To Gravesend and Back

Last week’s guest post was so well received, we thought we’d try it again this week. Today’s post is from Joseph Ditta, BHS friend, Reference Librarian at the New-York Historical Society, and born-and-bred Brooklynite. Joseph has a great new book out through Arcadia Publishing called Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn. The book is packed with cool photographs comparing the same locations in the 19th and early 20th Centuries with modern day. It  is really fun to see what familiar buildings looked like in their past, the way that people have attempted to modernize buildings (both to good and bad effect), as well as to realize just how well history blends in to the present and is really all around us. But enough from me; Joseph has been kind enough to walk us through one of these comparisons, so without further delay:

Take any subway bound for Coney Island. Hop off a few stops before the end of the line. You’re in Gravesend, the neighborhood descended from the 17th-century town by that name the City of Brooklyn annexed in 1894. Walk around. Look around. Chances are you’ll come across a scene like this:

Gravesend Neck Road, 2009, courtesy of Joseph Ditta

Gravesend Neck Road, 2009, courtesy of Joseph Ditta

I know what you’re thinking. “This is Gravesend? What’s the big deal? Can we go home now?” No. Sorry. Not until you see why I’ve brought you here. I promise it won’t take long.

See that girl in the photo? She’s walking east along the south side of Gravesend Neck Road, probably on her way home from school. We can only guess her thoughts are on her homework, but it’s a safe bet they are not on the white house behind her at number 66. She must pass it every day without even noticing it. Why would she? It’s a nondescript building on an unremarkable street in southern Brooklyn. Or is it?

Suppose we pluck that girl out of 2009 and set her down on the same spot in 1879? Would she recognize this stretch of her daily route 130 years before it became her daily route? Here’s how it looked:

Gravesend Neck Road, 1879, courtesy of Joseph Ditta

Gravesend Neck Road, 1879, courtesy of Joseph Ditta

Amazingly, the white house was standing, though configured a bit differently in its guise of combined post office, grocery, flour, and feed store. The men lolling on the porch were there for no reason more pressing than to share reports of crops and home, of politics and the world beyond. Back then, news spread faster by word of mouth than it did by letter. It seems 66 Gravesend Neck Road was an important social destination for this late-19th-century community.

I should let our schoolgirl continue on her 21st-century way (with my thanks for being such a good, if unwitting, sport). You’d probably like to return to the present, too. Feel free, but take with you the idea that even the most humdrum sites we encounter in our busy lives might once have held significance the way this stucco-covered house was once at the center of Gravesend life. Brooklyn is filled with similar stories waiting to be recovered. Just look around.

The images presented here appear in Joseph Ditta’s new book, Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn (Arcadia Publishing, 2009).

If you want to read more, you can come in to the BHS library to read the full book, or purchase it in our Amazon Store. You can also become a fan of the book on Facebook.


About Chela

I am the Director of Library and Archives at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I joined the BHS team in 2008. Prior to that, I was lucky enough to work in the archives of two other great history museums-- The New York Transit Museum and The Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford outside of Detroit.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to To Gravesend and Back

  1. Lia Stauch says:

    LeBron James determined to prove he’s nothing like Michael Jordan.,DouHan,

  2. I do trust all the concepts you have introduced to your post. They are really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too quick for starters. May you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  3. Pingback: MIDWOOD, Brooklyn | | Forgotten New YorkForgotten New York

  4. Joseph Ditta says:

    Hi Gary. Unfortunately, the donation of books to the New-York Historical Society that included your title, NOSEBLEEDS FROM WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, fell through, so we do not have a copy, sadly.

  5. Joseph Ditta says:

    Hi Mike. Sorry, I’m only now seeing your post from back in January! It’s amazing that your relatives lived in this house. You must have been inside. What was it like?

  6. Hi, Joe,
    One Maggie Winchester with whom you recently did some business, and whom I know, dropped me a line informing me of your having received a book of mine…a collection of short stories +. (NOSEBLEEDS FROM WASHINGTON HEIGHTS)
    I was, of course, delighted to learn that the book is “alive and well”…even if in the throes of being donated!
    Hope you get to read a few of the tales therein.
    Thanks for not summarily discarding the epic!
    Gary Alexander (Azerier)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *