Lott's Woods, Hiawatha Road and a 12 Foot Square Boundary Marker

Lott's Woods

John A. Lott, Descendant of Dutch Settlers: A Mover-and-Shaker of 19th Century Flatbush

1868 Map Shows Lott's Woods ("J.A. Lott") Which Also Extended Further West 
Beyond Heavy Diagonal Line on Left -- the Coney Island Rail Road (Now Coney Island Avenue)
Last year I wrote about Oak Crest, the name given to the area immediately south of Avenue H, which was developed more than five years before West Midwood. I pooh-poohed the notion once advanced by our esteemed West Midwood Community Association President, Linda Howell, that Avenue H might have originally been called "Hiawatha Avenue."  I based this on the absence of such a name in City records or property sales or press accounts. In addition, the Germania Realty company which published maps of the area never used such a label. 


Although I still maintain that Avenue H was never officially called anything else, I must now admit that I have found a map of our leafy glen, published in 1908, which does contain the name "Hiawatha Road" for the stretch of "H" between Coney Island Ave and the Brighton line. It was labeled such by the map-maker, George Bromley and is barely distinguishable in the image below.  You can find the original map online here  (it is plate 21 in the Atlas). 
"Hiawatha Road" Appears in Parentheses to the Left of "Avenue H" in the Right Lower Quadrant, To The Left of the Gray Line (Representing the Brighton RR) Running North to South For The Length of This 1908 Map.
Same 1908 Map As Above, Enlarged, With "Hiawatha Road" Circled in Red

I found the map in the course of further research on Oak Crest, which consisted of 732 lots stretching from Coney Island Avenue to 17th Street, from Avenue H south to Avenue J.  Although it was part of the much larger Lott farm, Oak Crest was referred to as "Lott's Woods" at the time it was purchased by the Wood, Harmon realty company for development in 1897.

1908 Realty Map: "South Midwood" Top Left and "Oak Crest"--South of Ave H--Top Right.
It appears that "Lott's Woods" was the name given to that part of the Lott farm which stretched from Ocean Avenue west to Coney Island Avenue, including not only Oak Crest but also what became West Midwood, Midwood Park and Fiske Terrace. It was never farmland, but always an undisturbed woodland frequented by hunters, per press clips dating to the 1880's, some of which described the widespread indiscriminate shooting of birds there. 
 

NY Times and Brooklyn Eagle Press Clips from The 1880s
==============================================================++=======+++++++++++=+=

And then there was this remarkable news story from 1894 in which a surveyor argued that the town of Gravesend could not be annexed by the City of Brooklyn, which had just gobbled up Flatbush, because Gravesend only touched Brooklyn "at a point in Lott's Woods" and the State law governing a county's annexations required that the property to be added must "adjoin" the county:   

                  "...a point has neither length, breadth or thickness 
                  and that as Brooklyn [Flatbush] is not bounded by
                  Gravesend in any way, it cannot be said to adjoin it."

This argument was not successful.  But that "point" at which Gravesend touched Flatbush was the exact same point where the old town lines of New Utrecht, Flatlands, Gravesend and Flatbush all came together.
Red Circle (L) Indicates Boundary of Four Towns (Rendering of Southern Brooklyn in 1645)

This 1842 Map Shows What Eventually Became East 17th St and Foster Ave at the Tip of the Triangle of Dotted Lines Enclosing "Gravesend" at Center Bottom

What really caught my interest in this story was the reference to a boundary marker placed at that point: "A stone, twelve feet square, is set up at the junction as a mark."  Today, the Midwood Park stanchion at the corner of East 17th Street and Foster Avenue marks the same spot.  

Red Dot On This 1890 Atlas Map Shows Intersection of Foster Ave and E 17th St - 
Where The Town Lines of Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend and New Utrecht All Met at a Point

Same 1890 Map As Above, Enlarged with Town Borders Depicted By Heavy Red Lines

Stanchion at E. 17th St and Foster Ave
The surveyor who advanced the "point" argument and who referenced the boundary stone there was Charles Voorhies. Voorhies was the same civil engineer who would later build the sea wall at Manhattan Beach -- to which I devoted considerable ink in a 2016 blog posting -- leading me to wonder whether there were only two degrees of separation back in old Brooklyn. 


But more importantly, whatever became of that 12-foot square stone? The Lott's Woods were leveled by Henry Meyer's Germania company, but alas and alack, the stone was not referenced in any of Meyer's papers which I perused at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

There are some stones to be found on the mall at the intersection of East 17th Street and Foster Avenue, one of which appears to have some engraved letters. Could this be a remnant of the huge marker? Probably not.

The stone with some engraved letters
Stanchion Top, Stones Bottom
Stones on the Mall


But as T.B. Ackerson wrote in his 1907 Fiske Terrace brochure, when he developed East 17th Street further south, just past Glenwood Road, his construction crews swept the leveled trees of Lott's Woods into trenches they dug at the rear of the lot line. 

Ackerson Work Crew On East 17th, Summer 1905 (Fiske Terrace Brochure)


So perhaps there is a large stone buried in someone's back yard along East 17th Street. Anyone wanna invest in a metal detector?


17th Century Update:

In October 2007, the oldest surviving deed for Brooklyn property was auctioned in Manhattan for $156,000. Dated June 16, 1636, it read:

We, director and council of New Netherland (Gerritsen Wolfert Van Kouwenhoven and Andries Hudde), residing on the island of Manhattan at Fort Amsterdam, herewith testify and declare, that today, date underwritten, before us personally appeared Tenkirau, Ketaun, Ararikan, Awackouw, Warinckehinck, Wappittawackenis, Ehettin, as owners; Penhawis, Kakappeteno being present as chiefs of the district, have transferred, ceded, surrendered and conveyed as lawful, true and free possession, as they therewith transfer, cede, surrender and convey ...the westernmost of the flats called Keskateuw belonging to them on the island...

The land described in the deed which the Lenape tribe called "Kestateuw" -- meaning meadow -- contained 3,600 acres of arable land.  It extended from Paerdegat Creek northwest to present day Foster Avenue, west to the Gravesend Village line which is now East 17th Street, and then south to present day Bay Avenue near Avenue M, and southeast to Gerritsen Creek. 



Approximate Area of the 1636 Deal in Red

Through intermarriage among the Dutch of southern Brooklyn, the northwestern part of this land, as well as more acreage west of East 17th Street to Coney Island Avenue came to be owned by John A. Lott prior to the Civil War.

John, the son of a Flatlands farmer, Abraham Lott, was born in 1806. By the time of his death in 1878, he had become one of 19th-century Brooklyn's most celebrated citizens. John spent most of his time in courtrooms as an attorney and later as First Judge of the Kings County Court of Common Pleas, a member of the New York State Assembly, Senator from the first district, Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Associate Justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, and Chief Justice of the Commission of Appeals.  In addition Lott was responsible for the creation of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper in 1841 (his law partners founded it to support his candidacy for the senate). When he died, his fortune passed to his sons Jerome and Jeremiah who sold off the family's farm and woods from 1897 to 1899. By that time, the Germania company had converted the adjoining Vanderveer farmlands into a new suburb and Victorian Flatbush was beginning to take shape. 


And Finally...
While researching matters off the beaten path I sometimes stumble across writers who are a joy to read.  A case in point is a 1998 essay written by another New Yorker looking back at his boyhood in southern Brooklyn.  "The Lost Creek" by Thomas J. Campanella is a marvelous study about how eight blocks of Gerritsen Creek (north of Avenue U), which at one time an old neighbor claimed ran behind his house, were covered over and developed.  It reminded me of my Paerdegat Lane adventure.  Campanella went on to become a Fulbright Fellow, a pilot, an urban historian, and an editor at Wired magazine, grabbing a PhD from MIT along the way.

"The Lost Creek"



Chronicles Stuff Greatest Hits...Or Maybe Not


Greatest History Hits Up To Now...

 
While researching the history of our neighborhood over the last five years, I found stuff that might be interesting to mention at a Flatbush cocktail party.  Or maybe not.



1776 Battle of Brooklyn
1776 Topographical Map
-The Colonial Army camped on the John A. Lott Farm in August of 1776, just before the Battle of Brooklyn commenced.  The Lott Farm at that time consisted of 125 acres extending from Paerdegat Point at Nostrand Avenue on a line along Foster Avenue west to Coney Island Avenue, reaching south along the way to Farragut Road, then Glenwood Road and finally to Avenue H.  When Henry Meyer's Germania started developing the Vanderveer farm in the 1890s, his work crews turned up British coins and buttons from British military uniforms.







1868 Map: Lott Farm Extends from Green on Right (Flatlands) to Pink Below (Gravesend)
1868 Map Showing Lott Farm







-A somewhat reduced Lott farm (exclusive of the area east of Flatbush) was bought by the Germania Real Estate and Improvement Company in 1898.  They dubbed their entire 100 acres “South Midwood” because at that time, Midwood was simply another name for Flatbush, the old town boundary for which lay just to the north along Foster Avenue.  Germania sold to a relatively small number of builders hundreds of 40x100 and 50x100 foot parcels, attaching covenants to the deeds ensuring the residential park-like nature of the development would be retained until at least 1940.




