Walkabout: “The Landlord of East New York,” Part 6

After spending three weeks with Edward Linton of East New York, it’s time to end his story. He was such a major figure in the history of the 26th Ward, I’ve really only touched the surface in relating what a larger-than-life and influential man he was in his day. Any neighborhood would be glad to have such an advocate. True, a lot of what he worked so hard to get for East New York also enriched his own coffers, because as the largest of the area’s landowners and landlords, what was good for the 26th Ward was good for Edward Linton. Fortunately, his was a benevolent despotism. Most of what he lobbied for in the halls of city and state power was necessary for the community as a whole. Transportation, public services and economic opportunities: These were the things that moved Linton to action.

Many of his contemporaries were extremely jealous of him, especially local political functionaries. They managed to keep him out of public office, but they couldn’t keep him off committees and commissions put together by mayors or state officials. Linton didn’t need to be in politics; the politicians were going to come to him, regardless. If they weren’t coming to his door, he would be banging on theirs. And no fight would be bigger than Linton’s to get a sewer system in East New York.

As the 26th Ward grew, so too did the need for sewers. When the City of Brooklyn annexed the old Flatbush town of New Lots in 1886, they got not only a new ward that added to the tax rolls and population of Brooklyn, but they also got a part of town that had no central sewer system. East New York had grown from farm country to a well-populated, growing city neighborhood in the space of only a few years. Edward Linton was a major player in making that happen, as he had developed new housing, or sold land for new housing, on the farmlands he had purchased since the late 1870s.

Sewer lines had been laid as the houses went up, but there was never a fully functioning municipal system to hook it up to. The city had been asked repeatedly to remedy the situation, but they put it off, saying that it would cost too much. Edward Linton, in concert with past and present representatives, community leaders, business leaders and landowners, had lobbied in vain for sewers.

In April of 1889, a bill was introduced in the State Legislature that would authorize the sale of bonds to pay for some of the project, and would also compel the city to action, in putting in their own share of the money to make the project happen. The whole thing, which involved laying down large pipes that would empty out into a treatment plant before emptying into Jamaica Bay, would cost millions. In addition to digging up streets and laying pipe, land would need to be purchased for right of way to the bay, a waste treatment plant needed to be built, and there were plenty of other costs involved as well.

The bill passed handily, due in no small part to Edward Linton’s lobbying. He visited Albany and pressured city and local politicians to vote for it. While some wanted to have the entire city pay for the project through tax increases, Linton and his East New York coalition lobbied for the bulk of the tax burden to be paid by the residents of the East New York community. That was not a popular stand for many, and was against Linton’s own self -interest, as the largest taxpayer in the area, but he knew that having the sewers would enable even more people to move into the so-far undeveloped lands, and that success would pay for the sewer without a permanent dent in his income. With the state on board, and the city and its departments lined up to get to work, and monies allocated, you’d think it would be a done deal. Well, this is New York, what were you thinking?

On October 27, 1889, the headlines in the Eagle announced that work on the sewer could not begin that year because the city couldn’t get up the million dollars needed to start. All of the paperwork and bills had been signed, but the City Engineer had a problem. In order to get the waste to the treatment center, they had planned for two mains on either side of East New York that would feed from the surrounding streets and run to the Bay. That was all well and good, but that system totally bypassed the center of the community, which would have no sewer system. The Chief Engineer said that he needed another half a million dollars in order to rectify that oversight. The city said they didn’t have it.

Apparently, also complicating the issue, the mains would have to run through miles of marshland by the bay, land that would never be developed, and was a swampy and vile salt marsh. This was where the waste treatment station would be located. In order for this to happen, the city was going to have to buy the land, an extra expense. The city comptroller explained that the 26th Ward was going to have to cough up the money for this one; it was not the city’s responsibility to take care of the land issues.

The amazing thing was that while all this was happening, all of the other chapters of our story were taking place at the same time: the ball club and Eastern Park field, Linton’s new bank and growing real estate office, Linton’s tour of East New York for Mayor Chapin, and the fight to sink or elevate the Long Island Railroad tracks along Atlantic Avenue. In the middle of the brouhaha, the attempted spousal homicide and subsequent suicide of his banking partner, William Winberg, all stories covered in previous chapters, also occurred.

Linton was also taking care of business by buying more land, and developing homes, and he was lobbying hard for the city to not only take care of the sewers, but to pave the roads, too, something else they said they didn’t have the funds for. It was at this point that the Eagle opined that Linton had to realize that the 26th Ward was not the only ward in the city that needed money spent on infrastructure and improvements. Linton’s answer was that by 1890, the 26th Ward was a large enough community that it should have had those things. Forty thousand people should have a sewer system. Having the paved roads end at your border would frustrate part of community that payed taxes. Linton battled on.

