A Virtual Path through Dutch Heritage at NYC’s Historic Houses
Scattered across the five boroughs, NYC’s historic house museums tell the diverse stories of those who built our great city. Many themes tie these unique places together, but one of the most significant is the legacy of the Dutch colonists who settled New Netherland.
The Dutch legacy lives on in many intangible ways, including in local cultural traditions and the names of neighborhoods and waterways. But preserved in the historic sites featured on this virtual trail are some of the most tangible examples of Dutch heritage that survive in New York City.
Let’s Get Started
Embark on this virtual heritage trail to get a taste of the distinctive architecture and interiors that were built, or were influenced by, the Dutch. Along the way, you’ll explore the unseen links that exist within our built environment and delve into unique facets of Dutch-American cultural heritage. Together, they provide a compelling portrait of the lasting Dutch influence in New York City, hiding in plain sight and waiting to be unearthed.
Journey forth by clicking the “Next Stop” button below!
Hell Gate, 1614
There are countless examples of geographical features in NYC that can trace their names back to Dutch explorers and colonists.Read more »
There are countless examples of geographical features in NYC that can trace their names back to Dutch explorers and colonists. Your journey will focus on tangible heritage, but we would be remiss to ignore one of the most vivid Dutch “toponyms,” the notorious Hell Gate.
Gracie Mansion, known as The People’s House and landmark home to New York City’s mayors and first families since 1942, overlooks this treacherous tidal strait of the East River. “Hell Gate” is a corruption of the Dutch phrase Hellegat, bestowed by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block around 1614 during his circumnavigation of Long Island. Block’s journey took place about five years after the famed arrival in 1609 of Henry Hudson, who was sailing for the Dutch East India Company on the Halve Maen.
Historians don’t agree on the exact translation of Hellegat; it literally translates to “hell hole” but could also mean “bright strait” or “clear opening.” However, because sailors who later navigated this waterway found it a hazardous place of rocks and converging currents, the name Hell Gate stuck!
The above illustration from 1808 looks across the waters of Hell Gate toward Archibald Gracie’s newly constructed mansion, nestled among other country homes along the waterfront.
Learn more about Gracie Mansion.
Wyckoff House, ca. 1652
Your journey through NYC’s Dutch built heritage would be incomplete without a stop at the Wyckoff House Museum, the oldest surviving building in New York State.Read more »
Your journey through NYC’s Dutch built heritage would be incomplete without a stop at the Wyckoff House Museum, the oldest surviving building in New York State.
A superior example of the Dutch Colonial style of architecture, the house’s proportions and steeply sloped roof have been described as “purely medieval.” Even after several expansions, there are many remnants of the early Dutch structure, some of which can be viewed by scrolling through the slideshow above. Early construction methods are on display in the attic, with notched timbers that allowed the carpenter to correctly match the wood pieces when framing the house.
There are also nods to the house’s Dutch heritage, such as the fireplace surround of reproduction Delft tile, which was crafted in the Netherlands. And while it may seem that the built-in cupboard, painted in the quintessentially Dutch colors of orange and blue, is a Dutch feature, it is believed to have been painted in the 1730s, long after the colony became British.
What is now Brooklyn was colonized primarily by the Dutch, Huguenots, and Walloons, who brought with them the language and customs of the Low Countries (what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). These colonists built houses that were, in most instances, copies of their former homes in Europe.
Learn more about the Wyckoff House Museum.
Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House, ca. 1663
This house’s earliest section was constructed ca. 1663 by Pierre Billiou, a native of French Flanders.Read more »
While Brooklyn’s Wyckoff House holds the title of the oldest surviving building in New York State, the oldest surviving building on Staten Island is this house, included in the collection of Historic Richmond Town.
The house’s earliest section was constructed ca. 1663 by Pierre Billiou, a native of French Flanders. Escaping religious persecution in Europe, Billiou arrived in 1661 as part of a small group that established Staten Island’s first permanent European settlement, part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Earlier Dutch attempts to colonize Staten Island were prevented by the resistance of Native Americans, who were its original inhabitants, but a peace treaty was reached in 1660. The house is the only remaining architectural evidence of this settlement.
