Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Happy Birthday to Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Thursday, July 17th, is the 116th anniversary of Berenice Abbott’s birth (1898-1991).  The Museum of the City of New York holds over 2500 works in the collection by Abbott, who grew up in Ohio and lived briefly in New York’s Greenwich Village before moving to Europe in the 1920s, where she developed her photography skills.  Abbott returned to New York City in 1929, and after several attempts to obtain funding, was eventually hired by the Federal Arts Project (FAP) to execute what came to be known as “Changing New York,” a photo-documentary series of 305 images of the changing urban landscape of New York City.  You can read more about this project in an earlier post – Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland’s “Changing New York.”

In the three years since the Museum has launched this blog, numerous posts have drawn on Abbott’s work to narrate the city’s history.

Abbott’s scope was wide, and she traveled to all five boroughs, capturing locations such as Astoria, Queens; Bath Beach, Brooklyn; Shore Acres, Staten Island; Westchester Square, the Bronx; and multiple locations in Manhattan.  Take a a quick moment to peek around on Google Maps, and you’ll see that none of these structures below exist anymore.

43_131_1_430

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Arts Project. 27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.430.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936.  Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

The house in Astoria and the Belvedere Restaurant (located at Bay 16th and Cropsey Avenue, Brooklyn) were replaced with apartment buildings that appear to have been built within a decade of the photographs.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991).  Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937.  Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

The existing house on Hope Avenue in Staten Island may still have the same rock wall around the property, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

As for the Gas Station in the Bronx – Dock Street and East Tremont Avenue don’t even intersect up anymore – Herman H. Lehman High School now sits on the site, though the station may have been demolished as early as the 1930s or 1940s to make way for construction of the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the
Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

We could fill this post with an endless stream of images Abbott took of businesses, buildings, and landmarks that no longer exist; or some, such as Rockefeller Center, to the left, that were just in the early stages of construction, and remain as icons today.   As we honor the birth week of the photographer who had the foresight to capture the city as such a pivotal point in its history, take a look at her other images online, and see what lost fragments of the city’s urban landscape you can identify.

 

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company

South Brooklyn isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of perq-filled employment in the early parts of the last century. If you happened to be working for the Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company, however, it would be a whole different story. Beyond the regular, often brutal work at the shipyard there would have been a constant whir of activities: dancing, games of tug of war, concerts, and team sports to name just a few.  The four albums in the City Museum’s collection from the Morse Dry Dock’s Employee Association paint a (probably highly idealized) picture of what it was like to be an employee of one of the largest ship repair/dry docks in the country at that time.

Founded in the 1880’s by Edward P. Morse, the company soon became known as the leader in steamship construction and the go-to company for maintaining the luxurious yachts of the fabulously wealthy. It also was the largest floating dry dock in the world in the World War I era (a dry dock raises the hulls of boats above water so they can be repaired, as seen below).

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Fire hose drill.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York.  F2013.130.2

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Fire hose drill.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.130.2.

Located in what is now considered Sunset Park, but then was considered Bay Ridge, the shipyard was between 55th and 57th Streets from First Avenue to the water. The complex had nearly 4,000 employees, ranging from welders to office clerks, who kept the whole shipyard sailing smoothly along.

The Morse Dry Dock was a pioneer in company culture and offered progressive benefits to their employees, including health insurance (good perq in a place where fingers routinely got separated from hands), paid sick time, and night classes so employees could improve their job skills.

The Employee Association was the main instigator for all these benefits. Comprised of annually elected employees, its aim was to make the shipyard the best possible place to work.  The Employee Association formed committees devoted to everything from putting on regular concerts and other entertainments  to the Conference Board, which dealt with solving employee complaints. The elections for positions within the Employee Association were shipyard-wide, hotly contested, and included fiery rhetoric and even parades.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Smith's parade of Employees' Association election.]. 1919. museum of the City of New York. F2013.130.4

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Smith's parade of Employees' Association election.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.130.4.

(And just in case you were wondering, Smith sadly did not win a place on the Employee Association.)

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company.  Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Voting in the Machine Shop Employees' Association election.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.130.7

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Voting in the Machine Shop Employees' Association election.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.130.7.

On another progressive note, women were allowed to vote in these elections, a whole year before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Morse Dry Dock & Repair Co. Photographs [Women voting in the Main Office.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.132.10.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Morse Dry Dock & Repair Co. Photographs [Women voting in the Main Office.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.132.10.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Morse Dry Dock soccer team.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.11.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Morse Dry Dock soccer team.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.11.

