Gravesend Characters Past (Week 5): Augustus F. Friend (1840-1933)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, here is a profile of Augustus F. Friend, Gravesend blacksmith, from Peter Ross, LL. D., A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902), 386-387:

Augustus F. Friend (1840-1933)

Augustus F. Friend (1840-1933)

In the subject of this review we find a worthy representative of the industrial interests of Gravesend and one of its popular business men. He was born at New Utrecht, Long Island, December 1, 1840, a son of John and Charlotte (Mitchell) Friend, both of whom were of German extraction. The father was born in Hesse-Cassel, Germany, in 1811, and came to America when about nineteen years of age. He was a shoemaker by trade and followed that business for a number of years in New Utrecht, and subsequently in South Brooklyn, where he removed about 1847. He efficiently filled the offices of constable and deputy sheriff while residing in New Utrecht, and for many years, both in Brooklyn and New York, acted as interpreter for the government. He died at Gravesend in 1874; his wife at New Utrecht in 1875. In their family were five children, namely: John W.; Augustus F.; Henry A.; George W.; and Charles, who died in June, 1895, at the age of fifty years.

During his boyhood Augustus F. Friend attended the public schools of South Brooklyn, and in 1858 became an apprentice to the blacksmith’s trade with Joseph H. Fleming at Flatlands, Long Island. he embarked in that business on his own responsibility at New Utrecht in 1863, and eleven years later purchased his father’s estate in Gravesend, where in 1877 he erected the commodious buildings in which he now conducts his business. Being an expert workman, as well as an upright and conscientious business man, he has built up an excellent trade.

On the 19th of September, 1864, in Brooklyn, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Friend and Miss Augusta Newell, of that city. who died March 19, 1869, leaving one daughter, Charlotte A., who is now the wife of Charles S. Voorhees. Mr. Friend was again married, April 10, 1878, to Miss Jennie Shields, of Paterson, New Jersey, a daughter of Thomas and Lucy Shields, and by this union two daughters have been born, Bessie S. and Eleanor H.

The family are consistent and active members of the Dutch Reformed church, in which Mr. Friend has served two terms as deacon and one term as elder. He is also an active member and treasurer of Kedron Lodge, No. 803, F. & A. M. [Free & Accepted Masons], of New Utrecht, and for over thirty years has been a member of Woods Lodge, No. 121, I. O. O. F. [International Order of Odd Fellows], of New Utrecht, of which he is past noble grand.

Friend.Augustus.billhead.1898.cropped

Billhead for Augustus F. Friend, Horse Shoer, Blacksmith, Painter, Trimmer and Wheelwright, Gravesend, L.I., 1898. {Collection of Joseph Ditta.}

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Augustus F. Friend, families, Friend family, Gravesend characters, Voorhies family

Breaking News! A Gravesend Mystery Solved at Last!

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

"Neck Road Farm House, Brooklyn, N.Y., painted by Louis Saphier, July 1942" (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

“Neck Road Farm House, Brooklyn, N.Y., painted by Louis Saphier, July 1942″ [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

In 2012 I wrote about a painting by Louis J. Saphier (1875-1954), which he labeled, simply, “neck road farm house Brooklyn N.Y. July 1942.” When Saphier painted this Dutch-style house, there were just four of them left along the two-mile stretch of Gravesend Neck Road:

  • No. 27: the Lady Moody-Van Sicklen, or Hicks-Platt House (the only one still standing, and, incidentally, currently for sale!)
  • No. 110: the Abraham Emmons House (demolished between 1945 and 1951)
  • No. 420 (a.k.a. 424): the Agnes Lake House (demolished between 1951 and 1956)
  • No. 1240: the Voris-Shepard House (demolished between 1945 and 1961)
The Agnes Lake House, 424 Gravesend Neck Road from Maud Esther Dilliard's Old Dutch Houses of Brooklyn (1945).