-The original community association here was called the Marlborough-Westminster Property Owners League until 1924 when it became the West South Midwood League.  It was only in the late 1950s that references to this neighborhood were shortened to West Midwood.  [Residents of Parkville and the area surrounding Washington Cemetery originally appropriated the name West Midwood for their community group because back then the word “Midwood” was extremely prestigious.]



-Several residents of our neighborhood were arrested on election day in November 1908 for claiming addresses that did not exist on outdated maps used by the police.  The maps showed the older names (East 12th, 13th and 14th Street instead of Westminster, Argyle and Rugby Road) and no indication at all for Waldorf, Wellington and Dekoven Courts.  This was likely a voter suppression tactic used by the corrupt Tammany Hall machine to discourage turnout in a heavily Republican area.


-The original residents here per the 1910 census (the neighborhood was still farmland as of the 1900 census) were mostly from out-of-state and out-of-country and even those native-born inhabitants more often than not had immigrant parents.



1920Westminster at Ave H - Stanchion Not Yet Built
2015:Westminster Stanchion at Ave H
-The stanchions that stand at the boundaries of most Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods were always ornamental and were never used to erect barriers to traffic or pedestrians.  They were constructed by neighborhood associations who collected an average of $10 per home owner and cost West South Midwood about $2,000 for the 12 pillars that were built in 1925.



Feb 13 1940: Taxes Too Damn High
-For the first two decades here, residents were very critical of: service on the heavily-used Brighton line; mail delivery; truck traffic on Rugby Road; conversion of two-family homes to three-family homes on Westminster; and too many taxes. Considered especially onerous was an annual $5 tax on home owners’ garages.



-West South Midwood had many notable residents, including the co-writer of “Teddy Bears Picnic,” a female playwright/novelist, the over-seer of the port of New York, and a leading socialist who lost all ten elections he entered (which might be a record).


-Corbin Court, the lane between Foster and Glenwood, just east of Coney Island Avenue, was named for John R. Corbin who built the large building that borders the Court.  Corbin also constructed most of the one family homes here, and T. B. Ackerson erected the entire block of two family homes on Westminster Road extending from Glenwood Road to Ave H.



1890 Map: "4 Corners" Indicated by Red Circle
-Although rendered inconsequential after being incorporated within greater Brooklyn in the 1890s, the old town lines of Gravesend, Flatbush, New Utrecht and Flatlands all touched at the corner of Foster Avenue and East 17th Street.  Most of our neighborhood was technically located in the Town of Gravesend, with a northern sliver in New Utrecht.


-McDonald Avenue used to be called Gravesend Road because it extended from Greenwood Heights all the way down to the Town of Gravesend…until a local politician named McDonald got a chicken bone stuck in his throat back in 1933 and went toes up.

-Dahill Road, located just to the west of McDonald Avenue, used to be called West Street because it was once the western boundary of the Town of Flatbush.  The Dahill name first appeared in print in 1920 but its origin is shrouded in mystery.  I suspect it was named after Pvt. Cornelius Dahill, a New Yorker who was killed in France on November 28, 1918.



1883 Evacuation Day Parade, Lower B'way
-The British occupied Brooklyn and the rest of New York from 1776 until November 25, 1783. The latter date was a City holiday from 1783 until 1916 when its observance, Evacuation Day, was discontinued because the U.S. and Britain had become allies on the eve of our entrance into World War I, much to the dismay of some immigrant Irish. [While Manhattan was chock full of Loyalists (some 70,000 evacuated with the Brits), over 10,000 patriots died in prison ships moored in Wallabout Bay (now the Navy Yard) and Brooklyn never warmed to the Redcoats, who built barracks and fires by harvesting tons of timber, deforesting northern Brooklyn in the process.]

Bowling Green Adds An Evacuation Day Plaza Sign in 2016


1953 Letter To Eagle "Disremembers"




























1907 Avenue H Station Looking North from LIRR
-The LIRR freight line originally ran on an elevated trestle over the Brighton line just south of Avenue H. As a result of the Grade Crossing Elimination Project, in 1907 the Brighton line was elevated at Avenue H so that it temporarily crossed the LIRR at grade, at which point the LIRR was submerged in a trench to its current depth.




1873 Maps
Back in 1873 a "New York and Hempstead Railroad" was proposed which would steam from the East River near Long Island City to a ferry in Bay Ridge. The route pictured on these maps would change slightly and a few years later become the Manhattan Beach RR excursion line of the LIRR, which would feed passengers from the East River and Bay Ridge to a new branch (not yet envisioned) that would extend south from Avenue H to Coney Island, paralleling what would become the Brighton Beach line's right of way.


1873 Map Showing Proposed Line Crossing Paerdegat Lane and the Lott Farm


1873 Parkville Map Showing Proposed Rail Line to South


1873 Map Shows Proposed Rail Line and Most of Gravesend Below It

1873 Map: Flatbush Village to Right. Vanderveer, Lott and Other Farms to Left

1874 Map: Rail (Red) Stops at Flatbush and Ave C (Clarendon Rd)

1878: New Manhattan Beach Line Opens





Let Us Now Praise Less-Than-Famous Men...West South Midwood Chronicles Part 12

The Saga of Corbin Court


John R. Corbin in 1908

New Corbin Court Street Sign
At Foster Ave Looking West


Historic District Street Sign
Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park























 
In 2008 the City conferred landmark status on Midwood Park and Fiske Terrace, our sister neighborhoods across the Brighton tracks, largely based on the splendor of the residences erected there by John R. Corbin and Thomas Benton Ackerson.

The Landmark Commission’s Designation Report devoted considerable ink to these builders’ activities and designs, although the biographical data was somewhat scanty.  This aroused my curiosity.  How many of our 214 houses did these two men build in West Midwood, long considered the most modest corner of Victorian Flatbush?  Where did they live and when did they die?

Read It.. Here


T. B. Ackerson in 1908
























First, research indicates that we have much in common with our neighbors beyond the Cut: Corbin and Ackerson built the majority of the homes here too.  Most of the houses along Rugby and Argyle Roads were built by Corbin, as well as many along Glenwood Road, Wellington, Waldorf and DeKoven Courts, all between 1903 and 1908, with the majority constructed in 1904 and 1905.  

And in that same span, Ackerson completed construction of all the two family residences on Westminster Road between Glenwood and Avenue H.  As for the rest of our neighborhood, Christian Bauer (aka Baur), a former partner of John Corbin from 1897-1902, and Edward R. Strong – who both developed several properties in Fiske Terrace/Midwood Park – also built houses here: Bauer on Argyle between Foster and Glenwood, and Strong on Marlborough Court and along Foster Avenue.  [Strong also built the block-long row of stores with apartments above that still stand on Coney Island Avenue between Foster and Newkirk Avenues across from the PS 217 schoolyard.]

Not always appreciated is the fact that Corbin and Ackerson erected their buildings here BEFORE moving east of the Brighton line.  In 1903 there was a financial panic that caused a run on the banks.  This might have influenced the price point for their buildings since most were not built to order but in anticipation of making a sale after they were finished.   

Finally, the architect Benjamin F. Driesler designed most of the homes built by Corbin in Midwood Park and West Midwood.  This did not require Driesler to sit at his drafting board for each new plot because Corbin mass-produced his homes based on five basic Driesler wood frame colonial revival designs, tweaking them here and there to arrive at 30 different layouts, accounting for many of the thousand buildings attributed to Driesler in southern Brooklyn.  Driesler also was the first resident of a building he designed for Corbin along the Brighton line on Glenwood Road, which has long been home to the Finkel family.

1435 Glenwood in 2014 - Corbin Built
1435 Glenwood in 1961 - Driesler Slept Here


Benjamin F. Driesler, 1908
In the 30 odd years between the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and the start of the First World War, these men played a prominent role in transforming the vast expanse of Dutch farmlands that extended from the ridge line of Prospect Park south to Jamaica Bay into the magnificent leafy cocoons that generations of families have enjoyed ever since.  

But their names are now known to only a few preservationists and architecture buffs.  For instance, none have a Wikipedia entry, discounting a 120 word throw-away on the Ackerson Company.  Certainly, their contemporaries recognized the enormous accomplishments of these developers.  In fact, Corbin was widely renowned in his day as “The Master Builder of Brooklyn.”

   A Defunct Cortelyou Shop:
Should It Have Been Named for Driesler?
But their glory was very short-lived: Ackerson and Corbin went bankrupt during the Great War, Driesler became an alcoholic, and the ordinary fates of Strong and Bauer are lost to history.  Most of these builders rose from humble beginnings.  Ackerson worked for an ice company for 30 years before becoming a realtor while Driesler emigrated from Bavaria at the age of 32 and Corbin was the son of an immigrant carpenter.  

Corbin and Ackerson met financial ruin after branching out beyond their Brooklyn roots, Ackerson in Suffolk County and Corbin in Kew Gardens.  But Corbin, Ackerson and Driesler are all buried in Brooklyn: Evergreen Cemetery for Corbin and Driesler, while Ackerson is in section 202 of Green-Wood – the corner closest to Flatbush.

