Explore NYC Through Its Dutch Historic Sites

Kemi Ibeh

New York City had a short Dutch colonial reign that began with Peter Minuit, the Dutch governor, “acquiring” the island known as Manhattan from the indigenous Lenape in 1626. The story about its transfer in exchange for goods worth 60 guilders has long been open to interpretation; whatever the exact agreement, it resulted in the Dutch settling on the southern tip of Manhattan island and naming it New Amsterdam.

With Dutch control—which extended to the rest of New Netherland, including modern-day states from Connecticut down to Delaware—came the development of communities and infrastructure that helped define New York City: Wall Street, the Seaport (the first pier was created by Dutch merchants in 1625), the Bouwerie (the Dutch word for “farm” and the thoroughfare that connected farms to Lower Manhattan), Haarlem, Breuckelen and the like. Buildings were erected with the labor of enslaved Africans and indentured persons, a practice that continued after the Dutch ceded control in 1664 to the British, who renamed the place New York.

Beyond neighborhood and borough names, Dutch influence can still be seen around the City. Several residences from the era exist, documenting and preserving the lives, artifacts and architecture of Dutch New Amsterdam. Read on to learn about these living examples of NYC history.

Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House. Courtesy, Collection of Historic Richmond Town

Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House

1476 Richmond Rd., Richmond Town, Staten Island

At more than three and a half centuries old, this is the oldest standing structure on Staten Island. It was built around 1663 by Pierre Billiou, a Flanders settler to New Netherland. Billiou’s son-in-law, Thomas Stillwell, added a house that adjoined the original, and the property changed hands between settler families over decades. Throughout, enslaved people lived in the community and worked for the families occupying the house. You can view the Billiou-Stillwell House, designated a New York City landmark in 1967, from its exterior.

It’s now part of Historic Richmond Town, a Dutch settler community on Staten Island active from the late 1600s to the late 1800s before its abandonment and eventual preservation; however, the house is not on the site’s campus. The complex offers historical interpretation and tours that mostly focus on the 19th-century lives of its residents, including trades such as hearth cooking and blacksmithing.

Dutch Reformed Church and Burying Grounds

890 Flatbush Ave., Flatbush, Brooklyn

Flatbush has its fair share of New York City Dutch history, as seen in the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church and early-settler Dutch graveyard at the corner of Flatbush and Church Avenues. The late-1700s church—the third to stand on these grounds—and its graveyard, which dates back to the 1600s, are on land granted by Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch director-general of New Netherland. The church was once the heartbeat of the town Vlaacke Bos, now Flatbush; it is currently under renovation and is a New York City landmark. The burial grounds are locked behind a fence and cannot be toured, but the blocks surrounding the church provide a good view.

Dyckman Farmhouse. Photo: Daniel Harel

Dyckman Farmhouse

4881 Broadway, Inwood, Manhattan

This is Manhattan’s last remaining Dutch farmhouse, built around 1785 in Dutch colonial architectural style by William Dyckman to replace the family farmhouse that was destroyed during the Revolutionary War. After it fell into disrepair, Dyckman descendants Mary Dean and Fannie Welch lovingly restored it in 1915. They intended Dyckman Farmhouse to depict Dutch heritage and early Dutch American life in detail, thus filled it with restored colonial articles and added period pieces such as a wood hut and outdoor smokehouse. The City runs the farmhouse for educational purposes, and the Dyckman Discovered initiative works to reexamine and illuminate the roles enslaved people played in the farm’s (and Inwood’s) history; register in advance to visit.

Courtesy, Hendrick I. Lott House

Hendrick I. Lott House

1940 E. 36th St., Marine Park, Brooklyn

The Lott House, which dates to the early 1700s, is another example of Dutch American architecture that’s still on its original site. Lott inherited his grandfather’s prosperous farm and simple home in 1792 and expanded it to reflect his privileged standing in the community. He retained the original Dutch structure, with its classic gambrel roof—symmetrical, two sided and sloping—but built a Federal-style property, with high ceilings and grand fireplace designs, that abuts the house. The Lott family used enslaved and indentured labor to grow and harvest crops; they freed all but one of the enslaved people years before the 1827 abolition of slavery in New York State, and the house was allegedly a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Lott descendants sold pieces of land to developers in the early 20th century, even as relatives occupied the property—right up until the last known descendant died in the house in 1989. The house is temporarily closed to the public.

