Imagine being told your entire life that you were not really a citizen of your town or country. Imagine being treated as an inferior, offered only the most menial of jobs, and told to be happy with your lot in life. Imagine being banned from churches, stores and theaters, even cemeteries, because they did not serve “your kind.”

Now imagine finding a town where you were accepted — a town where you were able to build your own home, worship in your own church, buy from stores owned by people like you, and raise and educate your children in a place where they would be welcome. A town where you could reach old age and pass on in dignity and equality.

For Brooklyn’s African-American population in the 19th century, some of whom were recently freed from slavery, this remarkable town was called Weeksville. And it survives today in bits and pieces, some of which now comprise a historic center in present-day Crown Heights. Here is its story.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private house
Address: 1352 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: Schenectady and Utica avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North/Weeksville
Year Built: Unknown
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Eastern Crown Heights is an interesting neighborhood. The blocks that surround the avenues that were named after cities in upstate New York have not really been on anyone’s radar – ever. At least, not until recently, when the search for an affordable row house has taken people to places they would never have thought of venturing before.

Not too many people ventured here for a very long time. This was the 9th Ward, practically the eastern end of Brooklyn, and much of it was farmland and undeveloped property until the very end of the 19th century. This was also considered to be Weeksville.

Only a few blocks from here, James Weeks and a group of African American Brooklynites founded a town called Weeksville in 1838. It was a place where black people could be free build their homes and walk their streets unquestioned. They opened and operate businesses, schools, churches and charitable organizations, all free of the ingrained prejudices and restrictions all too present in mid-19th century Brooklyn.

Today’s Weeksville Heritage Center has preserved the last remaining group of these houses, and a rich cultural center has been built up around it. But people forget that Weeksville was not just one block of houses. It was a town, and its informal boundaries stretched out in all directions for a number of blocks.

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Urban farm stand Bread Love Weeksville is hosting a series of events this fall called Sunday Dinners. The events take place from 2 to 6 pm Sundays at the Weeksville Heritage Center at 1698 Bergen Street starting yesterday and continuing through October 12. The menu changes each week.

Above, a chicken dinner at Weeksville. Jerk Chicken and Fish Fry is scheduled for the 28th, a Pig Roast for October 5, and Seafood Boil for Oct. 12. Local musicians and DJs will perform. The dinners are part of the month-long collaboration between Creative Time and Weeksville called “Black Radical Brooklyn.”

As you may recall, sadly, Bread Love Cafe at 275 Stuyvesant had to close after a fire earlier this year. We’re glad to see them back in the form of a pop-up.

Photo by Bread Love Weeksville GMAP

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Last week an LLC called Buffalo Avenue Realty Associates picked up St. Mary’s Hospital at 170 Buffalo Avenue in the Weeksville neighborhood of Crown Heights for $19,500,000. The large private Catholic institution closed in 2005.

Surprisingly, it will not be converted into rentals or condos. The new owner has already leased the building to Prospect Park Nursing Home of 1455 Coney Island Avenue for $1,500,000 for 15 years, according to a tipster. It is around the corner from the Weeksville Heritage Center.

Photo by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark

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The new museum building at the Weeksville Heritage Center is finished, and the official ribbon cutting took place yesterday morning, although the building won’t open to the public until spring 2014. The celebration included an African libation ceremony and speeches from local officials.

WHC board chairman Timothy Simons and outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz recalled when WHC was just a dream in the mind of founder Joan Maynard, who saved four of the early free black community’s 19th-century houses from urban renewal plans and housing project developments. With its new building, located at 1698 Bergen Street, WHC wants to provide an oasis for visitors and the community as well as resources for scholars looking to research Weeksville. The new center cost $34,000,000 to build and hosts a 700-square-foot art gallery, performance space that can seat 200, classrooms, administrative offices, archival storage space and a studio for recording oral histories.

Designed by Caples Jefferson Architects, it’s one of only two LEED-certified buildings in central Brooklyn and incorporates sustainable elements like drywells that filter on-site storm water and geothermal wells for heating and cooling. Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architects designed the surrounding 1.5 acres, which will include a microfarm and heritage-based garden with plants that were grown in 19th century Brooklyn. Outside one of the structure’s large windows sits an oval-shaped sculpture made of discarded tires, “Sugar in My Bowl II,” created by Chakaia Booker.

Unfortunately, none of the speakers said anything about the inspiration for the building design, but the wood cladding echoes the center’s 19th-century wood frame Hunterfly Road houses, and the tiles lining the presentation space appear to have a carved foliate design. The building was deliberately placed far away from the Hunterfly Road houses to emphasize their once-rural siting, and subtle references to African design weave through the building, according to Architect magazine, such as the pattern of the exterior stone and the overhead latticework in the transparent walkways.

The modern looking building sits across the street from the dilapidated St. Mary’s Hospital. Click through to the jump for lots more pictures. What do you think of it?

Weeksville Museum Gets Major New Building [Brownstoner] GMAP

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Caples Jefferson Architects has designed a gorgeous new building for Weeksville Heritage Center, the 1.5-acre museum complex in Crown Heights about the 19th century free African American community of Weeksville, now part of Crown Heights. The very modern stone, glass and wood building stands in stark contrast to the three original 19th-century Weeksville structures, known as the Hunterfly Road Houses.

It is 23,000 square feet and will hold exhibition and event space. Architect and designboom have articles on the center, which we saw when Curbed wrote about them both. There are also photos of the space in progress on the Weeksville Heritage Center site. As far as we can tell, the new building is not yet open. (The museum’s own site says “Coming Soon.”)

The last big event at the Weeksville museum was the yearly Harvest Festival in October. In January, the museum will have an exhibit about the abolitionist movement in New York, part of a Brooklyn program called In Pursuit of Freedom.

Click through to all four sites to see tons more pictures of the new building and grounds. What do you think of the design?

Cultural Additions: Modern Museum Opens in Brooklyn’s Historic Weeksville [Curbed]
Weeksville Heritage Center [Architect]
Caples Jefferson Architects Weeksville Heritage Center [designboom]
Weeksville Heritage Center [Tumblr]
Photo by Nic Lehoux for Caples Jefferson Architects Via Designboom