But the most loved, or at least most documented, aspect of the Employee Association was sports. Above is the semi-pro, championship-winning soccer team, the Brooklyn Morse Dry Dock.  Members of the dry dock staff f0rmed a baseball team, multiple bowling teams, and participated in really just about every team sport out there.  The photographs reveal  the company’s deep investment in these teams: in 1919 the baseball team hired Bill Dahlen, a well-known baseball player for the Brooklyn Superbas (a precursor to the Dodgers), as the manager. He can be seen at the far left of the group shot of the 1919 baseball team.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Morse Dry Dock baseball team at Morse Oval.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.9.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Morse Dry Dock baseball team at Morse Oval.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.9.

By far the most amusing sport represented in these albums are the tug o’ war competitions staged between departments. (If anyone could tell me why they’re sitting on wooden boards, I’ll be eternally grateful.)

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Tug of war - Boiler makers versus farm gang.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.19.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Tug of war - Boiler makers versus farm gang.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.19.

The Morse Dry Dock employees also enjoyed boating excursions.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Employees Association excursion.]. 1919. Museum of the city of New York. F2013.133.16

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Employees Association excursion.]. 1919. Museum of the city of New York. F2013.133.16.

And women-only noontime dancing.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Women dancing at noon hour.]. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.30.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Women dancing at noon hour.]. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.133.30.

However, it wasn’t all fun and games. Morse Dry Dock played an important part in World War I. They were the head contractor for the Navy and were considered  a temporary government site; a company of soldiers was stationed there to protect the shipyard from any possible attack. Thankfully none came.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Flag being raised at the Pipe Fitting Shop.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.131.31.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co. [Flag being raised at the Pipe Fitting Shop.]. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.131.31.

But like most interesting tales, there was a subplot–all of these benefits and perqs were part of a fight against  the postwar influence of organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World and other unions. The Morse Dry Dock was highly successful at this:  in a 1919 walk-out only 600 men, about 15% of the workforce, left, the lowest percentage of any other local shipbuilding company. This loyalty to the company wouldn’t have happened without the Morse Dry Dock Dial, a publication the New York Times called one of the best “internal house organ” publications and one that helped curb the flow of “Bolshevist propaganda.”

As a companion to the photo albums held in the City Museum’s collection, the Morse Dry Dock Dial (digitized issues are found at the Hagley Digital Archives here) is an interesting, and actually quite amusing, look inside the company. Headed by Bert E. Barnes, formerly of the New York Sun, with other reporters from papers like the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Philadelphia Record, and covers occasionally drawn by Edward Hopper,  the monthly newspaper furthered the idea that the Dry Dock community was a family. As Barnes wrote in the January 1919 issue, “If any reader has taken a vacation, married, returned an umbrella, paid back a borrowed dollar, bought a horse, automobile or baby carriage, planted a war garden, built a chicken house, robbed a baby’s bank, made a speech, been reduced, promoted, received a raise, won anything, done anything, been in a fight, we’re glad of it, because that’s news.” And the paper followed that edict literally–the detailed gossip raised the collective eyebrows of the Museum’s entire digital team even in this age of online over-sharing. Celebrations of shipyard goals and sports victories, shared baby pictures,  and a small but obvious thread of propaganda run throughout the publication’s pages.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Morse Dry Dock Dial Staff [Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co.]. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.134.8.

Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. Morse Dry Dock Dial Staff [Employees Association of Morse Dry Dock and Repair Co.]. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.134.8.

 World War I was the highpoint for the Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company. It went out of business in 1963 after merging with other shipyards and changing its name a few times.  While Morse Dry Dock and Repair Company itself may be slowly fading into distant memory, the company culture they championed has taken on new life in this century in companies like Google and Pixar.

Notable City Residences

8,336,697 people lived in New York City as of July 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau, and a lucky few of them live in fascinating places. Here we take a look at some the more interesting residences, images of which are featured in the Museum’s collection. All photographs were taken by Edmund V. Gillon and donated to the Museum by Blair Davis.

Brooklyn Heights

In 1965 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, bounded roughly to the north and the west by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the south by Atlantic Avenue, and to the east by Court Street, Cadman Plaza West and Old Fulton Street. This act ensured the preservation of the neighborhood’s signature brick and brownstone buildings, most of which were built in the 19th century, and the protection of the neighborhood’s tree-lined character, which has remained relatively unaltered since the Civil War. It is no surprise, then, that Brooklyn Heights has some of the most exceptional housing the city has to offer, including the four examples below.

