How did the Museum get the entire Jan Martense Schenck House?
The Brooklyn Museum dismantled the house from its original location, made detailed notes about the beams and structure, and had it brought in pieces to the museum. We actually removed two extra rooms to bring it to the structure it had in the 1730s.
One cool fact, is that the house used to be on the 4th Floor, where the Dinner Party is now in the Sackler Center. So we dismantled it again, when the Sackler Center was formed, and moved it to its current location, about ten years ago.
And we have the rest of the roof in storage, so if we find another location with higher ceilings, we can put the rafters back up.
Hi! We are wondering what this is.
This is a 17th-century Dutch linen press. Table and bed linens were prized possessions in households like this one. They would most likely have been imported and were quite costly. If you'd like to see the linen press "in action," take a look at the video screen nearby. You'll see Museum staff operating it.
How did this house get moved into the museum?
The Schenck house was disassembled on-site in Flatlands Canarsie and reassembled here in the Museum. However, the original house was one and a half stories, there was a loft, that would not fit. So, the rafters and wood for that story are kept in storage in case the house in ever moved to a location in the Museum that has a high enough ceiling to allow a full reconstruction.
A final note to that point, the Schenck House was originally assembled here on the 4th floor, where the Sackler Center Dinner Party is now, but the house was moved to where you see it today when the Museum acquired the Dinner Party. So it was actually disassembled and reassembled twice in it's history with the Museum!
What is this barn-like house?
The Schenck Houses are Old Dutch houses from when Brooklyn, or Breuckelen, was first settled in the 1600s. The red one that you're at was built by a Dutch settler, Jan Martense Schenck, and around the corner, the Nicholas Schenck House, is the house that Jan's grandson and his family inhabited. The houses were located in present-day Mill Basin (the red one, Jan's) and in Canarsie (Nicholas', with the blue interior.)
They rebuilt it in here?
Jan's house was deconstructed on site and reconstructed in the Museum first where the Dinner Party is currently located but, when the Museum acquired the Dinner Party, the decision was made to move the Jan Schenck House to where you see it now.
The house is actually one and a half stories (there is a loft) and the beams for the upper story and the rest of the roof are kept in storage in case it can ever be moved to a location where it can be fully rebuilt. And the Nicholas Schenck House was actually being used as a storage shed in a park until the Museum purchased it from the NYC Parks & Rec Department to save it from falling into total, irreversible disrepair.
Would this much fruit be realistic? I thought of fruit as really expensive/hard to come by until our time. Also how wealthy was the family that lived here? What were their occupations?
The lemons and limes would have had to be imported and grown potted. So it could be a symbol of wealth chosen by our curator to include citrus fruits.
The owner of this house was originally Dutch, they settled in the area in the 1650s. Jan Martense Schenck became a miller. So though he wasn't exceedingly wealthy, they could afford some luxuries.
None of the furniture or stylings inside the house are original, the curators have made specific choices to give a larger narrative about lifestyle in early colonial Breuckelen (Brooklyn), and innovations in design and international trade at the time.
For example, including different types of glass, porcelain and silver objects hints at the proposed wealth of the owners.
How difficult is it to move an entire room from a house into a museum?
Very difficult! It's done by a whole team of curators, conservators, and technicians. Rooms are disassembled, pieces are labeled and numbered, and everything is very carefully packed for the move.
Then, once the room arrives, it has to be re-assembled, and decisions are made about things like new wallpapers or upholstery, of the old ones are too worn to be displayed. Oh, and lighting has to be installed, and labels need to be researched and written. It's a really laborious and time-consuming process, but fascinating and well-worth the effort!
Yup, definitely worth the effort!
Yes indeed! And we're lucky to have so many good historic interiors here.
Who were the Schencks?