Fiske Terrace: 1905 BA (Before Ackerson)
   Courtesy The Great Paul Matus




1906: Ackerson Office Which Became Ave H Station

2015: In All Its Landmarked Glory
So it would seem appropriate that the only lasting Brooklyn tributes to these modest men (aside from their houses!) are a landmarked train station at Avenue H that once served as Ackerson’s sales office, and a small, unkempt private street which forms part of our western boundary.  That street is only a lane really, running from Glenwood Road to Foster Avenue, behind the large three-story building which fronts Coney Island Avenue.  It is known as Corbin Court in the City’s building records.

2016: Corbin Court Looking North
   From Glenwood to Foster

2016: 1043-1049 Corbin Court
Looking West from Glenwood Road
But a street sign for it never existed, and the name didn’t start appearing on Internet maps until 10 years ago.  Some speculated in print (here and there) that the Court was named for robber-baron Austin Corbin (1827-1896), whose LIRR freight line still runs in the Cut a thousand  feet to the south.  But our neighbor, Chaudry Mohammad, who lives a few doors east of the lane (and is also the author of the fabulous Wikipedia entry for West Midwood), started doing some digging and suspected that John R. Corbin might be its true namesake.

But how to prove it?  While Chaudry lobbied the Transportation Department to tend to the Court and erect a street sign, I dug through old press clippings, photos and directories…The name first appeared in 1923 ads for apartments there (“1047 Corbin Court-6 rooms, bath, electric, near Newkirk Station, $50 rent”).  But since the three story brick building fronted on Coney Island Avenue, it could also be searched as 1049, 1047, 1045 or 1043 Coney Island Avenue.
  2015: 1043-1049 Coney Island Ave
Looking East from Coney and Glenwood

Those searches yielded results dating back to February 1906, when the Wells Presbyterian Church used the storefront at 1045 Coney (aka 1045 Corbin) as a temporary chapel, waiting for its church to be built at the corner of Argyle and Glenwood Roads.
1911: Corbin Court Building on Right
A Road House In Distance is on SW Corner
of Coney Island Ave and Foster (see note on Tunis Road House below)
    Brooklyn War Memorial:
List of 11,500 WWII Brooklyn Fatalities
[Wandering through these old newspapers, I also came across a Gold Star family who lived at 1049 Corbin Court: 22 year old Frank Ciraldo was lost at sea in August 1944 during US Naval action in the Pacific.  He is only one of  the 11,500 Brooklyn WWII fatalities whose name is enshrined on the Wall of Honor inside the War Memorial at Cadman Plaza (hopefully soon to reopen).  Reading through this stunning list, I recalled that Steven Spielberg decided to honor the sacrifice Brooklyn made to defeat fascism by making the lone survivor of the Rangers assault squad in "Saving Private Ryan" a Brooklyn boy, played by Ed Burns.]

The Court also figured in a story about a horrific train crash in 1907 near Newkirk Avenue during creation of the Brighton trench, leading to the collapse of a temporary wooden bridge above the tracks.  The injured were rushed to a drug store at Corbin Court and Foster Avenue, among them the only fatality -- a young lad who was then living next to the building where Chaudry lives today.  (BTW that drug store at 1043 Corbin Court was also the polling location for the 1918 election, the first time women were allowed to vote in New York; when it closed, the triangular space lent itself to a liquor store, a vegetable stand and eventually today’s Gyro Hut.)

1043 Corbin Court aka Coney Island Ave, 1985 NYC Tax Photo
1045 Corbin Court, NYC Tax Photo







1047 Corbin Court, 1985 NYC Tax Photo
1049 Corbin Court, 1985 NYC Tax Photo









Then, suddenly, everything started to come together this past Summer.  Chaudry finally got NYC DOT to erect a street sign in late August and to make some asphalt repairs soon thereafter.

2016: Corbin Court Street Sign
 At Foster Ave Looking East
And in early September we found the record we were looking for.  In March 1906, John R. Corbin filed a property transfer with the Buildings Department.  He was selling a building he owned which he had erected.  It was a large, irregularly-shaped building directly across Glenwood Road from the wooden shack that served as a sales office for T.B. Ackerson.

Corbin sells 1043-1049 Corbin Court in 1906

But Corbin’s was a brick structure with stores that fronted Coney Island Avenue and with two and a half stories of apartments above for shopkeepers and tenants.  And on top was a modified mansard roof, with playful peaks and grand cupolas/turrets on the corners looking southward to the rest of Brooklyn, as yet unbuilt.  Yes, the building was 1043-1049 Corbin Court.  [Corbin built several other brick apartment houses, including a large structure on the corner of Flatbush and Farragut Road which also sported storefronts, one of which his design buddy Driesler would occupy in 1899.] 
1905: Ackerson Sales Office, SE Corner CIA and Glenwood
Corbin Building Was On NE Corner (Left, Out of Frame)

1905: Ackerson Sales Office CloseUp
[Corbin had a sales cottage where the Oesers' house on Marlborough Court is now located at the corner of Foster Avenue and a second office across from Ackerson on Avenue H.  See ads below.]

1905: Intersection of Glenwood, Foster and CIA
"Private St" Is Now Corbin Court
Red=Brick  Yellow=Wood
"John Lott" Still Shown As Owner of
Corner Lot Where Ackerson Put His Office

Close-Up of Corbin Court Building (Left Center)
So now there is little reason to doubt that Corbin Court was named not for the famously bigoted Austin Corbin, a self-proclaimed Master of the Universe, but for John R. Corbin, one of the founders of West Midwood, who died in his sleep on a pig farm in Wappingers Falls as Christmas Day dawned in 1937.  In a final coincidence, Corbin and Ackerson – who passed away in Roslyn Heights from pneumonia in 1924 – were both 68 years old when they died.  Ackerson’s demise rated four lines of small print in the NY Times.  And the death of John R. Corbin went unnoticed.

More On Corbin And Ackerson


With the Argyle Heights Research Division, headed by Waldorf Court alum Dottie Wahl, working overtime, we then started to fill in some blanks in the life stories of T. B. Ackerson and especially John Corbin.  

Dottie, mining genealogical and census records, determined that Corbin was born July 23, 1870 in Brooklyn, the son of a carpenter, also named John, who had emigrated from the English Channel Isle of Guernsey.  He followed his father into the carpentry trade, then studied architecture.  In 1891 he married Nellie Gooding, with whom he was to have two sons, Harold and Milton.  

The first references to Corbin in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle occurred in March 1896 when he sold a house he built on East 32nd Street south of Ave F (now Farragut Road) which was then being developed by the Germania Real Estate and Improvement Company:

March 19, 1896: Brooklyn Daily Eagle

637 E 32nd Street:
Corbin's First Known Sale?



A month later he became a new member of the Flatlands Taxpayers Association, with a residence noted on East 32nd Street:

April 7, 1896: Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Corbin first partnered with an established German-American builder, Christian Bauer, who was considerably older than Corbin. They worked out of a shop on Flatbush Avenue near its intersection with Clarendon Road, then known as Avenue C. Corbin and Bauer thus were located very near Benjamin Driesler, who also set up an office at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue C in 1895. Flatbush Avenue at that point must have been a sort of contractors' row since it formed the western boundary of Vanderveer Park, the first major suburban development south of Prospect Park. 
October 1894: Flatbush at Ave C
(Clarendon Road)
Germania Sales Shack Far Right

Postcard Of Same Photo Above. Vanderveer Park Lots Sold Here



But by 1896, Bauer and Corbin had moved to an office at 1609 New York Avenue, off Glenwood Road, amidst an area of new construction in the expanding Vanderveer Park and in 1897 they were selling four brick buildings they built at their prior location.

August 21, 1896: New Building at 1609 NY Ave

1609 New York Avenue
Oct 12, 1897 Ad For Brick Buildings at
Flatbush and Ave C. Christian Bauer
Was 22 Years Older Than Corbin


Bauer (aka Baur) And Corbin, 1898-1902 


Feb 1898 Sale by Corbin and Bauer


Apr 1898

Feb 1898

Jul 1898


Mar 1898


Jul 1899


Jul 1899


Apr 1900: Corbin Optimism Well-Founded


Apr 1900: "Vanderveer Park West"--
Soon to be "South Midwood".
Note Boundaries, Lott Farm
and "American Army" Camped Here



Sep 1900: Corbin and Baur "Most Popular"
At Event Henry Meyer of Germania Hosts

BAUR (aka BAUER) On His Own

1309 Glenwood Road: Christian Bauer (ex-Corbin Partner) Built It In 1906



1309 Glenwood in 1985 NYC Tax Photo
Mar 26 1929: Christian Baur (aka Bauer) Obit.
Former Corbin Partner. His Son, George,
Built Six Homes in Midwood Park-Fiske Terrace
Friend of Argyle Heights, Rich Dutton, former South Midwoodian, reports: "Christian Baur's daughter was Wilhelmina vom Lehn. While this is only tangentially related to your blog, she was the mother of Harvey and Richard vom Lehn. Harvey was a friend of my father's from, I think, high school days, and they stayed in touch into their old age. His younger brother Richard was a lawyer and used to come into Flatbush Savings Bank at the Junction as a customer when I worked there. The vom Lehn family, like Baur and Corbin, were involved in the construction business, especially church construction...The Richard vom Lehn Sons construction company built Flatbush Presbyterian at Foster Avenue and East 23rd Street, St. Paul's Episcopal on St. Paul's Place near Church Avenue, St. Stephen's Lutheran on Newkirk Avenue and East 28th Street (alterations) and Holy Trinity Lutheran at Avenue R and Hendrickson Street.


