Title: Brooklyniana, No.18
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: April 19, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 19 April 1862: .
Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Gaps from damage to the original have been supplied by consulting Emory Holloway, ed. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1921. pp. 296–300.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00234
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
The New Court House.—Reminiscences of the neighborhood.—The farms, orchards, &c.—Land speculations.—Parmentier's garden.—The Hessian Hospital.—Military and other public gardens of old times.—A political meeting of 40 years ago.—Local magnates formerly.
WE will devote this paper of our series to some incidents connected with the locality of our New County Court House and Supervisors' Building, opposite the City Hall, on the site occupied and known during the earlier sixty years of this century as the Military Gardens.1
We ought to premise that the region surrounding our City Hall, and this new building being put up for the Courts of the County, Supervisors, &c., is not only of deep interest to the inhabitants of Brooklyn, from its political connexions, but from hundreds of old local historical associations.
The line of Fulton street up to this point, and so on to the junction of Fulton and Flatbush avenues is the original road, pretty much the same now as it has been from the settlement of Brooklyn over two hundred years ago.
The neighborhood of our City Hall was, even in old times, a sort of central spot, where the people of Brooklyn, and the county, met to transact business, or, on the Sabbath, for religious worship.
The original old Brooklyn Church,2 under the Dutch Settlement, was in this section, on Fulton avenue, right in the middle of the road, near where Duffield st. now comes out. Here, for two or three ages, the settlers of Brooklyn and of Flatlands, Flatbush, and New Utrecht, as well as from the Old Ferry, and from the Wallabout, came on Sunday, to listen to sermons in Dutch. It is the same society, passed on by regular succession, that now worships in the Church in Joralemon st., adjoining Court.
There are plenty of people now living in Brooklyn who remember all this part of the city, as it was laid out in farms, orchards, gardens, &c. It used to help to supply the New York market with garden vegetables, just as Flatbush and the other outer towns do now.
Here too, and branching off from here, have been the localities of some of the biggest land speculations ever known in our city. Just above here, at the spot long known as Parmentier's Garden,3 during the great speculation times of 1833, some shrewd fellows gave $57,000 for a small tract of ground, and immediately cut it up into "lots," and sold it off for nearly $100,000. It is probable it would not bring much more than that sum at this day. Brooklyn, however, has been full of similar speculations.
Among other points of interest in the neighborhood we are speaking of was an ancient two-story house, painted yellow in modern times, that stood on the west side of Fulton street, nearly opposite the point now occupied by the Central Bank. This old house was of a date coeval with the Revolutionary war, and was principally noted as having been occupied, during many years of the war, by the British troops as a hospital. It went by the name of the "Hessian Hospital,"4 within the recollection of the writer. It was on the site now occupied by the handsome stores just below the Mechanics' Bank.
But we promised to say something about the premises now being substantially built upon for the new Court House. The original Military Garden was not the large edifice as our citizens have seen it, but the smaller building on the part of the premises to the west.5 This, we believe, was the identical framework of the edifice occupied there early in the present century, by an eccentric old landlord called Col. Greene, who had fought in the Revolution.
But old Col. Greene passed away, and other landlords, one after another, succeeded him. The large edifice, the eastern part of [the] 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. 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, let us here remark, were a conspicuous feature in Brooklyn during the earlier part of the present century. Besides the one we are mentioning, 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 spring of a year ago, but it is now all obliterated and covered with stores. 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. Those 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 Brooklyn progress.
The same premises in the neighborhood of our City Hall, and indeed the very ones where the Court House is going up, were used, in old times, for the political conventions, and town meetings of the people of Brooklyn, and for the general meetings of the County.
We will, in imagination, resume one of these old county meetings of 40 years ago. On the very ground of this Court House there would be a general gathering of villagers. 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 unmistakable 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.6 Then among the crowd you would see the tall stout shoulders of Joseph Sprague,7 with his white head; and such citizens as Losee Van Nostrand,8 Abraham Vanderveer,9 and old Alden Spooner.10
Here too 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 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.
So our readers will perceive that the future political associations of our new Court House, for all its newness, will be invested with an atmosphere of as much antiquity and of the personnel of primitive old Dutch Brooklyn character,—(which gives a good smack to the breed,) as the limited chronology of the American continent affords.
1. The cornerstone for the new Kings County Court House was laid on May 20, 1862, about a month after Whitman published this article. [back]
2. The first Dutch Church in Brooklyn was built in 1666 and demolished in 1766 in favor of a new building; the second building was removed in 1807. A third edifice was constructed that same year on the new site of Joralemon Street, where the church remained until that property was sold in 1886. [back]
3. Parmentier's Garden, established by Andrew Parmentier in 1825, was one of the first botanical gardens in the United States. [back]
4. Hessian Hospitals were originally German institutions designed for treating mentally ill patients. [back]
5. The Military Garden, opened in 1810 by Old Colonel Green, was a resort that hosted dramatic performances, among other events. It became a popular place for pleasure-seekers under its next owner, John F. Duflon. Whitman also discusses the Military Gardens, Old Colonel Greene, and John Duflon in "An Old Brooklyn Landmark Going" (October 10, 1861). [back]
6. Jeremiah Johnson was 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]
7. 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]
8. 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]
9. Abraham Vanderveer was a prominent businessman who twice served as Kings County clerk, in 1816 and again in 1822, and later served as president of the Brooklyn Fire Insurance Company. [back]
10. Alden Spooner (1757–1827), who served in the American Revolution, was a printer from Vermont who handled much of his state's official printing. He also owned and published the Long Island Star from 1811 to 1819. [back]