Category Archives: Gravesend Neck Road

Greetings from Gravesend

There are picture postcards of virtually every community in the country, however small. In some cases they provide the only photographic documentation of a place. Many older views have become scarce and command high prices from collectors. The six Gravesend scenes below were published between 1907 and 1911 by “F. Johnson,” who was very likely Frederick Van Kleek Johnson (1875-1930), keeper of a general store. It’s hard to imagine such a countrified institution existing in Brooklyn, but Gravesend remained a quiet, rural neighborhood into the 20th century, as these postcards attest. You may have seen some of them separately, but here’s the complete set.

1_Johnson_Gravesend_Village_Road_North

[1] Village Road [North], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[1] Frederick Van Kleek Johnson’s general store occupied the building at the left in this view of Village Road North looking east from Van Sicklen Street towards McDonald Avenue. It stood where Lady Moody Triangle is today. The street names “Village Road North,” “Village Road East,” and “Village Road South,” were not set in stone early on; they were often lumped together under the directionless “Village Road.” Today’s Village Road North was once called “Ryder Place” for the many Ryder family members who lived there.

2_Johnson_Gravesend_Firehouse_Town_Hall

[2] Firehouse and Town Hall, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[2] Gravesend’s last town hall, at 2337 McDonald Avenue (southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road), went up in 1873. The building held an auditorium on the second floor, a courtroom on ground level, and four basement jail cells. After the City of Brooklyn annexed Gravesend in 1894, the structure housed the predecessor of Fire Engine Company 254. It was demolished in 1913.

3_Johnson__Gravesend_M_E_Church

[3] M. E. Church, Neck Road, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[3] This small wooden chapel at 14 Gravesend Neck Road began life as the Sunday School / lecture room of the Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church (GRDC). It was built about 1854 near the northwest corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road, just south of the 1834 sanctuary of the GRDC. When the congregation moved to 121 Gravesend Neck Road in 1893/94, it took the lecture room to the new site to house services while the new church was under construction. In 1899 the little building was sold for one dollar to the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church (GMEC) and moved — for the second time — to the southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road and Van Sicklen Street. After the GMEC disbanded in 1914, the building housed the Coney Island Pentecostal Church, which replaced it in 1937 with the current stone structure on the site. The latter building is now the First Korean Church of Brooklyn.

4_Johnson_Gravesend_P_S_95

[4] Public School No. 95, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[4] Gravesend’s first school opened in 1728 near the southeast corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In 1838 it moved to the east side of Van Sicklen Street, north of Gravesend Neck Road, and has remained there, in changing buildings, ever since, eventually coming to be called P.S. 95. The 1888 schoolhouse seen here stood opposite Lama Court, just beside the modern (1915) brick structure of P.S. 95 (at 345 Van Sicklen Street). It survived until a 1939 addition to the newer building forced its demolition.

5_Johnson_Gravesend_Van_Sicklen_Street

[5] Van Sicklen St., looking North [from Avenue T], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[5] An item in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 30, 1899 described two newly-completed houses on Van Sicklen Street, near Avenue T, “costing $1,700 each and standing on plots 55 x 111 feet.” They were very likely nos. 194 and 190 Van Sicklen Street, seen at the left in this view looking north towards Avenue S from Avenue T. They were constructed by the carpenter Peter Wyckoff Johnson (1833-1900), who, incidentally, was the father of Frederick Van Kleek Johnson, publisher of these postcards. No. 190 Van Sicklen (second from left) was recently demolished and replaced by a monstrous McMansion. (I’m sorry if it is your monstrous McMansion, but it has no place on this historic street!)

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[6] Sts. Simon and Judes [sic] R. C. Church, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[6] The first mass of the Roman Catholic parish of Ss. Simon and Jude was celebrated in a barbershop at 321 Avenue T on Christmas Day, 1897. In 1898 the cornerstone for a permanent church was laid at the northeast corner of Van Sicklen Street and Avenue T. That sanctuary was consecrated in 1899. The current church went up in 1966 on the site of the adjacent rectory (northwest corner of Avenue T and Lake Street), and the old building was demolished for a parking lot after the new one was dedicated in 1967.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under Avenue T, buildings, churches, Gravesend Neck Road, Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church, postal history, Ryder family, schools, streets, Village Road North

