Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2012 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.
This is one of the oldest remaining houses in Bedford Stuyvesant, most definitely the oldest house in Stuyvesant Heights. It is fitting that it lies on the first block of the longest and most significant of Stuyvesant Heights’ roads, MacDonough Street, because it introduces passerby to a long and impressive history of fine building that continues down the length of the thoroughfare. It’s the beginning of the timeline.
Significant, also, is who built 97 MacDonough Street in 1861. Charles W. Betts was the Secretary of the Brooklyn Railroad Company, and he was a large landowner in the area, and one of its largest developers. A railroad man would know the importance of land and homes in an area that, even in the mid 1800s, had good public roads, public transportation, and the nearby railroad line.
He was sitting on gold. He built this spacious square Italianate villa, a typical house for the suburban area that this part of Brooklyn was at the time. The house has a splendid octagonal cupola on top, a wide porch, and large windows. It also sits on a nice big plot of land.
Betts didn’t stay here all that long, moving on to bigger and better homes, and in 1865, he sold the house to Chancellor H. Brooks, a wholesale hops dealer. He was a business associate and friend of William Parker, who lived in the Second Empire masterpiece next door, at 87 MacDonough, who was also in the hops business.
This would have been the perfect home for these merchants, as the breweries of Bushwick were only a short carriage ride away. In the late 1890s, the home belonged to the popular minister Dr. R.R. Meredith, whose church, the Tompkins Avenue Congregational Church, was less than half a block away, at the corner of Tompkins and MacDonough. He retired and sold the house in 1902.
As Stuyvesant Heights was developed with blocks of brownstones and other row houses and later, apartment buildings, this property, as well as the estate next door, never succumbed to an owner’s desire to sell.
The house has been much altered over the years, with a simulated stone face covering the bottom story, aluminum siding on top, and metal porch overhangs, but most of the details are still there, including the porch columns, the gables and brackets, and the original doors and windows.
97 MacDonough Street has been in the hands of the same extended family for generations, and they have taken superb care of the house and the grounds. I’m told the inside is impeccable and retains much of its period detail.
When I first moved to Bed Stuy in 1983, this house looked exactly the same as it does now. These two freestanding houses remain some of the most interesting and significant houses in the entire area.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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