Category Archives: postal history

Greetings from Gravesend

There are picture postcards of virtually every community in the country, however small. In some cases they provide the only photographic documentation of a place. Many older views have become scarce and command high prices from collectors. The six Gravesend scenes below were published between 1907 and 1911 by “F. Johnson,” who was very likely Frederick Van Kleek Johnson (1875-1930), keeper of a general store. It’s hard to imagine such a countrified institution existing in Brooklyn, but Gravesend remained a quiet, rural neighborhood into the 20th century, as these postcards attest. You may have seen some of them separately, but here’s the complete set.


[1] Village Road [North], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[1] Frederick Van Kleek Johnson’s general store occupied the building at the left in this view of Village Road North looking east from Van Sicklen Street towards McDonald Avenue. It stood where Lady Moody Triangle is today. The street names “Village Road North,” “Village Road East,” and “Village Road South,” were not set in stone early on; they were often lumped together under the directionless “Village Road.” Today’s Village Road North was once called “Ryder Place” for the many Ryder family members who lived there.


[2] Firehouse and Town Hall, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[2] Gravesend’s last town hall, at 2337 McDonald Avenue (southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road), went up in 1873. The building held an auditorium on the second floor, a courtroom on ground level, and four basement jail cells. After the City of Brooklyn annexed Gravesend in 1894, the structure housed the predecessor of Fire Engine Company 254. It was demolished in 1913.


[3] M. E. Church, Neck Road, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[3] This small wooden chapel at 14 Gravesend Neck Road began life as the Sunday School / lecture room of the Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church (GRDC). It was built about 1854 near the northwest corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road, just south of the 1834 sanctuary of the GRDC. When the congregation moved to 121 Gravesend Neck Road in 1893/94, it took the lecture room to the new site to house services while the new church was under construction. In 1899 the little building was sold for one dollar to the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church (GMEC) and moved — for the second time — to the southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road and Van Sicklen Street. After the GMEC disbanded in 1914, the building housed the Coney Island Pentecostal Church, which replaced it in 1937 with the current stone structure on the site. The latter building is now the First Korean Church of Brooklyn.


[4] Public School No. 95, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[4] Gravesend’s first school opened in 1728 near the southeast corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In 1838 it moved to the east side of Van Sicklen Street, north of Gravesend Neck Road, and has remained there, in changing buildings, ever since, eventually coming to be called P.S. 95. The 1888 schoolhouse seen here stood opposite Lama Court, just beside the modern (1915) brick structure of P.S. 95 (at 345 Van Sicklen Street). It survived until a 1939 addition to the newer building forced its demolition.


[5] Van Sicklen St., looking North [from Avenue T], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[5] An item in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 30, 1899 described two newly-completed houses on Van Sicklen Street, near Avenue T, “costing $1,700 each and standing on plots 55 x 111 feet.” They were very likely nos. 194 and 190 Van Sicklen Street, seen at the left in this view looking north towards Avenue S from Avenue T. They were constructed by the carpenter Peter Wyckoff Johnson (1833-1900), who, incidentally, was the father of Frederick Van Kleek Johnson, publisher of these postcards. No. 190 Van Sicklen (second from left) was recently demolished and replaced by a monstrous McMansion. (I’m sorry if it is your monstrous McMansion, but it has no place on this historic street!)


[6] Sts. Simon and Judes [sic] R. C. Church, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[6] The first mass of the Roman Catholic parish of Ss. Simon and Jude was celebrated in a barbershop at 321 Avenue T on Christmas Day, 1897. In 1898 the cornerstone for a permanent church was laid at the northeast corner of Van Sicklen Street and Avenue T. That sanctuary was consecrated in 1899. The current church went up in 1966 on the site of the adjacent rectory (northwest corner of Avenue T and Lake Street), and the old building was demolished for a parking lot after the new one was dedicated in 1967.

