Fidler-Wyckoff House Park
Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House Museum
The original portion of the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House was built ca.1652 and is the oldest building in New York State. It is also one of the oldest wooden structures in this country, and the entire structure was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968. As a whole the house dates to around 1740 and is an example of the Dutch Colonial vernacular style with its H-frame construction, shingled walls, Dutch doors, and deep, flared “spring” eaves. The house escaped demolition for street improvements to become New York City’s first designated and protected landmark upon the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.
The land on which you are standing was acquired from the Canarsee tribe in 1636 by Wouter van Twiller, Director-General of New Netherland (1632-38) and was confiscated by the Dutch West India Company in 1652. The original house existed by that time and was occupied by Pieter Claesen, an agent of Director-General Peter Stuyvesant (1646-64). Claesen had arrived in the colony from the Netherlands on March 4, 1637, as a seventeen year-old indentured servant. After completing his required six years of labor at Rensselaerswyck (near present-day Albany), Claesen returned south, eventually acquired this farmstead from Stuyvesant, and became the wealthiest citizen of what was then the town of Nieuw Amersfoort, later Flatlands. After the Dutch surrendered possession of the colony to the British in 1664, Claesen adopted a surname as required of all Dutch landowners (Claesen means simply “son of Claes”). Wyckoff is thought to derive from Wyck meaning town and hof meaning magistrate, appropriate since Claesen served as schepen or magistrate of New Amersfoort from 1655-65. Claesen and his wife, Grietje van Ness, raised eleven children here, and from 1737 successive generations farmed the land continuously until 1901.
Brooklyn’s other old Dutch farming families, such as the Kouwenhovens, Lotts, Remsens, Schencks, and Vanderveers, also sold their land for residential and industrial development. The Wyckoff House is one of the few Dutch farmhouses to survive the rapid urbanization of the early 20th century and retains its original orientation on the site. By the 1950s, however, the house was extremely dilapidated and threatened by the planned expansion of East 59th Street and Ditmas Avenue. In 1961 the Wyckoff House Foundation purchased the property and negotiated its restoration with the city. The foundation donated the house to the city in 1969, and after an exhaustive restoration it opened as a museum in 1982.
As a whole, the Wyckoff House is restored to look as it did in 1819, the date of the last significant renovations. What is believed to be the original 17th-century portion of the house, now the Old Kitchen, has a low ceiling designed to retain heat in the winter and a jambless, or Dutch, hearth. The 18th-century house has two parlors, one with a fireplace surrounded by mauve and white ceramic tiles, originally imported from the Netherlands in the late 17th century, and a central hall, which was created in 1819 when the roof was raised to enlarge the rear of the house. In several areas the original construction techniques are revealed: the timber-frame was filled with planks or handmade bricks, insulated with mud and straw, and covered with plaster.
The house’s furnishings reflect its Dutch heritage. Many are gifts to the Museum from Wyckoff descendents and others are on loan from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities. On display are a large wooden kas, or cupboard, heirloom cradles, a spinning wheel, and cooking pots and utensils. Artifacts include Pieter Claesen’s oath of allegiance to King James II, a 17th-century pistol, and hand-sewn stockings and nightshirts worn by family members. In the surrounding 1.5-acre park, thousands of daffodils and tulips bloom in the spring, and a kitchen garden grows flax, mint, parsley, and other plants used in colonial times.Today, the house is owned by Parks & Recreation, is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City, and is operated by the Wyckoff House & Association, Inc. Programs explore the heritage of Brooklyn’s Dutch farming communities and include demonstrations of household and farm activities.