Title: An Old Brooklyn Landmark Going
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: October 5, 1861
Publication information: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 10 October 1861: .
Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00207
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Ashley Lawson, Janel Cayer, and Sarah Walker
cropped image 1
AN OLD BROOKLYN LANDMARK GOING.
A Glance at the Old Military Garden before it vanishes to make room for the New Court House.
The work of dilapidation has already commenced on the premises so long known to our citizens as Military Garden,1 at the junction of Fulton avenue and Joralemon street, to clear the ground for the erection of our new Kings County Court House buildings. In a short time the old edifice will have vanished; and in a year or two more, wil be forgotten. But we cannot allow it to pass away without a few brief reminiscences.
Perhaps there is hardly a spot in our city more embued with local historical interest than this same time-honored Military Garden. Of the few old Brooklynites yet remaining among us, not one but will remember it in connection either with his early years, or as the scene of famous Brooklyn gatherings in times past, or of the old "town meetings," long before Brooklyn thought of being the great city she is at present. The original Military Garden was that part of the edifice nearest to Joralemon street, and was standing at the commencement of the present century. We have heard that it even dates back to the time of the Revolutionary war; but, however that may be, (and it is not improbable) it was a well-known place more than sixty years ago.
Early in the present century, it was kept as a popular garden and inn, by a landlord well-known to the villagers of that time, as "Old Colonel Green."2 The Colonel was a revolutionary soldier, and showed with pride his old warlike weapons, his big sword, and his pistols, which he kept in his bar-room, to inspire the respect of all comers. Brooklyn was a rural village then, with farms, lanes, country roads, and plenty of trees and shrubbery. People used to come over from New York, at the old ferry, (crossing in open barges, somewhat different from the present style of boats,) and roaming up to the Military Garden, or other spots, for amusement and an excursion.
Then the elections of those days were sometimes held here. Such an affair, or a town meeting for any purpose, was a great occasion. The farmers came in, in their wagons, which were gathered in great numbers around the neighborhood of the Garden. One who had lived any time in Brooklyn would hardly fail of knowing every individual voter; so that there was a small chance of pipe-laying.3 The same offices were apt to be filled with the same persons again and again, year after year. Old General Johnson for Supervisor,4 John Doughty for Town Clerk,5 and Walter Berry, Theodorus Polhemus, and Jeremiah Johnson, for Trustees—such would be a specimen of the returns, in 1804, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Be it remembered, too, that the offices of those days were not quite so valuable as ours of the present.
But old Col. Greene passed away, and other landlords, one after another, succeeded him. The large edifice, the eastern part of Military Garden, was put up about 1826 or '7, by Mr. Duflon, a Swiss, who had come to Brooklyn, and hired the premises on a long lease for a public house.6 The upper part of the new edifice which was convenient and roomy, was used as a Masonic Lodge, for Masonry in those days occupied the same place in the public favor that Odd Fellowship and kindred institutions have since. The premises still continued to be used for political purposes and for balls, public dinners, and had quite a handsome garden attached with little summer houses.
These gardens were a conspicuous feature in Brooklyn during the earlier part of the present century. Besides the one whose history we are giving in this article, there were some four or five others, all well known and well patronised, many of the visitors coming from New York, especially on holidays and Sundays. There was Brower's Garden, between what are now Pierrepont and Montague streets; part of its handsome trees and shrubbery remained until the present spring, but it is now all obliterated and covered with stores. As before remarked, however, Brooklyn had such a rural character that it was almost one huge farm and garden in comparison with its present appearance. Off the west of the places we have alluded to, and adjacent to them, stretched the valuable properties in which, though unthought of at the time, lay treasures of speculation (as they have proved since) richer than a California gold mine. We allude to the Pierrepont estate and to the Joralemon and Remsen farms. These stretched away down to the river, from the upper part of Fulton street. In those days sales out of this property were made by the acre, and forty years ago, goodly portions of this valuable region might have been purchased at the rate of fifty dollars an acre! When we contrast this with the present price of from three to ten thousand dollars a city lot, it gives one some idea of the "progress of our institutions."
Our old Brooklyn citizens—those few of them who are left remaining—will recall in connection with the spot we speak of, several other points of interest. To the west stood for many years in Joralemon street, on the site of the present Grecian edifice, the heavy old gray stone Dutch Reformed church, looking like a strong old castle, built to defy attack. Here in the early part of the century, the dominic often preached in the Dutch tongue. Then the old hay-scales, the road lined with trees, Samuel Doxsey's and Ralph Malbone's groceries, and up further to the west the Black Horse tavern and the old toll gate are among the objects that the memory will bring up to any of our citizens, who can carry themselves back to those years.
If the walls of the building we write about, could yield up their memories and give a list of the once well-known local personages they have held, and the interesting events that have transpired within their confines, what a story they could tell! Probably not a man settled in Brooklyn, during the first quarter of the century, or holding official station in the then town, but would be comprised in such a list as we have alluded to. For, as mentioned in above, the military garden was the great political rendezvous of Brooklyn, as well as the place for many of the public receptions and merry-makings even down to quite a modern date. Here, as we have credibly heard, did the giant Jefferson refresh himself when, during his Presidency he made a tour through the northern States; and here, also in the same way, other Presidents, including Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Here, to our positive knowledge, paused Lafayette and alighted from his carriage, during his visit in 1825.7 And here, in the newer edifice, we also saw "Old Hickory,"8 on a visit during his second term in the Presidency. In the same large room, Henry Clay,9 the most passionately loved public man of his time, received the warm hand-shakings of his admirers. And, to finish the description, in that same festive hall, (it was the ball-room), Elias Hicks, the world famed Quaker preacher, frequently gathered his friends and all curious listeners around him, and delivered his sermons.10
What a tale indeed could that old building tell! There would come the ladies of Brooklyn too—perhaps for a fashionable ball of those times. The best families attended; for modern exclusiveness had not yet become the order of the day. Fresh and handsome forms, alert with pleasure and passion, moved in the dance, to inspiriting music under the light falling brightly down from the chandeliers. Young and blooming women, with their kindred and friends, promenaded with sparkling eyes, in the intermissions of the quadrilles. There gathered and moved young fellows of our then Brooklyn. There was the echoing laugh, and the sweet odor of bouquets of flowers. Alas! where are now the girls and the young fellows that promenaded that old ball room? Gone, like the odor of the flowers, and the echoing laugh.
