Feb 28, 2024, 06:27AM

The Improbable Survivors

The history of the Vanderveer House.

Vanderveer.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Every NYC borough has at least one survivor against the odds through the centuries. Many are overlooked as they’ve been renovated and look nothing like their appearance when built; that may be to their advantage. For example, there’s one out in the southeastern end of Canarsie, Brooklyn, at the edge of Spring Creek, a Jamaica Bay feeder stream (at one time) it may have had direct access to.

Charles Vanderveer, a scion of one of Brooklyn’s larger landholding families, constructed this home in the southeast end of Canarsie on what’s now the south side of Flatlands Ave. between E. 106th and 107th Sts. in 1829. It’s one of a number of colonial and postcolonial-era farmhouses remaining in Brooklyn, most in the East Flatbush or Flatlands areas, and one, the Schenck House in Mill Basin, was taken apart and reassembled at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1960s.

Above, the Vanderveer House in 1922.

The original Vanderveer, Cornelius, settled in what became eastern Kings County in 1659 and gradually the Vanderveers controlled a lot of territory in Brooklyn in the colonial and postcolonial times. The house in question was built by Charles Vanderveer (1796-1878), a sixth-generation Vanderveer who lived here. Vanderveer’s Mill, also known as the Red Mill, stood nearby on Fresh Creek east of E. 108th Street. The house remained in possession of the Vanderveers until 1928, then reverted to the state. A small airfield was built behind it before the Brooklyn street grid was extended east.

Here’s another one. The twin-peaked William Van Nostrand House at Pembroke Ave. and 254th St. was built in the mid-1800s; before it was in the Van Nostrand family it was owned by Capt. Valentine Peters, who ran a general store from part of the property. When Peters owned it the house was called “Old Oaks” as it was surrounded by large oak trees. Until 1929 the house stood on Northern Blvd. where the Little Neck Theater is today, and was moved here to accommodate the new building. The theater remained open until the 1980s, when its air conditioning system failed. Today the old theater building is home to the La Grotta restaurant and other businesses. A private housing development called Van Nostrand Court faces the old house.

I’m told the owner of another Northern Blvd. restaurant, Il Bacco, has purchased the property and wants to build a parking lot on the site. Since both Pembroke and 254th are narrow streets, the lot would most likely be accessible from the boulevard.

The V’s have it again, this time in the Bronx. Though Brooklyn seems to have the lion’s share of pre-Revolutionary War houses, there’s one in the central Bronx neighborhood of Norwood that qualifies, just barely. In 1758 blacksmith Isaac Valentine purchased property from the Dutch Reformed Church at today’s Bainbridge Ave. and Van Cortlandt Ave. East, and, depending on what account you read, built this fieldstone cottage either in the 1750s or as a successor to a previous home in 1775.

Like the Old Stone House in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, the Valentine cottage was the scene of a Revolutionary war battle, though nothing so major as what happened in Brooklyn in the Battle of Long Island. By 1777 the home was occupied by British and Hessians but was recaptured by General William Heath after a brief but fierce battle which left the house intact.

By 1791 the house and land had been sold to an Isaac Varian, whose grandson, Isaac L. Varian, became NYC mayor between 1839 and 1841. After changing hands several times the house became home to the Bronx County Historical Society in 1965. It was moved across the street from its original location the next year. It’s open to the public, featuring historic and archeological exhibitions. Call (718)-881-8900 or surf bronxhistoricalsociety.org for details.

Dyckman is a big name in upper Manhattan—bookkeeper Jan Dyckman arrived on these shores from Westphalia (then under Prussian control) in the late-17th century, married into the Nagle family and gradually controlled much of upper Manhattan Island. His descendants were prominent US patriots—the British burned down the original Dyckman homestead at what became Broadway and 204th St., and his great grandsons built this farmhouse that still stands today.

Street names in Inwood were named for early area settlers such as the Dyckman, Nagle, and Vermilyea families—acre for acre, there are more named streets in Inwood than numbered. Dyckman St. stands in for 200th St. (when the IND Subway was built in the 1930s, its Dyckman St. station on Broadway was given the number 200, but that’s the only place you’ll find 200th St. in Manhattan. And, there’s no 200th St. in the Bronx, either—it’s replaced by Bedford Park Blvd.).

The Dyckman Farmhouse has been here at Broadway and W. 204th St. since about 1785 and is Manhattan’s last remaining colonial farmhouse. It was built by William Dyckman, grandson of Jan Dyckman, who first arrived in the area from Holland in the 1600s, and wound up owning much of Manhattan Island. During the Revolutionary War the British held the original Jan Dyckman farmhouse; when they withdrew at the war’s end in 1783 they burned it down. The farmhouse was rebuilt the next year, and the front and back porches were added about 1825; the Dyckman family sold the house in the 1870s and it served a number of purposes, among them roadside lodging. The house was again threatened with demolition in 1915, but it was purchased by Dyckman descendants and appointed with period objects and heirlooms. It’s currently run by New York City Parks Department and the Historic House Trust as a museum. A copy of one of the occupying British soldiers' log huts, with a log roof, can be found at the back of the house.

Nestled comfortably in Dongan Hills, Staten Island, alongside towering Todt Hill, NYC’s highest point, is one of the oldest buildings in NYC. The landmarked Stillwell-Perine House at Richmond Rd. and Cromwell Ave. was originally begun in 1679 and has additions from 1730, 1750 and 1830, making it one of the oldest homes not only in the city, but in New York State. (The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in East Flatbush, begun in 1652, is the oldest in the state.)

According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, “The house was constructed by Captain Thomas Stillwell, a prominent and active Staten Island citizen, who died in 1704. A patent for the property was granted to Stillwell by Edmund Andros, the Governor of the New York Province, on September 29, 1677. Stillwell’s son-in-law, Nicholas Britton, succeeded him and added the 1700-1713 section. Britton, like Captain Stillwell, was a leading Staten Island citizen, as were the members of the Perine Family who were the next occupants and owners of the house.”

The house is currently owned by the Staten Island Historical Society.

For more reading: The story and documentary history of the Perine House : Dongan Hills, Staten Island, headquarters of the Staten Island Antiquarian Society (1915) 

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)


Register or Login to leave a comment