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Weeksville Heritage Society

Weeksville Heritage Society

Also known as the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History

The Weeksville Heritage Society was founded in 1968 to preserve and celebrate the history of Weeksville.

Location: Weeksville Heritage Center, 158 Buffalo Ave, Brooklyn, NY  |  Google Maps
Neighborhood: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
People: Pamela Green, James Hurley, Joan Maynard, James Weeks
Places: Hunterfly Road Houses, Public School 243 
Above: Weeksville Heritage Center; Courtesy of Nic Lehoux

The mission of the Weeksville Heritage Society is to document, preserve and interpret the history of free African American communities in Weeksville, Brooklyn and beyond and to create and inspire innovative, contemporary uses of African American history through education, the arts, and civic engagement.1

1968: James Hurley discovers the Hunterfly Road Houses

1969: The Society of the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History is formed

1970: The Hunterfly Road houses are designated New York City landmarks

1971-72: The Hunterfly Road houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The Weeksville Heritage Society originated as the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History. It was founded by Joan Maynard, artist and Brooklyn resident, in 1968 after Pratt Institute professor James Hurley discovered four wood-framed houses.2 The houses were mere vestiges of a free black community formed in the 1830s by James Weeks, a former slave. Weeksville had once been an independent urban community of free African Americans.3 Despite the racial oppression of the mid-19th century, Weeksville stood as a beacon for African American prosperity and enrichment. The town had its own schools, hospitals, and black-owned businesses. When the houses were initially discovered, Weeksville's past had largely been forgotten. The houses were hidden from street view and discovered during an aerial survey of Bedford-Stuyvesant. They faced an old Native American trail, Hunterfly Road, opposite Bergen Street.4

The community realized that these historic gems were in threat of being demolished due to slum clearance. Joan Maynard formed the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History in order to restore, protect, and convert the houses into an interactive black history museum. The society was chartered in 1971 as a not-for-profit organization, and James Hurley became its first president.5 Eventually Joan Maynard became president in 1972, and served as executive director from 1974 to 1999. In 2001, Pamela Green became executive director, and the society changed its name to the Weeksville Heritage Center in 2005.

The heritage center focuses on maintaining the integrity of the historic structures while offering educational programs to the public. These programs include an oral history project with StoryCorps, extensive research on the history of the community, and guided tours of the Hunterfly Road houses.6 The Weeksville Center also houses a collection of artifacts from the archaeological digs that took place two blocks from the houses in 1968. Recently three of the four buildings underwent major interior and exterior restorations to reflect three specific time periods: 1870s, 1900s, and 1930s.7 The fourth building serves as the offices and research center for the organization. The space surrounding the four houses has been re-landscaped and includes a community garden.

The center reopened in 2005 with a keynote address by former New York State Senator Hillary Clinton.8 In 2009 the Society opened a 19,000 square foot cultural and educational center to serve as a space for exhibitions and performances. They are currently working on a historic preservation education initiative which will include teaching local high school students about how to preserve the rich history of Weeksville.9

After the Hunterfly Road Houses were discovered by James Hurley, the Weeksville community was fearful that they would lose an important part of their history due to the dilapidation of the structures and lack of funds to restore them. Furthermore, they believed that public housing construction planned for the block on Bergen Street between Buffalo and Rochester Avenues would ultimately destroy these four houses.10 James Hurley quickly engaged in preservation efforts by instituting an archaeological project on Dean Street and Troy Avenue to recover any remnants of 19th century life.11 Yet it was Joan Maynard's relentless efforts and vision that helped safeguard the houses from destruction. She engaged in community outreach programs and presented the cultural and historical information to local schools. By educating the members of this community about its rich historical legacy, she was able to garner community support. They were able to get the houses designated as New York City Landmarks, which protected them from demolition. However, the financial costs of renovating the buildings were daunting. Joan once again raised funds from several preservation organizations. Public School 243 (Weeksville School) even had a campaign called "Pennies for Weeksville."12

Yet during the process of restoring the houses, several events held them back. A car drove into one of the houses and in the early 1990s vandals broke into one the houses, resulting in the theft and damage of architectural elements.13 Maynard's vision for the Hunterfly Road houses to be converted into an interactive African American history museum finally came to fruition in 2005, when the major restoration program was completed. The houses now stand as pristine emblems of a once thriving political and cultural community and as a monument to the achievements of the free black community. They serve as an example of how history can be used to strengthen the community and pride in African American heritage.

"The rediscovery and the preservation of this local history provides a means of re-establishing a continuity with the past so that children, armed with the knowledge of the contributions of their forebears can gain strength to meet the challenge of the future."14

  1. 
 “About: What We Do,” Weeksville Heritage Center. Article retrieved 31 March 2016
  2. 
 Douglas Martin, “Joan Maynard Dies at 77; Preserved a Black Settlement,” The New York Times, 24 January 2006.
  3. 
 “Tours: Walk-In Tour Hours,” Weeksville Heritage Center. Article retrieved 31 March 2016
  4. 
 Kevin Plumberg, “Let’s Make A Landmark: Bed-Stuy’s Weeksville Becomes a Tourist Attraction,” Brooklyn Rail, October 2003.
  5. Weeksville Society
  6. 
 Ibid.
  7. 
 “Tours: Walk-In Tour Hours,” Weeksville Heritage Center. Article retrieved 31 March 2016
  8. 
 Ibid
  9. 
 Ibid.
  10. 
Ibid.
  11. 
 Joan Maynard, “Weeksville Revisited,” In An Introduction to the Black Contribution to the Development of Brooklyn. (Brooklyn: The New Muse Community Museum of Brooklyn, 1977), page 87.
  12. 1
 Douglas Martin, “About New York; In Black History, Reconstruction Is Also A Struggle,” The New York Times, 9 February 1991.
  13. 
 Ibid.
  14. 14.
 Joan Maynard, “Weeksville Revisited,” In An Introduction to the Black Contribution to the Development of Brooklyn. (Brooklyn: The New Muse Community Museum of             Brooklyn, 1977), page 88.