A Clinton Hill Confection
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!
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.
The owners exposed the original wood beams, which double as a bookshelf
Leslie 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.
Leslie and Tim have made their house feel like a home in every way
Original wood floors are all throughout the house. The owners keep a collection of old nails found in nooks and crannies.
Billings 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!
Original property conveyance record showing transfer from John H. Mills to Billings & Harriet Wheeler
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 firstname.lastname@example.org