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Red Hook, Brooklyn, Mid to Late 1800s

This page is an attempt to look at what was happening in Red Hook, and to a lesser extent Carroll Gardens, from the mid 1800s to around 1900.

My ancestors, the Petermanns, Kettlers and Peters(en)s lived in Red Hook/Carroll Gardens in the 1880s and 1890s

When my husband and I moved to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn in 1992 we thought we were the first members of our family to ever set foot in Brooklyn - only to find out that we both had family whose first stop in the United States was in Red Hook, Brooklyn not far from where we live.

  • My great grandparents, Johann Berend Petermann and his wife, Sophie Petermann, (and their family) lived in Red Hook. They are thought to have immigrated circa 1882. Their son, Christian August Petermann, was born at 189 Conover Street in April 1883. Christian's Birth Certificate was signed by a German born midwife, Mathilde Ruppanner, of 121 Partition Street.

    Their time in Red Hook appears to have been short as they were living in Hoboken, New Jersey by the birth of their son, Wilhelm in 1884.

    See Johann Berend Petermann now or at the bottom of the page.

    The Petermanns were Germans from Ganderkesee and Elsfleth in the Duchy of Oldenburg, Germany.

  • My husband's great grandparents, Fritz Kettler and his wife, Johanna Peters, (and their family) also lived in Red Hook. Their daughter, Marie, was born in February 1886 at 206 Richard Street and their daughter, Gertrude, was born in April 1889 at 87 "Ferry" [Ferris] Street. Gertrude's Birth Certificate was signed by Mathilde Ruppanner, 53 Dikeman Str..

    By the birth of their son, Frederic, in 1891 the Kettlers were also living in Hoboken, New Jersey. Fritz Kettler died in Hoboken in 1896 and a few months after his death his widow, Hannah, place two of her children, Gertrude and Frederick, in the Brooklyn Orphan's Asylum using a Red Hook address. In 1901 she came to fetch them again using a Red Hook address.

    See Fritz Kettler now or at the bottom of the page.

    Firtz Kettler was from "Friesland". Friesland is partly in Holland and partly in Germany (called Ostfriesland or East Friesland). The family name in Holland was Ketelaar; in Germany it was Kettler.

    Johanna Peters was born in Norway circa 1860. I have not been able to determine the town. However, it was most likely a port town or city. She must have had family in the United States - most likely in Brooklyn. It is highly unlikely that a "decent" woman would have immigrated and settled alone in a waterfront environment. There was a large Norwegian community in Red Hook, mostly connected with shipping and the docks.

    See Hanna Peters now or at the bottom of the page.

Population of Red Hook in the late 1880s

In the mid to late 1880s the foreign born population of Red Hook was predominately Irish, followed by German. In 1886 the Brooklyn Eagle Almanac gave the following statistics based on the 1880 census.

Brooklyn had a population 566,663 - 177,694 were born in foreign countries.

Persons born in "Germany" included: 4,846 Baden, 8,099 Bavaria, 48 Brunswick, 506 Hamburg, 2,987 Hanover, 2,906 Hessen, 6 Lubuck, 131 Mecklenberg, 101 Nassau, 122 Oldenburg, 9,922 Prussia, 1,303 Saxony, 27 Wiemar, 2,765 Wurtenburg, 21,570 "Germany" - a total of 55,339 from the various German speaking duchies and principalities.

Notes: Germany was united in 1871. In 1880 a little over a third of the foreign population of Brooklyn was from German speaking countries.

There were 874 reportedly born in Norway.

Note: Less than half of 1% of the foreign population of Brooklyn in 1880 was born in Norway.

Red Hook Today

Today Red Hook is a section of Brooklyn that lies inland from the New York Harbor just south of the Gowanus Expressway and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Before the Gowanus Expressway was build in the 1950s Red Hook also included the neighborhood now known as Carroll Gardens. Red Hook and Carroll Garden were in Wards 6 and 12.

Why Did My Ancestors End Up in Red Hook

The Norwegians, Germans and other northern Europeans were drawn from the shipping centers in their home countries to the growing shipping centers in Brooklyn, especially in Red Hook.

  • The Petermans: Berend Petermann was "at sea" from 1859 (age of 16) until 1873 (age 29). He had been to the New York on several occasions between 1870 and 1873. By that time the North German Lloyd Lines (with whom he had served) were located in Hoboken. Consequently, one can assume that he was familiar with Hoboken. According to the 1880 census there were not an overwhelming number of Germans from Oldenburg in Brooklyn. The Petermanns did not stay in Red Hook very long. The immigrated to the USA circa 1882 and they were in Hoboken by 1884. Why did they come to Brooklyn at all?

    Berend Petermann was listed in the Brooklyn directory in 1884: "Benjamin" Petermann, butcher, home 189 Conover. This was their address at the birth of Christian in July 1884. In 1881 Henry M. E. Thorman was listed as a "provisions dealer" at 206/208 Conover. By 1884 Henry Thorman ran a pork processing and packing plant at this address. His establishment was destroyed by fire in July 1884. The stock, consisted of pork in barrels, in the course of preparation for curing, was almost completely distroyed. It was covered by insurance. In November 1884, Henry M. E. Thorman a pork butcher on Conover street, was sued in July 1884 to recover a promissory note for $30,000. He had used his Conover street house and lot as collateral. It is possible that Berend Petermann worked in the pork processing plant owned and operated by Henry Thorman. After the plant burned the Petermanns may have moved to Hoboken to find other employment. See Thorman

  • Fritz Kettler: Fritz Kettler born circa 1862 was a longshoreman from "Friesland". Firesland is either in Holland or Lower Saxony, Germany. On the 1900 census whch asked the birthplace of the father his children stated that he was from Germany. In any case, he too must have been from someplace relatively close to the sea.

  • Hannah Peters: Hannah Peters was from Norway. There was a significant Norwegian population in Red Hook by 1880. Most of the Norwegians in Red Hook were connected with the shipping trade.

View from Gowanus Heights circa 1840 after an engraving by William Henry Bartlett. Unsigned. The Delaplaine house is on the right. Red Hook is pretty much dead center.

Red Hook's Inception

Major commercial development started in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1840s with the building of the Atlantic and Erie Basins.

James Stranahan and the Atlantic Dock company hired local Irish laborers to build the basin at a wage of 65 cents for a 13 hour day. When the Irish laborers went on strike for better wages in 1846 the company sent to Germany for two boatloads of German laborers who were happy to have the free passage to America and were delighted to be employed at 50 cents a day. Riots ensued and the Irish laborers causes such a "disturbance" that the military had to be called in. They set up a line of cannons and protected the German laborers as they went to work. A certain level of animosity continued between the two groups well into the 1800 and 1890s.

The Germans were housed in wooden shanties along what was in 1872 Van Brunt street. Housing laborers in temporary shelters was a common practice of the day.

James S. T. Stranahan owned much of the property in the area. He hired the local Irish immigrants to cut away the high ground known as Bergen Hill and deposited the dirt in the swamp west of Hicks street. Many of the Irish workers squatted in Red Hook.

The Atlantic Basin, build in 1847 by the Atlantic Dock Company, was an enclosed safe harbor for sailing ships. The Hamilton Ferry was original started in 1846 to facilitate traffic to and from Greenwood Cemetery. The Erie Basin around the "hook" from the Atlantic Basin was opened in 1864. All three were important components in the development of the Red Hood area.

Red Hood/Carrol Gardens in the 1850s & 60s

"The Atlantic Docks had recently been built and the Hamilton Ferry established. The streets had many of them been graded, but there were few houses. A large hill extended from Forth Place to Degraw Street, and from Columbia street nearly to Gowanas canal, which was some forty to fifty feet in height, was being removed.

History of the City of Brooklyn by Henry R Stiles, 1870

1852: STORE FOR SALE OR TO LET - NEW THREE STORY BRICK STORE WITH DWELLING ABOVE, CORNER OF VAN BRUNT AND VAN DYKE - "first rate stand" for grocery or liquor store 20 feet wide by 50 feet deep, walls hard finished, folding doors, marble mantels on second floor.

1852: The Sixth Ward was a hive of building activity and street improvements. Conover, Richards, Wolcott and Dykemen street had recently been filled in, graded and paved. Houses were rising all over the area. According to the Brooklyn Eagle Mr. T. Bannon had erected four three story brick buildings on Van Brunt near the corner of Dykeman. The corner was said to have been occupied by a grocery. Nearby was an "elegant building" whose first floor was occupied by the liquor business of Mr. Cavanagh. See Cavanagh.

1853: FOR SALE - 7 valuable lots on the north easterly corner of Van Brunt and Partition streets. "This is undoubtedly the most valuable corner for business purposes in this rapidly improving neighborhood." 100 feet front on Van Brunt and 115 feet on Partition. Both streets were paved.

1859: For sale to mechanics "and other of small means" several three story brick dwellings on Van Brunt near the Atlantic Docks.

1860: For Sale - house and lot northeast side of Dikeman street 100 feet southeast of Van Brunt, thence southeast 25 feet.

Gas Lights were installed on Van Brunt and Imlay in 1861

1862: October

FOR SALE - 3 Story brick house and lot on Van Brunt near Ewen street, store on 1st floor with show glass window, gas fixtures, shelving etc., good for dry goods, milliners, "house in nice order" h 10 rooms in addition to the store, 5 minute walk from Hamilton ferry. $3,000.

FOR SALE - a small three story brick house and lot on Van Brunt street 4th house north of William Street, Brooklyn. Store on 1st floor, waster and gas, one family to floor rents 12 per cent. Easy terms.

1863: $"1,000 will buy the only vacant lot on the east side of Van Brunt between William and King street." 1865: February FOR SALE - Vacant lots near the Atlantic Docks, two lots each 25x100 on Walcott near Richard.

In August 1866 there was a cholera epidemic in Red Hook. There were 96 fatalities in the 12th ward and 19 in the 6th Ward in the last two weeks of August 1866. The neighborhood was described a filthy and filled with "low Irish".

The 1866 epidemic of cholera in Brooklyn was described thus:

Of 471, the number of fatal cases of cholera to September 29th, 224 occurred in the 12th ward. This ward is situated almost wholly on Red Hook, which was originally a group of small islands and peninsulas, intersected and overflowed by tide-water. Much of it is "made land," and all lies low and level, and is almost wholly without sewerage. The water still flows over portions of it, and stands in filthy pools on many of the lots lying below the level of the street, and are receptacles of animal and vegetable matters, which lie in large quantities exposed to sun and water. Throughout the ward the privies have close vaults, which, during the summer, were mostly found full, and in many instances overflowing. Part of the 6th ward is similarly situated and filthy. Examination of both wards by sanitary inspectors discovered a densely crowded population in some of the most sickly points, with various nuisances of serious detriment to health. Pigs, goats and cows were numerous; cellars were sometimes inhabited by families, or piled deep with filth and garbage, the accumulation of years, and slops were generally poured upon the street.

In all the quarters of the city where cholera appeared, with the exception of isolated cases, the population was of similar character, and the tenements were crowded and more or, less, exposed to the injurious influences of overflowing privies and accumulated filth.

The first case of cholera occurred on the 7 th of July, in the 12th ward. During the next week there were cases in seven different wards. The epidemic culminated in the week ending August 11th, when there were 109 fatal cases in the city, and after September 1st the number was inoonsiderable.

Its increase and decline were steady, and uninfluenced by weather or temperature. During the extremely hot weather of July, when the total mortality was immensely increased, chiefly by diarrheal diseases, and amounted to 390 in one week, the deaths from cholera were only 22, and the increase in the prevalence of the disease throughout the month was gradual and undisturbed.

(New York Medical Journal, Volume 4) 1867

Brooklyn docks 1916, Pictorial History of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Eagle 1916

This 1916 "Bird's Eye View" of the Brooklyn waterfront shows Red Hook in the left half of the image:

  1. At the extreme left, the New York Warehouses at the foot of Van Brunt st.
  2. Above the N. Y. warehouses are the Merchant Stores and the German America Warehouses
  3. Pretty much in the center is the Atlantic Basin, surrounded by the the various warehouses.
  4. Running through the banner towards the waterfront is Hamilton Ave ending at the Hamilton Ave Ferry.
Above the Atlantic basin is Governor's Island. And to the right of Hamilton Ave are the numerous other piers running all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond.


In the 1880 census the foreign born population was predominately Irish, followed by Germans. There were some Italians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, French, Belgians, Canadians, English, and Scotts.


By August 1881 the water front from the Erie Basin to the Atlantic Docks was "fringed" with warehouses, storage yards, ship yards and shipping.


An 1886 map of "part of Ward 12" shows warehouse lining the Atlantic Basin and Erie Basin. In the northern part of Ward 12 several manufacturing establishments were indicated: Eggleston Spring Co, Richardson & Boynton Stove Works, S. Brooklyn Iron Foundry and Steam Works, Hydraulic Pump Works, a glassworks, "Cheeseborough" Vaseline*, Atlantic Flour Mills, a sugar house, and a lumber yard, and Pioneer Iron Works.

Near the Eire Basin was the Brooklyn Fire Brick works.

Close to the bay at the southern end were the Manhattan Chemical works, an oil works, a lumber yard and a foundry. There was also a block marked "stores" which was actually the Lidgerwood Iron Works.

Warehouses and "stores" around the Atlantic Basin included: Atlantic Dock company, Finlay (Finley) stores, a "store" house between Bowne and Summit streets, Commerical Store houses, Franklin stores, Clinton stores, and Stranahan's Inspection stores. To the south on the bay near pier 41 were the German American Stores and the Merchants stores. On the waterfront at the end of Van Brunt were the New York warehouses and the Beard stores.

Public school No. 30 was on Wolcott between Conover and Van Brunt and P. S. 27 was between Columbia and Hicks on Nelson. There was also a Catholic school near the church of the Visitation.

Churches in Ward 12 in 1886 included:

  1. Visitation Roman Catholic at Richards and Verona. This parish was established in 1854 to serve Irish and Italian dock workers. The first church was at Ewen and Van Brunt. This building was later turned into a school. A second church was build in 1878 at Richards and Verona streets. It was destroyed by fire in July 1896. "the second building was burned on the night of Sunday, July 12, 1896, just after the interior of the building had been redecorated, even before the tools of the workmen had been take away." (Brooklyn Eagle November 14, 1898) The cause of the fire was never determined. The present church was erected in 1896.

  2. P. E. (Protestant Episcopal) Chapel on Wolcott near Van Brunt - listed as Christ P. E. Chapel in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle almanac of 1897 - AKA Christ Chapel - a mission chapel of Christ Church (Clinton and Kane Streets) Christ Chapel was completed in 1868-9. Maybe "Red Hook Mission" listed under Protestant Episcopal churches Rev. William Hyde in the 1886 Brooklyn Eagle Almanac.

    A building still stands at this location. However a cornerstone is dated 1899.

  3. The Norwegian Seaman's church on Williams (now Pioneer st.) between Richards and Van Brunt. The building still exists but it is not longer a church.

