Weeksville, Brooklyn

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Map of Weeksville

Weeksville is a neighborhood founded by African American freedmen in what is now Brooklyn, New York, United States, part of the present-day neighborhood of Crown Heights.


Weeksville was named after James Weeks, an African American stevedore [1] from Virginia, who in 1838 (just 11 years after the abolition of slavery in New York State)[2] bought a plot of land from Henry C. Thompson, a free African-American and land investor, in the Ninth Ward of central Brooklyn. Thompson had acquired the land from Edward Copeland, a politically minded European American and Brooklyn grocer, in 1835.[3]Previously Copeland bought the land from an heir of John Lefferts, a member of one of the most prominent and land-holding families in Brooklyn.[4] There was ample opportunity for land acquisition during this time, as many prominent land-holding families sold off their properties during an intense era of land speculation.[5] Many African Americans saw land acquisition as their opportunity to gain economic and political freedom by building their own communities.[4] The City of New York confuses[6] Weeks with a man of the same name who lived 1776-1863.[7]

The village itself was established by a group of African-American land investors and political activists, and covered an area in the borough's eastern Bedford Hills area, bounded by present-day Fulton Street, East New York Avenue, Ralph Avenue and Troy Avenue.[8] A 1906 article in the New York Age recalling the earlier period noted that James Weeks "owned a handsome dwelling at Schenectady and Atlantic Avenues."

By the 1850s, Weeksville had more than 500 residents from all over the East Coast (as well as two people born in Africa). Almost 40 percent of residents were southern-born. Nearly one-third of the men over 21 owned land; in antebellum New York, unlike in New England, non-white men had to own real property (to the value of $250) and pay taxes on it to qualify as voters.[9] The village had its own churches (including Bethel Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Berean Missionary Baptist Church), a school ("Colored School no. 2", now P.S. 243), a cemetery, and an old age home.[10] Weeksville had one of the first African-American newspapers, the Freedman's Torchlight, and in the 1860s became the national headquarters of the African Civilization Society and the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum. In addition, the Colored School was the first such school in the U.S. to integrate both its staff and its students.[11]

During the violent New York Draft Riots of 1863, the community served as a refuge for many African-Americans who fled from Manhattan.

After the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge and as New York City grew and expanded, Weeksville gradually became part of Crown Heights, and memory of the village was largely forgotten.

Rediscovery of Weeksville and the Hunterfly Road Houses[edit]

The search for Historic Weeksville began in 1968 in a Pratt Institute workshop on Brooklyn and New York City neighborhoods led by historian James Hurley. After reading of Weeksville in Brooklyn's Eastern District, a 1942 book by Brooklyn historian Eugene Ambruster, Hurley and Joseph Haynes, a local resident and pilot, consulted old maps and flew over the area in an airplane in search of surviving evidence of the village.

Four historic houses (now known as the Hunterfly Road Houses) were discovered off Bergen Street between Buffalo and Rochester Avenues, facing an old lane—a remnant of Hunterfly Road, which was at the eastern edge of the 19th century village.

As of 2015 Weeksville has been receiving attention from investment types, according to a broker with Douglass Elliman. There are still investment 'finds' to be had in this Brooklyn area. There are homes priced between $549,000 and $977,000. Weeksville's close proximity to public transportation is a major attraction to these new investors who have their eyes set on Weeksville.[12]

Weeksville Heritage Center[edit]

The 1968 discovery of the Hunterfly Road Houses led to the formation of The Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History (now the Weeksville Heritage Center).

Hunterfly Road Historic District is a national historic district. It consists of four contributing residential buildings, erected no earlier than the 1860s, within the 19th century free Black community of Weeksville, along a road dating back to American Indian tenure of the area which led to shellfish beds at the Jamaica Bay end of Fresh Kill/Creek. Sections of Hunterfly Road started closing after 1835. The houses are one and one half to ​2 12-story wood-frame dwellings.[13]

In 1970 the houses were declared New York City Landmarks, and in 1972 were placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Hunterfly Road Historic District.[14] The houses were purchased by the Society in 1973.[15]

The houses were rehabilitated in the 1980s,[16] and again after vandalism in the 1990s.[17] In 2005, following a $3 million restoration, the houses reopened to the public as the Weeksville Heritage Center, with each house showcasing a different era of Weeksville history.[2]

Construction of an 19,000-square-foot (1,800 m2) education and cultural center adjacent to the houses is complete.[18]


  1. ^ Christian, Nichole M. (2001-10-29). "Hidden in Brooklyn, A Bit of Black History; Freedmen's Homes Seen as Attraction". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  2. ^ a b Ramirez, Anthony (June 5, 2005). "Haven for Blacks in Civil War Riots Now Safeguards History". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Brooklyn's Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York, https://books.google.com/books?id=ZOzLBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA29&lpg=PA29&dq=john+lefferts+henry+c.+thompson&source=bl&ots=BiXqyB1T8Q&sig=_id1wq9ZtQh6uxkbV6VAIk2IbyU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj71IvMqdPOAhVFWh4KHa-rBwAQ6AEIMDAE#v=onepage&q=john%20lefferts%20henry%20c.%20thompson&f=false
  4. ^ a b http://www.brownstoner.com/history/weeksville-brooklyn-history-heritage-center/
  5. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=ZOzLBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA29&lpg=PA29&dq=john+lefferts+henry+c.+thompson&source=bl&ots=BiXqyB1T8Q&sig=_id1wq9ZtQh6uxkbV6VAIk2IbyU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj71IvMqdPOAhVFWh4KHa-rBwAQ6AEIMDAE#v=onepage&q=john%20lefferts%20henry%20c.%20thompson&f=false
  6. ^ http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/weeksvilleplayground/history |accessdate=January 11, 2014
  7. ^ https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36713133
  8. ^ Christian, Nichole M. (October 29, 2001). "Hidden in Brooklyn, A Bit of Black History; Freedmen's Homes Seen as Attraction". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  9. ^ "New York State Constitution, Article 2, Section 1" (PDF). 1821. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  10. ^ Cantwell, Anne-Marie; Wall, Diana diZerega (2003). Unearthing Gotham: The Archaeology of New York City. Yale University Press. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-300-09799-3.
  11. ^ Roberts, Sam (December 14, 2014). "Walkers in New York City's 'Inexhaustible Space' - From Whitman to Kazin, Writers Who Found Inspiration on New York's Streets". New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  12. ^ Velsey, Kim (July 14, 2015). "In Brookly, The Weeksville Neighborhood Stirs". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  13. ^ Stephen Lash and Betty Ezequelle (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Hunterfly Road Historic District". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved March 12, 2011. See also: "Accompanying two photos".
  14. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  15. ^ "Weeksville Buys Historic Houses; Sees Cost of $200,000". The New York Times. June 24, 1973. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  16. ^ Lake, Edwin B. (March 27, 1983). "Brooklyn Restoration Recalls Black History". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  17. ^ Martin, Douglas (February 9, 1991). "About New York; In Black History, Reconstruction Is Also a Struggle". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  18. ^ "Weeksville Heritage Center - About Us".

Further reading[edit]

  • Judith Wellman, Brooklyn's Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

External links[edit]