O is for Old
Located at 336 Third Street, Brooklyn, New York
Museum Website: https://theoldstonehouse.org/
The Old Stone House
The Old Stone House, located within the Washington Park in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, is a historical home, originally a Dutch stone farmhouse and now a museum, dedicated to increasing public awareness of icons of American History.
The original house, known as the Vechte-Cortelyou House, was built by Claes Vechte, in 1699, beside Gowanus Creek. Its two-foot thick wall of fieldstone and brick and its heavily shuttered windows were meant to protect the family. At the time, this area was part of the village of Gowanus in the old Town of Breukelen. The Vechte family farmed the lands around the house.
During the Battle of Brooklyn, in August 1776, the sturdy house and its strategic position made it the focus of the most dramatic event of the day. The house was held by an estimated 2000 British and hired Hessian soldiers, who turned it into an artillery position. From the house, they fired on the Americans, who had suffered disastrous losses and were fleeing for their lives to the safety of American forts across the Gowans Creek. Against this stronghold, some 400 of the Maryland Brigade threw themselves in six attacks, regained the house twice, but, ultimately, were repulsed. Nevertheless, it was their valor, witnessed by General Washington and his troops, that hardened the resolve of the American Army.
This was the first major engagement of the Continental Army after the Declaration of Independence, and the largest battle of the entire war. The Old Stone House was established as a memorial to the Battle of Long Island due to the efforts of members of the First Battle Revival Alliance named in honor of that first battle of the newly formed country against Great Britain, the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn.
To honor the memory of the Maryland Continentals, the flag of Maryland flies from the house.
The building has an interesting history of being buried once and then being resurrected. Nicholas Vechte, grandson of Claes, was still living at the Old Stone House during the Revolutionary War. The house passed through to various descendants of Vechte and Jacques Cortelyou who bought it from Vechte. After 1852, the home was used as a clubhouse for a skating club in the winter and a baseball club in the summer. The Old Stone House became the first clubhouse of the Brooklyn team of the National Base Ball league, later known as the Brooklyn Dodgers.
When street grading raised the level of Fourth and Fifth Avenues, only the second story of the house was above ground level. In 1897 the exposed part of the house was razed in a public demonstration of military technology and then buried. The land that the house was on was purchased by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 1923 and excavated the house in 1930. Reconstruction of the building was completed in 1934 using the original stones. However, the new house was turned 90 degrees and placed a few feet further west and sixteen feet higher than the original farmhouse. The house underwent restoration in the 1970s and the 1990s.
The Old Stone House Historic Interpretive Center is operated by the Old Stone House of Brooklyn (OSH), a not-for-profit corporation, under license from the Parks Department.
There are several small gardens around the house, concentrating on community activities, including a tool lending library.
An actual book lending/ recycling library is also present on the premises.
The lower floor of the house contains exhibits on the battle with detailed information, as well as the family stories of the Vechtes including a detailed family tree.
OSH offers a full program of school visits on subjects related to the history of the house and the battle and an extensive schedules of concerts, readings, lectures and other events. Each year, 7,000 students visit the Old Stone House to learn about the Battle of Brooklyn and colonial life.
It is also used for a variety of events including a summer camp, Piper Theatre, and one-off events such as a sing-a-long to the musical Hamilton.
The hall on the upper floor is used for art and craft exhibitions. When I visited last in October 2022, a textile craft exhibition named ‘Belonging’ was on display, showing creations by three artists – Kimberly Bush, Stephanie Eche and Traci Johnson, curated by Grace R. Freedman of Why Not Art.
The show featured rich and varied textures in the textile work on view like knots, tufted rugs, felted wool, and subtle stitches shown in a mix of natural and bombastic colors.
Fascinating history of this old stone house & its resurrection. The historical nooks & crannies of Brooklyn revealed!