A few weeks back, we got a reference question about the Graham Home for Old Ladies, a charitable organization long gone, but whose building still stands at 320 Washington Ave. at Dekalb in Clinton Hill. Just a few days after the question came in, Brownstoner wrote about a condo for sale in the building. Then, on my way to eat delicious tacos this week, I looked up as I was walking down the street and there the building was again. Well, I figured it was the blog gods telling me it was time for a post.
So just what was this building with the funny name? The building was to be known as the Graham Institution, in honor of the man who funded its construction, John B. Graham, Esq. It was supported and managed by The Brooklyn Society for the Relief of Aged Indigent Respectable Females. The Society’s 1st Annual Report tells us that it was made up of a Board of Managers of women representing twenty six different Brooklyn churches across several denominations, and an Advisory Committee of “seven gentlemen, well qualified to counsel and aid in this interesting enterprise and labor of love.” Funding came from individual donations, as well as a list of subscribers who paid at least $1 annually.
The home housed women in their later years who had fallen upon hard times, most of whom had been of at least middle class means at some point in their lives. According to their constitution and by-laws, in order for potentials pensioners to apply for a room, they had to be at least 60 years old, residents of Brooklyn or Williamsburg for at least the previous seven years, be recommended by one or more subscribers, and bring “satisfactory testimonials to the propriety of her conduct and the respectability of her character.” One also had to pay $50 upon admission.
The cornerstone for the building was laid on July 2, 1851. According to the Society’s 2nd annual report, it cost a total of $29, 044.95 to build, including the $4000 paid for the lots. The report goes on at length about nearly all aspects of the construction– masonry work, carpentry work, plumbing, painting (“the cornice has 4 coats of pure white lead paint and umber, the last two coats sanded”!), and the finishing work on the interior. It contained 55 rooms to accommodate 90 old ladies, each with a closet; apartments for matron and attendants; eight large pantries and a complete bathroom on the 1st floor; a chapel and committee room which opened on to one another, and an eight bed hospital, all on the 2nd floor.
I love the stories behind places and things that have had long lives, far longer than I have been around to notice. This borough is full of stories like this. This building is just one example of places I’m curious about. Anybody out there in blog land have other pieces of Brooklyn’s history they are curious about? Let us know in the comments, and it just might become a blog post!