I have always been interested in America’s 19th century social reform movements. Maybe it’s my Quaker heritage, but I find the history of Utopian communities fascinating and moving. In a century of great change and upheaval, many 19th century Americans sought comfort and stability through community. Whether these groups expressed their identities through conservative or radical ideas, they shared similar desires to live humanely, raise families, and care for each other.
To my great surprise, I have found reform groups represented in the BHS map collection. From temperance groups to housing reformers, Brooklyn was home to people with strong ideas on how to make the world a better place. One such person was Electus B. Litchfield, creator of the Blythebourne development in today’s Borough Park. In 1887, Litchfield purchased farm land and built a number of small cottages; he named the community Blythebourne, meaning “happy home” in Scottish.
I have found several references to Blythebourne in our map collection. The most prominent dates from around 1887 and was published by the Blythebourne Improvement Company in order to advertise the property. The map’s verso has some very interesting text about the evils of tenement housing in Manhattan and the comparatively serene conditions to be found in Blythebourne:
The map itself is not quite so interesting:
Blythbourne is also represented in some of our maps from the 1890s. First, an example from 1894:
Followed by 1898:
And finally, 1899:
Although Blythebourne was integrated into Borough Park by the mid-1920s, remnants still remain. The local branch of the post office is still known as the Blythebourne Branch.