  4. St Paul's M. E. (Methodist) Church, corner of Sullivan street and Richards - celebrated its 9th anniversary. in May 1888. Listed in the 1886 Brooklyn Eagle Almanac. The building no longer stands.

    When it opened in May 1879 the St Paul's M. E. "mission" was located on Van Brunt between Sullivan and King Streets. The mission was originally on Williams street and known as the Williams Street mission. It was associated with the First place M. E. church "although not branch" of that church.

Red Hook's Shanty Towns

In 1872 near Van Brunt and Elizabeth there was a "shanty town".

Slab City near the Gowanus Canal.

Ward 6 and 12 in 1885



Opportunities for Sanitary Improvements in the Sixth and Twelfth Wards.

The Second Sanitary District also rivals the first as a breeder and preserver of nuisances, is bounded on the east by Atlantic avenue, on the south by Court street and Fourth avenue and on the north and west by the East River and Gowanus Bay. It has the Sixth and Twelfth wards within its limits and among the feathers in its cap are Slab City, Red Hook Point, Smoky Hollow and an Italian quarter. The Sanitary Inspector, William Ernest PALM, has a hard time of it.

Many of the sewerless streets of this district are densely populated. In Hamilton avenue, between Ninth and Court streets, the sewage goes to vaults and cess pools. Coles street suffers from an inadequate sewer between Hamilton avenue and Columbia street. In this part the ground is so much lower than the street that it is impossible to properly connect the vaults. Waste water here with all kinds of refuse in it is thrown into the street gutter and empties into the Columbia street basin. Seabring street, which is a continuation westward of Coles street, is sewerless though lined on each side by houses. It is also unpaved and causes a great deal of annoyance to the firemen of the neighboring truck and engine company. They have to make a long detour every time they were to a fire south of Columbia street. Luquer street, though having a big population in tenements and shanties, has no sewer at all. Columbia street, from Hamilton avenue to the bay, and Hicks, Henry and Clinton streets, between the same points, all are without sewers and need them badly, for they have very large shanty populations living upon them. Many of these streets are unpaved, notably Clinton, Henry and Hicks below Hamilton avenue, though there is a part of Hicks in that locality which boasts a bad attempt at paving. Richards street has a defective sewer, and away down on the Point are Wolcott, Elizabeth, Fern, Delevan, Browne and Tremont street, and also part of Conover street, all sadly in need of sewers and pavement.

It is only fair to say that these defects are in a part of the city which was, not long ago, all under water and which, were it not for the streets and breakwater, would be buried out of sight at high tide. The East Basin, the Brooklyn Basin and the Atlantic Basin with their piers and breakwaters, first bid defiance to the flood. Behind these intrenchments the city advanced lines of streets parallel with narrow Red Hook, and raised thirty feet above the level of the marsh. As the streets advanced the dumps followed and in the wake of the dumps came the shanty dwellers who have now - in the square mile of territory between Hamilton avenue on the east and the East River channel and Gowanus Bay on the north, west and south - over 350 shanties, with upward of 2,000 inhabitants, exclusive of fully 1,000 goats and great herds of pigs, flocks of geese and ducks. The filth of this part of the city is indescribable. In some respects it is worse than the Italian quarter of the Second Ward, and that Italians do not live in as filthy manner as they possibly can, but because the dwellers in "Slab City" - as this shanty town is called, possess superior natural advantages for being dirty. For instance, all dry spots here are raised heaps of ashes and refuse. With their dwellings built up by refuse heaps and the aforesaid immense pig wallows their backs, and another big pig wallow across the street from them, the "Slab City" people can get along very nicely and never find it necessary to go to Saratoga or the South or the mountain regions to restore their health.

A sunken lot, in which the contractor's carts are dumping ashes and the mixed refuse which people put in which them, presents a very busy scene. Goats, old women and little boys and girls mingle with the men and horses engaged in many strange occupations. Here, for instance, is one engaged in collecting cinders and coal either for her own home or for sale to her neighbors, for "Slab City" people have sworn not only not to pay rent, but also not to patronize the coalmen. Here is a group of little girls piling up fruit cans. When their fathers come home from driving teams or working along shore or doing something similar they will well a little space of ground in and put a wire netting over it and start a fire under the netting, and when they have got a very good fire they will pike the fruit and tomato cans upon the netting and then solder from them will all drip through while the tin will remain above and the cinders will float on top of the solder and they will skim the cinders off and let the solder cook, and when this is done they have a big slab of solder to sell and the cost of it will fill many a "growler". Rag and bone picking are carried on to a great extent by some of these shanty people and they have other strange trades too numerous to mention, by which the dumps help them to a livelihood if not competency. The young girls are trained up as professional Cinderellas from their babyhood and the little boys become junkmen before they are 7 years old.

In the lower border of this "Slab City" territory, from Brush street between Clinton and Columbia, the tide ebbs and flows through the drains which connect the sunken lots with the bay, with strength sufficient to carry out small boats.

Above this point the overflow from the pig wallows at the bottom of the other lots comes down through drains beneath the filled in streets. At high tide the water backs up through these drains as far as Huntington street. The furthest inland of the chain of ponds thus formed is only a block away from Public School No. 27, on Nelson street, near the corner of Columbia, at which 1,500 children attend. Within 100 yards of the public school is a vast public dumping ground, running westward for a long block, from Delevan street, between Dwight and Richards. A great deal of putrid and offensive matter lies on this dumping ground, mingled with the ashes which the contractors' men bring there. Among the worst of this decaying animal and vegetable matter may be classed refuse from the sugar refineries in the neighborhood.

Last spring Mayor LOW, with Dr. PALMER, the Sanitary Inspector of the district, the Commissioner of City Works, Chief Engineer VAN BUREN, and Commissioner RAYMOND, of the Board of Health, went through this shanty district. When the "Slab City" people found who was among them there was a great commotion. The result of the visit was seen in the fact that the city appropriated $23,000 for improvements in that locality. It has spent most of that amount already.

Hamilton avenue splits Dr. PALMER's district in half, and on each side of this central division line there is a totally different class of people, and the conditions of life are also totally different. Westward of Hamilton avenue is the solid Twelfth Ward, with it populous shanty town; eastward the equally compact Sixth Ward, with many peculiar charms of its own. In the Twelfth Ward among the shanties are portions of the big marsh which once dominated the whole district. In the Sixth Ward all is high and dry. Against the advantages enjoyed by the shanty dwellers the residents of Sixth Ward tenements can put their possessions of city water and the connection which their tenements maintain with sewers.

There is an extensive Italian quarter in the Sixth Ward, but it does not bear comparison with that of the Second Ward in point of dirtiness. The tenements occupied by Italians here are principally situated upon Union, President and Carroll streets, between Columbia street and Hamilton avenue, Union street being the central point of the colony. The Italians are of a very different class generally from the bone and rag and old metal collectors of Adams street and its vicinity. Some of them are merchants and manufacturers, and most of the others are mechanics, many being shipwrights.

About half the block on the west side of Union street, between Hamilton avenue and Van Brunt street, belong to Mr. KANE, a wholesale liquor dealer. He owns twenty houses and they are nearly all occupied by Italians. The houses upon Union street are good three story brick tenements occupied by Italians, but the vaults and cellars of these houses are in bad condition, sanitary regulations are not complied with and plumbing work is not attended to. Behind No. 22 Union street, which is one of the tenements belonging to Mr. Kane, stretches a row of brick two story cottages which are overcrowded. The vaults here need cleaning and many other sanitary measures would not by any means be out of place. In the rear of the cottages which have been described as running back from No. 22 Union st, Mr. KANE has a big brick stable, the upper portion of which comprises two stories of a tenement house in which about thirty families live.

All the Italians of this neighborhood seem to be careless in disposing of their refuse or the street gutters, as may be most convenient.

No. 14 Union street and its rear house have a model tenement landlord, an old German gentleman who bears the English name of BENNETT. He exhibits as much assiduity in complying with all the requirements of the Board of Health as Admiral PORTER did in "polishing up the knocker of the big front door" when he served his term in the lawyer's office. His tenements are pictures of neatness.

On the opposite side of Union street, facing the Italian tenements owned by Mr. KANE, Inspector PALMER point to a good looking red brick tenement house. "That can be called a smallpox hole," he said. "I have taken a good many cases out of there during the last few years. I don't know how they came to occur there, except through the sailors who come off the ships at this point."

Two pork factories were inspected in this district, BAXTER's in Degraw street, near Van Brunt, and GORMAN's, Nos. 150 to 156 Columbia street. In GORMAN's, which is much the larger establishment and which some times packs fifteen hundred hogs a day, the floors are wooden. The rendering room had a smell that seemed to be worse than anything the writer had experienced in the way of bad odors. The disposition made of waste matter is not good. A man was observed throwing something out of the second story gangway door, for instance, as the writer and his companion approached. The matter was examined and found to be "scrap" -- not a peculiarly nice article to throw upon the public street. In BAXTER's packing house the floors are kept dry. Disinfectants are mingled with the "scraps" and they are speedily disposed of in such a manner as to render them inoffensive.


One of the most interesting portions of the Sixth Ward used to be Smoky Hollow, but its glory has departed to a great degree. All that is left of it is the block of old tumbledown frame rookeries belonging to PATCHEN estate, bounded by Hicks, Columbia, Pacific and Amity streets.

As an illustration of the pristine simplicity of life in Smoky Hollow, and a trustful faith in the generosity of mankind, it may be well to give one incident. A gentleman has a a stable the manure vault of which obtrudes itself upon a portion of the property on which the houses of the Hollow stand. Time and again the gentleman aforesaid has, in compliance with the mandate of the Board of Health, covered over this vault with good solid boards and nailed them securely down. The inhabitants of Smoky Holly saw in this action a delicate method of presenting them with so much lumber, and with much emotion and more axes they modestly approached and removed the gift with all the delicacy observed in its presentation. After this ceremony had been repeated several time, the gentleman who owned the manure vault grew tired from some unexplained cause and the vault remains uncovered.

Buckingham Palace, another notable place, is a three story tenement situated at the corner of Pacific and Hicks streets. Its condition a few months ago as regarded the filth of apartments, hallways, vaults, cellars and all else connected with it was very bad. Vigorous action on the part of the sanitary inspector has induced N. H. FROST, on behalf of the FROST estate, of which it is a distinguished portion, to make necessary repairs and renovations and it shows great improvement as a residence. It has one great advantage over rival tenements of the locality. It is situated on the boundary between the Third Precinct, the width of Pacific street alone separates it from the Third Sub Precinct. It affords the greatest pleasure and entertainment to the ladies and gentlemen who inhabit the palace to sit at their windows on pleasant Sunday morning and "bullyrag" the officers of the Third Sub Precinct, who are powerless to cross the street to make an arrest. This dignified amusement is now one of "Buckingham Palace's" chief attractions.

Of Nos. 9, 11 and 13 Emmett street, Mr. Hugh DUFFY is agent. The owner lives in New York and the agent is not empowered to make some of the necessary repairs, and so the houses are in a bad way. The apartments in No. 13 which were examined served as specimens of all. They were in a dirty condition. The vaults in the back yards, used by upward of fifty families, were found in a similar state and their surroundings were equally bad.

The condition of Emmett street affords room for criticism. It gutters are filled with refuse and dirty water.

A large brick double tenement house, Nos. 363 and 364 Hicks street, which contains nearly fifty families, will bear watching. The principal trouble apparently is in the back yard, which is used as a refuse dump by the families. The reputed owners is A. H. HOWE.

All the streets in the Sixth Ward, with the exception perhaps of Atlantic avenue, need cleaning. They are ill paved and dirty.

This snippet of an 1877 Currier and Ives print shows Red Hook Point with Governors Island in the foreground. Directly across from Governors Island to the right of the sail boat is the Hamilton ave ferry. To its right, the long rectangular structure is the Atlantic basin. I am not sure that the smoke stacks are accurately placed but they do give the feeling of what the air quality must have been like at the time.

The Police Department

Red Hook was in the 11th Precinct.

The Precinct was "bounded" by Sackett street and 4th place to the north, the Gowanus canal to the east and the river and bay to the south and west.

By 1874 the 11th precinct was headed by Thomas J. Cornell and located on the corner of Van Brunt and Seabring in a building that the city rented. The facility was declared unfit to serve its purposes and to accommodate the police force who slept at the station while on duty. A committee was formed to determine what could be done to improve the facility or build a new station. Finally in 1887 a new location was found at the corner of Rapelye and Richards. It was opened in 1889.

For more information on the station house and the police force in Red Hook in the mid to late 1800s go to Police and Fire Department in Red Hook

The Fire Department

A paid fired Department was established in Brooklyn in 1869. A fire station located in Red Hook was especially importent due to the exceptionally high potential for fires in the warehouses and factories. It is surprising how frequently volatile substances like oils, tars and resin where stored or processed next to flammable materials like cotton and lumber.

Engine Company No. 2 was established with a fire house at Van Brunt and Seabring in 1869. The building still stands.

The first floor has been altered but the upper floor appears to be relatively unchanged.

Originally the company covered the 6th and 12th Wards and the area around the Gowanus and as far as Bay Ridge. By 1890 it's area was more limited and it did not go to the Gowanus until a second alram was sounded. By 1892 the district was bounded by Atlantic Avenue, the water front and the Gowanus, responding to 44 first alarm calls.

For more information on the Red Hook Fire Department and the men who served in it go to Police and Fire Department


Long Island College Hospital and St. Peter's Hosptial.

Brooklyn Museum, Library and Archive

Long Island College Hospital Henry Street near Atlantic - date unknown.


A 1886 map of the area shows two public school (No 30 on Wolcott Street and No 27 on Nelson near Hicks Street) and a Roman Catholic school on Verona street west of Richards.

PS 30

PS 30 - Conover street - Conover Street Between Wolcott and Sullivan - NYC Public Library digital collection Image 703801f

Conover Street, east side, from Wolcott to Sullivan Streets, showing Public School No 30. The part of the school shown in this view is on Walcott Street and was erected in 1868.

Board of Education of the City of New york September 4, 1930


In 1877 a local committee of Public School 30 "on Walker Street" near Van Brunt reported that the school was grossly overcrowded. The Looneys of Van Brunt Street and the Sullivans of Partition street were among the families who did not want to send their children to the overly congested school. See Looney and Sullivan

In 1882 PS 30, a Grammer and Primary School, drew children from the East River to Richards Street, Hamilton Avenue to the Erie Basin.

The school was enlarged (or rebuilt) and by 1930 was a four story brick building with white stone trim. PS 27

Public 27 School, Nelson Street near Hicks (later 27 Huntington Street) PS 27 opened in January 1861. The Brooklyn Public Library says the building was erected in 1869. It was enlarged in 1890, again in 1936 and once more in 1941.

Photo 2010, Maggie Land Blanck

Miss Agnes Y Humphrey was the principal of Public School No 27 on Nelson near Hicks starting in 1865. By 1872 she was running "one of the best managed and most flourishing schools in the city" with an average daily attendance of 1,200 children.

In 1872 Miss Humphrey was the principal when a "reunion of scholars" took place on December 7, 1872

No. 27, under the excellent management of Miss Humphrey, is in a flourishing condition and boasts among its scholars some of the most intelligent and precocious in the city."

