Photo of the Week: The Changing City

bhs_changing-city

I recently visited my brother in Paris, and in preparation for this trip, I went to see an exhibit of historical photographs at the Metropolitan Museum – Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris. Beginning in the mid-19th century, a city planner named Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann master-minded a program for the improvement and beautification of Paris, razing entire streets and neighborhoods in Paris with the same zeal that Robert Moses would adopt in New York City in the next century. The city of Paris hired photographer Charles Marville to chronicle the city’s transformation during this period of change. Wandering through the exhibit, viewing Marville’s photographs collectively gave me a sense of Paris and the changes to the landscape and how people lived in the city in a way that I would not have had if I had viewed the same images individually.

 

The photographs of a changing Paris that I saw at the Met made me want to see similar images of a changing New York City. While Brooklyn Historical Society does not have collections of images dedicated to individual photographers hired by the city, we do have thousands of images of the city that collectively capture the changing landscape of New York in a way that is similar to the Marville images. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection (ARC.201) shows the city in the late-1800s and early-1900s. The Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks collection (v1974.1) includes some early images, but focuses on the city as it was in the 1920s. The John D. Morrell collection (v1974.4 and v1974.9) focuses on the late-1950s and 1960s. Brooklyn Historical Society also has the Edna Huntington papers and photographs collection (ARC.044), capturing the city landscape and people in the 1940s, and smaller collections that focus on specific moments and events in the city in the 1970s and into the present.

 

The four images displayed above have been pulled from different collections, but were all taken within approximately a half mile radius in the neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant between the 1870s and 1958. When viewing the images collectively, these pictures chronicle the development of Bed-Stuy from a bucolic setting to one of Brooklyn’s densest neighborhoods, all within the span of a few generations.

 

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

 

Author: Halley Choiniere

 

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The Fight of the (Nineteenth) Century

Seaside Athletic Club boxing program

Handwritten notation reads: “Take it for granted they will. We are going to aid police.” Seaside Athletic Club boxing program, 1895. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

In the last decade of the 19th century boxing was one of the most popular sporting events in Brooklyn. Ironically, it was practically illegal in the State of the New York. Brooklynites, especially those who gravitated to the seedier sections of Coney Island, tended not to let little things like the law to get in the way of a good time.  The New York state legislature had passed “An act to prevent Prize Fighting” in 1859.[i] The act of boxing was not illegal per se, but fighting for prize money was deemed to be an affront to public decency.

In 1895, the Seaside Athletic Club attempted to renew their license to hold athletic contests, which included boxing, foot racing, bicycle racing, rowing, fencing, wrestling, and club throwing.  The Mayor of Brooklyn, Charles A. Schieren, refused to renew the license.  He was adamantly opposed to any sort of boxing match, regardless of whether it was an exhibition or a prize fight. His opinion was expressed by the city’s Corporation Counsel, Alfred E. Mudge, in a memorandum to the court. “The athletic exhibition consisted of fights … between professional pugilists refereed by notorious sporting men and attended by men of depraved character of tastes.”  The counsel did not claim that the fights were in violation of the 1859 law, except to note that the boxers were known professionals. Instead he relied on a moral argument. In the same memorandum he noted, “the licensing and regulation of theatres and other places for public amusement are all intended as part of the scheme for the good government of the city and for the preservation of public morals.”[ii]

Seaside Athletic Club boxing program

Seaside Athletic Club boxing program, 1895. Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society

The bout between Tommy Ryan and Billy Smith, held in May 1895, was noted for being particularly violent.  One of the arguments made by the Mayor and the Corporation Counsel was that the police routinely had to end matches which were deemed a threat to the health of the participants. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle covered the match in great detail.  According to the paper, the fighting was, “of hurricane order,” and the local police captain stopped the match when Smith was about to knock Ryan out in the 11th round.  The match continued, and by the 18th round, “both men were covered in blood from head to foot.” At this point the police captain again stopped the match, and the bout was a declared a draw due to police interference.[iii]

The Seaside Athletic Club used the heavy police presence in their own defense.  They argued that if there was any illegal activity at the boxing matches, the police would have already filed charges against the club.  The club also blamed the local newspapers for their colorful and exploitative reporting of the fights, citing the Ryan-Smith coverage in particular. The club’s counsel noted that despite the supposed brutality of the match, ten minutes after the fight both boxers were “as well as they have ever been in their lives.”[iv]

Mayor Shchieren eventually gave in and the Seaside Athletic Club’s license was renewed.  However, this wasn’t the end of the licensing controversy in Brooklyn.  In 1896, the Greater New York Athletic Club was involved in a similar dispute with the city’s next mayor, Frederick W. Wuerster.  The records of Brooklyn’s Corporation counsel also include complaints involving several other athletic associations, such as the Greenpoint Sporting Club, the Surf Athletic Club, the Midwood Athletic Association, and the Hill Athletic Club.

In addition to our numerous holdings related to the Brooklyn Dodgers, BHS houses several collections related to Brooklyn’s sporting history, including the Crescent Athletic Club, the Coney Island Jockey Club, the Amersfort Athletic Club, and the Wyandot Baseball Club of Flatlands Neck.


[ii] O’Rourke, John H. – Seaside Athletic Club Permit, 1894-1895; Brooklyn, N.Y., Department of Law, Corporation Counsel records, 2013.015; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[iii] Brooklyn Daily Eagle. May 28, 1895.

[iv] Brooklyn Daily Eagle. June 12, 1895.

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Map of the month-April 2014

Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, 18--. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, [1858?]. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

This month’s map, Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, is taken from a collection of manuscript maps from the Teunis G. Bergen and Bergen family papers held by BHS. Teunis G. Bergen (1806-1881) was an eminent member of this eminent Brooklyn family.

