Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn in the 19th century’

The Brooklyn Bridge is celebrating its birthday

May 17, 2021

Work began in 1870 and was finally completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths). Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday on May 24.

What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and procession of 150,000 pedestrians walking across this engineering marvel for the first time on May 24, 1883? After politicians, including President Chester A. Arthur, gave speeches, the bridge was opened to the public just before midnight.

“From high water to roadway 120 ft—from high water to centre of span 135 ft—from roadway to top 158 ft—width of Bridge 85 ft—with tracks for steam cars, roadway for carriages, and walks for foot passengers, and an elevated promenade commanding a view of extraordinary beauty and extant,” the caption reads.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

A Brooklyn factory girl kills her lecherous boss

June 6, 2013

FannyhydeBorn poor in England, Fanny Hyde (right) came to New York at age 10.

In 1872, the pretty 15-year-old found work at a hairnet factory on First and South Eleventh Streets in Williamsburg.

That’s when her new boss, married factory owner George Watson, 45, “looked upon her with libidinous heart and lustful desire,” her lawyer told a packed courtroom during her murder trial, which riveted Brooklyn.

Four months later, “he locked her in his office and ‘seduced’ her,” wrote Ann Jones in Women Who Kill.

Fannyhydetrialreport“As long as she worked there, he wouldn’t leave her alone; but when she tried to leave, he threatened to blackball her.”

He soon got Fanny pregnant, then forced her to take medicine to induce an abortion.

The abuse continued until Fanny was 18, when she was engaged to be married. Watson swore on a bible that he would leave her alone. But he did not.

“So on January 26, 1872, when George Watson left his third-floor office, he found Fanny Hyde waiting on the landing with a gun,” wrote Jones.

Georgewatson“She shot him once in the head, killing him instantly, and a few hours later surrendered herself to the police.”

How did Fanny escape a lengthy jail sentence? The idea of an innocent, comely teenager being “ruined” by a creep like Watson was so disturbing to Victorian-era Brooklynites, 10 of the 12 men on the jury refused to find her guilty.

Her lawyers also argued that she had been made temporarily insane. They called it “transitoria mania” and said that it started when Watson raped her . . . and was intensified by her menstrual cycle.

After the trial, Fanny was released on bail. A new trial was planned, but she skipped out and was never heard from again.

What the village of Brooklyn looked like in 1816

March 27, 2013

Atlantic Avenue was called District Street, a distillery existed at the foot of Joralemon, and Revolutionary War-era Red Hook Lane was a boundary line separating just-incorporated Brooklyn Village from the rest of the larger town of Brooklyn—one of six separate towns in Kings County.


If you’re wondering what things looked like at street level, this wonderful painting of a cold winter’s day on Front Street gives a closeup view. Both the painting and the map come from the Brooklyn Museum.

Celebrating winter with old Brooklyn businesses

January 23, 2013

The Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful digitized collection of late 19th century business cards from hundreds of shops and companies located in the teeming city of Brooklyn.


They’re whimsical and imaginative—and some honor the cold weather while advertising their goods, like J.V. Dubernell, tailor.

His shop was at 331 and 333 Fulton Avenue, and his suits sound kind of expensive for the era.


That’s some sled illustrated in this card, for this clothing store, which comes off like the L.L. Bean of the time. Check out these prices for trendy wool cloaks!


This sweet scene advertises the business of a paint dealer. Sumpter Street is in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, quite a bit away from the other businesses, which are located closer to downtown Brooklyn in what was the fashionable shopping area of the time.

Perhaps a paint store was not welcome on refined Fulton Street?

What remains of two long-gone Brooklyn villages

January 8, 2012

Ever hear of the Brooklyn towns of Greenfield and South Greenfield?

These “suburbs” appears to have been centered between Avenue M in today’s Midwood and Flatlands to the south.

Greenfield “was laid out in 1851 on 67 acres of land which the United Freeman’s Association had bought from Johnson Tredwell,” reports The Eagle and Brooklyn, from 1893.

“To this property they added the Ditmas farm in 1852, making a total acquisition of 114 acres.”

The Greenfield name didn’t last long; the town was renamed Parkville in 1870. Still, its main streets named after trees (like Elm, which starts across from the M Street subway station) that don’t conform to Midwood’s neat street grid remain.

South Greenfield appears to have hung on a little longer. It’s marked on this map from an 1895 New York Times article on Brooklyn suburbs. (Look in the center, off of “Smith Street Trolley.”)

“The pretty village of South Greenfield lies on the line between Flatlands and Gravesend,” another 1895 article says, cryptically alluding to its attractions.

At some point in the decades soon after, South Greenfield disappeared.