The Schencks were a Dutch family that settled in Breuckelen (later, Brooklyn) in 1650. Jan Martense Schenck was 10 when his family arrived. He went on to have a large family, a mill, a farm, a house and land in the Flatlands of Brooklyn. He passed on part of his good fortunes to his son, Stephen, in the form of a patch of land in Canarsie which then became the site of the Nicholas Schenck House (located around the corner in the galleries from the Jan Martense Schenck House.)
Thanks, I was sort of testing the app. I'm a descendent of Roelof Schenck, Jan Martense's brother.
Wow, so glad you're here and testing the app! I'm actually the Decorative Arts specialist on the team so I spent a lot of time studying both Schenck houses. It feels so special to get to speak to a member of the family.
It's a really special treat to see the houses, especially since my daughter is with us. Thank you for your great care with the exhibit.
That's so wonderful, I'm glad to hear you are happy with the preservation and exhibition of your family history!
Does the Jan Martense Schenck House have a second floor? Where does that door lead to?
The Schenck house was only 1 story, with a loft above for storage, that door you see was access to the loft, there is also a staircase in the house. The loft section was for bedrooms and storage.
Why does brick provide better insulation?
Dense, earthen materials (such as brick) retain heat and cool very well. So you would only have to heat up or cool down your house once and the brick would maintain the temperature for many hours.
What's the little structure in the corner?
It's actually a bed! This traditional cupboard style of bed was a much more enclosed structure than those we are used to, and the bedroom was not always a separate space but often integrated into other, multipurpose rooms. Beds of this type were typically placed near the fireplace for warmth, which the enclosure and curtains helped maintain throughout the night.
Hi! I am wondering where I can find more info about the Jan Martense Schenck house and the museum’s interpretation of its history.
Hello! One place is right here on the ASK app! The current installation of the house is based on a careful study of documents from 1952 when the house was dismantled. Curators also looked to other sources, such as contemporary paintings for information about what a typical 17th-century Dutch-American interior would have looked like.
The house itself has a well documented provenance. It was built by 1677 by Jan Martense Schenck and the house stayed in the family until 1784. If you are interested in reading more, Kevin Stayton, now a Curator Emeritus of the Brooklyn Museum, published a book in 1990 entitled "Dutch by Design," which goes in depth about this house and the Nicholas Schenck house.
Great!!!! Thank you very much from a Mexican architecture historian :)
My son wants to know how they fit the Schenck House through the door of the museum.
Piece by piece! In 1952, the Brooklyn Museum conservators very carefully disassembled the entire home, taking measurements and photos along the way. They brought each piece back here and assembled the house as it would have looked in the early 18th century.
When I first visited the Brooklyn Museum in the 1970s, the Schenck House was gray. Why did the museum paint it red?
You have a terrific memory for color! The clapboards were gray when the museum first acquired the house, but after chemical testing it was determine that the house was originally painted red. The curators decided to return the house to how we think it would have appeared in the early 18th century.
What was stored in the second level of the house?
Attic things! As you can see the house was not very big, so this was a good place to store seasonal items the family didn't need to access at all times.
Who was the Schenk family?
The Schenk family is one of the oldest Dutch families in Brooklyn. Jan Martense Schenck was a miller who arrived in the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1650 and settled in the town of Flatlands about 1675, when this house was built.
Cool! How many people would have lived there?
The house was inhabited by Jan Schenck and his wife Jannetjie Stephens van Voorheis with whom he had eight children, although not all lived to adulthood.
Where was this house originally located? What are the current cross streets?
The house was located in Mill Basin at 2133 East 63 Street. Today it would be behind P.S. 236. If you look in the corner, you can see a "box bed" where the family would have slept.
Wow cool! I didn't see the bed at first!
These beds were typically placed near the fireplace to keep the sleeper warm during the long New York winters.
A majority of the objects here (ceramics, glass, carpets, etc.) would have been imported from Europe. Those trades had not yet been developed in America at that time.
Where was this house ?
