John Lefferts died in 1895 marking a turning point in the transition of rural farm lands to suburban residences. Breaking with patrilineal traditions, he willed his property to his seven children who knew the value of the land was in cash, not crop production. Within six months of his death, his heirs carved the land into 600 lots for sale.
His son James envisioned developing a residential neighborhood of quality housing with an “aura of respectability.” Lefferts Manor was planned as a rowhouse neighborhood, affordable to the newly emerging middle class seeking suburban comfort away from the grime and drudgery of overcrowded Manhattan.
To ensure that the neighborhood developed along a path to his liking, James Lefferts attached a restrictive covenant to the deed of each lot requiring that, in perpetuity, housing be designed and used only as private one-family residences. The covenant would not permit commercial use of property, rooming houses, and multiple family dwellings, Lefferts specified that the homes be at least two stories, constructed of either stone or brick, and a minimum of 14 feet from the curb. They would cost a minimum of $5,000 to build — a substantial amount, yet still affordable to Brooklyn’s emerging middle class.
The covenant was a selling point in the late 1890s. The new middle class could feel relatively secure knowing that what they viewed as disruptive effects of tenements and boarding houses would be kept at bay by Lefferts’ restrictive covenant.
Advertisement from The Erasmian — A Monthly Journal Of School Events
(From Erasmus Hall High School, c. 1901)
Typical hallway in a Lefferts Manor home.
Since visitors were usually first received in the hall, Victorian architects drew eleborate designs for the decoration of hallways and central staircases.
1898 map of Flatbush showing Lefferts Subdivision with uniform, rectangular lots of 20 by 100 feet, with only a few rowhouses completed (shaded areas).