He served as Town Supervisor of New Utrecht from 1836 to 1859 and as a U.S. Representative to the thirty-ninth Congress. He also worked as a surveyor throughout his life, and researched and published extensively on the history of New Utrecht as well as the genealogy and history of the Bergen and Van Brunt families.

Over 200 manuscript maps from the collection have been cataloged, and I have been fortunate to have spent the past three months cataloging the latest group returned from the conservator. It is a rare opportunity to work with such a number of manuscript maps from a single source.

As I filed the last of the maps this week, this caught my eye for it illustrates well the kind of work that a map cataloger has to do to understand her source.

The first thing I noticed about this map was the neatness of the drawing and the clarity of the print in ink. This is Teunis’ ‘neat hand,’ used for finished maps. If you look more closely, however, you will notice many notes penciled in a decidedly less neat hand. In fact, the block of text from which the title is taken is scrawled in pencil in the space between the compass and Gelston/Third Avenue near the top of the sheet. This is Teunis’ ‘working hand.’

Detail, Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, 18--. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail, Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, [1858?]. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

 I became adept at deciphering this hand over the past months because many of the maps in this latest batch from the conservator appeared to be preliminary or private drawings–work where he was not overly concerned about his legibility. Incidentally, one detail which made it relatively easy to identify which maps were created by Teunis (versus his nephew, Van Brunt Bergen, who was also a surveyor) is his distinctive rendering of the compass.

A great many of the maps created by Teunis (and Van Brunt), including this one, measured property for heirs. Teunis also copied earlier maps for his historical research. This map neatly incorporates both of these aspects, for he has copied an 1836 map while updating it by filling in current property owners names in pencil to determine the boundaries for a group of heirs.

Notice the block of text in red ink on the upper left of the sheet in the detail below. It indicates a discrepancy between the 1836 original and Teunis’ contemporary measurements. This brings me to the question of dating this map. Often, there is no evidence on the map itself – actually, BHS’s library catalog is full of manuscript maps dated [18--?], indicating it was created sometime during the 19th century. In this instance, however, we are fortunate in that two penciled notes marking the top corners of sections 109 and 110 (washed in blue watercolor) mention 1858, so I am able to tentatively date this map [1858?].

Finally, another typical feature of working with these maps is working with street and avenue names that were in the process of becoming obsolete as the grid of numbered streets and avenues overtook the modern-day neighborhoods of Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton. Stewart Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Atlantic Avenue– all these street names had me scratching my head until I became acclimated to New Utrecht circa 1850. Some of the streets became numbered streets—for example, Atlantic Avenue became 92nd Street—while others have nearly disappeared altogether, like Stewart Avenue, a once bustling thoroughfare which now survives only as a narrow road between 70th and 74th Streets. The historical atlas collection here at BHS was indispensable for this work.

Detail  of vanished streets, Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, 18--. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail showing vanished streets, Map of the property of heirs of Jane Smith, deceased, situate[d] at the Narrows in the town of New Utrecht, [1858?]. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

I can only give a superficial account of the satisfactions of getting to know a single cartographer over the course of a few months. The more I worked with the material, the more I was able to figure out. Sometimes I had to backtrack and fill in gaps left the first time through. I suspect that process will continue as more researchers look at these maps and make further connections, and decipher puzzling pieces of text. There are over 200 manuscript maps in this collection. Stop by and see if you can help fill some of these gaps.

Interested in seeing more Bergen maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps. Interested in looking at the Bergen Family papers? You will need to make an appointment to view archival collections. Find our online appointment form here.

Over 100 manuscript maps from the Bergen Collection have been conserved and cataloged with funding provided by a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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Photo of the Week: Red Hook Library

Red Hook Lib 1915

Brooklyn Public Library, Red Hook Branch, Richards Street and Visitation Place; circa 1915, v1973.6.210; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Red Hook branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was built in 1915 and designed in the “Mediterranean Revival Style,” which in the early 20th century commonly characterized architecture in the sun-bathed cities of Miami and Los Angeles.  In 1915, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook was home to numerous immigrant communities, including first and second generation Norwegians sustained by the ongoing job opportunities at the bulk cargo ports.  Until 1946, when the Red Hook Library branch was demolished after a fire, library users in Red Hook entered a civic structure that may have been more congruent to Southern California than the inland streets off the bustling docks of South Brooklyn.

The architect was Richard A. Walker, a member of the firm Warren & Wetmore, whom designed Grand Central Terminal, the mammoth transit venue in midtown Manhattan commemorated last year for turning 100 years old.

Interested in seeing more historic Brooklyn photos from the BHS image collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, and visit our new website here.  To search our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections, visit Othmer Library at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

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Photo of the Week: Portraits with Dogs

bhs_dog-portraits

[Woman with Dog], circa 1910, v1990.61.20; Victorina Hayes collection, ARC.037; Brooklyn Historical Society.[Child with Dog], circa 1870, v1992.17.34; Secor, Flint and Cousins Families collection, ARC.192; Brooklyn Historical Society.[Man and Dog], circa 1975, v2008.013.40; Lucille Fornasieri-Gold photographs, 2008.013; Brooklyn Historical Society. 

Within the genre of portraiture there is a sub-genre of portraits of people posing with their dogs. The Brooklyn Historical Society happens to have an impressive body of images representing this specialty. I notice that small dogs seem especially popular in the early portraits from the late-1800s into the early-1900s, as illustrated by the woman in the image above, wearing a hat that is bigger than the dog beside her. Posing small, bewildered children with dogs is another popular pairing. Clearly, it has always been and will always be entertaining to photograph people and dogs that look alike.

On a side note, while portraits of people posing with cats seem to be rare, Brooklyn Historical Society also a strangely large collection of cat photographs

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

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