Saturday December 7, 1872, Brooklyn Eagle

She was still a principal in 1889, although I am not sure she was still at No. 27.

Visitation School

Living Conditions and Health Hazards

Residential conditions in Red Hook in the mid to late 1800s must have been relatively miserable. The factories and "works" certainly exuded air pollution and noxious odors. There seems to have been a high incidence of fires and explosions.

Work hazards were numerous and included accidents and chemical poisoning.

Chemical poisons included: White lead and phosphorus. White lead poisoning was a danger in paint and chemical factores. Phosphorus was a danger in match factories.

Air Pollution

It was known in the 1880 that air pollution caused lung desease.

Asbestos was know to cause lung disease as early as 1898.

Two diseases are involved, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestosis (a dust disease of the lungs) can only be contracted as a result of the inhalation of substantial concentrations of asbestos dust over long periods of time. (Surveyor, Volume 130 1898)
Smoke and dust were constantly in the air in many factories. By 1860 it was known that breathing dust could cause lung disease. It was an occupational hazard of malt grinding in breweries, stone grinding, flax working and charcoal making.

There was some attempt to limit air pollution.

November 17, 1899:

As requested by Mr. Hammond, I started at 8:30 a. m. for Broadway, Williamsburgh. I saw thick black smoke in large clouds coming out from the chimneys of these establishments: Francis E. Frith, wood and coal, 118 Classon avenue; Johnson Bros., lumber, 45 Classon avenue; S. Tuttles' Son & Co., wood and coal, 596-614 Kent avenue; Brooklyn Cooperage Co., 142 Kent avenue; Chas. Pratt Mfg. Co., Ryerson avenue near Kent avenue; Havemeyer & Elder Sugar Refining Co., Franklin avenue near Manhattan avenue; the roundhouse of the L. I. R. R. Co., Borden avenue, Long Island City; Standard Silica Cement Co., Long Island City; Chelsea Jute Mills, Manhattan avenue near Bridge; Edward C. Smith & Co., box manufacturing, 420434 Oakland avenue; Thos. Morgan, Manhattan avenue; Oil Seed Pressing Co., Bedford avenue; Cheseborough Mfg. Co., Richard and Seabring streets, South Brooklyn; Casy's Rosin Works, Richard and Delavan streets, South Brooklyn; Ph. H. Gills, metal works, Richard and Bowne streets. I had only about one hour to go over the South Brooklyn section between Hamilton avenue and Erie basin. This territory has all to be walked over, and is quite large. I saw lots of black smoke emanating from chimneys at a distance, but did not have time left to locate them. Twenty more violators can be easily found in this district.

Looking from Kent avenue towards the East River I saw lots of tug boats; thick black smoke coming out from their funnels. From the Brooklyn side I saw a good many Manhattan violators.

November 18, 1899.

As instructed by Mr. Hammond, I went to-day through South Brooklyn; covering the district between Atlantic avenue, Third avenue, Fort Hamilton and the river, and found the following violators of the Smoke Nuisance Law: Roebuck's Planing Mills, 417 Hamilton avenue; John A. Casey, oil, etc., corner Richard and Commerce streets; Spery & Beale, mattresses, 141 King street; D. J. McNeal, Columbia Engineering Works, William near Van Brunt streets; Pioneer Iron Works, William near Van Brunt street; J. Hartley, machines, 69 Delavan street; Progress Machine Works, Delavan between Richard and Van Brunt streets; Henry R. Worthington, machines, Rapelye, corner Van Brunt street; W. H. Mairs & Co., wall papers, Sackett street corner Van Brunt street.

These factories are, except the first named one, amidst a thickly populated district, some factories in this district ostensiblv burn hard coal.

Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 31 By New York (State). Legislature. Assembly, 1900

Health Concerns - Malaria - the Department of Health

"Obstructed culverts and receiving basins, gutters, filthy from accumulated street manure, and stagnant water; sidewalks unsafe for public trave, and streets filthy with accumulated manure and garbage. " Culverts Report Health Department, City of Brooklyn, September 1873
Specific conditions were report at specific locations: Most of the reports for Red Hook listed "filthy streets and gutters" On the corner of Van Brunt and Van Dyke streets the sewer was obstructed.

Malaria bearing mosquitoes breed in stagnant water.

In 1895 it was reported that there were 608 medical cases admitted to Brooklyn Hospital in 1890 - of those 18 were malaria. No death resulted from malaria. In 1892 742 medical cases were admitted to Brooklyn Hospital - of those 27 were malaria and there was one death from malaria.

In 1902 there were 58 deaths from malaria in Brooklyn whose population was 1,169,776


General noises heard by the neighborhood regardless of occupation would have included: boat whistles, fire engines, explosions, factory machinery, blast furnaces, medal works, lumber sawing, escaping steam, construction thumps, the clop of horse's hoofs on the cobblestones, the rumble of carts and heavy wagons, squeals and whines.

In 1890 the sound of the well drill "thumped" for weeks when the India Brewing company was digging for water.

A steam driven hydraulic press was used at the Merchant stores to compress bales of cotton.

When the the exhaust steam was blown off it made a noise that sounded like a cross between the bellow of a bull and the scream of a tiger cat, which could be heard for nearly two miles. The people in the neighborhood were furious, as the machine worked day and night with a bellow or a scream every two minutes. One woman is stated to have died from the noise. The attention of the board of health was drawn to it and it was promptly suppressed.

Brooklyn Eagle, October 1, 1891.

Some noise would have been more specifically related to occupation and place of employment. The hiss of steam machinery must have been constant in some factories.


"The foul stenches of the manure factories are greatly intensified by the sewer gas emanations of Gowanus Canal - the receptacle of the Bond Street sewer. Into it is poured the sewage of a large area of the densest portion of the city; and here, in the midst of the foul emanations which poison the air of the region, thousands of workingmen in the coal-yards, barges and lumber-yards have to earn their daily bread. Thousands more have their homes in the immediate vicinity, for the neighborhood is fast filling up, notwithstanding its foulness, because men here find work, and because here houses are cheap at the time of May* moving; and many who avail themselves of their cheapness, sadly experience the reason of it on the first setting in of hot weather."

The Sanitarian, Volume 5 By Medico-legal Society, 1877

In 1888 odors from from Vaseline and and resin factories tainted the air.

Chesebrough Vaseline works and the sugar refineries used animal charcoal which apparently had a very unpleasant odor.

Petroleum refining was malodorous.

When the park at Richards and Verona was being discussed in 1895 it was stated:

"Another disagreeable feature was the location of an oil refinery to the north of the site. It was originally started by Libby & Clark, who continued it for years, when it was purchased by its present proprietors. As a financial venture it was and is a hugh success. As a result of odors coming from this factory numerous complaints have arisen, and petitions bearing many signatures have been sent to the city fathers."
The article further states that the oil refinery had a creek running through its property which emptied in the Buttermilk Channel from which arose some "very bad smells".

An oil fire on Dykemman near Ferris in 1874 must have sent plumbs of foul smelling smoke into the surrounding neighborhood.

*As crazy as it may sound, from colonial times until after World War II May 1st was a traditional moving day in New York and other cities around the country. Most leases were renewed as on May 1st, perhaps because spring was viewed as a good time of year to move. Thousands of people moved on May 1st every year!!!! See May Moving Day

Open Sewers

In 1909 employees who worked on the East Central Pier of the Atlantic Docks were complaining bitterly about a sewer that emptied out under the pier. Several men were said to have taken ill. The odor was terrible. It was believed that the sewer came from either the India Wharf Brewing Company or the "molasses house" next to it.
"It is not easy to see why andy sewer should be permitted to empty at this point, as there is a large trunk sewer on the other side of the block, running through Hamilton avenue and discharging near the Ferry." (BE)

[emphasis mine]

Similar complaints had been made for year by employees at Pier 11, further up the line towards Brooklyn Heights. The Chesebrough Vaseline company routinely dumped it's waste in shat is now Coffey Park. In addition, Chesebrough oil pipes which ran from the piers to Richards street sometimes burst spilling oil in the streets.


In the 1880s people wore more clothes than they do today. Women wore long skirts with petticoats. There was NO air-conditioning. There were NO refrigerators in the average home - NO way to make ice for a cold drink.

July 21, 1885 was one of the hottest day recorded in forty years. Among the numerous people sick and dying from heat issues in July 1885 was:

"Phillip Watterson, who lives on Columbia Street, Brooklyn, was overcome by heat while at work in the vaseline works in Richards Street." New York Times July 22, 1885

Two cases of heat exhaustion were reported in Brooklyn on Friday August 19, 1892.

To find relief from the heat people went to the beaches in Rockaway and Coney Island.

As many as five longshoremen a day were overcome by the heat on the Red Hook waterfront in the summer months of July and August.

Heat affected workers in iron foundries, boiler works, glass-works, sugar refineries, and other manufacturers. Workers need to drink large quantities to replenish their body moisture. Burns were a threat.


Many working class women did not own coats. They wrapped themselves in as many petticoats and shawls as they could find.

Men too put on layers of clothing. They would wear several pairs of pants, vests, socks, and jackets at once.

In February 1893 it was so cold in New York City that the harbor water froze to the extent that people could safely walk from the Long Dock at Erie Basin to Twenty-seventh in street in Brooklyn.

Coal powered steam heat was available in some private houses and public buildings by 1881. It may have also heated factories. It probably did not heat the dwellings of the working class.

Stores and saloons were heated with coal or wood burning stoves.

Work Dangers

In February 1872 Samuel McNab, laborer age 35, was severely injured when he was struck on the head and shoulders by a beam that fell 20 feet from a loft at the beard's Stores. He was taken to Long Island Hospital. As with most workers of the time he lived close to his job; In this case, at Conover and Wolcott streets.

In September 1882 Joseph Castilano, a sailor, fell from the foretop to the deck of the bark Riggieri.

In February 1884 James Rogers age 49 fell from the rigging of a vessel at Beard's Stores. He lost consciousness and was seriously injured in his back.

In August 1886 while hoisting bales of scrap iron from the bark Paladin at Beard's stores James Dowd was seriously injured when he was struck in the head by a piece of falling iron. His wounds were dressed and he was taken home to 118 Elizabeth Street.

In July 1890 William Caldwell of 88 1/2 Partition Street suffered internal injuries when a bale of jute fell on him while he was working at the Beard stores at the foot of Van Brunt street.

In September 1890 Frank Torra a longshoreman age 40 was badly scalded with steam while working on the steamship Hampstead at the German America stores. He lived at 42 Carroll Street. He was take to St. Peter's Hospital.

In July 1891 two men were instantly killed and several others were injured while unloading dynamite from the tramp steamer G. R. Booth, lying at the foot of Richards Street in Brooklyn. The dynamite was encased in wooden boxes and the stevedores claimed that the contents were not disclosed to them by the officers of the vessel, the head stevedore or the custom officials on the dock. They were in the process of hoisting one of the boxes from the hold when the explosion occurred.

The noise of the explosion, which occurred in a densely populated tenement house neighborhood, drew a great crowd of people to the wharf, but the gates were quickly shut and the throng was excluded (New York Times, JUly 15, 1891)
A hole was blown in the side of the ship and water poured in so rapidly the she sank at the pier. Most of her perishable cargo had already been offloaded. The boxes by law should have been marked as explosives.

In October 1891 Neil McCarty 56(?) years old of 11 Forth Place died after suffering injuries while engaged as a longshoreman at the foot of Richards street. He had been struck in the abdomen by a barrel which was being swung from the deck of a schooner.


There was a high instance of infectious deceases such as Yellow fever, small pox, measles, diphtheria, typhoid fever, TB (consumption) etc. near ports.

In 1875 the New York Board of Health remarked on cargoes coming from infected ports. Particularly noted were cargos of cotton, rags and hides. The Board of Health also was concerned with the dangers posed by ships that were coming from ports where sailors or crew may have contacted yellow fever, small pox and other infectious deceases. There was a check of vessels at Quarantine in the outer harbor but the population was warned to be alert to the spread of potentially fatal deceases that had slipped through the quarantine check.

The most common causes of deaths among children and young adults before the advent of antibiotics and vaccinations were infectious diseases: small pox, diphtheria, typhoid fever were among the big killers.

Mosquito borne malaria was an issue in Red Hook. There were many low lying lots where water pooled and bred mosquitoes.

Case I. A robust male, aged forty-three years, living in the part of Brooklyn known as Red Hook Point, a locality noted for malarial diseases. Previous to the prodromal neuralgia he had suffered from malaise, chilliness, and other symptoms frequently seen in chronic malarial poisoning. The advent of the zoster, involving the right intercostal region, was accompanied with a severe chill, followed by fever and sweating. Temperature twelve hours after the chill 100.5.

(Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York By Medical Society of the State of New York (1895)

Interestingly, it was reported that a high number of cases of malaria were contracted at Pope' Park, a recreational area near Greenwood Cemetery that was on high ground and was a place that the Red Hook population retreated to for some relief from the miasma of the low lying areas near the harbor.

Death and Illness in Ward 12 in 1890

WARD 12.

The total area of this ward was 756 acres, of which about 225 acres were water surface. The number of dwellings was 2,351 and the total population 27,368, making an average of 51.54 persons to the acre and 11.61 persons to each dwelling, with 4.43 dwellings to the acre.

This ward was almost entirely made land. Red Hook point being almost the central part about the original water line.

The ward was subdivided into three sanitary districts.

  1. Sanitary District A. - Bounded by Hamilton avenue, Van Brunt street, and New York bay. Area, 169 acres, 50 acres being water surface. Population, 6,688; number of persons to the acre, 56.20.

    The original shore line in this district followed about the line of Van Brunt street as far south as Walcott street. Much of this had been filled in. The Atlantic docks and other wharves were in this district.

    The buildings in this district were mostly large storehouses and factories, with some tenements.

    During the 6 year period the death rate in this district was above the city average, especially for the native white of native parents. For those 15 years of age and upward, according to birthplaces of mothers, it was 9.08 for the Italians, 14.68 for the Americans, 16.48 for the Germans, and 27.15 for the Irish.

    Scarlet fever, malarial fever, diphtheria and croup, diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, childbirth, diseases of the liver, and diseases of the nervous system caused more than the average proportion of deaths.

  2. Sanitary District B. - Bounded by Sullivan and Bush streets, Gowanus canal, New York bay, and Van Brunt street. Area, 394 acres, of which only 219 acres were land surface. Population, 4,768; number of persons to the acre, 21.77.

    This district was originally almost covered by water or within the marsh in the vicinity of Gowanus bay. The Erie basin was located in the southern portion of the district, which contained storehouses and tenements in about equal proportion.

    During the 6 year period the death rate in this district was much above the city average, especially for the foreign. For those 15 years of age and upward, according to birthplaces of mothers, it was lowest for the Americans, being 10.06 as against 22.81 for the Germans and 40.31 for the Irish.

    Scarlet fever, diarrheal diseases, consumption, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, cancer and tumor, childbirth, diseases of the liver, and diseases of the urinary organs caused more than the average proportion of deaths.

  3. Sanitary District C. - Bounded by Hamilton avenue, Coles street, Fourth place, Fifth street, Gowanus canal, and Bush. Sullivan, and Van Brunt streets. Area, 103 acres; population, 15,912; number of persons to the acre, 82.45.

    This was a large tenement district.

    During the 6 year period the death rate in this district was considerably above the city average, especially for the native white of native parents. For those 15 years of age and upward, according to birthplaces of mothers, it was 7.16 for the Scandinavians, 10.67 for the Americans, 24.86 for the Irish, and 18.63 for the Germans.

    Scarlet fever, malarial fever, diphtheria and croup, diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, measles, childbirth, diseases of the nervous system, and diseases of the urinary organs caused more than the average proportion of deaths.

    (Vital statistics of New York city and Brooklyn: covering a period of six ... By United States. Census Office. 11th census, 1890, John Shaw Billings)

South Brooklyn "Garbage" Dumps

In 1886 Brooklyn paid about $675,000 for the removal of ashes. Over 260,000 loads were carted to South Brooklyn where they were deposited in "low lots". These loads obviously included more than ash as they were the reputed hunting grounds of the South Brooklyn rag pickers. See 88 - 90 Sheriff Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan as a Microcosm of Little Germany (Kleindeutchland) for information and images of New York rag pickers.

In 1893 there were garbage dumps near the foot of Columbia street and on Van Dyke street "several hundred acres devoted to the ashes, kitchen refuse, and other rejected matter brought from a large part of the City of Brooklyn." The area was a miasma of rotting and festering matter. Many rag pickers frequented the dump which was surrounded by shanties inhabited mostly "by Irish". Although the keeping of pigs was forbidden in Brooklyn at the time, hundreds of hogs roamed "over the dumps and feast to their hearts content off the dead animals and carrion which find its way there." Goats were also plentiful. And chickens abounded.

In 1895 the Brooklyn garbage dumps were reaching capacity. Proposals were afoot to dump the garbage at sea. By 1890 New York City had been dumping their garbage at sea for some time as low lots in need of fill were getting harder and harder to find. But in 1895 the Brooklyn dumps still provided employment for a number of people who collected empty tin cans and resold them "by the hundreds" to medal dealer who recycled it.

In 1890 the Brooklyn dump was bounded by Court street, Dwight street, Bush street and the Gowanus canal. At one time this area had been under water. It had steadily been filled in with "garbage". The waste was collected from homes and factories and carted to the dump by horse drawn wagons. Technically it did not contain garbage (waste from food - which was fed to pigs) but mainly ashes and non degradable items. Old Men, women and girls and boys sifted the ashes for any pieces of coal that might be usable for fuel. Pieces of wood from broken crates, barrels and cigar boxes were retrieved. Old shoes were cut apart to recycle the leather to shoe repairmen. Pieces of iron, tin cans and bottles were collected. Many "tin" cans were made of tin, solder and iron. When burned in a hot fire the components could be separated and the iron sold. The dump was mainly the domain of the Irish who often squatted on the land in shanties constructed from the scavenge of the dumps. In 1890 there were about twenty five or thirty of such dwellings.

Frederick Klineau, a rag picker, born in Prussia circa 1815 lived near Columbia and Lorraine in 1860.

White Lead

White lead poisoning was a devastating condition suffered by many people who worked in lead paint factories.

There were at least two paint factories in Red Hook in 1869: J. A. H Bell and Willis and son.

J. A. H. Bell's paint was made with white lead. Manhattan Chemical also used white lead; they were sued in a white lead claim in Jan 1881.

White lead paint was made with "white lead" (lead carbonate PbCO3) and linseed oil. Turpentine or benzine could be added to increase the fluidity and allow for a smoother finish.

Workers in the white lead paint factories suffered from stomach complaints and convulsions; sometimes resulting in death. The children of women who worked in white lead factories were frequently born premature and often died from convulsions at a young age.

White lead was known to be poisonous as early as the 1802. Its association with painters and white lead factory workers was recognized at least as early as 1810.

"White lead, one of the most dangerous preparations of this article, is very largely used in the arts, especially as a paint. Its color and appearance are well known. It is most productive of disease to those who manufasture it, and to painters. Those who labor long in lead factories, become pale and sickly, and subject to colic of a peculiar and dangerous kind; to be described presently. We have had an ample opportunity to witness the terrible consequences of working in lead factories, in the southern part of this city. - Those who, by reason of a strong constitution, escape colic for the time, are apt, sooner or later, to be attacked with palsy.

The sufferings, however, of painters, potters, glass-makers, &c., from the fumes of white lead, or from working in it and handling it continually, are more certain, if possible, than of those who only manufacture it. So commonly are painters subject to colic from this cause, that the peculiar form of their disease has given rise in England and other countries to the name of painter's colic. The character which this dreadful disease puts ou, making proper allowance for the age, constitution and habits, and other diseases of the person attacked is in general as follows: It begins with short attacks of colic pains, I which become more mid more frequent, of longer duration, and of greater severity - so great indeed as to be almost insupportable. The mouth is very dry; there is a frequent inclination to vomit; and sometimes the vomiting becomes violent. Joined to these symptoms is a most violent constipation of the bowels. The intestines themselves appear to be so convulsed or cramped that nothing will pass; and indeed the very muscles in this part of the body are sometimes drawn into hard knots or lumps, and the whole region of the bowels becomes excessively painful to the touch. When the disease has reached this stage, if it is not speedily relieved, the spasms and pain becomes more and more insupportable; the costiveness become wholly unmanageable; the intestines become inflamed, and the bowels gangrenous, or, as we commonly say, mortified; and death ensues as a matter of course."

- Healthside Vol 8 page 86 From Alcotts Library of Health DOMESTIC POISONS

In 1827 the symptoms were described as follows:
"The symptoms which preparations of lead produce are obstinate costiveness, pain in the stomach, and vomiting; the pulse becomes small and hard; the respiration laborious and tremors ending in paralysis of the extremities, or death, ensue, when its operation is not counteracted by medicine. The exhibition of cathartics combined with opium or henbane, plentiful dilutions with mucilaginous liquids, the warm bath, and injecting mutton broth per anum, are the best antidotes."

(The Eclectic and general dispensatory: comprehending a system of pharmacy ... By American physician) 1827

And again in 1838
"White lead is the basis of most of the paints commonly employed, and as it affects the human frame injuriously through the lungs and the skin, as well as when taken into the stomach, we often find manufacturers of white lead, plumbers, and painters, who are all much exposed to the fumes or emanations of white lead, and also to contact with it in the preparation and the use of their paints, seriously and sometimes fatally affected with the disease called painter's colic. The symptoms of this disease are frequent recurrence of colicky pains, at first slight, hut afterwards intensely severe, with dry mouth, sickness, and vomiting of bitter matter of a dark green or almost black colour. Pains in various other parts are also very common, as in the arms and legs; and occasional sensations of numbness and muscular feebleness alternate with the pains. The bowels are usually costive, and the excrement is passed in hard round pellets, like that of sheep. To these symptoms succeed in most cases, sooner or later, either apoplexy, or partial palsy, particularly of the arms and hands, with a wasting of the flesh. The disease is frequent amongst painters, plumbers, lead smelters, colour makers, and other artisans, whose business leads them either to constant exposure to the fumes, or constant handling of lead in any of its preparations; and the same symptoms are the consequence of the protracted use of wine, cyder, or any article of food that is impregnated with this metal.

Should you ever he called to a person labouring under a sudden attack of painter's colic, you must resort immediately to purgatives and anodynes in full doses; an ounce or more of Epsom salts, or an ounce and a half of castor oil in the first place, and a quarter of an hour afterwards a small tea-spoonful of laudanum; but should the salts or the oil be rejected, give the laudanum immediately, and repeat the purgative in half an hour."

The village pastor's surgical and medical guide: in letters from an old ... By Fenwick Skrimshire

White lead poisoning and its association with painters and paint factory workers was widely reported in medical literature through the 1830s, 1840, 50s, 60's and 70's. The excepts above are just a small sampling of the coverage white lead poisoning got in the medical press.

In 1877 in Popular Science the pros and cons of white lead were succinctly spelled out:

"White-lead, as a pigment, is chiefly valued for its "body", and for the ease with which it is laid on; but it produces lead-poisoning and tend to lose its whiteness."
In 1875, Charles Dickens' The Uncommercial Traveller contained a short story ' A Small Star in the East' in which a woman who worked in the lead paint factory is described:
"It was not until I had spoken with the woman a few minutes, that I saw a horrible brown heap on the floor in a corner, which, but for previous experience in this dismal wise, I might not have suspected to be 'the bed.' There was something thrown upon it; and I asked what that was.

"Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and 'tis very bad she is, and 'tis very bad she's been this long time, and 'tis better she'll never be, and 'tis slape she does all day, and 'tis wake she does all night, and 'tis the lead, sur.'

'The what?'

'The lead, sur. Sure 'tis the lead-mills, where the women gets took on at eighteen-pence a day, sur, when they makes application early enough, and is lucky and wanted; and 'tis lead-pisoned she is, sur, and some of them gets lead-pisoned soon, and some of them gets lead-pisoned later, and some, but not many, niver; and 'tis all according to the constitooshun, sur, and some constitooshuns is strong, and some is weak; and her constitooshun is lead-pisoned, bad as can be, sur; and her brain is coming out at her ear, and it hurts her dreadful; and that's what it is, and niver no more, and niver no less, sur.'

The sick young woman moaning here, the speaker bent over her, took a bandage from her head, and threw open a back door to let in the daylight upon it, from the smallest and most miserable backyard I ever saw.

'That's what cooms from her, sur, being lead-pisoned; and it cooms from her night and day, the poor, sick craythur; and the pain of it is dreadful;"

In 1879 painters' colic was again described inA treatise on chemistry ... By Henry Enfield Roscoe, Carl Schorlemmer
"painters' colic is the chronic from of poisoning by carbonate of lead. The symptoms of chronic lead poisoning are pain in the abdomen, constipation, loss of appetite, thirst, and general emaciation followed by nervous prostration known as lead-palsy, epileptic fits, and total paralysis.

A very characteristic phenomenon accompanying chronic lead poisoning is the appearance of a blue line at the edges of the gums due to the deposition of lead sulphide. This line is often seen in the case of house-painters and the workmen engaged in white-lead works.

While the danger of white lead paint were known in the medical community it is not clear when the painters and paint factory worker may have become aware of its danger. In 1852 an article in the New York daily Tribune discussed the dangers of white lead paint. In 1879 the New York Times ran an article on painters colic and the effects of lead poisoning.

It was recognized in the popular press in the 1870s and 1880s that cosmetics containing white lead were injurious to ones health.

In a 1870 article in the Brooklyn Eagle Augustus Graham is credited with the development of the "buckle" method of preparing the white lead: "The process of molding is greatly shortened, and all handling dispensed with. This is an great gain in point of heath, as too much handling is extremely injurious to the workmen." While this reduced the actual touching of the lead the process was further described as putting the lead buckles in pots of vinegar or acetic acid which produced noxious "vapors". After a rather complicate curing process portions of pure lead are left in the pots. These are remelted, re-oxidized, washed, ground and dried. Then it is washed and ground again. Finally it is ground with oil. It is then ready for market. In 1870 there were reportedly five or six white lead factories in Brooklyn.

In 1881 Isaac Brown sued the Manhattan chemical company for $25,000 in damages for injuries suffered from white lead poisoning. I have not been able to find the outcome of this case. The Manhattan Chemical was selling white lead for only 8 cents a pound in November 1869.

White lead poisoning connected with paint was recognized as a health issue in the Brooklyn Eagle in1870, 1882, 1885, 1886 and 1897. In 1886 it was stated that the highest death rate per occupation was from lead poisoning common in plumbers painters and filemakers. White lead poisoning and the dangers it posed to house painters and paint factory workers was widely written about in the popular press in the 1880s and 1890s.

In the 10 years between 1883 and 1893, and estimated 1,043 people died of lead poisoning in England and Wales - 831 males and 209 females. Most of them worked in white lead factories.

In 1887 the output of white lead in the United States was estimated at 65,000 tons.

White Zinc Paints was introduced in the US in 1849 by the New Jersey Zinc company. It advertised as "one third cheaper than White Lead and Free from all poisonous qualities." Clearly there was an alternative to white lead paint from the mid 1800s. Mr. Collins, the practical painter, who is the foreman of painters in this Navy Yard, tells me that it is his opinion that the white Zinc paint is far preferable to white Lead paint. (Reports of the New Jersey Zinc Company, 1852 - Page 32)

It was claimed that white zinc was cheaper, more durable and had a beautiful finish.

The advantages of white lead paint were its ease of application and its enormous covering property.

Zinc white is still in use for residential painting.

Lead white was banned for residential use in 1978. It is still used for highway markings and such industrial uses as bridge painting.

Zinc White

Match Factories

There were at least two match factories in Red Hook in the mid 1800s: William H Rogers at Delevan and Columbia and Willis & son at 57 Seabring St.

In addition to the obvious danger of fire, workers at match factories in the mid to late 1800s were exposed to phosphorus and other chemicals.
  1. Workers suffered chemical burns.

  2. Effects of phosphorus fumes caused nausea and stomach complaints.

  3. Long term phosphorus exposure caused phosphorus necrosis - a kind of rotting of the teeth, jaw and other bones. There was a condition known as Phossy jaw:
    "caused by chronic occupation-related poisoning by elemental or yellow phosphorus which causes mandibular necrosis, in particular in factories producing yellow/white phosporus-based matches" (Segen's Medical Dictionary. ©2012 Farlex, Inc.).
    Phossy jaw was potentially an extremely disfiguring disease. This condition was know in the mid 1800s, with cases reported in connection with working at match factories as early as 1860.
    Poisoning by phosphorus has become so frequent in consequence of the universal introduction of chemical matches...." (Nov 22, 1860 BE)
    It usually appear after the worker had been employed in the factory for four or five years. 10% to 12% of the workers became effected.

    Phosphorus matches, called "lucifer matches" could be struck on any rough surface. They were invented in England in the 1830s. In addition to being toxic they were a fire hazard. The manufacture of phosphorus matches was gradually banned in the United States. They were replaced with "safety matches" which need a special stip to ignite the match. Safety matches were invented in Sweden in 1855. In 1910 the Diamond Match company patented the first nonpoisonous match in the United States.

  4. Children were frequently employed in phosphorus match factories to pack the matches in boxes. Women were employed to sort the matches. Men were employed to dip the matches in the phosphorous.

A fire in a match factory in the Bush Building in South Brooklyn indicates that there were sprinkle systems in use by 1915.

Industrial Waste

Rivers and creeks were basically used as a dumps. In Newtown Creek, which separates Brooklyn from Queens the situation was so bad that the river sludge dumped by Standard Oil company actually caught on fire in 1884.

Sludge acid and sludge tar, byproducts of oil refining, produced "foul and far reaching stenches". These and other byproducts of industrial Brooklyn were thrown on the ground and dumped in the river, canal, sewers and drains. Not only did this smell, it killed the fish and other wildlife and deprived the local population of a place to swim.

The Gowanus Canal which forms the eastern boundary of Red Hook is currently a EPA Superfund site.

In 1899 the Parks Commission reported on Red Hook Park. The park included a "shelter" house, toilet and fountain.

"In order to construct this park, aside from the planting, it was necessary to cart away over 13,000 cubic yards of ashes and other foreign materials, and to place there 20,000 cubic yards of top-soil and dressing."
Loss of Job to Illness and/or Injury

If a person was injured on the job they were more or less out of luck. There was little or no financial or other assistance for injured workmen in the United States before the end of the 1890s. If the injured workmen could prove that his injury was totally the responsibility of his employe he could sue for damages.

Seasonal and Other Periods of Unemployment

In the winter of 1893 the Brooklyn Eagle reported "hard times" and major unemployment and called Red Hook one of the poorest districts in the city with hundreds of people who were willing to work but could not find jobs. The pastor of Visitation church said that most of the people living in Red Hook were "of the laboring classes". Lidgerwood Manufacturing was said to be on the verge of closing "which would throw 500 men out of work". Wages at the "hydraulic works" had been cut and the "men were working half time". The Vaseline works and the stone works were "running on short time". Shipping was down. The only sector said to have been doing well in the previous months were the canal boatmen.

The canal boats plied there way between New York City (including Brooklyn and New Jersey). They were towed by tug to the Erie Canal at Albany. From Albany they were towed by mules along the Erie Canal to Buffalo. As winter approached they left their mules in Albany and were towed to New York.

Many canal boatmen and their families spent the winter tied up in the Erie Basin in Red Hook.

In April 1886 when Marie Sophia Kettler was not quite 2 months old the Brooklyn longshoremen went on strike. About 2,500 longshoremen were dissatisfied with their wages which were 20cents an hour. The problem was not the wages per se but the number of hours worked which might be only three or four house per day. The longshoremen were asking for 25 cents per hour and 30 cents an hour for work done after 6 o'clock at night. The longshoremen removed merchandise from the vessels. Other workers called storemen worked inside the warehouses.

Discomforts at home

Most people did not have running water. Cold water flats were the norm. Most residences and workers in Red Hook in late 1800s probably used an outhouse or a privy. There was no central heating or AC. Most people did not have electric lighting. Oil lamps, kerosine lamps and gas lighting were smelly and dangerous.

1881: A 47 year old woman attempting to light a fire in her rooms with kerosene oil was burned on her head and body when the can holding the kerosene exploded splattering the burning liquid all over her. Another kerosene related accident occurred at 83 Ferris street when a 12 year old girl attempted to light a kerosene fire with a match. The kerosene can exploded covering the girl with burning flames. She died a few hours later from her burns. A third incident resulted in a mother and her 17 year old daughter being burned around the head and hands when a kerosene can exploded as they attempted to light a fire. A women was burned when her clothes caught on fire while she was near the kitchen range. These are just a few of the hundreds of kerosene related accidents causing burns, disfiguration and death.

In 1893 a 73 year old woman at 83 Ferris Street died of burns when her lamp exploded in her apartment.

Discomforts at Work

Work hours were long in the mid to late 1800s. Thirteen hour days were common and 18 hour shifts were not unheard of. In winter this certainly indicated working while it was dark outside.

Gas lighting was popular in homes and factories in the late 1800s. With the advent of gas lighting in factories work hours were extended and many factories operated 24 hours a day.

There were two dangers connected with gas lighting: contamination of the air (in other words it smelled bad) and carbon monoxide poisoning. The quality of the light was not great, especially when compared to today's standards. In 1894 it was noted that it was difficult to examine dry goods under artificial light if the day was gloomy.

Electric lighting "apparatus" was advertised in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1883. Early use of electric lighting was pretty much confined to street lights and trams. The first electric power plant in the New York area opened in Manhattan in 1882. As early as 1898 electric lighting was available in some houses in Brooklyn. As late as 1901 Gas Light stock was advertised in the Brooklyn Eagle as "the brightest, cheapest and most powerful Artificial Light in the world." Homes and factories were converted to electricity in the US between 1901 and 1940.

Interestingly, incandescent electric lights were used on passengers ships before 1884. They were powered by horizontal steam engine dynamos.

Early Electrical Lighting in Homes By Steve O'Bannon, steve@rexophone.com Cool site with a lot of images relating to early electric lighting.

Street Dangers

Runaway horse wagons were an ever-present danger. The news papers were filled with stories of injuries incurred by out of control horses and wagons. Ice wagons and Brewery wagons seemed to be major culprits.

In 1851 improvements were being made on Dikeman street. Carts engaged in "filling in" ran over a neighborhood boy. He was so severely injured that he was not expected to live. A few days earlier another boy suffered a fractured thigh bone by "being run over with one of these same carts."

In 1902 a woman and and her six month old babe in arms were knocked down and badly bruised by a team of out of control horses from the India Wharf Brewery.

In 1905 Pat Moran a driver for the India Wharf Brewing co. left his horses parked while he went into a saloon to deliver a keg of beer. The horses became spooked and ran. To avoid running down a crowd of children playing in the street the animals crashed onto the sidewalk, breaking the glass windows of two stores. The horses were cut, but the children were fine.

In 1905 Walter Gill age 20 was "brushed" to the pavement when he attempted to stop a team of runaway horses pulling a India Wharf wagon. Before the team could be stopped the hub of one wheel tore away a tree box in front of one store and tore the awing off another. Gill needed to go to the hospital and the team driver was arrested for leaving his team unattended.

In 1907 a team of horse pulling an India Wharf Brewery wagon were spooked and ran away. The horse ran for several blocks before their "mad pace was checked" by the driver. Fortunately, no one was hurt. However, before the driver could get them under control, the crashed into a grocery delivery wagon which topled over and the grocery wagon horse also ran away - to be stopped several blocks away.


Large and small fires were an ever present danger.

House Flies

With the advent of the widespread use of electricity, including the concept of the electric motor to propel vehicles, it was speculated that the house fly would disappear.
House flies to Disappear

"That this industrious and exceedingly persistant pest is a product of the horse stable is so well settled as to be beyond controversy. If there are no stables in the city and no horses on the streets there will be no flies. (BE, December 30, 1900)

Child Labor

In many working class families both husband and wife would work until children were born. Then the wife/mother would stop working. The mother/wife may take in piece work or the family may live with parents or take in boarders to make ends meet until the children were old enough to join the work force and contribute to the family income.

Young boys worked as boot blacks, newsies, messenger boys and delivery boys. Young boys also worked in factories, especially in the shoe, paper, glass, weaving, lumber and tobacco industries. Young women were frequently employed in match factories, box factories, the garment trade and artificial flower making.

The Case of Frank Wiegel"

Frank Wiegel, age 15, of Brooklyn was injured when he fell asleep at a machine in the Henry Bosch wallpaper factory while working an 18 hour day. His injury occurred near two o'clock on a Sunday morning 17 hours and 55 minutes into an 18 hour shift. Through his mother and guardian, Anna Wiegel Dolan, he sued the company for damages and was awarded $10,000 - $5,000 for each of the two fingers he lost.

A child with a factory job could work 12 to 18 hour days six days a week.

In November 1892 F. Wiegel, 756 Third Ave advertised in the Brooklyn Eagle for a position as a house keeper. She listed herself as a "North German widow". The Wiegel family was listed in the 1892 state census: Fredrick age 40, Louisa age 40 and Fredrick age 14 in Ward 8.

In 1900 the Wiegel family at 756 Third Ave Brooklyn Ward 8, Kings, New York included: Wieger Fredrick, Head, Apr 1852, age 48, Married 25 years, born Germany immigrated 1866, Wieger, Louisa, Wife Oct 1854, age 45, Married 25, born Germany immigrated 1868 Wieger Fredrick A, Son Jul 1876 age 23, Married 3 born New York Wieger, Annie, Daughter in Law Aug 1877 age 22 Married 3, Wieger, Louis H, Grand Son, Mar 1900 2/12 (Could this be "Frank"?)

1910 Census 756 Third Avenue Ward 8: William J Dolen 46, machinist machine shop, Anna Dolen 31, Frank "Dolen" 12, William J Dolen Jr. 5, James E Dolen 2, Cornelius A Dolen 2/12, Cornelius Dolen 36, brother, laborer odd jobs.

1915 Census New York: 3rd Ave Brooklyn, W J Dolan 42, machinist, Anna Dolan 38, Frank Dolan* 16, paper handler, W J Dolan 11, James Dolan 7, Conelius Dolan 5, Margaret Dolan 4, Richard Dolan 1, Frances Diga 19, sister in law, machine hand.

* although the name is given as "Dolan" this must be Frank Wiegel.

1920 Census Brooklyn: Brooklyn Assembly District 3, Kings, New York - 3rd Ave. William J Dolan 54, boiler make machine shop, Anna Dolan 42, born Berlin, William J Dolan 15, James E Dolan 12, Cornelius Dolan 9, Margaret A Dolan 8, Frank Weigel 20, step son, fireman factory, Francis Dea (?) 22, sister in law. All of the Dolan children are listed with mother born Berlin.

In 1930 William, Anna, James, Cornelius and Margaret were living in East Stroudsburg, Monroe, Pennsylvania

Cartoon, Child Labor, Library of Congress

As this cartoon insinuates, hiring children was cheeper that hiring an adult, thus encouraging two evils, child labor and adult unemployment.

Child Labor Bulletin Vol 2

Getting Working Papers, New York, New York, Library of Congress

Child labor was particularly pernicious in glass works. See Batch, Blow, and Boys: The Glass Industry in the United States, 1820s-1900

Woman in the Work Force

There were several instances of Red Hook women (either married or widowed) running taverns, bars and/or restaurants. Married women were also midwifes and wet nurses. Widows were frequently janitresses, dress makers, seamstresses, laundresses, cooks and hat makers.

Single women worked in the Vaseline factory, garments shops, match factory, and the rope works. Single women also were teachers, stenographers, telephone operators, sales girls, bookkeepers, typewriters, cooks, nannies, chambermaids, cashiers, house keepers, waitresses, laundresses, maids, servants, "Bonnaz operators" (lace mill), milliners, neckware workers, feather curlers, artificial flower makers, small machine operators (like braiding machines), finishers, trimmers, and piece workers.

In the late 1800 there were a lot of ads for "Figure Wanted" - showroom. In general the ads were looking for a "perfect 36 bust". It appears that the women were trying on cloaks or other clothing for clothing manufacturers. One ad from 1899 seeks: "FIGURE "WANTED - 36 bust; must be experienced. Peter Samuels, 112 Prince." Peter Samuels was a manufacturers of fur cloaks.

If the censuses are any indication daughters of working class people worked in some capacity until married. Most single women in their late teens and early twenties worked outside the house in the late 1880 early 1900s in Red Hook.

Married women are VERY RARELY listed with an occupation in the census returns or in the city directories. However it is presumed that many women must have helped their husbands in the shops and taverns. A story reported in Hoboken tells of a women and her children who maintained the family's tavern during the day while the husband worked in a factory. In the evening the husband took over the running of the tavern. This was likely also true of business in Red Hook.

Widows, especially widows of small children, must have have had some type of employment, even though most widowed women were listed with no employment in the censuses. Quite a few widowed women were listed with occupations in the city directeries.

Women were employed at the Chesebrough Vaseline factory botteling Vasoline. See Vaseline

Women were employed at Worthington after it had moved to Harrision, New Jersey where they were employed as "core" makers and molders. I do not know if women worked at Worthington while it was still in Red Hook. See Worthington

In an area near the waterfront some women must have earned their living a prostitutes.

In 1889 "A large number of Brooklyn girls work in New York, pay being higher than in Brooklyn and the industries more diversified." Many "girls" commuted by ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. There was apparently a separate women's cabin on the ferry as indicated by a story in January 1907. A horse that had been pulling a wagon escaped his driver and found its way to the women's cabin. The ladies fled to the men's cabin and no one was able to get the horse out of the women's cabin. Several men tried and finally one enterprising young woman teased the horse out by offers of candy.

Some Red Hook Women who are know to have been employed outside the house:

  1. Mathilda Ruppanner, born Prussia circa 1825 was a mid wife. See Streets - 121 Coffey Street

  2. Dora Hammerstrom, a widow, ran a candy store at 121 Coffey Street. See Streets - 121 Coffey Street

  3. Meta de Groot, a widow, had a newsstand and cigar store at 382 Van Brunt. See Streets - 382 Van Brunt

  4. Catherine Buse, the wife of Frederick Buse, had a candy store on Richards street. See Streets - Richards street

  5. Mrs. DeMars, a widow, was instrumental in founding the Demars Kentucky Jean overall factory on Van Brunt street. See Demars

  6. Kunnigunda Siebe, a widow, ran a saloon on Ferris street in 1878. See Siebe.

  7. Frederika Barshaw was a junk dealer and owner of an iron foundry at 194 Conover. See Streets - 194 Concover

  8. In 1860 Mary Balfe the wife of John was a "store keeper" She was listed in the 1865 City directory Balfe, Mary A., fancygoods, 499 Columbia. In all other censuses she was listed as keeping house. See Balfe

  9. Elizabeth Bell the wife of John ran a boarding house and eatery. See Bell

  10. Margaret Behnken was an interesting character. See Behnken

  11. Margaret Brenner had a restaurant at 104 Van Dyke in 1891

    See Red Hook Resaraunt owners

  12. Gesine Brickwedel took over the family liquor store after the death of her husband. See Brickwedel

  13. Annie Cassin the widow of Thomas ran a liquor store at 307 Van Brunt. One son became a lawyer, another and insurance agent and her two daughters became school teachers. See Cassin

  14. Julia Collimore the widow of Michael had a liquor store. See Collimore

  15. Susan Dempsey sold oysters. See Dempsey

  16. How did Mary the widow of William Devan support herself and her young children? See Devan

  17. Ann Ropke Deppermann the widow of Frederick ran the family saloon. See Depperman

  18. How did Ann the widow of Thomas Doran support herself and her young children after he was murdered in 1877? See Doran

  19. Meta During the widow of Alfred had a newstand and candy store at 382 Van Brunt. Meta Gough had a hat store at 382 Van Brunt. See Streets

  20. Julia Fay, widow of Lawrence, managed a hotel. See Fay

  21. Elizabeth (Betsey) Hart know as Aunt Betsey was acknowledged as having owned and operated a restaurant at 21 Hamilton Ave. with her husband Benny.

