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Northern Manhattan: From Farm to City to Park
May 23, 2012

Northern Manhattan: From Farm to City to Park

“We’re back!” a young mother said to the docent at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum as she coached her toddler up the porch steps. “I think we’re going to be regulars. He loves it here.”  

It was our second visit to the Dyckman House in northern Manhattan, and like the mother we overheard, we are sure we’ll go again. There are few more incongruous sights on the island than the Dyckman House: a white wooden Dutch colonial home set on a high perch overlooking Broadway. Across the street is an eclectic array of businesses in buildings a few stories tall, and beyond that, enormous apartment complexes loom large on the horizon.

When Horses and Pedestrians Ruled the Roads

Of course, when the Dyckman House was built around 1784, the scene along Broadway—then called Kingsbridge Road—was entirely different. Horses would be pulling carts, people would be pushing them, and pedestrians would comprise most of the traffic.

Our daughter Halina, age 6, immediately envisioned that from inside the house, as she looked over the split front door. She asked the docent why the door had a top and bottom, and the question was kindly put back to her, “Why do you think?”  “To keep animals out?” she ventured. “Yes, that, and to let air in,” the docent further explained. From there, with little prodding, Halina could imagine animals and people moving along a wide unpaved path, perhaps with other farms far off in the distance.

A tour of the home’s interior reveals many interesting lifestyle facts about the generations of Dyckmans who inhabited it, and a stroll around the grounds takes you through several layers of astounding history. Leaving the house out the back door, the formal garden is just to the north. It features a neat network of shrubs along a gravel path that one toddler enjoyed as an intricate maze to zoom around in. The surrounding gardens are thick with mature plants including beautiful bleeding-heart and foxglove flowers that were listed on a renovation plan from 1915. By that time, the farm was rundown and the area around it was urbanizing, so Dyckman descendants restored it and in 1916, it opened as a museum. In 1967, the museum was registered as a National Historic Landmark.

Continuing your walk clockwise around the grounds, you will come to a massive cherry tree that represents the orchards that once covered the landscape. The original farm spread out across 250 acres, but over time, it was sold off and today, the home presides over a half-acre lot that has many old-growth trees that are identified with tags. An old horsechestnut tree neighbors the cherry tree, and the south side of the house features a large black locust tree. The entire lot is heavily shaded and feels very much cocooned off from the city that surrounds it.

Hessians in New York City

The yard also includes several structures that speak to a bygone era when much of everyday life was lived outdoors. There is a summer kitchen on the south side of the house where meals could be cooked without heating up the house inside (the winter kitchen in the home was, in part, designed to heat the house during cold months). Farther to the southwest is a replica smokehouse, and alongside the formal garden is a reconstructed Hessian hut.

This small, fascinating building was added to the property during the 1915 renovation to commemorate the Battle of Washington Heights, a major Revolutionary War conflict that the British won in November 1776. Their victory, which relied on Hessian troops—German soldiers who fought for the British—ushered in the British occupation of Manhattan that lasted until the end of the war. During that time, a military encampment of more than 60 huts occupied the area and according to museum materials, the hut was built to reflect the connection between this important war and the Dyckman family farmland.

Like so many outdoor places in New York City, the Dyckman House provided the mix of history and beauty that we so appreciate.

Planning Your Visit

The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum is on Broadway at 204th Street. It is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The gardens are open to the public; admission to the house is $1 for adults and free for children under age 10.

Take the A train to 207th Street and walk north to 204th Street, staying on the west side of Broadway.

If you want to extend your visit in northern Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park covers the area to the west. There is also an excellent playground for children of all ages located just south of the subway stop. There are restrooms at the Dyckman House and at the playground.

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COMMENTS

By: lorainebashforth
Posted: 06/19/2012 15:31
Rating:

Fascinating -- we knew nothing about this but look forward to a future visit!

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