Tag Archives: Brooklyn

W is for Waterfront

Located at 290 Conover St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Museum Website:  https://waterfrontmuseum.org/

Waterfront Museum

The Waterfront Museum, founded in 1985, is located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It is housed aboard the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge #79, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The museum aims to preserve the city’s maritime history and waterfront traditions and promote an understanding of the importance of our water highway for commerce, carrying commuters, culture, and recreation. 

The museum provides free and low-cost opportunities for education, exhibition, and the performance arts abroad the barge.

Open year-round, the museum offers free tours every Thursday 4 to 8 pm and Saturday 1 to 5 pm. In addition, school and group tours are offered by appointment.

The barge was built in 1914, for the Lehigh Valley Railroad, to carry cargo across the New York Harbor. It is an example of transport prior to the container system, where cargo to and from ships had to be transported to the railroad depots for distribution or further transport. Barges were also used to transfer much of the freight from rail to water, and float it to its destination. It was done this way until a road system blanketed the region, and trucks took over the local distribution.

Lehigh Valley #79 is the only surviving example of its kind afloat today. 

The barge which was functioning till 1941, was acquired by David Sharps in 1985 and turned into a maritime museum. It had to undergo extensive repairs and refurbishing of the superstructure before it could be afloat and moved.

The historic vessel operated from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, Hoboken, Piermont, NY, and South Street Seaport in NYC, before moving to its permanent homeport Red Hook, Brooklyn in 1994.

A former dumping area into was transformed, with the help of volunteers, to an example of open space and waterfront development. 

The museum’s permanent collection includes artifacts that tell the story of the barge and what it used to be used for, a large collection of barge and ship models, and tons of information on maritime history and traditions.

The barge had a cabin on top where the barge captain and family would have lived. This cabin was cut off and put in the stern of the barge as the captain’s quarters. David Sharps also built up the belowdecks part of the barge where his family lived.

The museum holds several arts programs for youth and entertainment programs throughout the year. An area of the main deck has been transformed as a stage for this purpose. You can see a list of upcoming events on the museum’s website.

As barges do not have engines, they have to be towed around by tug boats. The Waterfront Museum has an interesting collection of tug boat signs on its walls.

Another attraction is the bell board of the Orange Ferry that ran between Beacon and Orange.

A large sign ‘Women’ did not indicate the ladies’ room, but the half of the boat where women could go on. 

A cute little flower patch grows in shoes on the outside deck of the museum.

During the barge’s functioning years, cargo was carried on the main deck. You can see the barn door and the hatches through which cargo was handled in and out.

It is interesting to see the ‘Fender’, a rope contraption created by wrapping rope over rope, and used over the sides to protect the vessels as well as the dock.

A beautiful George Rhoads audio kinetic ball machine adds to the charm of the place. And the views… the Verrazzano Bridge, the Statue of Liberty… there is nothing to beat the views from the barge.

27 Apr 2023

P is for Park

Located at Brooklyn, New York City, main entrance at Grand Army Plaza
Park Website:  https://www.prospectpark.org/

Prospect Park

Prospect Park is an urban park in Brooklyn, New York City. The 585-acre park is one of the nation’s premier public parks. In 2017, Prospect Park celebrated its 150th anniversary.

The park has a long history. In the 18th century, Brooklyn was one of six villages located at the western end of Long Island. By the second half of the 19th century, Brooklyn had grown to be the third most populous city in the country, after only New York and Philadelphia. The erstwhile farming community had quickly turned into a commuter suburb with row homes and street grids.

The growth of urban concepts coincided with this growth. Following the setting up of Central Park in Manhattan, by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux starting 1858, a movement grew in Brooklyn for a landscaped park of its own. 

James S.T. Stranahan, a business and civic leader with real estate interests in Brooklyn argued for a park not only as a public nicety, but also as a way to lure wealthy residents to the town. In 1865, Calvert Vaux sketched Prospect Park’s present layout at Stranahan’s request. This induced the Brooklyn commissioners to authorize the full purchase of the land for Prospect Park.

A comprehensive plan for the development of Prospect Park was submitted by the Olmsted and Vaux team in 1866, envisioning a tranquil, rural landscape where people could recuperate from the incessant pace of city life. They designed an elaborate infrastructure for Prospect Park, and construction began on July 1, 1866, under their supervision.

The principal features of the design included the Long Meadow, a heavily wooded area they called the Ravine and a 60-acre lake, meandering carriage drives, high elevation scenic lookouts, woodland waterfalls and springs, and a rich forest. 

Original Park structures included rustic shelters and arbors, and sandstone bridges and arches. A Concert Grove House and Pavilion were built adjacent to the Lake so Park visitors could enjoy music in a pastoral setting, and there was a Wellhouse near Lookout Hill, and a Dairy complete with milking cows. 

The public was welcomed to the park for the first time on October 19, 1867, long before the Park was complete. Construction continued for another seven years. In the year 1868, 2 million people came to enjoy what would come to be known as ‘Brooklyn’s Jewel’.

Over the years, the park was improved by activities like the creation of the Prospect Park Zoo in 1935, new playgrounds around the Park’s perimeter, the extensive renovation of the Park drives in the 1950s, and the construction of the Bandshell. 

The park has undergone many ups and downs in its lifetime. By 1979, the number of the visitors had dwindled to just 2 million a year, the lowest in the Park’s history. In 1980 was started long term restoration efforts to bring back the glory of the park.

The 146-acre section in the center of the park, known as the Ravine, is also Brooklyn’s only forest. The Ravine’s stream and steep gorge is a recreation of the Adirondack Mountains, created by the original design team of Olmsted and Vaux. The Ravine has a variety of trees growing there from black oak to hickory to tulip trees.

Prospect Park originally included several arched bridges to provide grade-separated crossings for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Today the main surviving arches are the Endale Arch, East Wood Arch, Meadowport Arch, and Cleft Ridge Span.

The Music Pagoda, used for concerts until it burned down in 1968, was rebuilt on the site in 1971.

The Camperdown Elm is a species of elm trees with drooping branches usually called ‘weeping elm’. The Camperdown Elm in Prospect Park, nicknamed ‘the crowning curio’ of the park was planted in 1872. It still survives in the park, though it was almost dead once.

The Prospect Park Boathouse is set in the most idyllic scene, with its beauty reflected in the waters. When the Parks Department proposed demolishing the boathouse in 1964, the local preservation group Friends of Prospect Park built public awareness over the park’s disappearing historical structures. The public pressure became so strong that the park commissioner halted plans for demolition.

In 1987, a group of private citizens working with the Parks Commissioner founded a new nonprofit organization to work with the City in leading Prospect Park’s transformation called the Prospect Park Alliance. More than a decade of intensive restoration efforts followed with focus on restoring the Ravine, a radical redesign of the skating rink and the lakeside, and restoration of the historic Baier Music Island.

The LeFrak Center, a year-round skating and recreational facility, was opened In 2013, in the final phase of the restoration and redesign of the Lakeside section.

A restoration project, focusing on an 8-acre section of the Vale, is being planned to start in 2024. The Vale is a 26-acre portion of Prospect Park in its northeast corner. The plan is to restore two landscape features in this area: the historic Children’s pool and the former Rose Garden.

The Grand Army Plaza, which was constructed along with the park during the late 1860s, is the park’s main entrance, though there are 17 other entrances to the park.

19 Apr 2023

O is for Old

Located at 336 Third Street, Brooklyn, New York
Museum Website:  https://theoldstonehouse.org/

The Old Stone House

The Old Stone House, located within the Washington Park in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, is a historical home, originally a Dutch stone farmhouse and now a museum, dedicated to increasing public awareness of icons of American History.

The original house, known as the Vechte-Cortelyou House, was built by Claes Vechte, in 1699, beside Gowanus Creek. Its two-foot thick wall of fieldstone and brick and its heavily shuttered windows were meant to protect the family. At the time, this area was part of the village of Gowanus in the old Town of Breukelen. The Vechte family farmed the lands around the house.

During the Battle of Brooklyn, in August 1776, the sturdy house and its strategic position made it the focus of the most dramatic event of the day. The house was held by an estimated 2000 British and hired Hessian soldiers, who turned it into an artillery position. From the house, they fired on the Americans, who had suffered disastrous losses and were fleeing for their lives to the safety of American forts across the Gowans Creek. Against this stronghold, some 400 of the Maryland Brigade threw themselves in six attacks, regained the house twice, but, ultimately, were repulsed. Nevertheless, it was their valor, witnessed by General Washington and his troops, that hardened the resolve of the American Army.

This was the first major engagement of the Continental Army after the Declaration of Independence, and the largest battle of the entire war. The Old Stone House was established as a memorial to the Battle of Long Island due to the efforts of members of the First Battle Revival Alliance named in honor of that first battle of the newly formed country against Great Britain, the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn.

To honor the memory of the Maryland Continentals, the flag of Maryland flies from the house.

The building has an interesting history of being buried once and then being resurrected. Nicholas Vechte, grandson of Claes, was still living at the Old Stone House during the Revolutionary War. The house passed through to various descendants of Vechte and Jacques Cortelyou who bought it from Vechte. After 1852, the home was used as a clubhouse for a skating club in the winter and a baseball club in the summer. The Old Stone House became the first clubhouse of the Brooklyn team of the National Base Ball league, later known as the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When street grading raised the level of Fourth and Fifth Avenues, only the second story of the house was above ground level. In 1897 the exposed part of the house was razed in a public demonstration of military technology and then buried. The land that the house was on was purchased by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 1923 and excavated the house in 1930. Reconstruction of the building was completed in 1934 using the original stones. However, the new house was turned 90 degrees and placed a few feet further west and sixteen feet higher than the original farmhouse. The house underwent restoration in the 1970s and the 1990s.

The Old Stone House Historic Interpretive Center is operated by the Old Stone House of Brooklyn (OSH), a not-for-profit corporation, under license from the Parks Department. 

There are several small gardens around the house, concentrating on community activities, including a tool lending library.

An actual book lending/ recycling library is also present on the premises.

The lower floor of the house contains exhibits on the battle with detailed information, as well as the family stories of the Vechtes including a detailed family tree. 

OSH offers a full program of school visits on subjects related to the history of the house and the battle and an extensive schedules of concerts, readings, lectures and other events. Each year, 7,000 students visit the Old Stone House to learn about the Battle of Brooklyn and colonial life.

It is also used for a variety of events including a summer camp, Piper Theatre, and one-off events such as a sing-a-long to the musical Hamilton.

The hall on the upper floor is used for art and craft exhibitions. When I visited last in October 2022, a textile craft exhibition named ‘Belonging’ was on display, showing creations by three artists – Kimberly Bush, Stephanie Eche and Traci Johnson, curated by Grace R. Freedman of Why Not Art. 

The show featured rich and varied textures in the textile work on view like knots, tufted rugs, felted wool, and subtle stitches shown in a mix of natural and bombastic colors. 

18 Apr 2023