Category Archives: Gravesend characters

Gravesend, Cradle of Invention

I’m always on the prowl for historical Gravesend tidbits (thank you for not reminding me to get a life), and I’m always stunned by what’s out there, waiting to be drawn into the present. I’ve learned to look for information everywhere, not in just the usual published sources or image collections. Check out these reports from Scientific American about patents issued to two Gravesend inventors for a steamer and presser, a shellfish dredge, and a skewer puller. Who knew our sleepy little burg harbored such creative folk?


Scientific American, vol. 43, no. 20 (13 November 1880), 310, “Recent Inventions”:

An improved milliner’s steamer and presser has been patented by Mr. Thomas Hicks, Jr., of Gravesend, N.Y. This invention relates to that class of devices designed for milliners’ use for the purpose of raising the pile on velvets, etc. [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Scientific American, vol. 49, no. 2 (14 July 1883), 18. (Click to enlarge.)

Scientific American, vol. 49, no. 2 (14 July 1883), 18. (Click to enlarge.) [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Scientific American, vol. 50, no. 7 (16 February 1884), 106, “Miscellaneous Inventions”:

A skewer puller has been patented by Mr. Augustus F. Friend of Gravesend, N.Y. It is intended to facilitate the withdrawal of skewers from cooked meats, and provides for handles pivoted to each other at their forward ends, where are jaws with their faces concaved. [Here’s a link to the patent.]


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under Augustus F. Friend, Friend family, Hicks family

Save Lady Moody’s House!

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

On October 8, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing to determine if the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — known as Lady Moody’s House — meets the criteria for landmark status. Despite what many locals believe, the house is not an official landmark. That means it is not protected by law, and could, conceivably, be torn down by some uncaring developer. (If you’d like to be its guardian, the house is currently for sale!) However, the house has been on the LPC’s radar since 1966, when it was “calendared.” That provides a modicum of protection in that any application for demolition should send up a red flag, spurring the LPC to action. But they’ve had half a century to decide. After the October hearing, a public meeting in early 2016 will determine the next step, which — fingers crossed — will hopefully lead to designation of this most iconic of Gravesend houses.

What follows is my open letter to Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging her to act now. I beg you all to drop a line, however brief, to the LPC, by the October 1st deadline (whether or not you plan to attend the hearing), stating your support for the house. The more of us they hear from, the better. Take a look at the LPC’s informative fact sheet about the house (even I learned some things!), then write to backlog95@lpc.nyc.gov. I’d love to read your thoughts if you’d care to copy me (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com).

Oh, and don’t miss the gallery of wonderful images at the bottom of this post!


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured the Lady Moody House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

The Brooklyn Eagle featured the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

August 29, 2015

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, North

New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner Srinivasan:

Ask anyone in Gravesend, Brooklyn where Lady Moody lived. Invariably they’ll point to the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, just next to Public School 95. How do they know she lived there? A teacher told them. Or their grandmother. And who was Lady Moody anyway? Oh, she helped George Washington escape the Redcoats through a tunnel running from her basement to the cemetery across the street. And during the Civil War she hid slaves in that tunnel on their way north to freedom.

None of this happened, of course: Deborah Moody died late in 1658, nearly seventy-five years before the birth of Washington, and over two centuries before the Civil War. The general public, knowing instinctively that Lady Moody bore some significance, but lacking specifics, attaches her — and the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — to the seminal events of American history.

The facts are these: Deborah Moody (ca. 1586-1658) was the wealthy, freethinking widow of a baronet. By 1639 she was in Puritan Massachusetts, where her Anabaptist leanings branded her “a dangerous woman.” To avoid censure she moved in 1643 to New Netherland, where she petitioned the tolerant Dutch to grant her and some followers a spot on western Long Island where they could worship as they pleased. They called their settlement Gravesend, the patent to which ensured they could enjoy “liberty of Conscience . . . without molestation or disturbance from any magistrate or . . . ecclesiastical minister that may pretend jurisdiction over them.”

