|Should you go?|
|Time spent||29 minutes|
|Best thing I saw or learned||
Leffert’s House has a scraggly little wormwood plant growing in its garden. Artisanal Brooklyn absinthe, anyone?
Leffert Pieterson, a Dutch farmer, obtained a tract of land in the village of Flatbush in 1687, and built himself a house there. That original Lefferts homestead was burned by the Americans just before the Battle of Brooklyn, to prevent the British from seizing and using it. However, Pieter Lefferts, in the fourth generation of a family that as some point reversed names, rebuilt a fine farmhouse for himself and his family in 1783.
Fast forward a century and change and in the early 1900s, as the Lefferts family was considering real estate values and such, they offered the house to New York City, on the condition that the City move it off their land. Which the City did. Thus giving us yet another story of an interesting move of an old house from point A to point B, in this case involving temporary rails laid along Washington Avenue and across the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Lefferts House ended up in the southeast corner of Prospect Park, where it remains to this day. It’s been a museum since 1920.
That move also resulted in some interventions — it was decided to tell the story of the house from fairly early in its history, so later Lefferts family additions and changes got stripped away, as did fancy mantels and gas lighting fixtures. The house layout today reflects how it (probably) appeared around 1820.
The interiors of Lefferts House today may be authentic in terms of walls and floors, but they’re sadly pretty empty of historic furnishings. In the kitchen, amusingly, a painted clock and china cupboard stand alongside authentic herbs from the garden, hung up to dry. It creates a strange, dollhouse sort of effect.
Some rooms feel downright museum-like, empty except for cases with objects or artifacts on display.
The upstairs, only accessible with a guide, features a bit more in the way of furnishings. There’s a (real) china cabinet. And one of the upstairs bedrooms has a bit more furnishing, but even there it seems spare, as if the family were caught in the process of moving in or out.
Visitors get a sense of the original Lefferts family, and a rather basic view of their life before and after the 1827 end of slavery in New York State. There’s also the story of the house and its architecture, and the move to its current location.
Lefferts House today boasts enough land around it to create at least a semblance of its atmosphere as a working farm.
Various herbs and other plants grow in gardens, an old wagon sits picturesquely, and that and a recreation of a mid-19th-century wood plank toll rode evoke bygone transportation. There’s also an old brick, open hearth that (being in Brooklyn) made me think of artisanal wood-fired pizza to go with my artisanal absinthe.
When the weather is nice, the staff sets up old-timey children’s games like stilts and those wooden hoops you can roll along the ground with a stick — the Minecraft of their day. With the music of the carousel in the background, it’d be a pleasant place to bring the kids.
Bring the Kids
Indeed, Lefferts House focuses very much on children as its primary audience. Rather than capturing exact period detail, it more broadly speaks to life and times in the early 1800s. It also has a fair selection of toys to play with, too.
The volunteer I spoke with clearly dealt a lot with younger visitors, and showed a great deal of both engagement and patience.
I suspect some harried parents or nannies stop in on days when Lefferts House is open just to give the kids a novel setting and some old-fashioned, non-virtual things to play with for a while. The historicity of the house is incidental.
Should you Visit Lefferts House?
Every building that survives in this city from the 18th century (or earlier!) is a minor miracle, and I’m glad that someone found a way to preserve them. But unless you’re some kind of completist, you don’t necessarily need to visit all of them. It’s kind of enough that they are there.
I liked Lefferts House, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a must-visit. It’d be a good stop during a day exploring Prospect Park, or to accompany a visit to the Brooklyn Museum or the Botanic Garden. But the limited objects on display and only somewhat interesting story of the Lefferts family make it hard to justify a special trip.
|Address||452 Flatbush Avenue (just inside Prospect Park, near the Carousel), Brooklyn|
|Cost||General Admission: $3 (suggested)|