Weeksville, Brooklyn

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Map of Weeksville

Weeksville is a historic neighborhood founded by free African Americans in what is now Brooklyn, New York, United States. Today it is part of the present-day neighborhood of Crown Heights.


Weeksville was named after James Weeks, an African-American stevedore[1] from Virginia. In 1838 (11 years after the final abolition of slavery in New York State)[2] Weeks 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.[3] Many African Americans saw land acquisition as their opportunity to gain economic and political freedom by building their own communities.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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]

Three of the four Hunterfly Road houses
The fourth house

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 The Eastern District of Brooklyn, a 1912 book by Brooklyn historian Eugene Armbruster, 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.

Weeksville today[edit]

Weeksville is currently a working-class neighborhood with African-American and Hispanic residents as well as Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, among others.

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). Joan Maynard was a founding member and executive director for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History. The preservation of the Hunterfly Road Houses became her life's work.[9]

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.[10][11] The houses were purchased by the Society in 1973,[12] and 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 was completed in 2014.[13]


  1. ^ Christian, Nichole M. (October 29, 2001). "Hidden in Brooklyn, A Bit of Black History; Freedmen's Homes Seen as Attraction". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  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. ^ a b Wellman, J. (2014). Brooklyn's Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York. NYU Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-8147-4446-8. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Morris), Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose (February 1, 2016). "Weeksville, Brooklyn: The Remarkable Story of One of America's First Free Black Towns". Brownstoner. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "New York State Constitution, Article 2, Section 1" (PDF). 1821. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Senator Montgomery celebrates the co-naming of Dr. Joan Maynard Way and honors Dr. Maynard's legacy". NY State Senate. October 17, 2017. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  10. ^ 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".
  11. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  12. ^ "Weeksville Buys Historic Houses; Sees Cost of $200,000". The New York Times. June 24, 1973. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "Weeksville Heritage Center - About Us".

External links[edit]

External video
video icon A Day in Weeksville: Brooklyn's Historic, Free Black Town