    See Red Hook Resaraunt owners

  22. Gesine Helke Groh was married first to Herry Helke and after his death to Lorenz Groh. See Red Hook Resaraunt owners

  23. Ellen Kasserbrock ran a grocery store after her husband died in 1873. See Kassenbrock

  24. Amelia Herganhan Kuhn and her husband Francis, the parents of artists Walt Kuhn, ran a hotel that catered to ships and sailors. Kuhn

  25. Ann O'Brien Costello had a saloon on Van Brunt. O'Brien

  26. Phillipina Munsinger was left a widow with two small children. See Munsinger

  27. Julia Mullady and her daughters were dressmakers. See Mullady

  28. Mary Murphy had a restaurant at 72 Van Dyke.

    See Red Hook Resaraunt owners

  29. Margaret Murray was a saloon keeper after the death of her husband. See Murray

  30. Ann Shea, the widow of Kieran Shea, ran a hotel at 448 Van Brunt. Shea botom of the page.

  31. Anne Struck the widow of Herman ran a hotel on Van Brunt.

    See Red Hook Restaurant owners

In 1897 at the Vaseline factory in Brooklyn "girls" worked an average of 59 hours a week.

There were at least two "working girls" clubs in south Brooklyn in 1890s: The South Brooklyn club and the Red Hook club.

1889: Shop girls in Brooklyn worked from 7 till 9 every day except Saturday when they worked from 7 to midnight and Sunday (when the stores were closed) they were expected to get the shop in order. For this they earned $3 per week.

1891: First year primary grade teachers earned $300 a year. By year five they could earn $575.

1894: 2 Dec. A woman in "South Brooklyn" was making "fine preserves". She produced her goods in a three story house but was still unable to keep up with the demands for her produce. A jar of her fruit cost $1.00 - twice the price of manufactured jams. A woman in Flushing and another in College Point were producing "superfine " pickles. Around the city other women were producing ketchup, mincemeat, vinegar, apple butter, and pickled chillies. (The Sun, New York)

Ada C. Rehan and her sister, Kate, were stage actresses. They lived on Partition (later Coffey street). See Red Hook Celebrities

There were relatively frequent reports in the news papers of the arrests of midwives for "criminal operations" as a result of which the patients died. Another issue for midwives and physicians was not reporting a still birth or death of a newborn.

Death in Ward 12 in 1875

The 1875 census indicates 20 deaths in the 4th district of Ward 12: 13 children under the age of 4 years and 7 adults. The childhood deaths included: 2 young infants from inflammation of the lungs, one infant from spasms, 5 toddlers from diphtheria, one 4 year old with inflammation of the lungs, 1 toddler with cholera "infantum", 1 toddler with water on the brain, 1 eight month old with convolutions, 1 two month old with cramps. The adult deaths included: a 30 year old female with heart disease, a 22 year old female with consumption (TB), a 46 year old female with consumption, a 50 year old male with dropsy, a 51 year old male with heart disease, a 70 year old female with hemorrhage of the lungs, and a 43 year old male with congestion of the lungs.

The 1875 Census indicates 16 deaths in the 5th district of the 12th ward: 14 children and 3 adults. The childhood deaths included: 3 (ages 8, 5, and 3) from diphtheria, 1 three week old from "dispence", 1 two day old from anemia, 1 four year old from measles, 1 three year old from croup, 1 one year old from brown Meatus??, 1 four month old from convolutions, 1 one year old from dropsy, 1 two day old from spasms, 1 eight month old from congested lungs, 1 four year old from mamonia ???, 1 six week old from inflammation of the bowls. The adults deaths included: a 43 year old female from pneumonia and a 69 year old male cartman named Bernard Fox, from "Injuries". Bernard Fox, age 70, who lived at the corner of Hicks and Huntington fell off his truck which was loaded with molasses. The truck ran over him crushing his legs. He died in the Long Island Hospital from his injuries. (BR)

The Brooklyn Eagle also indicates there was smallpox in Brooklyn in the summer of 1875.

Social Services

Day Care

In 1886 a day nursery was run by the Children's Home Industrial School of the Brooklyn Children's Aid Society at 139 Van Brunt across from the India Wharf. It contained a kindergarden for "very small children" a sewing school and a day nursery for children under six years of age. It was opened from 7 A. M. until 7 P. M. daily except Sunday. It was housed in a plain red brick three story building with lots of windows.

In 1884 and 1885 ads were run in the Brooklyn paper looking for girls who wanted to learn to sew on a machine. 50 cents at the sewing machine school of the Brooklyn Children's Aid Society.

How to Cool Off on a Hot Day

Harper's Weekly, August 22, 1868, collection of Maggie Land Blanck, July 2013


People wore pretty much the same clothes winter and summer. Long pants and long sleeve shirts for men - long skirts and long sleeve shirts for women. In summertime the shirt sleeves might be rolled up. And in the winter women added more petticoats. In the winter people added more layers of the same type of clothing as they wore in the summer. Notice, that as hot as it is, most of the men and women are wearing hats.

One might hope for a bit of breeze near the water's edge. There was no AC.

Floating Baths

In an attempt to clean the "great unwashed" floating baths were introduced in New York City in the early 1870s. They were opened seasonally from June to October and were free to the public. The city considered them a means of providing cleanliness whereas the local population considered them a means of recreation. Originally the water in the baths was river water.

There were also private floating baths although I do not know if there were any in the Red Hook area.

On a hot summer day many men and boys would swim in the river in the nude.
Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Free Floating Baths, Foot of Conover Street" - Brooklyn Eagle Post Card, Series 38, No. 224

In 1877 appointments were made in Brooklyn for a keeper, assistant keeper and matron for "the floating bath" (no mention of locality). However, "The committee on Truant Home offered a resolution that the foot of Reed and Conover streets be designated as the permanent location of the new floating bath." (BE, May 1, 1877) 1879: Conover Street baths September 25, males, 1,161, boys 1,800, women, 540, girls 726 total 4,-27

1883: June 11 - The residents of the 12th ward were waiting patiently for the arrival of the free swimming baths at the fot of Conover street.

1885: Conover street baths admission for the week preceding July 27 - Men 3,203; boys 12,209; women 1,117; girls 1,700

For the season up to that point - Men 18,860; women 5,163; boys 56,891; girls 11,350.

1885: Aug - Complaints were received in Mayor Low's office about Public Bath No 2 on Conover Street. The baths had been opened at irregular times on Sunday July 26 and Aug 2 when a charge of five cents was made for admissions to over 1150 people. The money was received by the watchman. It was said the money was a fee for towels and "tights". The rules stated that a 10 cents deposit should be make for a towel and that upon the return of the towel a seven cent reimbursement would be made. It was recommended that action be taken to prevent the opening of the baths at irregular hours.

1885: Bernhard Doherty, former keeper of the Public Bath no 2 at the foot of Conover Street, went missing November 22, 1885. His body was found under a log in the river near the bath house, on December 4 with his watch in his hand and the time stopped at 2:47.

1889: Bath hours No. 2 Conover street: 5 A. M. to 9 P.M. week days and 5 a. M. to noon Sunday.

July 1889: During the week prior to July 29, 1889 more than 32,000 men, women, boys and girls had used the three city baths in Brooklyn. The highest usage was the Conover street baths.

July 1890: For the week ending July 20: Bath No 2 foot of Conover, men 1,375, boys 5,200, women 800 girls 1,300.

August 1896: August 10, during the previous week 63,559 men, women, boys and girls used the three Brooklyn public baths. " The greatest number of people went to the Conover street bath because "it is the only one in the Eastern district, nearly forty thousand went there last week".

New York Historical Society - www.nyhistory.org - March 2013

"Interior of a Swimming Bath"

Legislation was passed in 1896 to establish a free floating bath in Brooklyn's sixth ward.

Brooklyn floating bath No. 4 was at the foot of Conover street in September 1889 when a storm wave forced it against the dock and caused some minor damage.

In 1905 there were five floating baths in Brooklyn: Foot of Noble Street, North First Street, Dock Street, Conover Street, and 58th Street. The United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps gave free swimming lessons in all the free floating baths in New York City.

In 1906 the bath at Conover street was "towed to position" on June 11. It was still in existence at Conover street in 1911. The baths closed in September. In the 90 days the baths were opened at Conover street in 1905 they were used by 104,465 bathers.

The baths in Manhattan had separate days for men and women. I do not know if that was true in Brooklyn, but I would assume so.

Women of the ghetto bathing - Library Of Congress

Work and Wages

Longshoremen made $2.50 a day in 1875 (per 1875 census)

In 1886 there was a strike for better wages. The longshoreman were asking for an increase in wages from 20 cents and hour to 25 cents and hour.

Entertainment and Recreation

In 1895 after numerous lengthy delays it was announced that Red Hook was to get a park. The designated site was slightly larger than the present Coffey Park. It had been passed over by real estate developers due to its "low marshy condition". It was also next to a smelly oil refinery and filled with industrial waste.

There are lots of indications that the local Red Hook population found many ways to amused themselves. Frequently this involved excursions to parks in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens. Trips to Coney Island. Visits to Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey where drinking was allowed on a Sunday afternoon.

Ball Games

Baseball and cricket were popular pastimes for men and boys. Frequently church and work outings would involve a baseball game.

Picnics and Excursions

Most churches had an annual fundraising picnic in one of the parks in Brooklyn or Queens. Some businesses also had annual picnics. A part of the outing often included an evening promenade. Popular places were Pope's Park, the Schuetzen Park in Astoria, Bay View Park and Ulmer Park.

See excursions to parks below.

Excursions on barges and or steam boats were quite popular.

Dances - Balls

1891 February The Joppa Masquerade Largest Ball held at Saegerbund Hall this season: attendees Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Jayne, Mr. and Mrs Henry Hoehn. See Hoehn


William Struve, born circa 1873, the son of August Struve, grocery owner, became a musician. He was referred to with both a band and an orchestra.

May 20, 1894 KNIGHTS OF ST. JOHN AND MALTA an evening of a wide variety of entertainment which included a "character artist and mimic", a humorist, a comedian, a banjo solo, music by William Struve and more. In 1895 William C Struve was listed as a organist.

November 26, 1898 KNIGHTS AND LADIES OF HONOR a ball on Thanksgiving eve at the Argyle by Defender Lodge enhanced by colored electric light effects" and music by Professor Struve and the South Brooklyn Musical Glee club. There were at least two grand marches.

1902 William Struve's ban enlivened the Fritzen Club outing.


Clubs and Organizations

  • Fritzen Club

    Fritzen Cluba social organization of south Brooklyn, "under the banner of Herman C Fritzen", held its annual outing in 1902 at Stimmel's Whitestone Park in Whitestone N.Y. The excursion left Hamilton Ferry on the steamer, ISABEL with 500 on board. Professor Struves' band enlivened the "sail up the Sound". Sports included: 100 yard dash, 220 yard run, 440 yard run, half mile and one mile races, hurdles, and a baseball game. The base ball game was between the married men and the single men. The bachelors won 6 to 4.

    Mr. Fitzen presented the prizes.

    April 12 1902 the Herman C. Fritzen Social Club of the Sixth Ward held its monthly "stag" at Carroll Hall, Carroll and Columbia streets, There were vaudeville acts and refreshments. The Fritzen club had been organized the previous November and had a membership of 150.

  • Carnation Social Club: held it second annual reception at the Weinlander academy February 1892.

  • Knights of St. John and Malta:

  • The Teutonia Saengerbund of South Brooklyn: held it annual ball at the Saengerbund Hall on Schermerhorn and Smith Streets in November 1902.

  • Gowanus Tern Verein:

  • Brooklyn Quartet Club:

  • Nordeutsch Schwestern:

  • Humbold Quartet Club

  • Indian Wharf Benefit Association


  • St Stephens Young Men's Union

  • The Irish Brigade

  • Clan Na Gail

  • Irish Societies

  • Irish Societies were invited to participate in the annual St. Patrick's day parade in 1879.

    St. Patrick's Day was regularly celebrated with parades and dinners.

    In 1883 at the 34th annual St. Patrick's day dinner 175 Irishmen celebrated at Mansion house. They included George W Balfe, Peter J. Kelly, Thomas Sheridan and James S Donovan. See Blafe, Madigan/Kelly, Sheridan, Donovan. There were songs, speeches, toasts and a call for Home Rule.


See floating baths above. Young boys dove and swam in the waters around Red Hook.

Boat Races

Yacht races started out of Gowanus Bay.


Crab, snapper, Lafayettes (a bright hued silvery fish), stripped bass and eels were caught off of Beard's Farm and by the Buttermilk Channel. Old times remember lobsters, oysters and mussels but by 1893 they were scarce.


See Saloons in Red Hook


In 1906 a Gospel ship was moored along the Red Hook Dock and crowds would attend the services provided.

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, July 2013

Brooklyn Sunday School Celebration - Harper's Bazar, June 20, 1874

Leslie's History of New York Vol II Brooklyn

The Annual Brooklyn Sunday School Parade

Over 80,000 children marches in the sixty-eighth Sunday School Parade in May 1897. In 1934 over 100,000 children marches. The Sunday School Parade was still popular in the 1950s.

Brooklyn Visual Heritage

Excursions to Parks

Popular excursion destinations from Red Hook were to the Scheutzen parks in Astoria, Queens and Union City, New Jersey, Pope's Park near Greenwood Cemetery, Ulmer Park at Gravesend, Koch's Bay View Park and Coney Island.

The church picnics usually involved games, such as egg races, relay races, standing leaps, running leaps, and running races for men and boys. Picnics for some organizations might involve ethnic music like harps, pipes and fiddles for the Irish societies, ump pah pah bands for the German societies.

At the 1877 Visitation Church's fundraising picnic at Schuetzen Park several hundred children dressed in white with red ribbons formed a parade. About 2,500 people attended despite the heat.

The very same day St. Mary Star of the Sea, another local church, had their fundraising picnic at Pope's Park.

The parks had "scups" (swings) and carousels.

Schuetzen Parks

Schuetzen Parks were found wherever there was a large German population. See Union City, New Jersey

The "Union City" Schuetzen Park, at 3167 Kennedy Boulevard, North Bergen, NJ 07047-2303 is still in operation. Schuetzen Park The Brooklyn Schuetzen Cops was founded in 1858. Schuetzenfests - competitive marksmanship events - occurred frequently.

The Queens Schuetzen Park was at 1859 Myrtle Ave. Opened by at least 1858 the Myrtle Avenus Park in Glendale Queens was reachable from Brooklyn via horse drawn streetcar lines. The park contained a "hotel", dancing platforms, refreshment stands, beer gardens, band pavilions, and a "shooting house" for rifle tournaments.

Pope's Park

Pope's Park in Brooklyn was reachable by the Bath & Coney Island Railroad and Brooklyn cars to Greenwood, "about 6 minutes walk from Park". Located next to Greenwood cemetery on high ground it commanded a beautiful view of the New York bay. As far as I can determine it was at 39th and 5th ave. The park had a dance floor, dining saloons, rides (scups and swings), a shooting gallery, pavilions Pope's Park was at one time managed by local Red Hook politician, Tommy Sheridan . In 1873 forty eight associations, churches and politicians had events in Tommy Sheridan's Pope's Park. In 1890 Old Pope's Park was turned into a car yard.

Koch's Bay View Park, New Utrecht

In 1897 the park was located at Third Ave Corner of Sixtieth street, South Brooklyn (approximately where the BQE and the Gowanus Expressway merge today). Koch's Bay View Park boasted "a beer garden which specialized in picnic parties" and a dancing platform. The park also contained a shooting gallery and a spacious ball room. Koch's Bay View Park was the setting for numerous, shooting events, galas, balls, barbecues, picnics, concerts and song fests.