Edmund V. Gillon. College Place. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Edmund V. Gillon. [College Place.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.468

Carriage houses are holdovers from times when horse-drawn vehicles were the primary method of transportation; the buildings stored carriages and horse tack. Although rendered obsolete by modern transportation, some carriage houses still exist in the city. The carriage houses in Brooklyn Heights were built around the mid-19th century and are often located on alleys or quiet side streets.

Edmund V. Gillon. 165 Columbia Heights. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Edmund V. Gillon. [165 Columbia Heights.] 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.792

Despite their humble origins, but perhaps because of their limited supply, carriage houses are now considered fashionable, highly desirable residences, and come with a corresponding hefty price tag. Renting a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom carriage house can set you back $10,000 a month. The carriage house pictured to the left was put on the market in 2008 for $7.2 million, but eventually sold in 2012 for $4.1 million.

Edmund V. Gillon. Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

Edmund V. Gillon. [Riverside apartments, 4-30 Columbia Place.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.92

The Riverside apartments  were built in 1890 by William Field & Son and financed by philanthropist Alfred Tredway White, whose motto was “philanthropy plus five percent. ” White accepted a limited return on his investment in exchange for building affordable housing for Brooklyn’s poor and working class families. The Riverside buildings occupied only 49 percent of the lot, which allowed space for an internal courtyard. White’s progressive ideas about housing were years ahead of the law, and more generous as well: in 1895 the New York Tenement House Law was changed to require that a new tenement occupy no more than 65 percent of its lot.[1] The Riverside received praise from Jacob Riis, who wrote in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives: “Its chief merit is that it gathers three hundred real homes, not simply three hundred families, under one roof.” Although four of the nine buildings in the Riverside complex were demolished to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the LPC nonetheless included the Riverside apartments in the 1965 Brooklyn Heights Historic District designation. At a time when housing for working and middle class New Yorkers is in dwindling supply, and developers declare “There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” White’s business model is sorely missed.

Edmund V. Gillon. 70 Willow Street. ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

Edmund V. Gillon. [70 Willow Street.] ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.938

The Greek Revival house at 70 Willow Street was built around 1839 by Adrian Van Sinderen and is commonly referred to as the Capote house. From 1955 to 1965 Truman Capote rented a room in the house, where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While he was living there he also noticed a news article about the 1959 murder of a Kansas family that would lead him to write  In Cold Blood. This three-story, 11-bedroom, 9,000-square foot mansion with the impressive pedigree recently sold for $12.5 million.

Roosevelt Island

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Edmund V. Gillon. Octagon Tower. 1970-2000. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.570

Octagon Tower was part of the New York City Lunatic Asylum (later Metropolitan Hospital) on Roosevelt Island. It was built in 1835-1839 by Alexander Jackson Davis. In 1955 the hospital vacated the facility when it left Roosevelt Island for Manhattan. The buildings fell into a state of disrepair, as you can see in the picture to the right. But in 2006 the ruins were converted to luxury housing, with the newly restored Octagon Tower serving as the lobby entrance.

Nolita

Edmund V. Gillon. 190 Bowery. ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

Edmund V. Gillon. [190 Bowery.] ca. 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.788

 You would never guess that the building pictured to the left at 190 Bowery is now a single-family residence. The former Germania Bank building was built in 1898-1899 by Robert Maynicke for its namesake, which served the middle class German residents who populated the area along and to the east of the Bowery, north of Division Street. The building functioned as a bank until the mid-1960s, when photographer Jay Maisel purchased it for $102,000. Maisel moved into the six-story, 72-room, 35,000-square foot building and continues to live there today with his wife and daughter, leading Wendy Goodman of New York magazine to declare 190 Bowery “maybe the greatest real-estate coup of all time.”

Greenwich Village

In 1969 the LPC designated the Greenwich Village Historic District which included the two structures pictured below.

Edmund V. Gillon. Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street. ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

Edmund V. Gillon. [Washington Square Methodist Church, 135-139 West 4th Street.] ca. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.300

The former Washington Square Methodist Church at 135-139 West 4th Street was built 1859-1860 by Gamaliel King and constructed of marble in the Romanesque Revival style. Just over 100 years later it became known as Peace Church for its opposition to the Vietnam War. From 1973 to 1984 Reverend Paul Abels served as the church’s pastor. Abels was the first openly gay minister in a major Christian denomination in the United States. Ahead of his time, Abels performed “covenant ceremonies” for gay couples unable to wed legally. In 2004 the shrinking congregation sold the building to a real estate developer, who retained the facade and converted the interior to luxury apartments.

