The Stories Your House Could Tell: 667 Rugby Road


Drama on Rugby Road!

(The Fourth Installment in a 220 Part Series)

667 Rugby Road

In March 2007, a fire originating in a neighboring building forced Eric, Darnell, Taylor and Savannah Newsum to vacate their beautiful Rugby Road home for more than a year during the rebuild. 

Eric's career in risk management was crucial in dealing with the insurance issues they faced, knowledge which he has generously shared with the community ever since. 

The Newsums have also shared -- with the rest of the world -- the interior of their first floor, which was used in 2017-2018 for a set of the  Emmy-award winning TV series, The Americans. The early history of the Newsum’s home is filled with other drama as well, so let's travel back 113 years…

Master Builder John R. Corbin in 1908

In the Spring of 1905 John Corbin broke ground for a new Dutch Colonial Revival home at the northeast corner of DeKoven Court and Rugby Road. It was one of the 500 lots he had just purchased from Germania Real Estate for $500,000, in the 100 acre expanse then known as South Midwood. 

The house was equipped with the most modern features of “suburban living” according to realtor ads: “electric lights, sewer, water and gas lines,” situated where “the air is pure and sweet, tempered in the Summer by ocean breezes…[with] water the purest in the land, since Flatbush has its own water supply.” 

On September 1, 1905 the Corbin Company sold this home to Alice Warburton, a single woman, who would maintain a financial interest in the property until 1935.

September 2, 1905 Notice in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Alice Warburton was born in 1867, the youngest of four children, in a three family building at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. 

Warburton's Birthplace (Left) Now A Community Garden

Her father, an immigrant from England, was a commercial sailor who became a Ship Broker with an office fronting the East River on South Street in lower Manhattan. But when Alice was four, Samuel Warburton died suddenly, forcing the family to move to a rental on Sackett Street, off the Gowanus Canal. 

In 1870 Sam Warburton Had Office Here on South Street
As a teenager, Alice worked as a housekeeper but after her mother (another British immigrant) died in 1889, she landed a job as a substitute teacher for the City of Brooklyn. She earned a teaching certificate in the Fall of 1891 and was assigned to PS 46 on Union Street, a 10 minute walk from her apartment.

1870 Census Lines 10-15 List the Warburtons. Father Was Ship Broker

It was also a 10 minute walk from that school to a boarding house on Clinton Street where Annie Knox, a “laboress” 20 years older than Warburton was living. 

1870 Census Newton, NJ: Knox Family Lines 13-22

A lifelong resident of Newton, New Jersey, Knox had just moved to Brooklyn following the deaths of her parents and was sharing rooms with a number of female relatives.

It seems likely that Annie and Alice met at about this time, because they would reside together for the next 40 years at a succession of addresses in Flatbush and Flatlands, and always with Alice as the head of a household which consisted only of her maid, Anna M. Knox.

In addition to teaching, Alice was a realty entrepreneur, buying properties, providing seller take-back mortgages to the next owner, and sometimes foreclosing on those loans, leading to auctions that would net her a pretty penny. 


Some of Warburton's Realty Dabblings:


In 1899 she bought a newly erected wooden frame house on Homecrest Avenue near Avenue V and moved there with Annie. 

In 1902 she bought another new home on East 17th Street near Avenue T where a New York State census found her and Annie in April 1905. 

Meanwhile she had been transferred to PS 134, at 18th Avenue & East 5th Street, which probably explains her next move, to 667 Rugby Road, in what was then being called West South Midwood, just before the new school year started. 

415 Argyle Road in 1940
In 1919 Warburton and Knox vacated Rugby Road for another elegant wooden frame house even closer to the school, at 415 Argyle Road (built in 1902 but demolished for a large apartment complex in 1961). 

1912 Mrs. Davisson Bottom Right
At the same time the owners of 415 Argyle Road – the Davissons, childless, middle-aged transplants from the Midwest – bought 667 Rugby Road from Warburton. 

1908 Mrs. Davisson Hosts DAR
at 415 Argyle Road
This would appear at first glance to be a house swap. Except that Alice also took back possession of 667 Rugby Road almost immediately and the Davissons moved to Washington. Not even a take back mortgage would explain this transaction, given the lack of a foreclosure, so it’s all quite mysterious.

In any event, Warburton then sold 667 Rugby Road to Frederick Ruby, who bought the house with a mortgage guessed it, Alice Warburton. [By the way, a Ruby on Rugby is rare indeed, so let's have a round of applause for our Proofreading Department!] 

Ruby, then 48 and childless, would frequently rent out the home, most notably to Herbert Ketcham, an esteemed retired judge who was waked there in October 1930 at age 80.

A Canadian Anglophile, Ruby was quite an interesting character. A coal retailer who supplied most of the homes in the neighborhood with fuel, he made his mark during the blizzards of 1914 when he hired a blacksmith who built custom sleds to carry coal shipments to his Flatbush snow-bound customers. 

January 1935 Ad. 100 Elmwood
Was at Corner of McDonald Ave
The smithy’s forge was conveniently located very close to Ruby’s coal yards on McDonald Avenue next to the LIRR freight line and he would later incorporate a business venture with him. 

December 1922:
Ruby & Smithy Tom Purdie Form Biz

1937: Tom Purdie, Last Smithy In Brooklyn

[Historical Note: In 1900 the behemoth Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the Long Island Railroad, including the freight line that traversed our neighborhood and ran all the way to a barge terminal at the foot of 65th Street in Bay Ridge. 