In March of 1890, a group of East New Yorkers, led by Linton, headed to Albany to plead their case for more state funds. Everyone agreed that the work was necessary, and promised to help. But by January of 1891, almost a year later, they were still waiting, and nary a shovel had been put to the ground. The city’s engineers were saying that they couldn’t do anything until the marshland by Jamaica Bay was purchased. Linton got tired of waiting, and bought the land on behalf of the city. It wasn’t an easy task, as title searches came up with at least fifty owners, all of whom had to be tracked down in order to buy the small parcels of land from them. In many cases, the land had passed to descendants and people no longer in the area. It was a herculean task, but Linton got it done.

Now the city was delaying again, once again arguing that improvements to East New York were unduly influenced by Edward Linton, and that he was only advocating for the district because of his own business interests. Comptroller Jackson was adamant about not passing any legislation that would aid any locality or individual by spending city funds on measures that would only benefit that locality or individual, and not the entire city. He did not like Linton, or his influence, and in his opinion, the sewers, the paved roads and streets were just the kind of projects he was talking about. Let ’em wait.

He was joined by City Works Commissioner John Adams, who resented Linton’s high handedness, while Linton was angry that Adams had gone behind his back and purchased a piece of land that was in contention. A lawyer representing the owners of a piece of the marsh had offered to sell Linton the land for $4000. Adams had approached the same lawyer, who offered the same piece of land to the city for the sale price of $10,000. The city, not knowing about the offer to Linton, bought it. Linton was furious. And now Adams was balking in regards to paying Linton back for other land purchases done on the city’s behalf. The feud was quite public and loud.

The two feuded publicly until that May, when they kissed and made up, pressured to do so by Mayor Chapin, who was feeling his own pressure from the public. Now the two new friends needed only the issuing of bonds to begin the project. That happened in early June, 1891, and the project could proceed. Linton had negotiated, cajoled and bullied his way into success. In the end, the city’s bond offering covered everything he had aimed for. Yet, it still took until November of that year for the city to open up the bidding process for the job. The sewers would now be laid. At last.

In the meantime, Edward got himself appointed to a mayoral commission looking into the creation of a Greater New York City, which would annex Brooklyn to Manhattan. He was for it, enthusiastically. He was also appointed to another commission that was lobbying to build another bridge over the East River, near Williamsburg. He was in favor of that, as well, and this too, was an uphill battle, which eventually succeeded. In his off time, Linton also became president, or “Commodore” of the Brooklyn Yacht Club. Who could fault his ambition, the man needed a break.

In 1895, the city wanted to build more parks. East New York had no major park, and it was on the shortlist to get one. Edward Linton had plenty of land, and sold the city over 50 acres for the creation of Highland Park. He charged the city $2,000 an acre. Not bad. In 1896, Linton decided to run once again for public office, and was the candidate from his district for the State Assembly. He did not expect to lose, and told supporters that he already had a list of bills already drafted that he would bring up before the Assembly. Unfortunately, the voters, which included many from other wards, disagreed, backing a popular former police chief. Linton lost and finally gave up on politics.

By 1897, Linton was in financial trouble, and had to have an executor assigned for the payback of his debts. He had to sell off many of his properties, which must have been embarrassing, as the announcements of the auctions were printed in the paper, as was the suit against him. But he recovered, and throughout it all, never gave up his positions in the community, and was a leader in East New York for the rest of his life. There would be more battles waged, especially one with the elevated trains that crossed over the main streets of the neighborhood. It took years, but that battle was won, as well.

Much more could be written about Edward F. Linton. Very few people have been such staunch and active advocates for their communities. He certainly had a personal and business interest in seeing the neighborhood improve, but so what? He got the job done for the community. It took ten years for the sewers to be completed, but they were completed. The roads were paved, the LIRR buried and/or elevated the tracks on Atlantic Avenue, and the elevated train service got rid of a loop that had made the residents crazy for years. Linton had a big part in all of that.

He never stopped loving the community he helped build, and in March of 1921, Edward F. Linton died in his home. His daughter donated his many papers to the Brooklyn Historical Society, where they have been catalogued, along with family portraits and memorabilia. For many years, the only remaining named legacy of Edward Linton was a small park called Linton Park. It is bordered by Miller and Bradford Streets, Blake and Dumont Avenues. It was purchased by the city in 1896 from one of Linton’s business concerns, the Germania Improvement Company, and was named for him at that time. In the 1970s, the park was renamed for Martin Luther King, Jr., a worthy name reflecting the new demographics of East New York, but now, East New York has forgotten Mr. Linton completely. That’s a shame.

(Photo: 26th Ward Bank and LIRR tracks, 1892, East New York Project)

The Landlord Of East New York, Part One

The Landlord Of East New York, Part Two
The Landlord Of East New York, Part Three
The Landlord Of East New York, Part Four
The Landlord Of East New York, Part Five

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