Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in Marine Park: Open House New York at the Hendrik I. Lott House

Alerted by a post on the always-interesting Marine Parker blog, we headed this afternoon to near where we grew up and lived for over 20 years. We wanted to see the historic Hendrik I. Lott House, which is still being restored but which was open to the public today for Open House New York, the weekend that is America’s largest architecture and design event, offering admission to some of New York’s most coveted sites that are usually closed to the public.

On a weekend when most subway lines are messed up due to service work, we made our way past the crowds at the Lorimer Street station, where people were getting off and on the shuttle buses to Myrtle/Wyckoff and all stops in between, and had a fast trip to Marine Park with the G train to Fulton Street, the Q train to Kings Highway, and the B-100 bus to Fillmore Avenue near East 36th Street.

One of our close friends (we had lunch with him just on Thursday) from Brooklyn College lived with his family just up the block from the Lott House, but we have no memories of it, though we've got a vague recollection that two elderly women lived in the house that was turned the wrong way, not facing the street but at an almost 90-degree angle to it.

We didn't think much of it, either because we were either too stoned when we'd be hanging out on the block in the early 1970s or because we lived just half a block from Mill Lane between East 55th and East 56th Street which also had houses not facing the street and didn't think this was that unusual. We did know these kinds of houses were usually old, before the current street grid.

Although we didn't know it in the 1970s, the two old ladies who lived there were descendants of the Lott family, who originally owned much of the property now in the Marine Park neighborhood. In fact, they were great-great-great-great-granddaughters of Johannes Lott, a member of the New York Colonial Assembly, who purchased land in then-rural area of Flatlands in 1719 to be used for farming.

According to Wikipedia,
Lott expanded the family holdings from Kings Highway south to Jamaica Bay and "Lott's Landing." On this property, Johannes built his homestead just east of the present house. Johannes died in 1775, leaving the farm to Johannes Jr., who occupied the property until 1792.

The Lott family quickly became leaders in the area. When Hendrick I. Lott married Mary Brownjohn in 1792, he found his grandfather’s house too small, too old, and too outmoded for an established member of a prominent family. Hendrick built a larger, grander house, combining Dutch architecture with that of the English, making it into a distinctly American building.

Hendrick did not abandon his grandfather’s house entirely, however; it served as the kitchen wing being moved to the eastern end of the new house.

He balanced this 1720 wing with a west wing, creating the symmetrical composition.

Although Hendrick added Federal-style dormer windows, the gambrel roof with graceful spring eaves is typical of the Dutch Colonial architectureal style. The interior features eighteen rooms organized by a center hall plan.

In the 19th-century, at its peak the Lotts’ farm included more than 200 acres (0.81 km2).

Like most large farmers in southern Kings County, the Lotts relied heavily on the labor of slaves to grow the crops that they sold in the markets of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

However, the Lotts freed their slaves by 1805, long before the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827. Later, it is said, the House may have served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

By 1825 the 200-acre (0.81 km2) farm, on which the Lotts raised cabbage, potatoes, vegetables and wheat, included outbuildings, barns and a separate stone kitchen. The foundation of which, that was located between the home and the present East 36th Street, was excavated in 1998 by the Brooklyn College Archaeological Research Center.

[Two years ago we posted on Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn our account of “Disappearing Dutch Brooklyn – Where Have All the Houses Gone?” -- a presentation at the Lefferts Homestead by anthropologist and archaeologist Christopher Ricciardi, who showed slides from the dig.]

For two centuries descendants of the Lotts lived in the homestead and used the land for farming. The last farmer, John Bennett Lott, died in 1923. The majority of the land was sold, leaving only three-quarters of an acre surrounding the house.

The last Lott descendant to live there, Ella Suydam, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Johannes Lott, lived in the house until she died in 1989.

The Hendrick I. Lott House, which sits on its original location on three-quarters of an acre of land, and its grounds are currently closed for restoration.

Well, not today from noon to 4 p.m. We got there a little before 3 p.m. and spoke to some of the neighborhood folks involved in the restoration and took the pics here of the house and grounds, which will eventually be a park. They dressed it up nicely for Halloween.

We read all the information on the signs inside and looked at the amazingly well-preserved house and its artifacts.

The house was bought by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation in 2001 and operated by the Hendrick I. Lott House Preservation Association, and is a member of the Historic House Trust.

The restoration of the Lott House is a joint effort of the City of New York/Parks & Recreation, Historic House Trust of New York City, Marine Park Civic Association, and Hendrick I. Lott House Preservation Association.

We're really grateful to all of them for the project, which can use your help, and to their participation in Open House New York.

After saying our goodbyes, we headed back to Fillmore Avenue but decided that rather than go back to Kings Highway on the B-100 bus, we'd walk toward Flatbush Avenue (and our old block) on Fillmore Avenue, which had this non-historic house with more contemporary Halloween decorations out front.

It was a beautiful, not-too-cool, bright and cloudless autumn afternoon. We caught the Q-35 bus south of the Floridian Diner, by the now-shuttered old gas station (Amoco, we think) where we used to fill up the tanks of our mom's '70 Pontiac Custom S and our own '73 Mercury Comet and took it to the last stop by the Junction.

On our way to the 2 train, a lady with a West Indian accent asked us if we knew where Lord's Bakery was.

We pointed her in the right direction up Nostrand Avenue but didn't tell her that Lord's Bakery cookies were probably why we weighed more in the early 1970s in our early twenties than we do know.

Of course we stopped getting the munchies about 30 years ago. Still, when we got back to Williamsburg, we did get a slice of marinara pizza at Sal's on Lorimer and Devoe.

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