Monday, April 25, 2016


When I first moved to New York, I read every book I could get my hands on that was about the City, both current and historical.  That’s how I learned about the Hunterfly Houses in Weeksville – a small section of Brooklyn considered part of Crown Heights and bounded by Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville.  Weeksville was described as a Pre-Civil War African-American community.  The homes still standing are on the Register of Historic Places and Weeksville is officially called Hunterfly Road Historic District.    

I found the address for the Hunterfly Houses in a well-respected guidebook.  It was about 3 miles from where I was living and I decided to walk there through Brownsville – traveling north on Ocean Avenue, continuing on where it turned into Empire Avenue, until I reached Utica St. and turned north.  That took me to the address in the guidebook, but not to the houses – because, guess what, that guidebook was wrong.  I asked people I met on the street if they knew where the Weeksville houses were and no one in the neighborhood seemed to know.  So I walked around for about an hour until I found them at 1698 Bergen Street which was not the addressed listed in the book.  The houses were closed on the day I walked up there – a fact the guidebook also neglected to mention – and they were surrounded by an iron fence with a locked gate, so I couldn’t even get a close look at the exterior or peer in the windows.  (I wrote a letter to the guidebook publisher later when I got home).

1698 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY
Weeksville was founded in 1830 by freedman James Weeks, and the wood-frame homes that are still standing (and restored) date from that period up to 1880s.  By 1850s, Weeksville was a thriving community of 500 people with a school, newspaper, cemetery (you have to wonder what is now built on top of it), old-age home, and a female doctor. 

The buildings still standing most likely constituted “town square.”  Certainly, they represent a rural life in Brooklyn which is almost impossible to imagine with every square inch now covered in concrete and brick.  That was my interest.  To see and imagine historic New York.  My family owned a farm in Arkansas – without running water or electricity until 1959 – and the kids went to a one-room school house.  That area of Arkansas has satellite dishes and paved roads now, but it still feels very rural.  So it was interesting to imagine Brooklyn without electricity or indoor plumbing.
Hunterfly Road (anglicanization of  Dutch “Aander Vly”) was an Indian trail that led from Bedford to Jamaica Bay.  As the City of Brooklyn grew and the grid for expansion laid out, Hunterfly Road began to be enclosed by construction of homes and buildings.  That’s how Weeksville eventually seemed to disappear.  It was rediscovered by a professor at Pratt Institute who was in an airplane taking a view of New York from the air.  That discovery initiated a movement to restore and preserve the houses at a cost of $3 million.  That seems like a lot since there are only three houses. 

There is now a 19,000 square foot Weeksville Heritage Center.  You have to wonder what the original residents of Weeksville would have thought of that.

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