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East New York in the Nineties (1890’s)

“When anyone goes from a town and remains away for half a century and then comes back, he may have an experience similar to Rip Van Winkle. The buildings may be about the same but the people are nearly all strangers.

In 1837, the farms of Major Daniel RAPALJE and others were purchased from John R. PITKIN and a map was made, known as “Map No. 1,” East New York lands, on the First Eastern Railroad, five and one-half miles from the city of New York. This was the first use of the words “East New York, ” and represented a neighborhood near the old “HOWARD House”.

A few years before 1890, the town of New Lots, a part of Kings County, was much like other towns of the State, having a central village surrounded by land on which the farmers raised produce for the market. Farmland was from Pitkin Avenue, from Wyona Street to Elton Street, south to Jamaica Bay; from Fulton Street, from Schenck Avenue to Ashford Street, north to Jamaica Avenue was a cornfield; and most of the land south of Blake Avenue, from Georgia Avenue to Elton Street, south to Jamaica Bay was under cultivation.

The remaining land was occupied by buildings. Dirt roads were common. Some streets were paved with cobblestones or stone blocks.

Cesspools at this time were gradually replaced by sewers. While this progress was being made, epidemics of Typhoid Fever, Measles, Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever were severe. It was found that after rains there would be thick mud and pools of water in the roads and streets, and rivulets of water would run through Fulton and Ashford Streets and empty into a lake bounded by Warwick, Fulton and Ashford Streets and Atlantic Avenue. In the winter it was frozen over, allowing the public to indulge in skating.

Traveling by pedestrians was so difficult at times that it was necessary for the people to wear rubber boots. Many times you could see men carrying young ladies across the pools of water.

The old tollgate that existed on Jamaica Avenue at Hemlock street, was removed by the City of Brooklyn in 1897 with the few planks that were a part of the old plank road. After the other towns of Kings County were united to the City of Brooklyn the Board of Aldermen replaced the Board of Supervisors. Many improvements followed and the increase in the population of this district became marked. The population of East New York in 1897 was about 80,000.”

The City Fire Department took over the duties of the Exempt Volunteer Fire Department, which had performed a noble work for the old town of New Lots. It was located on Liberty Avenue between Wyona and Bradford Streets. The city then placed two firehouses and engines one on New Jersey Avenue near Jamaica Avenue and another on Liberty Avenue near Ashford Street.

The Police Station was at 109 Bradford Street. Later the department erected a new station on Liberty and Miller Avenues where it has greatly enlarged the force.

The Post Office was in the little building No. 74 Pennsylvania Avenue where it was for many years under the management of R. R. WHEELER. Later it was removed to 2581 Atlantic Avenue, and later another Post Office was opened at 940 Glenmore Avenue.

The Post Office (Transcriber’s Note: typed as written) was at first in a little room attached to the Post Office building No. 74 Pennsylvania Avenue. There were at that time less than one hundred subscribers. The number of subscribers steadily increased with the growth of the Ward until now there is a large building on Liberty Avenue and Milford Street with thousands of subscribers.

The transportation in those days when the district became the 26th Ward of the City of Brooklyn, was by horse cars, coaches, and wagons. Then came the craze for bicycles – the small, the large and high, and the tandem, – with several comic situations. Many comic figures in the parades gave much merriment to the public. Many songs and poems appeared in the press and on the streets. This was followed by the automobile, which is in general use today and has nearly supplanted the horse and wagon.

The little one horse car running on Fulton and Crescent Streets from Alabama Avenue to Jamaica Avenue at Cypress Hills was the only road entirely within the boundary of the 26th Ward. It was driven by one man who was both driver and conductor. The passengers would enter the rear door and walk to the front of the car and deposit the three cents in a box. If you wanted change the driver would give it to you. The roadbed was so very uneven that the passengers found it difficult to keep on their feet. Many times the car would get off the track and would have to be replaced. It was somewhat like ‘The Toonerville Trolley’.

The ‘HOWARD House’, which was located at the corner of Atlantic and Alabama Avenues, was the center of Traffic in those days and was well known in Brooklyn and N. Y. city. The horse cars from Fulton Ferry by way of Fulton Street and from Broadway Ferry by way of Broadway met near the Howard House. On the opposite side of Atlantic Avenue, small steam trains conveyed the travelers to Canarsie, which was an attractive summer resort. On Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays the crowds were very large, crowding the small cars.

The main hall was SCHEILLEINS on Atlantic Avenue and Vermont Street where the public gathered for meetings and entertainments.

The Y.M.C.A. was in the building still located at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and Liberty Avenues. The writer well remembers the preliminary meeting held at the residence of Ditmas JEWELL on Williams Place and Herkimer Street on October 6, 1890 when Dr. George LAW presided and Mr. E. R. VOLLMER recorded. The meeting was of short duration. Some of the others present besidethe writer were:

Ditmas JEWELL,

William RAPALJE,

E. A. GILLESPIE,

David J. VESSIE,

Henry VOLLMER,

W. F. MOORE,

E. E. STEWART,

F. D. FAGG and others.

Among the prominent men of the 26th Ward who were identified with its success were:

Earl A. GILLESPIE,

Theodore KIENDL,

Dr. H. L. KRIES,

Edward A. RICHARDS, and many others.

The Brighton Athletic Club was located on New Jersey Avenue a little north of Atlantic Avenue. It maintained a baseball club and also developed into a social organization of some prominence. The Musical and Literary Coterie met in LANG’s Casino on Arlington Avenue near Schenck Avenue where they held very interesting meetings and at intervals gave entertainments that were marked by good professional talent.