1902: CORBIN ON HIS OWN
The year began with an odd story. Corbin's father (also named John Corbin) was living on Germania Place (more on that below) and tracking down an inheritance from the proverbial rich uncle. As of July 1, Corbin launched his own business, backed by "several wealthy and influential real estate men," a reference no doubt to the Germania principals.


July 3, 1902
Jan 29, 1902

Corbin began buying property where he would set up his first factory, near the junction of Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues.
  
July 7, 1902

August 19, 1902

October 25, 1902


September 30, 1902: Germania Supplies Plots


Mar 1903: Bauer Still Active Near Glenwood
Corbin Now With Germania, Active in South Midwood


Corbin opened another shop, at 1516-1522 Flatbush Avenue, a half-mile south, near Glenwood Road, following the flow of construction as it moved west and south.  


As the accompanying photos attest, there weren't too many buildings lining Flatbush then.  But one of the most prominent was located just down the block from Corbin, at Germania Place, a street named by its first occupants, the Germania Real Estate and Improvement Company.

1895 Germania Place Sales Office At "The Junction" (Left)
Flatbush Ave Looking North 1895

Nostrand Ave Trolley on Right
Note the Twin Turrets Sporting Flags

1896 Germania Place Sales Office (Center)
Corner of Germania Pl. and Flatbush Ave. Looking East

Nostrand Ave. About to Intersect Flatbush, Far Right
Glenwood Road Just Below Flags
Corbin's Office Would Be On Left Out of Frame

1898: Germania's New Building Plan
Same Location at Junction
Note the Turret and Flag

Germania consisted of four German-Americans from Williamsburg who almost single-handedly created a land-rush that led to the conversion of southern Brooklyn from farmland to residential neighborhoods.  Within months of their incorporation in 1892, Germania bought a farm from the Vanderveer family in what is now East Flatbush.  But the Germans were not builders, they were grocers.  Very successful grocers.  They also were very good at negotiating land purchases from farmers, then enlisting labor to clear, grade and landscape their tracts, after which they were able to persuade Flatbush and Flatlands VIPs to assist their installation of sewers, gas and water lines.  But the "improved empty lots" of their new Vanderveer Park were not exactly selling like hotcakes, given that surface transport had yet to reach the area.  So to spur sales growth the Germans had some houses built, which they then occupied as pioneers.  This is where John Corbin got his start.  In fact, when Corbin incorporated his business in 1902, he listed as his new address 1560-1562 Flatbush Avenue - the new substantial building at the corner of Germania Place (see drawing) that he built for Germania to replace their wooden sales office.

1900: Original Cortelyou Club
Note the Flag Atop The Turret, the Long Porch and Empty Land
But pioneers need entertainment, so in 1896, the Germania boys and 20 other hearty souls created the Cortelyou Club, erecting a magnificent clubhouse on Bedford Avenue and Avenue D.  It is likely that Corbin, Ackerson and Driesler had a hand in its design and construction since all three were members.  We do know that in 1907 Driesler drew up plans for the new club house there.  By 1898 Corbin was among a dozen non-officers prominent enough in the Flatbush community
1910 Post Card: Cortelyou Club
Showing Driesler Re-Design.
A New Front Extension; No Turret

Block Fully Built Now
to be noted as members of the Club in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle profile.  That year he was living in Vanderveer Park at East 34th Street and Avenue D, not far from the Germania officers.  But by 1900 he had become so successful, he was able to occupy a more ornate dwelling he built a few blocks south on Glenwood Road, closer to his shop, then the newest section of Vanderveer Park.  

Corbin, His Wife and Two Sons Lived In This "Corbin House"
at 3316-3320 Glenwood Road (c/o East 34th Street). Note Turret.
John F. Dreyer
Arguably the most innovative figure among Flatbush developers and builders, Corbin formed his construction company in 1902.  Illustrative of the close relationship with Germania, Corbin's vice president was John F. Dreyer, who was also the vice-president of Germania.  The only other officer was the treasurer John W. Gooding, who was Corbin's brother-in-law.  [By the way in July 1909, Gooding, Corbin and Germania all contributed to the fund that erected the brick stanchions that still stand today in Midwood Park.  Gooding was also active in the affairs of the Midwood Park Property Owners Association -- he was the first resident of a house Corbin built at 717 E 18th Street.]


Dreyer (via Germania) sold its improved lots to Corbin to build homes and then Dreyer (via the John R. Corbin Company) sold the homes to the eventual residents.  Some of the early property filings involving Corbin listed below show Germania Real Estate (and his wife Nellie) as sellers. 







Henry A. Meyer in 1908
The major domo of Germania and the Brooklyn construction boom then transforming the old Dutch farmland south of Prospect Park was Henry August Meyer.  The son of an immigrant German father who had set up a grocery at North 3rd Street and Wythe Avenue, Henry first attended Carpenter's Business College, then spent two years studying to be a Lutheran minister at an Indiana seminary.  But he took sick, suffered some eye damage and returned to Williamsburg in 1878 at age 18.  Meyer, an astute businessman, grew the grocery business and in 1885 tried his hand at real estate by financing the erection of three 4-story apartment buildings on the same block as the family grocery.  After opening a second grocery nearby on Bedford Avenue, he then rose to leadership of the Retail Merchants Association and in 1891 he was lured into an unsuccessful Republican bid for Mayor of Brooklyn.  
Meyer Portrayed in Many 1891
Cartoons as a Country Grocer
Unqualified to Be Mayor of Brooklyn
Meyer's Grocery Depicted
at Wythe and N 3rd St
Building Still Stands


















Germania's Officers. John Dreyer Was VP for Meyer and Corbin





In the months before the election, Meyer and three nearby grocer pals pooled their money and bought farmland in Queens, just east of Ridgewood in what would become Germania Heights, a name that survives today.  But there was no room for expansion there and so a year later they incorporated as the Germania Real Estate and Improvement Company -- with the prominent, voluble, likeable and 300 pound Meyer anointed President -- and began buying up farmland in Flatbush.  

Vanderveer Park, initially nine blocks of land "as flat as a bowling alley," from Rogers to Brooklyn Avenues, and one block wide from Avenue C (later dubbed Clarendon Road) to Avenue D, was extended by seven more land purchases which pushed south to Farragut Road, west to Flatbush and east to Paerdegat Avenue.  

1894 Vanderveer Park Entrance Sign, Farragut, Rogers and Flatbush
3 years later a firehouse was built at 1367 Rogers Ave (just out of frame on left)
On a 40x102 ft lot purchased from Germania for $800 that still houses  
FDNY Engine 255 Ladder 157; the Enrights grew up a few doors down from the firehouse.
In 1902 Corbin Built An Apartment Building on the Far Right Corner.
1900: Meyer (L) With Judge Henry Steers, At Rogers Ave and Clarendon Rd
 Steers Became Borough President in 1909.  They Were Friends For 50 Years


The Vanderveer development pre-dated the other Victorian Flatbush communities but is hardly remembered today.  In fact, the word Vanderveer will usually evoke in long-term Brooklynites only memories of the Vanderveer  Projects (now the privatized Flatbush Gardens).  I grew up in the area in the 1950s and nobody called it Vanderveer Park then.  It was "Flatbush" or "East Flatbush" or "Flatlands."  And there is no neighborhood that presently claims the name. Today the term "Farragut" is most often used, although back in 1953 a Vanderveer Park Civic Association was formed to protest transit issues covering the area east of Flatbush to Albany Avenue from Glenwood Road south to Avenue M.  So, while Germania's "improvements" became the normative approach elsewhere, it appears that home construction in the
1907 Map Shows Germania Park Lower Right
area was more haphazard with not as many deed restrictions as to front yards and such.  The conversion of the largely empty wooded lands of the Flatbush Water Works after World War II into a huge housing development changed the contours of the neighborhood and its original pastoral feel was all but gone.  Traces of the original charm can still be found around Amersfort Park at Avenue I and East 38th Street, which was originally called Germania Park.


1918: Meyer Stands in Front of
His Home at 2509 Newkirk Ave.
His Treasurer August Schmidt
Lived at 2415 Newkirk Ave
Perhaps it was their initial training as carpenters or simply the interdependence of developers and builders but in any event Corbin and Meyer must have taken a liking to each other since their affairs were intertwined throughout Corbin's Flatbush days.  In fact, by 1902, Corbin's father was living on Germania Place, which was then notable for one structure: Meyer's new headquarters building which John R. Corbin built in 1898. 


