A new post on Brooklynology reminded me of a fine piece of history written by my colleague Dennis Holt. Dennis had the good fortune to stumble upon an 1885 edition of Lain's City Directory. It was sitting atop a pile of someone's garbage heap, and I can guarantee you he clicked his heels on the way home after finding it. It's true what they say about one man's trash...
Before phone books, city directories were published and included information such as address, occupation and race (see Brooklynology for more on race) for pretty much everyone in the city.
Dennis aggregated all the household information for a particular area, in this case Atlantic Avenue from the harbor to Fourth Avenue, and came up with a fascinating portrait of the thoroughfare as it was in 1885.
For example, he knew that there were 549 storefronts, among them 34 grocery stores, 28 tailors, 21 hair dressers, 21 butchers, 14 candy stores, 14 saloons, 10 laundries and 8 undertakers, along with a variety of other establishments.
His history of the street was first published to coincide with the Atlantic Antic in 1989, and it was written for The Phoenix, an old community paper that focused on Brooklyn's rising from the ashes (Don't forget, the Bronx wasn't the only place that was burning.) It's lengthy, but it's a good read. Check it out here: Atlantic Avenue: Portrait of a Brooklyn Street in 1885
And for your personal enjoyment, you can read some city directories at the Brooklyn Public Library or at the Brooklyn Historical Society, unless you're fortunate enough to find one in someone's trash.
RETURN TO HOMEPAGE