It is likely that enslaved people also lived in the house in the 1600s. The slave trade was an integral part of colonial society, with the first enslaved laborers arriving in New Netherland as early as 1625, soon after European families began to establish the colony. In 1806, the will of Ann Perine, a later occupant of the Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House, names three enslaved people who were considered part of her estate. They were identified only with the names Peter, Phoebe, and Mike.
Despite later additions to the house by the Stillwells and Perines, the original structure still maintains a steeply-pitched, traditionally Dutch roof and exterior walls of undressed fieldstone. This wall type is known as “Dutch Construction,” in contrast to the roughly squared stone that came at a later date and is known as “English Construction.”
The interior boasts a massive jambless fireplace with a hood supported on two wooden posts, quite unique in the United States. Jambless fireplaces, a hallmark of historic Dutch houses, lack “jambs,” or the side walls that form a firebox in English-style fireplaces. Instead, they have open hearths that extend out into the room and large hoods that direct smoke upward. Because they were seen as less efficient, jambless fireplaces are rare to find after the mid-18th century.
Learn more about the Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House.
Alice Austen House, ca. 1690
This charming Victorian Gothic cottage may not look Dutch at first glance, but the home began its life as a one-room Dutch farmhouse around 1690.Read more »
This charming Victorian Gothic cottage may not look Dutch at first glance, but the Alice Austen House began its life as a one-room Dutch farmhouse around 1690. Even after many additions and alterations, Dutch architectural details are still present today, both inside and out.
Some of these details can be seen by scrolling through the above slideshow of photographs, all taken by the house’s namesake, famed Gilded Age photographer Alice Austen. During her lifetime (1866-1952), Austen captured many enduring images of the house, including depictions of the original fieldstone exterior wall after a snowstorm, wooden ceiling beams from the 1690 farmhouse, the parlor with its Delft tile fireplace surround, and a self-portrait in front of the Dutch door, which still has its original hardware. All of the photographs shown here were taken ca. 1885-1900.
Dutch doors, common in the Netherlands in the 17th century, are divided in the middle to allow homeowners to open the top portion while keeping the bottom portion closed. They were devised for use as exterior doors on farmhouses to keep animals out and children in, while allowing air and light into the structure. Alice’s grandfather, who purchased the house in 1844, added diamond-paned windows to the house’s original Dutch door because he enjoyed the style, which one can see in other areas of the house.
Learn more about the Alice Austen House, including its significance in LGBTQ history.
Old Stone House, originally ca. 1699
The current Old Stone House is a reconstruction, using some unearthed original materials, of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a stone farmhouse that was built nearby in 1699.Read more »
The current Old Stone House is a reconstruction, using some unearthed original materials, of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a stone farmhouse that was originally built nearby by Dutch immigrant Claes Arentson Vechte, or his son Hendrick, in 1699 on land that belonged to the Lenape. The house was sold to Jacques Cortelyou in 1790.
Like many Dutch colonists, the Vechtes relied on enslaved Africans to work their farm. Labor in New Netherland was done both by hired and enslaved people, and the practice of slavery continued in Brooklyn until manumission in 1827.
The site of a significant battle during the Revolutionary War, the house survived to become the first clubhouse of the baseball team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1883-91. By 1910, the house had fallen into disrepair, but in 1935 it was reconstructed as part of Robert Moses’ ambitious playground construction program.
Scroll through the photographs above to see the Old Stone House as it looks today, including some of the stones retrieved from Vechte family farmhouse site and another Dutch reference, the iron numbers on the brick gables that mark the year the house was originally built.
Learn more about the Old Stone House.
Voorlezer’s House, ca. 1760
Back at Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town, Voorlezer’s House was once believed to be a structure built ca. 1695 by the Dutch Reformed Church.Read more »
Back at Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town, Voorlezer’s House was once believed to be a structure built ca. 1695 by the Dutch Reformed Church to serve as a religious meeting house, a school, and the home for the congregation’s voorlezer (a Dutch word meaning “church reader”).
This conclusion was based on research and architectural analysis using the best resources available to earlier historians. However, a recent analysis of the building, including dendrochronology and an in-depth study of architectural, documentary, and archaeological evidence, has led to a new understanding of the building as a mid-18th century farmhouse.
It is believed that the original structure used by the Dutch congregation was demolished in the 1760s, and the current structure was built in the same location, likely incorporating some of the original stone foundation. While the structure is no longer associated with the Dutch, this intriguing update highlights how our understanding of history can shift as research methodology evolves.
