The Huron Street Public Bath was built in 1903 and opened its doors in 1904 amidst New York City’s Public Bath Movement, a city-wide Progressive Era initiative intended to improve the lives and living conditions of city dwellers who lived in tenements.
At the turn of the century, bathrooms in tenements were not required by city law. Without running water, people were dependent on water provided by city pumps. This lack of personal hygiene combined with overcrowding contributed to the spread of disease and an unhealthy city population.
Landlords were slow in abiding to the Tenement House Laws passed in 1901 which required new apartments to provide indoor plumbing and private bathrooms. The need for a healthier and cleaner city environment brought about a necessity for city-funded public bathhouses. In 1895, the New York Senate put a law into place providing free public baths for every city containing 50,000 or more residents. A total of five public baths would be built in Brooklyn.
Designed by architect Louis A. Voss, the Huron Street Public Bath located at 139 Huron Street served the community in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint for fifty-six years. On any given day, bathhouse attendance would reach one thousand or more people. The facility was steam heated and contained a total of eighty-seven showers and two tubs, with separate entrances for men and women located on either side of the building.
In the mid to late 1950s, the state law for mandatory maintenance of public bathhouses was amended. Indoor plumbing had become commonplace in living quarters and chamber pots were a thing of the past. As a result of city budget cuts and dwindling interest, public bathhouses in New York City began to shutter. The Huron Street Public Bath officially closed its doors on December 12, 1960 having been the last remaining public bath in Brooklyn constructed as part of this movement.
To learn about other Progressive Era efforts to combat public health crises in Brooklyn and explore how centuries of Brooklynites have understood their own health, come visit Taking Care of Brooklyn: Stories of Sickness and Health, which opens on May 31 at our 128 Pierrepont Street location!
This image comes from the Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection (ARC.202). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this 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].