Brooklyn In 1826: How the City Looked Fifty Years Ago

 The Brooklyn of 1877 is a vastly different place from that of 1826, and the changes wrought in this beautiful city within the comparatively short period of fifty years are simply marvelous. Nowhere can the remarkable progress of the municipality be better traced, however, than in the directories which have been published from time to time. That of the year 1826, published by the late Alden Spooner, one of Brooklyn's most distinguished residents, lies before the writer. It is a quaint little volume, and has on the cover the autographs of two gentlemen well known in the City of Churches, viz.: John Dikeman and N.B. Morse. This guide book to the Village of Brooklyn in comparison with the present Directory is made comical by contrast. That of 1826 contains 1,906 names, and is a book of only 78 pages, while that of 1876-77 gives 117,624 names, and is a huge volume of 1,014 pages, exclusive of a business directory of 96 pages, and a guide to the streets and avenues of the City. The business quarter of the Village of Brooklyn in 1826 for Brooklyn was a village at that time, judging from the map printed on the inside of the cover of Spooner's Directory, lay very near what is now known as Fulton Ferry. The newspaper offices were situated near the foot of Fulton street, and in that respect do not differ much from the journals of today. But it must be remembered that they were weeklies and not dailies, and that the villagers were obliged to wait several days for their local news. The Star and the Patriot were the only papers published at that period. Sands street was the fashionable thoroughfare in 1826.

From the notice of the Post Office the reader of the Eagle can form some idea of the postal facilities enjoyed by the people of that day. It is as follows:

Post Office

The Post Office is kept at No. 55 Fulton street.
Erastus Worthington, Postmaster.
The mail is carried daily between the Post office in Brooklyn and the Post Office in New York. Closes in Brooklyn every morning (Sundays excepted) at 8 o' clock. Arrives every afternoon at 4 o'clock.

The mails through Long Island, on the north and south roads, arrive every Wednesday at 10 o'clock A.M., and depart every Thursday at 9 o'clock A.M.

The places of amusement in the year 1826 were limited to Mrs. Chester's Exchange Coffee House, the Grecian Garden and Duflon's Military Garden, all of which were well patronized. The first named resort was situated on the easterly side of Front street, near James, and was frequently visited by a theatrical company composed of the "off" ladies and gentlemen from Chatham Theatre, New York. In March, 1826, the "Soldier's Daughter," the "Stranger" and the "Lover's Quarrel" were performed, and the programme contained the following information:

The horse boat will be in readiness to convey passengers to New York at the Catharine Ferry from 8 o'clock till 12 in the evening.

It appears that MRS.CHESTER'S COFFEE HOUSE was a great resort for parties of all kinds, as may be seen from the appended advertisement:

Brooklyn Exchange Coffee House Nos. 28 and 30 Front Street.

The subscriber respectfully informs her friends and the public in general that she intends (with the assistance of Mr. James W. Smith) to continue the above establishment, and solicits a continuation of the patronage bestowed upon the same since its commencement. The choicest liquors constantly on hand. Oysters and other relishes furnished at the shortest notice. Private parties can be accommodated with dinners or suppers on as reasonable terms as at any similar place either in New York or this village.

Maria Chester, Widow of Christopher Chester, Brooklyn, Jan. 5, 1826. As the Widow Chester's was a famous hostelry and noted for the excellence of its suppers and dinners, it explains the reason for making a theatre out of part of her establishment. In the long room, which was frequently used for balls and other festivities, a stage was erected, and here the theatrical performances were given.

A second advertisement will serve to show the reputation which the Widow Chester must have earned in the year 1826:

TAKE NOTICE.__A chowder and tripe supper will be served at the Exchange Coffee House, Nos. 28 and 30 Front street, on Friday evening next, at 8 o'clock, and will be repeated every Friday evening should sufficient encouragement be given.

March 2, 1826. Duflon's Military Garden stood on the site of the present County Court House, and was frequently visited by parties from New York. Indeed, much of the criminal element which troubled the little Village of Brooklyn came from the neighboring city, and on Sundays, on their way home, youths and others who misbehaved found themselves lodged in a jail of peculiar novelty. This place of confinement was nothing more or less than a JAIL ON WHEELS, which was situated at the corner of Water and Fulton streets. it is said by one of Brooklyn's oldest inhabitants that the prisoners in this cage were ofttimes put to a test of extreme ingenuity in order to keep themselves above the water which, when the tide was high, would frequently wash the visiting vagabonds.

