Drive along Kings Highway today near Avenue D, and you’ll pass low-rise apartment blocks and bustling commercial strips. But 380 years ago the land looked far different — it was a flat, rural wilderness.
It was 1636 when Dutch immigrant Wolphert Gerritsen van Couwenhoven bought the land from local American Indians and co-founded the settlement of New Amersfort. Couwenhoven used the land as his second farm — his first was on a little island called Manhattan.
Over the decades, the Couwenhoven family grew and changed the spelling to Kouwenhoven. But they continued living at a little homestead on the Long Island farm.
In September of 1838, Wolphert’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson Cornelius Bergen Kouwenhoven got married and decided to build his wife a throughly up-to-date home. According to Brooklyn Genealogy:
The time for building houses like one’s ancestors had passed. A Flatlander’s house must be modern, therefore classical in appearance. So, on the northern extremity of his father’s Vriesens Hook farm, Cornelius erected a tall stately mansion with pillars two storeys high. He painted it yellow with white trimmings. He put the kitchen in the basement. The only Dutch custom he followed was to face his house to the south.
The Greek Revival Kouwenhoven mansion was completed in December of 1839, just in time for the birth of Cornelius’s daughter less than a month later. The home became an icon of the neighborhood, even as the city changed around it. An ancestor of the farmer who worked the Kouwenhoven farm sent us some remarkable photos of that property earlier this year.
An April 1930 story in the Brooklyn Eagle reminisced about the good ol’ days:
Flatbush folk who were boys and girls only 15 years ago will recall the Kouwenhoven farm and the squirrel and duck hunting that was carried on nearby. On cold days many a young Flatbushite, returning from a hunting expedition in the woods that were abundant in the section at the time, sought warmth in the old Kouwenhoven station, which stood on the embankment at Kings Highway until a few years ago, when the Long Island Railroad abandoned service on its Manhattan Beach branch.”
It isn’t clear what year the home was demolished.
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