Friday, October 24, 2014

Weeksville and the Hunterfly Road Houses-Crown Heights

Weeksville Heritage Center
Weeksville Heritage Center
The Hunterfly Road Houses are the remnants of Weeksville, a once thriving free African American community founded in New York shortly after slavery was abolished in the state. Weeksville was founded by James Weeks, a former slave from Virginia who wanted to empower his people with the right to vote. Unlike their white counterparts African Americans were required to own land in order to gain voting rights. So, when an economic downturn caused real-estate prices to drop James Weeks seized the opportunity to gain a political foothold by purchasing land in Brooklyn.[1] The neighborhood founded by Weeks also provided a safe and more prosperous environment for his people and served as a refuge for runaway slaves and those fleeing the draft riots in Manhattan. Weeksville was a self sustaining community that included its own doctors, teachers and social service providers.[2]


Two story white Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road Houses
One story white Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road House
Two story yellow and green Hunterfly Road House
Hunterfly Road House
Once lost to history, the connection of the Hunterfly Road Houses to Hunterfly Road and Weeksville were discovered in 1968 by a Pratt Institute Professor named James Hurley and pilot Joseph Haynes while conducting an aerial survey of Bedford Stuyvesant for a university project.[3] The Hunterfly Road Houses were built parallel to Hunterfly Road, a Colonial road that had once been a Native American trail. The four wood frame houses span from 1698 Bergen Street to 1708 Bergin Street and were built circa 1840 by an unknown architect/architects. They are the oldest surviving homes in the neighborhood.[4][5] The dwellings still retain the character of their once rustic setting and the land adjacent to the houses has been reworked to echo the pastoral aesthetic the area once had. Today the Hunterfly Road Houses are used as a museum run by the Weeksville Heritage Center for artifacts found during archaeological investigations.


Interior of Hunterfly Road House with chair and butter churner
Hunterfly Roadhouse Interior
Interior of Hunterfly Road House with chair next to quilt on quilt rack
Hunterfly Roadhouse Interior
Pictured above are items inside the houses that would have been used around the time that the homes were built.

Although my focus was on the architecture, there is more to see at the Weeksville Heritage Center than the Hunterfly Road Houses. The center also has a cultural arts facility featuring interpretive displays, exhibits, an event space and a garden. While I was there they had artifacts on display from their archeological collection as well as an exhibit on the changing demographics and gentrification of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. I recommend a visit to the Weeksville Heritage Center for anyone interested in Black History or the history of Brooklyn. Also, if you have kids you can make a day of it by visiting the Brooklyn Children's Museum nearby as well.


Tourist In Your Own Town #7 - Weeksville Heritage Center from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.

References:
  1. Brooklyn Historical Society interpretive display
  2. Rezvani, Bijan "Weeksville" The City Concealed. online. 10 March, 2009
  3. "Hunterfly Road Houses" New York Preservation Archive Project. 2010
  4. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Houses on Hunterfly Road New York, 1970.
  5. Tours Page Weeksville Heritage Center online.