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Weeksville, Brooklyn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
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.

 

History

Weeksville was named after James Weeks, a stevedore and African-American ex-slave[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

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]


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