Holy Cross Cemetery, Flatbush. Jim Henderson, Wiki 1

Pretty 16 year old housemaid Barbara Gronenthal was dead, and her boyfriend, James Walsh killed her. Now he was in jail, awaiting his murder trial. Would he end up like his older brother, sentenced to Sing Sing Prison, or, as we learned in the last chapter, would his fate also match his brother’s – death?

James Walsh sat in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail alone and friendless. His mother, Catherine Duffy, came to visit him once, and left shortly thereafter, weeping bitterly. The guards told reporters that James would be calm and quiet in his cell, and then suddenly rage and throw himself at the bars. He also liked the prison food, which in their estimation proved he was insane.

An autopsy was conducted before Barbara was returned to her family for burial. It determined that the four inch knife had been plunged into her heart up to the hilt, killing her in minutes. She never had a chance. Her funeral took place on January 6, 1881. Only her mother, her two sisters, her brother-in-law, and a few family friends followed the funeral procession to Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. The Carlisle family was not there.

Investigators went to talk to anyone who knew James Walsh. They visited his job and found out a lot of information that was not positive for James’ case. His supervisor said that James had been a fine worker until about a year ago, when his brother Buck had been arrested for the home invasion robbery. After that, James had started to pick fights with management and with fellow workers.

The day James killed Barbara he had suddenly taken off from work in the afternoon, and never came back. That was it for his supervisor, who told other workers that if James came back the next day, he was going to be fired. (more…)

Gowanus Canal, 1905, BPL

This is the story of two poor families in Brooklyn and a terrible crime. In the first episode, we met one of the ne’er-do-well Walsh boys and his sweetheart, 16-year-old Barbara Gronenthal, who worked as a maid for a well-off family in Bedford in 1881.

Barbara was eager to please her employer, the Carlisle family. They lived in a four story Neo-Grec brownstone on a quiet block filled with similar houses, part of the great building frenzy that had overtaken Brooklyn.

Like many upper middle-class families, they had at least one live-in servant, as well as help like Barbara and the cook, who were day workers.

Barbara lived in Brooklyn too, but not in a fine brownstone. (more…)

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Development has hit this ramshackle corner of south Williamsburg a stone’s throw from the Williamsburg Bridge overpass. A shiny new apartment building is being grafted onto an existing 19th century brick building at 95 South 5th Street right next door to a 19th century wood frame house.

When we stopped by Saturday, workers were hoisting building materials over the construction fence with a crane. They were also building what looked like a platform on the roof of the wood frame house next door, whose address is 345 Berry Street, perhaps to protect the roof.

We’ve been curious about the latter building, whose address is 345 Berry Street, for years. It’s not pretty but its size and shape (25 feet wide with a peaked roof) signal it could be very old indeed, potentially early or mid 19th century. (more…)

Walsh, 502 Willoughby, GS, PS

Everyone who knew the Walsh boys knew they would come to a bad end.

Brooklyn in the 1880s was a lot like today, with expensive neighborhoods and wealthy people, and those who served them. If you were poor, uneducated or an immigrant, sometimes you had to do unpleasant jobs to survive. In 1880, there was no social safety net.

The alternative was starving or becoming a criminal. For some people it was just more satisfying to simply take what others had worked for. That’s certainly what Frank “Buck” Walsh believed.

The four Walsh children came from a poor family. Their father had not been right in the head since he fell down and cracked his skull when the eldest, Frank, was a child. Their mother, Catherine, had to struggle to make ends meet, taking in washing and odd jobs to feed her children and husband, who could only work sporadically.

The family lived in a tenement in what is now Dumbo, one of the poorest areas in the city. Catherine often drank too much, and was unable to keep track of what her three boys were doing. Fortunately, her only daughter turned out alright, got married, and was a help to her parents. But no one could stop the boys from getting into trouble. (more…)

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Wood and brick Federal-style homes were among the first to be built in Brooklyn Heights, beginning in the 1820s. The oldest houses in the Heights still standing today were built in this decade.

The longest standing Brooklyn Heights houses reside on Willow, Hicks and Middagh streets. One of these is 84 Willow Street, which was listed in the first city directory of 1822, indicating that it is at least that old. A house at 68 Hicks Street was also listed in the 1822 directory.

In 1824, three more houses were built that are still standing today. These are 43 Willow Street, 30 Middagh Street and  24 Middagh Street. Conveniently, a plaque on 30 Middagh Street’s façade displays its year of construction. (more…)

Ward Bakery, Wardbakingcompany.com 1

The Ward Bakery Company was founded in 1849, in a small bakery on Broome Street, in Manhattan. Eighty years later, the company was the largest commercial bakery in America, serving most of the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest.

The company boasted in all of their advertising that no human hand ever touched their signature Tip Top bread as it made its way from bags of ingredients down to the finished wrapped and sealed product. It was all automated, even in 1911, when their Bronx and Brooklyn factories opened for business.

