Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Hicks-Platt House
Address: 27 Gravesend Neck Road
Cross Streets: McDonald Avenue and Van Sicklen Street
Year Built: 1659-1663, but maybe 1700
Architectural Style: Dutch Colonial
The story: Gravesend is the only one of Brooklyn’s original six towns that was not established by the Dutch. English Anabaptists led by Lady Deborah Moody settled here in 1643. A persecuted religious sect in England, they had come to North America to find religious freedom, as had the Puritans and other sects. Settling in New England, they found it as intolerable to their faith as England had been, with even less religious freedom. Leaving there, Lady Moody and her group made their way to New Amsterdam and found the Dutch much more accommodating. The Village of Gravesend was laid out soon afterward, arranged with a town square and surrounding street grid. This house lies within the original village’s fortified borders.
The house was built between 1659 and 1663, according to some experts, or perhaps even as late as 1700. Charles A. Ditmas, of the Kings County Historical Society, told the Brooklyn Eagle in 1932 that he thought the house was built by the Van Sicklen family at that later date. Local lore has it that the house was used as a hospital for several of General Washington’s men fleeing the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn in Gowanus, in 1776. That may be true, but if they did, they didn’t stay long, and they would have had to have been well hidden. The British and their Hessian mercenaries made Coney Island the beachhead for their invasion of Brooklyn, and would have been all over Gravesend. They stayed and occupied Brooklyn for the remainder of the war.
As the years passed, the house would pass to the Hicks family, and then in the late 1890s to William E. Platt. Platt was a wheeler-dealer real estate developer who was selling land and houses in the southern Brooklyn suburban communities of Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend. (“Magnificent lots, starting terms of only 20 cents a day!) Perhaps because this was an old house within the old Gravesend village border, or just for the attention and hype, he began touting it as the home of Lady Deborah Moody herself. It was not. But why let facts get in your way? People believed it, and for many years, the house was known and referred to as the “Lady Moody House.”
In 1932, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote an article on this house, interviewing Mrs. Annie M. Anderson, who lived there with her granddaughter. Mrs. Anderson was born in England herself, and was convinced that Lady Moody had built the house. By that time the house was surrounded by other buildings, and was hidden behind a lot of vines and foliage. Next door were two houses from the 1850s, both of which had belonged to the Bergen family. One had been used as a store.
Both of those houses, which can be seen in the photos below, taken in the 1920s, were about to get torn down for a playground for P.S.95, the large hulking building in the background of other photos. Today that playground is a parking lot for the school. Mayor Wagner had personally assured Mrs. Anderson that her home was safe from the wrecking ball. The article said that although the interior had been very much altered in the last century or two, the original wavy glass still was in the windows, and the old beams still retained their original ax marks.
At that time, the house was covered in unpainted wooden shingles. Sometime, probably in the 1950s or ‘60s, someone removed or covered over the shingles with a stone face treatment, making the house look like a modern suburban Colonial ranch house. Someone also put a Colonial Revival style porch on the house, with fluted white columns. All of those features remain, plus new windows, which is probably why there has been no huge rush to landmark the house, as so little of the original building can now be seen. Fortunately, it’s still a single family house.
But underneath it all lays the original structure. Lady Moody probably didn’t build it, and unfortunately, didn’t live in it. But if it dates back to 1659, she most certainly must have visited it, and it’s one of the oldest houses in Brooklyn. I think it should be landmarked anyway. Incidentally, the cemetery seen in one of the old photographs is the Van Sicklen family cemetery. It still lies across the street, now with a better iron fence. GMAP
(Photo: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark)