Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weeksville Heritage Ctr (Brooklyn): Bergen St and Rochester Ave

I learned about the Weeksville Heritage Center at the visitor's center at Borough Hall in Brooklyn (I would have thought they would have cross promoted with the African Burial Ground but neither location did).  The Weeksville Heritage Center provides visitors with a is a glimpse into African American history in New York City that is unparalleled.  The center currently has an administration office (where you can go for guided tours), a makeshift stage in the backyard, and a small cutting and vegetable garden (see below right).

In 1838, just eleven years after the abolition of slavery in New York (which was once the 2nd largest slave holding state after South Carolina), James Weeks, a freed African American, purchased land on the edge of the settled areas of Brooklyn. This purchase marked the establishment of Weeksville, a village of free African Americans – laborers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs and professionals. A vibrant and self-sufficient community, Weeksville’s residents established schools, an orphanage, churches, benevolent associations, newspapers, and participated in anti-slavery activities.  During the tour, visitors have the opportunity to peruse copies of photographs, newspapers, and artifacts that illustrate life in Weeksville in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Over time, the village was subsumed by the growing city of Brooklyn. For decades, Weeksville was seemingly forgotten. Then, in 1968, the 3 wooden structures of Weeksville were rediscovered.  Arranged along what had been Hunterfly Road (see the grassy strip in front of the homes at left) – an extinct Native American trade path, and later, a Dutch colonial thoroughfare which was never integrated into the grid of streets of the City--these 3 homes are furnished with period furniture, and include period games, magazines, clothes, dishes, etc.

I understand school tours are common (and in a couple of years they hope to conclude the construction of a large, modern visitors' center and exhibition space), but while I was at this landmark treasure of NYC for a couple of hours (they provide tours a few times a day on the hour) I was the only visitor.  I encourage anyone interested in history or African American heritage, to make a visit (it's just a 10 minute walk from the last stop on the 4 subway train at Utica).

P.S. If you plan to spend any time outside, I would recommend that you generously spray your arms and legs with insect repellent.  The mosquitos in that little front garden area are vicious and hungry!

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