Learn more about Voorlezer’s House.
Lefferts Historic House, ca. 1783
As your journey extends into the 18th century, the melding of architectural influences in the region begins to produce hybrid structures that meld the “Dutch Colonial” style with other local influences.Read more »
As your journey extends into the 18th century, the melding of architectural influences in the region begins to produce hybrid structures that meld the “Dutch Colonial” style with other local influences.
Built of wood, some of it salvaged from a 17th century house that was burned in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, the Lefferts Historic House features a gambrel roof with a long bell-like slope that flares out to rest on six slender columns, creating a gracious porch running the length of the main part of the house.
These architectural features make this structure a quintessential example of the Dutch Colonial frame house of Long Island and Brooklyn. This is a distinctive building type that differs from the Dutch Colonial style of Manhattan and the Hudson River Valley, where a masonry tradition prevailed with steep roofs and stepped gables or low hipped roofs.
Inside the house is a kas, a Dutch armoire that traditionally served as a dowry cabinet. Even after New Netherland became New York in 1664, Dutch colonists attempted to maintain their cultural identity. The kas is a prime example of this adherence to Dutch traditions. Even though the form had disappeared in the Netherlands in the 18th century, the kas continued to be made by descendants of Dutch colonists in the region. In a twist of history, when the kas lost popularity in the United States in the late-19th century, it was revived in the Netherlands as an expression of nationalism.
Also shown in the above slideshow are the Delft tiles displayed above the fireplace in the parlor, another nod to the house’s Dutch heritage. Through such tangible heritage, the museum focuses on the lives of the people that lived and worked on the land including the Dutch, but also the often untold stories of the Lenape and enslaved Africans.
Learn more about the Lefferts Historic House.
Hendrick I. Lott House, 1800
As we enter the 19th century, the Dutch Colonial style continues to be prevalent in architectural design, including this house constructed in 1800 by Hendrick I. Lott.Read more »
As we enter the 19th century, the Dutch Colonial style continues to be prevalent in architectural design. Constructed in 1800 by Hendrick I. Lott, but incorporating a section of the 1720 house built by his grandfather, this house is another rare surviving example of the Dutch-American house in New York City.
The Hendrick I. Lott House looks strikingly similar to the Lefferts House we just explored, with a gambrel roof, a spring eave, a Dutch door, and columned porch. But here, these characteristics of the Dutch Colonial form were combined with a symmetrical composition and architectural details from the Federal style that was fashionable at the time. The result is a house that is distinctly American. Elements of Dutch Colonial architecture will continue to be used for Brooklyn farmhouses at least into the 1840s.
The Lotts relied on the labor of slaves, indentured servants, and hired hands to farm over 200 acres. However, the Lotts freed their slaves by 1805, years before the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827. Later, the house may have served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Learn more about the Hendrick I. Lott House.
Dyckman Farmhouse Opens as a Museum, 1916
This farmhouse, constructed in 1784, is not only the oldest remaining farmhouse in Manhattan, but the only one in the Dutch Colonial style.Read more »
This farmhouse, constructed in 1784, is not only the oldest remaining farmhouse in Manhattan, but the only one in the Dutch Colonial style. The farm was established by Jan Dyckman, who hailed from Westphalia, a region now part of Germany and adjacent to the Netherlands.
The current house, with its sweeping low-pitched gambrel roof, replaced one that was destroyed by the British in the Revolutionary War. Like several houses we have already seen on this trail, it is believed that some of the materials salvaged from the 1748 house were used in erecting Dyckman Farmhouse.
Over 100 years later, in 1915, Mary Alice Dyckman Dean and Fannie Fredericka Dyckman Welch, daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up in the house, bought the building. The sisters sought to preserve and exhibit not just their family’s ancestral home and furnishings, but an entire way of life, filling the house’s rooms with objects that evoked their vision of New York’s Dutch heritage. The sisters worked with their husbands, curator Bashford Dean and architect Alexander McMillan Welch, to restore the house and turn it into a museum.
Soon after the museum opened in 1916, the rooms were captured in a series of postcards, one of which can be seen in the slideshow. While the house museum has shifted its interpretation over the past 100 years, the previous iteration reflects early trends in house museums, where family heirlooms were mixed with pieces that may or may not be representative of the house’s history.