In July 1887 the Red Hook Rangers held their annual picnic at Bay View Park. "All of Red Hook turned out to attend and the park was crowed to its utmost capacity". In February 1890 an "Old German Pork Lunch" called metzelsuppe took place in Philip Koch's Bay View Park. "Every dish that possibly can be made out of fresh pork was on the table, together, of course, with the inevitable sauerkraut, potatoes and other good things." An "abundant supply of excellent Rhine wine" was also served.

In May 1888 the New Utrecht Police Board announced their intentions of arresting flagrant violators of the Sunday laws who were dancing and playing ball in Koch's Bay View Park.

Phillip Koch, age 71, proprietor of the Bay View Park, in South Brooklyn died in January 1894.

1870: Philip Koch 47, tavern keeper, Elizabeth Koch 42 Elizabeth Koch 18 Philip Koch 16 John Koch 14 Wm Koch 12 Christy Koch 9 Morton Koch 6

1880 census: Philip Koch 57, hotel keeper, Hesse Darmstadt, Elizabeth Koch 54, wife, Hesse Darmstadt, Philip Jr. Koch 26, bartender, Ohio, William Koch 22, bartender, New York, Christopher Koch 19, bartender, new York, Martin Koch 16, bartender, New York, Gabriel Denfel 33, hostler, Baden, Gottlieb Schmidt 57, boarder, wollen dyer, Wurtenburg, Thos. Cartwright 19, bartender, New York, William Boehn 25, bartender, Bavaria, Dora Brandt 17, servant, Bavaria.


Ulmer Park

Ulmer Park was a suburban resort "delightfully situated on the waters of Gravesend bay". It was reachable by the Second avenue electric road. It had 680 feet of water front property. It was divided into two sections, one north and the other south of Twenty-fifth avenue, Unionville. The northern section was called Ulmer Pavilion and the southern section was called Ulmer Park. The two sections were connected by a boardwalk. The Ulmer Pavilion was an immense building almost on the water. It contained an expansive dance floor. Large orchestras played waltzes and two steps. In 1896 a stage was added in the pavilion to put on vaudeville variety acts. The pavilion also contained a "first class" restaurant and a large bar which served Ulmer beer.

North of the pavilion was a twenty feet wide pier which extended into the water about 5 or 6 hundred feet. There were: a bowling alley, billiard rooms, carrousel, steam swings (or scups), and several shooting galleries. Swimming, bike racing, games of all sorts, rowing, fishing, etc. were available. There was a year round hotel. Many societies, shooting clubs, singing clubs and other organizations held their annual events at Ulmer Park. The property was owned by William Ulmer, "one of the city's millionaire beer manufacturers" and William Texter.

Coney Island

Coney Island was a popular day trip.

Linden Grove

Linden Grove on the Kill von Kull was a popular destination for barge excursions to Staten Island.

In August 1883 a large group of Red Hook Irishmen took their annual cruise to Linden Grove, in Staten Island, below Elizabethport. Two large barges, the Walter Sands and the Excelsior, were towed by the Moran tug, the George L Garlick. They were joined by the new side-wheeled steamer Invincible and the Excelsior. The crowd danced to a band of two Irish harps and a fiddle on The Excelsior and a similar band on the Walter Sands. At around 11 o'clock a brass band stated to play on the Walter Sands and there was "noise and confusion and fun enough to satisfy the most boisterous Irishman". The fleet finally set sail for the grove around noon and the day was "spent in the enjoyment of such sports as usually characterize such occasions" Brooklyn Union August 6 1883

See Moran

"Greater Astoria Historical Society" Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor Long Island City, NY 11106 718-278-0700 Greater Astoria Historical Society Images

Astoria Schuetzen Park

With permission of La Guardia and Wagner Archives, La Guardia Community College, C.U.N.Y., July 2013 - "copyright 1910- Julius Link"

Astoria Schuetzen Park

"Greater Astoria Historical Society" Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor Long Island City, NY 11106 718-278-0700 Greater Astoria Historical Society Images

Schuetzen Park, Broadway and Steinway Street.

"Greater Astoria Historical Society" Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor Long Island City, NY 11106 718-278-0700 Greater Astoria Historical Society Images

Astoria Schuetzen Park

Brooklyn Eagle, June 14, 1896

Ulmer Park and Pavilion - looking towards the bay. The Belt Parkway now runs along the water at 25th avenue.

Brooklyn Eagle, June 17, 1900

Ulmer Park and Pavilion 1900

Image 809817 NYPL Digital collection, May 2013

A holiday crowd bound for Coney Island, Ulmer Park and Bath Beach. 1899

Railroads - Horse and Cable 1892

"Fares on all New York and Brooklyn surface horse and cable railways, five cents. Children under five years of age free"

Brooklyn Railroads

Crosstown - From the Erie Basin, through Richards Street to Woodhull, to Columbia, to Atlantic Avenue (South Ferry) to Court street, to Joralemon, to Willoughby, to Raymond street, to Park Avenue, to Washington Avenue, to Kent Avenue, to Broadway (passing Grand and Roosevelt Ferries), to Driggs street, to Van C-- Avenue, to mNahattan Avenue, to Newtown Creek. Branch to Long Island city, through Central Avenue at Broden Avenue to 34th Street Ferry and Long Island Railroad depot. Night cars leave depots at 1:10, 1:30, 2;00 and 4;00 A.M.

Hamilton Avenue - From Hamilton Avenue Ferry through Hamilton Avenue thourhg 9th to Prospect Park

Hamilton Avenue _ From Hamilton Avenue Ferry through Hamilton Avenue to 3rd avenue to 25th street to Greenwood Cemetery, connecting 3rd Avenue and 25th street for Fort Hamilton, Bay Ridge and Coney Island

(The World Almanac & Book of Facts, 1892)

There were connections at various places like Atlantic Avenue.

Water for the Thirsty

In July 1889 drinking fountains were set up around the city. In Red Hook fountains were to be placed at Wolcott near Van Brunt and Richards near Van Brunt by mid August. Ice was to be distributed free by a committee of temperate citizens who believe it a good way to counteract the saloons and liquor dealers.


A conversation between two "Irishmen"

First Gowanusian - What's become o yer son. Jimmy? I haven't seen him for siveral weeks.

Second Gowanusian - I turned him out for disgracin' the family.

First Gowanusian - What did he do?

Second Gowanusian - He wint on the stage as a Dutch comedian!

The Irish did not think much of the German sense of humor.

Population of Ward 12 and 6 in 1880 to 1892

12th Ward:

  • 1880 Federal census - 22,201
  • 1890 Police Count - 28, 041
  • 1890 Federal Census - 27, 368
  • 1892 State Census - 31, 734

6th Ward:
  • 1880 Federal Census - 35,187
  • 1890 Police Count - 40,558
  • 1890 Federal census - 37,693
  • 1892 State Census -48,939

Brooklyn Eagle almanac 1893.

Hamilton Market

The "old" market on Hamilton ave closed for lack of patronage sometime after 1863. It was turned into a factory, then in 1865 into a warehouse, and in 1866 into a cholera hospital. In 1867 the building was vacant when there were plans to reopen it with 32 stalls. There were to be 9 butchers, seven cheese, butter and egg dealers, five green grocers, four fish and oyster dealers, one poultry and one game dealer and other venders of can goods, fruits, preserves and pickles. There was also to be a crockery store, a billard saloon, a boot and shoe store, an oyster bar and a restaurant. The stalls were rented for $10 a month with a three year lease. (BE, Aug 1867)

The market appeared to have been a success and was lauded in a October 1867 Brooklyn Eagle article. It was claimed that business was brisque, quality was good and prices were lower than neighborhood stores. Among those doing business was Harte and Fitzpatrick dealers in wines, liquors, and "segars".

The walls of the Hamilton Market at the corner of Hamilton and Van brunt "fell" down in 1870 killing at least one person, a child named Isabella Mullen age 12 and severely wounding Teresa Mullen age 8, the daughters of Edward Mullen a tailor. The girls had been sitting in the shade on a sill of the building. The crash shook the neighboring buildings and sent a crowd running. The managed to dig out the two Mullen girls who were still alive. Isabella Mullen died within a few hours. The collapse of the large brick building occurred at about quarter past seven on a Sunday the morning, when the market was not open for business and the streets were relatively uncrowded. The market frequently catered to 400 or 500 hundred customers at a time. F. C. Depperman, grocer, was one of the jury members who heard the case of the death of Isabella Mullen. See Depperman

James Dadson had a "fancy" bakery at 24 Van Brunt opposite the market. He sold wholesale and retail bread, pies and cakes.

In 1888 the local market extended from Sacket to Woodhull streets on Columbia streets. It was frequented by people of every nationality in search of bargains on vegetables and fruit particularly the "sturdy Irish longshoremen of the Sixth and Twelfth wards". The local grocers didn't like the competition.

"About 10 O'clock trade begins to slacken. The marketers are supplied, the venders' wagons are empty and their throats are sore; the various stocks of toys, terra cotta pugs and potatoes are well nigh exhausted; the street crowd thins off and the thoroughfare is gradually deserted by all save som jolly and thirsty rounders and Captain Lowery's blue coats." (Aug 19, 1888, BE)

Red Hook's Reputation

Much has been written about the tough element of the Red Hook waterfront. The Irish (and later the Italian gangs), the bars and dives on Hamilton Avenue, the drunken sailors, Al Capone (who grew up in Red Hook), the movie On The Waterfront, the underworld control of the docks, have all been mentioned in the same breath with "Red Hook".

However, a look at the 1880 census in ward 12 shows mostly families - husbands with honorable occupations - wives at home - children in school. The newspapers reported the outstanding occurrences but ignored the people who were just going about their business, so it is very hard to recreate an image of day to day life in Red Hood at the end of the 1800s.

The Baker Family

In September 2017 I received an email from Richard Murphy about the family of William and Elizabeth Baker, Irish immigrants to Red Hook who had a large family. Some of the children were born in Ireland and some were born in Brooklyn. The boys, Patrick, James and Michael "ran afoul of the law".

Robert wrote in part:

"Ellen Baker emmigrated from Graigunemanah, County Kilkenny, Irleand in the 1870s. Her family did not all come over at once. They first resided at 72 Wolcott Street in the mid 1870s and then moved on to Seabring Street in the 1880s. The children were Patrick, James, Sarah, Ellen, Michael, Mary and William. From the Brooklyn Eagle, I've learned that the parents and the boys Patrick, James and Michael were not the most well behaved and had from time to time run afoul of the law. The father died in 1880 and Patrick, James and Michael all passed in the 1890s all relatively young and all were interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. Sarah married a John Smilie but she must have passed on sometime during the 1890s as well. The youngest William I have no idea what happened of him, the last record I had of him was from the 1900 census living with his mother and step father."
1875 Census: A notation on the margin indicates they were near Van Brunt street in Ward 12 - brick wood frame dwelling - five families all Irish - "Wm" Baker, 35, day laborer, Elizabeth 32, Patrick, 14, James 10, Sarah 8, Ellen 7, Michael 2 all born Ireland except for Ellen and Michael who were said to have been born in Brooklyn.

1880: June 1880 104 King street, multi family, "James" Baker 38, laborer, liver condition, "Ellen" Baker 38, Patrick Baker 18, laborer, James Baker 15, Michael Baker 6, Willie Baker 1, Sarah Baker 13, Ellen Baker 11, Mary Baker 4

William Baker: Born Ireland circa 1842 died Brooklyn 1880 age 42

Elizabeth/Eliza Baker Williams: Born Ireland circa 1842 - married William Baker in Ireland - married Phillip Williams in Brooklyn 1885 (per Richard Murphy ancestry.com) died 1907 cert Kings 1750, cause of death "valve heart disease" (Richard Murphy ancestry.com) 148 Wolcott street, buried Holy Cross

Find a Grave: Elizabeth Williams Burial: Jan. 23, 1907 Holy Cross Cemetery Brooklyn Kings County (Brooklyn) New York, USA Plot: Diamond Square, System: CEM, Section: DIAM, Row: E, Plot: 175 GPS (lat/lon): 40.64915, -73.93988

Note: In June 1906, Philip Williams age 69 widower, longshoreman, destitute, address 127 Baltic, born Ireland, was admitted to the home for the aged and infirm in Brooklyn - Kings County Almshouse. (Record posted on ancestry.com by Richard Murphy)

Children of William and Elizabeth Baker:

  1. Patrick born August 1860 Ireland died Brooklyn age 26, 15 February 1890, buried Holy Cross - Kings cert #2983

    Burial: Holy Cross Cemetery Brooklyn Kings County (Brooklyn) New York, USA Plot: Diamond Square, System: CEM, Section: DIAM, Row: E, Plot: 175 GPS (lat/lon): 40.64915, -73.93988 (Find a Grave)

  2. James born circa 1865 died 1 September 1891 age 25 - Kings certificate #18510

    Not listed by Find a Grave.

  3. Sarah born Ireland 1866 - died ??? before 1900 when John was listed as a widow (not listed in NYC death index)

    married John E. Smilie - one daughter Sarah 1891 (per Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

    1892 Census: Smilie, John age 30, police, Sarah age 22 Sarah age 1

    John Smilie died in 1904.

    1889/1900: John E. Smiley 93 Luquer police Brooklyn NY

    1892: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5 Jan 1892 - John E. Smilie of the 11th precinct was fined 10 days pay for being to drunk to go to his post when he reported for duty at 11:30 P. M. on December 31. He pleaded not guilty and stated he had been advised by the doctor to take something for his health. He was upset by the illness of his father, who died the next day.

    1900: Coles street, John "Smillie" brother-in-law of ____ and/or Mary Smith, age 38, widowed, black smith. Sarah jr was listed as a boarder with her grand mother in 1905. She was listed as a boarder with Robert Smillie on Luquer St in 1910 - worked in a tin factory.

    1911: Sarah Smillie Death Date 8 May 1911 Cemetery Holy Cross Cemetery Burial or Cremation Place Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, United States of America - Smillie, Sarah, age 20, May 5, 1911 Kings cert #9503

  4. Ellen/Nellie born circa 1869 died 1942

    Marriage: Burke


    1. Walter May 18, 1890 single at age 50 in 1940. Per Richard Murphy he had been married. His wife died in 1919. They had one son, Edward James, in 1917 and a daughter, Ruth, in 1919.

      Walter died of TB in 1942.

    Death of Burke:

    Remarriage: James Welsh/Walsh Ellen Baker Burke married James Welsh in Brooklyn the 24th of February 1897.


    1. Helen/Ellen 1897 - 1899 (Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

    2. Edward 1899 - died 1923 of TB (Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

      WWI Draft Registration: Edward Francis Walsh Birth Date: 27 Jul 1899 Street address: 301 Court St. Residence Place: Brooklyn, Kings, New York, USA Physical Build: Medium Height: Tall Hair Color: Blonde Eye Color: Blue Relative: Mrs. Ellen Walsh Relative's Relationship: Mother

    3. James born 1902 died 1947 (Richard Murphy Ancestry.com)

    4. Mildred 1904-1905 (Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

    5. Mildred born 1909 died 1996 (Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

      Not married at age 30 in 1940. She married Francis Thomas Murphy in 1943. (Richard Murphy ancestry.com)

    Note: Ellen was also called Nellie. Welsh was also listed as Walsh.

