The Oldest House in New York City: Meet the Wyckoff House (1652)

Most 21st-cen­tu­ry Brook­lyn pub­lic ele­men­tary school­ers have tak­en or will take a field trip to the Wyck­off House, a mod­est wood­en cab­in sur­round­ed by tire shops and fast food out­lets.

The old­est build­ing in NYC by a long­shot, it was also the first struc­ture in the five bor­oughs to achieve his­toric land­mark sta­tus.

Pri­ma­ry sources place the orig­i­nal occu­pants, Pieter Clae­sen Wyck­off and his wife, Gri­et­je Van Ness-Wyck­off, in the orig­i­nal part of the house around 1652. A sin­gle room with a packed earth floor, unglazed win­dows, a large open hearth, and doors at either end, it would have been pret­ty tight quar­ters for a fam­i­ly of 13, as host Thi­js Roes of the his­to­ry series New Nether­land Now notes, dur­ing his above tour of the premis­es.

Two par­lors were added in the 18th-cen­tu­ry, and three bed­rooms in the ear­ly 19th. Typ­i­cal Dutch Colo­nial fea­tures include an H frame struc­ture, shin­gled walls, split Dutch doors, and deep, flared “spring” eaves.

Its sur­vival is a mir­a­cle in a metrop­o­lis known for its con­stant flux.

In the ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry, descen­dants of Pieter and Gri­et­je part­nered with com­mu­ni­ty activists to save the home from demo­li­tion, even­tu­al­ly donat­ing it to the New York City Parks Depart­ment.

A late 70s fire (pos­si­bly not the first) neces­si­tat­ed major ren­o­va­tions. (And last year, flood­ing from Hur­ri­cane Ida clob­bered its HVAC and elec­tri­cal sys­tem, putting a tem­po­rary kibosh on pub­lic vis­its to the inte­ri­or.)

Back in 2015, Roes’ com­pan­ion, archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an Heleen West­er­hui­js, was invit­ed to inspect the attic, where she dis­cov­ered impres­sive orig­i­nal beams along­side 20th-cen­tu­ry rein­force­ments.

While the direc­tors of the home­stead active­ly rec­og­nize the com­mu­ni­ty that now sur­rounds it with events like an upcom­ing cel­e­bra­tion of Hait­ian cul­ture and Vodou, and hands on activ­i­ties include urban farm­ing and com­post­ing, the orig­i­nal set­tlers of New Nether­land (aka New Ams­ter­dam, aka New York City) remain a major focus.

Any Amer­i­can or Cana­di­an with the sur­name Wyck­off (or one of its more than 50 vari­ants) can and should con­sid­er it their ances­tral home, as they are almost cer­tain­ly descend­ed from Pieter and Gri­et­je. While many thou­sands now bear the name, Pieter was the first. Vol­un­teer geneal­o­gist Lynn Wyck­off explains:

After the Eng­lish assumed con­trol of New Nether­land, res­i­dents prac­tic­ing patronymics (a nam­ing sys­tem that uti­lized one’s father’s name in place of a sur­name) were required to adopt, or freeze, sur­names that could be passed down each gen­er­a­tion. Pieter Clae­sen chose the name Wykhof, which most of his descen­dants have spelled Wyck­off. Despite many unfound­ed claims over the years regard­ing both Pieter’s ances­try and choice of sur­name, there is no record of Pieter’s parent­age; but there is sub­stan­tial evi­dence that he chose the name Wykhof in recog­ni­tion of a farm by the same name out­side of Marien­hafe, Ger­many where his fam­i­ly were like­ly ten­ants.

A hand­ful of Wyck­off fam­i­ly mem­bers left com­ments on the New Nether­land Now video, includ­ing Don­ald, who wrote of his vis­it:

It was an odd  feel­ing to touch the hand-hewn sur­face of a sup­port­ing beam cut and installed by my ances­tor, hun­dreds of years ago.  Since I am a Wyck­off, I was allowed to see some of the “off tour” bits of the house.  I live over 3k miles away, so my feet will prob­a­bly nev­er touch the ground there again.  But I’m glad NY and a lot of won­der­ful peo­ple have main­tained my ances­tral home so well and for so many years.  Hope­ful­ly it has many hun­dreds of years of life remain­ing so that peo­ple can recall a time when Flat­bush was more of a farm than a city.

If you are a Wyck­off (or one of its vari­ants), you’re invit­ed to keep the Wyck­off Association’s fam­i­ly tree up to date by send­ing word of births, deaths, mar­riages, and any per­ti­nent genealog­i­cal details such as edu­ca­tion, mil­i­tary ser­vice, pro­fes­sion, places of res­i­dence and the like.

Explore a col­lec­tion of edu­ca­tion­al activ­i­ties, lessons, and col­or pages relat­ed to the Wyck­off House here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Immac­u­late­ly Restored Film Lets You Revis­it Life in New York City in 1911

New York City: A Social His­to­ry (A Free Online Course from N.Y.U

Ani­ma­tions Visu­al­ize the Evo­lu­tion of Lon­don and New York: From Their Cre­ation to the Present Day

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Her family’s trips to the Wyck­off House were includ­ed in the lat­est, NYC muse­um-themed issue of her zine, the East Vil­lage Inky. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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