Famous Brooklyn Stores Retail History

We can blame the late Victorian era for the commercialization of Christmas. The late 1800s gave us an affluent society with the disposable income to buy the vast amount of machine-made goods coming out of American factories.

The Brooklyn Eagle gloried in this consumer excess, writing glowing reviews of the merchandise in stores all over the city and running thousands of ads. No time of the year was more important than Christmas.

We’ve picked five Brooklyn stores to highlight for the holiday shopping season — three old-timers from the Victorian age, and two more contemporary. None of them exist anymore.

They were founded by the same kind of smart, successful and lucky entrepreneurs that abound today, all striving to bring Brooklynites the next greatest thing, especially for the holidays. (more…)

Brooklyn Thanksgiving Traditions and History

Thanksgiving in America has always been a rather strange combination of festival, food and frolic. We watch colorful parades in the morning, stuff ourselves in the afternoon and then retire to our couches to watch two teams of modern gladiators beat each other silly for the prize of a silver trophy.

Traditions have evolved since Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the 1860s, but the sentiment has remained the same. Here’s how late-19th-century Brooklyn celebrated, with massive feasts and costumed Fantastics. (more…)

Industry City Sunset Park Brooklyn History Bush Terminal

In the last few years, Sunset Park’s Industry City, a 16-building complex along 3rd Avenue, has become a hub for artist studios and manufacturing bases for local food purveyors and makers, as well as outposts of large companies like Time Inc. The complex has seen increasingly more foot traffic, too, with popular dance parties in the summer and now the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg through the winter.

Its namesake — industry — is still very much at its core. There are big things in store for Industry City, with a staggering $1 billion redevelopment plan that was announced earlier this year. Instead of going toward high-rise luxury condos, this influx of big money is being used to renovate, repurpose and revitalize the massive complex, eventually bringing 20,000 jobs to the vast industrial hub that was once called Bush Terminal.

But how did we get here? It involves a man named Rufus Bush, floating railroad cars and bananas. (more…)

Bed Stuy Brooklyn -- 1897 Merrick Rd LIRR Train Wreck

On Memorial Day 1897, a group of young adults from Stuyvesant Heights’ Green Avenue Baptist Church was involved in a horrible collision between an open horse-drawn coach and a Long Island Railroad train. Last week we shared Part 1 of the story. We now pick up as the investigations and funerals continue. (more…)

Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn -- Merrick Rd LIRR Train Crash

On May 31, 1897, Decoration Day, a group of young adults from the Greene Avenue Baptist Church in Stuyvesant Heights were gathering for a celebration of the holiday we now call Memorial Day.

The group of young people were in their late teens and early 20s. Many of the boys were members of the Alpha Delta Theta fraternity, which was organized through the church. The girls were church members, and most were upscale kids who lived in Stuyvesant Heights and knew one another from their schools, the neighborhood and church.

A majority of the kids and some of the chaperones were going to ride their bicycles to Long Island, but one group wanted to really make a party out of it. So they hired a coach, team and drivers to take them out to the Island, and things didn’t quite go as planned. (more…)

Brooklyn Concrete & Steel Construction History

This month marks Brownstoner’s Steel Anniversary. We’re taking some time to look back at our past, even as we design a new future.

Imagine living in the far future, able to look back in time and watch when Roman engineers came up with the arch, or medieval church builders developed the flying buttress. Impressive stuff there — some of the foundations of modern Western architecture. (more…)

Dumbo Brooklyn -- Arbuckle Coffee John Arbuckle History

Read Parts One and Two of the Brooklyn coffee history series.

John and Charles Arbuckle came to Brooklyn from Pittsburgh and built the largest coffee company in the United States. By the early years of the 20th century, their operation in Dumbo received, stored, roasted and packaged more coffee than any other company in America.

Their signature brand, Ariosa, was packaged in small, one-pound, branded packages of freshly ground coffee. It was sold everywhere in the country.

Ariosa was nicknamed the “cowboy’s coffee,” as it was the brand of choice for cowhands on the range. The iconic cowboy campfires with the coffeepot on the fire, later copied into movie and television legend? They were drinking Arbuckle Ariosa.

Arbuckle’s success lay in the roasting process. John Arbuckle invented most of the company’s innovative methods and machines, then wisely patented them, further adding to the company’s revenues.

