A Brief History of The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences Part I

In the summer of 1823 several gentlemen, among whom was AUGUSTUS GRAHAM, met at Stevenson's Tavern for the purpose of establishing for the apprentices of Brooklyn a Free Library. They adopted a constitution, and issued to the citizens of Brooklyn a circular, in which they solicited donations of books and money with which to effect their purpose. On November 20, 1824, they were incorporated by the Legislature of the State under the name of The Brooklyn Apprentices' Library Association, and on July 4, 1825, the cornerstone of the first building owned by the Association was laid by General LAFAYETTE, at the junction of Henry and Cranberry Streets. As early as 1835 the Association had outgrown its original quarters, and, the property having been sold to the city, the Institution was removed to its new building in Washington Street, then the residential center of the young city of Brooklyn.

In order to broaden the scope of the Association, an amended charter was granted by the Legislature in 1843 and the name therein changed to that of the Brooklyn Institute. For many years thereafter the Institute was a most important factor in the social, literary, scientific and educational life of Brooklyn. Its library had a good circulation ; its public hall was the scene of many historic and social gatherings ; and from its platform were heard such eminent scientific men as Agassiz, Dana, Gray, Henry,Morse, Mitchell, Torrey, Guyot and Cooke; such learned divines as Doctors McCosh, Hitchcock, Storrs and Buddington ;and such defenders of the liberties of the people as Phillips, Sumner, Garrison, Emerson, Everett, Curtis, King, Bellows, Chapin and Beecher.

During this brilliant period of its history (1843-1867) the Institute received from Mr. GRAHAM two very important donations. On July 4, 1848, he freed the Washington Street building from all encumbrance, and by his will, which was made known to the Board of Directors on November 28, 1851, shortly after his decease, the Institute received the sum of $27,000 as a permanent endowment fund. The will directs that the interest of $10,000 of this sum shall be used in the support of lectures on scientific subjects and in the purchase of apparatus and collections illustrating the sciences; that the interest of $12,000 shall be used in the support of Sunday evening lectures on " The Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God as Manifested in His Works ;" and that the balance of $5,000 shall be used in the support of a School of Design and in forming a Gallery of Fine Arts.

For several years, however, prior to 1867, owing to the erection of the Academy of Music and other public buildings, the Institute building was regarded as behind the times. The income from the rental of portions of the building was dwindling to a low figure, and the financial support of the free library was becoming inadequate. Under these circumstances the Directors remodeled the building in 1867, at an expense of about $30,000, a part of which was raised by Life Membership Subscriptions of $50 and $100, and the balance by a mortgage on the building. For twenty years (1867-1887) this indebtedness necessitated the application of a portion of the income from the rent of the building and from the Graham Endowment Fund to the payment of the interest and the principal of the debt. Final payment on the mortgage was made in 1887.

The cause of the partial inactivity of the Institute during the twenty years (1867-1887) is, therefore apparent. The most that it was able to do was to circulate its library, to keep up its classes in drawing and to provide for the annual addresses on the 22d of February. Freed from debt in 1887 the Institute was enabled once more to use the whole income from its funds and building for educational purposes, and to become once more an important agent in the work of education in the city.

The property of the Institute in 1887 consisted of the Institute building and land, valued at $80,000, a library of 12,000 volumes, a collection of paintings valued at $10,ooo and Endowment Funds of $46,000. These last comprised the $27,000 bequeathed by Mr. Graham, the William H. Cary Fund of $10,000 used in the support of the library and an increment of $9,000 realized through
premiums on the sale of bonds.


During the year 1887-1888 a new era in the history of the Institute was inaugurated. The Board of Trustees determined on February 11, 1888 to make the property of the Institute the nucleus of a broad and comprehensive institution for the advancement of science and art, and its membership a large and active association laboring, not only for the advancement of knowledge, but also for the education of the people, through lectures and collections in the arts and sciences. It was observed that, while Boston had the Lowell Institute, a Society of, Natural History and an Art Museum ; while Philadelphia had the Franklin Institute, an Academy of Sciences and a Gallery of Fine Arts; and New York had the Metropolitan Museum and the American Museum, Brooklyn had nothing corresponding to these institutions. It was felt that Brooklyn should have an Institute of Arts and Sciences worthy of her wealth, her position, her culture and her people; that it was her duty to do more than she was then doing for the education and enjoyment of her people, and that some step should be taken looking toward the future growth and needs of the city in matters of art and science.

Accordingly, there was adopted a form of organization which contemplated the creation of a large association of members, and a continual increase of the Endowment Funds and Collections of the Institute. Provision was made for a subdivision of the membership into departments, representing various branches of Art and Science, each department forming a society by itself and yet enjoying
all the privileges of the general association. A general invitation was extended to citizens specially interested in Science and Art to become members of the Institute. Courses of lectures on Science and Art were provided. The Director's Room of the Institute was enlarged to accommodate the meetings of some of the departments contemplated, and a large Lecture Room on the third floor of the Institute building was fitted up at an expense of $2,600 for the occupancy of these departments that would make use of apparatus and collections at their meetings.


During the first fifteen months after the reorganization of the Institute a membership of three hundred and fifty persons was recorded. The Brooklyn Microscopical Society joined the Institute in a body with sixty-four members, and became the Department of Microscopy. The American Astronomical Society, whose members resided mostly in New York and Brooklyn, became the Department of Astronomy, with thirty-two members. The Brooklyn Entomological Society united with the Institute and became the Entomological Department, with thirty-five members. The Linden Camera Club of Brooklyn became the Department of Photography, with thirty-four members. Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology, Zoology and Archaeology were successively formed. Each of the above twelve departments began to hold monthly meetings. The permanent funds and property of the Institute were increased by $3,000. Additions were made to the Library, its circulation was increased from 12,000 to 36,000 volumes per year and a general citizens' movement to secure a Museum of Arts and Sciences for Brooklyn was inaugurated.