Since the online world can take you only so far, I ventured out to the Brooklyn Historical Society to see if I could learn more about their relationship.  After slogging through three boxes of books, scrapbooks and correspondence, including a long privately published monograph on how he developed Vanderveer Park and Meyer's 1930 autobiography, I found evidence of their mutual interests but no direct references or communications between them.  In fact there were no communications, discussions, or anecdotes involving ANY builders or architects. 

But there were endless reminiscences of how Meyer negotiated land deals with the cagey rural Dutch land barons.  To read Meyer is to get the sense that all the Victorian mansions that followed upon his efforts were really an after-thought.  The important thing was Germania cleared the land, got the pipes installed, the streets paved and sold the plots.  After that, who cared?  Meyer does not even describe the home he lived in on Clarendon Road and East 32nd Street, lest he have to mention the builder or architect. 

I am led to believe that Meyer simply wanted to avoid
1894: Meyer Sells Vanderveer Park "Lots"
for $2900 - Only Sales Detail Found In Collection
discussing in print his financial arrangements with Corbin, Ackerson and the builders.  How else to explain his devoting a few pages to describing the handyman at the Cortelyou Club but not a word about Corbin et al?  In fact it is extremely curious that he devotes no attention to the sale of his land, merely mentioning that W. H. Goldey, the prominent broker, took out a full page ad and drummed up a lot of business.  He devotes much ink to the tough deals struck by the wily Dutch farm owners and is very specific about his purchase prices.  But as for his sales prices and to whom he sold, very little (see photo of letter from buyer above which Meyer saved to show he accepted bank checks in lieu of cash during a financial panic.)  We do know that Meyer paid for the building of his own house and several others.  But who did he hire?  Crickets...

Meyer,  Driesler,  Corbin, Ackerson, The Dreyers and Schmidt Were Cortelyou Club Members

Henry A. Meyer's Home: Clarendon Road and E 32nd In 1908. Note the Turret.

In any event, in 1902 Corbin claimed to a Brooklyn Eagle reporter, echoing almost word-for-word Meyer's assessment, that he anticipated “the overflow of the increasing population of New York…would naturally trend towards Flatbush,” which is why he moved there and started the business of constructing “model cottages.”  The Eagle's story about his expanding operations that year stated: "The new company [John R. Corbin Company] holds an option on nearly 1,000 lots south of Prospect Park, and proposes to erect its own lumber yard and planing mill on a big plot of ground, recently purchased, near the Vanderveer Park station, on the Manhattan Beach branch of the Long Island Railroad."  The option Corbin owned almost certainly originated from Germania which in 1898 had purchased from the Lott family the 100 acres lying between Flatbush and Coney Island Avenues south of Foster.  That equals over 1,100 plots of 40 feet by 100 feet -- from which must be subtracted land needed for streets and sidewalks, of course. Still, in West South Midwood alone, 214 one and two family homes on lots of 40x100 or 50x100 feet were eventually erected, mostly by Corbin and Ackerson, between Foster and the north side of Avenue H, from the Brighton cut to Coney Island Avenue.


1907 Corbin Ad

1908 NYT Report on Corbin Sales On The Courts


Corbin's shop occupied a crucial location at the Junction, next to the rail line.  Then situated at street level, years before the grade crossings of the LIRR were eliminated by depressing the railbed, Corbin's wood, stone, glass and metal could be off-loaded directly from freight trains to his factory.  

US Patent 813690 - Adjustable Door Jamb
In addition to his craftsmanship, Corbin was something of an inventor.  In 1906 he patented an adjustable door jamb and a 1908 profile of his plant chirped that his ability to churn out 1,000 houses annually "is made possible by the use of special machinery and tools, many of the appliances being the invention of Mr. Corbin." (Source: "Flatbush of To-Day" Vol 2, #1, page 104)  






Corbin's Building Styles

We now come to the buildings themselves. As the Landmarks Commission pointed out in its marvelous report designating Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park, it is difficult to determine how much the design of these homes owe to the architect or to the builder: "Architects may have done little more than file already-prepared plans obtained from a book or for Ackerson [and] Corbin...Also puzzling is the relationship between architect Benjamin Driesler and the John R. Corbin Company. [S]ome new-building records for standard Corbin houses credit Driesler as the architect; the records for many houses constructed later by Corbin, but in exactly the same models, list the John R. Corbin Company as the architect. It is unknown whether Driesler was filing plans prepared by the company, or whether these houses were original Driesler designs that the company might have later acquired the rights to, and filed for on its own." (Page 28) 

What we do know is that Driesler and Corbin, like Meyer and Corbin, seem to have been joined at the hip. Driesler lived and worked in buildings which Corbin erected and is credited as the architect for many of the homes Corbin rolled out when he first formed his company and began his assembly-line production. I prefer to imagine them working together to hammer out the five basic designs, which Corbin then altered here and there to maintain the individuality of the block-faces.  On the other hand, what the hell do I know? 

First, it is important to recognize that Corbin and Driesler were not letting their imaginations run wild. Their designs had to adhere to strict covenants instituted by the Germania company for all of the South Midwood expanse stretching from Flatbush to Coney Island Avenues. They prohibited any structures higher than three stories, and required “a roof of the character known as a peak roof such as is used in the construction of Queen Anne or Colonial cottages.” Lawns were mandated by rules setting minimum lot sizes at 40 by 100 feet; front fences were prohibited, as well as closed-board fences and fences higher than four feet at the parcels’ sides and rears; and houses had to be less than 30 feet in width “exclusive of the eaves of the roof [and] bay windows.” These restrictions remained in force until 1940, when in West South Midwood and elsewhere, homeowners voted to let them lapse in favor of voluntary compliance.

Per the Landmark Designation Report for Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park:
"[D]esigning and constructing suburban architecture during this period was largely a matter of 'embellishing simple forms' with ornament drawing upon a variety of styles, including the Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts, and the fading Queen Anne. Their work often exhibited a whimsical eclecticism, with multiple styles freely mixed on the same house in a decidedly non-Academic way, and in a romantic manner inspired by the picturesque architecture of the previous era. Frequently defying traditional style classifications, the residences created by these architects and companies have been termed 'Builder style' houses by historians James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell. While not all of the houses in Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park fit this description, many do, particularly those constructed by the John R. Corbin Company." [Page 24]

Corbin's houses incorporated three new styles (Foursquare, Homestead Temple, Bungalow) which had fully emerged at the turn of the century, along with older styles (Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival). Many of them featured gambrel roofs (roofs with a shallower slope above a steeper one) and gables. Although Corbin constructed most of the homes along Argyle and Rugby Roads, no two houses look alike. This is because of his use of models which altered the style for each. About the only thing these houses had in common, aside from being free-standing wooden frames sitting on massive, rough-faced concrete block foundations, were their rectangular footprints, peaked roofs, projecting bays on three sides and their simple elegance. Here are some descriptors Landmarks reported for Corbin's models and some exemplars on our blocks. Please note that Corbin eventually made 30 odd models and within each model there are many variations, so these descriptors are by no means all-inclusive! Wish I had more time to show all the exemplars!!

MODEL A:
Colonial Revival with a gambrel roof, a grouped window set within its front gable, projecting bays on 2nd floor, each with three windows, and one bay on first floor with a wraparound porch with Tuscan columns.  

Model A: 1409 Glenwood
MODEL B:
Dutch Colonial Revival with gambrel roof, bay windows on the second floor and sometimes an additional, single second-floor window.

Model B: 740 Argyle

Model B: 715 Argyle



MODEL C:
Crowned by a triangular gable that contains a smaller, off-center gable heading a second-floor three-sided bay window. Some models have a simpler gable containing a pair of windows grouped beneath a molded projecting lintel.

Model C: 721 Argyle
Model C: 722 Argyle


Model C: 732 Argyle
MODEL D:
A Colonial Revival-style foursquare featuring Tuscan porch columns, an off-center entrance set within a pilastered surround, and dormers crowned by pedimented gables.

Model D: 726 Rugby

MODEL E:
Homestead Temple-House with two small triangular gables set side-by-side beneath a diamond-shaped shingled motif, within the large triangular gable that crowns the house. 


MODEL F:
Much like Model G but without the Dutch details, featuring a 3rd floor gable with a turret.

MODEL G:
Drawing primarily upon the Dutch Colonial Revival in its gambrel roof and a small gambrel-shaped gable at its third floor, this model also features a horizontal ledge near the roof’s peak that forms the bottom edge of a triangular gable, lending a Classical element to the façade.  A picturesque arrangement of the main façade, with multiple roofs and an abbreviated tower juxtaposed against the gambreled gable, represent the declining Queen Anne style. 


Model G: 1908 Corbin Brochure
MODEL I:
A more modest temple-house featuring a two-bay, boxed-out second-floor window bay and an off-center gable at its third floor.   

Model I: 765 Argyle

The photos above were copied from the Flatbush Development Corporation's 2012 submission to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Victorian Flatbush's Request for Evaluation.

