The Jan Martense Schenck house is one of the oldest house in the United States. It was built around 1675 in what is now known the Mill Basin/Mill Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, part of the town of Flatlands. Flatlands was one of five towns--Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht---to become the borough of Brooklyn. Jan Martense Schenck, the man who built this house, arrived in New Netherland in 1650. On December 29, 1675, he purchased the land on which he built the house, along with a half interest in a nearby gristmill.
The house survived through the first half of the 20th century in its original location, but in 1952 the house was at risk of demolition because of development in the area. The Brooklyn Museum arranged to have it dismantled and stored for a decade, until preparations for installation of the house could be made. On April 26, 1964, the house was opened to the public inside the Decorative Arts Gallery.
My photo enlargement from an informational placard in the museum
If you remember my blog post about the Beautiful Houses in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, you can see how this neighborhood now looks. All of the marsh land has been filled in and the land where the Schenk house stood on is now a school yard. I grew up in this area of Brooklyn, and while I don't remember the Jan Martense Schenk house being here my older brother and sister do! They said it was in ruins and covered with vines.
My photo enlargement from an informational placard at the museum
During the 275 years that the house stood in its original location, it underwent many changes to accommodate the needs of new generations. In the museum photo above, the Jan Martense Schenck House is shown with the porch and dormers which were added by about 1825. When reconstructed in the museum it was returned to the original two-room structure.
Part of the exterior clapboard siding has been removed in one section to show a reconstruction of the brick nogging originally used to insulate the house. The museum web site states: "For many years the house was painted gray. Recent analysis of the exterior paint layers on the original clapboard surviving in the corner at the short end of the building revealed that the house was originally white and then red. Since the interior of the house is interpreted to the first decades of the eighteenth century, we decided that the house might have received its second coat of paint, the red layer, by that time."
None of the original Dutch colonial furniture owned by the Schencks is known to have survived. The curators have assembled the interior-decorations and furniture using objects that would be typical in an interior of a prosperous family of Dutch descent living in colonial English Flatlands. The rooms are viewable behind glass, so unfortunately there is some glare on the glass in my photos.
A linen press.
This informational placard by the second entrance to the house describes the more formal room of the house. (please double click on the photo to enlarge it)
Notice the built in bed boxes with heavy drapes on the fireplace wall on the left side of the room. Staying warm in winter was a challenge, and this was a way to block drafts and utilize radiant heat.
A beautiful wardrobe from the 1600's that would be the type that would have been in a house such as this.
The Schenck family owned the house for three generations, finally selling it in 1784. It was abandoned and in disrepair when rescued by the museum. How fourtunate that the Brooklyn Museum had the foresight to preserve for all time such a treasure from Brooklyn's past. It tells the almost forgotten story of the people who were among the first settlers in the United States.
The next house in the exhibit is the house of Nicholas Schenck (1732–1810), the grandson of Jan Martense Schenck, in what is now the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. It was built about 1775, and installed in the museum in 1929.
The house was heavily remodeled in the early nineteenth century and is therefore installed here as it might have looked about 1830 when Nicholas Schenck, Jr. (1765–1836) lived in it with his family.
A model of what the house looked like when it was on its original location.
Let's enter the Dutch door and enter the house.
The color of the woodwork is based on fragments of paint found under the fireplace mantel and accurately reproduces the original color.
The dining room.
The furnishings of the house, like its architecture, are a mixture of both eighteenth and nineteenth century styles and traditions.
Large fireplaces, considered inefficient by 1830, have been closed up and replaced as sources of heat by cast-iron stoves.
The Master bedroom
Although small and rustic, both houses revealed that life was not that much different in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, than modern day life. The kitchen was the heart of the home, and adequate dining accommodations and comfortable bedrooms were important assets to have.
In addition to the Schenck houses the museum also had other period rooms to view and many decorative items on display.
17th and early 18th century China and silver pieces
17th century glassware
The Brooklyn Museum's collection of decorative arts is considered one of the most important in the country. It is a fascinating way to look at how life was lived over 300 years ago.
For anyone interested in antiques, American architecture and interior design the Decorative Arts galleries, the American Identities: A New Look gallery and the Luce Visible Storage Study Center in the Brooklyn Museum are not to be missed!