The “Victorianzied” street-facing facade of the Agnes Lake House, 420 [or 424] Gravesend Neck Road, from Maud Esther Dilliard’s Old Dutch Houses of Brooklyn (1945).

Of the four, only the Agnes Lake House — named for the lady who occupied it from birth (about 1843) to death (1932) — bore the same dimensions as the house Saphier painted: a three-bay-wide Dutch portion linked to a lower wing, with a chimney between the two. The difficulty in claiming Saphier had indeed painted the Lake House was that I had only ever seen photographs of its north, or street-facing façade, which had been modernized in the 1890s by the addition of a towered dormer. I could find no view of the rear, or south-facing side of the house for comparison. Until now.

Agnes.Lake.House

Undated view (probably 1920s) by Eugene L. Armbruster of the rear facade of the Agnes Lake House, 420 [or 424] Gravesend Neck Road, Brooklyn. [Collection of the New-York Historical Society.]

The New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) continually digitizes and makes available online its unequaled collection of photographs, including the thousands of images taken by Eugene L. Armbruster (1865-1943), who captured practically every Dutch farmhouse standing in Brooklyn during the 1920s. He shot the Agnes Lake House several times, but while he was good about captioning his prints, he was less thorough with his negatives. N-YHS has scanned these too, and among them, a friend who is obsessed with Brooklyn’s Dutch past (to the degree he bought and restored this Gravesend house) stumbled across one with the supplied title of “back garden of unidentified Dutch-style house in winter, undated.” There is, however, a telling detail which immediately identifies this as the Agnes Lake House: just next to the chimney of the small wing, poking above the roof line, one can see that unmistakable Victorian turret (circled in red on the image below). Compare, too, the shape and position of the dormer windows in the photograph with those in Saphier’s painting (outlined in blue, along with the chimney, on the images below). They match. So do the door, windows, and porch of the main wing.

I feel confident, then, in stating that Louis Saphier’s “neck road farm house” of July 1942 was, in fact, the Agnes Lake House, which stood at 420 (or 424; the number wavered) Gravesend Neck Road between East 4th and 5th Streets. In her book Old Dutch Houses of Brooklyn, historian Maud Esther Dilliard placed its construction around 1832. Other sources suggest it was built as early as 1812. It seems to have disappeared sometime between 1951 — it is just visible in a blurry aerial view photographed that year (accessible at this link by clicking on “Map Type” and selecting “1951 Aerial”) — and 1956/57, when it was replaced by the row of seven brick houses currently standing at 410-424 Gravesend Neck Road. They were ready for occupancy on April 26, 1957.

Neck.Road.replacements.2012.June

The houses that replaced the Agnes Lake House at 410-424 Gravesend Neck Road as they appeared in June 2012. Courtesy of Google Maps (https://goo.gl/maps/S7rrB).

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Agnes Lake House, Gravesend Neck Road, historic houses, Lake family, Louis Saphier, Maud Esther Dilliard

Gravesend Characters Past (Week 4): Charles E. Morris (1858-1925)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, here is a profile of Charles E. Morris from The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Issued in Commemoration of its Semi-Centennial and Occupancy of its New Building; Together With the History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Time, edited by Henry W. B. Howard (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893), vol. 2, 1140-1142:

SCAN0265

Charles E. Morris (1858-1925)

Filling the position of collector of the town of Gravesend, Charles E. Morris, since his election in the fall of 1891, has performed his duties in a thorough and efficient manner. Mr. Morris was born at Gravesend, on November 21, 1858. His paternal ancestors for some generations have been natives of that town, being direct descendants of the famous Gouverneur Morris. For five years young Morris attended the public school in his native town, and subsequently, public school No. 10, in Brooklyn, where he was graduated in 1876. He then became identified with the Knickerbocker Ice Company, and in a very short time was placed in charge of the business of that corporation at Coney Island. This position he retained for many years. He has been an active member of the John Y. McKane Association ever since its organization, on for the past four years he has been a delegate to the Democratic General Committee, from Gravesend. Since 1887 he has been clerk to the board of health of Gravesend, and from the beginning of 1892, of the street improvement and town boards. He was one of the commissioners appointed to superintend the grading and construction of Surf avenue. He is secretary to Atlantic Hook and Ladder Company of the Coney Island fire department, and is president of the Atlantic Gun Club.