Holy Corner

There has been a house of worship at the southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road and Van Sicklen Street since 1899, when the short-lived Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church began holding services there in a frame chapel bought from the Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church. (That little chapel moved around a lot in its long life. Click here for the full story.) The Gravesend M. E. Church disbanded in 1914 and its building at no. 14 Neck Road sat vacant for a time. Later it housed the local boy scout troop. Eventually it was acquired by Reverend Giuseppe Greco for his Italian Pentecostal congregation, “Assemblea Christiana Radunatu Di Jesu” (Rallied Christian Assembly of Jesus). In 1937 Reverend Greco replaced the wooden chapel with the current stone sanctuary on the site, calling it (inexplicably) the Coney Island Pentecostal Church (an inscription on the building reads “Coney Island Christian Church”). Reverend Greco’s flock moved in 1979 to the vacant Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church at 121 Gravesend Neck Road, now called Trinity Tabernacle of Gravesend. The stone church at 14 Neck Road is now home to the First Korean Church of Brooklyn, a Presbyterian congregation.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under buildings, churches, Gravesend Neck Road, Uncategorized

Save Lady Moody’s House!

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

On October 8, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing to determine if the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — known as Lady Moody’s House — meets the criteria for landmark status. Despite what many locals believe, the house is not an official landmark. That means it is not protected by law, and could, conceivably, be torn down by some uncaring developer. (If you’d like to be its guardian, the house is currently for sale!) However, the house has been on the LPC’s radar since 1966, when it was “calendared.” That provides a modicum of protection in that any application for demolition should send up a red flag, spurring the LPC to action. But they’ve had half a century to decide. After the October hearing, a public meeting in early 2016 will determine the next step, which — fingers crossed — will hopefully lead to designation of this most iconic of Gravesend houses.

What follows is my open letter to Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging her to act now. I beg you all to drop a line, however brief, to the LPC, by the October 1st deadline (whether or not you plan to attend the hearing), stating your support for the house. The more of us they hear from, the better. Take a look at the LPC’s informative fact sheet about the house (even I learned some things!), then write to backlog95@lpc.nyc.gov. I’d love to read your thoughts if you’d care to copy me (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com).

Oh, and don’t miss the gallery of wonderful images at the bottom of this post!


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured the Lady Moody House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

The Brooklyn Eagle featured the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

August 29, 2015

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, North

New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner Srinivasan:

Ask anyone in Gravesend, Brooklyn where Lady Moody lived. Invariably they’ll point to the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, just next to Public School 95. How do they know she lived there? A teacher told them. Or their grandmother. And who was Lady Moody anyway? Oh, she helped George Washington escape the Redcoats through a tunnel running from her basement to the cemetery across the street. And during the Civil War she hid slaves in that tunnel on their way north to freedom.

None of this happened, of course: Deborah Moody died late in 1658, nearly seventy-five years before the birth of Washington, and over two centuries before the Civil War. The general public, knowing instinctively that Lady Moody bore some significance, but lacking specifics, attaches her — and the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — to the seminal events of American history.

The facts are these: Deborah Moody (ca. 1586-1658) was the wealthy, freethinking widow of a baronet. By 1639 she was in Puritan Massachusetts, where her Anabaptist leanings branded her “a dangerous woman.” To avoid censure she moved in 1643 to New Netherland, where she petitioned the tolerant Dutch to grant her and some followers a spot on western Long Island where they could worship as they pleased. They called their settlement Gravesend, the patent to which ensured they could enjoy “liberty of Conscience . . . without molestation or disturbance from any magistrate or . . . ecclesiastical minister that may pretend jurisdiction over them.”

Moody’s fellow patentee, the surveyor James Hubbard, designed the town’s central plan: a sixteen-acre square bounded by present-day Village Road North, Village Road East, Village Road South, and Van Sicklen Street, and cut into quadrants by the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In each quadrant ten house lots bordered a common yard for holding livestock. Records show that in 1646 Lady Moody was assigned a double lot in the northwest quadrant, corresponding (in part) to the modern street address of 27 Gravesend Neck Road, Brooklyn (block 7123, lot 64).

Lady Moody must have built a house on her property between 1646 and 1658. Is the house standing there today the one she occupied? A structural evaluation conducted in 2005 by Robert Silman Associates, Consulting Engineers, suggests the present building incorporates three phases of construction: The part most visible — Phase 2 — is an eighteenth-century “random rubble [stone] building supporting hand-hewn wood floor beams and simple log beam roof trusses.” Phase 3 reflects the early twentieth-century changes made by then-owners William and Isabelle Platt, who excavated a full basement under the ground floor, added dormers to the roof, and stuccoed the exterior to conform with the prevailing Arts and Crafts aesthetic. But evidence of an earlier structure, one possibly dating from the seventeenth century, is visible in the basement, where there are four stone bearing walls, three of which support the current above-ground walls. The fourth lies buried beneath the main house and its rear extension. This “out-of-place” wall led Silman Associates to hypothesize that the Phase 2 house is a reconfiguration of an older building, a Phase 1 house that was enlarged in the 1700s.