The museum is currently undertaking an initiative that is bringing a more inclusive history to the surrounding community, including researching and presenting the narratives of the enslaved people who lived and worked here.
Learn more about the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
Van Cortlandt’s Dutch Chamber, 1918
While the Van Cortlandt family can trace their roots back to the Netherlands, their house, built ca. 1748, is not Dutch Colonial but high Georgian in style.Read more »
While the Van Cortlandt family can trace their roots back to the Netherlands, their house, built ca. 1748, is not Dutch Colonial but high Georgian in style.
The Van Cortlandt House Museum’s “Dutch Chamber,” however, is a fascinating representation of a 17th century dwelling in the New Netherland colony. The room was created in 1918 by the National Society of Colonial Dames, which has operated the house as a museum since 1897. The room is meant to reflect an all-purpose chamber that provided areas for cooking, eating, and sleeping for a middle-class family.
Scroll through the above slideshow to view the chamber and its objects. A traditional Dutch nook bed has an upper compartment for parents and a lower compartment for children, which would keep the entire family warm in the winter by keeping body heat inside. The painted bed steps were created in Hindeloopen, Holland in the 18th century, while the painted kas was made in the Hudson River Valley ca. 1700. Only six such cabinets have survived from an unknown number that were painted in a monochrome design to mimic expensive carvings. Each was customized for a Dutch family.
The most whimsical item in the room is a painted priksled, which was used by children on snow and ice, and propelled with the help of tiny poles. Take a closer look and you’ll notice the blue-and-white Delft tiles around the fireplace and along the baseboard.
In the house’s Dining Room, Delft tiles (these found in the attic and incorporated in a restoration) surround the fireplace. Delft tiles also appear around the fireplace of the West Parlor, and notice the blue-and-orange painted cupboards that echo those we saw at Wyckoff House, shown again below. Microscopic paint analysis determined that these were the exact colors used on Van Cortlandt’s paneling at the end of the 18th century.
Conference House’s Brick Floors, 1930
By locating a Dutch brickmaker who possessed historic molds, a unique brick floor that combines the new and the old was laid in 1930.Read more »
Our last stop takes us well into the 20th century, where the centuries meld in an unexpected place: Conference House‘s brick floors in the basement.
In the late 1920s, Cornelius Kolff, noted Staten Island real estate magnate, spearheaded the restoration of the house’s basement kitchen at his own expense. During this process, the remains of an older brick floor were discovered “well below the present surface.” Kolff described the bricks as “a peculiar kind made in Holland during the middle and latter part of the 17th century,” which is in keeping with the house’s estimated construction date of 1680.
By locating a Dutch brickmaker who possessed old molds, the bricks were reproduced in the Netherlands and a floor that combined the historic and replacement bricks was laid in 1930. These newer bricks, some glazed blue and some orange, were commemorative in nature, bearing the year and Queen Wilhelmina’s stamp. The connection to the Dutch royal family doesn’t end there; the Princess of Holland laid a ceremonial brick!
Although the replacement bricks aren’t historically accurate, nearly 100 years later they have become a colorful historic artifact themselves and a fitting symbol of how Dutch heritage has persisted through the centuries.
Learn more about Conference House.
You’ve reached the trail’s end, or “de einde” in Dutch. We hope you enjoyed your journey through some of the highlights of Dutch heritage at NYC’s historic house museums! But you’ve only scratched the surface of the many layers of history that await you, many of which can only be properly experienced in person. We invite you to visit our partner sites and dive in!Read more »
You’ve reached the trail’s end, or het einde in Dutch. We hope you enjoyed your journey through some of the highlights of Dutch heritage at NYC’s historic house museums! But you’ve only scratched the surface of the many layers of history that await you, many of which can only be properly experienced in person. We invite you to visit our partner sites and dive in!
Credits & Resources:
Funding for Connecting Culture has been generously provided by Dutch Culture USA. HHT also thanks our featured partner sites for their collaboration on this resource.
For a list of resources referenced to create this trail, or if you have any questions, please contact us.
Photographs featured throughout the trail have been sourced from HHT’s archive, provided by HHT’s partner sites, and captured by Joe Pulcinella Photography. If you have questions about specific images, please feel free to contact us.