Walkabout: Charity Starts at Home, Part 1

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The measure of any society is in how it takes care of those not able to take care of themselves. In the Victorian Age, charity was a serious subject for the upper classes.

It was thought the proper thing to do to help only those they considered the deserving poor. This was at a time when there was no government safety net of any kinds whatsoever.

Religious institutions also had a mandate to serve those in their communities who were poor, widowed, orphaned or sick.

Brooklyn Hospital History

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There were many charitable institutions in all of Brooklyn’s communities, but central Brooklyn, then, as now, had the greatest number of charities and facilities, more than any other part of Brooklyn. Today, only a small number of these buildings remain, reminders of the social conscience of their times.

There were both secular and religious based institutions. The areas we now call Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant had an abundance of both. Because they were mostly developed in the latter part of the 19th century, institutions, hospitals and homes ended up being congregated in the community because there was plenty of space for large buildings.

Today I’ll highlight some of the secular institutions; Thursday will be about the religious based institutions.

There were thousands of orphaned children roaming the streets of late 19th century New York. In central Brooklyn, they were housed in the Church Charity Foundation on Albany and Herkimer, the Orphan Asylum of the City of Brooklyn at Atlantic and Kingston,(1872) the Truant Home at Empire and Nostrand, in 1857, the Children’s Home, at Sterling and Brooklyn, as well as a Hebrew Orphanage at Ralph and Pacific, (1879), and the Howard Colored Orphanage at Dean and Troy. (1866) None of these buildings remain.

Brooklyn Hospital History

Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

There were many hospitals and institutions treating all manner of diseases and maladies, many more than we have today.

The secular ones in Crown Heights alone, included the Swedish Hospital, at Bedford and Dean (1902), Brooklyn Women’s Hospital, Eastern Parkway, Lefferts General Hospital, at Brooklyn and ENY Ave, Carson Peck Memorial at Crown and Albany Ave, (1919), Unity Hospital on St. John’s Place, Thoracic Hospital at St. John’s and Kingston, the Home for Nervous Invalids, on St Marks Ave, Kings County Asylum for Chronic Insane and Alms House, and the Home for Habitues, which was on Brooklyn Ave near Park Place (1902) for those addicted to cocaine, chloral and opium.

In Bedford Stuyvesant, the Central Throat Hospital was on Broadway and Howard, and the Hospital for Consumptives was on Kingston and Butler. Both communities also had almost as many hospitals run by various religious groups, which I will list on Thursday. Believe it or not, today, Crown Heights does not have a single open hospital.

Brooklyn Hospital History

Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

On the other side of the law, Crown Heights South was home to Brooklyn’s Penitentiary, once located near where Ebbetts Field rose later, and located in a two block plot at Nostrand, Rogers, President and Crown. Inmates were used as labor in the late 1800’s and were rented out from this location to dig ditches, pave roads, and build foundations.

The prison closed in 1907 and the inmates were transferred to Blackwell’s Island. The grounds were bought by the Jesuits for a college and church, which opened in 1908, and today, is the oldest part of Medgar Evers College, part of SUNY .

To close out, from orphanage to old age, the Zion Home for Colored Aged stood on St. John’s and Kingston Ave, The Home for Aged Men was in Bed Stuy at Classon Ave, The Hospital for Old People was on Chauncey St, also in Bed Stuy, while several religious run old age homes were in the Bed Stuy/Crown Heights area.

Brooklyn Hospital History

Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

The Zion Home is still in use as a senior’s residence, with a modern extension attached, and is now called the Brooklyn Home for the Aged. This is one of the very few buildings to still stand.

The former site of the Thoracic Hospital is now an affordable housing complex, mainly for seniors, located in a large new development that was just finished a few months ago.

One of the Swedish Hospital buildings was replaced by the Chatelaine Hotel, which is now housing; another two buildings stand a few blocks away, one only a wall remaining, next to a former hospital building, now an abandoned church school.

The Orphan Asylum of Brooklyn’s lot is now a playground, and the Howard Colored Orphanage was torn down for a Transit System trolley lot, now a bus repair and parking lot. None of the other buildings mentioned remain, and their lots are all filled with newer buildings. See more on Flickr.

Next time: even more charities and institutions fill up central Brooklyn, these run by religious groups. Many thanks to Wilhelmena Kelly for her research on this subject, published in Bedford Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights and Weeksville for the “Images of America” series of books.

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