Christmas ads for long-gone Brooklyn businesses

November 28, 2011

There was no such day as Black Friday in late 19th century Brooklyn, of course.

But the commercialization of the Christmas holidays was certainly in full swing, with businesses on Fulton Street—the city’s premier shopping drag at the time—coming up with homey images of Santa Claus and Christmas trees to sell their wares.

This card, from a grocery and tea dealer at 493 Fulton, shows as heartfelt a holiday scene as any ad you’ll see today: a well-dressed mother, a candlelit tree, a little girl watching from behind a curtain.

S. A. Byers Fine Boots and Shoes, at 527 Fulton, was trying to sell “elegant slippers for the holidays” by giving us a jolly Santa, crackling fire, stockings filled with gifts, and holly leaves.

These ads come from the Fulton Street Trade Card Collection, a database of old business cards made available by the Brooklyn Public Library.

A 1920s poet haunts a Brooklyn red-light district

October 19, 2011

Sands Street today is an unremarkable stretch through the Farragut Houses in Dumbo.

But this beachy-sounding street has a very colorful history.

In the late 19th century, it was Brooklyn’s red-light district, so seedy it earned two evocative nicknames: locals called it the “Barbary Coast” in the 19th century and then “Hell’s Half Acre” through the 1950s.

Lined with saloons, rooming houses, gambling dens, and tattoo parlors, Sands Street catered to sailors from the Navy Yard and the East River waterfront.

It also appealed to less rough-and-tumble New Yorkers craving a dangerous thrill.

Struggling young poet Hart Crane (below), an Ohio transplant living just a short walk away at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, regularly visited Sands Street in the 1920s.

“With Emil away at sea a lot and their relationship intermittent, Crane walked down to Sands Street searching for sex to share in a rendezvous meant not to last,” writes Evan Hughes in his wonderful book Literary Brooklyn.

“Cruising was a dangerous pursuit for Crane in a time of rampant homophobia. More than once he came home beaten and bloodied.”

Crane committed suicide in 1932, leaving behind his poem “The Bridge,” an ode to the Brooklyn Bridge—which he was able to see from his apartment and perhaps Sands Street as well.

[Top photos: Sands Street tattoo parlor, undated, and Sands Street in 1946, from the NYPL digital collection]

A beach scene on an old Brooklyn business card

July 4, 2011

Could those be the grand old seaside hotels of late  19th century Brighton Beach, Coney Island, or Bath Beach in this vintage business card?

It’s part of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Fulton Street Trade Card Collection, a fascinating digital archive of Brooklyn business ephemera and proof that the advertising biz more than 100 years ago was just as cloying as it is today.

The man who lived and died in a Brooklyn tomb

June 20, 2011

It’s a tale of love and rather creepy devotion from 19th century Brooklyn:

Retired truckman Jonathan Reed’s wife, Mary, died in 1893. The grief-stricken East New York resident had his wife’s remains placed in a mausoleum in the Evergreens Cemetery.

Lonely, heartbroken, and likely a little crazy, Jonathan soon began visiting Mary’s tomb every day.

He put many of his wife’s beloved things in there: paintings, photos, red curtains, silverware, yarn, old gloves, even their pet parrot.

Then he brought a rocking chair and a stove to warm the place up. Convinced his wife was still alive, he made the mausoleum his daytime home for the next 10 years.

In an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1895, he stated:

“My wife was a remarkable woman and our lives were blended into one. When she died, I had no ambition but to cherish her memory. My only pleasure is to sit here with all that is left of her.”

His story went international; thousands of people visited him, including some Tibetan monks, assuming he had insight on life after death.

He died in the tomb in March 1905—his remains in a casket beside Mary’s.

[Tomb photo: Brooklyn Bridge Baby photostream]

Spring shoe shopping in Victorian-era Brooklyn

April 12, 2011

These days, there’s no shortage of boutiques and shops in Brownstone Brooklyn—and the same could be said for the downtown Brooklyn of more than 100 years ago.

But instead of tweeting about a sale or building a Facebook following, Victorian-era stores advertised their services and goods by handing out colorful trade cards, like the two here.

So when winter was over and well-off ladies wanted to purchase spring shoes, they knew to head over to Joseph J. Byers.

His shop must have been popular; the store ran lots of ads in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the 1880s.

Their 110 Court Street store is now the site of a multiplex.

Fred Finch’s Fine Shoes dates back to at least the 1870s. I think it’s the site of a Dr. Jay’s now, part of the illustrious Fulton Street Mall.

This second card comes from the Brooklyn Public Library’s wonderful database of old Brooklyn trade cards. They have cards from all kinds of merchants and businesses that existed on Fulton Street in the 19th century.