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by Ivy Zeng
Sep 7, 2017

 

In the summer of 2017, Brooklyn Connections was delighted to have two of our student alumni join us as interns. Over the course of seven weeks, these interns learned about archival research and chose a topic of their interest to dig into in the Brooklyn Collection. They assembled some of their findings, and we're excited to share them with you on the Brooklynology blog!

This post is by Ivy Zeng, who chose to explore her neighborhood of Gravesend by selecting her favorite archival documents about the area’s history.

Establishing Gravesend: Lady Moody

Gravesend was one of the six original towns of Brooklyn. It is located south of Brooklyn, between Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. The first person to settle in Gravesend was Lady Deborah Moody in 1645. Her house still stands to this day and is now a landmark of Gravesend. Her house is located across Gravesend Cemetery, which is also a landmark of Gravesend.

The following newspaper article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle talks about how Lady Deborah Moody established Gravesend for religious freedom. Some of the original houses that were there during her lifetime still stand and are in use today.

Brooklyn Eagle article about Lady Deborah Moody
“Lady Moody Established Gravesend Town.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 11 June 1911, pp.17.


Lady Moody Established Gravesend Town: Lady Moody, an English woman, came to what is now Gravesend, just beyond Parkville, in 1643, and laid out the town of Gravesend as a place where she and her following could “exercise that liberty of conscience denied to her by her own people.” Lady Moody was an able woman, and before long the town was a prosperous one. Gravesend was originally laid out in a square. The spreading of the town and the coming of farmers to settle near it was the beginning of Parkville, and from Parkville sprang Kensington. Some of the original Dutch houses in Flatbush, as well as other parts of the city, built in the time of the original town of Gravesend are still standing and some of them are occupied at the present day. 

Among them is the Capt. John Schenck homestead, on Mill Island. The Schenck homestead was built in 1656, and is one of the oldest houses in New York State. It is a model of the old Dutch house. There is also the old Bergen homestead in Bergen Beach, which was built in Revolutionary times. 

One of the original houses of the town of Gravesend is the John S. Voorhees house on Neck Road. It was built in 1700, and, with the exception of some additions, is also a type of the old Dutch homestead. 

Standing at the gateway to Flatbush is the John Lefferts homestead, erected before the Revolution, and still occupied by members of the Lefferts family. Later in 1800, the Hendrick I. Lott house on Kimball’s road, Flatlands, was built. The Henry S. Ditmas and the Suydam- Ditmas homes are still to be seen in Flatbush, and the John Ditmas home, erected before the war, can be seen on the old- time road, which is now part of Kouwenhoven place and part Amersfort place. Along this old road marched Cornwallis when he defeated Washington in the battle of Long Island. There are many more such houses which have histoires all their own, and they were the beginnings of what we now know as Flatbush, Gravesend, Parkville and Kensington.

Gravesend Cemetery

The Gravesend Cemetery is an important landmark of Gravesend to this day. The following newspaper article tells us about the people that were designated in charge of the Gravesend Cemetery in 1943. The four people were sworn in by Mayor LaGuardia as trustees of Gravesend Cemetery.

Newspaper article about Gravesend Cemetery
“4 Here Made Trustees Of Gravesend Cemetery.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 20 February 1943, pp.2.


4 Here Made Trustees Of Gravesend Cemetery: Four Brooklynites were sworn in as trustees of the Gravesend Cemetery by Mayor LaGuardia at ceremonies this afternoon at City Hall. Borough President Cashmore attended. Installed were Mrs. Arthur Wright, 1564 E. 21st St.; Maude E. Voris, 419 Neck Road; John J. Snyder, 2500 Bedford Ave., former president of the Flatbush Chamber of Commerce, and Walter Cleary, vice president of the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company.

The following image shows the Gravesend Cemetery in 1946; it also shows Lady Deborah Moody’s house and P.S. 95 in the background.

Image of Gravesend Cemetery
Old burying ground. 1946. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

Van Sicklen House

The Van Sicklen House was an important historic landmark in Gravesend. The following article describes how the Van Sicklen house was kept for years and years before being reconstructed into a 50-family apartment building.

Newspaper article about Van Sicklen House
“50- Family Apartment House to Displace Old Van Sicklen Home, an Historic Landmark.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 13 September 1925, pp.15.


50-Family Apartment House To Displace Old Van Sicklen Home, an Historic Landmark: The steady march of progress will soon claim a historic landmark, the Van Sicklen House, a quaint homestead at the northeast corner of Village Rd. and Van Sicklen St. Built during the Revolutionary period, 149 years ago, the structure is destined to be razed next year, and on its site will rise a modern 50- family apartment house.

While the Van Sicklen House is not the oldest in the old town of Gravesend, its history is particularly interesting because it has been tenanted by descendants of the Van Sicklen family most of the time. It is said that Gen. George Washington, who stopped at the home of Lady Deborah Moody, at Neck rd. and Gravesend ave., during the battle of Long Island, was one of the first to enter the Van Sicklen House.

Incidentally, the Moody home, constructed 282 years ago and accredited with being the oldest house in the country, is still occupied. Gravesenders predicted that this ancient structure, which has weathered the elements remarkably well during its long life, also will pass into oblivion within a short time.

But Mrs. Annie Anderson, who owns it and occupies it at present, is anxious to preserve it as true landmark as Brooklyn. If the property changes hands, she says, nothing would suit her better than to have some patriotic or historical society gain possession of it.

The Van Sicklen House was constructed as a showplace by John Van Sicklen. He deeded the property over to his son, Court, and it has passed to other members of the family tree from generation to generation. Up until its sale to a Manhattan builder the property was owned by Mrs. Margaret Van Sicklen Goodchild, who resides in California.

The following photo shows us the Van Sicklen House in the early 1900s. It was one of the oldest houses in Gravesend.

Image of Van Sicklen House
Austin, Daniel Berry. Van Sicklen House. 190?. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.


Fire in Gravesend

Fire broke out under the elevated tracks of the BMT's Culver Line "L", or elevated, train in 1953, after a short circuit of cable on the third rail caused an explosion. Luckily no casualties were reported; beyond fainting passers-by and delayed trains, Gravesend was unaffected. This subway line is used today by the MTA’s F train.

Photo of Fire under Gravesend subway tracks
Gravesend fire under the ‘L’. 1953. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

 

In 2017-2018 Ivy Zeng is a Senior at New Utrecht High School. She enjoys playing volleyball and cooking.

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