Last spring, Chelcey, Sara and I were lucky enough to be invited inside the lovely Brooklyn Heights home of Robin Jaffe, who moved there three years ago with her family. Robin’s house at 72 Hicks Street is one of those drop-dead stunning Brooklyn Heights treasures — the kind I’ve walked by many times over and dreamt about. It’s not everyday one gets a peek inside on of the oldest wooden houses in Brooklyn. Luckily for you readers, we took a lot of pictures.
Brooklyn Heights was the first incorporated village in the original city of Brooklyn, and thus has some of the oldest (and many of our favorite!) wood frame houses in the borough. This corner may be unrecognizable to us today, but we know it as a site that held one of our most beloved periodicals.
I simply don’t know what I’d do without the Brooklyn Historical Society. I credit most of my Brooklyn knowledge to its wonderful collections, which are invaluable to anyone looking to research a house’s history. If you fall into that camp (and since you’re reading this I assume you do), head on over to the BHS library on the corner of Pierrepont & Clinton Streets and spend an afternoon in one of the most stunning interiors in all of Brooklyn. While there, you’ll probably encounter Elizabeth Call, Special Collections Librarian.
Since the Wooden House Projects gets so many questions about how to research your house, I thought I’d spend some time with Liz getting her take on the collections that would be most interesting to our readers.
The Wooden House Project is now on Instagram! Follow us here and be sure to tag all of your photos #woodenhouseproject – we’ll be featuring a photo from the pool each week. Or visit our Get Involved page for other ways to connect with us!
I was captivated recently by a thread on the Brownstoner forum, on which a homeowner had inquired about the possibility of converting a frame house to brick. Now, I’m not an architect, so I can’t speak for the feasibility of this, and in any case I certainly don’t advocate for it. As I hope I’ve established so far, frame house are a precious and unique part of Brooklyn’s past that don’t receive nearly as much appreciation as they deserve. But looking back throughout history, perhaps this homeowner’s dream isn’t so ludicrous after all. Many of New York’s early, Federal-era rowhouses are in fact built of wood but have brick fronts.
Brooklyn Heights was the first historic district to be designated in New York City by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965. Thankfully, the last forty-six years have resulted in the preservation of some of the earliest frame houses in Brooklyn. Many of them were built even before Brooklyn became a city in 1834! So it’s no mystery as to why it is a treasure trove for architecture enthusiasts like us here at The Wooden House Project (wooden houses were outlawed in Brooklyn Heights as early as 1852). Take a look at a small sampling of the lovely Federal and Greek Revival doorways found on Hicks and Middagh Streets; some old, some newly-restored.
24 Middagh Street
We checked in today at 146 & 148 Hicks Street, the two beautiful frame houses in Brooklyn Heights that were sadly hit by a tree last weekend during tropical storm Irene. We were glad to see that only minor damage was sustained, though the repairs will no doubt be costly and time-consuming. These homeowners have clearly been loving stewards of their houses so far, and we wish them the best of luck with their restorative work.
On April 16th, 1852, the City of Brooklyn passed a law forbidding the construction of wooden houses in the neighborhoods we now call Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, DUMBO and Carroll Gardens. Because Brooklyn Heights was one of the first “suburbs” of Manhattan, and because it was included within the early fire limits, its surviving frame houses are today some of the oldest in the borough.