Moody’s fellow patentee, the surveyor James Hubbard, designed the town’s central plan: a sixteen-acre square bounded by present-day Village Road North, Village Road East, Village Road South, and Van Sicklen Street, and cut into quadrants by the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In each quadrant ten house lots bordered a common yard for holding livestock. Records show that in 1646 Lady Moody was assigned a double lot in the northwest quadrant, corresponding (in part) to the modern street address of 27 Gravesend Neck Road, Brooklyn (block 7123, lot 64).

Lady Moody must have built a house on her property between 1646 and 1658. Is the house standing there today the one she occupied? A structural evaluation conducted in 2005 by Robert Silman Associates, Consulting Engineers, suggests the present building incorporates three phases of construction: The part most visible — Phase 2 — is an eighteenth-century “random rubble [stone] building supporting hand-hewn wood floor beams and simple log beam roof trusses.” Phase 3 reflects the early twentieth-century changes made by then-owners William and Isabelle Platt, who excavated a full basement under the ground floor, added dormers to the roof, and stuccoed the exterior to conform with the prevailing Arts and Crafts aesthetic. But evidence of an earlier structure, one possibly dating from the seventeenth century, is visible in the basement, where there are four stone bearing walls, three of which support the current above-ground walls. The fourth lies buried beneath the main house and its rear extension. This “out-of-place” wall led Silman Associates to hypothesize that the Phase 2 house is a reconfiguration of an older building, a Phase 1 house that was enlarged in the 1700s.

This 1893 watercolor of an African-American laundress by Charles W. Bauhan --

This watercolor by Charles W. Bauhan  — “Wash-day. Gravesend L. I. Sep. 4 / [18]93.” — was painted looking east from a spot now in the schoolyard of P.S. 95. It captures the west gable end of the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House rising above the fence. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Was this Phase 1 house Lady Moody’s? Or was it built by one of the later seventeenth-century owners of her land? We may never know. But its expanded  form — the rubble-stone Phase 2 house — is probably the work of the Van Sicklen family, who came into possession of the property in 1702. Most eighteenth-century houses in sandy, coastal Gravesend were of wood-frame construction. Stone houses tended to be built near ridges, where appropriate-sized boulders were plentiful. To build a stone house at a location where rubble was scarce required significant manual labor, and the Van Sicklens, who, like most Dutch farmers of the period owned slaves, likely employed those slaves to transport rock to the site.

The Van Sicklen family occupied the house for the rest of the eighteenth century and through most of the nineteenth. Eventually it descended to Cornelia Van Sicklen, whose husband, Thomas Hicks, acquired it in 1842. (His carved initials survive on a ceiling beam near the eastern ground-floor fireplace of the house.) Hicks died in 1884, and his wife followed in 1893. The house sat vacant for a time, and then served briefly as meeting place for the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church in 1899. In 1904 the Hicks estate sold the house to William and Isabelle Platt, whose renovations resulted in a romanticized Dutch farmhouse set in a lush garden, which Mrs. Platt profiled in the June 1909 issue of Country Life in America. The Platts were the first to call this the “Lady Moody Homestead,” a name it has kept for more than a century.

By 1910 the Platts put the house up for sale (William Platt was a real estate speculator who was then involved in developments on Staten Island), and so began the perennial cries from preservationists and press that the Lady Moody House be rescued by the City or a civic group, or moved to Prospect Park or even to the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair. Its fate seemed secure after it became a V.F.W. post in 1945, but that was a short-lived incarnation. The house reverted to private status, and was bought in 1955 by Nunzio Maisano, who covered the front in imitation stone veneer. Ironically, this facing hides the real thing. (It wouldn’t be too difficult to restore the house to the attractive state in which the Platts left it; the original door, removed by Maisano, survives in care of Eric J. Ierardi, president of the Gravesend Historical Society.)

Nunzio Maisano’s descendants held the house for nearly fifty years before selling it. Now it is on the market again, and time is running out. (Couldn’t the City acquire the house as a gift to the neighboring school for use as a meeting place or exhibition space? Both the Historic Districts Council and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have expressed interest in the house. Why not tap them for assistance and grants?)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the property in 1966, but a hearing that year did not result in designation. Nor did subsequent hearings in 1970 or 2004, due to owner opposition. But the Commission has designated other sites when faced with similar resistance (e.g., the Hendrick I. Lott House at 1940 East 36th Street in Brooklyn), and in cases where the fabric of a structure has been significantly altered (e.g., the asphalt-shingled Sandy Ground cottages at 565 and 569 Bloomingdale Road on Staten Island). And the recent designation of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern LGBT movement at 51-53 Christopher Street in Manhattan, illustrates that the Commission is cognizant of the historical associations of a building, even when its architectural integrity has been compromised.

