Inside The Oldest Farmhouse In Manhattan – And How It’s Still Standing 235 Years On

As you make your way through the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, you turn a corner and see something that makes you stop dead in your tracks. Nestled among the oppressive concrete jungle is an old farmhouse that looks like it belongs in a whole different world. You wonder if you’ve stepped into a time machine and somehow arrived back in the 1700s. But when you peer inside, you realize it’s not just the outside that’s eerily frozen in time.

To say that this farmhouse stands out like a sore thumb would be an understatement! It sits in the Inwood area of Manhattan on Broadway and 204th Street. Looming over it are what look to be high-rise apartment blocks or offices, and traffic whizzes by on the busy road out front.

Some might say that this farmhouse looks a little out of place. And that’s hardly a surprise given that it was constructed back in 1784. But the property has held its ground for over 230 years – even as the modern world has claimed every inch of space around it. Pretty crazy, right? Who would have thought that something like this could still be found in a major city today?

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And if only walls could speak, as we bet this farmhouse would have some pretty incredible stories to tell. It was built by the Dyckman clan, who left their home in the Netherlands back in the 17th century in order to make a new life in America. They were settled in the country for roughly a century prior to the build.

And you should know that the Dyckmans didn’t construct the farmhouse on a whim – far from it, in fact. Rather, the property’s creation is tied to a major event in American history. Before that time, though, the settlers lived in a different part of New York and seemed more than happy.

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To shed some light on this fascinating tale, an expert on the subject spoke to the Mail Online website back in March 2018. This person was Meredith Horsford, who oversees the everyday operations of the farmhouse as an executive director. The historic property, you see, serves as a museum nowadays.

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Horsford informed the website, “The Dyckman family came to America from the Netherlands in the 1600s. They were in what’s now called Harlem, but then built their first home just northeast of where the current farmhouse is located. But the family fled the home when the Revolutionary War broke out.”

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Horsford went on, “When [the Dyckmans] returned, the house was destroyed along with their orchards. So, William Dyckman decided to rebuild in the location where the home is now on Broadway. And the family lived in that farmhouse until the mid-1800s.” Talk about bouncing back! Mind you, they very nearly left the property much earlier than that.

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William, who represented the third generation of Dyckmans living in America, passed away in 1787. Yep, that was just three years after the new farmhouse had been put together. Following his death, the clan decided to cash in on the estate – but those plans were eventually torn up thanks to Jacobus Dyckman.

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Jacobus was William’s son, and he wanted to assume control of the farmhouse. He got his wish in the end, settling on the property in 1793. But there was more to the estate than a single home. After all, it spanned around 250 acres of land. Spacious and then some, right?

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In addition to the farmhouse, there were three more homes peppered throughout the estate, as well. Plus, you could also find a barn, cider mill, stable and a few corn cribs on the land. All in all, then, it was a bustling space. But how many people stayed there after Jacobus took over?

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According to the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Alliance website, the main building housed a group of ten in 1820. Jacobus was one of them, of course, while three of his kids also joined him. Their names were Isaac, Michael and Jacob. Alongside them, the homeowner’s niece and grandson were there, too.

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As for the additional buildings around the farm, they sheltered 20 locals during that period. So, it was like a mini-community of sorts. Yet even though the estate was full of activity, those years were exceptionally tough on Jacobus’ personal life. Sure, he had the farmhouse, but he suffered plenty of difficult losses.

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You see, from 1809 until 1822, five of Jacobus’ 11 kids died. And if that wasn’t enough, his partner Hannah and one of their grandchildren passed away over that spell, as well. We can’t imagine how heartbreaking that must’ve been for the guy. Seven family deaths in 13 years? Horrible.

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But Jacobus continued to run the farm in spite of those personal tragedies. He and the workers managed to overcome northern Manhattan’s less than ideal landscape to grow things like apple and cherry trees. They also produced lots of nutritious vegetables and fruit on top of that, making the best of the land.

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And that’s not all the family did. As the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum’s Facebook page noted, “The Dyckman family partnered with Eliza Hamilton to give accessibility of education to children through the Hamilton Free School in the early 1800s. This then transformed into the Dyckman Library, [ahead of] one last transformation into the Dyckman Institute.”

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Going back to the land, the Dyckmans’ ownership only grew as time went on. By the late 1860s it spanned well over 300 acres in Manhattan. It goes without saying that that’s a pretty significant chunk. As that was happening, though, the dynamics inside the farmhouse shifted in a major way.

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When Jacobus passed away in 1832, Michael and Isaac assumed control of the main building, following in their dad’s footsteps. They stayed there for the next two decades or so, before packing their bags for one of the other places on the massive estate. Now, here’s where it gets really intriguing.

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As we noted earlier, one of Jacobus’ grandsons lived in the farmhouse back in 1820. His name was James Frederick Smith. Once Isaac passed away in 1868, though, he had a pretty significant choice to make. According to Isaac’s last will and testament, James would have to take a dramatic step – or he wouldn’t receive any benefits.

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Isaac wanted roughly 340 acres of the family estate to be auctioned off, and the farmhouse came under that. He stated that James could keep sections of the farm, though, as well as receiving a financial inheritance – but on one condition. Basically, he had to adopt a different name: Isaac Michael Dyckman.

