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Have you ever been to Manhattan? The city features the tallest buildings, and it’s the hub of modernity. But nestled in the middle, there’s a farmhouse from the 1700s that has not changed in hundreds of years. It belonged to a prominent immigrant family and was passed down through generations. But why is it still there?
If you’re ever in the Inwood part of Manhattan, visit this farmhouse sitting on Broadway and 204th Street. It’s the only house you’ll see in the area, and apartment blocks and office buildings surround it. The property has almost been frozen in time, and it has a pretty cool history despite looking like a regular American house.
The farmhouse was built in 1784 and has remained in that area for more than two centuries. Even when Manhattan changed, this property remained almost the same. Eventually, it was preserved and kept that way on purpose. Nowadays, anyone can visit and discover more of its history. But why is it still there?
Old houses are almost a little scary because horror movies always take place in one. But this farmhouse shouldn’t have any problems despite being the home of the Dyckman family for several generations since its construction. The clan moved to American from the Netherlands in the 17th century, but this property wasn’t built until 100 years later.
But the Dyckmans didn’t want to build any old house. This house was designed after an important moment in U.S. history because immigrants didn’t live in that part of New York at first. So, this family decision changed many things for the city, particularly this neighborhood.
In 2018, Meredith Horsford, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum executive director, had an interview with the Daily Mail to explain more about the historic property. It now operates as a museum, which might have been the only way to preserve it in the midst of Manhattan renovations.
“The Dyckman family came to America from the Netherlands in the 1600s,” Horsford told the Daily Mail. “They were in what’s now called Harlem but then built their first home just northeast of where the current farmhouse is located. But the family fled the home when the Revolutionary War broke out.”
Unfortunately, they discovered that their home had been destroyed when they returned. “So, William Dyckman decided to rebuild in the location where the home is now on Broadway,” the director continued. “And the family lived in that farmhouse until the mid-1800s.”
Of course, there better opportunities for settlers back then, especially European families. William Dyckman was part of the family’s third generation in the United States. He died in 1787, just a few years after they completed the farmhouse. Most of the clan wanted to sell the property until Jacobus Dyckman intervened.
After a few problems, Jacobus inherited his father’s property and permanently moved there in 1793. However, this estate is not just a tiny home. It originally had more than 250 acres of land. Can you imagine something like that in New York? It’s almost impossible. And that would soon change.
Apart from the main house, there were three others homes throughout the Dyckman land. There was also a barn, cider mill, stable, and corncribs. Of course, Jacobus didn’t live on his own. Aside from his family, there were also workers to maintain all acreage.
In 1820, more than ten people lived in the main house, including Jacobus and three of his children: Isaac, Michael, and Jacob. According to the museum's website, Dyckman’s grandson and his niece also lived on the property. But what about the rest of the land?
Around 20 people lived on the estate, using the other buildings. Therefore, it was like a small community within the city. There was always something to do or work to get done. Sadly, Jacobus went through a series of tragedies in those years that turned his life upside down. And he almost gave up the house.
Dyckman had 11 children in total, but five of them died between 1809 and 1822. Unfortunately, his wife, Hannah, and one of his grandkids also passed at the time. It seemed like misery was following them, and they went through that for more than a decade. But Jacobus was more resilient than others.
Jacobus kept running the house and his workers, although the family had gone through such great loss. Additionally, they grew several crops on the property, such as apples and cherry trees, despite the less-than-favorable conditions of northern Manhattan. They were also growing their own vegetables and other fruit.
The Dyckman partnered with Eliza Hamilton in the early 1800s to create the Hamilton Free School so that more children had access to education. The school was later turned into the Dyckman Library, but it’s now known as the Dyckman Institute, which continues to give scholarships.
Surprisingly, the Dyckman family added to their estate over the years. By the 1860s, the property had grown to over 300 acres in Inwood, and that’s a huge amount of that neighborhood. However, many things changed inside the house while they were expanding because life goes on.
Unfortunately, Jacobus died in 1832, leaving Michael and Isaac to take control over the farmhouse. They continued living in the main house for around 20 years before moving to other properties on the estate. But everything got tricky afterward due to one of Jacobus’ grandsons.
Jacobus’ grandson, James Frederick Smith, resided at the estate for many years. Jacobus’ son, Isaac, died in 1868 and left several requests on his will for James, which he had to complete to inherit the property and all its benefits. But some of his requests were just a bit odd.
Isaac stated in his will that he wanted 340 acres of the land, including the farmhouse, to be sold off. He said that James could keep parts of the farm and receive his inheritance. However, Isaac had another condition: James had to change his name to Isaac Michael Dyckman.
Luckily, James agreed to this odd request and legally changed his name. He also started selling the acreages. The land had been entirely bought off by 1871. But wouldn’t that be the end of the Dyckman farmhouse? Fortunately, that was not the case because Isaac Michael Dyckman had two daughters.
Dyckman’s daughters, Fannie Fredericka and Mary Alice, were interested in their family’s old home in 1915. At the time, the farmhouse was going to be demolished and probably converted into another apartment building. It made sense because the estate was in sad disrepair. But the sisters decided to save it.
Once they managed to repurchase it, their spouses helped repair and bring it to its former glory. When they finished, Fannie and Mary Alice turned it into a museum about the Dyckman clan, and it’s been there ever since. In 1916, they gave the keys to the city of New York, and anyone can visit at any time.
