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- A Farm Grows in Brooklyn
A Farm Grows in Brooklyn
One of America’s first free-black communities reemerges in a twenty-first century neighborhood.
- Photo: Courtesy Weeksville Heritage Center. Photograph by Stephen Barker.
Before the city grid was imposed, a Dutch and Indian trade route called Hunterfly Road meandered through central Brooklyn. In 1838, a free African American from Virginia named James Weeks purchased land along that country road.
A town bustled to life, becoming one of the first, free-black communities in the United States. By the 1850s, Weeksville’s population grew to more than 500 people, including doctors, teachers, and other professionals. Weeksville had churches, schools, an orphanage, and a newspaper, the Freedman’s Torchlight.
Yet as Brooklyn became the most populous of New York’s five boroughs, little Weeksville quite literally disappeared from the map.
Historic Dwellings, Discovered
Fast forward a century and a half. A professor from nearby Pratt Institute looks down from his seat in a small airplane. In a 1968 eureka moment, urbanist Jim Hurley’s aerial survey reveals the topography of old Hunterfly Road and a set of forgotten dwellings on a back alley.
Largely hidden by much larger and later buildings, the once-rural farmhouses had lost their identity. But the plain, mid-19th-century houses, though vacant and vandalized, were remarkable survivors of a once prosperous and self-sufficient community.
They were soon designated New York City Landmarks and entered on the National Historic Register. A grassroots effort was launched to raise funds to save the houses, and some of the first monies came from the children at Public School 243 (later renamed the Weeksville School). The goal came to be to restore the antique houses in today’s North Crown Heights and to knit together a neighborhood.
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