The progress of the Institute during the year 1889-1890 was even greater than in the preceding fifteen months. The membership of the twelve departments organized the previous year was somewhat more than doubled. Eight new and strong departments were formed successively; viz., Architecture, Electricity, Geography, Mathematics, Painting, Philology, Political Science and Psychology. The membership was increased from 350 to 1,100. To the collections of the Institute were made very large additions. The Library was reorganized and its circulation increased from the rate of 36,000 to 55,000 volumes per year, and 1,500 'new books were placed in the Library for the benefit of the departments and their members. The number of lectures, exhibits and meetings
of departments was increased from about 90 in the previous year to 230. The attendance on the Department meetings was doubled, and amounted to 46,950. The number of members taking an active part in the meetings and in the work of the Institute was quadrupled. The quality of the lectures and addresses was an improvement over that of the previous year, and out of the abundance of active and increasing interest in the Arts and Sciences awakened by the old Brooklyn Institute the new Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences was born, destined to absorb the old Institute, to command the attention, the admiration, the love and support of every resident of the city, to foster the interests of other educational institutions and to become a means for the education, the refinement and the uplifting of all.


The growth of the Institute received a temporary check during the year 1890-1891. On September 12 a serious fire rendered the Institute Building unfit for immediate use. But through the generous hospitality of other institutions in the city it was possible to carry on the work elsewhere. The Young Men's Christian Association, the Union for Christian Work, the Packer Collegiate Institute,
the Brooklyn Library, the Polytechnic Institute, the Brooklyn Heights Seminary, the Church of the Saviour, the Adelphi Academy and the Brooklyn Art Association each contributed the use of rooms for the lectures and the work of the departments. And notwithstanding the fact that the work was distributed at various points, the Institute's progress was of a permanent and substantial character. 312 new members were added. The membership of each of the twenty departments was enlarged. The number of lectures and meetings was increased to 310, as against 230 in the previous year. The attendance on the lectures was augmented, reaching a total of 99,200. The Geographical Department brought together a collection of geographical appliances consisting of maps, globes, charts, reliefs, models, atlases, treatises, text-books and other publications, valued at $6,000. The Geographical Collection was exhibited in Brooklyn for four weeks and in Boston for three weeks. The Boston Exhibition was visited by about 16,000 people and the Brooklyn Exhibition visited by about 16,000 people and the Brooklyn Exhibition by upwards of 27,000 people. Subscriptions toward the Endowment Fund were made to the amount of $51,500 and by act of legislation the city was authorized to expend $300,000 in the erection of a portion of the proposed Museum of Arts and Sciences on Prospect Heights.


During the fourth year of active work after the reorganization of the Institute 632 new members were recorded, of whom about one-third were teachers in our public and private schools. The Architectural Department established a school for junior architects and draughtsman. The Department of Painting aided in the establishment of an Art School. The Department of Geography exhibited its collection in New York City for four weeks for the benefit of the teachers and citizens of New York and vicinity. The Department of Music was established during the autumn by members of the musical profession, with a membership of 117. The Department of Pedagogy was organized in March with 206 members from the teaching profession. The Photographic Department was provided with an excellent suite of rooms fitted up at an expense of about $1,000. Two Summer Schools of Art were established, one of them at the seashore and the other in the mountains. The Departments of Architecture, Microscopy and Photography gave large and excellent exhibitions that were free to the public. The number of lectures and meetings by the departments was increased from 310 in the previous year to 405. The total attendance on the lectures, meetings and exhibitions was increased from 99,200 to 120,500. Subscriptions to the Endowment Fund were received amounting to $16,000. The real estate belonging to the old Brooklyn Institute in Washington Street was sold to the Trustees of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, to the Trustees of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, and the net proceeds of the sale, amounting to $72,000 were invested in city bonds. The old Brooklyn Institute was consolidated with the new Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, transferring thereto its property and estate, amounting to $139,286 in invested funds, together with collections, library and other property valued at $42,450. The Mayor and Park Commissioner selected as the site for the proposed Museum Buildings the East Side lands, bounded by Eastern Parkway, Washington Avenue, the south side of old President Street and the Prospect Hill Reservoir.


During the fifth year the growth of the educational work of the Institute was greater than that of any preceding season. 940 new members were added to the roll. The number of lectures, addresses, concerts and exhibitions open to all the members was 482, as against 405 the previous year. The number of lectures and class exercises open to members and others by the payment of
a moderate fee was 1,397, as against 1,134 the previous year ; the number of concerts was increased from eight to fifteen. The average daily attendance on the exercises of the Institute for the eight months of active work was 936, and the total attendance for the year 190,900. The annual income was increased from $18,943.20 in the previous year to $31,641.51. Institute extension courses of lectures were given in the eastern section of the city. The School of Political Science was established with four classes and ninety-six pupils. The Art School was transferred to new and larger quarters in the Ovington Studio Building, and the number of pupils was increased from 94 to 128. The Department of Architecture, acting through its Advisory Board, devised a scheme of competition for the best plan and design proposed Museum of the best plan and design for the proposed Museum of Arts and Sciences which was approved by the Board of Trustees and adopted by the Mayor and Park Commissioner ; and a competition for the best plan and design for a Museum Building was completed with most satisfactory results.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Brief History of The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Twenty-fifth Year Book of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences; Published by the Institute: Brooklyn 1913
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