The Concordia Singing Society was a respected organization and is today worthy of much praise for the grand musical entertainments they have given. The Fortnightly Library Club with the object of having a library on Arlington Avenue obtained their goal. They have made a practice of holding meetings at the residences of the members.

Atlantic Avenue had a railroad running through the center of the street and on both sides of the railroad property was a fence with gates at the street crossings. Men stationed at these gates controlled the traffic. There were stations at East New York Avenue, Alabama Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Van Siclen Avenue, Linwood Street and RailRoad Avenue.

Walking east on the north side from Alabama Avenue to Van Siclen Avenue in those days one passed the following business houses:

BURKE and RYAN Department Store,

BOULTON’s Book and Stationery,

SCHRIEBER’s Gents Furnishings,

BADE Shoes,

GOODMAN’s Gents Clothing, French Furniture,

STOLLMACK the Photographer,

Niles Butter and Eggs,

EGNER Confectionery and Ice Cream,

Richard’s Hardware and Paints,

GARRITY’s Saloon,

KIEFER’s Pork Store,

RAUCH’s Confectionery and Ice Cream,

LINTON’s Real Estate,

HUTTONLOCKER the butcher, and

BRENNEN Brothers Shoes.

Crossing to the south side of the Avenue and walking west one noticed:

McGUIRE’s Real Estate,

DUNN-Paint,

ALT’s Drug Store,

FARRELL the Undertaker,

STIETZ Fish,

E. C. LAMPE, Printer,

SCHEILLEIN’s Hall,

Long Island RECORD (Richard PICKERING, Editor),

East New York Savings Bank (Frederick MIDDENDORF, President),

KIENDL Brothers, Lawyers,

Residence of A. A. WEMMELL, M. D.,

Earl the Undertaker,

WERNER’s Drug Store, and

the 26th Ward Bank (Ditmas JEWELL, President).

Among other business houses were:

Ditmas JEWELL and Son, Hay and Grain, corner of Broadway and Fulton Street,

Pat NICOLL’s Wheelright and Wagon Painting, Jamaica Avenue at Autumn,

Hampton CREVELING Lumber and Coal, Liberty Avenue and Berriman Street,

PIELS Brewery, Liberty and Georgia Avenues,

E. L. ROCKEFELLER, Hay and Grain, corner of Liberty Avenue and Hendrix Street,

MILLER the Florist Jamaica Avenue from Van Siclen Avenue to Barbey Street (North Side), with grounds stretching up the hill beyond the present Sunnyside Avenue.

It was interesting, particularly on Saturday evenings, to walk up and down Atlantic Avenue and see the people do their weekly shopping, met ‘the Jones’ and their friends, talk of the weather and of the improvements being made. The sidewalk on the north side would be crowded and the street filled with wagons. You would meet many whom you knew, but today you rarely see a familiar face.

The sudden development of the 26th Ward, after the opening of the elevated railroad, as the actual end of the Brooklyn Bridge, led to changes which eventually resulted in the annexation of all the county towns of Kings County to Brooklyn and ended in condsolidation with the City of New York. Surely East New York pioneers started a great project of suburban development. They came up to East New York out of the crowded tenements of the old city for fresh air and prosperity, and they obtained both. The town of New Lots was ripe for annexation when it came, for it had secured railroad transit via both steam and elevated railroads, in addition to being the terminus of the trunk horse car lines to Fulton and Broadway ferries.

East New York may be said to be the gateway to Long Island, for nearly all the bridges and railroads, elevated, surface or depressed, travel through this gate to the Island.

The school buildings were located:

On Hillsdale Avenue near Liberty Avenue,

Wyona Street near Fulton Street,

Richmond Street near Ridgewood Avenue,

New Lots Avenue and Schenck Avenue,

Bradford Street near Liberty Avenue, and

Arlington Avenue and Linwood Street.

The buildings are still in existence and most of them have been enlarged.

New Lots Avenue was a picturesque road; it could have been called a garden spot. The north side was taken over for building purposes. The farmers fromGeorgia Ave east were

Williamson RAPALJE,

James BENNETT,

Henry SELMER,

David HOPKINS,

the LOTT and Van SICLEN families,

Jacob COZINE,

Jacob RAPALJE,

Simon RAPALJE,

Jacob VAN SICLEN, and Theodore BAKER.

At Van Siclen Avenue Henry LINDAU had a milk dairy.

A Mr. MARSHALL operated a blacksmith shop.

The New Lots Dutch Reformed Church was and still is at Schenck Avenue.

Andrew BEDELL had a dairy at Linwood Street and Mr. McKEE kept the country store on the opposite corner.

The old Van SICLEN house still stands and was a Revolutionary landmark. The building in Highland Park at the end of Cleveland Street is of colonial type and was the residence of the SCHENCK family for many generations.

The Old Mill situated at the foot of Crescent Street was always a landmark for the farmers and fishermen. A dam existed which had a gate that allowed the tidewater to run through during the incoming and outgoing tides. When the tide was strong it turned the wheels in the mill, thereby grinding the grain, which the farmers brought. It is believed that it was in operation two hundred years ago. David S. WICKLEN operated it forty years ago. He also had a fishing station and a hotel.

– Henry O. Rockefeller, M.D.

The above article was written by:

Dr. Henry O. ROCKEFELLER and included at the beginning of the following book.

Source: “The First Forty Years of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation”,

Author: Rev. Paul R. HOOVER

Publisher: None listed (Soft Covered Book with Plastic Binder)

Copyright: 1938

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