Despite the changes it has weathered, the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House remains the sole surviving eighteenth-century stone farmhouse in Brooklyn. It is one of two extant Dutch-American houses within the boundaries of the original Gravesend town square, where as late as the 1920s there were seven. It sits directly opposite the landmarked Van Sicklen Family Cemetery, which holds the remains of many generations who occupied the house. At the very least, it stands on the property of the remarkable Lady Deborah Moody, the first European woman to found a community in North America, a settlement chartered on the principle of religious freedom some hundred and thirty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I trust you will seize this opportunity to recognize publicly, formally, and legally, the significance of this site tied inextricably to the themes of Brooklyn history, Women’s history, American slavery, and religious freedom. Without landmark protection the house is doomed.

Thank you for your valuable time.

Sincerely,

Joseph Ditta

Author, Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn (Arcadia Publishing, 2009)


 Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under buildings, Charles William Bauhan, churches, Gilbert Hicks, Gravesend artists, Gravesend Cemetery, Gravesend Neck Road, Hicks family, Lady Moody House, Maud Esther Dilliard, Slavery, streets, Van Sicklen family

Gravesend Characters Past: Alexander Ganiard (1836-1904)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about the residents of our respective places, I turn my attention this time to letter carrier Alexander A. Ganiard and his pony, “Babe.” Credit for the discovery of this true pair of Gravesend characters goes to my friend, the talented artist, Steve Bialik.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday 22 May 1897, p. 5, col. 6:

GANIARD AND HIS PONY.

A Veteran Letter Carrier, Who is the Pioneer of the Present System of Postal Wagons.

Ganiard.1897

Alexander A. Ganiard (1836-1904) astride “Babe.” Click here to read Ganiard’s obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Monday 11 January 1904.

The question as to the best way to deliver mail to the families who reside in the remote sections of the suburbs has been a topic for discussion among letter carriers in the new wards ever since their annexation. [Note: Gravesend became the 31st ward of the City of Brooklyn on 3 May 1894.] The regulation carrier’s wagon has given satisfaction in nearly all instances when put to the test, but Alexander A. Ganiard, a veteran carrier attached to Station H, at Bath Beach, has found that running his route on horse back beats anything he has yet tried. His district lies between Bensonhurst and Coney Island creek, including what were formerly the villages of Unionville and Gravesend beach, and the West Meadows. The houses are in many instances far apart and quite a few are so situated that it is impossible to get up to them in a wagon. On the West Meadows before Aleck, as the mounted carrier is called, secured his pony, it was necessary for him to leave his wagon standing a considerable distance away from the settlement while he delivered the letters to the inhabitants of the place on foot. Babe, his pony, walks through water, brush[,] and, in fact, almost anything, and carries Aleck right up to the front door of nearly all the houses.

Ganiard and his pony are now familiar figures in the Bath Beach and Bensonhurst sections. Both have many friends and Babe is particularly well liked by the children. Letter Carrier Ganiard was born in Rochester and is 61 years old. He has been in the Brooklyn postal service for twenty years and has an excellent record. He is a war veteran, having served three years in Battery L, New York First artillery, as quartermaster. He was the first carrier to use a wagon for delivering mail in Brooklyn. It was a little over nine years ago and Joseph C. Hendrix was postmaster at the time. Babe, Ganiard’s pony, was formerly the property of Buffalo Bill. The animal is gray in color, 7 years old, 14 1/2 hands high and weighs about 900 pounds. When Ganiard first got him Babe was very wild and he has not got over it yet. It takes a pretty good man to ride him. Babe frequently runs away, but never does any damage and always ends up at the stable door.

Superintendent H.G. Buckley of station H says that Aleck and his pony do the best work imaginable and he also believes that the horseback delivery is the best yet tried for that particular section of the suburbs.