The details of the Ward family and their baking history can be found in Part One and Part Two. Robert and George Ward, the grandsons of the company founder had taken the company well beyond James Ward’s wildest dreams. (more…)

This post courtesy of Explore Brooklyn, an all-inclusive guide to the businesses, neighborhoods, and attractions that make Brooklyn great.

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7 Arlington Place | via PropertyShark

No image of Brooklyn is more iconic than that of a family or a group of friends hanging out on their front stoop on a sunny day. In a borough full of front stoops, here are five of the most historic.

7 Arlington Place, Bedford Stuyvesant
7 Arlington Place is the famed Bed Stuy townhouse where Spike Lee shot Crooklyn in 1994. The film takes place during the summer of 1974 and centers around a family living in the neighborhood. The theatrical release poster features the family all gathered on the brownstone stoop. But the neighborhood has dramatically changed since Spike Lee lived here: this Bed Stuy brownstone last sold for $1,700,000. (more…)

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The New York Landmarks Conservancy has announced the winners of its 25th annual Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards. And Brooklyn is well represented. Five buildings in the borough that have recently gone through meticulous restorations have been chosen to receive the organization’s highest honors for outstanding preservation.

In Brooklyn, King’s Theatre in Flatbush (pictured above) will be receiving the award, as will the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, the Conrad B. Duberstein U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, and 1000 Dean Street and Berg’n. Congratulations to all of those involved in each of these projects.

The awards will take place on April 30 at 6:30 pm at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph at 856 Pacific Street. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here.

Click through for photos of each of these remarkable buildings.

Photo above by Matt Lambros
(more…)

Wards Bakery, ballpark, 1915 Baseball Magazine 1

The Ward Bakery Company was one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakers, operating at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1911, their huge new gleaming white factory on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue began producing the first of millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line.

Ward’s was at the vanguard of a new kind of commercial baking. Gone were the bakers hand kneading their dough and shaping their loaves. Ward’s perfect loaves of bread were never touched by human hands.

As told in Part One, automated machines guided the baking process from the measuring of the flour until the packaging of the finished product. The customer’s hand that opened the package and lifted out that fresh loaf, ready to be sliced, was the first human hand on each loaf. Their advertising proudly proclaimed this, a guarantee of pristine freshness.

The new plant and all of Ward’s activities were the brainchild of the Ward family. The company had been started by James Ward in 1849, in a little bakery shop in Manhattan. James’ son Hugh, and his sons Robert and George had taken the company first to Pittsburgh, and then in 1910, back to New York.

In the years between, they had grown the company and were among the largest commercial bakers in a territory covering the market from Chicago to Boston, New York and Pittsburgh.

The new plant in Brooklyn had a twin in the Bronx, built at the same time. Both plants produced Tip Top Bread, the company’s signature loaf. These two factories produced all of the Ward’s bread sold in the metropolitan area. (more…)

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The Carpenter Gothic church at 809 Jefferson Avenue, one of Bed Stuy’s oldest structures, is now a mere shell. Demolition to make way for apartments and a new church started in January.

From the street, it appears the building has been hollowed out. The historic stained glass windows and other features have been removed. The church was standing in 1854, old maps show, and may even date from the 1840s, as we have said.

The photo above was taken last week. All the others were taken yesterday. Click through to see more.

809 Jefferson Avenue Coverage [Brownstoner] GMAP (more…)

Ward Bakery, Ad for opening, BE, 1911. 2

Many fortunes have been made by providing the public with the basic products of life. One doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Take bread, for instance. For centuries, people have made their own bread. But for almost as long, there have been bakers who would do it for them. No one ever turned away a good baker.

For the busy urban household, bread making was time consuming, even for servants. If you’ve ever made bread, you know you have to set the yeast, mix the ingredients, let the bread rise several times, beat it and knead it to create gluten, and then let it rise again before actually baking. Or you could go to the baker and buy it.

The baker would also be able to make different kinds of bread, perhaps rolls, too, and even pastries. A baker and his bakery was an important part of the community. Interestingly, for centuries in Europe and America, the baker has generally been a man.

In 1849, a baker named James Ward and his son Hugh opened a one-oven bakery on Broome Street in Manhattan. A few years later, in 1852, Hugh and his wife Eliza welcomed young Robert into the world. (more…)

Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead

On Wednesday night a talk at the Brooklyn Historical Society will “explore the lives of Brooklyn’s founding families.” Kevin Stayton, the Chief Curator of the Brooklyn Museum, will discuss several items from the Schenck family that are in the museum library’s special collections, including two diaries.

Julie Golia, the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Director of Public History, will cover what can be learned about Brooklyn’s agrarian past from the Lefferts family’s 17th-century bibles, recipe books and other materials. (more…)