At Large  September 23, 2022  Megan D Robinson

The Oldest Building in New York City

Daniel Fetherston

Wyckoff House (exterior), 5816 Clarendon Road, Brooklyn

The oldest building in New York City is a 400-year-old farmhouse in Brooklyn. Built in 1652, the Wyckoff House, or Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, is now a museum focused on history and agriculture, with summer camps that teach local youth to garden and compost, a protest garden established in 2019 that hosts festivals celebrating the cultures of local immigrant communities, and an artist-in-residency program.

Seze Devres

Wyckoff House Museum, interior

The Wyckoff House began life as a one-room farmhouse.  It was built in stages, on land purchased from the local Lenape people for the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Former indentured servant Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife Grietje raised their 11 children in it, adding to and expanding it over the years to create the structure that still stands today; the original room is now the kitchen. Exploring the house, in-person or virtually, gives a fascinating glimpse of architectural history. Carefully renovated, with replacement beams sourced from 17th-century barns and reproduction delft fireplace tiles made in the Netherlands, the period rooms have been designed to provide a window into the past. Wyckoff's descendants lived in the house until 1901 when they sold the property.

The Wyckoff House, with its distinctive blue-black siding and white shutters, is also the oldest example of a Dutch saltbox house in America. Named for the wooden lidded salt cellars typical of the time, the saltbox house is a popular architectural style dating from the 1600s. A timber-framed home with unequal sides and a distinctive gabled roof—often called a “catslider”—that slopes down from the taller front of the house to the lower back level, the saltbox style evolved as an easy way to enlarge a house by adding a one-story shed to the back. Saltbox houses frequently have a centered chimney and clapboard siding, though some are finished with brick. 

Seze Devres

Wyckoff House Museum, exterior

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967, the Wyckoff House is also a New York City designated landmark. Owned by New York City, it is operated by the Wyckoff House & Association, Inc., which was formed in 1937 by a group of Wyckoff descendants to protect the house from potential demolition. The Wyckoff House Foundation was finally able to repurchase the property in 1961 and donated it to the New York City Parks Department. In 1965, it became the first house granted protection by New York City’s newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission. The house was restored in the early 1980s, after surviving a fire in the late 1970s.

A public museum since 2001, the Wyckoff House Museum organizes school programs, public events, and community farmer's markets. Physical tours are available by appointment, while virtual tours are available online. Committed to preserving, protecting, and interpreting the history of the Wyckoff House, the Museum uses innovative educational and farm-based programs to build cultural and agricultural connections that celebrate immigration, family, food, and community. They also keep track of the Wyckoff family history and genealogy and help descendants connect with each other.

For more information, visit https://wyckoffmuseum.org/

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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