A History of Greenpoint in Twenty-Five Buildings: Greenpoint’s First House
It is a shame that the very first colonial building in Greenpoint survived for around two hundred years, but then was demolished in a crime against posterity. The first house in Greenpoint was built in 1645 by the legendary settler Dirck Volcertszen, or as he was known by the Dutch, Dirck the Norseman. The house stood on a hill, long ago leveled, at about the intersection of Franklin and Calyer Street. Dirck, a Scandinavian carpenter by trade, built the house with the help of two countrymen. We do not know the exact size of the house, but it must have consisted of a few rooms. It had four eaves and was built of stone and local wood that once characterized Greenpoint because an early name for the area was Wood Point.
The house was not merely built for comfort; it was also built to withstand attack. In the basement of the house there were several slits from which the residents could fire flintlocks and Volckertszen only felt safe enough to build in Greenpoint after the local Native Americans were defeated in Kieft’s War in 1643. In all likelihood Dirck had Native American blood on his hands and the natives wanted revenge. Ten years later, in 1655 in another war, his house was burned to ground by the aboriginal people. Two of his sons-in-law were killed and another tortured in the conflict with the indigenous people.
Dirck rebuilt and became very wealthy, siring a large family. One of the residents of the house who made him wealthy was his slave. Volckertszen was one of the first colonists in New Amsterdam to buy an enslaved African. In all likelihood that enslaved African slept under the same roof as Dirck. The location of the house also was ideal for smuggling and Dirck appears in Dutch colonial records accused of smuggling.
The house probably had little furniture and few windows since these were real luxuries in 17th century Brooklyn. It also had a central fireplace amply stocked with abundant local wood. It was probably lonely and isolated as only a few other Scandinavian families lived nearby.
Volckertszen died, sometime in the 1670’s and was buried on the hill beside his home. Dirck’s descendants sold the property and the Calyer family moved in and gave their name to the street where the house once stood. For almost two hundred years his bones and house remained untouched, but in 1850 shipbuilding was looking for places to build shipyards. The swampy ground near Dirck’s house required landfill. His hill was leveled and the house demolished. Dirck’s bones were probably also scattered with the landfill. Norman Avenue, not far from the site of the house, a corruption of Norseman, today honors Greenpoint’s first resident.