Brooklyn Standard Union
August 27, 1928

Flatbush avenue, at Church, is one of the liveliest spots in the city.  
Clean, up-to-date, hustling, any city would be proud to point it out as 
one of its attractive corners.  Two important street car lines intersect 
there; a few blocks away is an important station on the BMT, and in the opposite 
direction is an important station of the IRT subway.

On one side of the street, on Church avenue west from Flatbush, a fine new 
theatre is being built, while across the way, on the east side of Flatbush 
avenue, another theatre has been in operation for fourteen years.  Opposite 
the older theatre is one of the best known and most popular restaurants, not 
only in Brooklyn but in New York.  Along Church avenue, for several blocks 
[ea]st of Flatbush, are attractive shops and restaurants, including [ne]at 
little tea rooms, while on the side streets are some of the most attractive 
apartment houses in the city.

Altogether a bright, lively, hustling city scene any time of the year and 
any time of the day or night.  Especially attractive is the scene during the 
school year when the thousands of boys and girls who go to Erasmus Hall High 
School crowd the streets, a picture of eager modernity.

Typical Village Church

But in the very heart of this scene of bustling, eager modern life stands a 
monument to the past.  On the southwest corner of Flatbush and Church is a neat 
little church, quite in the style of village churches everywhere in this country, 
surrounded by the inevitable graveyard.  The church is manifestly an old building, 
but neat, clean and strong.  It is the work of the sturdy Dutchmen who were the 
pioneers of Brooklyn.  As it stands it was built in 1796 and the first sermon 
preached in it was in the Dutch language by Domini Schoonmaker.

But the building of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church as it stands today is 
not the first church on that spot.  It is the successor to a church that was 
built in 1702 and which in turn is successor to one that was built in 1654 by 
special order of Gov. Peter Stuyvesant.  The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church 
is still in active operation after a long and illustrious history going back 
to the very dawn of white settlement on Long Island.  It is the parent church 
on all Long Island and for many years was the only one.

Built in 1654

In 1633 a church had been established in New Amsterdam and the residents of 
Long Island had to make a long, tedious and often dangerous journey for divine 
worship.  In 1651 what is now Flatbush began to be settled and in 1654 the 
peppery Governor ordered that a church be established there.  For a long time 
it was the only house of worship for the men and women of Midwout, Breucklen and 
Amersfoort.  Lest you wonder whether the communities as named are in the 
province of ??ornrecht, Maasrecht or Dronin??n, let us hasten to add that 
they are better known as Flatbush, Brooklyn and Flatlands.

The second church building played na illustrious part in the Revolution, the church 
bell often being rung to herald the approach of the British troops before the 
capture of the town in August, 1776.  

As recently as twenty and even ??teen years ago the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church 
seemed to be quite in place.  Surrounded by the busy life of the city, there were 
about it nevertheless plenty of comfortable, leisurely-looking houses with fine 
lawns and shaded with trees, principally in Church avenue.  But all that has changed.  
The church now stands alone amid the hurry of the city, a memory of the past.

Pioneers Buried There

The graveyard is particularly interesting.  Kept in immaculate order, as would be 
expected from the orderly Dutchmen who established it and have kept it, not a stone 
has fallen.  But most of the inscriptions are indecipherable, after centuries of 
buffeting by storm and wind.  Almost illegible, the fine old Dutch names are 
occasionally visible.  A few of the inscriptions, still vaguely legible, are in Dutch.

The lawn is laid out beautifully.  There are no more mounds over the coffins of the 
long-dead Dutch pioneers, but the grass is green and well kept, and signs warn one 
not to trespass.  It is so quite and peaceful that it is hard to imagine that one is 
standing in a community of the dead surrounded by the clamor of a very live city.

Off to the side is the new church house, completed in 1924, a fine old brick and 
limestone building, looking for all the world like a college hall.  In the basement 
you can hear the shouts of youth playing games in the gym, and you more than half
expect to see boys and girls in trick college clothes stroll from the doors laughing 
and ??ging.

Across the street, on Flatbush avenue, is the splendid building of Erasmus Hall High 
School, built in 1904.  Fronting Flatbush avenue, it looks outwardly like any one of 
the magnificent school buildings the city supplies to its youth, but stroll through 
the great doors and into the yard, and you are again transported into another world.

Ivy-Covered Buildings

In the courtyard and completely surrounded by the great modern structure are the 
older frame structures of the old Academy.  For, unlike the other Brooklyn high 
schools - or most of them, at least - Erasmus has a history.  The courtyard of the 
school is a lovely place, with grass plots, elms and oaks and poplars, and with the 
walls of the new building covered with ivy.  There is a flavor of an old college in 
the Erasmus yard, more like a real campus than many of our colleges.

A step from Flatbush avenue, and you are in the old Dutch past of Flatbush, in the 
churchyard.  Another step, and you are in the ivy-clad, cloistered halls of Erasmus.

The history of Erasmus Hall dates back to 1786, when the first wooden building was 
erected.  The school, named after the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, was 
founded by a number of Dutch clergymen of Flatbush.  It continued as a distinguished 
institution of learning until about 1899, when it was taken over by the city and 
incorporated into the school system as Erasmus Hall High School.

