses in the architectural style commonly called “Dutch Colonial,” but that is more properly termed “Dutch American,” since many of them were built after the American Revolution. It is believed that their overshot eaves — some extending as far as five feet beyond the building line — developed as a way to protect masonry walls from rain and snow. Later they simply provided shade for clapboard or shingle houses.
Of the thirty-one buildings Dilliard covered (she included some that were not strictly in the style), just thirteen stand on or near their original sites. (A fourteenth, the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House, now finds itself in Queens due to a change in the border between Brooklyn and that borough.) They were built between 1652 and 1840, which shows just how long the Dutch “Colonial” style persisted. Ten are official New York City landmarks; that means they cannot be altered or demolished except by permission of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). To mark the LPC’s most recent designation — of Gravesend’s Van Sicklen House (see sketch no. 2, below) — we present these short histories with images of the ten landmarked Dutch houses taken by Robert L. Bracklow, Eugene L. Armbruster, and Margaret De Motte Brown. Their work forms an integral part of the New-York Historical Society’s Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections. With the exception of Brown’s, they may be perused online through the database “Photographs of New York City and Beyond.”
1. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, 5816 Clarendon Road: The kitchen wing of the Wyckoff House (to the right of the chimney in this 1922 photograph) was built circa 1652, making it the oldest surviving building in New York State, and New York City’s only remaining structure from before the British took control in 1664. Its first occupants were Pieter Claesen and Grietje (Van Ness) Wyckoff, progenitors of the expansive Wyckoff family in America. The house was enlarged between 1730 and 1870, and stands on its original site surrounded by enough open space to recall its agricultural past. It was the first building to become a designated landmark after the establishment of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 (see the designation report). It is open to the public as the Wyckoff House Museum (wyckoffmuseum.org).
2. Van Sicklen House, 27 Gravesend Neck Road: This is Brooklyn’s only surviving eighteenth-century Dutch house of largely stone construction. The Van Sicklen family likely built it early in the eighteenth century and expanded it in the mid-eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century it passed to the related Hicks family, and from them to the realtor William E. Platt, who in 1905 added dormer windows and a stucco covering. In an article called “An Old Colonial Homestead Born Again” published in the June 1909 issue of Country Life in America, Platt’s wife, Isabelle, perpetuated the myth that this was the home of Lady Deborah Moody, Gravesend’s seventeenth-century founder. Although the house stands on Moody’s property, she died in 1658 or 1659, long before it was built. Nevertheless, Platt’s label has stuck. After fifty years on the LPC’s calendar, the house was landmarked on April 12, 2016 (see the designation report).
3. Hendrick I. Lott House, 1940 East 36th Street: Johannes Lott probably built the original portion of this house (the small wing to the right of the porch columns in the photograph) in 1719 or 1720. In 1800, his grandson, Hendrick I. Lott, joined the old house to a fashionable, gambrel-roofed section, creating what many considered the showplace of Kings County. Lott’s descendants occupied the house until 1989 — the longest tenancy by one family of any of Brooklyn’s Dutch houses — the year it became a landmark (see the designation report). The Lotts, like many of Brooklyn’s early Dutch families, owned slaves, but they freed them in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Archaeologists working at the house in the winter of 2000-2001 found artifacts under an attic floor left by the Lott slaves, among them corncobs arranged in a cosmogram, a West African cross pattern symbolizing the heavens. The building is now owned by the Historic House Trust and will eventually open as a museum.
4. Stoothoff-Baxter-Kouwenhoven House, 1640 East 48th Street: The kitchen wing of this picturesque house (the low extension to the left of the taller section) was built about 1747, presumably by an ancestor of Garret Stoothoff. Stoothoff’s daughter, Altje (Dutch for “Alice”), married John Baxter, an Irish-born schoolmaster in the town of Flatlands. The Baxters inherited the property, and in 1811 joined the small house to a new, larger wing. Their daughter, Abigail, wife of William I. Kouwenhoven, eventually became owner, hence its tripartite name: Stoothoff-Baxter-Kouwenhoven. The house was reoriented about 1900 for the opening of East 48th Street. It became a landmark in 1976 (see the designation report). The current Brooklyn Eagle profiled the house and posted intriguing photographs of its rear facade and interior.
5. Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead, 1669 East 22nd Street: It is easy to see why Dilliard called this “[T]he most beautiful example of Dutch colonial architecture in Brooklyn,” set as it is behind a white picket fence on a half-acre lawn shaded by mature trees (yes, this really is Brooklyn!). Originally the house faced south, but around 1898 it was turned to face west to avoid having newly-opened East 22nd Street run through its kitchen wing. The slender porch columns supporting the sloping eaves were added then. Just three families have owned the house: the Wyckoffs (descendants of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff in sketch no. 1, above), who built it before 1766; the Bennetts, who bought it in 1835 and occupied it until 1982; and the Monts, who bought it in 1983. Two Hessian officers billeted in the house during the American Revolution scratched their names and ranks on windowpanes which survive. The house became a landmark in 1968 (see the designation report) and remains a private residence. Here’s a wonderful video that captures its interiors and countless antiques.
6. Lefferts House, in Prospect Park: The original Lefferts House — the northernmost dwelling in Flatbush — fell victim to the American cause during the Revolution: three days before the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn, General John Sullivan’s forces routed the enemy, who were holed up at the home of Judge John Lefferts on the road to Bedford (today’s Flatbush Avenue), by burning them out. Sometime between 1777 and 1783, or perhaps slightly later, the judge’s descendants salvaged what hardware and lumber they could from the ruins and rebuilt the house on its old foundations. It remained in the Lefferts family until 1918, when it was given to the City of New York and moved to Prospect Park, where it has since operated as a museum. The Lefferts House became a landmark in 1966 (see the designation report).
7. Joost Van Nuyse House, 1128 East 34th Street: The 1923 photograph shows this house at its original location, 1754 Flatbush Avenue, where it is was probably built before 1792 by Joost Van Nuyse. His son sold it to Wilhelmus Stoothoff, from whom it passed to many owners; at one point it was rented to a man named Ditmas Coe, and, so, is sometimes called the Van Nuyse-Coe House. The Amersfort Nursery bought the house for its headquarters around 1923 and moved it to its present site. It has since reverted to a private residence, and became a landmark in 1969 (see the designation report).
8. Van Nuyse-Magaw House, 1041 East 22nd Street: Joost Van Nuyse’s son, Johannes, built this house between 1800 and 1803 at what became 1447 Ocean Avenue. It passed to his son, Jeromus, who died childless. His estate sold the house to Robert Magaw, whose namesake ancestor, the Revolutionary War figure Colonel Robert Magaw, surrendered Fort Tryon to the British. The Magaws held the property until the early twentieth century, when the surrounding farmland was was subdivided for development. In 1919 the old house — minus its kitchen wing — was moved to 1041 East 22nd Street, a few blocks east of its original location, and turned sideways to fit its new, narrow lot. Its distinctive gable end is therefore the street facade. It became a landmark in 1969 (see the designation report) and remains a private residence.
9. Hubbard House, 2138 McDonald Avenue: The Hubbard House is the smallest and simplest of Brooklyn’s surviving Dutch houses. It is also one of the youngest: its Dutch-style, sloped-roof portion was built between 1830 and 1835. Although initially occupied by members of Gravesend’s Hubbard family, for much of its history the house was leased to artisans and workers. In 1904 it was purchased by the Italian immigrant Lucchelli family, who owned it into the 1990s. Armbruster’s 1923 photograph shows the house just before the Lucchellis raised its lean-to to a full second story and wrapped it around the rear of the house, creating bedrooms and a “sleeping porch” where one of the children, who suffered from tuberculosis, could breathe fresh air. The house has been meticulously restored and became a landmark in 2009 (see the designation report).
10. Elias Hubbard Ryder House, 1926 East 28th Street: In 1874 the Town Survey Commission of Kings County plotted a street grid that would eventually link the agricultural towns — New Utrecht, Flatlands, Flatbush, and Gravesend — to the City of Brooklyn. Most of those streets remained unopened well into the twentieth century. When East 29th Street was cut through their property in 1929, the Ryder family of Gravesend Neck moved their ancestral home one block west to its current location. It lost a wing and gained dormers in the process, but looks much as it did when constructed in 1834. Like the Van Nuyse-Magaw House (see sketch no. 8, above), its gable wall faces the street. It became a landmark in 1976 (see the designation report).