Morris.Charles.tax.billhead.1892.copy2

Billhead for Charles E. Morris, Collector of taxes, Town of Gravesend, 1892. {Collection of Joseph Ditta.}

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

January 22, 2015 · 12:01 am

Gravesend Characters Past (Week 3): Ebenezer Waters, D.V.S. (1834-1908)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, here is a profile of Gravesend veterinarian Ebenezer Waters transcribed from Peter Ross, A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, vol. 3 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902), 324-325:

image

Ebenezer Waters (1834-1908)

Ebenezer Waters is a veteran veterinarian of Brooklyn and is one of the native residents of Long Island, his birth having occurred in Gravesend, Kings county, on the 2d of September, 1834. His parents were Dr. Robert and Doellinor (Lancaster) Waters, natives of London, England. The father, who was a veterinary surgeon of his native country, came to America in 1828, located at Flatlands, where he remained for two years. In 1830 he removed to Gravesend and twenty years later to New Utrecht, where he died in 1862, at the age of fifty-six years. His widow died in 1891, at the age of eighty-four years, and her mother was ninety-eight years and eleven months old at the time of her demise. In their family were nine children.

The father owned a farm of sixty acres, on what is known as Dyker Heights, and there his sons as young men were employed, but the Doctor’s time was chiefly given to assisting his father in the practice of veterinary surgery. He became his successor in business and for some time was the only veterinarian between Fort Hamilton and Jamaica. In 1871 he purchased a stable at No. 113 Ashland Place, where he has since conducted his veterinary hospital.

In 1855 Dr. Waters was united in marriage to Miss Gertrude Van Pelt of New Utrecht. By this union there were two children, who died in infancy, and the mother died in 1861. In 1864 the Doctor wedded Miss Jane Maria Van Sicklin [sic], of Coney Island, who died in 1869. They had three children, the two eldest being twins, one of whom died at the age of eight and the other at fourteen months. The surviving child is Roberta L. The Doctor was married a third time, in 1871, when Miss Mary Elizabeth Bennett, of New Utrecht, became his wife. She was a descendant of an old Long Island family, and died in September, 1896. The Doctor holds membership relations with Fortitude Lodge No. 19, F. & A. M. [Free & Accepted Masons]; Nassau Chapter, No. 109, R. A. M. [Royal Arch Masons]; and Clinton Commandery, No. 14, K. T. [Knights Templar]. He was formerly a member of the Prospect Driving Club and the Atlantic Yacht Club. In politics he has always been a stanch [sic] supporter of Democracy.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Bennett family, Dyker Heights, Ebenezer Waters, Van Pelt family, Van Sicklen family

Gravesend Characters Past (Week 2): Gilbert Hicks (1832-1903)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, here is a profile of Gilbert Hicks, one of Gravesend’s early postmasters, from Peter Ross, LL. D., A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902), 142:

The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Mon__Mar_9__1903_

Gilbert Hicks (1832-1903). Portrait accompanying his obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday 9 March 1903, p. 3, col. 4.

