Lefferts Manor
Lefferts Manor
About Us
History
THE ORIGIN OF THE LEFFERTS MANOR neighborhood can be traced to the latter part of the 19th Century. At that time, the completions of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Bridge and the development of the mass transit systems in Kings County had been responsible for an urban expansion in the neighboring northern communities, such as Park Slope. In 1893, taking advantage of the trend, James Lefferts, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, decided that the estate portion of his large farm in northern Flatbush Village would be subdivided for development. But Lefferts was not content with merely selling off the 600 lots within the designated eightblock area. He foresaw a future community of stable, middle class families residing in substantially built homes. To ensure his vision, Lefferts attached perpetual restrictive covenants to each lot. Houses were to be only single family residences built of brick or stone, with at least two stories plus a cellar and set back at least 14 feet from the street. The cost could be no less than $5,000.

Early censuses of the Manor area attest to Lefferts’ success at creating the middle class neighborhood he desired. Nearly all of the first (male) residents were either professional or white-collar workers. Among the professions listed were businessmen, doctors, lawyers, builders, stockbrokers, real estate brokers, clerks, accountants, secretaries and skilled craftsmen. Many of the Manor homes also listed servants as residents.

The first homes constructed within Lefferts Manor in 1896 were, oddly, two frame structures on Fenimore Street — clear violations of Lefferts’ covenant. These were followed by one of three building booms between 1897 and 1899, when approximately 150 homes were erected. A lull in construction took place in the first years of the 20thCentury, due to soft housing demand in the area and the financial panic of 1903.

The completion of the IRT subway system in 1905, however, triggered the largest wave of construction from 1905 through 1911, when more than two thirds of the Manor’s homes were built. Most remaining homes went up in the period between 1915 and 1925.

The last four houses were erected on Maple Street in the early 1950’s.

James Lefferts continued living in his farmhouse, originally situated on Flatbush Avenue between Maple and Midwood Streets. In 1919, one year after Lefferts’ death, the building was donated to New York City and moved to its present location in Prospect Park. It is still located there, serving as a museum.

During the years of development through 1918 James Lefferts and his heirs, owners of the unsold lots and mortgage holders of many of the other properties, doggedly defended the restrictive covenant. At least five suits were brought against violators, primarily to uphold the single-family residency restriction. In 1919, the community residents themselves united to form the Lefferts Manor Association* and joined the Lefferts family in defending the covenant. Eventually, the association took over the task by itself, bringing 25 suits, and winning most, over the next forty years. The single-family restriction was further strengthened in 1960, when New York City zoned the area for single-family residency.

Lefferts Manor remained a totally white middle-class community until the 1950’s. Initial attempts by middleclass blacks (Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson among them) to buy into the neighborhood after the war were met by solid opposition from residents. Inevitably, those barriers broke down and black families began moving in. As the ethnic makeup of the Manor began changing in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, a brief period of “block busting” ensued that was stopped by courts. But within a few years, the area stabilized into the harmonious integrated community that exists today.

In 1979 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated all of Lefferts Manor and two blocks each of Lefferts Avenue and Sterling Street as the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Historic District.


*This may have been the first time the neighborhood was referred to as Lefferts Manor. Earlier advertisements by real estate firms used the names “the Lefferts Estate” and “Prospect Park East.”