Beside the Exchange Coffee House, the Grecian Garden and Military Garden, there was the magnificent promenade of Clover Hill oor the Heights, now better known as Columbia heights, which on pleasant Summer evenings was visited by the belles and beaux of the village. A number of the most prominent residents of Brooklyn, notably Mr. Alden Spooner, endeavored to make a park out of this section of the village, but the more mercenary finally triumphed, and the scheme was abandoned.


Brooklyn was divided into five districts, the boundaries of which were as follows:

The First District: Between Hicks street and the East River, and between Fulton street and the west village line.

The Second District: Between Fulton and Bridge streets, and between Sands street and the East River.

The Third District: Between Fulton and District streets, and between Hicks street and Red Hook lane,

The Fourth District: Between Fulton and Bridge streets, and between Sands street and the south village line.

The Fifth District: Between Sands street and the East River, and between Bridge street and the Wallabout.

Each district elected two Trustees, and the President and five Assessors were chosen by a general ticket on the first Monday of may in each year. The officers appointed by the Trustees were a Health Physician, Clerk, Collector, Treasurer, Street Commissioner, Three Weighers, Measurer, Measurer of Lime and two Wood Inspectors.

The town officers of Brooklyn consisted of a Supervisor, Town Clerk, five Assessors, two Overseers of the Poor, three Commissioners of Highways and Fence Viewers, a Constable and Collector, four Constables, three Commissioners of Common Schools, three Inspectors of Common Schools and a measurer.

BESIDE THIS LIST OF OFFICIALS, Kings County had a First Judge, the Hon. Leffert Lefferts, and four Associate Judges. Brooklyn had four Justices, Flatbush one, Bushwick three, Flatlands one and New Utrecht two. There were also a Sheriff, a Clerk for Brooklyn, a Coroner and three Auctioneers for the same place, and an Inspector of Spirits and an Inspector of Leather.

The following announcement is taken from the Directory for 1826:

The Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace, for Kings County, are held the third Tuesdays of April and October, and in the Village of Brooklyn, third Tuesdays of July and January.

The Village had a Fire Department of six engines and one hook and ladder company, governed by one engineer, four fire wardens, and the respective foremen.

The militia of Kings County must have been a formidable organization of defense, as it constituted the "Sixty-fourth Regiment of Infantry, forming part of the Fourty-fourth Brigade of the Second Division of State Infantry," a long list of the officers being given in the Directory of 1826. Robert Nichols, of Brooklyn, was Colonel.

In 1826 there were ONLY SIX CHURCHES IN BROOKLYN, and these consisted of the Reformed Dutch Church, in Joralemon street, near Fulton, Rev. Mr. Mason, pastor; St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Washington street, corner of Sands, Rev. H.U. Onderdonk, rector; First Presbyterian Church, Cranberry street, between Hicks and Henry (site of the present lecture room of Plymouth Church), Rev. Joseph Sanford, pastor; Methodist Episcopal Church, Sands street, between Fulton and Washington, also chapel on the corner of York and Gold streets, "for the accommodation of the population in the vicinity of the Navy Yard," Rev. Thomas Burch, pastor; Roman Catholic Church, Jay street, near Concord, Rev. John Farnan, pastor; the African Methodist Episcopal Church, High street, near Bridge, Rev. Samuel Todd, Elder in charge.

The churches in 1826 instead of being lighted by elegant chandeliers as many of them now are, received their source of material light in an extremely primitive way. For the Sexton of the Sands street Methodist Church, there was a list prescribing the duties of his position in a series of questions and answers, and one of the latter has the following: "To have the church open and candles lighted at least a quarter of an hour before the time of beginning the meeting, and to have them snuffed once before the meeting begins." The Sexton was also obliged to look after "the boys," and to see that they behaved themselves, from which it would seem the boys of "26 did not differ much from those of '77.

In those days the people had a prompt way of settling baseless church scandals.

ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD__Whereas, an anonymous letter was thrown into the house yard of our pastor at New Utrecht on Sunday morning, the 16th inst., being communion Sabbath, by some dastardly and malicious person, traducing the reputation of several of the members of this church and others, and threatening the life of the said reverend gentlemen by the hands of the son of Doctor Dubois. And, whereas, such dastardly practices are calculated to destroy the peace of the community; therefore, in order to discover and bring to punishment the author or authors of said anonymous letter, I, Thomas Hegeman, Justice and Conservator of the Peace, and Clerk of the Consistory of the Reformed Dutch Church, in said town, do, by order of said Consistory, offer the above reward to any person who shall discover and duly prove the author or authors of said scandalous letter.__Dated New Utrecht, October 24, 1825,

This announcement was published for a long time in the Brooklyn papers.


