The Heights: Reminiscences of An Interesting Part Of Brooklyn 1887

Some years ago a young man, going down Hicks street, while passing a vacant lot, just below Joralemon street, a portion of which is now occupied by the Brooklyn Heights Lawn Tennis Club, was accosted by another well dressed young man, a stranger, who, out of breath, asked the first if he would not hold his cane for a few moments until he returned. The young man, acquiescing, took the cane, when the stranger, who had hurriedly explained that he had received an affront from some one, mounted the fence like a squirrel, and disappeared in the vacant lot toward Willow place. Returning in a short time he took his cane, remarking that the person whom he sought had eluded his pursuit. A conversation followed between the young man and his new made acquaintance, who, when asked his name, replied "Ellsworth." Proceeding together up to Remsen street, where several young men forming "our set" were each evening wont to assemble on the sidewalk, the new acquaintance became at once one of our set, and for several evenings came around regularly to our accustomed block. But he soon disappeared as suddenly as when he had mounted over the fence. What became of Ellsworth? was queried for a time, and it was afterward learned that, coming to Brooklyn for a short visit, he had returned home. Little did anyone think then that this same Elmer E. Ellsworth would be the first to honorably lay down his life in the late war, at Alexandria, Va. I never pass the locality of which I am now about to write without recalling this incident, two more of our set, one who, just as fortune was beginning to smile, was taken away; another, who died of wounds received at Roanoke Island both, by a strange coincidence, now lie nearly side by side in Greenwood.

Turning around and looking on the opposite, or east, side of Hicks street, a hundred feet south of Joralemon, gives us the exact locality of the old Joralemon House. When the city lay in farms the locality adjacent to the Fulton Ferry was made up of rich pastures, with cows grazing, and the Heights abounded in orchards, where choice fruits were gathered from the trees. Of the houses where families lived from whom the streets take their names some will recall the home of the Middaghs, corner of Henry and Fulton streets, where Pock's hat store now stands. Others remember the Furmans, corner of Fulton and Furman streets, the present site of the Brooklyn City Railroad Company's building, and the jovial bachelor, Hicks, on Hicks street, near Fulton. The Remsen's were on the corner of Fulton and Front streets, the site of the Brooklyn Bank. The Schermerhorns were at Third avenue, near Twenty-sixth street. The Pierrepont Manor was on Montague street, where the descent of the hill begins, whose porter's lodge remained until the late war, occupied by an Irishman in charge of the vacant property, which then became long and familiarly known as "Mike's lot."

The Livingston farm, that lay between Joralemon street and Atlantic avenue, extended from the East River to Red Hook lane. Always in a brisk state of cultivation, due to the taste of its owner, Philip Livingston, its beautifully laid out garden running around and in the rear of the house now Garden place was said to excel any garden in America. The house and large extension, originally of red color, though much faded, had a low, Dutch gabled roof which, sloping down with two front windows looking out on the bay, covered a long piazza. The interior, elaborately furnished, contained mantel pieces made of marble imported from Italy and Holland, and probably found in no other house in this part of the country. The entrance to the grounds was from the lane, (Joralemon street), a few rods above the present corner of Hicks street. During the Revolutionary War the house, deserted by the Livingston family, became a hospital, though the garden, carefully protected, retained its natural appearance. Manuscripts of the time say that looking from the windows out on the bay the eye discerned eighteen line of battle ships, a great number of frigates and small vessels of war, with between 80 and 100 transports, belonging to the British navy. At the close of the Revolution the estate reverted to its owners, and changing hands became known as the Joralemon farm.

Tunis Joralemon, a native of New Jersey, was born in 1766. He is described as tall, slim and slightly built, with very austere features. He came to Brooklyn where his estate afterward became worth $600,000 or $700,000 and worked at the trade of a saddle maker at Flatbush. After his purchase of the Livingston estate he devoted himself to his garden, and might daily be seen crossing the East River in his boat loaded with vegetables and milk, which he sold in the New York market. He was elected Justice of the Peace and Trustee of the village in 1817-18-19-20 and 21. He bitterly opposed having Henry street cut through his farm (1826), and as bitterly fought the cutting through of Clinton street in 1834, which was named in honor of Governor Clinton upon the completion of the Erie Canal, saying that he did not believe in the "big ditch." He also strongly objected to having a street named after himself. He was a man of great determination. We find him a deacon in the old Dutch church: which until recently stood in the rear of the City Hall, where he and his family regularly attended. For many years the family, composed of nine children, lived in the house already described, blending those associations which make up the word homestead. Here met many a church quilting party, beside many other gatherings, when couples would repair to the beach and go off on the water in boats. Again, in this house, like all other houses, Some nook was sacred, For Love's blessings lingered there.

Six daughters, leaving the association of childhood, went to other homes one after another. It was in the following order that they left the paternal roof: Jane, Mrs. Clark, afterward wife of Rev. Joseph Van Hook; Elizu, Mrs. Samuel Smith; Mary, Mrs. Armoneus Johnson, whose house was until recently a landmark on Baltic street; Margaret, Mrs. John Denion: Harriet, Mrs. T.G. Talmadge: Eleanor, Mrs. Platt Powell. The service at each of those weddings was performed at the house of the Dutch dominie. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Talmadge became the wives of subsequent mayors of Brooklyn. But, the house, like all other houses, was visited by the unsparing hand of death. Three sons, Henry, Tunis and John, with their mother, preceded their father to the grave. In the Summer of 1841, in the homestead, Tunis Joralemon passed away, surrounded by the members of his family. His remains lay in the parlor, adjoining the porch, where the funeral services were held, when they were borne to the old Dutch church cemetery, on Fulton street, where Wechsler & Abraham's store now stands, and afterward removed to Greenwood, where now two inscriptions, among others, read: "Tunis Joralemon, died August 10, 1841, and his wife, Jane Joralemon, died April 4, 1838."