FDC Map: Brown = Not Yet Landmarked



A Sampling of Corbin's West Midwood Filings:

Oct 5, 1905: 1315 Glenwood Road
Plans Filed For New Building by
John Corbin and Benjamin Driesler
1315 Glenwood Road: A Corbin - Driesler Foursquare Creation


Sep 2, 1905: 667 Rugby Sold
667 Rugby Rd in 2016. Corbin Built in 1905. Uniquely Gorgeous!


Apr 25, 1908: 1320 Glenwood Sold









1320 Glenwood Rd

May 4, 1908: 1321 Glenwood Sold
1321 Glenwood Rd

July 17, 1908: 34 Dekoven Court Sold to Lambert Becker
34 Dekoven Court

Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Four New Building Plans on
Waldorf, Wellington and Rugby 

















Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Another New Building Plan
for Waldorf Court  

Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File New Building Plan for
SE Corer of Waldorf and Rugby









Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File New Building Plan for
West Side of Rugby Rd

Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Another New Building Plan
for What Will Be 750 Rugby Rd
750 Rugby Road (2016)
Gazebo-Like Porch


20 Waldorf Court (Circa 2005)
Same Corbin Model As 750 Rugby Rd
Slightly Modified
20 Waldorf Court (2016)


783 Rugby Road (2016)
Slight Variation of Corbin Model
Seen at 750 Rugby and 20 Waldorf



730 Rugby Road
Corbin/Driesler Turret

745 Rugby Road
Corbin/Driesler Turret
Take Two


Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Another New Building Plan
for Waldorf Ct









Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Another New Building Plan
for Rugby Rd

Sep 11, 1903: Corbin and Driesler
File Another New Building Plan
for Rugby Rd













1430 Glenwood Road:
Corbin Built It 1905

1929 Realtor Photo of 715 Argyle Road (Corbin Built It In 1905)
715 Argyle Rests on Big Stone Blocks
According to musty old records, the house at 715 Argyle Road was manufactured in 1905 by John R. Corbin in his factory along the LIRR tracks at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue I (he would later move to Mill Creek where Kings Plaza stands today and therein lies a long story below).  The house was then assembled on site in the Spring of that year.  Since the house rested on a ton of massive stones that formed the foundation, this meant
Basement Wall: Big Stones
the materials had to be conveyed by horse- drawn wagon over a mile, unless he had use of a freight car perhaps, to wheel the materials down the tracks from his Flatbush Avenue factory to Avenue H and East 13th - a straight line.  In which case the horse wagon would have traveled only a block.  As Corbin wrote in a contemporaneous promotional brochure: "...frames and beams, interior trim, [and] mortise and tenon work of Corbin Houses are accurately cut to scale … then conveyed to the site of building, ready to go into place, without readjustment or alteration." 

Original Corbin Stained Glass:

 
 

Apr 26, 1908 Corbin Ad
"25 Models" - Note
Jamaica Bay Locale
A Certificate of Occupancy was issued by the Buildings Department on May 5, 1905.  The porch was enclosed a few years after the garage was constructed, in May 1914.  None of the homes in the neighborhood were built with garages or stables - it was that brief interregnum in urban history when horse transport had given way to electrified trains for the transit of the masses.  Then on December 1, 1913, Henry Ford's assembly line started rolling and everybody wanted a car.

Corbin's own assembly line offered buyers a choice of five different basic models, which were later expanded to 30.  The Corbin homes in West South Midwood, as our neighborhood was then called, did not have as many wrap-around porches and some of the other fancier exterior embellishments that would be found in Midwood Park in the following years.  This was likely due to some smaller plots here and perhaps the Recession of 1902-1904 impelled more modest models.


Feb 14, 1909 Corbin Ad:
"30 Distinctive Models"

Nov 21, 1909 Corbin Ad: "B E" Models

We know that when 1905 rolled around, Corbin was setting his sights on another location: "In 1905...the Department of Docks granted permission to John R. Corbin to dredge and fill at Mill Creek between East 52nd Street and East 56th Street and to T. Curley to construct a bulkhead and to fill behind it at Flatbush Avenue." (Per Jamaica Bay: A History, Gateway National Recreation Area, Cultural Resource Management Study No. 3, page 73, by Frederick R. Black, Associate Professor of History, C. W. Post Center, Long Island University, for the National Park Service, 1981.)
April 1910 Photo of Corbin's Plant on Jamaica Bay, Opened in 1908.



May 1910: Corbin Sells Old Factory
Land by LIRR to Lehigh Coal Two
Years After Move to Mill Creek

May 1, 1910 Brooklyn Eagle
By 1908 Corbin's new factory at the foot of East 56th Street on Mill Creek covered 17 acres and was manufacturing a thousand homes a year he claimed.  Apparently, Corbin was leveraging his location on the Bay to receive supplies and ship his pre-fabricated parts via marine transport.  Because by this time he and Henry Meyer had become fierce advocates for the dredging of Jamaica Bay so as to create a port that would divert traffic from the teaming docks in Red Hook and along the East and Hudson Rivers.  The plan was to create channels in the Bay that could accommodate more ocean-going vessels and build docks, storage facilities and eventually a spur from the LIRR freight line to connect the port's freight with ground transport.  In fact, another associated project proposed the building of a canal to link Jamaica Bay with Flushing Bay.  All of this ferment was created in 1903 with the passage of New York State legislation to revitalize the Erie Canal with the building of a new Barge Canal.  Construction began in 1905 and wasn't completed until 1918 -- an eternity back then.  Millions hung in the balance as Manhattan competed with commercial interests in Red Hook and Jamaica Bay for the right to be designated as a terminal for all the new barge tonnage envisioned.

And so it came to pass that on December 10, 1907, Corbin nominated Meyer to replace Elwin Piper, the head of the Allied Board of Trade, as the leader of the Jamaica Bay Improvement Association.  Meyer was elected President, and Piper and Corbin were named his Vice-Presidents.
1910 Annual Report of the Jamaica Bay Boosters
Note Meyer is President, Corbin a VP and Boody, Kracke and Pounds Among Advisors
Looking over those serving on the Advisory Committee or as prominent members, one can find Louis H. Pounds, the developer of Ditmas Park, T. B. Ackerson and F. J. H. Kracke, then the Chief of Customs for New York Harbor, who would later serve as President of the West South Midwood Property Owners League while residing in a Corbin house at 784 Rugby Road.  In 1909 he and Meyer traveled to Albany to lobby for Jamaica's piece of the pie.

Nov 29, 1912 Brooklyn Eagle
These efforts bore fruit rather quickly.  Congress appropriated the necessary funds and in December 1912, contractors hired by the City began dredging operations in the channel between Barren Island and...wait for it...wait for it...Mill Creek, the site of Corbin's factory.  To celebrate, Meyer and Corbin threw a big party out in Rockaway Beach, chartering a special LIRR train to transport the Governor-elect, the Mayor and other big shots eastward-ho.  The news reports also add detail on the proposed Flushing to Jamaica Bay canal: a five-mile waterway (covered by a tunnel for part of its path) from the head of the Flushing River to Bergen Creek in Flatlands.   One wonders how much all this would have advantaged Meyer in particular, given his land holdings in Flatlands at that time.  We'll have more to say on this below if you can possibly stand it.  
Mar 17 1912 NY Times



Aug 11, 1912 Brooklyn Eagle
But to continue our narrative, by the time the dredging commenced, Corbin had already used his Mill Creek location to churn out all
the model homes that had populated East Midwood (1909) and Slocum Park (1910), then shipped 100 bungalow cottages to Saltaire, Fire Island (1911) and by 1912 was active in Jamaica Estates and Kew Gardens.  


1909 Aboard Boat in Jamaica Bay
Bearded Meyer 2nd From Right
Mustached Corbin Behind Meyer


1909: Meyer and Corbin, Side by Side (Top Row, Far Left)
At Jamaica Bay Dock

1909 Jamaica Bay Meeting
2 Blocks From Corbin's Home
1912 Jamaica Bay Shindig: Corbin and Meyer on Dinner Committee
Corbin Also Chairman of  Reception Committee
T. B. Ackerson  and Louis Pounds Also Listed
1913 Jamaica Bay Annual Letter: Meyer and Corbin Still Officers

1914 Jamaica Bay Annual Letter: Meyer and Corbin Still Officers
Corbin's Address of "Flatbush Av and LIRR Crossing" Never Updated
Over The Years to Indicate Jamaica Bay Locale. Tsk, tsk, tsk!

1914: The Annual Letter Itself Has Dim News

Of interest, the Jamaica Estate homes were to represent yet another set of models for Corbin, incorporating "pneumatic cleaners, laundry chutes, cold storage and other up-to-date devices."

But alas and alack, Corbin had over-expanded and got into financial difficulty.  By May 1913, his factory was sold by Meyer's Germania Realty to a large manufacturer who planned to use the newly dredged canal to ship its stoves and pipes.  

In 1913 The Foundering Corbin Sold His Factory to Germania (Henry A. Meyer)
Who Then Sold It to A Stove Company Attracted by the Waterfront Location
And a month later the once mighty John R. Corbin Company conducted a liquidation sale of its remaining Brooklyn properties.  The next year he bought a farm for his family in Wappingers Falls, located south of Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, and turned his attention to building homes in Westchester.  But as the market stalled with the onset of war in Europe, Corbin's financial resources dried up and by 1917 he was bankrupt.  The Corbin family informed Dottie that Corbin took pride in eventually paying back all his creditors single-handedly since Dreyer and Gooding simply walked away.
 