Located at the corner of Washington And Johnson streets, which was demolished several years ago to make room for the ill-fated Brooklyn Theatre, was erected during the Summer of 1826, on the land and at the expense of the late Rev. Evan M. Johnson. it was also in the Summer of this year that a fine edifice in Pearl Street, between Nassau and Concord, was completed for the First Baptist Church. Thus, after the issue of the yearly Directory there were two new churches.

In 1826 there were four Masonic lodges in the Village of Brooklyn, viz.: Fortitude Lodge, No. 81; Hohenlinden Lodge, No. 338; Nassau Lodge, R.A.M.; and Navy Lodge. Of benevolent enterprises there was the Incorporated Firemen, "incorporated for raising a fund to assist disabled firemen and the widows and children of deceased firemen." In addition to this there was the Branch Bible Society, at the head of which was Joshua Sands, Esq., President of the village. There was ONE BANK, the Long island, situated at No. 5 Front street, Leffert Lefferts, President, and Daniel Eunbury, Cashier, and a single insurance company, The Brooklyn Fire, which had its office at No. 11 Front street, corner of Cock. An association called The Medical Society of Kings County, made life in the village pleasant for the doctors. its President was Dr. Joseph T. Hunt.

The local fraternity was not as numerous in Brooklyn in 1826 as it is now. Among its representatives were Gerardus Clarke, James B. Clarke, David Godwise, John Dikeman, Charles I. Doughty, Eugene Farnan, Gabriel Furman, John Greenwood, N.B. Morse, B.B. Phelps and Jacob Wyckoff.

Among the familiar names in the Directory for 1826 are Hugh McLaughlin, grocer, 35 Furman street, Peter Coffee, ferryman, 54 Pineapple street, and Silas H. Stringham, Lieutenant U.S.N., Hicks street, corner of Pineapple.

There are also mentioned numerous private seminaries and academies for young ladies, thus showing a love for education on the part of the people of Brooklyn in the early days of its history.

Verily,. the days of 1826 were those when the stage coach was in all its glory, for there are no less than twenty-five stages announced in the little volume before us to leave Village of Brooklyn and the vicinity.

In fact, the entire island was INNOCENT OF THE RAILWAY, and the locomotive and rapid transit were unknown. The Summer arrangement of the Long Island stages contains this announcement:

"Flatbush, Bath and Coney island. Stages will leave Brooklyn (C.S. Downing's tavern), every day at 10 o'clock, A.M., and at 8 o'clock, P.M., for Bath via Flatbush. Leave Bath daily at 7 A.M., and at 4 P.M. A stage also leaves Flatbush (Voris'), at 7 A.M., and leaves Brooklyn at 6 P.M. Fare to Flatbush, 25 cents. To Bath or Coney island, 50 cents."

The principal depots for the stage lines in the Village of Brooklyn, were at C.S. Downing's, No. 11 Fulton street, and at Isaac Snedeker's tavern, and livery stable, No. 8 Fulton street.

THE TIME TABLE OF THE CONEY ISLAND STAGES when read in connection with the various railway projects for conveying excursionists from this city to Long Island's favorite watering place, serves as an illustration of the revolution in the facilities of travel during the past half century.

The increase in the population of Brooklyn is also interesting. In the Directory of 1826, the statistics are given as follows:


White males................................5,591
White females..............................5,250
Persons of color..............................830
Brooklyn contained in 1820.............. 7,242
Gain in five years..........................4,429

N.B.__Brooklyn ranks in point of population as the third town in the State.

From the "third town in the State," it has risen to the dignity of the third city in the Union, possessing at this day a population of at least half a million inhabitants; fifty public schools; twenty-five Catholic parochial schools; a public park containing 600 acres of land; about 239 churches; 198 Evangelical Sunday Schools, and an area of a little over twenty-two square miles, together with 125 miles of paved, powered and lighted streets.

Website: The History
Article Name: Brooklyn In 1826: How the City Looked Fifty Years Ago
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle September 9, 1877
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