24 Hicks Street (circa 1808)

3-storied clapboarded frame house with attic; curb roof; arched dormer windows. Demolished early 1950s to make way for Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

24 Hicks Street was one of the first houses to have been built on the Heights once the old estates started to be broken up for development in the first decade of the 19th century. Located at the corner of the newly opened Poplar Street, one block up the hill from the Old Ferry Road, the Hicks brothers sold this lot in early 1807 to James Stephens, who quickly flipped it to Alexander Birkbeck later that fall.  Birkbeck built the house on the lot as early as when the spring building season began in 1808, because he is listed living at the property in the 1810 census and Longworth’s 1811 Brooklyn directory.

24-hicks

Birkbeck was a blacksmith who manufactured iron chain cables for ships, originally in the rear of this lot and then later out of expanded shops in the rear of adjoining properties he purchased over the next several years. These workshops fronted the little lane behind the first block of Hicks Street (running south from Doughty Street to the eastern corner of the Ludlow estate). Before Poplar Street was opened through the Ludlow estate, this lane was a dead end and not much more than an alley, and simply called “Back Lane” at the time. In the 1820s, after the Ludlow estate was subdivided and Poplar Street extended, the name was changed to McKenney Lane after John McKenney, a coachmaker with a shop nearby on the Old Ferry Road. Still later, McKenney Lane was widened and the name changed to McKenney Street.

Birkbeck died before 1820; his son (also Alexander) continued the business.  Several blacksmiths living in the houses on Hicks Street, in front of the workshops on McKenney Lane, are noted in the 1820 census and the first village directory from 1822. The younger Birkbeck soon opened Brooklyn’s first iron foundry at a property he purchased along Water Street near Dock Street, down the hill and across the Old Ferry Road from his residence.

Later in the nineteenth century, the shops behind 24 Hicks Street and its neighbors (along McKenney Street) were torn down and replaced by apartment tenements. The upper floors of 24 Hicks Street became a boarding house and the ground floor was turned into retail, with a series of candy stores occupying the building for many years, as shown in pictures from the 1910s through 1930s. (A classified ad from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1910 advertises the sale of the candy store, noting its location opposite Public School 8 and guaranteeing a “good living for a family,” evidently the elementary school kids and their sweet-tooths a valuable demographic. In 1925, during Prohibition, the Eagle reported a fire that raged through 24 Hicks and the rear tenement building, requiring the evacuation of 50 residents, allegedly caused by an illegal still operating in the candy store.) The entire block was razed in the early 1950s to make way for the Fulton Street off-ramp from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 24 Hicks Street stood where today the Poplar Street Community Garden sits.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ghost House

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s