May 10, 2022 Log No. 1026

A Surprising House History

The work to get started on the work in the house is slow going, but it goes. In the meantime, I’ve found some pretty interesting house history (at least, I think it’s the same house) in some old Brooklyn newspapers.

First off, it’s pretty cool that the Brooklyn Public Library digitally archives a lot of these historical newspapers online. I learned about this through some unrelated articles on Brownstoner.com. Then I figured, “Why not try searching for our address just on the off-chance something comes up?” Little did I know that these old newspapers report on pretty much everything, and in fairly personal detail too.

(In a somewhat-pointless effort to not doxx myself, I won’t screenshot the exact articles in question, but trust me that I’m not making this up.)

My address first comes up in 1880 as a “farm”, more specifically an “old fashioned house, in good order, ten rooms, barn and twenty acres.” That it was considered “old fashioned” even in 1880 is saying something, haha. Then by 1889, it seems a newer house was erected on the property and put up for sale–quite possibly the same house as is there now because the descriptions of features and dimensions matches. (Though that would not match the public record for the property, which says the current house was built in 1910.) A few months later, a well-to-do man/family must have purchased it as the address is now associated with a name in the society pages of the paper.

Everything appears to be hunky-dory until 1891, when a sordid drama is described in a surprising amount of detail regarding the man’s daughter and son-in-law. The two had gotten married sometime prior to 1889 but by 1891, their marriage was falling apart. The couple and their son were staying the summer in NJ (so glamorous!) and it sounded like the hotel patrons thought the son-in-law a pleasant, upright fellow, while the daughter came off as standoffish. Then suddenly one day the daughter takes her son and leaves for her parents’ house (my house) in Brooklyn while her husband is at work, leaving him distraught. He sends an urgent telegram requesting their return to no response; the next day the hotel’s maid discovers the man has killed himself in his room via asphyxiation. (And the papers have a bit of pointlessly excessive detail here where I’m thinking, “They must have made this part up.”)

It turns out that the daughter’s family’s version of events is that the man was a violent drunk and it was always an unhappy marriage. The former description doesn’t really fit with what the hotel observers shared. But who knows–maybe the papers just exaggerated things here and there to create drama. In any case, the daughter eventually remarries in the house in 1894 (a respectable amount of time after) and the “decorations were beautiful.” Thank you for that hard-hitting reporting.

You’d think that’s it, but nope. By 1897, the house is up for rent. I guess the original owner by now is older and wants to live somewhere else or needs the money or is just plain over it, who knows. Someone must have rented it, because by 1899 the address is in the papers again but definitely not as a rental listing. A man (who doesn’t seem related to the original owners) shot himself in one of the bedrooms–ahhhhh! Apparently a down-on-his-luck theater…person (unclear if he was an actor or more akin to a producer) who was staying with his aunt (presumably she was renting) to recover as he had been “ill for some time.” She attributed his actions to “nervous prostration.” So sympathetic. Unsurprisingly, pretty soon thereafter the house is listed for rent again.

In 1900, maybe the original owner had run into some financial issues–or maybe just wasn’t motivated to keep the property anymore–as the address was listed in a foreclosure settlement and then up for auction a few weeks later. Afterwards, it’s just regular notices of individual rooms or suites available for rent until 1935 (which may be when the online archives cut off). It seems this house stops being a one-family home for a well-off white family and becomes more of a boarding house for the middle-class, which tracks with the overall neighborhood trends of the time I think. No clue how many owners the house had between 1935 and 2022. Now it’s us!

So that’s it. Honestly it’s pretty neat to find all this information about the property, even though some of it is…not positive, haha. I’m not very superstitious but it does give me pause. But I mean, I visited the house today and it…felt okay? …I did see a very large cockroach in the cellar though. (One of the worst things about winter being over, ughhhh.) That was actually way more immediately horrifying.


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