Flatlands: a walk easy on the legs

I had a nice week off from my responsibilities to The Weekly Nabe. I spent it in the Bay Area for a wedding and some sight-seeing. Unfortunately, my schedule meant I would have to visit Flatlands on Thursday, the same day I would return from SFO via a red-eye.

This might explain why my trip was shorter than usual. (Still, four miles isn’t too bad.)

My approach was to take the B41 down Flatbush Avenue to the northwest corner of the area. As you cross over the tracks past Brooklyn College, Flatbush Avenue changes abruptly: the omnipresent signage hawking pawn shops, payday loans, nail salons, and medical services in Flatbush gives way to storefronts that are much easier on the eyes.

The Van Nuyse House [1] (also known as the Coe House, for one of its later owners) was my first stop. (My previous post has an overview of the history of the three historical sites I visited.) There is a plaque on the front of the house that gives some background, which I thought strange, since the house is private property. I walked up the main path to take a few pictures inside the fence.

Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church [2] sits on a beautiful area of green space northeast of where Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue meet. The plot has been in use since the seventeenth century; the present church dates from 1848. It is a haven of solitude at what used to be the center – both physically and spiritually – of the Town of Flatlands. The picture on the right below is the view from the front of the church toward Kings Highway.

In that space is a cemetery. There are some prominent names here: Rapelje, Wyckoff, Lott, Schenck. Here’s a website that gives a virtual tour of the grounds.

The oldest grave dates from the 17th century. If I saw it, I didn’t realize it, because many of the stones have eroded to the point of illegibility. As I mentioned previously, Dutch was the language of choice of Flatlands until around the Civil War era. A 1914 New York Times article on the history of Flatlands helped me decipher the first of the three markers below; it was neat to think that someone a century ago stood and puzzled over the same stone much the way I did yesterday. (The third stone below lies on its back, separated from its base.)

The Baxter House [3] – also known as the Stoothoff-Baxter-Kouwenhoven House, or some combination of those names – resides on an unexciting block. This building, too, had a plaque on it, although the gate was closed, so I didn’t sneak in. I thought the curved roof was cool (it’s technically called a “flared eave”). Here are some images of the interior.

Lunch was at Golden Apache [4], a Jamaican restaurant in a strip mall on Utica Avenue. I got the jerk chicken in an oxtail sauce, over a bed of rice and greens. I was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant had two tables covered with plastic tablecloths, and a few bar-stools against the counter. The walls, windows, and cash register hawked local comedy shows, birthday celebrations at nearby clubs, and missing-person posters.

Futurama is the twenty-block area [shaded yellow] bounded by the Avenues Utica, Ralph, J, and L. The buildings and blocks are very consistent. I still don’t know why that particular name was chosen.

On the way to Futurama, I passed P.S. 203 just as school was letting out. My policy is to refrain from taking pictures at schools when children are present, and it was difficult to keep my phone in my pocket, such was the excitement around me. My favorite scene was four kids crowding around one of two Italian-ice vendors who had set up shop right outside the school. (Hello? Mayor Bloomberg?)

Jacob Joffe Fields [5] is a park named after one of the founders of the Futurama area. It has a pair of baseball fields, a few basketball courts, and a playground.

One sign that Flatlands has a community vibe is the presence of private benches and other places to sit. They were everywhere! When you hang out in front of your house, as I saw several residents doing, you are more likely to talk to your neighbors (and to random strangers) as they pass by. That’s much more difficult to do when you’re cloistered in a courtyard.

Diversity was on full display in the neighborhood, including Jews (more so to the north), Koreans (such as at Kings Highway United Methodist Church, which has a Korean service), Arabs (some in niqab), and Caribs (particularly Haitian and Jamaican). While there were concentrations of groups in some areas, it seemed like any few-block area had a good mix of different cultures.

So, is the neighborhood true to its name? I noticed no large hills, and according to the map of my walk, my route had a variation of only 26 feet (high 41, low 15). Compared with a 133-foot range for Windsor Terrace, and around 170 for Sunset Park, Flatlands is a pancake.

On reaching Ralph Avenue, I saw something I recognized: the strip mall containing the liquore store at which I bought MegaMillions tickets more than two months prior. On the B47 out, I also saw the Paerdegat Basin facilities. It’s neat to see my work start to tie together.

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