    1900: 585 Court street, Welsh, James head age 23, born New York, laborer dock, Ellen age 27 4 children 2 living, Edward son age 0 months, Burk, Walter, son age 10.

    1910: Baltic Street, Brooklyn James Walsh 35, laborer, Nellie Walsh 36, 6 children 3 living, Edward Walsh 10 James Walsh Jr. 8 Mildred Walsh 0 Walter Burke 18, step son, conductor Street R. R.

    1915: Nellie Walsh 40, widowed, Edward Walsh 15, James Walsh 13, Mildred Walsh 5

    1920: Court street, Nellie Walsh 45 Edward Walsh 20 James Walsh 17 Mildred Walsh 10

    1930: DeGraw Nellie Walsh 52, widowed, cleaner offices, James Walsh 28, clerk, Mildred Walsh 20, stenographer Edison Co., Edward Walsh 13, school public

    1940: East 38th street, Brooklyn, Nellie Welsh 67, widowed, Walter Welsh 50, son, single clerk, Mildred Walsh 30, daughter, single, stenographer, John Merritt 53, boarder Mary Merritt 53

    1942: Death - Nellie Walsh died in August 1942. Loving mother of Walter, James and Mildred. Address 1956 E 38th street. Buried Holy Cross.

    1942: Death of Nellie Baker Burke Welsh/Walsh - husband James died June 17, 1913 son Edward died Feb 21, 1923 Nellie F Walsh died Aug 18, 1942 (tombstone posted on ancestry.com)

  5. Michael born 1871 Ireland died February 10, 1896 age 21 Kings cert #2667

    Burial: Holy Cross Cemetery Brooklyn Kings County (Brooklyn) New York, USA Plot: Diamond Square, System: CEM, Section: DIAM, Row: E, Plot: 175 GPS (lat/lon): 40.64915, -73.93988 (Find a Grave)

  6. William - born cira 1879 died 1902, age 23

    Wm. Baker, Death, 22 Sep 1902, Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States, 12 Cole St., Brooklyn, Kings, NY, Gender Male, Single, Race White, Occupation Laborer, Birth Year (Estimated) 1879, Birthplace Brooklyn, Burial Date 24 Sep 1902, Cemetery Holy Cross, Father's Name Wm. Baker, Father's Birthplace Ire, Mother's Name Eliza Baker, Mother's Birthplace Ire (familysearch.org)

    Burial: Holy Cross Cemetery Brooklyn Kings County (Brooklyn) New York, USA Plot: St. Michael, System: CEM, Section: MICH, Row: 35, Plot: 5 GPS (lat/lon): 40.64574, -73.93379 (Find a Grave)

  7. Mary circa 1874

    Listed age 15 1892 census with her mother and siblings

1880 Death of William Baker: William Baker Age 38 Birth Year abt 1842 Death Date 19 Sep 1880 Death Place Kings, New York, USA Certificate Number 9384 Wills and Probates William Baker - 1880

1892: Brooklyn Ward 12, ED 14, Michael Baker age 17, laborer, William age 12, Eliza age 47 born Ireland, Mary age 15

Remarriage of Elizabeth Baker: Phillip Williams

1900: Coles Street, Williams, Philip age 56, day laborer, Elizabeth wife age 50, 7 children 3 living, William Baker step son age 21 clerk born Brooklyn

1905 580 Clinton street, Phillip Williams 63, laborer, Eliza Williams 56, Sarah Smilee 14, boarder, school

1874: 12 August 1874 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

"William Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, of "87" Wolcott street and Joseph Brummell, were arrested for fighting in Patrick Daly's liquor store, conner of Van Brunt and Sullivan streets. Brummell alleges that during a quarrel about some trivial question, Mrs. Baker struck him on the head with the water pitcher which was on the bar. The Bakers complain that Brummell insulted and assaulted them."
1877: William Baker, age 36 of "78" Walcott street "was found bleeding from a wound on his chin, while he was on the Clinton Wharf of Atlantic Dock." Baker said he was kicked by a horse, the doctor said it was a knife wound. The wound was slight.

1885: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 22 Dec 1885, Tue - At around 11 o'clock on the night of December 21, James Baker, age 21, and his brother Patrick, age 23, both living at 8 Seabring Street got into a fight over their stepfather. Patrick stuck James in the head with a brick "inflicting a severe scalp wound". James was taken to Long Island College Hospital. No arrests were made - no complaints were filed.

1886: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 February 1886 - Michael Baker of "9" Seabring street was bitten by a dog owned by John McCabe of Columbia street. "The animal was destroyed."

1886/1887: The New York Times 2 Jan 1886, Sat - Patrick Baker demanded a free $25 cents drink of whiskey at the saloon of William "Wallace" at Columbia and Seabring. When the bartender refused Patrick thew a soda water bottle at the barman's head. The barman responded with a revolver and shot Patrick resulting in a slight wound to the shoulder. The barman was arrested and his bail was set at $1,000.

1887: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 8 Feb 1887 - Patrick Baker sued Michael "Walsh" for damages. Patrick claimed that the bartender, John Dwyer, at Walsh's saloon at the corner of Seabring and Columbia streets, "fired several shots at him on New Year's morning 1886, one of which wounded him in the arm." Witnesses testified that Patrick had entered the saloon, demanded a drink, was refused and then proceeded to help himself. The bartender argued that Patrick already owed more money than he could pay and would get no more credit. Allegedly Patrick then thew several bottles at the bartender who shot him in self defence. Walsh (Wallace) put up an $8,000 bond to assure the appearance of John Dwyer. Dwyer forfeited the bond and left of Ireland. Upon his return in early May 1887 he was arrested. The case was not settled as of May.

1887: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 21 Dec 1887, Wed - Michael Baker age 14 of 4 Seabring street was a member of the "Swipesey Gang". He and 4 other "urchins" were arrested for pilfering peanut stands and shops who display theirs merchandise on the sidewalk. On December 23, Michael Baker and four others were charged with having swiped four bonnets from the store of Kate Eagan on Columbia street. The five who had been released in the custody of their parents where locked up and held for "examination" until the follow in Tuesday.

1888: 13 February Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Patrick Baker was sent to jail for 10 tens for stealing brooms from Martins Burn's grocery store a on Columbia street.

1888: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 25 Feb 1888, Sat - Two officers say Patrick Baker age 26 of 4 Seabring street riffling though the pockets of a man who was passed out of intoxication on the sidewalk. Seeing the police the would-be thief dropped the purse he had found and ran away. Patrick was arrested but denied he was attempting robbery. Patrick was brought to trial 3 Mar 1888, but the case was adjourned until March 10th.

1892: The Evening World 29 Nov 1892, Tue - Michael Baker of 723 Hicks street, was held in the Butler street court and charged with stealing $20 of moulding tools from the foundry of Samuel Metcalf at 55 Seabring.

Richard Murphy was a well researched and well documented family tree on Ancestry.com. Richard Murphy posted some of the Baker related news clippings on Ancestry.com.

Housing and Store Fronts

1871 - 379 Van Brunt advertised - 1 in from north east corner of Van Brunt near Partition - 2nd floor over store with eight rooms each - good place for butcher, grocery, barber or boarding house.

1886: To let or lease spacious large store corner of Van Brunt and King 1889 February: A new "flat" under construction on Imlay near Verona was to be a three story brick with brown stone trim, 25x50 - each floor containing " one "suit with two sleeping rooms, diningroom and kitchen" - white wood trim - white walls and ceiling - "all modern improvements" entrance "a low stoop with double doors" - owner, Patrick Creamer.

1899: New buildings northeast corner Ferris at Wolcott 3 brick building: 2 two story and a one story with gravel roofs, value $6,000 60x90

1891: FOR SALE: 3 story brick tenement on Partition near Van Brunt 25x100 rents $700, price $5,400

1892: Van Brunt street well established good paying liquor store 6 year lease $420 yearly

1896: For Sale - Big Bargain -132 Fikeman, near Van Brunt 3 story brick - store and dwelling - 25x100 lot $2,400

See Streets in Red Hook

Hamilton Avenue on a summer night in 1891

A Brooklyn Eagle article of July 1891 called Hamilton Avenue one of the widest thoroughfares in Brooklyn and the dividing line between Ward 6 and Ward 12. However, it was said that business had "never thriven on Hamilton Avenue". It was mostly lined with saloons and clothing stores (both new and used).

It was people with longshoremen, sailors, ship captains and exotic seafaring types complete with earrings. One could hear a multitude of languages.

There were Scandinavian sailors come to stay at the sailor's temperance home. The Scandinavians had a large population in the 12th Ward, especially on Van Brunt street.

Well dressed, "brown skinned", Italian promenaded on the "eastern" side of the street, their music filling the night air.

During the week commuters from Manhattan arrived on the ferry and on weekend pleasure seekers were "bound for New York". Wagons unload, ice, kegs, boxes of bottles and further crowd the street. Many of the transport wagons and horses were housed in South Brooklyn and on Saturday night there was a seemingly endless sting of truck horses being led back to their stables in South Brooklyn"

Some "young Italians are well to do mechanics, and some of the merchants and ship chandlers are wealthy".

Hamilton Avenue near the Gowanus was said to have had a "reputation of being one of the toughest places in Brooklyn".

Red Hook 1941

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Gowanus Improvement, Triborough Bridge Authority, November 1, 1941, Robert Moses, Chairman

1. Governor's Island. 2. Atlantic Basis. 3. The New York Dock Company warehouses on Imlay Street. 4. The Red Hook Houses. 5. Columbia Street, 6. Erie Basin. 7. Coffey Park


Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

1907 map showing the Red Hook Section of Brooklyn


  1. The Atlantic Docks
  2. The area where the Kettlers and Petermanns lived
  3. The Brooklyn Bridge
  4. Where I live now

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Early map showing the Red Hook Section of Brooklyn with Hamilton Avenue, and the Erie and Atlantic basins.

Map collection of Maggie Land Blanck

  1. 87 Ferris Street, Gertrude Kettler was born at 87 Ferris Street in 1889

  2. 189 Conover Street, Christian Petermann was born at 189 Conover Street in 1883

  3. 206 Richards Street, Maria Kettler was born at 206 Richards Street in 1886

  4. Where I live now in Carroll Gardens


It has been said that a major reason Red Hook lost so many factories was the tax incentives they received in other area, particularly New Jersey. In addition, wharfage rates and the storehouse prices became less competitive.

What Brought the Peters (Petersens), Petermanns and Kettles to Red Hook Brooklyn, What Did They Do There and Why Did They Leave?

  1. The Peters (Petersens) were from Norway. The shipping industry was dying in Norway and booming in Brooklyn. I am assuming that the Peters came from some port city in Norway.

  2. Johann Berend Petermann had spent many years at sea. Both Johann and his wife, Sophie Steuer, came from maritime communities in Germany.

    Johann Berend Petermann must have been familiar with Hoboken before his immigration to the United States. He made a voyage to New York on a North German Lloyd ship as early as 1869. This is the same year that the North German Lloyd shipping company bought piers on the Hoboken waterfront. J. Berend Petermann remained on this run between German and "New York" (actually Hoboken) until April 1870. From September 1872 to May 1873 he was once again making runs between Bremerhaven and New York.

  3. Henry Kettler: I assume that Fritz also was familiar with maritime work and a port city. Ports in Ostfiesland (Germany) were Emden and Leer, both on the Ems River.

For many years Red Hook was a center for grain transportation. By the 1880s this had changed and many of the old grain warehouses were converted to general cargo warehouses. Red Hook remained a force as a shipping hub through the 1940s.

In 1886 the Atlantic Dock:

"several schooners with sugar from the South, as well as the Hamburg steamer, California, which after landing her 650 steerage passengers, is now loading grain for the return voyage . The weekly service for the Hamburg line to this point insures an air of business at this dock even in the dullest times. Here also are the canal boats which receive freight of the Erie canals."

Brooklyn Eagle Sunday, August 29, 1886 Page: 11

In 1892:

The little Norwegian steamship Albert arrived to discharge sugar in the Erie Basin.

Brooklyn Eagle Thursday, August 11, 1892 Page: 10

Red Hood Waterfront

Liquor Stores Red Hood 1870 and later

Red Hood Industry in the mid to late 1800s

Second Place near Henry, Brooklyn

Norwegians in Red Hook

Red Hood Churches

Other Brooklyn Images


Retail Stores in Red Hook

Red Hook Butcher Shops

Red Hook Restaurants

Red Hook Celebrities

Red Hook Streets

1870 Census Brooklyn Ward 12, Liquor stores and saloons

1870 Census Brooklyn Ward 12, Liquor stores and saloons

Red Hook Liquor Dealers

A Survey of Liquor Dealers in Red Hook mid to Late 1800s

Red Hook Liquor Dealers - The Families

Balfe - Ball - Baumann - Behnken - Bell - Black - Boysen - Bray - Brickwedel - Callaghan - Carberry - Cassin - Cavanagh - Collimore - Collins - Coogan - Cordes - Curran - Daly - Dawson - Dempsey - Depperman - Devan - Dixon - Dockery - Donovan - Doran - Ehrichs - Fay - Finkeldey - Fitzgerald - Garahan - Gillen - Graef - Haack - Henry - Higgins, Hugh - Higgins, George - Hoehn - Hoffman - Hughs - Hunold - Hussey - Judge - Kassenbrock - Keleher - Knoop - Krohler - Kuhn - Lamont - Lever - Little - Looney - Madigan - Mahnken - McAvanny - McGee - McGrath - McKenna - McQuade - Meyers - Molloy - Mooney - Moran - Mullady - Munsinger - Murray - Noble - O'Brien - O'Hara - Oberdieck - Powers - Ropke - Schmadeke - Schwanemann - Shea - Sheridan - Siebe - Simmons - Struve - Sullivan - Weinphal - Winkelman Carroll Towing

The Police and Fire Departments in Red Hook - Mid To Late 1800s

Red Hook Waterfront - Mid To Late 1800s

History of the Isthmian Steamship Lines, Erie Basis, Red Hook Brooklyn includes an arial view of the Erie Basin Terminal and tons of other images and information

A Preservation Plan for Red Hook, Brooklyn Lots of good images and information on the history of Red Hook

Red Hook Waterfront, The O'Connell Organization is a family owned and operated real estate development business. Clearly they love the Red Hook waterfront and their website contains some fabulous photos of the old warehouses and other buildings in Red Hook.

Water Front Museum and Showboat Barge

Brooklyn Memories

Spanierman Gallery LLC - Winthrop Duthie Turney (1884-)1965) Brooklyn Paintings
Thanks to Bob Steward for making me aware of Turney's Brooklyn paintings and this web site.

Red Hook Flickr Group

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© Maggie Land Blanck - Page created January 2013 - latest update November 2020