Dutch Treat

After Decades of Controversy, a Brooklyn Farmhouse Is Readied for Restoration

In 1952, Ella Suydam inherited the house from her mother, and lived there another 37 years with her sister Anna, who died in 1987. Both women were librarians; Ella ran the library at Erasmus Hall High School.

The Lott House is largely true to its original design and, unlike many of the 14 surviving Dutch farmhouses in Brooklyn, remains on its original land. The 1720 portion of the wooden house has ceilings only six feet high and features a single tiny bedroom. But the rest of the building is adorned with arched dormer windows, a grand foyer, and enough closets, pantries, and built-in storage spaces to make any city dweller dream.

The house also bears the marks of Ella and Anna's more recent tenure. Original Federal fireplace mantels remain, but faux brick hearth linings with marble laminate backings abound. Floral-patterned wall-to-wall carpeting covers wide-plank wood floors. Layers of extinct newspapers—The Brooklyn Eagle, The New York Herald Tribune, and The New York Sun—serve as a liner between wooden floors and once new linoleum.

While the house is virtually empty, stray objects remain: 29 pairs of women's shoes fill one upper bedroom; a dozen Saks Fifth Avenue hatboxes are scattered in another. Squatters and local kids who vandalized the house after Ella died have left scars: small fires burned into floors, names were carved into walls or dripped on a radiator cover in candle wax. Remarkably, the damage is minimal.

There is one other vestige of Ella's ownership: the NO TRESPASSING sign she posted near the front gate. In late July, when archaeologists were excavating, the sign sat lopsided atop a pile of trowels and shovels used to dig up Ella Suydam's old yard. Ricciardi jokes that her ghost still haunts the place: new lightbulbs burn out regularly, and once, interior doors slammed shut even though the house's windows are boarded. "We ring the bell now when we come in the house," says archaeologist Alyssa Loorya. "We say hello to Ella."

Ricciardi says archaeologists, historians, and architects will be actively studying the Lott House for the next four or five years. Conservationists will restore it, taking up 1940s carpeting and Depression-era wallpaper. As New York City celebrates its centennial, the Hendrick I. Lott House will be brought, kicking and screaming, back to the 17th century.

Research: Michael Kolber

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