Life From Main Street Brooklyn in 1872

(Photo not from 1872, but shows Main Street in 1927. courtesy New York Public Library)

One of our readers, EPC (@epc), came across this old 139 year article from the Brooklyn Eagle (July 2, 1872) about Main Street in Brooklyn: I was digging through the Brooklyn Public Library scans of the Brooklyn Eagle and came across this column (can’t tell if it’s opinion/editorial if they even made that distinction) from Page 2 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for July 1, 1872. The first couple of paragraphs are the best, then it sort of slides into gross caricatures of Jews. Here’s the first two paragraphs:

“It is a peculiarity of Main street wherever you find a Main street, that it never is the main street. Doubtless it once was the main street, but cities grow, and men may come and men may go, while Main street sinks into the general rut of bye streets, and its place is usurped by upstart thoroughfares with no distinguishing name. So of Main street, Brooklyn. Time was when it occupied the place Fulton street holds now, and it is not impossible that the march of local improvement may again invest it with a factitious importance (as leading from somewhere to somewhere else). But at present there is not a street in this broad city of so little commercial or social importance as Main street.”

“To speak truth, it is an unsavory thoroughfare. Cologne itself, the city of seven distinct smells, can produce a thoroughfare to vie with Main street in all that is evil smelling and febrifacient — but Brooklyn can with difficulty do so. By day the garbage of a thousand tenement houses is thrown in the street; that is a physical disease. By night its corners are infested by loafers and its sidewalks people by ward politicians; that is a social disease. Altogether, as you might infer, Main stret is in a bad way. And yet there are many good people who live in Main street, and many better people (in a social sense) who have lived in Main street, and can look back upon their tenement house experiences from the bow windows of their brownstone fronts. I was about to say that there are those of Main street who example all the Christian virtues, but I bethink me that most of its residents are Jews.”

The last paragraph describes Main Street’s merchants:

“There are no pawnshops in Main street, but their place is supplied for all practical purposes by the second hand clothing stores, of which there are certainly enough and to spare. The other industries represented in the street are thee of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, with a slight tinge of the legitimate rum dealer and the illicit whiskey distiller. But these are nothing of themselves. The life of Main street is the Catherine Ferry, and while that remains Main street will hold its own as a peculiar and distinctive thoroughfare.”

Again, not entirely sure how factual it was meant to be then, but it’s an interesting contrast to Main Street of today (which is even shorter than it was in 1872).

Thanks Ed for the tip! Note above photo of Main Street is from the New York Public Library: “Main Street, north from a point sount of Prospect Street. In the background, a section of Manhattan Bridge (November 1, 1927)”

(Brooklyn Eagle (July 2, 1872) (PDF)
{Dumbo Then and Now, series, DumboNYC}

2 Comment