Building of the Day: 194 Columbia Heights, a Mysterious House With an Illustrious Past

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row House
Address: 194 Columbia Heights
Cross Streets: Pierrepont and Clark streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1860
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1965)

The story: Brooklyn Heights is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in New York City. A historic row house on Columbia Heights, with rear Promenade and Manhattan views, is quite alluring, so it’s no wonder that a neglected, boarded-up house in that location would be the subject of curiosity and desire.

Unfortunately, this report does not solve that mystery. The property has been owned by Dr. Austin Moore since 1969. For whatever reason, he’s been unable or unwilling to do anything with it, other than emergency repairs. He has also refused to sell. But today’s BOTD is not about that.

Rather, it’s a look at the original owner and his family – a family that had the house built and lived in it for at least 80 years.

194 Columbia Hts, CC Dike, 1894, BE

Brooklyn Eagle, 1894

The house was built for Camden Crosby Dike and his family. Dike was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1832. In 1849, when he was sixteen, he made his way to Brooklyn, joining a great many other New England transplants, many of them merchants with seagoing ventures.

Like most of those New Englanders, he settled in Brooklyn Heights. He lived on Clark Street.

His first Brooklyn job was working for an auctioneer. Soon he was joined by his two brothers, James and Henry. They went into the wool business as co-owner of Dike Brothers.

Their company conducted a large-volume business buying and trading wool, both domestically and abroad. Camden Dike was soon quite wealthy and influential about town.

Dike married the former Jennie D. Scott and the couple had three children, a boy and two girls. In 1860, Dike had this house built for them, and he is listed in the Brooklyn City Directory at this address in 1862.

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Mr. and Mrs. Dike were very active socially, and both were also involved in charity work and philanthropic giving. In addition to his wool business, Camden Dike was one of the founders and directors of the Kings County Bank, as well as the Hamilton Trust.

He was also a trustee of the South Brooklyn Savings Bank and the Homeopathic Hospital, and a member of the Church of the Pilgrims.

He retired after 36 years in his business, and took a year to travel the world with his wife. Upon arriving back home, he continued his charity work and other projects. In 1892 he was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for City Controller.

The family had a summer home in Point Pleasant, NJ, and it was there that he came down with typhoid fever and died, in October of 1894, at the age of 62. He was sick for only six days. He and his wife are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

After Dike passed away, the house remained home to his wife and his son Norman, who’d been born in the house in 1962. The two daughters had married and moved away.

194 Columbia Hts, Norman Dike, 1902, BE

Brooklyn Eagle, 1902

Norman Dike was educated with Brooklyn’s elite boys at Brooklyn Polytechnic, and then went on to college at Brown, where he graduated in 1885. He came home to get his law degree at Columbia.

Norman Dike had golden employment opportunities. He put his shingle up and became counsel for the Kings County Bank, where his father had been a director. He went into local politics and became supervisor of the First Ward, and later chairman of the Brooklyn Board of Aldermen.

In 1902 Dike was appointed by the governor as Kings County Sheriff. He served in that position for ten months, and then was appointed superintendent of the State Tuberculosis Hospital.

In 1906, he was appointed to the Kings County bench by another governor, and he was re-elected several times. In 1920 he was elected to the Supreme Court bench, where he sat for 12 years. He then became a Supreme Court referee for the 2nd Judicial District, which covered Brooklyn and Staten Island.

194 Columbia Hts, Norman Dike, 1918, BE

Brooklyn Eagle election ad, 1918

Throughout this time, he and his family lived here on Columbia Heights with his mother. Jennie Dike lived far longer than her husband, and through the rest of her life was a tireless organizer, presenter and chairwoman for many different charitable causes. Many meetings, teas and soirees were held here in the house.

Jennie Dike died in 1920 at the age of 83, while attending a meeting of the Women’s Guild of the Church of the Pilgrims. She had given 64 years of charitable service to Brooklyn.

Norman was left the house after her death. Two years later, the Brooklyn Eagle featured a photo of the house and a short article announcing that the Dike mansion was going to be renovated into bachelor apartments.

Inside, there would be twelve two- to three-room apartments. The Dikes would also have a suite, but the article did not specify how large it would be. While the renovations were going on, they would be living in their vacation home in Easthampton.

The stairs were to be removed, and the entrance switched to the ground floor, the paper said. Thankfully for the streetscape, that did not happen. Perhaps the neighbors persuaded them not to change the façade.

194 Columbia Hts, 1922 ad, BE 2

Brooklyn Eagle ad, 1922

The size of the Dike apartment would come up again. Three years later, in 1925, an investigator from the State Attorney General’s office accused Dike of election fraud.

He charged that the judge and his family really lived in Manhattan, at 130 E.67th Street, and the Columbia Heights address was a pied-a-terre, not their legal residence. The judge had used his Brooklyn address to register to vote.

Judge Dike insisted that he had been born in the house, still lived there, and always would. The investigation was eventually dropped.

Ads for the apartments began showing up in July of 1922, and continued until the end of the Brooklyn Eagle’s run in 1955.

194 Columbia Hts, 1922 ad, BE

Brooklyn Eagle ad, 1922

The judge married Evelyn Moore Biddle in 1917, and they had one son, Norman Dike, Jr. Like his father, he went to Brown, and was attending Yale Law School when World War II broke out. Junior went into the Army as a second lieutenant. By this time, the house had passed from Dike family hands.

Young Dike was promoted to first lieutenant in 1942, and parachuted into France as part of the Normandy Invasion. He was awarded two Bronze Stars for bravery for two different battles in France.

By 1945, Lt. Norman Dike was part of “Easy Company,” the platoon that was later immortalized in the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” He was not particularly well liked, and was given the perjorative nickname “Foxhole Norman” by his men.

194 Columbia Hts, Lt Norman Dike, Jr, Wikipedia 1

Lt. Norman Dike, Jr, in England in 1943. Photo via Wikipedia

In January of 1945, Dike led Easy Company into what turned out to be an ambush, and almost got his men killed. He was wounded in the gunfire. Some accounts say he froze, while others say he was wounded and unable to properly lead.

The men were rescued from the situation by another officer, and Dike was put behind a desk for the rest of the war. The incident became part of the television show, which did not show Dike in a favorable light at all, which many historians say was unfair.

Dike eventually returned to Yale, got his JD, and launched a lucrative career out west with a mining company. He died in Switzerland in 1989.

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Getting back to Junior’s father; Judge Norman Dike was quite successful in other pursuits beyond the law. Like his father, he was on the board of the Homeopathic Hospital, which became Cumberland Hospital. He also was a Lt. Colonel with the Judge Advocate General during the war.

He was the director of the Hamilton Club in Brooklyn Heights for a time, and belonged to the Union League and Montauk Clubs.

Dike was known as a stern and hard judge. At times he was accused of being too harsh — even “cruel and unusual” — in his sentencing, according to his obituary in the Eagle. Perhaps he believed stiff sentences were a deterrent to crime.

He died at his son’s home in Connecticut in 1953. He was 90 years old.

The house passed on to other owners, and eventually to Dr. Moore. Its history still has chapters to be written.

All house photos by Barbara Eldredge

194 Columbia Hts, B Eldredge 2

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