Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here. This article draws on the book “Old Brooklyn Heights: America’s First Suburb” by Clay Lancaster as a source, among other resources.
Wood and brick Federal-style homes were among the first to be built in Brooklyn Heights, beginning in the 1820s. The oldest houses in the Heights still standing today were built in this decade.
The longest standing Brooklyn Heights houses reside on Willow, Hicks and Middagh streets. One of these is 84 Willow Street, which was listed in the first city directory of 1822, indicating that it is at least that old. A house at 68 Hicks Street was also listed in the 1822 directory.
In 1824, three more houses were built that are still standing today. These are 43 Willow Street, 30 Middagh Street and 24 Middagh Street. Conveniently, a plaque on 30 Middagh Street’s façade displays its year of construction.
The Ward Bakery Company was founded in 1849, in a small bakery on Broome Street, in Manhattan. Eighty years later, the company was the largest commercial bakery in America, serving most of the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest.
The company boasted in all of their advertising that no human hand ever touched their signature Tip Top bread as it made its way from bags of ingredients down to the finished wrapped and sealed product. It was all automated, even in 1911, when their Bronx and Brooklyn factories opened for business.
The details of the Ward family and their baking history can be found in Part One and Part Two. Robert and George Ward, the grandsons of the company founder had taken the company well beyond James Ward’s wildest dreams.
A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper began as the paper of record for a growing city, and was at its finest as the city grew into a great metropolis. The paper reported about Brooklyn life, events and people continuously for 114 years.
The Eagle began back in 1841 as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat. Its owners were Isaac Van Anden and Henry Cruse Murphy. The two men had originally planned to publish the paper as a morning paper, which along with news, would be an arm of Democratic Party politics.
In 1842, Henry Cruse Murphy became Mayor of Brooklyn. The paper continued to grow, covering not just local news, but extending its range to international and national news as well. That was rare for most morning dailies.
The editor of the Eagle between 1846 and 1848 was poet Walt Whitman. Whitman was a printer by trade, in addition to being a writer and poet, and had worked for several different newspapers in NY and Long Island before coming to the Eagle.
He only lasted two years at the paper because he fell out with Isaac Van Anden. Whitman was a supporter of the “Free-Soil Movement” wing of the Democratic Party, and Van Anden was a strong supporter of their opposition, the more conservative wing of the party.
Crossing one’s boss over politics is never a good idea, and Whitman was encouraged to move on. During the Civil War, the paper continued to support the Democratic Party, quite a stand in what would be a very Republican city in later years. That would later change, as the times changed.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy has announced the winners of its 25th annual Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards. And Brooklyn is well represented. Five buildings in the borough that have recently gone through meticulous restorations have been chosen to receive the organization’s highest honors for outstanding preservation.
In Brooklyn, King’s Theatre in Flatbush (pictured above) will be receiving the award, as will the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, the Conrad B. Duberstein U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, and 1000 Dean Street and Berg’n. Congratulations to all of those involved in each of these projects.
The awards will take place on April 30 at 6:30 pm at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph at 856 Pacific Street. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here.
Click through for photos of each of these remarkable buildings.
Photo above by Matt Lambros
The Ward Bakery Company was one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakers, operating at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1911, their huge new gleaming white factory on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue began producing the first of millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line.
Ward’s was at the vanguard of a new kind of commercial baking. Gone were the bakers hand kneading their dough and shaping their loaves. Ward’s perfect loaves of bread were never touched by human hands.
As told in Part One, automated machines guided the baking process from the measuring of the flour until the packaging of the finished product. The customer’s hand that opened the package and lifted out that fresh loaf, ready to be sliced, was the first human hand on each loaf. Their advertising proudly proclaimed this, a guarantee of pristine freshness.
The new plant and all of Ward’s activities were the brainchild of the Ward family. The company had been started by James Ward in 1849, in a little bakery shop in Manhattan. James’ son Hugh, and his sons Robert and George had taken the company first to Pittsburgh, and then in 1910, back to New York.
In the years between, they had grown the company and were among the largest commercial bakers in a territory covering the market from Chicago to Boston, New York and Pittsburgh.
The new plant in Brooklyn had a twin in the Bronx, built at the same time. Both plants produced Tip Top Bread, the company’s signature loaf. These two factories produced all of the Ward’s bread sold in the metropolitan area.
Many fortunes have been made by providing the public with the basic products of life. One doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Take bread, for instance. For centuries, people have made their own bread. But for almost as long, there have been bakers who would do it for them. No one ever turned away a good baker.
For the busy urban household, bread making was time consuming, even for servants. If you’ve ever made bread, you know you have to set the yeast, mix the ingredients, let the bread rise several times, beat it and knead it to create gluten, and then let it rise again before actually baking. Or you could go to the baker and buy it.
The baker would also be able to make different kinds of bread, perhaps rolls, too, and even pastries. A baker and his bakery was an important part of the community. Interestingly, for centuries in Europe and America, the baker has generally been a man.
In 1849, a baker named James Ward and his son Hugh opened a one-oven bakery on Broome Street in Manhattan. A few years later, in 1852, Hugh and his wife Eliza welcomed young Robert into the world.
On Wednesday night a talk at the Brooklyn Historical Society will “explore the lives of Brooklyn’s founding families.” Kevin Stayton, the Chief Curator of the Brooklyn Museum, will discuss several items from the Schenck family that are in the museum library’s special collections, including two diaries.
Julie Golia, the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Director of Public History, will cover what can be learned about Brooklyn’s agrarian past from the Lefferts family’s 17th-century bibles, recipe books and other materials.
A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
I freely admit to a fascination with St. Marks Avenue in Crown Heights North. Along the length of the street, between Rogers and Albany Avenues, lay opulent real estate belonging to some of the wealthiest people in Brooklyn during the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
These residences often make up this Past and Present column because with rare exception, they are all gone. Only photographs, written descriptions and perhaps a few undiscovered photographs remain. Here’s another to add to the list.
Not only is this enormous house gone; the photograph shows it after a disastrous fire that gutted it in 1898. This 1905 photo shows the house just before it was torn down, and replaced by the handsome flats buildings that stand now. In fact, nothing in this photo is still standing, except the row houses in the background.
That’s another thing about St. Marks Avenue that makes it so fascinating and unique. The huge mansions are gone, but with few exceptions, they were all replaced by attractive, even elegant buildings. We may not have the houses of the rich to gawk at anymore, but we did get some fine architecture in return.
The tall tower JEMB Realty is developing at 420 Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn will be a mere 35 stories instead of 65, according to the latest permit filings, first spied by New York YIMBY. Meanwhile, we see the developer just closed on an adjacent site with a historically significant building on it and is planning a demolition.
An old three-story 19th century wood frame building at 233 Duffield Street is one of three historic stops on the Underground Railroad on the block the Landmarks Preservation Commission tried to save from demolition back in 2007, as we reported at the time.
The Brooklyn Historical Society is hosting a seminar next month on how to unearth the history of any home or block in Brooklyn, using archival documents and databases. Historical Society Librarian Elizabeth Call will show house nuts how to conduct research in the organization’s library.
Attendees will pore over historic maps, archival images and ancient public records. “If These Walls Could Talk” will take place on Sunday, April 12 from 2 to 4 pm at 128 Pierrepont Street. Tickets cost $50.
The photo above shows an aging wood frame that once stood at 47 McDonald Avenue, across from Green-Wood Cemetery in Windsor Terrace. It was eventually torn down and replaced by a condo development.
Photo via Brooklyn Historical Society