Those barges would ferry train cars back and forth between Brooklyn to the huge train yards in Jersey City, which provided freight interconnectivity to the rest of the continent. Most of the coal for southern Brooklyn was transported from the coal fields of Pennsylvania on those barges. 

As a result, coal companies sprang up all along the LIRR freight line. In addition to the McDonald Avenue site (called the Parkville Station), large sidings at the Junction (called the Vanderveer Station) also led other coal companies to locate there.]

1914 Jun 24: Paid for Shave
With Coal Stolen from Ruby

1917 Dec 1: Ruby Letter to Eagle
Re: Deadbeat Coal Customer

Alas, Ruby had marital woes. His first wife died suddenly in Marietta, Georgia, in 1926. Fred was then 54. He took another bride, Hedwig, 10 years his junior, in 1928 but Fred had a wandering eye. 

It all came undone in 1930 when Hedwig intercepted a love letter from Indiana. Shortly thereafter Ruby received a telegram from Evansville and dashed off. 

He was found months later in Nova Scotia by detectives who were following Ruby because he looked just like the infamous Judge Crater, then the subject of an international manhunt. Crater had disappeared in midtown Manhattan after dining with his mistress at the same time Fred left Brooklyn. 

The detectives informed Hedwig that at least one disappeared philandering New Yorker had been found and Fred returned home. But he remained unrepentant and in 1934 Hedwig learned Fred had changed his will to leave the Indiana mistress $20,000. 

A divorce petition followed which Ruby defended in court by stating that his Midwest gal was (GASP!) older than he was, implying I suppose that she was not a trophy mistress. 

 The newspapers had a field day and Fred, who was a very successful fundraiser for his local Episcopal church, was ruined.
Within six months of the scandal breaking, Ruby advertised the home for sale for $15,500 but there were no takers. 
1935 Apr 2: Warburton Forecloses

Not long thereafter Alice Warburton foreclosed on the Rugby Road mortgage and sold the house at auction. 
1941 Jun 16: Ruby Loses All

The final indignity befell Ruby just before Pearl Harbor when he lost his business and his McDonald Avenue coal yard in another foreclosure.

1910 St John Baptist Episcopal Church
Ruby Helped Rebuild It in 1930
Webster Ave & Ocean Pkwy
Replaced by Apt House 1970s

Annie Knox passed away in 1932 at the age of 85 in the fifth consecutive private house she shared with Alice, at 1251 East 32nd Street near Avenue L. 

A few months after Annie's death, Alice volunteered, along with 25 other homeowners in Flatlands, to organize financial relief for the needy on their blocks, the Depression then beginning to take a terrible toll. 

Alice also died in the East 32nd Street home, on March 12, 1937. Sadly, there were no obituaries for Alice or Annie and Warburton’s interesting realty dabbling went unnoticed by the press. Annie is buried in Newton and Alice was cremated in Queens. If Alice Warburton had been a man, one senses there would have been more attention paid to her life.

1940 NYC "Tax Photo"
Returning to our chronology, the April 1935 auction of 667 Rugby Road by Alice Warburton was apparently won by Theodore J.  Breitwieser, an attorney living a few blocks to the east, but his stay was brief since the 1940 census found new owners living there. 

And for the first time, the sound of young children could be heard in the home. Dr. Sidney Marshall Reiback and his wife Beatrice had a son and daughter, ages 8 and 4 respectively.
1955 Jun 27: Helene Reiback
Wedding Notice: Daily News

The daughter, Helene, a Cornell grad, married Adolph Bergere, a Dartmouth engineer, and he became a prolific home builder in Broward County where the couple relocated in 1957. 

After Adolph passed away in 2011, Helene journeyed back to Brooklyn and dropped by her childhood home. Darnell and Eric report that Helene was elated to see the house in such great shape since she had so many fond memories of living there.

The Reibacks were civic-minded. Sidney served on the board of the West South Midwood Property Owners League while Beatrice was elected president of the local women's chapter of B’nai B’rith. 
1960 Jul 16: Daily News

It is perhaps not coincidental that the Reibacks sold their home in the late 1950s to Joseph and Rose Handschu. Rose, a 5th grade teacher at PS 208, was active with the Child Guidance League and Save the Children Federation. In 1960 she received the human relations award and her daughter Barbara, a graduating senior at Midwood High, received the brotherhood award, both conferred by the B’nai B’rith.

In 1968, Rose Handschu sold the home to another physician, Stephen J. Seligman, and his wife, Carol, who were then renting an apartment on Ocean Avenue. 

By the 1990s, Dr. Seligman had become Medical Director of the AIDS Program at Kings County Hospital. 

1999 Feb 23: Daily News

In June 1999, having established the record for the longest owner-occupiers of 667 Rugby Road, the Seligmans sold their home to Eric and Darnell. 

The Newsums had been living in an historic brownstone condo in Prospect Heights with their young children, Taylor and Savannah, but like so many West Midwoodians over the past century, they just couldn’t resist the lure of “suburban living.”

The Americans Film Shoot Notice
The Americans Control Room
in Newsum Kitchen

The Americans Film Gear
in Newsum Living Room

Newsums Break Bread with The Americans
in Dining Room of 667 Rugby Road

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