The Voorlezer's House is located on the west side of Arthur Kill Road. Constructed ca. 1695, it is an example of Dutch-influenced vernacular architecture, but is atypical and an unusually large structure for its early period. Archaeological findings, reported in 1985, produced artifacts dating as early as 1740. The building remains near its original site, but in 1939 it was moved back about 15 feet from its original foundation as a safety precaution (to be further from the roadway).
Built by the Dutch Reformed congregation as a religious facility, it also contained the residence of the congregation's Voorlezer, Hendrick Kroesen, and his family from ca. 1695 until 1701. The Voorlezer's typical function within the church involved reading the Bible aloud, keeping church records, performing rites such as baptism, and educating children. Sermons would be presented by a visiting Domine (minister), who was likely received as a guest in the Kroesen's living area. The size of the congregation may have been about 82 adults, and 25-30 potential students, at a time when the entire island held about 700 residents. Records were kept in the Dutch language, and it is assumed that both Dutch and English were spoken here.
Hendrick Kroesen (ca. 1666-ca. 1760) was born in Brooklyn of Dutch immigrant parents. He married 15-year-old Cornelia Corsen about 1697 (when he was about 30) and their first child, Maritje, was born in 1698. Though young, Cornelia came to the marriage with some wealth, as she had inherited property from her father. According to the customs of their time, this young woman would be responsible for happiness and order in the home, and was duty-bound to obey her husband. The Kroesens moved to the Port Richmond area when a new church building was constructed there after 1700.
The family with the longest tenure as residents of the building was that of Rene Rezeau (died 1720), a mason, farmer, and/or storekeeper, and his wife, Anne (Coursier) Rezeau. Rezeaus and their descendents, including the Van Pelt family, occupied the Voorlezer's House for over 160 years, from 1705 until the 1870s. Some of them are buried at the Rezeau-Van Pelt Cemetery on the grounds of Historic Richmond Town. It is possible that dairy farming was one of their occupations; there is mention in the New York Mercury in 1763 of a Mr. Reseau of Staten Island who was dishonestly selling bad butter that was "artfully cased over with excellent fresh Butter."
A legend about residents of the house during the American Revolution was printed some hundred years after the war, and illustrated in Frank Leslie's Monthly (March 1885). The story describes a relationship between a Hessian drummer named Ernst (serving with the British soldiers) and the delicate young girl called "Pretty" who won his heart before both met untimely deaths. The story has not been confirmed by any credible sources.
After the Rezeau descendents left the house, substantial changes were made. Beginning in the 1880s, it contained a residence and store operated by Solomon Rosenberg and his family. Rosenberg, a dry goods merchant, and his wife, Amelia, had rented the house prior to purchasing it in 1883.
Their business was referred to in the Richmond County Standard, February 1884, which reported, "Mr. Rosenberg is building a large addition to his store in Richmond. It is the first building erected in that village for many years." By the 1890s, the Rosenbergs' hotel-saloon on the premises was known as the Arlington Hotel, and around 1910 a sign identified it as the Richmond Road House. A Rosenberg family photograph shows a cornfield behind the house about 1910. The family's business included retail liquor sale, which may have ended with passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. Presumably "near beer" was sold during the era of Prohibition. From 1924 to about 1936, the establishment was operated by Nicholas George under the name of Acorn Inn, while the building was owned by Marie Peterson.
A mortgage on the property was foreclosed in 1936. About the same time, the Voorlezer's house was "discovered" during historical study of the early village of Richmond. It was valued as the "mother church" of Dutch, French, and English churches on Staten Island and as the "first school building on Staten Island" and "probably the oldest primary school building in the country." In 1939 Mrs. T. Livingstone Kennedy, a descendent of an early leaseholder, purchased the building from the bank and donated it to the Historical Society.
Building restoration began in 1938 and continued into the 1940s. The house was opened for the New York City Board of Education's Centennial Celebration in 1942, and in 1947 the Voorlezer's House was formally dedicated. In the 1980s, the house underwent a major renovation to stabilize the structure, make it more accessible for public programming, and to more accurately represent the building's probable late-17th century appearance, based on new research since the building's earlier renovation (new historical research was undertaken in the 1980s, and an archaeological study was completed in 1985). The building is furnished with reproduction furniture and fabrics, and is open to the public.