Gilbert Hicks, of Flatbush, was born at Norton’s Point, Coney Island, on the 6th of March, 1832, in the only house located on the island at that time. He represents a family that has long been widely known in this section of the Empire state. One of its representatives was Elias Hicks, a noted divine. Thomas Hicks, the father of our subject, was born at Newtown, Long Island, and was a son of GIlbert Hicks, Sr. The former came to Coney Island about 1828 and served as commissioner of common lands of Gravesend. He was a deacon and leader in the Dutch Refomed church at that place and was a leading and influential citizen whose active connection with public affairs proved of great benefit to the community. He married Cornelia Van Sicklen, a daughter of Abraham Van Sicklen, one of the early settlers of Gravesend. His death occurred in 1890. Four of his nine children still survive him, namely: Gilbert; Annie; Mary, widow of Abraham Voorhies, of Flatbush; and John B., who is also living in Flatbush.

Gilbert Hicks attended the local schools in Gravesend and entered upon his business career as a clerk in a store on Staten Island. He afterward occupied a similar position in Gravesend and later was appointed storekeeper at the county building, entering upon the duties of that position in 1857. He served in that capacity for thirty years, a fact which indicates his fidelity and trustworthiness.

Mr. Hicks was united in marriage to Miss Emma Abrahams, of Linnbrook [Lynbrook?], Long Island, a daughter of Zachariah Abrahams. Their marriage was blessed with four children, of whom three are now living, as follows: Nettie L., wife of Arthur Hatch, of Flatbush; Fannie, wife of Lewis Vernal, of Brooklyn; and Adelaide. In 1857 Mr. Hicks took up his residence in Flatbush and has been a promoter of many of its interests that have proved of public benefit. He is a Democrat in politics, and at one time was quite active in the work of the party. For many years he has been a Mason and has long served as an elder and deacon in the Dutch Reformed church at Flatbush, of which he is an esteemed and valued member.

Letter from Gilbert Hicks to Elias Hicks, postmarked Gravesend, 2 August 1855 (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

Letter from Gilbert Hicks, as postmaster of Gravesend, to his uncle, Elias Hicks, postmarked, 2 August 1855. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

1 Comment

Filed under Gilbert Hicks, Gravesend characters, Hicks family, Van Sicklen family

Gravesend Characters Past (Week 1): Abraham Emmens Stillwell (1832-1905)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Happy New Year! In response to a challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I will attempt to profile some of Gravesend’s many historical “characters” by posting images and biographical excerpts here. While they might seem old hat to me, they just might be new to Gravesend’s voracious reading public. Whether or not I manage to put up something new each week remains to be seen, but consider this a start.

The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Issued in Commemoration of its Semi-Centennial and Occupancy of its New Building; Together With the History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Time, edited by Henry W. B. Howard (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893), vol. 2,1147-1148:

SCAN0272

Abraham Emmens Stillwell (1832-1905)

The Stillwell family is an honored one in Gravesend, where some of its members have resided ever since the first settlement of the town; and all of them in some manner or other, have been identified with the progress and well-being of the place. ABRAHAM EMMENS STILLWELL is a lineal descendant, on his father’s side, of Nicholas Stillwell, an Englishman who came from Hull, by way of Leyden, somewhere about the year 1638, and settled on Manhattan Island. He remained there for some years; but finally removed to Staten Island, where he died in 1671. Mr. Stillwell’s mother was an Emmens, her grandfather being a Dutch preacher named Schoonmaker. Abraham E. Stillwell was born in Gravesend, on August 22, 1832, and attended the public school in his native village until he reached the age of fourteen years. Subsequently he was a pupil for three years at Flatbush Hall Academy. Leaving school, he made an attempt to make a living by teaching in Boston, Mass., but soon returned to Gravesend and worked for a few years on his father’s farm. With the exception of a brief interval, he attended strictly to the pursuit of agriculture until 1864. In that year he started in the second-hand and commission business on Grand street, Brooklyn, and subsequently engaged in the second-hand lumber business, on Thirty-eighth street, New York. This venture did not prove successful and once more he returned to Gravesend. he was appointed sexton of the town graveyard, and incidentally with his duties united the business of an undertaker. In 1860 he built the house where he now resides. Mr. Stillwell has been twice married, first in 1859 and again in 1887. The present Mrs. Stillwell occupies a prominent position in Gravesend society. For twenty-five years or more Mr. Stillwell has been a member of Franklin Lodge of Odd Fellows, an he also belongs to the Sheepshead Bay fire department and the John Y. McKane Association; he is now a Democrat, though formerly prominent in Republican circles.