This house was originally part of Flatlands. Today, it would be considered to be in Mill Basin, by P.S. 236. The house was moved to the Museum in 1952. It represents the first phase of European settlement in Brooklyn and dates to around 1675. The red color is based on paint fragments from the original siding of the house!
Are the house structures in the museum on display as art or did people really live this way?
Both! The period rooms are actual historical architectural structures. The items within them are functional pieces that people actually used but they also represent trends and "masterworks" of various design movements throughout time.
Why are there limes and lemons on this table?
You are not the first person to ask that! I'm sure it was a choice by the curators to convey the functionality of the space sometime during the period the house was inhabited.
Would the Schenks have had access to such citrus fruits?
Yes! Exotic fruits were imported by the Dutch who were renowned seafarers.
These rooms are amazing. Can you tell me more about them?
They sure are! Each of these houses belonged to members of the Schenck family, a prominent Brooklyn family of Dutch heritage that is still around today. The majority of the furnishings you see are from our collection and meant to be period appropriate, but there is a sewing sampler made by Jane Schenck. She sewed the sampler in 1805 when she was 12. It's in the Nicholas Schenck House (the grey-blue one) in the back, right bedchamber.
The powder horn in the dining room of the same house also belonged to the family!
So glad I came back to see it!
What makes the box bed special?
This was a quintessentially Dutch furniture form that could be found both in a townhouse along a canal in Amsterdam and in a two-room building in New York! Personally, I would find it claustrophobic, but I appreciate it as an expression of the Dutch design tradition!
I see what you mean! That is amazing to think about: that intercontinental connection between places!
Whereabouts was the Schenck house actually located?
The Jan Martense Schenck House (the red one) was in the Flatlands part of Brooklyn and the Nicholas Schenck House was in Canarsie. While in the Nicholas Schenck House be on the lookout for a powderhorn and sewing sampler that actually belonged to the Schencks!
As far as the houses, I saw one was in Canarsie park, where would the other be using today's landmarks?
The other house is in the Flatlands, Brooklyn near Mill Island.
Tell me more.
The Schenck House is the oldest period room in the museum's collection. It represents the first phase of European settlements in the New World. It's a link between the folk architecture in the Netherlands and New York.
The two rooms of the house display multi-purpose functions of rooms in early architectural history. The front room, with finer furniture, is where the family would have received guests. The back room serves as a bedroom and dining space.
Did the Schenck family own slaves?
Yes. Census records show that Nicholas Schenck did own two slaves by 1790. Nicholas Jr. also owned slaves.
This reminds me of the Lefferts House in Prospect Park.
I can see why! Both were owned by Dutch families, so there are definite similarities. This Schenck house is from a century earlier though. Both are great ways to learn more about the recent history of Brooklyn!
What was the upstairs of Jan Schenck's House used for?
The upper story was a storage area! It could be reached by an interior stairway, as well as a dormer door from the roof. They would store household objects that had no other place to go, mostly. Much like an attic or basement in a modern home!
How do Decorative Arts historians interpret spaces like this? What kind of decision making goes into how the furniture and decor is arranged in a rebuilt structure like this one.
Some of the most reliable sources of information are inventories taken at the time of a family member's death. These often list the contents of a home room-by-room. For arrangement, historians frequently look to contemporary paintings of domestic interiors (which the Dutch especially liked). Because this house was disassembled and moved from its original location, many conjectural decisions were made, such as the precise locations of the exterior doors and the size and locations of the windows.
What happened to the top part of the Schenck house that was cut off?
It is in museum storage right now, but we do have it! We acquired the whole house and kept all of it!
I really love the little models of the houses.
Those are great! I recently learned a little bit about the model maker. He had a fascinating life!
Albert Fehrenbacher was a master woodcarver from the Black Forest region in Germany. Taken prisoner during the Second World War, he spent five years in a Russian camp during which time he began work on a panoramic Nativity scene, designed to carry the message of peace and brotherhood for all.
Upon his release, he brought his Nativity scene to the United States, where it was shown in over 150 churches across the country. He was hired to work at several American museums, building models.
Grateful for the friendliness with which he was received in the United States, Fehrenbacher said, “This country, it has been good to me. I am happy in this work I do for the Brooklyn Museum." He apologized for “having much trouble with speaking English...but I hope I speak from heart to heart with my models.”
That is such a wonderful story. My father was born in a Russian camp during the war.
Wow, what a fascinating link.
When did the Schenck house open in the museum?
The house was opened to the public in 1964! The house was on land owned by the Atlantic Gulf Oil Company from 1909 to 1952. Beginning in the 1920s, as real-estate development increased, a number of preservation plans that might have maintained the house on site were put forward but were never realized. Finally in 1952, the Brooklyn Museum made a commitment to save the house, dismantled it, and stored it for about ten years until plans to install it in the Museum were finalized. In 2006, when the 4th floor was renovated, the Schenck House was reinstalled in a different location within the Museum.
Why is there a carpet on the table in the Jan Martense Schenck House?
Carpets were extremely expensive items and were used as table coverings rather than floor rugs. At this point in American history, nearly all decorative items were imported from Europe. The exception was furniture (because wood was found in abundance in North America)!
How long does an installation like all of the period rooms take? I love literally stepping back in time down to the very last detail....like the creaky floors, is that part of it?
The creaky floors are an inevitable part of it! While the museum did not specially engineer the creaks, they are a result of incorporating the original flooring from some of these homes! I agree it really adds to the ambience!
Is the Schenck house itself a reproduction or is some of it original?
Both of the Schenck houses are original! Most of the furnishings inside come from the Museum's collection, but the buildings themselves were dismantled on site, transported here, and reassembled in our galleries.
How many generations of the Schenck family lived in this home?
That's a great question that is going to take me a minute to find the answer to. I do know that the house was built by Jan Schenck. He and his wife had at least 8 children so they certainly didn't all have their families here!
Found it! Schencks lived in the house for three generations and sold it in 1784. Other families lived in the house until 1909, when it was purchased by the Atlantic Gulf Oil Company.
What is brick nogging?
"Brick nogging" is what you see through that little opening in the red siding on the Jan Martense Schenck house. The brick functioned as an insulator.
It filled empty spaces in the timber structure. Bricks, made from a type of clay, maintain a more consistent temperature than just wooden siding. It kept the home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Thanks. Why not just build a brick house?
That's a great question! The construction methods used on this house are inspired by the medieval traditions of house construction that were still popular in Northern Europe when the Dutch settled in this area. This style of construction included a wooden "goal-post" style frame with vertical posts connected by anchor beams at the ceiling.
So essentially, they built the house this way because it was conventional to do so.
Thank you, that's really interesting.
Is the Schenck house representative of a certain class/circumstance during the late 1600s?
The two rooms of the Schenck house on display here show the multifunctional nature of many residences from the 17th century. As none of the original furnishings are known to have survived, our curators selected objects that would have belonged to a prosperous family of Dutch decent, including a linen press and a wine goblet made of glass.
In the North Room of the Schenck House, where is the second built-in bed?
In the original Museum installation, there were two built-in bed boxes on the exterior wall of the North Room. When it was moved to its present location in 2006, it was decided that the bed box was more likely on an interior wall next to the hearth, as you see it now.
I am at the Schenck Houses. Why are the names so specific? Why not just call it them Early Dutch Immigrant Houses?
In the case of the Nicholas Schenck and Jan Martense Schenck Houses, the story is a lot about who owned them.
Here, the curators want to emphasize that both houses come from the same family. Descendants of these families are still around and they still visit us! The Museum also decided to collect around the family, treating it as a microcosm of Brooklyn history. In 2016 our archives acquired a set of love letters between Jane Schenck and Ralph Malbone, further expanding the story that these period rooms are able to tell.