Tag Archives: Brooklyn Historical Society

The Brooklyn Historical Society’s stunning new museum in DUMBO

It just got a bit easier to access the glorious history of the Brooklyn waterfront.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park and its clever incorporation of industrial infrastructure into public spaces — the piers, the warehouses, the cobblestone streets. (I don’t love this so much but whatever.) But things feel so inexorably new and modern that one might have trouble understanding the area’s historical context.

The Brooklyn Historical Society has come to save the day. This spring they’ve opened up a new gallery in the revamped late 19th century Empire Stores, the formerly solemn brick warehouse facing into the harbor.

In another neighborhood, this warehouse might have been destroyed long ago or else hastily revamped into luxury condos, sharing the fate of other structures within the neighborhood of DUMBO.

In many ways the Empire Stores warehouse is the very essence of the downtown Brooklyn industrial district. The building once held coffee beans, sugar, nuts and other products from all over the world. Its curved door and window openings and iron shutters are a reminder of Brooklyn importance within 19th and 20th century global commerce.

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

Today Empire Stores has been refitted for modern Brooklyn industry — those seeking sleek, state-of-the-art office environments — with plenty of spaces for the general public to enjoy. But the new second floor gallery of the Brooklyn Historical Society is (perhaps clearly) my favorite component, a permanent space where the history of the Brooklyn waterfront can be celebrated.

Currently on view is an photo exhibition Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront, serving as almost a forward to a great project on the history of Brooklyn, displaying images of the waterfront, both past and present.

Waterfront properties in modern New York have completely different values than they did in the past. One need look only to the images in this exhibition, then visit the Empire Stores rooftop to gaze across the water at the rising glass condos of the Manhattan waterfront, to recognize that.

In images by Berenice Abbott and Rudy Burckhardt one sees a rugged, often unforgiving face to the industrial waterfront, the value of its views and its appeals to a family market virtually unknown.  A New Yorker’s enjoyment of waterfront vistas was relegated to pleasure centers like Coney Island.

In captivating modern images like Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao‘s look at the Gowanus Canal, we see the aftermath of decades of industrial use. And in others, like Mitch Epstein’s dreamlike Clouds #94, the harbor’s industrial life endures, albeit losing its foothold to the unstoppable natural world.

Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront is on display until September 10, 2017


The Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO is located at 55 Water St.

Starting on June 30, the gallery will be open until 9pm on Fridays. Visit their website for more information.

Foodies Unite! Brooklyn Bounty Revives Ancient Dutch Recipes

One of the most tantalizing artifacts in the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society is Mrs. Lefferts Book, the hand-written recipe book of Maria Lott Lefferts and her daughter Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, compiled sometime in 1830. Judging by those names, you can get that Mrs. Lefferts was from a prominent Brooklyn family.  At one point she lived in the house contained in today’s Prospect Park called the Lefferts Historic House as did her daughter Gertrude who would grow up to become a prominent Brooklyn historian.

Below — A page from Mrs Lefferts’ book of recipes:

Courtesy the Lefferts Family Papers at the Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy the Lefferts Family Papers at the Brooklyn Historical Society

The book is filled with traditional Dutch dishes passed down in the Lefferts family through the decades. Oh to imagine a Thanksgiving table of these meals with their rich ingredients and vivid tastes.

Well, imagine no longer! Cancel your dinner plans on Tuesday, November 10, because the BHS will once again present their annual fall fund-raiser Brooklyn Bounty, an evening of food, cocktails and history with special inspiration from Mrs. Lefferts herself.

From the Brooklyn Historical Society: “This year’s Brooklyn Bounty features curated tastings of a nineteenth century Dutch-American meal with a modern twist. Recipes will be inspired by one of BHS’s prized artifacts,  Mrs. Lefferts’ Book.  Our festive special evening will include a live auction, music and more fun surprises! Cocktail attire encouraged.”

All proceeds benefit will Brooklyn Historical Society’s popular  public programs, education programs and our collections in the  Othmer Library and  museum.

Here’s the link to purchase tickets: https://bkbounty2015.eventbrite.com

2015 BK Bounty Banner

Brooklyn Bounty Culinary Advisors

Melissa Clark, Food Reporter, New York Times
Sarah Lohman, Historic Gastronomist, Four Pounds Flour
Paul Neuman, Chief Inspiration Officer, Neuman’s Kitchen

Brooklyn Bounty Chefs & Purveyors

Bartleby & Sage
Brooklyn Brewery
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Delaware and Hudson
EVENTfull
French Louie
Gillies Coffee
Neuman’s Kitchen
OddFellows Ice Cream
One Girl Cookies
Poffees NY
Shelsky’s Of Brooklyn
Waterfront Wines   & Spirits