Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn in the 1890s’

Driggs Avenue: Henry Miller’s “early paradise”

September 4, 2011

“It’s strange what a little boy remembers of his early life,” wrote Henry Miller in a 1971 New York Times essay, nine years before the death of the author of Tropic of Cancer and other great 20th century novels.

Until age nine, Miller lived with his family (at left) at 662 Driggs Avenue (below) in Williamsburg. His memories of what he deemed his “sojourn in paradise” offer fascinating glimpses of life through a kid’s eyes in 1890s Brooklyn.

“Diagonally opposite us was Fillmore Place, just one block long, which was my favorite street and which I can still see vividly if I close my eyes.”

“At the Driggs Avenue end of this street was a saloon and at the other end a kindergarten. I remember the saloon because as a child I was often sent to get a pitcher of beer at the side entrance.”

“A few doors from our house were the shanties, two or three decrepit buildings right out of a Dickens novel. In one of them was a candy store owned by two spinsters called the Meinken Sisters.”

No street was as sensual as Grand Street, says Miller, thanks to Reynolds Bakery.

“The back of the bakery gave out on North First Street, where we often played cat, or shimmy as we called it then, and the aroma of fresh baked bread, crullers and donuts assailed our nostrils day in and day out.”

“Continuing south on Driggs Avenue one came to Broadway where the elevated ran. Beyond that lay the aristocratic Bedford section. Immediately beyond Broadway was the Fountain, where on Sunday the bicycle riders gathered to ride to Prospect Park and Coney Island.”

“Years later, when I took up quarters in Paris, in the poor districts especially, I often ran across streets which reminded me of that strange territory surrounding Metropolitan Avenue.”

This blog devoted to Henry Miller covers more ground in the Times article, which is behind a paywall.

When Brooklyn dedicated its German Hospital

March 9, 2011

October 22, 1894 was a proud day for the prosperous German community centered around Bushwick and Ridgewood.

That’s when the cornerstone of the new German Hospital, on St. Nicholas Avenue between Stockholm and Stanhope Streets, was put down.

“The project for the erection of a hospital has been under discussion by Brooklyn Germans for several years,” stated a  celebratory New York Times article. “The various German clubs and singing societies throughout the city interested themselves in the matter, and finally enough money was raised.”

Speaking to a crowd of 5,000, Brooklyn Mayor Charles Schieren promised:

“It will not be an exclusively German hospital, but all patients, without distinction as to race or creed, will be admitted but, naturally, the control, as well as the care and keeping, will be left to our German citizens, and in their hands it can be safely left.”

So what happened to German Hospital? Like Manhattan’s German Hospital, it underwent a name change after World War I, when anti-German sentiment was high.

The Brooklyn hospital became Wyckoff Heights Hospital, now Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

Fulton Street shopping at the turn of the century

December 20, 2010

Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street isn’t exactly the borough’s most sophisticated shopping strip these days.

But at the turn of the 20th century, it was a hub for major department stores and fine specialty shops—such as these found on a couple of old business cards.

A quick search through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives shows that the A.C. Flatley people placed lots of ads in that paper in the 1880s and 1890s.

There’s a Hoyt and Teale Clothiers in Brooklyn as early as the 1870s. Their shop was at 607 Fulton Street—a few doors down from the Teale & Co. store at 611 Fulton.


Snakes and urns in Prospect Park

January 28, 2010

Those are some menacing-looking Brooklyn snakes, aren’t they? They form the handles of a series of Grecian urns that greet passersby and park-goers at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park.

Fourteen urns just like this—that’s 56 snakes total—top a low wall. The bronze originals were placed there by Stanford White, part of the design team brought in to redo the park’s entrance in the 1890s.

Over the years, many of the urns disappeared—well, were stolen is more like it. These cast-iron replicas replaced them.