OLD TIMES - Recollections of an Old Resident of Brooklyn
Thursday, 13 September 1877

Recollections of an Old Resident of Brooklyn
Turning Backward over Half a Century - The Cholera of 1832 in New York -
When Property Now Worth Millions could have been Bought for $1,000

Some interesting reminiscences of the early days of this city and New York
were presented in a recent conversation between an old resident of Brooklyn
and a reporter of this journal.  The old gentleman referred to from whom the
items of local history found below were gathered is still hale and hearty,
more active than many a young man of these days of artificial locomotion,
has a memory remarkable for its accuracy and evincing the possession of keen
powers of observation all through life, and a cheerful habit of mind which
shows itself in frequent humorous interruptions of his narrative.
Speaking of his first coming to this city, then and for many years
afterwards a simple village, he said:
My parents settled in Brooklyn in 1815 and though I was very young I
remember the night of the day when peace was proclaimed, and a grand night
it was!  The moon shone like polished silver and the air was bitter cold,
but not a soul retired to rest; for there was joy in very household that the
cruel war was over.
I began to work for a living first at Raymond's fur factory, then at the
foot of Fulton street. I received two shillings a day after the first week.
That looks small in these times, but in those times it was tremendous wages
for a lad.  My apprenticeship was served with Thomas A. RONALDS, stationer
and bookbinder, in Pearl street, New York, with whom I remained seven years.
During that time, about 1820,

Was organized over there, and I joined Engine 42, making the sixth man on
it.  We had a foreman, assistant foreman, secretary, treasurer, steward and
high private.  I was the high private.  William HAWK was one of ours.  His
father was drowned in the freshet during the hurricane of 1822.  That was a
terrible time.  The ruin and desolation were almost indescribable.  The
chimneys for blocks and blocks were cut off clean to the roofs; not a brick
left.  You will see today on all the old houses how the chimneys are bound
together with iron bars. That was the result of precautions taken after the
hurricane experience.  It was "locking the stable door after the horse was
stolen;" but there was a new horse inside.
The first brick building ever moved in this region was moved about this
time.  Maiden lane was widened then, and this house stood next to the corner
of Gold street and Maiden lane.  The contractor was to move it back some
distance; if he did it successfully he was to get ten thousand dollars for
the job; and if he injured the building in the operation , he was to forfeit
twenty thousand dollars.  He did the job to perfection as you may judge when
I tell you that the family and all their valuables remained inside, and when
the job was done there wasn't a thing disturbed.  Even a glass that stood
between the two windows in the third story was found undisturbed when they
got through.  The thing was talked of in the public press of the day.
About this same period a bad fire occurred in Maiden lane, and one member of
Engine 40, and the Assistant Foreman of No. 1, whose  apparatus was not at
the fire were so badly hurt that they died.  They had a grand funeral on the
following Sunday.

Here and in New York in 1832.  John Y. CEBRA was Alderman of the First Ward
in New York at that time.  He was a great wag and universally liked.  After
the cholera had been raging awhile the city authorities began to move in the
matter.  Something had to be done to ameliorate the condition of the people.
There was no business to be done.  A general scramble to get away from the
fearful plague took place down town, and you could walk for blocks without
meeting a soul.  The air was full of pestilence and the smell of the dead
was horrible.  The butchers around Fulton Market first started away and then
others followed, until every soul except those that could not leave was
gone.  At that time I lived at 111 Water street, next door to Mrs. MILLER's
tobacco factory.  John R. SOPER was appointed as a sort of city agent to
alleviate public suffering.  The sick had to be attended to and the dead
buried, and doctors and undertakers and ministers generally were no to be
had.  CEBRA gave me a letter to SOPER as a man that could and would help him
through.  I accepted the mission and worked right through with Mr. SOPER.
He asked if I wasn't afraid of the cholera.  I said "When our time comes the
cholera will take us, and we can't get away from it; it is no use to be
afraid."  From Wall street to the Battery there were houses and houses with
not a soul in them.  The "New York Courier" was published then and during
the worst of the plague they 

So as to inform the public of what they ought to know, for they couldn't
come down town.  The Old Jail, now the Hall of Records, was used as a
hospital.  July 6, 1832, while I was there, one of the nurses was telling me
about a number of hats he had from dead patients, which he was going to sell
for me.  I went off to Potter's Field with a load of dead, and when I came
back that evening I had to stretch him out in a box, too.  He had caught the
disease and died in my absence.
The next day while I was driving the wagon through Liberty street, I saw as
fine a looking lady as you could wish to see, and she was the very picture
of despair.  I was touched by her appearance  and hauled up the wagon and
asked what was wrong.  She said her husband had just died of cholera, and
she begged me to get her a coffin and a minister.  I told her it was
impossible to get her a minister, but I promised to get her a coffin, which
I ordered from James McMAHON in Pearl street.  Meantime, I put the body in
our pine box, and , lady as she was she helped me do it.
During this period I visited a three story house in a small street near the
Battery and there found a large number of dead, and 208 more or less
affected by the same disease.  The cholera was in Brooklyn, too; but my work
lay in New York.

