The Wyckoff family history has a very unusual beginning. Pieter Claesen came to America in 1636 at the age of 12 as an indentured servant to the estate of Killian Van Rensselaer in Fort Orange (Albany), a province of New Amsterdam on the Hudson River. “When he had worked off his indenture at 18, he rented a farm nearby and married Grietje van Ness, the daughter of a prominent citizen of the colony.” Their two oldest children were born there but soon Pieter would move down to New Amsterdam where there were better prospects for him. In 1665 he signed a contract “to superintend the Bowery and cattle of Peter Stuyvesant in New Amersfoort.” Pieter Claesen prospered and became one of the most influential citizens in the Province.
In 1652 he bought land in Flatbush and his house still stands there. “When the British took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they had difficulty with the Dutch names and demanded that the Dutch families take surnames by which they could be identified. Pieter Claesen had been a local judge and his surname came from that fact. In Dutch the word ‘Wyk’ means ‘Councilman’ or “magistrate” and ‘hof” means ‘court.’ He was already known as Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, Pieter Claesen of the town court, so Wyckoff became his surname.”
This is a bit of detail that explains why Wyckoff was not a surname in the Netherlands. The first male Wyckoff was Pieter Claesen. From that man born in 1625 has come the largest Dutch clan in America. He and his family prospered as farmers in what is now known as Flatbush. However, much of the good land near the city was occupied by the time Cornelius, Pieter Claeson’s son, wanted to buy farms for his sons. So Cornelius came to Franklin Township in 1701 with seven other prosperous Dutch farmers, and bought up 10,000 acres.
Cornelius Wyckoff purchased approximately 1,200 acres that were parceled out to his sons John, Jacob, Peter, and Simon. John was the first to move onto the land near Middlebush about 1709–10. We have thought that he must have lived in a different structure until 1730 when he built the first half of the current house (shown in this picture on the left). However, an archeological grid dig was carried out on the entire property as a part of the preparation of our Historic Structures Report (HSR). There was no evidence that a stone foundation had ever been built on this property. A close examination of the Wyckoff house basement then revealed that it was the original 1709 foundation.
John must have reasonably prosperous because he brought Dutch craftsmen from Brooklyn to construct this house, made entirely of white oak. It must have taken about three years to get this house up. Every piece of wood in the house was cut down on the site. He used a classic Dutch Frame. It is built in the form of silhouette of the house and was called an anchorbent. John’s house had six achorbents. Anchorbent means bent “H” in Dutch. An English house would have an “H” frame. The difference was the the anchorbent went down from the peek to frame of the house at about waist height. Each anchorbent frame weighed 2,500 pounds. They were all of white oak held together with mortise and tenon joints like a good cabinet drawer. In 1805 it was enlarged by Samuel Garretson, a prosperous Dutch farmer from Hillsborough. This was the Federal period and chose to put on a front of clapboards and nine over six window but he stuck with the Dutch style front door and stoop.
This classic early Dutch home on South Middlebush had been disguised over 283 years when the Meadows Foundation started its research and restoration. It is the Meadows Foundation’s only house museum, with authentic exterior and interior finishes. It may well be that this house will someday become a National Landmark.