This 1893 watercolor of an African-American laundress by Charles W. Bauhan --

This watercolor by Charles W. Bauhan  — “Wash-day. Gravesend L. I. Sep. 4 / [18]93.” — was painted looking east from a spot now in the schoolyard of P.S. 95. It captures the west gable end of the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House rising above the fence. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Was this Phase 1 house Lady Moody’s? Or was it built by one of the later seventeenth-century owners of her land? We may never know. But its expanded  form — the rubble-stone Phase 2 house — is probably the work of the Van Sicklen family, who came into possession of the property in 1702. Most eighteenth-century houses in sandy, coastal Gravesend were of wood-frame construction. Stone houses tended to be built near ridges, where appropriate-sized boulders were plentiful. To build a stone house at a location where rubble was scarce required significant manual labor, and the Van Sicklens, who, like most Dutch farmers of the period owned slaves, likely employed those slaves to transport rock to the site.

The Van Sicklen family occupied the house for the rest of the eighteenth century and through most of the nineteenth. Eventually it descended to Cornelia Van Sicklen, whose husband, Thomas Hicks, acquired it in 1842. (His carved initials survive on a ceiling beam near the eastern ground-floor fireplace of the house.) Hicks died in 1884, and his wife followed in 1893. The house sat vacant for a time, and then served briefly as meeting place for the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church in 1899. In 1904 the Hicks estate sold the house to William and Isabelle Platt, whose renovations resulted in a romanticized Dutch farmhouse set in a lush garden, which Mrs. Platt profiled in the June 1909 issue of Country Life in America. The Platts were the first to call this the “Lady Moody Homestead,” a name it has kept for more than a century.

By 1910 the Platts put the house up for sale (William Platt was a real estate speculator who was then involved in developments on Staten Island), and so began the perennial cries from preservationists and press that the Lady Moody House be rescued by the City or a civic group, or moved to Prospect Park or even to the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair. Its fate seemed secure after it became a V.F.W. post in 1945, but that was a short-lived incarnation. The house reverted to private status, and was bought in 1955 by Nunzio Maisano, who covered the front in imitation stone veneer. Ironically, this facing hides the real thing. (It wouldn’t be too difficult to restore the house to the attractive state in which the Platts left it; the original door, removed by Maisano, survives in care of Eric J. Ierardi, president of the Gravesend Historical Society.)

Nunzio Maisano’s descendants held the house for nearly fifty years before selling it. Now it is on the market again, and time is running out. (Couldn’t the City acquire the house as a gift to the neighboring school for use as a meeting place or exhibition space? Both the Historic Districts Council and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have expressed interest in the house. Why not tap them for assistance and grants?)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the property in 1966, but a hearing that year did not result in designation. Nor did subsequent hearings in 1970 or 2004, due to owner opposition. But the Commission has designated other sites when faced with similar resistance (e.g., the Hendrick I. Lott House at 1940 East 36th Street in Brooklyn), and in cases where the fabric of a structure has been significantly altered (e.g., the asphalt-shingled Sandy Ground cottages at 565 and 569 Bloomingdale Road on Staten Island). And the recent designation of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern LGBT movement at 51-53 Christopher Street in Manhattan, illustrates that the Commission is cognizant of the historical associations of a building, even when its architectural integrity has been compromised.

Despite the changes it has weathered, the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House remains the sole surviving eighteenth-century stone farmhouse in Brooklyn. It is one of two extant Dutch-American houses within the boundaries of the original Gravesend town square, where as late as the 1920s there were seven. It sits directly opposite the landmarked Van Sicklen Family Cemetery, which holds the remains of many generations who occupied the house. At the very least, it stands on the property of the remarkable Lady Deborah Moody, the first European woman to found a community in North America, a settlement chartered on the principle of religious freedom some hundred and thirty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I trust you will seize this opportunity to recognize publicly, formally, and legally, the significance of this site tied inextricably to the themes of Brooklyn history, Women’s history, American slavery, and religious freedom. Without landmark protection the house is doomed.

Thank you for your valuable time.

Sincerely,

Joseph Ditta

Author, Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn (Arcadia Publishing, 2009)


 Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under buildings, Charles William Bauhan, churches, Gilbert Hicks, Gravesend artists, Gravesend Cemetery, Gravesend Neck Road, Hicks family, Lady Moody House, Maud Esther Dilliard, Slavery, streets, Van Sicklen family

Breaking News! A Gravesend Mystery Solved at Last!

“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 (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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

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

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 1904 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,

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 (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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