I remember well the great fire that occurred among the ropewalks in 1817.
They were located in Concord, Adams and other streets of that region.  A
fearful fight took place there between two of the fire companies; but that
sort of thing is all done away with now.
I remember well "old Daddy Pierrepont," as we used to call him.  He had a
splendid orchard in the neighborhood of Fulton and Pineapple streets, and
many a time he chased me with a whip for going after his fruit - and didn't
catch me.  I received a legacy of about $1,000 about the time I got married,
and he had heard of it and wanted me to buy some of his land.  He offered me
for the $1,000 the whole water front back to Columbia street and extending
from where the "tea-water pump" stood, near Carey's building on Furman
street down to State street.  I wouldn't take it, though, and old "daddy"
said: "Young man, you'll live to regret that you didn't take my offer."
Well, it's worth something more to-day.

 "Yes," said the old gentleman, "my memory goes back over a period much
beyond your life and the life of most residents of Brooklyn today.  The
face of this city has changed considerably since I was a boy flying over
old 'Daddy' PIERREPONT's fences to escape the snapper of his whip.  He
was a good old fellow and liberal enough, and he used to say 'Come up to
the house and ask for what you want, take all the fruit you can eat, but
don't you steal anything.'  But boys will be boys, as 'old Pam' said
when they caught him kissing the chambermaid behind the door.  I can
remember as far back as sixty years ago; that's far enough for you,
isn't it?  When peace was proclaimed between Great Britain and the
United States in 1815, my parents were in Easton, Pa., and the night of
the proclamation there was not a pane of glass in any window that was
not illuminated.  Soon after that we came back to Brooklyn, which was a
small place then.  York street did not run out as far as it does now.
The house we lived in was on the angle in the middle of York and
Washington streets.  There was nothing but a narrow cartway running in a
zigzag direction.  After we moved out of it the house was turned around
facing the river.  Before that it faced to where the City Hall is now.
Several years after it was demolished, and the front part was made a
portion of the fence of a coal yard on the corner of Front and York
streets.  Probably there are not a hundred people living now that
remember anything about it.  There was then quite a large number of
hills between what is now Washington street and the Navy Yard.  On one
of these there stood then and for a number of years afterwards a place called
I believe the building is still standing, but in the course of time it
was lowered down considerably in the grading of the streets.  I think
the back of it now faces on what is now called Plymouth avenue.
"After remaining in Brooklyn for a time we moved over to New York again;
but we used to come to Brooklyn a great deal.  How did we come?  Well,
sometimes by a small boat; sometimes by a horse-boat.  The horse didn't
precisely walk across, but he walked us across.  He went around and
around, working a paddle wheel in the centre of the boat.  The Fultonian
invention was not in operation here then.  I remember as we used to come
over every Sunday morning noticing a woman in a one-story-and-attic
house now where a tea store is kept, I believe.  She used to be always
leaning on her elbows at the window, gaping at passers by.  We have many
of that sort of woman nowadays.  In those days, McComber's Gardens, or
as it was then called, the Black Horse Garden, was bounded by Fulton,
DeKalb, and Hudson;  and there the people used to go in great  numbers.
There were all manner of contrivances in it to furnish amusement for
visitors, and it was a popular resort.  I think the old house is near a
tavern - that is, what was once a portion of the Black Horse Hotel.
Before you reached the place you came to a grave-yard.  It was on Fulton
avenue, almost opposite where Bridge street comes out now.  In those
days there was also a pond on the southerly side of Fulton avenue just
about where Flatbush avenue begins. It was at times a great annoyance to
people who wished to go to Flatbush by the unmacadamized way.  I am
speaking now of about the year 1821 to 1822.  The last time we had
here was in 1822, and the time I refer to was prior to that.  After the
yellow fever broke out, a large fire occurred somewhere in the region of
Clark and Henry, or Middagh and Columbia streets. The old floating
engine belonging to New York came over to help us.  She ran her hose up
the high hill, and served the engine companies which put out the fire.
She was worked by men with a big iron bar.  There was some doubt about
the existence of this floating engine until I produced the documents to
prove it when the history of the old New York Fire Department was
compiled.  These records I have consist of the original certificate of
membership of my father-in-law and his discharge as a fireman of the
engine company, and the proceedings of the Common Council in recognition
of his integrity, ability, etc., and also a boatman's call or whistle
presented to him by the Common Council in recognition of his services.
I produced these records and supplied the missing link in the history of
the Fire Department from its foundation to its disbandment.
"How far up from the river did the built up portion of Brooklyn extend
