A Clinton Hill Confection

frontview

Clinton Hill! We love it. Mansions. Villas. Carriages houses. Wooden houses galore. Recently we climbed a steep stoop to spend a rainy Saturday morning inside one of the most interesting of the bunch: 223 Washington Avenue, near the corner of Willoughby. Lately we can’t seem to stop comparing these shingled houses to sweets. Built ca. 1850 and originally occupied by a flour merchant named Billings Wheeler (which we think is a fantastic name), the house is just an all-around delight, inside and out!

chandelier-fireplace

The parlor floor dining room is a step back in time

 

Old world charm? Check. Fun, quirky details? Absolutely! The current owners, Leslie Brauman and Tim Vasen, bought the house six years ago and consider it a work in progress. We consider it simply beautiful. The best part of the house is how close one feels to history just by stepping through its doors. As the owners say, “there’s not a level floor in the house,” but that’s all part of the pre-Civil War charm.

 

shelf

The owners exposed the original wood beams, which double as a bookshelf

 

peaked-roofLeslie and Tim have a laid-back, fuss-free nature that is highly evident in the way they have put their home together. This is a house you want to live in. They have exposed elements of the home that speak to its past, such as the bookcase, which is composed of original beams.  The brick walls on the top floor (see photo on the left) show evidence of the original peaked roof; like many houses of this era, the top story was extended upward later in the 19th century. Elsewhere, Leslie and Tim have kept things pretty much as they found them, adding decorative touches but leaving the structure in place. Stewards of Brooklyn’s history, indeed.

No. 223 Washington Avenue was built as part of the first major wave of development in Clinton Hill. In the 1840s and 50s, wooden houses were the norm here. Many of these early homes were later replaced with gargantuan late-Victorian mansions or apartment buildings, but fortunately for us this one was spared that fate. The surrounding blocks contain some of the most eclectic wooden houses in all of Brooklyn, many of which also date from before the Civil War.

 

photos

Leslie and Tim have made their house feel like a home in every way

 

interiors

Original wood floors are all throughout the house. The owners keep a collection of old nails found in nooks and crannies.

 

taxphotoBillings Wheeler lived here from ca. 1850 until his death in 1899 at the age of 84. He had a wife named Harriet and eight children — four daughters and four sons — all of whom went on to live in the neighborhood, in very close proximity to their childhood home. Born in Stonington, Connecticut, Billings was a descendant of the Massachusetts Bay colonists and the son of Colonel Nathan Wheeler of the War of 1812. He was a prosperous merchant who operated out of 189 South Street in Manhattan, selling (according to the Brooklyn city directories of the time), “flour and feed.” He was also heavily involved in politics — “a Republican since the party’s existence,” according to his obituary.

Wheeler originally purchased the house from the Reverand John H. Mills, who developed this and the two neighboring houses along with his own residence on the corner of Willoughby Avenue.

The tax photo on the right shows 223 Washington Avenue around 1940. Looking very much the same!

 

 

1860_01_02_Mills-Wheeler

Original property conveyance record showing transfer from John H. Mills to Billings & Harriet Wheeler

letter

Leslie & Tim found this letter addressed to Billings Wheeler when they exposed the beams

 

We always consider it a treat to check a home off the top of our wooden house wishlist. Leslie and Tim, you are wonderful. Thank you for opening up your beautiful home and letting us dig up some of your history!

Readers: We want to feature your house! The Wooden House Project is on a mission to visit every wooden house in Brooklyn. We love them all: big, little, restored, works-in-progress, vinyl-clad, shingled, north, south, east or west! If you’d like us to pay you a visit, please email us at woodenhouseproj@gmail.com

 

stoop
The Wooden House Project’s Chelcey and Elizabeth, sad to say good-bye

 

  • Pingback: Spin Me a Spindle! : The Wooden House Project

  • Melanie Myers

    I live a couple blocks away and walk by this house all the time. This house and its neighbors are very high up on a hill and I’ve always wondered why. The house is really beautiful inside. Wonderful post! Thank you!

    • Tim

      Hi Melanie–

      One of my neighbors thinks the houses are higher because there are a lot of glacier-era rocks underneath (like the big specimen in ft greene park) and so leveling the hill was beyond 1850s construction techniques, at least for relatively modest houses like this one. The two houses directly across the street from us are also raised up about 15 feet above street level, and also predate brownstone construction, so I think she’s on to something.