Walking through Crown Heights, Brooklyn in New York today, it would be hard to tell that portions of the borough were once home to a thriving Black community. Weeksville is the name of a community established by a free Black man and is today one of New York’s historical landmarks.
James Weeks, a longshoreman from Virginia, purchased land from another free Black man, Henry Thompson in 1838. Shortly after, Weeks invited other Black families to buy plots of land in the region. With the help of local businessmen and others in the community, a village was established and by 1850, it was the second-largest Black settlement in the United States ahead of the Civil War.
Weeksville became a refuge of sorts for not just free Blacks who found themselves in the north, but also southern Blacks looking to escape the horrors of slavery. By the turn of the century, however, Weeksville began to decline, although the city continued to exist into the ’30’s. But by the ’50’s, Weeksville was swept up in the rapid development across Brooklyn and was absorbed by Crown Heights.
Fifty years ago, Brooklyn engineer and pilot Joseph Haynes wanted to dig into his city’s rural past and encountered historian James “Jim” Hurley at the Pratt Institute. Through city records, Haynes found that there was more to the neighborhood that met the eye. Haynes flew Hurley over the area where there was hint that a village was once positioned there and discovered four wooden cottages from Weeksville’s heyday.
Haynes and Hurley, with the help of Black architects, restored the cottage buildings. Over the years, the area has been through some upheaval but in 1970, the homes were made New York landmarks and in 1972, they landed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2005, the Weeksville Heritage Center was opened, featuring the Hunterfly Road Houses and information detailing the rich history of the neighborhood.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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