Thereafter Corbin's name appears only in sales records of swine reared on his farm.  Corbin's passing in 1937 was not recorded in any New York newspapers.  By the 1940 census, his widow Nellie was taking in boarders to make ends meet.  His descendants occupy the same farmland today.  [Thanks again to Dottie Wahl for her research on Corbin, which sheds new light on his later years.]  

May 1, 1913: Corbin's Factory
Sold to Large Manufacturer

June 7, 1913: Corbin Liquidation



1914: Corbin's Old Factory Buildings
Along LIRR Sold to Motor Co.
Bye Bye John Corbin
But We'll Always Have Your Court







October 30, 1917 Corbin's Filing Indicated Liabilities of $50,204 and Assets of $658
We fired off a wonderfully warm letter (or so said Dottie) to the town historian in Wappingers Falls but never received a reply.  I Googled his name and learned he calls himself "just your everyday 17 year old town historian" on Twitter (see photo).  Judging from his tweets, he appears to be a fan of Donald Trump.  So maybe he's been appointed Secretary of History.  If we receive more information, we will update the blog.
My Wonderfully Warm Letter
Town Historian











An Ackerson House on Westminster Road
Thomas Benton Ackerson was born in the Rockland County village of Rockland Lake in 1855.  He dropped out of school at the age of 11 and in 1874 he began his career at the Knickerbocker Ice Company.  According to Nyack resident John Patrick Schutz:
Ackerson in 1900
"Rockland Lake was known to have had the cleanest and purest ice in the area.  The stored ice was placed on inclined railroad cars, transported down the mountainside, placed on barges on the Hudson River, and shipped to New York City.  So much ice was shipped that Rockland Lake became known as the 'Icehouse of New York City'...The Knickerbocker Ice Company closed in 1924 as commercial refrigeration and freezers took the place of Ice Harvesting."  Ackerson may have anticipated the end of Rockland Lake's golden age because he migrated to New York and worked his way up the ice ladder here until by the 1890s he was winning supply contracts with the City of New York on behalf of the Consolidated Ice Company.  After some brief land dealings in the Ridgewood area, in 1898 he created the T. B. Ackerson Company and, with the assistance of his three brothers, began developing land in Flatbush.  Ackerson created huge chunks of Beverly Square East and West over the next five years, erecting single-family detached-homes to order.  

Oct 21, 1905 List of Ackerson Sales Includes "South Midwood"

As outlined in the Landmarks report on Fiske Terrace, thereafter Ackerson modified his development tactics: in South Midwood, South Greenfield, Fiske Terrace and West South Midwood, his company provided everything for the development including the construction of the roads and utilities; the construction of two-family homes using several set plans; and the financing of sale of the homes for the buyers.  In Fiske Terrace, Ackerson’s houses were built primarily along the courts, East 17th Street, Glenwood Road, and the east side of East 19th Street.

1903 Photo of Westminster Rd South
from Glenwood Rd (Ackerson Brochure)

1904-5 Photos of Westminster Rd South
from Glenwood Rd / CIA (Ackerson Brochure)
Ackerson's 1907 Brochure (Per His Late Nephew)
1905 Summer Work Gang on E 17th St
1905 Work Gang on E 17th St - Grading Almost Complete
Sep. 1905: Work Gang on Avenue H and E 19th
Some Ackerson Interiors in Fiske Terrace
1906: Most of the Ackerson Houses Are Sold


Jun 3, 1905: Ackerson Sales on Westminster Road
706 Westminster Rd
Ackerson, whose sales brochure (excerpts above) boasted of transforming Fiske Terrace “from woods into city in eighteen months,” was nothing less than beloved on the other side of the Brighton tracks.  He maintained a home at 1280 Ocean Avenue near Avenue H for many years (as did his brother) and was active in the affairs of the neighborhood association.  
Westminster Road Near Ave H
Westminster Looking North to Glenwood
Westminster Road Looking South to Avenue H
Westminster, Glenwood to H = All Ackerson Homes




  
 
But the same sad financial fate that laid Corbin low also befell Ackerson, whose company suffered a slump during the First World War and was put into receivership.  T. B. Ackerson died of pneumonia in his Roslyn home in 1924.

May 30, 1924 New York Times



Ackerson Grave Is In Strip
Between "Border" and "McDonald"

T. Benton Ackerson Grave,
Green-Wood Cemetery
Fence in Background
Is on McDonald Avenue

Germania Was Still Kicking In 1943
At Time of the Demise of Its Last Principal,
John Dreyer, Who Was Also An Original Principal
of The John R. Corbin Company

Nov 13, 1949 Driesler Obituary, Brooklyn Eagle



As we noted, Corbin is buried in The Cemetery of the Evergreens (opened in 1851, 13 years after Green-Wood), which occupies over 300 acres straddling the northeastern border of Brooklyn and Queens. 
Dec 27 1937 Corbin Obit
Poughkeepsie Eagle-News
Rev. John D. Wells of the South 3rd Street Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg was instrumental in bringing thousands of evergreen trees from upstate New York to plant at the cemetery.  Reverend Wells many years later would have a congregation named for him in the new development known as West South Midwood.  Worshipers would meet in the building Corbin built at Corbin Court in 1906 while worshipers awaited construction of the Wells Memorial Church at the corner of Argyle and Glenwood Roads.  It seems in turn of the century Brooklyn there were only two degrees of separation.

Corbin Graves In Red Circled Area Far Right
From: Nicole Segarra at theevergreenscemetery.com; 
Date: January 12, 2017 at 10:45:18 AM PST 
To: Dottie Wahl; 
Subject: Corbin Burial location
Hi Dorothy,
There are a total of 7 burials in Nazareth, lot#882.
J. Corbin 1906            O. Gooding 1924       D. Gooding 1924
Louise Corbin 1930   John R. Corbin 1937   Harold E. Corbin 1947
Nellie Corbin 1953  
Ace Researcher Dottie Wahl Strikes Again! Corbin's Father Died in 1906 and His Wife in 1953.
Here is a photo of the Corbin family burial plot in Evergreen. Unfortunately, there is no headstone for this less than famous man:

Corbin Burial Plot in Brooklyn's Evergreen Cemetery. Perhaps Appropriately, No Headstone Survives
 =====================================

And whatever became of Henry A. Meyer who sold most of the land he cleared and improved in West South Midwood to Corbin and Ackerson?  
Meyer, 1907: Noted for Vanderveer Park,
South Midwood and Jamaica Bay
 (Had Just Taken Over Organization)
Well, he served as the Deputy Dock Commissioner of New York under multiple Democratic Mayors, from 1918 to 1934.  In that position, he was instrumental in getting the Board of Estimate to approve a plan to revive his dream of a great port in Jamaica Bay.  But
1922 "Gowanus Bay" Barge Terminal
after Red Hook won the battle to become the Barge Terminal in 1922, the project morphed to dredging a channel to Paerdegat Creek, which would be damned and a bulkhead built, creating a rectangular Paerdegat Basin with rail links to the LIRR Bay Ridge freight line on both sides and another rail link to Floyd Bennett Field.

October 22, 1930: New York Times

[By the way, the reader may want to read my epic reconstruction of Paerdegat Lane in an earlier blog, here - skip the heart-warming memoir stuff and page down to the maps.]  It is fascinating how prominent a role Paerdegat Creek played during the suburbanization of Brooklyn.  The principal water supply for Flatbush and Flatlands up until 1947 was the Flatbush Water Works Company, which was owned by the scions of the old Dutch rural families; it drew its water from the Paerdegat Creek, which terminated at Nostrand and Foster Avenues, on the edge of the Vanderveer farm which Meyer bought in 1892...And where Flatbush polticos in the 1940s wanted to build a memorial to Henry Meyer...Finally, Friend of Argyle Heights Rich Dutton suggests "Farragut" Road, which was named by Germania (replacing the drab "Avenue F" on City maps), might have been their corruption of "Paerdegat" since the road ran right through the creek...Hmmm ...Interesting.  What we do know is that the popular explanation, that it was named after Admiral Farragut doesn't make much sense since the street originated 35 years after his Civil War fame.]  
1931 Paerdegat Basin Creation Near Ralph Avenue
In 1931 the work on the Great Paerdegat Project began.  But alas and alack Part Deux, the Great Depression had other fish to fry.  I'm sure if there could have been an automobile angle in this gambit, instead of (ugh!) boats and planes, Robert Moses would have saved the day.  [For more on this forgotten chapter of Brooklyn, see Keith Williams' marvelous "Weekly Nabe" blog here.]  