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Lefferts Historic House. Courtesy, Prospect Park Alliance Archives

Lefferts Historic House

452 Flatbush Ave., Prospect Park, Brooklyn

When it’s open, there’s no better place to experience Dutch settler life than the living museum Lefferts Historic House, north of the Willink Entrance in Prospect Park. The home documents the lives of the Lefferts multigenerational household and their enslaved people. Original artifacts in the house include clogs, clothing and crockery; there’s also a wood-burning hearth and a garden that once carried the household through harsh winters. The original structure was situated on Flatbush Avenue and Maple Street but was moved to Prospect Park in 1918 by the City, per the Lefferts’ family request, for historic preservation. There are no tours while the house is closed for renovation, but you’re free to view the structure and grounds from outside.

Courtesy, The Old Stone House

Old Stone House

336 3rd St., Park Slope, Brooklyn

Also known as the Vechte-Cortelyou house, this farmhouse in Brooklyn’s Washington Park has a fascinating history. The current structure is a replica of a farmhouse built nearby in 1699 by father and son Dutch settlers Claes and Hendrick Vechte, on Lenape land. Hendrick later inherited the property, which stood on grounds where the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn took place (more on that in a moment). The property changed hands a few times before being sold to a prominent developer in 1852. A fire destroyed the house in 1897; it was rebuilt around 1934 incorporating salvaged materials from the original structure. It now holds exhibits and is open to tour.

The house has some notoriety as a site of alleged paranormal activity: during the Battle of Brooklyn, the bodies of more than 200 members of the Continental Army were never recovered—and are believed to be buried in a mass grave under present-day Staples, across the street on 4th Avenue. As well, the graves of the Vechte family are somewhere nearby, as the developer destroyed their tombstones and did not preserve their burial grounds.

Van Cortlandt House Museum. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Van Cortlandt House Museum

6306 Broadway, Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx

Built in 1748 by enslaved people owned by Frederick Van Cortlandt, this mansion and the land it stands on was owned by the Van Cortlandt family until they sold it to the City of New York in 1889. The Bronx estate, the oldest house in the borough, became the first historic house museum in New York City in 1897; it details the lives of the family and enslaved people who worked their plantation and mill. The building and grounds, which sit in the southwestern corner of Van Cortlandt Park right by one of the oldest public golf courses in the US, are open to tour Fridays through Sundays; advance registration is required.

Courtesy, Vander Ende-Onderdonk House

Vander Ende-Onderdonk House

1820 Flushing Ave., Ridgewood, Queens

A Dutch colonial stone building characterized by its gambrel roof and flared eaves, the Onderdonk House was built in 1709 by Paulus Vander Ende, replacing a 1660 dwelling that Hendrick Barents Smidt had lived in. Around 1821, the Onderdonk family purchased the home and added to it, turning it into the house it resembles today. It’s mentioned in records as part of a boundary dispute between Brooklyn and Queens, sitting on the dividing line between Bushwick and modern-day Ridgewood. The NYC landmark, rebuilt in the 1980s after a fire, is open for tours on weekends and hosts Dutch genealogy events, craft activities and art exhibits.

Wyckoff House Museum

5816 Clarendon Rd., East Flatbush, Brooklyn

Wyckoff House, in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, was built on Lenape land around 1636 on the orders of New Netherland director Wouter van Twiller. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, Grietje Wyckoff and the couple’s 11 children lived here, in one of the oldest examples of a Dutch frame house in New York City, marked by its gambrel roof and curved eaves. As with most extant Dutch residences in New York City, the original was added onto in the 19th century and is a designated landmark. It is also one of a handful of historic houses where descendants manage their ancestors’ property as a collective even as it is owned by New York City. The house is temporarily closed, but the grounds are open to tour.


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