Brownstone Boys: A Long, Long Time Ago in Bed Stuy, or, How We Discovered Our House’s History

Photo by Susan De Vries

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 18th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at www.thebrownstoneboys.com.

The renovation is moving along nicely! We get excited with every stud and pipe that gets installed. This week we’re taking a break from the construction fun to talk about the community and history of our neighborhood. It’s been amazing to learn the rich history of our building and also experience a warm welcome to the neighborhood (and our street). It’s one of the best things about living in Brooklyn and why we decided to create our home here. We’ve got to give credit to a couple of friends and readers who have commented on our blog or social media who know far more about the architectural history of Brooklyn than we do.

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An October 1890 article about Gilbert de Revere’s death. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

It started with one of our first Instagram posts. We assumed our place is over 120 years old, because the New York City records say it was built in 1899. Someone commented that our place looks like an Amzi Hill building. That made sense because he designed a lot of the brownstones in Stuyvesant Heights. Recently though a local reader and new friend of ours, Morgan Munsey, contacted us with even more detailed information of the history of our place including pictures of the builder and a census showing the original owner.

Turns out it was built circa 1890 by Gilbert De Revere. He was one of the many carpenter/builders active in Brooklyn in the 19th century. In the Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights areas, he was responsible for rows of houses on Decatur, Madison, MacDonough, Macon and Halsey streets. He seems to have used drawings by architect Amzi Hill but often did not give him credit. Apparently, it was common practice to buy drawings for one project and keep using them over and over for other projects. He gave Amzi Hill credit on the first few houses on our row and then Amzi Hill’s name fell off. It seems like a shoe manufacturer, Angelo Casey, his wife, and two daughters were one of the first people to live in the house. It also appears that Mr. De Revere may have met his demise right around when our building was completed. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported in October of 1890 that he died of an “aneurysm of the heart” right here in the neighborhood when he took his horse and buggy out for a spin.

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The 1900 Federal census for our street. Image via Ancestry.org

Learning this really brings to light how we don’t just own the wood, stone and land that make up our place but there is a rich history and sense of community that comes with it. The people on our block have pride in it. There are monthly block meetings where a variety of topics are discussed including upcoming spring planting! Apparently our block even made honorable mention for Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s “Brooklyn’s Greenest Block” contest and we’re making a run for it again this year! We are so looking forward to being a part of this community and being actively involved in our block association.

As we pick out tile and light fixtures it’s easy to forget that we are working to restore what has been home to many people over 130 years and is part of a larger history of Brooklyn and Bed Stuy. That’s why we’re here in the first place, and it makes it even more exciting to leave our stamp on what will hopefully be here for another 130 years.

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Photo of Gilbert de Revere from the collection of teagreennurse via Ancestry.com

If you’re not as much of a Brooklyn history buff as we are…back to to the renovation fun next week!

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