Stillwell.A.E.billhead.1887.cropped

Billhead for A.E. Stillwell, General Furnishing Undertaker, Gravesend, L.I., 1887. {Collection of Joseph Ditta.}

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Abraham Emmens Stillwell, Gravesend characters, Stillwell family

“An Old Colonial Homestead Born Again”: A Peek Inside Lady Moody’s House, 1909

Copyright © 2014 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

The Lady Moody Homestead, at Gravesend, L.I.

In response to the recent interest in the historic house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, a.k.a. “Lady Moody’s House,” – generated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s attempt to “de-calendar” the property from its list of potential designation sites – we are presenting, in full, Isabelle Platt’s article, “An Old Colonial Homestead Born Again,” which appeared in Country Life in America, vol. 16, no. 2 (June 1909). Mrs. Platt and her husband, the real estate speculator William E. Platt (whose accompanying photographs appear here in slightly reordered form), bought the house in 1906 from the heirs of the Hicks family, who had held the property since 1842. The Platts, by this article, bestowed the name “Lady Moody Homestead” on this building which stands on land once owned by the founder of Gravesend, but which likely dates from after her lifetime (she died in 1658). It is a convenient name, one that to this day reminds the neighborhood of its remarkable founding mother.

Although Mrs. Platt’s flowery language and dreamy tales of George Washington and Pieter Stuyvesant should be read with a healthy dose of skepticism, her article provides a fascinating glimpse of the layout of this ancient Gravesend dwelling, and of the “restoration” practices of the early 20th century. Platt’s finished product was a highly romanticized version of a Colonial farmhouse, but a very beautiful one, nonetheless. One imagines it would be relatively easy to peel off its current skin of false stone and stucco to return the house to its 1909 state.

One bright June morning, while strolling along an old country road, I suddenly came across a delightful, rambling, old-fashioned house – delightful indeed from an artistic point of view.

The shingles on the roof were covered with moss. A few pickets were off the fence. Some gay-colored hollyhocks and an ancient quince tree, gnarled and twisted with age (it had not been pruned in many years), broke the line of the white-washed west wall. In the background of the house stood some very old apple and pear trees.

At a glance I could see it was a rare subject for a painting, and having my materials with me I sat down and sketched in the shade of a great willow tree. It was a quiet hour of the day; the ever inquisitive small boy was not in evidence. As my sketch progressed one of the old residents who was passing, stopped, smiled pleasantly and said, glancing over my shoulder: “I am seventy years old, and I was born in that house. It was then the oldest house in this place, which is the oldest village on Long Island.”

Eleven years after[,] I chanced to pass through an auction room, and noticing the crowd found they were about to sell the subject of my sketch. On one side of the auction room were the sad-eyed partitioners whose homestead was being sold to divide their estate. On the other side were the idle onlookers – the disinterested men who wanted to buy it, if it went cheap – curious neighbors, real estate speculators, and the usual crowd that hangs around the sale of a piece of country property.

Stepping up on his box the auctioneer read a brief description of the property, and the sale started. A ridiculously low bid was made by a little man. This brought a laugh from the spectators and raised the ire of the auctioneer, who squelched “Mr. First Bidder,” and he disappeared in the crowd.

Bids followed slowly from the different neighbors. Taking advantage of a lull in the bidding, I offered a substantial increase over the last bid. The auctioneer gave me a pleased look of admiration. Looking at his audience he said, “Here’s an outsider bidding. She knows what the property’s worth!” His eloquence was of no avail. Turning to some countrymen who had been glaring at him, speechless, he cried, “Don’t be clams! Give us a bid.” No reply came. Then followed the familiar cry: “Going once! Going twice! Third and last call. Sold!” And the old place, with all the charms of its antiquity, its ancient, romantic history, that had watched the birth of many generations, was knocked down to me.