It is a fact forgotten by most Brooklynites that as recent as 1896 Flatbush was a 
separate city, and only in that year did the towns of Flatbush and Flatlands become 
incorporated into the city of Brooklyn, which then for the first time included all of 
Kings County.  Even today Flatbush is served by a water system of its own, artesian 
wells operated by the Flatbush Water Works serving water of a flavor and a hardness 
unknown in any other part of the city.

First Inland Settlement

Midwout or Vlacke Bas was the first inland settlement in what is now the territory 
of Brooklyn.  It was the fifth settlement in Kings [paper left out a line or two] 
been built in a densely wooded region between 1630 and 1634.  In 1651 Governor 
Stuyvesant granted a patent to the "indwellers and inhabitants of Midwout for a 
parcel of meadow-land, or valley, lying on the east northeast of the Canarsie 
Indian planting grounds."  The original patentees were Jan SNEDECOR, Arent VAN HATTEN 
and Johannes MEGAPOLENSIS.

The early history of Flatbush was filled with boundary disputes with the town of 
Amersfoort (Flatlands) and the Rockaway Indians.  In 1670, for example, Eskemoppas, 
Sachem of Rockaway, with his brothers, Kinnarimas and Ahawaham, claimed the land
on the ground that the Canarsie Indians had no right to grant it.  The Flatbush 
burghers, in order to avoid trouble, paid the Rockaways again for the land they 
were occupying.

It was in 1685 that the boundaries of what was variously called Midwout, Vlacke Bos 
or Flatbush, were definitely fixed by a charter granted by Governor Thomas Dengan.  
Among the fine old Dutch names on the charter are those of 
Cornelius VANDERWYCK, 
Aries Jansen VANDERBILT, 
Arien RYERS, 
Ditimus Lewis JANSEN.

Names Changed Later

The names of the town - Midwout and Vlacke Bos - mean, in Dutch, the middle-woods, 
and the flatlands covered with tresses, or bush.  Both names were used 
indiscriminately until the beginning of the Eighteenth century, when the more 
English form of Flatbush finally prevailed over Vlackebos or Vlacke Bos.

Local government began in 1646 with the selection of a "schout" or "Crime-righter," 
the first one being Jan TEUNISSEN.  There were also local courts, performing minor 
magisterial functions.  With British rule the forms changed, but there still were 
overseers, all of whom had Dutch names.

Flatbush was the scene of some heavy fighting during the Battle of Long Island in 
August, 1776, but it was in the British hands from the Independence year until 1783, 
when the war came to a close.

Following the Revolution the town of Flatbush grew slowly and quietly into a lovely 
country town, with shaded streets, beautiful homes, schools, churches, fire companies,
and even local newspapers.  It was isolated from the main part of Brooklyn, but 
there were certain problems that had to be met, such as the boundaries of Prospect 
part, some of which entered the limits of Flatbush, but all of which was claimed by 

Flatbush was cut off from Brooklyn by long stretches of open country, by the hill 
running the entire length of the south side of Eastern parkway, and by imperfect 
transportation.  The hill, now one of the most attractive residence sections in the 
Greater City occupied by apartments on President, Union and Montgomery streets, up 
to a very few years ago was a desolate wilderness covered by squatters' shacks and 
inhabited by grazing goats.

Joined Brooklyn in 1896    

Only in 1896 did Flatbush, then a lovely country village, incorporate 
itself into the city of Brooklyn, there to remain two years, until the 
organization of Greater New York.  For years Flatbush meant shaded 
streets and fine homes: such thoroughfares as Beverly and Cortelyou 
roads being studded with frame mansions of exquisite beauty.  

The Brighton Line was a suburban railroad, at first drawn by 
locomotives from Fulton street and Franklin avenue through quiet and 
seething country scenery to the open country beyond about Avenue H.  
Of course, there are few traces of Flatbush left as it used to be 
years ago.  Even the old boundaries are forgotten.  Today Flatbush, 
in the popular mind, means that section of Brooklyn approximately 
from Ocean parkway to about Schenectady avenue, and from the park 
to Sheepshead Bay, a most unscientific conception.  The fine old 
homes still exist on Beverly road and Cortelyou road, and on Newkirk 
avenue, as they did thirty years ago, and the Church avenue car, running 
from Rockaway avenue to Flatbush, still runs through some unoccupied territory.

Landmarks Are Gone

But nearly all the landmarks have gone.  The Flatbush Gas Company 
has long been merged into the Brooklyn Edison, which, in turn, is now 
merged into the new billion-dollar city-wide consolidated company.  
The Flatbush Water Works maintains its office in a store at Lenox road 
and Flatbush avenue, but it had been taken over by the city.  
The Brighton Line is an important link in the city-wide transportation 
system, with only a shuttle making the delightful trip between the 
park & Franklin avenue.

All in all, Flatbush is like everything else in New York and Brooklyn, 
a hustling, eagerly active, city community, with attractive shops and 
theatres, with restaurants, schools and churches, with banks and 
libraries, and with a certain mellowness that the old history of the 
town sheds even over the towering apartment houses on Ocean avenue.

- end -
Transcriber :Mimi Stevens
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