The Schenck Houses – their story through the Museum Library and Archives

Drawing by Daniel M. C. Hopping. From the book American interiors, 1675-1885: a guide to the American
period rooms in the Brooklyn Museum by Marvin D. Schwartz.

Museum libraries and archives are rich storehouses of textual and visual information. This is very true of the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives which function as the “story tellers” of the Museum by providing histories about objects in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Hidden within the Libraries and Archives are a myriad of stories concerning the Schenck houses, which were recently renovated and reinstalled on the fourth floor of the Museum.

Photograph by Reverend William Edward Schenck. From Account of my trips to Holmdel, N.J. & Flatlands, L.I. by William Edward Schenck.

One can find several fascinating books, photographs and other documents in the Libraries and Archives that tell about the Schenck family and the houses they lived in. Highlights include photographs from the Historic American Building Survey and an original journal by Jane Malbone Schenck who wrote about what her life was like in Brooklyn in the 1800’s. A selection of these documents are currently on view in the Library display cases on the second floor of the Museum.

These documents are of great interest to many, including architectural historians of Brooklyn who want to know what Brooklyn looked like when the Schenck houses were built more than 330 years ago. These documents tell us about the houses, the transfer of owners and families and the re-emerging of the architecture through refurbishments and significant structural transformations. The photographs tell us about the transformation of the surrounding landscape from sweeping meadows to a Brooklyn neighborhood. They also provide evidence of how the houses have looked as they have been installed at the Brooklyn Museum.

Jan Martense Schenck House reinstallation. Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Decorative Arts.
Exhibitions: Schenck House reinstallation, 1971.

2008 is the 185th anniversary of the founding of this institution as a library (the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library) and we are planning a series of talks about the history of the Library and the rare and unique collections held in this repository. We will be focusing on the materials related to the Schenck family in this upcoming series. Please email us at if you would like to know more about the talk or Schenck related materials in the Libraries and Archives.

For a complete history on the Schenck Houses, see Kevin Stayton’s book, Dutch by design : tradition and change in two historic Brooklyn houses : the Schenck houses at The Brooklyn Museum, available in the Museum Libraries. Additional installation images of the Schenck house can be found in our online exhibition index.