info 07.6.07

Weeksville

Something about Weeksville lingers long past a visit there.

The Weeksville houses are located at 1698-1708 Bergen Street and built between 1840 and 1883, vestiges of the community built by free blacks in what is now Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy community.

Weeksville was formed by James Weeks, who bought land from the Lefferts family in 1838. Around him grew a close-knit community of several hundred, consisting of houses, churches, and a school. Out of Weeksville came a number of distinguished citizens, including Moses P. Cobb, the first black policeman in Brooklyn, as well as Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, one of the first black female physicians in the country.

Although slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, communities like Weeksville provided a refuge against intolerance, particularly after the Draft Riots of 1863. Eventually the community became absorbed into Bed-Stuy and it wasn't until 1968 when the historian, James Hurley, led a workshop on Brooklyn neighborhoods at Pratt Neighborhood College that anyone actually bothered to look for Weeksville's remains. No one knew where it had been.

Hurley, with engineer and pilot Joseph Haynes, flew over Brooklyn, looking for lost Weeksville. Since the Hunterfly Road, on which these houses were situated, predated and did not conform to the borough's street plan (it had been a pathway for Native Americans), Messrs. Hurley and Haynes discovered from the air the four remaining clapboard houses. In August, 1970, the houses were landmarked and the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History was formed.

Tours are given Tuesdays through Fridays, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm and Saturdays from 11am-3pm. A walk around the simple setting, bearing in mind the bittersweet history of African-Americans in New York, is rife.

From a tintype found at the site, the Society chose an unidentified woman (pictured) to symbolize Weeksville, and she is known as "The Weeksville Lady." Rather than a symbol of the past, she seems to be gazing proudly into the future. The same might be said of Weeksville.


[This article originally appeared in MUG in November, 2004.]


South Street Seaport

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