Church bell



Front yard church bell at Danske Sømandskirke. 102 Willow Street. If Brooklyn was known as the City of Churches, then the density of houses of worship in Brooklyn Heights makes the neighborhood first among equals.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Victorian Canvas Shade Awnings


Victorian canvas shade awnings @ 75 Willow Street. Once ubiquitous across Brooklyn Heights and brownstone Brooklyn in the late 19th century, now mostly vanished.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sgraffito! (Say that 10 times fast)


Extremely rare example of sgraffito etching in New York City, located on the ground story of 177-179 Columbia Heights

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.


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

68 Hicks Street (circa 1818)

68 Hicks Street is another surviving frame house built before 1820.  Lucky many of the earliest houses in the north Heights, the original deed transferring ownership of the lot from the Hicks brothers was not recorded. The first mention of the lot in land records is a spring 1819 transfer to Elijah Raynor, for the relatively high sum of $1,000, which must have reflected the fact that the conveyance included both the lot “and the buildings thereon” (a fortunate notation in the documentary record, because normally the early land transfers did not definitively state whether or not a piece of property had already been improved). A transfer in that early season of 1819 implies that the house on this lot was built no later than 1818.

Elijah Raynor was a grocer who ran his original store, connected to a tavern, on Fulton Street, according to the 1822 village directory.  A certain Jacob Hubbs is shown operating a grocery at 68 Hicks Street in 1822, but presumably under contract to Raynor, who then shows up himself as the grocer of 68 Hicks Street in the 1825 directory.  A brother, Ezekiel Raynor, ran a grocery one corner down the hill on Hicks Street, at the corner of Middagh (in a wood-frame building, since replaced by a brick building, located at 46 Hicks Street).

The Dutch-style double-gabled roof is easily visible on this corner house, and like 24 Middagh Street, typifies the building form of many of the houses constructed in the first 10 to 15 years of development on the Heights.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Happy 200th Birthday!

…to 38 Hicks Street and 40 Hicks Street…each built 200 years ago in 1810.  The oldest surviving houses in Brooklyn Heights!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

58 Hicks Street, as it appeared c.1940

58 Hicks Street tax photo c.1940

(Above is the “tax photo” of the house, taken around 1940 by the city’s finance department.  From The City of New York Municipal Archives.)

The wood-frame house at 58 Hicks Street was probably built in 1814.  There is no record of a deed transferring ownership to the property from Jacob Middagh Hicks and John Middagh Hicks after the brothers started subdividing their Brooklyn Heights farmland into lots in the first decade of the 19th century, but deeds to the lots on either side of the property were each granted in 1814.  The owner of one of those adjoining lots (Hugh Carlin) granted a mortgage in favor of Jacob Hicks on the 58 Hicks Street property in 1816 and therefore Carlin is assumed to be the property’s first owner, possibly buying it in 1814 along with his other lot but for whatever reason failing to record the deed.  The house on the other adjoining lot that was sold by the Hicks brothers in 1814 (now known as 60 Hicks Street) is believed to have been built  that same year based on various documentary evidence.  That house was recently discovered to have been built up against the original clapboard siding of 58 Hicks Street, indicating that 58 Hicks Street was built first, or not later than 1814.

Little is known about Hugh Carlin other than he was a cartman, according to 1820s Brooklyn village directories.  Carlin appears to have sold the house in 1820 to Michael  Trappal, a butcher and tanner who later became a prominent warehouse owner on Furman Street and importer of hides.  The 1820 federal census and the first Brooklyn village directory in 1822 show Trappal living in the house, but his tenure there was short.  From 1823 to 1864, the house was owned by Winant Johnson and his family.  Johnson was a blacksmith who likely operated his shop from an outbuilding in the rear of the property.  He was married to Hester Birkbeck, daughter of Alexander Birkbeck, who manufactured chain cables for ships out of a shop at the northwest corner of Hicks and Poplar Streets.  (Hester’s brother Alexander started Brooklyn’s first iron foundry on Water Street.)  From 1864 to 1921, the house was owned by Diedrich Sanneman and his family.  Sanneman, a founding member of the Society of Old Brooklynites, was a ship captain who built the brick townhouse next door (54 Hicks Street) in the 1850s. Sanneman’s son Jonathan lived at 58 Hicks Street for several years; at other times, the Sanneman family appears to have rented it out.  From 1923 to 1952, the house was owned by Fredericka Loew Coussirat, a divorced teacher who lived next door (60 Hicks Street) and rented out the house.  From 1953 to 1960, the house was owned by Conrad Ten Eyck Beardsley, a mining engineer who substantially renovated the facade and interior of the house.  From 1960 to 2007, the house was owned by Martin James, an art historian, professor of art at Brooklyn College, and former BHA governor.  Since 2007, the house has been owned by Jeremy Lechtzin and Amy Klein.

Old maps and blueprints, and examination of the framing and foundation uncovered during recent construction, show that the original building was 22 feet wide by 16 feet deep and two stories tall over a high brick basement, with a single-pitched roof.  (The mortise and tenon joints and hand-hewn beams of the wood frame structure corroborate the 1814 construction date suggested by documentary evidence.) The front door was on the first story and accessed by a wooden stoop laid out parallel to the sidewalk and street.  The building’s footprint, tiny even for the era, suggests it was built as a store or workshop and not as a house – there was only one room per floor, and the attic was too low to have been used for anything other than storage. An attached rear structure started out as a wood-frame lean-to just several feet deep, but has been altered several times, successively adding depth until it became as large as the front building.  The front and rear buildings are oriented perpendicular to one another, with a 4 foot alley located at the north of the front house originally leading to a wider side yard next to the narrower rear house.  The two buildings appear to have been connected by an interior passage almost from the beginning, which backs up evidence that the combined structure was converted to a residential use from a very early time, with commercial uses relegated to outbuildings on the property.  In the late 19th century, the attic was raised to a full third story by converting the pitched roof to flat, and soon thereafter an extension to the second and third stories of the front house was built over the alley.  In the 1950s, part of the basement was removed and the alley was widened by several feet to create a driveway into the side yard.  At the same time, the clapboard siding was replaced with asbestos shingles and the front facade composition was altered, including the removal of the front door and stoop in favor of a rear entry accessed through the driveway.  At present, the house is being renovated to restore many of the original front facade elements including clapboard siding, traditional window composition, and front entry with stoop.  The Belgian blocks that cover the driveway and rear yard are not original to the house, having been installed in the 1950s renovation; however, they have historical significance – they were salvaged from Fulton Street when the elevated train was demolished!


Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Very Soon!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized