O, Brooklyn Union Gas Company! Thanks to you, my wife can be more efficient in the kitchen by eliminating “half the kitchen drudgery” – with the chemical of the future – GAS! Begun in 1825 as the the Brooklyn Gas Light Company, it became Brooklyn Union around 1895, and remained so until the end of the last century when a merger brought about KeySpan. Imagine! A Gas Garbage Incinerator in your 1914 kitchen! That year, the Brooklyn Union Gas Company was pushing their gas appliances not only to heads of households, but they were also targeting “Progressive Business Men” to whom they claimed were attending the “special demonstration of gas industrial appliances at the gas industrial show rooms” at 108-10-12 Livingston Street, known as their “Gas Demonstration Building.” At their showrooms they announced, were “gas engine electric generator sets, automatic gas fuel steam boilers, sanitary bakers’ ovens, confectioners’ furnaces, special furnaces and overns for metal treating, gas burners or gas appliances that apply to some branch of nearly every business.” “DON’T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY,” their ad announced, “every afternoon and evening during March.” We’re sure it was a gas. 😉 Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you just read was composed from historical research performed by The Brownstone Detectives. Allow us to do an in-depth investigation of your house and its former owners and produce your very own House History Book. Your hardbound coffee table book will include an illustrated and colorful narrative timeline that will bring the […]


A few years ago today, the internet was abuzz with the story of a 9-year-old boy who drank, smoke pot, and was abusive to everyone. Maybe scandalous in today’s world, but back in the 19th century it was apparently a more common occurrence. In a world where 9-year-olds were habitually asked to run down to the corner bar and get their father’s (or mother’s) beer pail or growler filled, such boys were plentiful. BOARDING BOYS Children were also less protected, as we all know, back in the day. They were frequently even boarded with other families in the neighborhood, or shipped off to those who advertised their services in the newspapers. These latter were usually those who were house- or room-rich (had enough extra room for children wherever they lived), but didn’t necessarily have the income needed for getting by. Boarding children was just another way of making ends meet. “BOARD – TWO OR THREE CHILDREN wanted to board; will be instructed. Apply at 98 Troutman st.,” read one ad, for instance, appearing in the Daily Brooklyn Eagle in 1885. But it was not always those seeking boarders who had the bad children who drank, smoke, and cursed. At the very same address listed in the ad above, 98 Troutman Street, some 15 years later in 1900, a very bad little boy lived. THE ORIGINAL 9-YEAR-OLD HABITUAL DRUNKARD Frank Hurtten (actually “Hartten”), a “9-year-old habitual drunkard” had “become a victim of the liquor habit” and often “came home drunk.” He […]


Wood frame dwellings were once the norm in Brooklyn. Before a series of laws were enacted in the mid-1800s remanding that houses be constructed of “non-flammable” materials, houses had generally been made of wood. And wooden houses existed everywhere because they were simple to build, cheap in their construction and costs of materials, and their primary element – wood – was everywhere available. As “non-flammable” construction – mostly brick and brownstone – became the norm throughout the borough, these old structures were systematically torn down and replaced with the newer buildings. So, today, when you see a wooden house anywhere in Brooklyn – esp. closer to the city center – you are seeing a rare commodity, as what’s left of these structures is being torn down all around us by developers planning who are building larger and higher-occupancy buildings in their place. Back in 1914, though, people were generally tired of the wood structures – happy to see them meet the wrecking ball to be replaced by brick and mortar. So, no one lifted an eyebrow that year when the Park Slope YMCA purchased three of these type structures – with plans to level them for their new building. THE “Y” BUYS THREE TEAR-DOWNS In late 1914, the YMCA on the Park Slope was planning a massive expansion. Located at 359 Ninth Street since 1891, it had been apparent for years that the “Y” had outgrown its 2-story brick and mortar home, and that something would have to be done […]


Boy! But the Navy sure knew how to get around back in the day! These “wheelmen” – resplendent in their military uniforms – were organized not just for play, but for work. As bicycling was as much of a past time then as it is today, these men likely rode not only for their enjoyment, but to travel from station to station, as well – also representing the Navy in bicycling races. Headquartered at 56th Street in Brooklyn, the Second Naval Battalion was organized just before this picture was taken in July of 1897. It performed duty for the state during the Spanish-American war on coast signal service, guarding mine fields at Willets Point, in Queens, and on patrol duty in New York harbor aboard various vessels. From the New York Tribune of 4 July 1897, we have pictured above “The first meet of the Bicycle Squad of the 2nd Naval Batallion at the Memorial Arch (Grand Army Plaza) in Brooklyn.” Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you just read was composed from historical research performed by The Brownstone Detectives. Allow us to do an in-depth investigation of your house and its former owners and produce your very own House History Book. Your hardbound coffee table book will include an illustrated and colorful narrative timeline that will bring the history of your house to life. Contact us today.


It was a novelty back then. An entire block of newly built houses were connected underground with cast iron heating pipes. “They’re all heated from a central heating plant,” the ad for the new houses stated. “To be free from worrying about the heating of one’s house is a blessing that you’ll appreciate.” “SPOTLESS TOWN” Frederick W. Rowe built them, and perhaps he was inspired to use the name by a recent Broadway musical of the same name (which incidentally featured a pair of midgets in a baby elephant costume and a dog trained to grab culprits by the seat of the pants; it closed after one week) Who could fail, though, to see the sense of using a known name – one which, additionally, augured cleanliness?. Buyers were more and more attracted by the new homes being built in this “Eastern Parkway” section of town. Previously known as Crow Hill, comprised of a collection of shanties and pig sties, it entered a transitional stage and would later become the upper middle class Crown Heights around 1915. And these buyers were less and less interested in living in homes that already existed in the older areas – that were…well….less spotless. So the choice of name seemed appropriate for marketing purposes. BUT…CENTRAL HEATING??? By 1903, while central heating of entire blocks of buildings was rather common on Manhattan, for Brooklyn, this was a rarity and the builder may have been taking a risk in offering it. How would the plant be […]


The No. 8 Machine. Such a romantic honorific. The name literally rolled off the tongue and dazzled the listener with the rhythm of its mellifluousness and style… OK. I won’t lie. It really wasn’t the sexiest of names. It sounds like a government-designed and -built outhouse. And it smells just as bad. Buyers of sewing machine back in the late 1800s, though, were really not shopping for a sexy name. They were looking for dependability and speed. Stylish sewing machines, then, were like the hotrods of the day for garment producers. Just as for the marketers of the 20th century’s Mark VI or Chrysler 300, or even the Mercedes 190-E, present-day automobile manufacturers always knew that that they “had” their buyers with their brand. They didn’t need a sexy name for their cars. They simply had to tack on the latest model number to their speed machines to let their faithful customers know that it was a new year and that they were once again out of style and out of step with the times. One of the producers of the 19th century speedster sewing machines was the Wheeler & Wilson Company. Their hotrod was the No. 8. SELLING THE NO. 8 And so with the graceful design and the smooth functioning of their No. 8 Machine, Wheeler and Wilson’s creation was on the tongues of many a manufacturer. Garment designers and clothing manufacturers literally felt something move within their hearts when they heard the No. 8 name. Wheeler and […]

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