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Jacobus’ grandson agreed to the terms, taking on his updated name. And as for the rest of the estate and the farmhouse, it was all bought up by 1871. Mind you, that didn’t signal the end of the Dyckmans’ ties to it. After all, the newly named Isaac Michael Dyckman had two children of his own.

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The kids’ names were Fannie Fredericka Dyckman Welch and Mary Alice Dyckman Dean. The sisters were drawn back to their family’s old home in 1915, when the farmhouse was on the verge of being torn down. It was already in a pretty bad state, so they decided to buy the place to save it.

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Then, once Mary and Fannie got hold of the farmhouse, their respective partners helped them to revitalize it. After the work was completed, the sisters opened it up as a museum that celebrated their clan’s time there. They eventually handed the keys to New York officials in 1916, who assumed control of the building.

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That’s some journey, right? Talk about an eventful history! But what does the farmhouse look like today? What kind of stuff will visitors see when they walk through the front door? Well, before we start the grand tour, let’s focus on the outside of the property and the surrounding sidewalks.

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As far back as 1885, the sidewalk was pretty much level with the farmhouse. But those pavements were eventually lowered down by about 15 feet in the following years. As a result of that, the building’s a lot higher up now, with paved walls and greenery filling out the lower sections.

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On the other side of those walls, then, you’ll find a nice garden that boasts plenty of plant life and even its own small cannon! It’s really quite a cool spot. Anyway, the exterior itself hasn’t really changed, as the old house is held together by fieldstone, wood and bricks.

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The farmhouse also has a front porch that overlooks the street below. But how does the interior look in comparison? Does it retain the retro stylings of its shell? Well, as soon as you walk through the door, you enter a corridor with rooms on either side. They both served as parlor spaces in the past.

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The one on the left-hand side contains a couple of desks, a fireplace and a grandfather clock in the corner. As per the farmhouse’s guidebook, “This room was like a living room for the Dyckman family. They would use this room for spending time together, reading, writing and even telling stories.”

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We can certainly picture that. After all, this is a very cozy space. Before you start to imagine yourselves relaxing in the parlor, though, let’s take a closer look at the desk next to the fireplace. This spot is covered with old newspapers and notes, with even more stored along the cubby-holes further back. There’s a quill and ink pot in the corner, too!

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By itself, this room is a fascinating snapshot of the past, but what else can you see inside the farmhouse? Well, there’s an additional space known as the “Relic Room” which harbors items linked to the Dyckmans behind sealed cabinets. Plus, the ground floor has its own bedroom. It’s believed that Jacobus Dyckman slept there.

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With the first floor covered, it’s about time we head upstairs. After walking up a small flight of wooden steps, you’ll reach a landing with four surrounding doorways. Hundreds of years ago, this area is thought to have been a single room, before some major works took place to change that.

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Yes, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Alliance website claims that bedrooms were finally installed on that floor during the 1820s. It’s suggested that Jacobus’ kids and his grandson could’ve stayed in those areas after that. One of the rooms is fairly small, with a long, green couch resting against the wall.

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Then again, they’re not all like that. In fact, the space to the right of the landing is far less cramped. This bedroom has its own fireplace next to the windows, with an armchair and table on the right-hand side. There’s a chest of drawers to the left, while a large bed sits along the adjoining wall.

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Pretty nice, right? Some of our modern bedrooms pale in comparison! Now, let’s take a trip down to the farmhouse’s basement. What’s in there? Well, if you were wondering where you’d find the kitchen, fret no more. It’s nestled on that lower floor at the bottom of another flight of stairs.

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But this wasn’t just any old kitchen in the past. As it turns out, the Dyckmans only used it during certain times of the year. To explain more, Meredith Horsford continued her conversation with the Mail Online website in March 2018. And she also dropped an additional tidbit in there, as well.

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Horsford noted, “The farmhouse was built on original Manhattan bedrock. You can see that inside their winter kitchen, which is located in what we call the basement today.” The huge hearth below wouldn’t only cook the family’s food, but it’d provide warmth to the floorboards on the first floor, too.

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So yes, the basement kitchen essentially doubled up as a heater over the colder months! A real clever bit of planning. How about the summer, though? Where did the Dyckmans prepare their meals then? Simple really – they used a different room. This second kitchen could be found outside the farmhouse in a small shack.

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Yet unlike the basement kitchen, this room hasn’t been preserved for incoming visitors. Instead, it was converted into a living space for the museum’s warden, who continues to stay there. It resembles a cozy little cottage from the outside, with white wooden boards lining the exterior walls. With that, our tour of the farmhouse comes to a close.

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At the moment, the museum is open twice a week, if you fancy taking a look for yourself. But the farmhouse has a few other uses, as well. As Horsford told the Mail Online, “Throughout the year we host public programming for the community. We do history lectures, bilingual read alouds and a summer camp for children where we talk about what it’s like to live on a farm.”

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Horsford went on, “It’s a great opportunity to teach kids where their food comes from. We work with local artists and display their art inside the house. It’s kind of cool to have contemporary art among historical furnishings. We also do kids art workshops and conduct a math workshop in the summer.” So, we get the feeling that this old farmhouse will be sticking around for some time yet!

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