Neck.Road.27.1909.Platt.exterior2

“The Lady Moody Homestead, at Gravesend, L.I. In this long, low, half-stone, half-timber structure both Governor Kieft and Governor Stuyvesant were often entertained. The neighboring colonists took advantage of the protection afforded by its heavy stone walls, and sought refuge here from the Indians.”

Shortly after taking title I visited the homestead. Lifting the latch of the garden gate I walked up the grass-grown path. The air was balmy and sweet with the fragrance of blossoms that covered the trees in the yard. A robin, perched on the roof of the old well-house, trilled what seemed to me a song of welcome. Covering the hood of the lean-to kitchen doorway was a large wistaria [sic] vine in full bloom.

The Dutch door creaked on its time-worn hinges as I entered, and the place seemed strangely still and quiet. A shutter banging in the attic startled me. Although not a believer in ghosts, I must admit that the many stories I had heard left their impression.

Opening the rear kitchen window, I looked out on what had once been a beautiful garden. Old pear, apple, and cherry trees, regal in the splendor and beauty of their pink and white blossoms, seemed to look down disdainfully on the heaps of rubbish that made a motley array about the yard. The grape-arbor and queer little settee underneath were both sadly in need of repair. But the garden, like the house, had great possibilities.

Closing the window and stepping into the living-room, I made a mental survey.

The fireplaces, beamed ceilings, and trim were black with smoke and discolored with age – plainly an evidence of years of neglect, which cast a gloom over the interior. This did not prevent me from admiring the quaint, venerable architecture, and I resolved to restore all the old-time prestige of the place. This resolution was religiously carried out to the best of my ability.

In a few days the work of restoration was begun. A new roof of cedar shingles soon replaced the moss-covered one, which leaked in many places.  The outside walls of the first story were of large field stones or boulders, which had received several coats of plaster, paint, and whitewash. This had scaled and fallen off in places, giving the exterior a mottled appearance. These walls were scraped, and then the entire stone-work of the building was covered with a rough grouting of Portland cement.

Underneath the rear of the house was discovered a cellar 12 x 12 feet. This serious drawback of a small cellar was overcome by taking up all the flooring on the ground floor, shoring up the heavy walls (which were 18 to 22 inches thick) from the inside, taking up the oak floor beams and excavating for a more roomy cellar.

Excavating under stone walls is an extremely difficult task. There is danger of undermining. Although the job was offered to several local contractors, it was refused on the ground of being “too risky.” Finally, a number of laborers having been secured, the work was started and successfully carried out.

Holes 9 feet in depth and 4 feet wide were dug at intervals of 4 feet under the walls. Board forms were erected and cement was poured in. These inserts were filled with concrete of Portland cement and small stones; when this had sufficiently hardened the surplus dirt was excavated, this being repeated under the entire foundation until the cellar was completed.

While this work was going on many ancient coins were found, the laborers who discovered them being delighted to exchange them with me for new coins. Another find was a package of Colonial money, two old pewter mugs, and a brass tankard.

The original floor beams – roughly hewn oak timbers – were so hard and bent with age that it was necessary to replace them with new ones. The old flooring being unfit for use, new flooring was laid in all the rooms on the main floor.

The next consideration was the heating. It was thought best to install a steam furnace, and this necessitated the building of a new chimney, as we did not wish to close up the open fireplaces. Close to the outside wall of the building an excavation was made a few feet deeper than the new cellar wall. In this was laid the foundation of a chimney to be built entirely outside of the house. By means of an opening in the cellar wall the chimney was connected with the flue pipe of a steam furnace which thoroughly heats every part of the house. Often the steam is shut off in order that the luxury of blazing wood-fires in the large open fireplaces may be more fully enjoyed.

