I like to take walks through Brooklyn Heights. I’ve lived here going on 38 years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere, and there is no block in the neighborhood I haven’t traversed many times. (Well; Love Lane and College Place only a few. I’ll remedy that.) Still, I seldom take a walk on which I don’t notice some architectural detail, or a whole building, that hasn’t caught my eye before. If I find it sufficiently interesting, I’ll take a photo. When I get home, I’ll look the building up in Clay Lancaster’s Old Brooklyn Heights, which lists and describes, sometimes with photographs, all buildings in the Heights dating from before the Civil War.
A typical entry from Lancaster’s book is like this, for 36 Pierrepont Street (photo):
“3-storied brick on high brownstone basement, 4 bays across façade; Gothic Revival; brownstone entrance porch with bond molds over lancet arches, tracery balustrade; trefoil balustrade 2nd floor rear gallery; tracery frieze and hood molds over windows; shallow balcony of delicate cast-iron work, covered by dipping roof, on main floor of Hicks Street side; fine contemporary cast-iron fence encloses yard; listed in 1845 city directory (c[orner] Hicks) George Hastings, merchant (No. 32 in 1849 directory); plate glass in windows; front steps of porch removed, section of former railing inserted between posts, which accounts for quatrefoil leaning at rakish angle; narrow addition at west flank.” (Emphasis added.)
So far as I’ve known, Lancaster’s book gives a previous, always it seems lower numerically, address for each building listed. Heights resident Jeremy Lechtzin has, as reported in The New York Times, done research on how the renumbering of street addresses, along with the re-naming of some streets, was done. It was a Brooklyn wide project undertaken in the 1870s, spurred by the expansion of Brooklyn through annexation of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, which had streets with the same names as ones in pre-annexation Brooklyn and consequently duplicative numerical building addresses.
Mr. Lechtzin collaborated with Aliza Aufrichtig, Graphics and Multimedia Editor of The Times, who calls herself a “Brooklyn history nerd,” to produce this interactive web site that tells the story with photos, maps, and art works, as well as commentary, from the time of the renaming and renumbering.
Several years ago I went on a walking tour led by Mr. Lechtzin. The route was limited to the North Heights, ending at Clark Street. His thrust was to demonstrate that the Heights had a history that went beyond being “America’s First Suburb.” It was, he said, a neighborhood for workers in factories, warehouses, and other commercial establishments located near or in (remember “Peaks Mason Mints”) the boundaries of the Heights. He noted that some of the early residents of the North Heights were Black, pointing to a house on Hicks Street that, he said, had been occupied by a former slave, who had been freed by Mr. Hicks, and his family.