Edmund V. Gillon. Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street. ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Edmund V. Gillon. [Portico Place, 143 West 13th Street.] ca. 1985. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.1.417

Another church converted to residences is Portico Place. It was originally the 13th Street Presbyterian Church, built in 1847 in the Greek Revival style and attributed to Samuel Thomson. Over the years the congregation merged with other nearby Presbyterian churches and eventually came to be known as the Village Presbyterian Church. The congregation disbanded in 1975 and the building was placed on the market in 1977. In 1982, the former church became a 15-unit residential building.

1. New York (State). Tenement House Commission, The Tenement House Problem: Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900, Volume 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 275.

New York City on Two Wheels

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Sports COllection.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on New York City Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

May is National Bicycle Month and is recognized by various local and national bicycle and transportation advocacy groups  such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives and the League of American Bicyclists.   Some New Yorkers may feel that New York City’s “bicycle craze,”  with its vast network of bike lanes and a bike sharing program, is a relatively recent phenomenon; the city, however, has a long history with two-wheeled transportation, boasting local bicycle clubs such as the Kings County Wheelmen, Williamsburgh Wheelmen, Gramercy Wheelmen, and Harlem Wheelmen.  Many members of these clubs were also involved with the national organization of the time,  the League of American Cyclists, which was founded as the League of American Wheelma (LAW) in 1880 and had over 100,000 members nationwide by 1896.  The League of American cyclists still uses the same emblem of the three spinning wings as pictured to the upper left in the LAW sweater patch.  Notable cycling enthusiasts from New York’s History include Diamond Jim Brady, Alfred E. Smith, and John D. Rockefeller.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, from the Collection on Sports.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

In 1949, wheelman Charles W. Hadley made a gift of several objects related to bicycle clubs and races from the late 19th century, including the patch above, and a similar one from the Kings County Wheelmen, pictured to the right.  According to a June 29, 1894 New York Times article, “Cyclists Noted for Racing: Kings County Wheelmen’s Company of ‘Scorchers’,” the Brooklyn cycling club was one the most well known and respected clubs both within New York and in other states, and members of the Kings County Wheelmen were greeted enthusiastically with “Hello, Kings County!”  It was said that an “introduction of a ‘member of the Kings County’ is the best of passports amongst cyclists all over the country.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Hadley was a member of all of the clubs whose ephemera he collected. It seems unlikely, as good healthy competition and loyalty to one’s club was part of the fun.  His participation, however, as a member of the Williamburgh Wheelmen is documented both in the photograph below (Hadley is the middle cyclist), and as the 1st Lieutenant of the club, noted

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.
Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, from the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

on the cover of the program  the right.  You can view the full program by clicking here, and you’ll see the interior lists “runs,” or rides, organized by the Williamsburgh club to various locations in the New York City area. The back cover makes reference to club loyalty, stating “all unattached Wheelmen are invited to attend club runs and visit club house,” excluding those associated with other clubs.

Another cycling event sponsored by the clubs, and still popular today, is the Century Ride, which is defined by the completion of 100 miles within 12 hours.

Centruy Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century rides usually have multiple checkpoints where the rider has to stop and have his or her (these days, “wheelwomen” are allowed to join in on rides, too)  card punched in order to prove that he or she completed the entire ride.

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Today’s cycling clubs and advocacy organizations appear to have many of the same goals as those of over a century ago: promotion of the bicycle for fun, fitness, and socializing.   We can also add the environmental benefits of bicycling today’s agenda.   The League of American Wheelmen, mentioned earlier, is credited for the paving of roads in America, even before automobiles became common, and the New York Times article referred to earlier speaks of how the King County Wheelmen did more than any group in the state to “keep the wheel before the general public” and promote cycling through road races and group meets.  As a ‘Wheelwoman” myself, I won’t attempt to hide my opinion on the subject of bicycles on the streets of New York,  but whatever your feelings, I think we can all agree that Mr. Hadley would certainly be surprised to see how much a part of the urban landscape cycling is in New York City today.

Visit the Museum’s online Collections Portal to view more images from New York City’s cycling history.

Fulton Ferry and the Creation of New York’s First Suburb

Ferries have made a bit of a comeback lately with the East River Ferry, Governor’s Island Ferry, and even a ferry to Ikea in Brooklyn.  The first ferry route between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, however, was established in the 1630s, just a few years after the settling of New York by the Dutch.  While Cornelius Dircksen Hoagland may have been the first to run a ferry between the two boroughs, Robert Fulton and his brother-in-law William Cutting popularized it in more modern times.

Fulton Ferry House in 1746, ca. 1850. South Street Seaport Museum, Print Collection.

Manhattan and Brooklyn  have always been dependent on one another (a large percentage of Hoagland’s passengers were farmers bringing daily produce into Manhattan).  Manhattan residents were moving to Brooklyn as far back as the 1600s, but the introduction of the Fulton Ferry,  which opened in 1814, cemented Brooklyn as New York’s first suburb.

George Hayward. Fulton Ferry Boat Over, 1859. South Street Seaport Museum, Print Collection.

Unlike ferries in the past, the Fulton Ferry provided not only regular service, but steam vessels between the two boroughs.  The result was a 12-20 minute passage, which was short enough to enable people to live in Brooklyn and commute daily into Manhattan.   Population growth in Brooklyn expanded rapidly around this time; the population sprang from 1,603 in 1796 to 186,000 in 1854, of which 35,000 used the ferry daily.  Not only did the population grow, but business did as well.  As Russel Granger from Whitman’s Brooklyn wrote, “Coal yards, hotels, oyster houses, an iron foundry, a marble yard, a wood yard, a flour mill, an ice house, banks and distilleries provided the ancillary businesses to make the Fulton Landing one of the most thriving ports on the eastern seaboard before the Civil War.”

Fulton Ferry Terminal with the Brooklyn Bridge under construction in the background, ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8404.

Fulton Ferry Commutation Ticket, 1837. South Street Seaport Museum. 1981.22.

With these numbers came the chance to make big money, which is exactly what the ferry aimed to do.  The Fulton Ferry (now renamed the Union Ferry) slowly reduced its fare to knock out its competition, only to double its rates once its competition was destroyed.  New Yorkers are no strangers to fare hikes, but doubling the rate caused significant outrage.

Fulton Ferry House, 1856. South Street Seaport Museum, Print Collection.

The ferry eventually fell victim to changes in technology, with the Brooklyn Bridge striking a severe blow to its popularity.  Although it survived another 40 years after the Bridge’s construction, the ferry finally ceased operation in 1924.  Brooklyn and New York wouldn’t be connected by ferry again until 2006.

Brooklyn’s Boweries

A few months ago I attended the Wyckoff House’s country fair, held on the grounds of New York City’s oldest surviving building. The house is an anachronism among the car lots and fast food restaurants dotting the intersection of East 58th Street and Clarendon Road in the East Flatbush-Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Simon Benepe. New York (N.Y.). Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Wyckoff House. 1988. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.7902

Built around 1652, the Wyckoff House was originally a Dutch West India Company bowerie, or farm. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, a Dutch immigrant and indentured servant, acquired the farm in 1652 after his term of servitude expired. Succeeding descendants of Pieter Wyckoff continued to live in the house and farm the land until 1901. Miraculously, the structure survived the rapid development of Brooklyn in the 20th century, and was the first landmark in the five boroughs designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission upon its establishment in 1965.

Josephine Barry. Wyckoff House, oldest bldg. in the 5 boroughs. 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.13

Of course, Brooklyn was once home to many Dutch farms, whose landowners took advantage of the fertile land and surrounding marshes and basins. Vestiges of this heritage remain, in one form or another.

The Van Pelt Manor house was built around 1686, at what is now the intersection of 18th Avenue and 82nd Street in Bensonhurst’s Milestone Park.

Van Pelt manor house. 1911. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7899

Well at the Van Pelt house. 1903. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7900

The Van Pelt family lived in the house until 1910, when Townsend Cortelyou Van Pelt deeded the estate to the city’s Parks & Recreation department on the “express condition that the said premises be used and maintained as a site for exhibiting and preserving thereon a certain old Dutch milestone.” The milestone in question is the oldest extant in the city, in the possession of the Brooklyn Historical Society. A replica can be found inside the park. The house, unfortunately, burned down in 1952.

Josephine Barry. Van Pelt Manor House, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. ca. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 75.43.15

The Vechte-Cortelyou house stood on what is now 4th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets in Park Slope. Built by Nicholas Vechte in 1699, the farmhouse was well situated near the Gowanus Creek, facilitating the harvest of oysters and the transport of goods down the waterway to Lower Manhattan.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Vechte-Cortelyou House at Gowanus in 1699. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1889

The house also played an important role during the American Revolution. During the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, British troops took over the house and used it as an artillery position against patriots running for their lives across the Gowanus Creek. After the war, the house was sold to the Cortelyou family. The original structure is no longer standing, but in the 1930s  a replica was built in an adjacent space, using some original stones. It is now called the Old Stone House.

Elijah C. Middleton. Cortelyou House, a Relic of 1776. ca. 1800. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3546

The Lefferts house was built around 1783 by Pieter Lefferts, a fourth-generation Dutch American and lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Here it is below, in its original location at 563 Flatbush Avenue in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens section of Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Lefferts homestead. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7679

In 1917, the estate of John Lefferts, Pieter’s son, offered the house to the City of New York, on the condition that the house be moved to Prospect Park. The move took place in 1918, and the house remains in the park today.

Lefferts homestead. ca. 1935. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7841

Click on this link to view more images of Brooklyn’s boweries. These images are all available in various sizes as museum quality archival prints. If you see something you want to hang on your wall, email us at reproductions@mcny.org

The Beecher-Tilton Affair

What do women’s rights, religion, and sex all have in common?  The Beecher – Tilton Affair.

Photographer unknown.Henry Ward Beecher, ca. 1860. Museum of the City of New York. 33.153.1

Henry Ward Beecher was the first minister of the Plymouth Church, in Brooklyn, appointed in 1847.   Raised as one of thirteen children (including half-siblings) in a strict Presbyterian household in Litchfield, Connecticut, Beecher was somewhat reticent and bashful as a child,  but grew to be a charismatic  preacher.  Beecher was popular amongst his congregation, and according to some sources, especially so with young, attractive women.   Rather than preaching the harsh judgment of God, as his father had, Beecher spoke of the loving presence of God.  Beecher was known for taking stands against slavery and anti-Semitism; and championing women’s suffrage, temperance, and education.

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly. “Get Thee Behind Me, (Mrs.) Satan!” Thomas Nast (1840-1902), 1872. Museum of the City of New York. 99.124.22.

Despite Beecher’s belief in certain equal rights for women, such as the right to vote, Beecher was not in favor of complete equality for women.  He spoke out against Victoria Clafin Woodhull’s concept of “free-love,” or in other words, the right of women to marry, divorce, and bear children without the interference of the government, same as a man.  Woodhull and her sister Tennessee were both advocates of women’s rights, and an excerpt from One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin, states “if a male debauchee is allowed to circulate in respectable society and marry women with unsoiled robes, then the female debauchee should be allowed the same privileges and be treated in the same manner.  This is justice – not mercy, not charity!” (Museum of the City of New York.  F2011.16.7).

Woodhull accused Beecher of hypocrisy, claiming that he himself practiced the very sort of free-love principles he denounced to his congregation, and was in fact involved in an affair with a married woman, Elizabeth Tilton.   Elizabeth Tilton and her husband Theodore were both members of the Plymouth Church Congregation.   According to Richard Wightman Fox, author of Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, Theodore Tilton was once one of Beecher’s most committed devotees.  The two had a deep personal relationship, as well as a professional relationship through their work on the editorial content of the national religious journal Independent.   Beecher even presided over the Tiltons’ marriage.

(left) Photographer unknown. Theodore Tilton, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1235. (right) Pendleton Photographers. Elizabeth Titlon, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1236.

 The Beecher-Tilton Affair was alleged to have taken place during the 1860s,  when, due to conflict in the relationship and Theodore’s extended absences related to his work, Elizabeth sought the companionship of Beecher.   In 1870, Elizabeth confessed to her husband that she had engaged in an adulterous relationship with Beecher.  The confession was soon well-known among certain influential members of Plymouth Church, and eventually reached the ears of Woodhull, who then made the confession public.  Beecher and Theodore badgered Elizabeth to retract her confession, then retract the retraction, respectively.  By 1873, Theodore Tilton was no longer editor of the Independent, and in fact the journal came down hard against Tilton and in support of Beecher.  Tilton was also excommunicated from the Plymouth Church congregation.

Despite much published evidence of the affair, Plymouth Church exonerated Beecher, leading Theodore Tilton to bring suit against him in 1874 for “criminal intimacy” with his wife.

Admission card to “Tilton vs. Beecher,” 1875, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 32.287.6.

The trial was opened in January of 1875, and captivated the nation.  The significance of the trial was not lost on Beecher, as evidenced in the letter below, which states “But this poor note may have an extrinsic interest as being written at the climax of this remarkable trial.”

Letter from Henry Ward Beecher to Mrs. Southwick, June 24, 1875, in the Letters Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3373.

At the close of the trial in July of 1875, the jury deliberated for six days, but could not reach a verdict.   Following the trial, Plymouth Church exonerated Beecher once again.  Theodore Tilton moved to Paris following the trial, where he lived out the remainder of his life.  Elizabeth Tilton remained a member of the Plymouth congregation until she, yet again, re-confessed to having an affair with Beecher in 1878.  At that point, she was also excommunicated from Plymouth Church.  Beecher remained a popular figure, though he never received quite the level of adulation he was accustomed to before the trial.

Hidden in Plain Sight

New York is home to many humble cemeteries right on the beaten path, their presence unannounced by towering monuments. Many of the city’s parks, such as Madison Square and Bryant Park, originated as potter’s fields. Other cemeteries have somehow weathered the test of time and withstood ever-encroaching development. If you’re not paying attention, you might walk right past them and not even notice.

George Miller, Jr. Jewish cemetery at Bowery near Chatham Square. ca. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.12.34

The first Shearith Israel cemetery at St. James Place near Chatham Square in Chinatown dates back to the 17th century.

Beecher Ogden. Jewish Burial Ground. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2658

The oldest extant tombstone is from 1683, belonging to Benjamin Bueno de Mesquita.

Beecher Ogden. Graves in the Jewish cemetery. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2667

It is often referred to as the first Shearith Israel cemetery, because it is the oldest surviving burial ground of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. But the synagogue’s oldest cemetery can be traced back to 1656, when authorities granted to Congregation Shearith Israel “a little hook of land situate outside of this city for a burial place.” Unfortunately, its precise location is now unknown.

Robert L. Bracklow. Jewish Cemetery, Chatham Square. 1880-1910. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.359

Shearith Israel was founded in 1654 by 23 Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil. It was New York City’s only Jewish congregation until 1825. The cemetery is the final resting place for a number of notable people. The image below shows the tombstone of Jonas Phillips, a merchant, Freemason, and ardent supporter of the American cause during the Revolutionary War.

Beecher Ogden. Jewish Cemetery on New Bowery Street. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2666

Phillips is not the only patriot buried in the cemetery. Below you can see the headstone of Gershom Mendes Seixas, Shearith Israel’s cantor, who also advocated for the United States during the revolution. Seixas was a participant in the 1789 inauguration of George Washington.

Beecher Ogden. Graves in the Jewish Cemetery. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2680

At the bustling intersection of Church and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn stands the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church. The landmarked structure was built from 1793-1798 and designed by Thomas Fardon.

Dutch Reformed Church, Built 1796, Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York Postcard Collection. F2011.33.1976

The adjoining graveyard quietly blends into the surrounding neighborhood.

Flatbush Avenue Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7417

The engraved text on many of the tombstones has been rendered illegible by exposure to the elements.

Cemetery of the Flatbush Avenue Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7510

The surnames of some of the people buried in the churchyard are reflected in the names of Brooklyn neighborhoods and streets: Peter Lefferts, Catherine Wyckoff, and Philipus Ditmas.

George P. Hall and Son. Cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 92.53.35

The New York Marble Cemetery, bounded by Bowery, 2nd Avenue, and 2nd and 3rd Streets in the East Village, is New York City’s oldest public non-sectarian cemetery.

First Marble Cemetery. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.243

Also called the Second Avenue Cemetery, it was incorporated in 1831. Most of its 2,080 burials took place between 1830 and 1870.

Chicago Albumen Works. Jacob A. Riis. Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.283

Public concern over yellow fever outbreaks caused legislators to outlaw earth burials, so 156 marble vaults were built 10 feet underground. There are no gravestones in the cemetery, although you can see names of the deceased on plaques in the surrounding walls.

Jacob A. Riis. The Old Marble Cemetery — proposed for a play ground, taken in summer 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.281

The marble used for the cemetery’s vaults, plaques, and lintels is soft and susceptible to the elements. The Dead House, used for the temporary storage of remains, was particularly vulnerable and had to be demolished in 1955.

Jacob A. Riis. The Dead-house in Old Marble Cemetery. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.285

For more information about these sites, please visit:

http://www.1654society.org/

http://www.facebook.com/FlatbushReformedChurch

http://www.marblecemetery.org/

Officer Stanley Kronzak, North Brooklyn Beat from 1936-1954

Like most of New York City, the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of north Brooklyn have changed considerably in the last 75 years.

