A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
Charity has a long tradition in Brooklyn. Long before Social Security, Medicare, welfare, and other social safety nets, the care of those who could not care for themselves fell to those in the society who felt it was their religious and moral duty do something about it. By the Victorian age, those in need were more and more plentiful, and larger and larger institutions were needed to take care of them. Late Victorian society was very much like today’s. There was a high degree of wealth at the top, in the hands of the few, and varying degrees of affluence down the economic and social ladder until you reached the desperately poor. There were a lot of poor people.
Those at the top had their theories as to why those at the bottom were there, and they divided the poor into two categories; the deserving and undeserving poor. The very young and the very old were generally felt to be deserving of help, and the bulk of the institutions that were established were for one or the other. It usually fell to wealthy women to be the originators and driving forces behind most of the charities. And so it was with the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men.
The Home had its origins in 1877, when Mrs. Mary Brinckerhoff, a member of one of Long Island’s oldest Dutch families, was out doing work for one of her charities. She came across six old and infirm men living in a dilapidated old house, with no furniture, food or fuel. The men would rather starve than go the almshouse, which was a pretty horrible place. Mrs. Brinckerhoff gave them aid, and then went to some of her friends, and enlisted then in the cause.
The group of eight ladies wanted to have a permanent home for these men, and in the process saw that there were many such men in need, “aged worthy men who had been reduced to want by a series of misfortune,” as they called them. The ladies pooled their money and temporarily rented a house on Grand Avenue to house this initial group, and set about establishing a charity so that they could enlist the help of other wealthy people in their efforts. They soon recruited a board of directors and managers, with some of Brooklyn’s wealthiest on board. The charity was incorporated in 1878 as the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men.
One of their wealthy patrons, Frederick Marquand, gave them a house at 84 State Street, which became their first home, and by 1880, they were at more than capacity with 21 men. The charity started to plan for a much larger facility. Land was purchased at Classon (then Clason) Avenue and Park Place, and the cornerstone was laid in 1886, the building finished a year later. This large institution was designed by Rudolf L. Daus, who has been the architect of the week, here in my columns. Daus was an expert in designing charitable institutions; he had also recently designed a similar building for the St. John’s Orphanage for Boys, on St. Marks Avenue.
In the beginning years of the Home, the non-sectarian charity received generous donations of money and goods from some of Brooklyn’s most successful merchants and stores, enabling them to furnish the Home. They also accepted food donations, all of which helped them expand their service. They were especially successful in finding wealthy patrons who gave very generously. In only a matter of years, they needed more room. Fortunately, the land around them was still being developed, and little by little, they eventually were able to purchase half of a square block fronting on Classon, between Prospect and Park Places.
There was already a flats building on the lot next door to the facility, and that was purchased with the express idea to begin to offer shelter to aged couples. The first couple was admitted in 1895 as an experiment. Their introduction to the Home was very successful, and more couples were admitted, and the name of the charity was changed to the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men and Couples.
One of their most generous contributors, Mrs. Henry Crossman-Riley, made a bequest in her will to the home. It provided for the last major purchase of land on the site to build the Henry Crossman Memorial Building, which was built in 1912. It housed the Crossman Museum, which housed Mrs. Crossman’s collection of Tiffany stained glass windows, as well as other art objects. The building also held an infirmary and doctors’ offices. That same year, Mrs. Charles Merrill built a chapel in the complex, as a memorial to her late husband. The chapel had windows and an organ donated by the Merrill daughters, as tributes to their parents. The main window was a stained large glass mosaic of colored glass, shells and stones, created by artist Cole Bryham; totally unique and beautiful. The facility for Aged Men and Couples was now complete.
A photograph of the Home taken from a high vantage point shows a large complex with gardens and an ornamental pool. The facility had recreation rooms, smoking rooms, and a games room. Picnics and parties were held on the grounds, and sometime after 1912, the policy of the home changed once again, and single elderly women were admitted. They called their charges “the Family,” and provided them with care up until 1970. By that time, the laws regarding elder care had changed, and the Home was not able to upgrade their facilities to properly meet those changes.
The residents were all relocated to other facilities, and several years later, the complex was sold to Jewish Hospital, just across the street. Before closing up shop, the Brooklyn Home sold their museum treasures, including the Tiffany and Bryham windows. Today, the Brooklyn Museum is home to the unique Bryham window, and perhaps one of the Tiffany windows. The rest are in the hands of private collectors.
The Brooklyn Home for the Aged and Couples is still in existence, as a foundation. They now fund research in geriatric medicine, breast and prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s research, and other diseases that can afflict older people. They have scholarships for students in geriatric nursing programs at Staten Island University, and give money to many local nursing homes of all faiths and persuasions. Most of them are in the surrounding community.
Jewish Hospital would go bankrupt soon afterward, and had to merge with St. John’s Hospital, becoming Interfaith Hospital Corp. They sold the Brooklyn Home site to a nursing home company, which tore down the old complex and built a new building in 1975. The home would soon belong to the state, which turned it back over to the city, which owns the facility now. This new nursing home, the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, known in the community as “CNR,” is still going strong. The center is also a local gathering place for meetings. Community Board 8 meets here regularly. GMAP