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 (much of the western portion, including Argyle Heights, was woodland).  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of our neighborhood were arrested on election day in November 1908 for claiming addresses that did not exist on outdated maps used by the police.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