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Lott House Q&A "Brooklyn's Eighteenth-Century Lott House"

Walk us through the site.

[image] The neighborhood today (Courtesy Brooklyn College) [LARGER IMAGE]

Arthur Bankoff: The house is on East 36th Street in Marine Park, a neighborhood of well-kept single-family brick houses, mostly built in the 1930s and into the 1940s. It is not your idea of a place for an archaeological site; if you are thinking of the Acropolis, forget it. The Lott House itself is set back from the street, behind a white picket fence, and occupies far more acreage than the houses that surround it. Historic maps of the area show that it was flatter than a table, gently tilted toward the south (into the ocean), and drained by small streams which ran into Jamaica Bay. One of these, Gerritsen Creek, ran right behind (west of) the Lott House and about a block away. The land was fertile farmland to the north and east of the house, with marshy meadows and swamps lying to the south and west. The house itself faces south, and once overlooked over a vista of meadow to the Bay (now it stares at the sides of neighboring houses. We have early twentieth-century photos of the house and its outbuildings--barns, stables, chicken coops, and more--no longer standing.)

The conservation of the house itself is not under our jurisdiction. A historic structures report is being prepared by an architectural historian which will detail the materials used in the house construction, the various phases of construction and repair, and the reconstruction and conservation necessary. The work of the architectural historian has a lot in common with our work, peeling back the layers of time. But there hasn't been any true archaeology in the house, only around it. In fact, we would like to dig a bit in the basement, where we think there might have been rooms for servants or slaves.

How do we know? There appear to be at least five separate rooms in the basement. It has seven-foot ceilings (a height almost unheard of among Dutch-American farmhouses in the area), white-washed walls, two entrances to the outside including one that has a total of eight panes of glass in it, six windows to allow light and air in and two access-ways to the first floor. Although it is tough (due to the physical constraints) to excavate within structures, it is not impossible, and the invaluable new data make it worth the exposure to high concentrations of dust and mold. Of course, it isn't worth exposure to asbestos, and removal will have to be scheduled before we can excavate the basement.

Chris Ricciardi: Flatlands was set up as a farming community in the mid-seventeenth century with a small, predominantly Dutch population and large plantations that cultivated wheat, corn, and vegetables, herded, and produced various dairy products. The community was a separate town in Kings County, modern-day Brooklyn, until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. All of the wards and towns of Kings County incorporated with Brooklyn soon after. Then, in 1898, the five counties--Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Richmond (modern-day Staten Island), and Kings (modern-day Brooklyn)--incorporated to become the City of New York, an act current Brooklyn Borough president Howard Golden has called the worst thing that ever happened to Brooklyn.

Click here to read one man's account of farming in Brooklyn today.
The Dutch were not the first residents of this area. This southern portion of Brooklyn was home to the native Canarsee tribe. This group was part of the Algonkian speaking, Lenepe Delaware Indian group, which did some farming, but more fishing. Two large long house-type sites were located near the present day Lott property. Unfortunately, brutal policies of the Dutch and, later, the British had eradicated the native population by the end of the eighteenth century. But when Johannes Lott built the one-room house in 1720, Native Americans would have been a felt presence.

Today, almost three-quarters of an acre surrounds the Lott House. Now, that may not seem like a lot, but think of it this way: we're in the middle of the largest urban jungle in the world, and not only that, but in one of the tightest packed areas within that urban sprawl. To have this much property untouched by modern development is almost unheard of. Let's face it, this is like excavating a large ten+ acre site anywhere else in the world!


Discussion Question:
What might an archaeologist look for or hope to find that would suggest a residence in general, or a slave quarters in particular?

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