Brooklyn Historical Society received a generous grant from Gerry Charitable Trust in 2015 to digitize and catalog seven scrapbooks from Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbook collection. Eugene Armbruster was an amateur photographer and historian during the late 19th century and early 20th century in Brooklyn. Following retirement from The H. Henkel Cigar Box Manufacturing Company, he became interested in local history and took thousands of photographs depicting buildings and street scenes throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. His scrapbooks are organized by subject and include a combination of photographs, clippings, hand-drawn maps, drawings, and writings. With the help of project cataloger Regina Carra, we are working to get all seven scrapbooks published online. Today, we announce that the first scrapbook, “Bushwick and Her Neighbors, Vol. 1,” is digitized, cataloged, and available online.
Regina cataloged 254 scrapbook pages from “Bushwick and Her Neighbors, Vol. 1.” Bushwick was home for Armbruster, so it’s fitting that this is the first complete scrapbook. Below, Regina reflects on her experience working so closely with this scrapbook:
When I began cataloging “Bushwick and Her Neighbors, Vol.1” I was not sure what to expect. When we think of what scrapbooks look like today, we typically think of them as books with photographs or newspaper clippings that are pasted on pages in a collage-like fashion. Armbruster’s scrapbooks, however, are not like this. Each page has only one image, drawing or block of text. They look very casual, as if Armbruster never meant to spend a lot of time worrying about the aesthetics of the pages. Furthermore, for a guy who was known for his photographs, there are very few photographic materials in “Bushwick and her Neighbors, Vol.1.” Most of the images are from mass-produced publications or items like magazines, newspapers, and postcards. There are paragraphs of text written on some of the pages, but most of it appears to have been transcribed directly from, or heavily inspired by, secondary sources published in the late-19th century. The scrapbook does include some lovely original drawings of maps, historic buildings, landscapes, and cityscapes.
So these observations beg the question: Why did Armbruster create these scrapbooks?
After cataloging “Bushwick and Her Neighbors, Vol. 1” I would say that what we are preserving at BHS is not just product (the pages of the scrapbook), but process. Armbruster was an amateur historian, photographer, and published author interested in historic infrastructure, particularly infrastructure that he perceived was at risk of being destroyed or had already been destroyed in early-20th century urbanizing NYC. For example often times the description Armbruster attaches to his visual material alludes to when a building was built but sometimes when it was torn down or relocated as well.
This scrapbook includes material about churches, businesses, early settlements (Dutch and English), and historical events, like the Battle of Brooklyn, that occurred in Bushwick and its surrounding neighborhoods in Kings and Queens Counties. I think “Bushwick and Her Neighbors, Vol.1” is Armbruster’s attempt to compile sources for future reference and for his various publications, which included his books, pamphlets, and articles in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. This is much like how a historian today would compile a list of sources, quotes, and notes on a digital file.
As we mentioned, this is the first of seven posts regarding the Eugene Armbruster scrapbooks. You can stay up to date with our project via Instagram and the hashtag #armbruster or searching our online image gallery for more frequent additions here. Our library is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. To make an appointment to view the collection, please contact us at: email@example.com.