Fresh Starts, Old Encounters

Archaeological work at the Hunterfly Road Houses helped to reactivate neighborhood interest in the site and assisted the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History in its aim to have the historic structures restored. The Hunterfly Road Houses are survivors of a 19th-century African American enclave in Brooklyn with a unique history.  Originally a Native American trade path, Hunterfly Road, from the Dutch "Ander Vly" meaning "low and swamp place", was marked by the scattered remains of the houses that now comprise Weeksville Heritage Center.

Fresh Starts, Old Encounters exhibited archaeological finds, oral histories and films that document the changes experienced within the Weeksville community through the 19th and early 20th century, as it responded to near erasure, urbanization and industrialization. One of the highlights of the exhibit is a six-page letter written by historic Weeksville resident, Harriet Etta Lane (b. 1884).

Following the rediscovery of Weeksville, archaeological excavations began when James Hurley and "Dewey" Harley realized that a block of houses bounded by Troy Avenue, Pacific Street, Schenectady Avenue, and Dean Street were going to be cleared in order to build new city housing under the Model Cities Program. These houses were near the center of historic Weeksville, a free African American community founded by James Weeks just eleven years after the abolition of slavery in New York State. In an effort to save the houses from an eminent demolition, Hurley appealed to the Model Cities Committee via telegram on April 22, 1968.  

To his success, support for Project Weeksville was generated through a comprehensive project proposal, which described the Project's plans to conduct an archaeological survey and historical study regarding the origins of Weeksville by enlisting the help of college students and neighborhood youth.  Project Weeksville sought to draw attention to the history of Weeksville by mounting exhibitions at cultural institutions in the Brooklyn area. Hurley submitted the proposal on Project Weeksville to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth in Action Corporation, and the program was accepted with him as the director from 1968-1970. Hurley initiated Project Weeksville in collaboration with students from local community colleges and various youth organizations (i.e., Boy Scouts Troop #342 and the Y.I.A.).

Through his course at Pratt Institute titled "Discovering Bedford Stuyvesant and New York City" and with the dedication and support of two of his students, Dolores McCullough and Patricia Johnson, Hurley's professional affiliations with local community organizations attracted a substantial amount of interest and support for the Project. The archaeological dig led by Hurley and Harley included advice & assistance from Dr. Bert Salwen of the New York University Department of Anthropology; Michael Cohn, Curator of the Anthropology at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum; Dr. Edward Rutsch, Professor of Anthropology at Farleigh Dickenson University; Boy Scout Troop #342, under the leadership of Scoutmaster Wilson A. Williams; children from the Weeksville School, P.S. 243 and a host of community volunteers, including Project Weeksville historian Robert Swan. In addition, Model Cities, the National Science Foundation, and Medgar Evers College contributed funds to the Project. 

In August 1970, through the efforts of the Society, and aided by Boy Scout Troop #342, and many community residents, the buildings were declared official New York City Landmarks. According to one internal document, "More than fifteen persons spoke in favor of the proposed designation including students from Public School 243. There were no speakers in opposition to designation."  In December 1972, they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S., and in June 1973, the buildings were purchased by Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, who started the initial preservation of the homes.

 

Transcript: Joan Maynard's Recommendation Letter for Robert Thompson, 1977

Exhibition Checklist: Fresh Starts, Old Encounters, 2014

Cut Out & Fold Flier:  Let's Make a Landmark, The Weeksville Society, Copyright 1988

Curated by the 5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination & Freedom, Weeksville Heritage Center. 


Finding Aid:  Lane Family Papers*

Finding Aid:  Weeksville Urban Archaeological Excavation Records*

Finding Aid:  Joseph Harold Haynes Collection on Black Heritage and Blacks in Aviation*

(*Collection closed until further notice.)