Looking for Dutch NYC 400 years after Henry Hudson

Painting depicting New Amsterdam as it looked in 1664. Public domain image, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Painting depicting New Amsterdam as it looked in 1664. Public domain image, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

NEW YORK (AP) – New York City is constantly being rebuilt, paved over and reinvented, so it’s not easy to find remnants of the colony of New Amsterdam 400 years after Henry Hudson sailed up the river that bears his name.

But whether you’re sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn, strolling through Harlem or wandering along the Bowery, you are connecting with the city’s Dutch roots. There are place names, statues, and even a 17th century Dutch farmhouse in Brooklyn, all serving as proof of this early chapter in New York history.

“New York City being what it is, it builds on top of everything,” said Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America.

But Lower Manhattan still bears the imprint of its first colonial settlers. “The Dutch laid out the streets there, and the street pattern is still the same,” Shorto said. “And Wall Street was the northern boundary of New Amsterdam. The Dutch built that wall not to keep the Indians out, but to keep the English out.”

The last Dutch director of the colony was Peter Stuyvesant, whose statue can be found outside St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. The word “bowery” is Dutch for farm, and the property was once “the Dutch West India Company farm, in the wilderness of what is now the East Village,” Shorto said. Stuyvesant’s family chapel was located here as well, and he is buried on site, along with his descendants.

New Amsterdam’s original fort is gone, too, but the National Museum of the American Indian is located where it once stood, at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan. A sculpture at the base of a flagpole near the museum depicts Peter Minuit, a director of the colony, purchasing Manhattan from a native in 1626. The flagpole was a gift to New York from the Netherlands in 1926, on the 300th anniversary of the city’s first real estate transaction.

Out in Brooklyn there’s a more tangible example of the city’s Dutch heritage: The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House was built by a settler and his descendants as a Dutch West India Company farm. The oldest portion of the house dates to 1652, though it was enlarged in 1740 and 1819. It is now a museum and National Historic Landmark owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which describes it as the city’s oldest surviving structure.

Inside, a portion of the interior wall has been exposed to show the original materials used to build the house: corncobs, mud, straw and wood. The house is filled with artifacts, from an antique cradle to imported Delft pottery. Visitors learn about everyday life centuries ago, and descendants of the original Wyckoffs have found their way here from around the world.

“This is their ancestral home,” said Shirley Brown Alleyne, the Wyckoff House director of education, who estimates that 50,000 to 65,000 people bear the name Wyckoff or a variation of it. The house offers tours and hosts events throughout the year.

Dutch Revival buildings on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Dutch Revival buildings on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Many of the city’s place names, like Bowery Avenue, come from Dutch words. Rikers Island, where the city’s jail is located, is named for a Dutch family. Harlem was named for the Dutch city Haarlem. Brooklyn was originally Breukelen. And the stoops, or flight of front steps, found outside many low-rise residential buildings around the city is also something inherited from the Dutch, Shorto says.

Shorto narrates a new self-guided walking tour of 17th century Dutch New York called the “New Amsterdam Trail” that the Hudson 400 Foundation is launching in late May. A number of museums are also hosting special exhibits in honor of the quadricentennial, including “Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson,” at the Museum of the City of New York.

Major events include a flotilla launching June 5 from New York Harbor, tracing
Hudson’s voyage upriver to Albany over the course of a week. In September, a Dutch village will be created in Bowling Green Park in Lower Manhattan, and Governors Island will host a festival featuring artists from Holland and New York. Dutch arts and culture will also be celebrated around the city from Nov. 12-16 during the “5 Dutch Days” event.

“All of the anniversary celebrations offer people one more reason to visit New York City this year and we encourage both New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy all of the celebratory activities,” said George Fertitta, who is CEO of NYC400 as well as the head of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing agency.

While the anniversary events, tours and other evidence of New Amsterdam make for a wonderful itinerary, Shorto says the most fundamental aspect of New York’s Dutch heritage is its longstanding identity as a multicultural city.

“The Dutch republic was the melting pot of Europe, and when they founded this colony, this mix of people came, along with this idea they invented called tolerance,” Shorto said. “In the 1640s in New Amsterdam, there were 500 people and 18 languages. It was already that kind of mix.”

If You Go:

http://www.nycgo.com/nyc400. New York State:
http://www.exploreny400.com. Dutch Government:
http://www.ny400.org. Hudson Valley: http://www.hudson400.com.

STUYVESANT STATUE: In the yard of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, Second Avenue between 10th and 11th streets.

PIETER CLAESEN WYCKOFF HOUSE: 5816 Clarendon Rd., Brooklyn; http://www.wyckoffassociation.org/ or 718-629-5400. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with walk-in tours weekdays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and weekends at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Adults, $5; students and seniors, $3; children 9 and under, free.

NETHERLANDS MEMORIAL FLAGPOLE: Bowling Green, near the National Museum of the American Indian. A sculpture of Peter Minuit making a deal to acquire Manhattan from a Native American is on the base of the flagpole.

NEW AMSTERDAM TRAIL: Self-guided walking tour launching in late May; details and downloadable audio will be available at http://www.nycgo.com/nyc400.

MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK: 1220 Fifth Ave., at 103rd Street; http://www.mcny.org or 212-534-1672. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Suggested donation: $9. “Amsterdam/New Amsterdam” through Sept. 27.

GROUP TOURS: Tour guide Rick Landman can arrange group tours
with a “New Amsterdam” theme. Details at
AP-ES-04-21-09 0926EDT

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.