Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Private house
Address: 218 Arlington Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Ashford Street
Neighborhood: Cypress Hills
Year Built: Around 1900
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
The story: Cypress Hills has a fine collection of housing stock that brings a smile to the face of most old house lovers. This part of Brooklyn has often been forgotten by the rest of Brooklyn, except for those who grew up here and remember the streets and homes with nostalgia and great pride. One of those residents, Ricardo Gomes, began a website devoted to the history, architecture and reminiscences of the neighborhood, and today, the East New York Project is always my go-to source for photographs and information about buildings in Cypress Hills, Highland Park and East New York proper.
Cypress Hills was planned as a late 19th, early 20th century suburban neighborhood, and has an interesting mixture of row houses and blocks of detached and semi-detached suburban style housing. In very many ways, it’s quite similar to parts of Flatbush, which, ironically, it used to be part of, way back in the late 1600s and early 1700s. The “New Lots” of East New York were new lots for the Flatbush settlers who originally moved here. There’s a lot of history here.
The streets of Cypress Hills were developed for upper middle and middle class folk, many of whom came from the German American communities of Bushwick, not all that far from here. As many of them had houses built, or moved into speculative housing, they left their businesses behind in Bushwick and commuted to work. In time, many of those businesses also came to East New York, making the area, called the 26th Ward, quite prosperous. The houses on some of the blocks, and the churches and civic buildings built for the new neighborhood, reflect that prosperity.
This stretch of Arlington Avenue was called “Doctor’s Row,” for the number of doctors who lived along here and, often, practiced from their homes. I think most neighborhoods end up with a doctor’s row; I can think of several others in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. Doctors were affluent and respectable, and although it was probably quite accidental, having a large number of them on one or two blocks made it easy for patients to see specialists of many kinds — certainly a lot more pleasant than going to a hospital for the same.
This fine house with the unusual and lovely porch belonged to a Doctor Isaiah C. Barnhart. Although I wasn’t able to find a specific date or architect for the home, the style corresponds to homes being built around 1900 in Ditmas Park and other parts of Flatbush. This entire block was empty in maps of 1887, but the house, and all of the houses around it for blocks, shows up on a 1904 map.
Like most doctors in his day, Dr. Barnhart was on call when local emergencies occurred. He was the attending physician for one particularly sad suicide case in his neighborhood in 1901. Charles Filsinger was a successful local insurance man. He and his wife, Albertine, and their two daughters lived on Vermont Avenue. The 39 year old Mrs. Filsinger was chronically and deeply depressed with constant thoughts of suicide. Medical science really didn’t understand that condition then, and so couldn’t really do anything for her.
She had tried to commit suicide at night once before, and fearing for her life, her husband resorted to taking wrapping a rope around her waist, knotting it, and tying it to himself at night. That way, if she tried to get up, he would wake as well. He was used to tying the knots so tightly, and so complexly, that he had to cut them open, instead of picking the knots loose in the morning.
On the night of May 26, 1901, Albertine managed to untie the knots carefully and gently, not waking her husband. She then took the rope and went into the other room, tied the rope to the door, knelt down in front of her dresser, wrapped the rope around her neck and fell forward, strangling herself. This time she succeeded. She was found by her teenage daughter the next morning. The poor girl thought her mother was praying until she saw her face reflected in the mirror. Dr. Barnhart was called to pronounce. There was nothing he could do.
Dr. Barnhart was in residence in 1902, when he was listed on a record of all of the automobile owners in New York State. The automobile was still in its early days then, and one needed to be wealthy to afford one, so the good doctor was doing well. He was still in residence a year later, when listed on a medical registry, and seven years after that, when his car, which he no longer owned, was in a hit and run accident. In the early days of the DMV, they hadn’t updated the record of the sale. He was not a suspect. After Dr. Barnhart, the house continued to belong to other doctors, well into the 1940s. They included a Dr. Frank F. Senior, who ran for county coroner in 1913, and later, from at least 1922 to 1946, Dr. Henry Louis Kreis.
If anyone ever decides to restore this house and others on the block to their original beauty, there are some great photographs available. A postcard from 1910 taken on this corner shows not only the house, but many of its neighbors. These blocks were a riot of late Victorian suburban splendor. Between 1939 and 1941, the City of New York took a tax photo of every building in the entire city. The 1941 photo for 218 Arlington is a wonderful snapshot of the front of the house, showing the trim, the wonderful curved porch with its unique railing, and the fish scale shingles and vertical clapboard sections on the façade.
A much later photograph from 1990 shows the house now covered in fake brick, with its second floor half circle window rather messed up, but the original porch and railing still intact. The once latticed bottom of the porch had also been bricked in. Today, the original railing is gone, and the house is completely covered in vinyl siding, with a new asphalt tile roof and a new brickfaced parlor level. The original ornament in the center of the arches is gone, replace with a new motif.
But in spite of the resurfacing, the house is obviously well taken care of, and maintained with pride. The PropertyShark photo shows homeowners doing yard work. Yeah, I’d love to have the original details still with us, but I’m very happy to see the house loved and taken care of, no matter what it looks like. After all, this is Doctor’s Row, and there should be standards. Thank you East New York Project, for all of the fine research and images. GMAP
(Photo: Christopher Bride for PropertyShark)