The house, which faces the south, measures 42 feet front by 31 feet deep, with a kitchen wing 14 x 14 feet. In the front there is a general living-room, extending the full width of the building. At either end of this room are two great fireplaces, with large hearths (measuring 17 feet wide by 8 feet deep) of red Holland tiles (8 x 9 inches). The ceiling is beamed; these beams (the largest I have ever seen) still show the marks of the broadaxe, and are 12 x 14 inches.

The Colonial fashion of combining the dining- and sitting-rooms in one large living room gives and effect of spaciousness even to a small house.

“The Colonial fashion of combining the dining- and sitting-rooms in one large living room gives an effect of spaciousness even to a small house. The stone walls are two feet thick.”

When I first inspected the room, the walls were covered with an atrocious wall paper. Close examination revealed that it had been plastered on six thicknesses of other paper, each of a different design. On one side, where the paper hung down, the wall was damp. It was found out afterward that this wall had been plastered directly up against the stone-work. We furred this wall with furring strips on which the lath was laid, thus giving an air space and a dry foundation for the plaster, and the dampness disappeared.

All the old paper was scraped from the rest of the walls, which were refinished with a rough coat of white cement plaster. This plaster received several coats of white paint mixed with enough boiled oil to give it a slightly yellow cast. All the wood-work was painted in the same way with the exception of the mahogany rail and newel posts of the stairway. The ceiling between the beams was painted a pale blue. Boiled oil was again used, which gave the blue an antique greenish tinge.

On the second floor the only modern touch is the bathroom.

“On the second floor the only modern touch is the bathroom.”

The rear of the house is divided into three smaller rooms, now used respectively as servants’ bathroom, rear entrance to garden and tradesmen’s entrance, storage room for preserved fruits and vegetables (all raised in the garden and carefully preserved in glass), and also a separate storage room for green vegetables, ice, etc.

Beyond these rooms, on the east, is the kitchen wing. This room is very attractive, with its white wainscoted walls and flooring of Dutch tiles. The windows overlook the garden and through the half-open door we catch a glimpse of the old well-house.

The kitchen and bathrooms were the only rooms in the house which had to be brought up to date. Modern plumbing has been installed and a fine new range replaces the primitive cooking apparatus of earlier days.

In placing the wash-tubs, we found the old kitchen window in the way, so this was studded up and plastered over and a high, wide casement window cut into the wall directly over the sink. This window, while being out of the way, yet gives a fine light, and many a busy day’s work has been lightened by that glimpse of the green tree-tops and the blue of the sky.

In the centre [sic] of the living-room there is an antique staircase with old oak treads and mahogany rails and newel posts. This stairway leads into a square upper hall which ends in a long corridor. Into this L-shaped hall open all the rooms of the second story.

The antique staircase, with its oak treads and mahogany rail and newel posts, was left undisturbed.

“The antique staircase, with its oak treads and mahogany rail and newel posts, was left undisturbed.”

One of the back rooms was decided upon as a bathroom and it has been fitted up with the best of plumbing, the room directly underneath being converted into a servants’ bathroom.

Four months elapsed. The work of restoration – my labor of love and pleasure – had come to an end, and it was with a great deal of satisfaction that I visited the old house one September afternoon.

As a contrast to my first visit, I approached by the main entrance. Taking hold of the odd [old?], wrought-iron ring latch I turned it to the right; this raised the latch on the inside and the door swung open on its old hinges. Crossing the threshold I realized that I was at last in a house of the days of long ago. Everything was old. There was nothing new; so that if Governor Stuyvesant and his “Merrie Men” should have stepped in, they would have felt perfectly at home. So agreeable was the impression made that September day that no change has since been made.