The removal of this house became necessary by the widening of Hicks street. It was sold for demolition, the price paid being $800. It was empty for a number of months and in process of decay. Nothing remained in it but the marble mantels packed ready for removal. On May 15, 1842, at 9 o'clock in the evening, smoke was seen issuing from the gabled roof; the house was on fire. People filled the windows of the neighboring houses, now built all over the old farm, and looking out in the darkness saw the flames ascending toward the sky. In a short time, like the castle of Herr Van Tassel, at Sleepy Hollow, the old Joralemon house, with all its associations, lay in ashes. The fire, presumably, had been the work of some mischievous boys.

An interesting reminiscence of the Heights relates to the time when the stone wall was being built that protected the embankment along Furman street, directly in the rear of the Pierrepont Manor, in 1829. Two laborers digging away the earth found a package containing several thousand dollars. Dropping their shovels, they left for parts unknown and were never heard from again. Nothing further as to this well authenticated fact was ever known, though, in several places on the Pierrepont farm holes were dug by unknown persons in search of the treasure of Captain Kidd. Prior to this a rumor of money hidden along the shore had caused nearly every rock to be dug around and searched. The rumor arose in the fact that early one morning two persons, crossing over from New York, were seen to proceed quietly along the river side, and to carefully examine each rock that lay along the shore. Upon reaching the spot now opposite the foot of Montague street, they discovered a large stone upon which someone with a paint brush had roughly marked three letters. Here they paused and began digging around the rock, when one of the party, stooping with an exclamation, picked up a bag filled with silver dollars. This they quietly concealed, and replacing the earth, returned to New York. It appears that John Johnson, keeper of a sailors' boarding house in New York, had murdered and robbed a boarder named Edward Murray. The affair, known as the murder of Cuyler's alley, created intense excitement, Johnson was hanged in April, 1824. Prior to the execution he confessed having hidden the money amounting to several hundred dollars, on Brooklyn Heights, where it was subsequently found.

Perhaps no locality is more readily recalled than the Colonnade row that stood on Columbia street, now Columbia heights, which occupying the entire block, ran from Cranberry to Middagh street. it was composed of eight four story brick houses with tall Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a Grecian temple. Each house contained a separate balcony in front, while all were connected in the rear by a long veranda. Its commanding position, overlooking the river, caused it to be an object of admiration by tourists on the Sound steamers passing up and down the river. Its vignette was adapted for the policy heading of a Brooklyn insurance company. General Underhill erected Colonnade row at a cost of $120,000 and though forced to sacrifice the row at a time of financial pressure, always prided himself on the success of his undertaking in having added a row of houses built to resemble a single edifice. On December 20, 1853, at 4 o'clock of a cold, windy morning, the night watchman on his round through the street discovered smoke coming out of the basement window of one of the row. Immediately alarming the family, who had barely time to escape with their lives, he burst open the front door and saw the flames ascending the stairway. Extending to the parlor, they quickly communicated to the outer balustrade. A high wind blowing at the time the firemen also finding it difficult to obtain water, the entire structure was of course doomed. The occupants of the other houses, with scarcely time to save any personal effects, escaped, some scantily dressed, to the sidewalk and found refuge in neighboring houses. A few articles of furniture, with some valuable paintings were taken out of the reach of the fire, while the flames ran up Cranberry street as far as the residence of Mr. Mott Bedell. Colonnade row was entirely destroyed. The losses by this disastrous fire, caused by defective heating apparatus, are thus estimated: No. 1, corner of Middagh street, owned by R. Parsons, occupied by H. Colton, loss on building, $7,000: insured for $3,500 in the Eagle Fire Insurance Company of New York: loss on furniture, oil paintings and statuary, $8,000, no insurance. No. 2, owned by R.L. Chapin, occupied by M.S. Gilbert, loss on building, $7,500; insured for $6,000 in the Long Island Insurance Company; loss on furniture and household articles, $7,000; insured for $2,500 in the Brooklyn Fire Insurance Company. No. 3, owned and occupied by John K. Woolsey; loss on building, $7,000; loss on furniture, $6,000; insured in Miners' Mutual and Williamsburgh companies. No. 4, owned by Daniel Embury, occupied by Joshua Brown; loss on building, $7,000; on furniture, $6,000. No. 5, owned and occupied by T.G. Rowe: loss on Building, $7,000: on furniture, $8,000; insured for $5,000 in Eagle Company. No. 6, occupied by Charles Spofford; loss on building, $7,000: on furniture, $6,000. No. 8. corner of Cranberry street, occupied by Mr. Cortland and owned by Mr. Ebener Barrow; loss on building, $7,000; loss on furniture and provisions in the cellar, $9,000; insured for $5,500 in Wall street.

The residence of Mott Bedell on Cranberry street, was damaged to the extent of $600. The tall Corinthian columns, falling to the ground, were afterward taken to Sea Cliff, Long Island, where, yet unused, they remain at the present time. S.B.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Heights: Reminiscences of An Interesting Part Of Brooklyn 1887
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle April 20, 1887
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