The Story of Brooklyn Heights: How a Revolutionary site became the sanctuary of beautiful architecture

PODCAST: The origin story of America’s first suburb.

EPISODE 298 This is the first of a two-part celebration of Brooklyn Heights, a picturesque neighborhood of architectural wonder, situated on a plateau just south of the Brooklyn Bridge.

A stroll through Brooklyn Heights presents you with a unique collection of 19th century homes — from wooden houses to brownstone mansions, all preserved thanks to the efforts of community activists in the 20th century. But in this episode, we’ll explain how they got here. And the answer can be found on almost any street sign in the neighborhood — Pierrepont, Hicks, Middagh, Joralemon.

Those are more than just street names. Each sign traces back to an original landholder who developed this special place in the early 19th century.

By then, the land once known as Clover Hill had seen its share of both tranquility and drama, the former site of a Revolutionary War fort and a crucial evening in the saga of the American Revolution.

But by the 19th century, most Americans knew Brooklyn Heights for more than just architecture and George Washington. This was the home to respected cultural institutions and to scores of churches, so many that the borough received a very spiritual nickname.

Join us as well as we tell the origin stories of many of Brooklyn’s most prominent institutions — the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Academy of Music and even the Brooklyn Public Library.

FEATURING: Henry Ward Beecher, Robert Fulton, the Marquis de Lafayette and, of course, the Lady Montague.

LISTEN NOW — THE STORY OF BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

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When, on October 24, 1929, the plaque to the The House of Four Chimneys was unveiled, visitors observed that two lines of the plaque were covered in tape. That’s because a minor war broke out between the Sons of the Revolution and the Daughters of the Revolution as to where the fateful meeting with George Washington and his general actually took place!

George Washington and the Contintental Army flee in the dead of night, from the shores below Brooklyn Heights.

The Werner Company, Akron, Ohio
New York from Brooklyn Heights [The Hill-Bennett-Clover view.], 1837
View of Brooklyn Heights with Underhill’s Colonnade Buildings from the River, Thomas Swann Woodcock engraver, 1838m Museum of the City of New York
A view of the bridge — taking Montague Street down to the water’s edge (and the Wall Street Ferry landing). From the excellent website Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn.
Ferry House Foot of Montague Street, 1850. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

Just a small sampling of the architectural variance found in Brooklyn Heights:

FURTHER LISTENING:

Listen to these shows in our back catalog for more information on subjects mentioned in this show —

Whitman’s father was actually a builder and developer. A few of the houses he and his son Walt constructed are still standing in Brooklyn Heights.

Plymouth Church — and many residents of Brooklyn Heights — play a significant role in the abolitionist movement.

Henry Ward Beecher was, shall we say, a complicated man.

Brooklyn’s premier performing arts destination got its start on Montague Street — along with a few other notable institutions.

The other half of the Brooklyn Heights tale — the story of Brooklyn’s civic and commercial district just to the east.

FURTHER READING:

Brooklyn Heights: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Suburb by Robert Furman

Brooklyn Heights: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Bridgewater Meredith Langstaff

Gotham by Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace

Old Brooklyn Heights: New York’s First Suburb by Clay Lancaster

Yesterdays on Brooklyn Heights by James H. Callender

Brooklyn Heights: History of Montague Street and Surrounding Area,” by John B. Manbeck

How Brooklyn Heights Became America’s First Historic District,” by James Nevius

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