Paper remnants of long-ago Brooklyn businesses

If you live in an old Brooklyn house, check under your floorboards.

That’s how one resident of a circa-1887 Clinton Hill brownstone mansion discovered a treasure of letters, receipts, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera dating from 1900 to 1910.

Why the papers were stashed beneath the floorboards is a mystery.

But I’m glad they were. They offer a rare glimpse of the ordinary businesses and services available to well-off Washington Avenue residents at the end of the Gilded Age.

Oh, and the phone exchanges! Imagine reaching a business with just a 2- or 3-digit number.

John D. Gunning offered “sanitary examinations and peppermint tests” as part of his plumbing and gas fitting business, above.

He must be the same John D. Gunning whose 1917 death notice in the New York Times notes that he “succeeded his father in the contract plumbing business.”

The Union League Stables were next to the glorious Union League Club building, now a senior citizen community center.

Amazingly, F.M. Fairchild Sons funeral directors are still in business—but on Long Island, not in Brooklyn.

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9 Responses to “Paper remnants of long-ago Brooklyn businesses”

  1. lazarusdodge Says:

    I had once read that contractors would stash newspapers or other time capsule type items between floorboards or in walls as a mark when they were there and to be discovered during the next renovation.

    When we tore out our kitchen, we found newspapers from the mid-1950’s – the last time that the kitchen had been expanded into a larger room.

    – Jeff

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ve only ever found bottles, which can be fascinating. I imagine the workers building the house were finishing up lunch and thought it would be fun to stash a soda bottle in the wall.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Had a place on the Lower East Side that had a newspaper from the 1930s underneath the linoleum. Never understand why. My father threw it in the trash.

  4. nycedges Says:

    what a great find– I love this kind of stuff!
    any idea what a “peppermint test” was?

  5. Vance Says:

    I really appreciate the crisp high-quality scans of these items, really brings them to life! Thanks.

  6. Lisa Says:

    Peppermint Test:

    “To detect the leaks, he will have to be entirely free of its odor. After solution (hot water/ peppermint oil) is added, the system is capped and allowed to stand for a short time. Then the tester goes over every joint, fixture connection, and trap. Wherever he detects the odor of peppermint, there is a leak. Note that the system needs to be only partially filled with the oil and hot water mixture as it vaporizes and so reaches all points.”

  7. DrBOP Says:

    As a restoration carpenter, I have found many and strange things in pre-1920 buildings….beer, liquor, food, drug and elixer bottles in the hundreds, along with the odd tradesmans’ tools The best find however was the newspapers used in a mid-19th century log building as insulation/draftbreakers that were dated 1866, and included the first interview with Mrs. Lincoln after Abe’s demise.
    There is a good chance that the paper goods were used as a friction stop to prevent squeaking floorboards……prior to this it was not unusual to find horse hair spread out under floors for cushioning and quieting…..for most of the latter 19th and first-half 20th centuries, a specially made type of waxed paper was layed down on a subfloor prior to laying the finish flooring.

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