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (



Filed under Avenue T, buildings, churches, Gravesend Neck Road, Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church, postal history, Ryder family, schools, streets, Village Road North

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:


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


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.


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 (

Leave a comment

Filed under Alexander Ganiard, Gravesend Beach, Gravesend characters, postal history

Letter from Gravesend, 1855

Before 1843 letters destined for Gravesend, which had no post office, went instead to Flatbush, where any passing resident could collect his mail and any for his neighbors to deliver at leisure. Shopkeeper Martin Schoonmaker became the town’s first postmaster that year, and he served until 12 July 1854, when he was succeeded by 22-year-old fisherman Gilbert Hicks. Hicks, a son of Thomas and Cornelia (Van Sicklen) Hicks, was born at Norton’s Point (now Sea Gate), Coney Island, on 6 March 1832, but by the time of his appointment as postmaster, he was living with his family in the house now known as 27 Gravesend Neck Road–commonly called “Lady Moody’s House”–which his mother’s Van Sicklen ancestors had owned for generations. Eventually he moved to Flatbush, where he died in 1903.

In the letter below, dated 1 August 1855 and postmarked the following day, he wrote to his uncle Elias, who lived in Rockaway, then a part of the town of Hempstead, which belonged to Queens County until 1898. Note the use of his franking privilege as postmaster to send the letter free of charge.

Letter from Gilbert Hicks to Elias Hicks, postmarked Gravesend, 2 August 1855 (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

“Dr. Baisley” is probably Robert B. Baisley, a Rockaway physician born around 1819; he does not appear to have been appointed to the position discussed. And the “melancholy accident at Coney Island” refers to the drowning deaths of the Rev. John H. Elliot of Williamsburg(h) and his daughter, who were dragged down by the undertow while bathing near the Oceanic House on 25 July.

Gravesend Aug 1st 1855

Dear Uncle Elias

Mr. Samuel Hubbard of this village, who is one of the Superintendents of the Poor of Kings County wishes me to write to you for some information, which he thinks you can give him. He says that the new Lunatic Asylum at Flatbush is completed, and that at the next meeting of the Board of Superintendents they will most likely appoint a physician to take charge of it. There are several applicants for the appointment, and among them a Doctor Baisley of Rockaway. The Superintendents desire to appoint a capable and worthy physician: one well qualified to discharge the duties which would necessarily devolve upon him in the Institution.

Mr. Hubbard thinks it very probable that you are acquainted with Dr Baisley, and can furnish him with some information respecting him. Mr H. would be greatly obliged to you if you would write immediately (or as soon as you can possibly) and give him your opinion of Dr Baisley, and also state whether you think he would be a proper person for so responsible an appointment. It is worth a thousand dollars a year. Direct the letter to Mr Hubbard who will consider it strictly confidential.

We are all as well as usual. Fish are unusually scarce just now but bring a good price. Mother went to Aunt Fanny’s week before last. She found all the folks there well.

I supposed you have read the newspaper accounts of the melancholy accident at Coney Island. I am unable to add anything to those accounts. Had the proprietors of the bathing houses furnished their establishment[s] with boats, ropes &c as they should have done no lives would have been lost. Now, after the accident has occurred, they have got them. There are very few boarders at the boarding houses on the Island this season, and since the accident on the shore the bathing house has been but poorly patronised. People are afraid to venture into the water.

The farmers, here, are carrying their potaters to market as fast as they can get them out of the ground. They are worth from 4/6 to 5/6 per bushel. The wet weather if it continue[s] much longer, it is feared will set them rotting.

Uncle Elias we would be very happy to have you make us a visit. It is quite a long while since you were here last. If I can spare the time, I will try to make you a short visit next Fall. I would like dearly to visit Far Rockaway.

I have not received a letter from Uncle Isaac in a long while but I occasionally receive papers.

Give my best wishes to Uncle William, and to Potter.

Respectfully yours,

Gilbert Hicks

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Ditta (


Filed under Coney Island, families, Hicks family, postal history, Van Sicklen family