After becoming a millionaire selling mules and horses to the Union Army during the American Civil War, William Engeman returned home to New York where he purchased the land nestled between Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn for twenty thousand dollars, then known as Middle Division. He renamed the newly acquired land Brighton Beach and in 1870 opened the Ocean Hotel, a modest structure compared to what was to come. The year 1878 saw the opening of the Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion and Ocean Pier, as well as The Brighton Beach Hotel, a grandiose building in design and in direct competition with Austin Corbin’s nearby Oriental Hotel and Manhattan Beach Hotel. The Brighton Beach Fair Grounds (known as Engeman’s Track”) were built a year later to attract more visitors to the pier and hotel. The multiple hotels and attractions to the area launched the heyday of Brighton Beach.
Over time it became more noticeable the ocean was eroding the beach and threatening the Brighton Beach Hotel. In 1888, Engeman’s son (also named William) who had taken over the business after his father’s death, funded the colossal undertaking to lift the hotel onto train tracks in order to move it further inland to avoid the oncoming erosion. As outlandish as it sounds, this actually happened and seemingly without a hitch. In the photograph above, taken on April 3rd, 1888, you can see the tracks being laid and the train cars being prepared.
The Brighton Beach Hotel survived through natural disasters, financial strain, and more natural disasters until 1924 when it was demolished and replaced with the Riegelmann Boardwalk. Thus, the heyday of Brighton Beach had come to an end.
This image comes from the Brooklyn Photograph and Illustration collections. For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from the collection, please visit our image gallery here.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected]