Brownstone: A Little History

And we quote…In the period prior to the 1830’s or so, most of the rowhouses being constructed in New York had either brick or wood facades. Alternatives such as marble existed, of course, but these were far too costly for most homeowners to consider, especially since the stone had to be cut by hand and transported long distances. With the growth of the new urban middle class came a desire for something more sophisticated in appearance than simple brick, and more durable than wood. Brownstone, a type of sandstone, was readily available from quarries located in New Jersey and Connecticut. A form of sedimentary rock which frequently contains fossilized footprints of prehistoric animals, it owed its unique dark brown color to high concentrations of iron, which turned color with exposure to water. Using barges, it could be shipped easily to New York, where it quickly became popular. In Brooklyn, brownstone houses could be found anywhere from Bedford Stuyvessant to Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens. Houses themselves were not constructed of brownstone, but rather a veneer less than a foot thick was placed on the front of each home, which was actually constructed of brick. The mark of a good brownstone mason was his ability to cut and assemble the blocks of a facade so carefully that it almost appeared to be a single mass of stone.
Tidbits [Nero Wolfe]

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  • Then came acid rain (fulled in part by the growing middle classes appetite for cars) and destroyed all the brownstone. Thus giving all the stucco guys jobs from here to eternity.

  • Anyone know how much less common were houses with facades of rusticated brownstone (rough cut, rather than smooth)?

  • don’t forget the influence of the third trinity church (richard upjohn, 1842) and india house (unknown achitect, 1850)–both massive brownstone structures in downtown manhattan–which signaled to the ever-rising urban bourgeoisie that brownstone, hitherto considered declasse, was now not only acceptable but desirable

  • I recently found and purchased brownstone window ledges for the front of my building from Portland Brownstone Quarries in Portland, CT. Contact Mike Meehan 860-342-2920.

    This is apparently the original quarry for the Boerum Hill Brownstones. It has the mica flecks and custom cuts were no more expensive than “poured concrete”.