An Old Bit of New Lots: The 1873 Town Hall

Photo by Susan De Vries

Editor’s note: This story is an update of one that ran in 2013. Read the original here.

In 1860, a group of men gathered in the town of New Lots to form a volunteer fire department. By 1866, they were pretty much established and were able to build a tall, octagonal wood framed bell tower on this site at 109-111 Bradford Street, which was manned 24/7 to watch for fires in this small town of less than 100 families.

brooklyn eagle

An 1873 announcement of the opening of the building. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In 1873, the Town of New Lots had grown to the extent that they needed to have some more formal civic structure, and the lot near the fire tower was the perfect place for building the New Lots Town Hall. This sturdy two-story-plus-basement brick building housed the town offices on the ground floor, and the fire department on the upper floor, in a large open room.

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In 1878, a new law required towns to house a police force, and the town hall was called into duty again. Everyone was shuffled around and squeezed into the building. Downstairs became the town meeting room and clerk’s office, the fire headquarters office, and the police receiving desk and muster room.

Upstairs was made into a barracks, while the basement held four cells, plus two rooms for emergency lodging. The town morgue was placed in the fire tower, and it was the busiest place of all, as there seemed to be a lot of fatalities in New Lots due to the LIRR surface railroad, which according to the Brooklyn Eagle supplied a wealth of mangled bodies.

109 bradford street

The building in 1887. Map by Sanborn Map Company via New York Public Library

By 1886, the town of New Lots had become the 26th Ward of the City of Brooklyn, and a city hall was not needed. The building became the headquarters for the 17th Precinct of Brooklyn’s police force. An annex was built at the rear for more cell space, and this building was in use until 1892, when a larger police precinct building was erected at 482 Liberty Avenue.

At that point, the building was taken over by the Board of Education for use as a school annex, but in spite of the fact that they needed the space badly, the Board of Ed didn’t move on it, and the building was still empty in 1893, its windows broken by local boys. The history of the building was recalled when the old fire tower was being demolished that same year.

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The building in 1922. Photo via New York Public Library

Fortunately, the building did not remain abandoned for long. In 1894, the old town hall building was purchased for use as the 26th Ward Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, which became the Bradford Hospital, a walk-in clinic for the neighborhood’s poor, who were growing in numbers.

The hospital committee had to wait until it had raised enough money to renovate the building to their use, as well as staff and supply it, but at last, in 1899, the Hospital and Dispensary opened to the public. It was immediately very busy.

109 bradford street

Another of those train accidents took place in 1904, when a Fulton Street elevated train car derailed and fell to the street below. A careless track employee had forgotten to pull a switch. The crash killed several people, and wounded many more. Many of the most severely injured were taken here.

The hospital remained in service to the community until 1934. The building then housed part of the NYC Board of Health for a number of years.

The building was then used for various storage and commercial purposes until it was converted into housing. Today it is a two-family house. At some point between the circa 1940 tax photo and the circa 1980 tax photo, the handsome large windows were filled in, but the eyebrow lintels and sills remain far above the undersized replacement windows — as if questioning the validity of inexpensive alterations. Fortunately, the porch, which was a pre-1922 addition, cornices and roof line are intact.

New Lots remains only as a name today, and this hall is one of the few reminders of the town’s history.

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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