New York City Patrolman’s Log Books, 1936-1954, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 94.90.20A – 94.90.20II.

I obtained a unique glimpse into these neighborhoods’ past through the patrol notebooks of Officer Stanley Kronzak of the New York City Police Department.  Officer Kronzak was born in Pinsk, Russia, in 1908, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1911.  He joined the police force in 1936 and was assigned to the 87th Precinct, which can no longer be found on current police precinct maps.  Based on the locations  referenced in his logs, Kronzak’s beat appears to have fallen in the eastern section of north Williamsburg and south Greenpoint, coinciding with parts of present day 90th and 94th precincts.  The notebooks cover the years of 1936 – 1954, and include Officer Kronzak’s record of each day’s events.

In most cases, Kronzak’s days were fairly routine.  On November 29, 1936, he noted the following, “Conditions reported… No door on street lamp – cable exposed – Cooper Park, pole#2W2C.”

Woodhull & Gale. Shelter House, Cooper Park, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.7666.

Wurts Brothers. Grand Street and Graham Avenue, N.E. corner. Old buildings, Graham Avenue elevation, 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.7192.

On June 15, 1948, he recorded that he escorted a man of “719 Grand Street [with] store receipts to Bank at Grand and Graham,” and later in the day escorted the Grand Theater receipts to the same bank.  On many days, Kronzak simply recorded the time, with the statement, “nothing to report.”

Excerpt from “The ‘Wick: Published to Encourage Thrift, by the Bushwick Savings Bank,” 1949, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 90.94.18.

Officer Kronzak is pictured to the left in “The ‘Wick,” a publication of the Bushwick Savings Bank, the same bank mentioned in the excerpt above.  The bank remains standing on the corner of Graham and Grand and though the stone facade still bears the name “Bushwick Saving Bank,”  it now houses a Chase bank.

Letter of Recognition to Officer Stanley Kronzak from Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine, 1942, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 90.94.13.

On April 17th, 1942, things got a little more exciting.  At approximately 1:15 PM, two men held up Vincent Perecelli’s bar and grill at 193 Frost Street.  The men made off with $333 from Mr. Perecelli’s pockets.  The two men ran from the premises and Mr. Perecelli began shouting “Hold up!”  The perpetrators first attempted to flee the scene in an automobile driven by a third man, but as Perecelli pursued them, the driver abandoned it and the robbers took off on foot.  Two detectives nearby heard the calls and apprehended one man. The other two, however, remained at large.   The detectives alerted a nearby patrol car.   Officer Kronzak was one of the two patrolmen in that police car. He gave chase and apprehended one of the robbers, recovering the stolen money and two loaded revolvers.  Following this event, Officer Kronzak received a letter commending his performance from the New York City Police Commissioner.

The image below shows the 15th Anniversary Dinner of his police academy class.  Kronzak is the man about half-way back, directly in front of a pitcher of beer on the banquet table, and is the only man in the whole photo wearing a bow-tie.  Officer Kronzak served on the police force for another five years following the dinner shown here, retiring in 1956 after 20 years of service and going on to work for a trucking company.

Techni-Photo Studio, Fifteenth Reunion of the Police Academy Class of March 1936, 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 90.94.11.

Many thanks to our intern, Richard, who assisted with matching photographs from our collection to the locations mentioned in Officer Kronzak’s logs.  Click on these links to view more images of the areas Kronzak patrolled in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17778

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17470

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.9.58

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.34

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.13

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.2.2F

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962. Museum of the City of New York. 01.59.22

Some people, like the man below, embrace the “if you can’t beat the heat, join it” philosophy.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Male Beauty, Coney Island, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.23

Skully, also known by variants like “skellie,” is a children’s street game played with bottle caps. Its popularity among youth began to fade in the 1980s.

Joseph Rodriguez. Game of Skellie, East Harlem, 1987. Museum of the City of New York. 2007.8.1

A telltale sign that summer has arrived is hearing the music from ice cream trucks. Ice cream vendors have used noise to attract customers since the late 1800s. But not everybody welcomes the familiar melody of ice cream trucks. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the music in the city’s noise code. An outright ban was unsuccessful, but now vendors are only allowed to play music when their vehicle is in motion.

Gerard Vezzuso. Young boys at ice cream truck, Staten Island NY, 1999. Museum of the City of New York. 01.26.8