Is this the oldest photograph taken in Brooklyn?

This Dutch-style farmhouse doesn’t look like it’s in great shape. But the man in the top hat is standing proudly in front of it on uneven ground beside an enormous tree.

That man and a second man to the left are posing beside what’s described as “the First Meserole House” in Wallabout, Brooklyn, states the Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861.

This daguerreotype dates to 1848, according to the Museum of the City of New York. That could make it one of the oldest photographic images of Brooklyn, if not the oldest.

1848 is almost two centuries after the first French Huguenot Meserole family member arrived in Kings County. One of the original five families of Greenpoint, the Meseroles were very influential in the development of Brooklyn. (Meserole Avenue is exhibit A.)

Based on the image, it’s impossible to know exactly where it is in today’s Wallabout. But the house might not actually be Wallabout (above, in an 1840 map) at all.

Greenpointers.com notes that the Meserole farmhouse once stood at 723 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint—which became the Meserole Theater in the 20th century, and now houses a Rite-Aid.

[Image: MCNY: 42.121; map of Brooklyn 1840: David Rumsey Map Collection]

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8 Responses to “Is this the oldest photograph taken in Brooklyn?”

  1. Bob Says:

    A commenter on another website (http://www.booktryst.com/2013/10/mysterious-daguerreotype-of-brooklyn.html)
    wrote an interesting explanation about Almon Roff (named as the homeowner in the caption to the photo shown in ‘Art and The Empire City’) and his in-laws, the Meade Brothers, who were daguerrotype pioneers.

    “Almon Roff of Greenpoint had a daughter Marietta who married Charles Meade in 1851.
    Charles Meade had a brother Henry who married Sarah Meserole in 1853.
    ·
    “[…] On September 7, 1853, Henry Meade married Sarah A. Meserole, whose Huguenot ancestors had been among the first to settle in what came to be known as the Greenpoint and Williamsburgh communities on Long Island and chose New York City’s prestigious Trinity Church for the nuptials.

    “Their [sic] is a daguerreotype photo of Almon Roff’s house in Greenpoint in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

    “In 1855 and 1856 Henry Meade[’]s residense [sic] was listed as the same as Almon Roff’s (Father In law) His residence was listed on Franklin Street, near Freeman, Green Point which is the Roff house depicted in the aforementioned photo.”

    More on the Meade Brothers studio here:

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-one-new-york-city-studio-and-the-brothers-behind-it-helped-popularize-the-daguerreotype-446623/

    • Bob Says:

      More on the Roff-Meade connection from a daguerrotype exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. It would be very hard to believe that someone other than the daguerrotype pioneer who would be (or, depending on the dates, was already) married to the daughter of the owner of the house made the photograph of said house.

      http://npg.si.edu/object/npg_S_NPG.85.256

      ”Kate Frances Meade and Henry Almon Meade”

      Artist:Meade Brothers Studio, active c. 1840 – c. 1869
      Sitter: Kate Frances Meade, 19 Mar 1852 – 1921; Henry Almon Meade, Apr 1853 – 1930

      Date: c. 1854
      Type: Photograph
      Medium: Sixth-plate daguerreotype
      […]

      Exhibition Label:

      Charles Meade and Marietta Frances Roff of Greenpoint, Long Island, were married at the Washington Square Reformed Church in New York City on June 17, 1851. They welcomed their first child, Kate Frances Meade, on March 19, 1852; their son Henry Almon Meade was born a year later. In this portrait Kate and Henry pose with their arms around each other. As was customary for little boys at this time, Henry (right) wears a skirted costume rather than trousers.

      Data Source:National Portrait Gallery

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Great detective work, thanks for the comments. I did a few newspaper archive searches on Almon Roff and though he appeared to be a person of note in the era, I didn’t find any info on his profession, family life, etc.

  3. Ty Says:

    Local news 2118. Preservationists and elected officials have joined to demand that the last surviving Rite Aid be declared a national landmark.

  4. Geoffrey O Cobb Says:

    There was a branch of the Meserole family in what is today’s Williamsburg, hence Meserole Street, which ran through the family’s farm. I believe that this image is of the Williamsburg farm house.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Interesting…considering that the first settler came in the 17th century, I imagine there were many branches in the Meserole family. Hard to know which farmhouse is in the photo, and where, but it’s certainly a good possibility we’re looking at Williamsburg,

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    Amazing photo.

  6. John Dereszewski Says:

    I think Geoffrey Cobb’s comment is probably correct. The Meserole house in Greenpoint was a more substantial structure than that appearing in this picture. This would clearly be the case when the picture was taken.

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