When I first walked down Dennet Place to visit a friend, I immediately felt like I was in a magical place. This hidden alley street in Carroll Gardens is a rare gem, made more distinguished by the basement level apartments with half-size doors which give it an almost fairy-tale like quality.
Lucky for me I managed to find and rent one of these basement apartments! My friends jokingly call my place the “hobbit home.” After moving in I’ve become more and more interested in the history of the little street, and also perplexed by the name of the street itself. There are a few discrepancies with the name “Dennet Place” and for the most part the street itself is still somewhat of a mystery. For example, people often ask why the doors are so short and were they always like that?
One mystery is the street name that is misspelled on most documentation. If you are to type in “Dennet Place” as the street sign depicts in Google maps, the street name will come up as “Dennett Place.” This is a problem for using GPS devices for directions, where you will just have to misspell the street name to get where you want to go! The street sign is spelled “Dennet Place” which would seem to be the official street name. Even when I search the Department of Building database for building information “Dennet Place” doesn’t exist.
Here at the Othmer Library at BHS a lot of reference inquiries include house or building research, and there is a great list of house history resources to use.
I first searched the historic atlases, which is a good resource to pin point the date range of when a building was built. My landlord initially told me that she thought the building was built around the 1860s – 1880s, but she wasn’t sure. The earliest atlas I looked at was from 1855. The residential dwellings on Dennet Place were there in 1855, so I already know that the building is earlier than the assumed date. Right behind the dwellings is the Roman Catholic Church, which was also there in 1855, and first established in 1851. The church is called St Mary Star of the Sea, now also infamous as the place where Al Capone got married. Unfortunately, the street name is not indicated on the atlas so I can’t verify what it was referred to then.
A later 1860s atlas also doesn’t indicate the street name, but the 1898 atlas does. The street name is “Bennett Place” which is most likely just a misspelling but again not adequate in confirming the origin of the street name.
The Othmer library also has a collection of land conveyances, which documents Brooklyn land ownership from the late 17th century to 1896. Organized by tax block, these abstracts show seller (grantor) and buyer (grantee) information. Going through the land conveyances of tax block 472 (Dennet Place) I found one which shows that the church of St. Mary Star of the Sea owned some property on the block during the 1850s, when the church was first established. It was an interesting find, since I wondered if the church right behind my apartment could have a possible connection with the dwellings on Dennet Place. The abstract below documents that they did purchase land on that block.
A great visual resource for house history is the Tax photographs from the NY Municipal Archives. In the 1940s and 1980s, a photograph was taken of every block and lot in the five boroughs. I ordered the 1940s tax photo for my street number that you see below.
Here is a current image from a similar view that I took recently:
Not all of my questions were answered. I still have no clue about the “hobbit” doors, but it was fun to go through the various resources here and see what I could find. Regardless of the remaining unsolved mysteries, the best thing about living on Dennet Place are the people here. My neighbors are the friendliest most welcoming people I have ever met. It feels like home.
Interested in doing your own house history research using BHS’s collection? Visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Fri, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
*Unless indicated, all photos from this post were taken by me.