The channel and almost all of the Bay is now federalized and, giving the devil his due, we have Moses to thank for finally saving the Bay from being "improved," preserving a wonderful wildlife refuge (Moses even put an end to the City's garbage dumping there).  Still, every five years the US Army Corps of Engineers must perform maintenance dredging to ensure safe passage of the average annual commercial shipping of 560,683 tons, consisting mostly of petroleum, petroleum products, chemicals, sand, gravel, stone...but no Corbin pre-fabricated Victorian houses on their way to Fire Island.  Still, without Meyer's and Corbin's Jamaica Bay lobbying, there would have been no Cross-Bay Boulevard,  Floyd Bennett Field, Flatbush Avenue Extension, or Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.

Henry Meyer, Deputy Dock Commissioner, 1932
In 1940 Meyer drowned in four feet of water in a New Jersey lake after suffering a heart attack while out in a row boat by himself.  Efforts to name a park after him by a grateful citizenry were endorsed to a fare-thee-well and Robert Moses himself vowed action.  Then... nothing.  Until  a consensus emerged in 1947, with the condemnation of the Flatbush Water Works (which by then had become notorious for its poor quality), to convert part of that land into the "Henry A. Meyer Park".  But the post-war housing shortage led to the erection of 59 red brick buildings across 30 acres, the Vanderveer  Projects.  Still, at the corner of Nostrand and Foster Avenues, space was saved for a playground, which opened in 1953. 
2015: Nostrand Playground
[Full Disclosure: As a kid my brothers and I played on its softball and basketball courts all the time.]  Its name?  The Nostrand Playground.  A long historical note on the Park's web page notes the Dutch ancestry of the "Nostrand" name.  Nothing on Meyer.  

1920: Meyer Wrote Jamaica Bay
Article for Saturday Evening Post
By 1953, Henry A. Meyer, variously referred to in his lifetime as the Father of Vanderveer Park, the Father of Flatbush, the Father of Flatlands and the Father of Jamaica Bay, had become "Henry Who?"  Oh well.  Why should Meyer be different from all the other men we've just celebrated?  

1928: Meyer Seated, Right
Above Him John Dreyer
Reminiscing With Other
Retired Grocers (Left)

1928: Meyer at His Desk
As Deputy Dock Commissioner
Meyer had been living at 980 Ocean Avenue for many years when he died, having moved west from his Newkirk Avenue home.  His Ocean Avenue house, his block and the surrounding neighborhood were all designated by the City as the Ditmas Park Historic District in 1982.  The report failed to reference the influence that Meyer's pioneering Vanderveer Park development had on Louis Pounds, the Father of Ditmas Park.  But as we have seen, Pounds and all other developers played second fiddle to Meyer in most matters of importance to Flatbush.  

Meyer's Large Grave in Green-Wood

Meyer's Treasurer, August Schmidt Is Buried In Same Plot as Meyers

Steers Is Buried Alongside Meyer



So how do we sum all this up?  Corbin, Ackerson, and their construction contemporaries sprang from simple beginnings, aimed high, achieved much, got shot down but kept slugging until the end.  As we noted, Dottie Wahl was able to track down the heirs of John Corbin, who provided the obituary posted above.  Dottie reports that some years ago, the Corbins of Dutchess County made the trip down to Flatbush and walked around our tree-lined streets, marveling at this oasis of calm, appreciating anew the well-preserved houses of John Corbin, the Master Builder of Brooklyn.


A 2011 handbook published by the NY City's Department of Planning explains the new paradigm now adopted by the City for low density housing.  Basically, it mirrors the way Ackerson and Corbin laid out the blocks they built: the plots contained a front yard of uniform length absent fencing and the homes were not centered on the lot, leaving more room on one side
1908 Flatbush Best Seller
than the other.  Generally the side of the home facing the smaller side-yard had the staircase because there would be less need for windows there.  This provided more privacy for neighbors.  And finally, the peaked roofs allowed light and air for neighboring houses.  In a fitting coda to all this, at the back of Meyer's last scrapbook, he pasted Ackerson's 1904 photo of Westminster Road which contained this heading, from a book every Flatbush-proud citizen then owned, "The Realm of Light and Air":


West South Midwood aka West Midwood aka Argyle Heights: The Realm of Light and Air Meyer's Germania Company named the new development they "Improved" from Flatbush to Coney Island Avenues "South Midwood" and thus this stretch became West South Midwood which was shortened in the 1950s to just "West Midwood" but I prefer to call it Argyle Heights because...see my previous 679 blog postings for Pete's sake!
Meyer Himself Captioned This Photo by Hand as "South Midwood"


The A1A Guide to New York City (by the American Institute of Architects), after listing some of the earlier planned communities of Brooklyn, such as Parkville and Windsor Terrace, concluded: "These projects were never as successful as those in the quiet, lightly trafficked cul-de-sacs created by the railroad's cut on its way to Brighton Beach…Here is a classic case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, where the ensemble - rather than individual buildings - is the landmark."

Corbin Homes on E.12th St in "Slocum Park"

Corbin Homes on E. 14th St in "Slocum Park"
Slocum Park was a development which featured dozens of Corbin homes located between Coney Island Avenue and the Brighton line on either side of Avenue O, north of Kings Highway. Many of the Corbin homes there have been remuddled or rebuilt. The picture of ugly over-built boxes on East 14th Street above, to the right of a well-preserved Corbin house, might be a preview of coming attractions for West Midwood, Ditmas Park East, South Midwood, Beverly Square East, Beverly Square West and Caton Park, absent designation of all of Victorian Flatbush as an historic district.  
John Corbin in 1910

Oct 31, 1905 Ackerson Ad

June 2, 1908 Corbin Ad

Nov 17, 1912 Ad

Oct 20, 1912 Ad

Corbin Swine Sales, 1918

Driesler Biography, 1908

Meyer Biography, 1908

2016: Castle Brothers Imprimatur On Westminster Road

2014: Castle Brothers Imprimatur On Willow Street 
Ever wonder about these sidewalk "C"s you see every now and again in Brooklyn?  Well, in our neck of the woods, they were attributable to Germania, who hired the Castle Brothers to lay the cement sidewalks in their developments in Vanderveer Park, South Midwood and elsewhere.  Cementine is a mix of cement and pebbles.  See Walter Grutchfield's marvelous blog entry on the Castle Brothers here.



Lay of the Land Showing West Midwood (Upper Left in Red), Vanderveer, LIRR, Paerdegat Basin and Mill Creek

April 21, 1907 Brooklyn Eagle. Missing Are Meyers and Pounds

August W. Schmidt
Meyer's Treasurer
He was fined in 1887
For selling spoiled milk



Corbin Court Looking SE To Glenwood Rd From Foster Ave


A Note About Road Houses:


Tunison Road House NW Corner Foster and Coney Island Avenue
The road house above was in competition with the road house directly across the street from Corbin's property at the corner of Glenwood Road and Coney Island Avenue displayed in the 1911 photo near the top of this post.  The Tunison eventually served as the Parkville police barracks prior to the erection of the Lawrence Avenue precinct house (more on that here).

SOME  NOTES ABOUT  SOURCES:
We conducted some property research at the NYC Department of Finance's Land Records Office on the second floor of the
Land Records Strewn About. Tsk, tsk, tsk!
Brooklyn Municipal Building.  To get there, we had to pass through a metal detector, complete with a line of disgruntled customers seeking municipal services.  The Office was an unsupervised mess with records and folio books scattered hither and yon, broken microfiche readers (probably punched out by frustrated users angered at their exorbitant cost) and lacking only a sign advising researchers: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." 

Abandon All Hope, Researchers



On the other hand, the Brooklyn Historical Society Library on Pierrepont Street, off Clinton, was a study in contrasts.  Orderly, quiet, attentive staff and no misfiled materials.  The photos of Corbin and Meyer above, as well as the material about Jamaica Bay, cartoons of Meyer, and other items mostly derive from the Henry A. Meyer collection there, which consist of three boxes.  Many thanks to Joanna Lamaida, ace reference librarian there. The Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection, on the 2nd floor at Grand Army Plaza is not as romantically lighted but it's well run and the staff is aces.  Their electronic catalog of historic Brooklyn photographs is sensational and can be browsed here.

Brooklyn Historical Society Library
For Henry A. Meyer Collection:
Call # 1977.193



1999: Of Cabbages and Kings County


Highly Recommended

A scholarly work that masterfully recounts the transformation of southern Brooklyn from farm to suburb. And yet...nothing on Corbin or Ackerson or any other builders aside from a footnote.  Meyer's deals with the Dutch oligarchs gets a lot of space though.  Read it here.



1905: A History of Long Island
Excellent source for Flatbush and Flatlands players at the turn of the 20th Century. Read it here. 

1908: Flatbush of Today


Compiled by the chief editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Authoritative contemporaneous resource once you discount all the rose-colored observations. Read it here.


1982: DITMAS PARK LANDMARK REPORT:


Disappointing but Landmarks redeemed itself with Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park report. Read that magnificent 2008 report referenced throughout this post here.  Read the disappointing 1982 report here.



R2 Zoning Explained:
R2 Is The Zoning for Victorian Flatbush
2011 City Zoning Handbook

Read It here.

Still True in 2016
  
Let's Preserve ALL of
Victorian Flatbush









































Random Views of West Midwood (Argyle Heights) Above...Worth Preserving, Along With the Rest of Flatbush


UPDATED FEB 6 2017