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Preservation: Colonial Brooklyn, NY

Shanet Clark

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Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservatory Project

Model Grant Proposal


David Shanet Clark

Woodruff History Fellow

Georgia State University

Atlanta, Georgia.

January 29, 2006

A Statement of A Historical Problem by Shan Clark

New York City’s Brooklyn Heights is a unique historical site. Only a rural hamlet before the Revolutionary War (Barck, p. 12) and home to an American fort with seven cannons during the war (Abbott, p. 63), Brooklyn Heights grew rapidly in the Federal Era. As early as 1796 ferry service disputes over the New York City ferry monopoly and the rights of Brooklynites to convey themselves across the East Hudson River to Manhattan and back were well documented (Pomerantz p. 101). “The ferry lines to Jersey City, Hoboken, Williamsburg and Brooklyn were the earliest form of mass transportation, involving specially designed steam boats for commuter traffic. (Spann, p. 183)”

The ferry service allowed an elite enclave to develop in Brooklyn Heights, and a historically significant architectural area was built up on the heights facing Manhattan across the East River. In 1843, Nathaniel Parker Willis had written that “in twenty minutes from Wall Street …you may reach the elegant seclusion of a country town.”

Discussing the emergence of Washington Square’s wealthy neighborhood of

1840 in Manhattan, Edward Spann notes:

A similar, though smaller and perhaps even more intimate concentration of wealth had also developed across the East River in Brooklyn Heights ". . . which combined the elegance of a Washington Square with clean sea breezes and a glorious view of New York and its Harbor. Here lived Lewis Tappan, Samuel Sloan, James A. Leggett and other successful city men who lived quiet lives less than thirty minutes by ferry from the rush and clamor of Wall Street (Spann, p. 174)."

On November 23, 1965 Brooklyn Height became the first New York Historical District, which offered conservation protection and special status to the historical landmarks of Pierrepont Place, Montague Street, Remsen Street and the Willows. Henry Miller and Norman Mailer live there today and W.H. Auden, Willa Cather and Thomas Wolfe are just a few of the literary artists who have made this neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights their home.

Artists have been established in Brooklyn Heights for over a century because of the changes brought by the Brooklyn Bridge. When higher density hotels and apartment buildings followed opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, many of the wealthy brownstone and Federal Era homeowners moved out and re-modeled their grand homes into multiple one-bedroom rentals. Many of the imposing brownstones are today occupied by individuals and couples, and a typical Victorian-era grand home today houses five or six apartments.

On November 23rd 1965 Brooklyn Heights was officially designated a New York Historical District—the first New York neighborhood ever extended this preservation status.

“Brooklyn Heights is one of New York’s best preserved and most attractive nineteenth–century historic districts . . . It is an area of dignified brownstone and brick houses and stately churches on streets bordered by stone sidewalks and lined with trees, as well as many carriage houses preserved along picturesque and well-tended mews. Spared the constant restructuring that occurred in Manhattan, and left alone as Brooklyn expanded south, the configuration of streets and blocks in Brooklyn Heights is essentially the same as it was prior to the civil war. In 1965 Otis Pratt Pearsall leader of the historic Preservation Committee of the Brooklyn Heights Association noted that of 1,284 buildings fronting the streets of Brooklyn Heights, 684 were built before the Civil War and 1,078 before the turn of the century. There are fine buildings in the Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and Anglo-Italianate styles. The District is particularly rich in Greek Revival architecture, there are more than 400 examples including buildings by architects Richard Upjohn and Minard Lafever, two of the style’s most distinguished practitioners (Diamondstein, p. 299).”

Although protected by various historical designations, planning and zoning regulations, the historic district is, in places, less well preserved than is fitting. A number of frame houses from the 1810-1830 period are still suffering from rental remodeling and subdivision from approximately one hundred years ago. The Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservatory Project would take steps to map, document and research the significant structures and then take steps to procure, restore and open a Federal Era home to the public as part of a print, internet and public history program on Brooklyn Heights history.


The Project has three phases or tiers. In the first phase we should map, photograph and do research into the Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservatory District. The second and third stages involve selecting and purchasing an especially significant structure and then renovating it for public history purposes. This Proposal only deals with the initial research and mapping phase, concluding with a web-site presence, a map display and a limited publication booklet to document the work and stimulate further conservatory efforts.

The Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservatory Project is guided by a multi-disciplinary public history approach. Recognizing the historical human cultural impact of built spaces, the Project intends to document architectural design, materials, uses and relationships between various properties in the period 1800-1860.

The Project will utilize digital imaging, geographic information systems (GIS), archival and published source research resources in a public history production process. Methodology and approach can be inferred from the desired final product; a system of maps, photos, site descriptions, collected architectural and historical site records and historical references for further study will be available in a booklet form, through a public history display and on an Internet web site.

The Project will shed light on Federal and Victorian architecture and methods of living, including family spatial arrangements, the economic quantification of production and consumption in Brooklyn Heights, also inter-activity, shopping, working, leisure and sleeping places, all placed in proper historical context. Jane Jacobs’s and Lewis Mumfoord’s approaches to urban quality of life issues will be given a role in judging 19th century Brooklyn Heights’s dwellers experience, and we will follow up on C. Wright Mills and Robert Dahl’s theories of elite power congregation and the replication of aesthetic mores.

Plans and Budget Estimate

The overall time frame is ninety days, from June 1 to August 30. The Project Manager (DSClark) would manage two additional researchers, one a 19th century archival specialist, the other a GSI and Database technical specialist. We would be in residence in New York City in June and July and the postproduction, book and web pages would be in final form by the end of August.

Upon renting the living and working space in the Brooklyn area, the Project Group will then employ basic GIS techniques to develop a base map and begin to quantify the Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservation District. Specific questions to be answered include: What historical designations, categories, distinctions, protection areas, setbacks, business, residential and arboreal regulations apply to these properties? Are they in compliance? Maps would “zoom-in” as a New York Five Boroughs Map, a Greater Queens and Brooklyn map, a Brooklyn Map, a Brooklyn Heights Map and a Federal Era Conservation District Map would be prepared via standard GIS software. The Project Manager would take an active part in both digital and text research and production. Resources include NYU, Columbia, New York Public Library, Astor Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Rockefeller University, Consolidated Edison records, the New York Historical Society and The Brooklyn Heights Association. A final wall map, with digital photos of each significant structure, a database with former owners, earliest uses, architectural style, etc., and a final written report with conclusions and recommendations would be available at the end of August. The booklet and web site highlighting the Project would be finished near the end of the ninety-day period.


Project Salaries:

Project Manager $20,000

Archival Researcher $10,000

GIS Database Specialist $10,000

Total $40,000


Hard Drive $2,000

Digital Camera $2,000

Global Position System $1,000

Modem/wireless/internet $1,000

Printer Color, Large Format $1,000

GIS Software, cell phone $1,000

Total $8000

Rent and Travel:

Manager Work/Live Suite 60 days at $250 per day

Archival Researcher Room 60 days at $100 per day

GIS Database Researcher Room 60 days at $100 Per day

Air Fare $2000

Total $30,000

Per Diem:

Archival Researcher- 60 x $50

GSI Database Researcher- 60 x $50

Manager, petty cash- 60 x $100

Total $12,000


Wall Maps $1000

1000 books at $5.00 per $5000

Web Site Webmaster $3000

Total $9,000

Grand Total $99,000

The Brooklyn Heights Federal Era Conservatory Project is a multidisciplinary study of a historically significant neighborhood. The cultural and architectural importance of the Brooklyn Heights buildings will be examined through archival, institutional and online approaches, and the final goal would be to preserve an actual public conservatory.


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Contemporary Sources New York, Dover Press 1977.


Map of New York and Brooklyn 1850, Ithaca NY, Historic Urban Plans

Map G3804.n4 Pullen Library, GSU Atlanta.

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New York City During the War for Independence, with special reference to the

Period of British Occupation New York, Friedman, 1970.

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Manhattan Waterbound; Manhattan’s Waterfront from the Seventeenth Century to the Present New York, Columbia, 1977.

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The American Builder’s Companion: or a new system of Architecture

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The Landmarks of New York New York, Abrams, 1998.

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The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from one Non-Profits Long Struggle

for Survival New York, NYHS, 1988.

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New York City 1834-1840, a Study in Local Politics

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New York City Architecture, Washington, 1969.

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Old Brooklyn Heights: New Yorks First Suburb; including detailed

analyses of 619 century old houses New York, Dover, 1979.

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New York, An American City 1783-1803, A Study in Urban Life

New York, Friedman, 1965.

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The New Metropolis, New York City 1840-1857 New York, Columbia University Press, 1981.

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The City of Brooklyn, 1865-1898 New York, Publisher Unknown, 1944.




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