Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Architectural History

President Street between Smith and Hoyt Streets
Carroll Gardens is a quiet residential community that has retained its nineteenth century atmosphere. As with most Victorian neighborhoods, brownstone and brick houses were built on a hill, saving twentieth-century residents from pollution that borders on the east in the Gowanus Canal and on the west and south by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. On Bergen Hill, the gaslight era is preserved in cobblestone streets, trolley tracks, slate sidewalks, ornamental iron fences and stoop railings, as well as the stately brownstone homes themselves.

Most of the major development begin in the late 1860s with the construction of rows of brownstones and was completed by the early 1880s. The housing reflects the general method employed for urban residential development during that time. The Carroll Gardens brownstones are a form of terrace house that evolved in England toward the end of the seventeenth century. By building an entire street of row houses and treating them as an architectural whole, comparatively small homes could be given the dignity of a palace. Architecturally, the buildings reflect the high standards of builder of a century ago. The older houses were custom-designed for prosperous merchants; however, the post-Civil War row houses were produced on a mass production basis for those of more modest means. It was, and still is today, a representative, solidly middle-class community.

Draining of the swampland by the Gowanus Canal in the late 1860s stimulated land speculation east of Smith Street, and the pattern set by the Places was followed. On Smith and Court Streets, stores at street level with living quarters above provide the neighborhood with the shops and service that is required.

The sense of remoteness and the feeling of sunny, airy openness, on the Place Streets, and Carroll and Presidents Streets, is the result of the foresighted, mid-19th century planning of Richard Butts, a surveyor. In his map of 1846, he provided blocks of unusual depth, resulting in lots with houses set back behind front yards 33.5 feet deep. The success of Butts’ plan is that the east-west streets jog slightly so that houses terminate the vistas along these streets. This pattern shut off these streets from the bustle of Court and Smith streets. The impression is that of a protected enclave, an oasis within the city.

The builders used brownstone facing shipped by barge from quarries in Jersey and Connecticut arranged with a wide variety of ornamental elements manufactured in small, local factories to offer house buyers mantles for fireplaces, louvered shutters, banisters, moldings of distinctive designs. The buildings illustrate a number of the popular styles of the late 19th century: late Italianate, Neo-Grec and Victorian Gothic. The woods used for moldings and banisters were mahogany and walnut; while, at the end of the century, oak enjoyed a brief vogue. Although pines of various types were usually secondary woods, red English pine was used as flooring in the early-Victorian brownstones.
Excerpts from the Carroll Gardens Historic District Designation Report, 1973, and Jeanette Jeanes for background material


Mike said...

Where is the "Bergen Hill" you refer to in your first paragraph? I haven't noticed any cobblestone streets with trolley tracks in the area, and I'd love to know where to look.

Barbara said...

My info was from "A History of Carroll Gardens", by Jeanette Jeanes, 1970, which I found at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. She must be referring to Cobble Hill with their stately brownstone homes, and I question how far Bergen Hill extends south from Cobble Hill. The trolley's ran down Hamilton to the ferry and along Smith and Court Streets

From an article of 8/16/2007 in the Brooklyn Eagle by Brooklyn Historian John B. Manbeck.

The corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue has served history well. During the Battle of Brooklyn, General George Washington observed the attacks of the Maryland militia on British troops. From this point, he could see the Old Stone House in Gowanus. On the front of the building standing there, the incident is memorialized on a plaque. At the same time, three guns protected the high point known to soldiers as “Corkscrew Fort” because of the tortuous path to climb to the top. The Dutch called the spot Ponkiesberg. The British knew it as Bergen Hill, but Massachusetts troops named it Cobble Hill for the rock ballast lying around. Even though the neighborhood still is known as Cobble Hill, the British leveled the hill for military reasons during their occupation.