Students Learn at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum
By Lauren Shapiro
The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum on Broadway and 204th Street is “a place people can go to learn a little bit more about their community and its past, “ says Susan De Vries, Director. She adds that, “the half acre garden is a little bit of an oasis, right on Broadway.”
As an education tool “I think for most students studying history in the classroom, the concept that there used to be farms in New York is a little difficult. Coming to a house where a family actually lived and worked makes it a little more real for them.”
Emily Holloway, Director of Education, holds an MA in history and museum studies. “A Day in the Farmhouse: Farm to City” is a 90 minute program that introduces 1800’s New York farm life to 3-6th grade classes through the Dyckman family farmhouse,” she says. “The farmhouse is situated in a small garden surrounded by a very urban landscape. The aim of the program is to introduce students to the rural past of Manhattan, especially in our neighborhood. I have a map of northern Manhattan; it illustrates that there were very few homes in this neighborhood; I have a farmyard map that indicates where the farm buildings (barns, other family member’s homes, housing for laborers) were in relation to the farmhouse. We analyze the maps together.”
The farm once stretched from roughly 190th Street to 213th street, river to river. Dyckman Street (not the closest subway stop) crossed the property. “The Dyckmans were pretty land wealthy, they were very comfortable. Jacobus Dyckman, head of the household, two of his sons, his niece, a free black woman, and an enslaved man all lived in the house. We had slavery in New York State until 1827. Kids think about how these people, living and working on the farm, would have experienced life very differently. We do an activity I call ‘reading the rooms.’ Each class is broken down into four groups and assigned a different circuit. They get a clipboard and go to each room and answer questions designed to have them look at the furniture and objects and figure out who would have used that room and why. It’s very effective, it gets the kids talking with each other and debating the lifestyles of the people in the house.” She adds that “Students are intrigued by the space itself; the rooms are very small. After they tour the house, we meet in the visitor center and discuss our findings and hammer out the story of how the house was used.”
There are a few different programs; those for 7th grade and up are “less hands on and more analysis of the primary sources.” For more information, including fees, visit dyckmanfarmhouse.org.
In the spring, there is a 30-45 minute garden program option. “There’s less about the history of the house,” Ms. Holloway says. “We use a farmyard map and plant a small kitchen garden with some crops we know the Dyckmans were growing and things we know were growing in the neighborhood. It’s a chance for students to experience the farming process, plant their own seeds, and take some seeds home.”
Ms. Holloway has been at the farmhouse for two years. She runs all the programs herself. And if she’s out sick? “That’s never happened,” she answers. Evidently she has taken some seeds home, herself.
For a different experience of culture and history, walk 12 blocks, past two playgrounds, public bathrooms, and numerous refreshment opportunities, over to Inwood Hill Park for a 90-minute look outside with the Urban Park Rangers.#