His first invention was a process using eggs and sugar in a glaze that coated the raw beans, sealing in the flavor. His patented roasting machines took care of the rest. (more…)

Dumbo Clinton Hill Brooklyn John Arbuckle Coffee History

Read Part One of the Brooklyn coffee history series.

Coffee came to America as early as the late 1600s. By the mid-19th century, Manhattan was the green coffee capital of America, home to dozens of wholesale coffee brokers and coffee roasters.

Soon after the Civil War, the beans spilled across the river into Brooklyn, due to this city’s huge capacity for storage and processing. Brooklyn’s vast waterfront piers became the landing place for the coffees of the world.

Brooklyn’s largest coffee company belonged to brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, originally from Pittsburgh. They also left us several great additions to Brooklyn’s architectural legacy. (more…)

Brooklyn History Dumbo Empire Stores John Arbuckle

If coffee was a controlled substance, most of us would be addicts of the worst sort. Our national morning jones for caffeine has been the catalyst for fortune and failure over the centuries. Everyone loves a coffee shop, and most are welcomed into any neighborhood like a water fountain in the desert.

There have been countless arguments, discussions and even culinary classes about the world’s best coffee — how to grow the beans, roast them, package them and brew them. Our stores are full of different devices that do whatever we need to get us our fixes.

Although many people, especially in upscale urban and suburban communities, swear by their special blends, their small batch, artisanal and exotic coffees, most of the coffee brewed in America comes from a few large companies that supply supermarkets and restaurants across the nation.

The Arbuckle Brothers, working out of Brooklyn, were one the coffee giants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They roasted and packaged the first popular coffee brand, called Ariosa, and created Yuban coffee, a brand still on the market after 150-plus years. (more…)

Park Slope Brooklyn History 1915 Edward Reiss

Edward Reiss was a larger-than-life Brooklyn character in the early 20th century who often took matters into his own hands when a situation wasn’t to his liking. Our story today concerns his use of a racist power play to get his way in a feud with a developer.

Reiss was the owner of the Marine Wrecking Company, a very successful salvage company that plied the waters around New York City and the surrounding states, towing in damaged and abandoned craft, and salvaging underwater wrecks.

His name was frequently in the papers after 1910 for his yachting activities. A member of the Park Slope Civic Association, he was one of the Slope’s most aggressive and ardent boosters. When his plans to erect a statue in the area didn’t come to fruition, he was disappointed, but by 1915 he had more immediate problems. A developer was building a six-story apartment building right next door to him.

Edward Reiss and His Neighborhood

Reiss and his wife Jennie lived on the upper edges of Park Slope, in a rather modest row house at 461 15th Street. They were the first owners of this house, which was the lead in a group of four two-family houses built by architect Benjamin F. Hudson and developer Morris Levy in 1909.

The papers referred to the house as a “mansion in a highly desirable neighborhood,” which suggests Reiss may have made some serious upgrades to the home. But after four years of domestic bliss, the building became ground zero for a major feud. (more…)

Brooklyn History Aftermath of Consolidation of New York City

We conclude our look at the “Great Mistake,” the creation of Greater New York City, and the end of an independent Brooklyn. Part One of our story gave the background of the move to consolidate and Part Two explained why it was so important to New York City. Now, the aftermath.

What must have it been like to wake up in Brooklyn on January 1, 1898, and realize that you were not in an independent city but instead part of Greater New York City? To be no longer the captain of your own team, but now a player on someone else’s?

I would imagine for most people, especially the average working man in New York, the consolidation meant nothing, and it was just another New Year’s Day. Some Brooklynites embraced the change, eager to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new rules. (more…)

It’s School Week here on Brownstoner — a series of posts celebrating the start of the school year.

Brooklyn School Buildings Repurposed Architectural History

We’ve been highlighting some of the wonderful school buildings in Brooklyn this week, focusing on the schools of James W. Naughton and C.B.J. Snyder, two of the greats of school architecture.

It costs a lot to build a building, so people have always repurposed buildings whenever possible and tailored them to fit their needs. Today we’re looking at buildings that had a different function before becoming a school, or were built as schools and have now been put to another use. Just as the P.S. 9 Annex became apartments, one should never let a good school go to waste.