West.Meadows.cropped

Undated pen and ink sketch signed “Cook” of a “Scene between Coney Island and Bensonhurst, Long Island,” showing the marshy West Meadows traversed by Ganiard and Babe. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]


Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Gravesend Characters Past: Henry R. Williams (1840-1904)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places, I turn my attention to Henry R. Williams with this excerpt from The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Issued in Commemoration of its Semi-Centennial and Occupancy of its New Building; Together With the History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Time, edited by Henry W. B. Howard (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893), vol. 2, pages 1141-42:

Henry R. Williams (1840-date)

Henry R. Williams (1840-1904)

Captain HENRY R[OBERT]. WILLIAMS, one of the assessors for the town of Gravesend, was born on November 22, 1840, in New York City, but his parents moved to Brooklyn when he was nine years old. He attended one of the public schools until he was fifteen, when he engaged in the printing business. he worked as a printer until the civil war [sic] began, and in the spring of 1861 enlisted as a private in the 14th Regiment. His attention at all times to his duty and his bravery in the field soon won him the approbation of his superiors, and he passed rapidly through the different grades until he attained the rank of first lieutenant in 1862. In January, 1863, he served as acting assistant inspector-general of a brigade, in the First Army Corps, and thence was transferred to the command of the Balloon Corps of the Army of the Potomac. While serving on the staff of Major-General French, 3d Army Corps, he was severely wounded in the leg, near Culpepper [sic] Court House; when convalescent, he was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps, and thence to the 45th U.S. Infantry, finally retiring from the service in 1871. he then took up his residence in Buffalo, remaining there until 1886, when he removed to Gravesend and began to deal in real estate. Four years ago he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of one year as a member of the board of assessors, and subsequently was reappointed for a further period of three years. Captain Williams was president for two years of the Republican Association of Gravesend, of which he is now the secretary; he was a delegate to the national Republican convention, in Minneapolis, in 1892, and to the New York State Convention. He is connected with Long Island Post, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], and with Coeur-de-Leon Encampment, Knights of Malta.


Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Gravesend Characters Past: “Governor of Coney Island”

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention this time to the curious stereoscopic view below. It surfaced recently, as so many fascinating treasures do, on eBay.

Wyckoff.Governor.Coney.Island.obverse

E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., stereoscopic view no. 2076, recto, “A Trip to Coney Island. / Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island,” circa 1864-1869 [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

The image side shows a seated, portly gentleman, hands clasped across his rumpled, outdated frock coat. He wears equally unfashionable ruffles at his neck, and squints at the camera with a bemused half-smile, looking for all the world like William Claude Dukenfield, despite his flowing hair.

The reverse side of this stereoview — one in the series “A Trip to Coney Island” published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. circa 1864-1869 — bears the cryptic caption “Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island.”

Most internet searches on the phrase “Governor of Coney Island” return hits for Gilbert Davis, an early owner of the Pavilion, a dancing and entertainment venue at Norton’s Point (present-day Sea Gate). Davis, who died about 1870, was a wine merchant who so relished his unofficial honorific that he marked his casks “CGI” for “Governor of Coney Island.” But Davis was an upstart newcomer to Coney Island, at least in the eyes of the Wyckoff family.

Wyckoff.Governor.Coney.Island.reverse

E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., stereoscopic view no. 2076, verso, “A Trip to Coney Island. / Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island,” circa 1864-1869 [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

The Wyckoffs were among the first permanent European settlers of Coney Island. John Wyckoff (1787-1871), a great-great-great-grandson of Wyckoff family progenitor Pieter Claesen (died 1694), opened a seaside hotel, the eponymous Wyckoff House, in the 1840s. By the time the Anthonys issued their stereoview, Wyckoff’s son, John Jr. (1809-1873), had become proprietor.

Although the Wyckoffs are one of the best-documented families in the world, the Coney Island branch seems to have fallen through the cracks. Published information is sketchy or outright wrong. The standard genealogy of the Wyckoff family states that John Jr. died in 1868. He did not. He passed away December 8, 1873. His funeral took place three days later at the Wyckoff House, and he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. A subsequent notice in the Sag Harbor Corrector positively identifies him as the man in the stereoview:


Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under Coney Island, families, Gravesend characters, John Wyckoff, localities, Wyckoff family