We spoke of the well known citizens of that day, in connection with the Military Garden of early times. Perhaps there would be a political gathering. One man, for instance, would be present, whom everybody seemed to know, and to be friendly with. He was a man of good medium stature and size, with an unmistakeable Dutch physiognomy, rather sharp nose, florid complexion, and robust form, dressed like a well-to-do farmer, and with an air of benevolence and good sense in all he said or did. That was Gen. Jeremiah Johnson, a legitimate representative and type of the true and original Hollandic stock that laid the foundation of Brooklyn and Kings county. Then among the crowd you would see the tall stout shoulders of Joseph Sprague, with his white head;11 and such citizens as Losee Van Nostrand,12 Abraham Vanderveer,13 and old Alden Spooner.14
The local worthies of that day all congregated at one time or another, as we have before said, at Military Garden. Here, from the earliest times, were "the polls" for election. Somewhat different were they from the elections of our day, in many respects, especially in the number of votes given. Fifty years ago the whole of Kings county gave less than 700 votes. Still there was the same eagerness, the same party rivalry—indeed we have heard old men say that the strife was far bitterer then than it is in these days. When a national or State election was held, however, it was a long time, sometimes several weeks, before the result was known with certainty.
A good deal that is interesting in the past history of the premises we are describing was connected with its locality and its natural surroundings for many years. All was open and airy about it, down to a late period. None of the streets and houses as at present; only two rude and grassy lanes. Red Hook Lane branched out and led away down toward the regions of Gowanus. And near the line of the present Pierrepont street was "Love Lane," with its poplar trees and green banks. With the exception of these, Fulton street, to the west, was unbroken, in all that part of it; except also a lane that led to the Old Dutch Church, before alluded to.15
About 1830, occurred the affair of the King of Holland's jewels, much talked of in Brooklyn at the time. The person who stole them, having fled to America, came to Brooklyn and took board at the Military Garden, with Duflon. He was followed here, and, with the connivance of his landlord, (who received a handsome gratuity from the officers,) was arrested, and returned to Holland. The story of this affair, which is full of interest, in all its details, is doubtless but one of many that have had their scene in Military Garden.
And now, passing soon, this old house, with all the stories that belong to it, and all the local recollections and facts of persons and events that attach to it, will have been razed out, obliterated from the scene. Fast, fast, fade and vanish the landmarks of old Brooklyn. The men of the earlier years of the century have nearly all departed—and the women. The old trees have been all cut down. The old edifices, one after another, are going. Even the old graveyards have had their bones and coffins dug up from the earth, and already the places that knew them, know them no more.
1. The Military Garden was a resort that hosted dramatic performances and other events. [back]
2. Old Colonel Green opened the Military Garden in 1810. [back]
3. John Russell Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms, 2nd ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1859), defines pipe-laying as "any arrangement by which a party makes sure of a certain addition to its legitimate strength in the hour of trial—that is, the election. In other words, to lay pipe means to bring up voters not legally qualified." [back]
4. Old General Johnson was Jeremiah Johnson, first selected as town supervisor of Brooklyn in 1800. He held the position for forty years. He was also, at various times, the mayor of Brooklyn, a representative to the Legislature and the Assembly, and a County Court Judge. [back]
5. John Doughty became Town Clerk in 1796 and held the position for thirty-four years. [back]
6. John Francois Louis DuFlon bought the Military Garden from Colonel Green in 1822. Under pressure from the Freemasons, DuFlon added a building in order to give the Masons a meeting place, an investment that led to credit problems and eventual foreclosure. [back]
7. The Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought in the American Revolution, made a farewell tour of the United States in 1824–1825. Whitman gives a description of Lafayette's visit to Brooklyn in his articles "Brooklyniana No. 8" (January 25, 1862) and "Brooklyniana No. 15" (March 15, 1862). For more on Whitman's perception of this event, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 33–34. [back]
8. "Old Hickory" was a nickname for President Andrew Jackson, in office 1829–1837. [back]
9. Henry Clay was a Congressman and orator from Kentucky. He was also Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams from 1825 to 1829. [back]
10. Elias Hicks was a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather who had a deep influence on Whitman's spirituality. For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]
11. Before Brooklyn obtained a city charter in 1834, Joseph Sprague had served several terms as its president. In 1843 and 1844 he was elected Mayor of the city, and he held a number of other offices before his death in 1854. [back]
12. Losee Van Nostrand was a ferryman in Brooklyn, associated with the Fulton and South Ferries for many years in the early nineteenth century. He also served on the board of directors of the Apprentices' Library. [back]
13. Abraham Vanderveer was a prominent businessman who served as Kings County clerk twice, first in 1816 and again in 1822, and later served as president of the Brooklyn Fire Insurance Company. [back]
14. Alden Spooner, who served in the American Revolution, was a Vermont printer who handled much of Vermont's official printing during his lifetime. He also owned and published the Long Island Star newspaper from 1811 until 1819. [back]