Now that you know the house’s history, you might be wondering how it looks after all these years. After all, many things have happened since 1916. Additionally, you might be wondering what kind of museum it is. What’s there to look at if it’s only an old house? Well, it’s more than that.
The sidewalk was originally at level with the farmhouse in 1885, but it was renovated in the following years to reach the pavements, which were 15 feet lower. So, now the farmhouse looks elevated from the streets, but it remains authentic and beautiful. It also has paved walls around the garden.
The museum has managed to maintain beautiful gardens, and there’s even a cannon on the property. Interestingly, the city of New York has not changed much of the interior even after all these years. Meanwhile, the house is made mostly of fieldstone, wood, and bricks.
The farmhouse has a classic American façade with a front porch similar to what you might have seen in movies. Furthermore, the interior maintains a feel of antiquity. You go inside and see a hallway with access to several rooms, typical of most homes built in that era.
There’s one particular room where most people gather for pictures. It’s on the left side of the main entrance and features a fireplace. There’s also a grandfather clock in one corner and a desk on the other side of the fireplace. While Jacobus was a farmer, he was also involved in politics. So, he took meetings in this parlor.
The museum’s guidebook reads: “On the first floor there are two large parlors. These would have been used for various activities, including dining and socializing with friends and business and political associates.” You can also see Jacobus’ desk with old newspapers and notes.
There’s also a relic room in the museum, which features objects that belonged to the Dyckman family. The guidebook reads: “Designed by Dean and Reginald Pelham Bolton, a historian, and amateur archaeologist, the space contained objects discovered by those who were conducting digs in the area. Their work was essential in capturing information before development erased all evidence of early life. We are currently raising funds to conserve the objects and create a new exhibit.”
It’s believed that the upstairs of the house originally had one bedroom. However, after many renovations, the Dyckman clan added another one. It was probably to accommodate their big family. The curators chose furniture that goes back to the 18th century to make it seems as authentic as possible.
The bedrooms on the second story were completed in the 1820s. Historians believed that Jacobus’ children and his grandson used them. One of the rooms is small but practical. It has also been preserved, and there’s a green couch against the wall. But the master bedroom is better.
The master bedroom is much larger and has its own fireplace. There’s an armchair and a table on one side, while a chest of drawers sits on the other side. It’s hot and cozy. The guidebook reads: “Their museum rooms reflected the early 20th-century romantic view of colonial life. This contrast is reflected by the two bedrooms we have on view.”
What about the kitchens? A house from the 1700s-1800s wouldn’t have a special setup. Interestingly, this farmhouse has two kitchens. The biggest one is found in the basement for one particular reason: it was the best way to keep a large part of the house warmer during the winter.
The farmhouse guidebook reads: “The Winter Kitchen would have kept the home very warm in the cold months and would also have been used as a non-cooking workspace in the summer.” Additionally, Horsford also added a bit more information about the Winter Kitchen during her interview.
Horsford explained, “The farmhouse was built on original Manhattan bedrock. You can see that inside their winter kitchen, which is located in what we call the basement today.” The warmth from cooking would heat the floorboards above and keep the first story pretty cozy.
Of course, that setup wouldn’t have worked during the summer. Can you imagine leaving the scorching heat to heated floors inside the house? So, they had a summer kitchen, which was actually outside on a small shack. The guidebook explained that this part is closed to the public.
They didn’t preserve the area for visitors, as the winter kitchen seemed more than enough. The museum’s guidebook explained that both kitchens were probably also the sleeping areas of free Black people that lived at the Dyckman house. But they converted the summer kitchen into a sort of little cottage, and a warden lives there now.
Are you excited to see this house up close now? Well, the museum normally opens twice a week, but you have to check their schedules now. "Throughout the year, we host public programming for the community. We do history lectures, bilingual read-aloud, and a summer camp for children where we talk about what it’s like to live on a farm,” Horsford explained to Daily Mail.
The executive director added that they take the opportunity to teach children about growing food. They work with artists around the area, and they get to display their art in the museum. There are also a bunch of workshops during the summer. But you might be curious about their latest exhibition!
The museum’s latest exhibition is called “Unspoken Voices: Honoring the Legacy of Black American,” which hopes to highlight the lives of Black people that worked on the estate for hundreds of years. Furthermore, this new display coincided with the reopening of the museum after the events of 2020.
In 2018, the museum started a new program called DyckmanDISCOVERED to find out more about the history of the black people that worked at the estate throughout history. The newest exhibition honors what they have discovered through this initiative. They also empower the local community.
The museum has also collaborated with artists like Rachel Sydlowski and Marquise Foster to decorate the front area with traditional mourning clothes. They consist of lace, flowers, and animal prints. Additionally, visitors have to use a blacklight to see some of the special parts of this hidden history.
Horsford added, “The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum has always shared the history of its namesake family, and now more than ever, it’s time to share the history of the unheard with Upper Manhattan and the larger NYC community.” The director explained that it’s even more important considering that their neighborhood consists mostly of people of color.
You can check can still check out this exhibit, as it will close after summer 2021. You have to schedule appointments for a tour, but the admission is $6 for five family members. We invite you to check out the museum’s Facebook page, which they constantly update for any more information.
It’s definitely time to visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, especially now that the world is going back to normal. Let us know what you think about this old house right in the middle of Manhattan. If you liked this article, share it with your friends that would love to visit as well. See you next time!