The roller skating craze fades in 1880s Brooklyn

A roller rink once packed in young people in Brooklyn Heights?

Here’s the proof: this late 19th century trading card, which puts the Brooklyn Heights Roller Skating Rink at Fulton and Orange Streets, a corner of old Brooklyn that no longer exists.


The card is part of the fascinating collection of Victorian-era trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ads for the rink appear in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle. But there’s not a whole lot on the rink itself—though plenty of articles chronicle the roller skating trend of the 1880s city.

RollerrinkfadbrooklyneagleThis October 1886 Eagle article announces the craze as over.

“‘The roller skating craze has passed away, as regards popular favor,’ said a former proprietor of a Brooklyn roller rink to an Eagle reporter.”

“‘Roller skating is like love—once dead, it can never be revived. The first established rinks realized immense profits. At this time last year, no less than 20 rinks were open in this city.

“Many did a good business, but others lost money. The best year for roller skating was the Winter and Spring of 1883 and 1884.'”

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15 Responses to “The roller skating craze fades in 1880s Brooklyn”

  1. penelopebianchi Says:

    Well…..that just shows…..”Roller Derby”; and roller-skating sure as heck didn’t die!

    Good grief! It is fascinating (and I ADORE your blog)
    how many things are “written off” in history….by (who knows who?? that of course, come roaring back!

    Fascinating! Great post!!!

  2. r185 Says:

    So, where would Fulton & Orange have been? By Cadman plaza?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I think it must have been, but I’m not sure if the development of the plaza obliterated the corner or some previous development.

  3. Rich T Says:

    What did 2 dogs tearing up a hat (?) have to do with roller skating?

  4. ossininghistoryjournal Says:

    The Roller Skating Association International, a trade organization that represents rinks and manufacturers since 1937, estimates there are about 1,200 roller rinks open in the U.S., down from a high of between 1,600 and 2,000 in the 1980s. But about 14 have opened up in recent yeas. As a teenager growing up in 1950s Brooklyn my rink of choice was the Empire Roller Rink on Empire Blvd near Prospect Park.

    • ledamato Says:

      Oh, Yeah…the Empire and the birth of roller disco. A genius move to replace the organ music with a DJ. What memories!

  5. William Krause Says:

    Thanks again for an informative blog—unique, too. Just speculating here: With the bridge yet to be completed, 1880s B’klyn Hts may have qualified as a population center & attractive to many kinds of businesses, including a skating rink. The juncture of Orange & Fulton Sts was possibly removed for better access to the bridge. Also, I remember a newspaper comic strip that sometimes included a white-bearded oldster holding a baby & roller-skating.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! I wish I’d had the chance to go to Empire.

  7. beforemybigbreak Says:

    Now all the rollerblading happens on the West Side Highway

  8. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Roller Rink is not the First in Brooklyn Heights | Brooklyn Heights Blog Says:

    […] Ephemeral New York reports on an 1880s rink located at corner of Orange and Fulton Streets (a corner that no longer exists). A collection of Victorian era Fulton Street trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library uncovered this “mystery”. […]

  9. P. Gavan Says:

    Before the Broadway Theatre on 41st Street was constructed in 1887, the site was occupied by the Cosmopolitan Hall, a building that served many purposes over the years. Around 1884 or so, Captain Samuels of Brooklyn converted it into a skating rink during the roller-skating craze —- when they died out, the hall was used for fairs, flower shows, lectures, and billiards.

  10. Brad Eichmann Says:

    I want to go roller skating in 1880s Brooklyn!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hey Brad–wish I could get you a time machine to do that!

      Just remembered I owe you and Lindsay a book….

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