To the right is a long, English casement window set in solid oak timbers, while suspended from a brass rod overhead hang chintz curtains of an old-fashioned, little, formal rose design on a cream ground, through which the sun-light streams across the window ledge with its pots of bright geraniums and primroses. From a hook in the beam above swings a curious brass lantern as old as the house itself. On the mantels are two pewter mugs, one bearing the date 1655, while a brass jug is dated 1541.

The great oak ceiling beams are 12 x 14 in., and still show the marks of the broadaxe.

“The great oak ceiling beams are 12 x 14 in., and still show the marks of the broadaxe.”

From the walls look down old portraits. The room is furnished with mahogany and oak in Chippendale and older period designs, some of which was collected on a trip through England. Gay rag-carpet rugs are on the floor. At the foot of the staircase hang the pistols which were taken from the camp of Sitting Bull after his death. In a corner of the west room stands a tall clock in a black oak case, the date showing that it is over 200 years old. North of the west end of this large room is a wing whose walls are covered with ancient paintings. The corner cupboards are filled with rare antique china.

Among some dusty papers in the attic was discovered a written account of the history of the house and of events which happened about that time [sic]. The writing was so faded as to be barely legible and it was with difficulty I made the following notes:

This house, known as “Ye Bouwerie of Lady Moody,” was erected about 1643 on land that was part of a grant received from the Dutch Director General, Governor Kieft.

The oak timbers of which the building was constructed were roughly hewn with a broadaxe from trees in the virgin woods of the neighborhood. The walls were built of large field stones laid in mortar. The lime for this mortar was obtained by burning shells collected on the shore. The plaster for the inside walls was a combination of loam, lime, and straw, plastered on a frame-work of hand-made oak laths nailed with hand-wrought nails on oak studding.

This photograph, from Aymar Embury's 1913 book, "The Dutch Colonial House: Its Origin, Design, Modern Plan and Construction," shows the "living-room of the Lady Moody House, with tile floor and good mantel treatment."

This photograph, from Aymar Embury’s 1913 book, The Dutch Colonial House: Its Origin, Design, Modern Plan and Construction, shows “[t]he living-room of the Lady Moody House, with tile floor and good mantel treatment.”

Here in this long, low, half-stone, half-timber structure, both Governors Kieft and Stuyvesant often enjoyed the hospitality of Lady Deborah Moody, an Englishwoman of letters and the leader of the little band of Colonists among whom she lived. So great was her influence that her advice was sought by both governors on matters relating to the public affairs of the colony.

The early settlers, most of them friends of Lady Moody, were often attacked by the neighboring Indians. Lady Moody’s home seems to have been the principal point of attack. The Colonists took advantage of the protection afforded by its heavy stone walls and at one time it was ably defended by a party of forty men, some of whom had the reputation of being expert Indian fighters.

In the memorable year of 1776 word was received from General Washington to watch the coast for the arrival of the British. Excitement ran high in the little village of Gravesend. In the gray dawn of that summer morning (August 22d) a farmer’s boy crept up the slippery roof of an adjoining barn. Through the mist he watched the advance of the British troops like a long strip of red flannel moving across the meadows.

The battle of Long Island was fought only a few miles distant. When the fighting was over some of the terribly wounded patriots made their way through the British lines, through the woods into the village. It was then that the old house was used as a hospital. There the men were taken care of and carefully nursed by the women of the vicinity. Those that died were laid to rest in the quaint cemetery across the way, now over 250 years old.

Thirteen years afterward General Washington was entertained at this house when he visited the town in 1789.

Many years have passed since then, but the historical old dwelling still stands, practically unchanged, a picturesque, sturdy reminder of bygone days, and a never-ending joy to its present owner.

A less artistic perception might have spoiled this beautiful old Long Island homestead by attempting to remodel rather than to restore it.

“A less artistic perception might have spoiled this beautiful old Long Island homestead by attempting to remodel rather than to restore it.”

Copyright © 2014 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under families, Gravesend Neck Road, Hicks family, historic houses, Lady Moody House