in those days?  Well, not very far.  There was not a house then on the
front of the Heights down to the water except the old Eagle Tavern, and
that stood on piles nearly opposite what is now Pierrepont street.  When
you got up in the neighborhood of where the Brooklyn Theatre used to
stand, you were quite out of town, and where Carey's buildings are now
on Fulton street, from Pineapple up towards Montague, was old Mr.
PIERREPONT's farm; and many's the time that I  and others have been
raced out of there by the old gentleman with a horsewhip.  I thought
nothing of scaling a fence on the jump in those days.  His farm extended
all the way down to the river front, up to Fulton street, on one side ,
and I think to Montague street on the another.  In fact there was
in that part of the city then.  Where the Court House is now was John
DUFLON's Hotel.  He was Chief Engineer of the village Fire Department at
the time.  I think his son is now in the Sheriff's Office.  The same
hotel was afterward kept by Madame PRESTE for several years, and when I
came to live permanently in Brooklyn - that was in 1843 - there were a
great many balls held there, and I used to go to them, too, for I could
shake a foot in those day with anyone.  It was a popular place then and
many of the best class of people attended them.  I remember one time
during a big party there that John FOLKS sought to play a joke on me,
and told me that there was something wrong in the cellar and got me to
go down there to set it right.  When I got down, the rogue locked the
door on me.  But I played as good a one on him, for while he thought he
had me fast I came up through the coal bin and got through a little
window and went up stairs, and when I called out to him he came up and
was astonished to find me there.  We had a great deal of fun in that old
place.  But after Mrs. PRESTE left it, the old house was torn down and
reconstructed elsewhere, but I forget the spot.  However, there was
nothing more put up there until the Court House was erected.  At the
time I speak of there was a building put up by SNEDIKER as a livery
stable along on Boerum street in that neighborhood.  Mrs. PRESTE's hotel
had more frontage than the Court House, and there was a garden in the
rear with booths, walks and so on, for the pleasure of the guests.
Upstairs the ball room was kept.
"Going back towards the river, 
were then all wood; but after the great fire of September 4, 1848, when
they were swept away they were rebuilt of brick as you can see today.
That fire began in the building next to the corner of Fulton and Middagh
streets, where DREW kept a bedding store.  It swept across Fulton street
and destroyed many buildings.  Crawford SMITH kept a grocery store at
that time on Fulton street, three or flour doors above Middagh; and
Andrew HUGGS, the Coroner, kept a coffin store in the neighborhood.  But
they were all burned out.  Henry C. MURPHY's house was in Concord
street, near Liberty, and I and two others with the Chief Engineer put
two kegs of powder in it and blew it up to stop the progress of the
fire.  That checked it in that particular place, but the sparks were
carried away up the street by the wind, and many buildings a long way
off caught fire.
"Dominie JOHNSON's  church, on the corner of Johnson and Washington
streets, took fire several times, but we put it out every time and saved
the edifice.  The Chief Engineer at the time was Burdett STRYKER,
recently Alderman of the Fourth Ward.  I worked all night at that fire;
and I remember borrowing a chisel from a locksmith and bellhanger who
lived on Henry street above Middagh, near where the old Firemen's Hall
now stands; and it was strange, that chisel was the only tool saved out
of all his stock.  I do not recollect his name just now, but it was
George something - however, after the fire, the people elected him
"In 1850, pretty much all the buildings on Adams and Fulton streets,
almost up to Myrtle avenue, were raised up by timbers being placed under
them, but before they were finished a fire occurred and destroyed the
whole of them, catching first on the timbers underneath.  William H.
CAREY was the first to erect large buildings.  The courts were then
and that gave a fresh impulse to that part of the city.  But there were
comparatively few stores, except provisions and that sort of thing, in
the city in those days, and almost everything needed was bought in New
York.  There was then in the early days a little board fence in place of
the present Navy Yard wall.  I think the wall was put up in 1835.
"Going back still further again in 1820, we used to land from New York
in small boats generally, at a kind of dock at the foot of Fulton
street.  It ran from near where the ferry-house is now to about fifty
feet back, where there was a pump.  You had to go up a little rise in
the ground to get water, good water.  The old 'tea-water" pump was
situated about 150 feet from Fulton street, near the Furman street line.
It was called by that name on account of the peculiar taste of the
water, which was very cols and clear, and so pleasant that everybody
used to rush up to get a drink of it as soon as they landed.
"Mr. PIERREPONT's house, in the early days, was situated somewhere in
the vicinity of what is now called Columbia Heights - on his farm, of
course - but I can't say that I remember the precise location.  However,
I suppose I have talked enough of old Brooklyn for the present."

Carole Dilley