In 1864, the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Montague Street hosted the Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fair, a fundraiser for the Sanitary Commission, which provided medical assistance to Union soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War. The fair, largely organized by women’s church committees, began on Feb. 22, 1864, and ended a few weeks later on March 8.
Two temporary buildings were erected on Montague Street to augment the academy in accommodating the fair, and the Taylor Mansion, at Montague and Clinton streets, was converted into an art gallery.
It was a tremendous success, raising $402,943.74 (millions of dollars in today's terms), and a great point of pride for Brooklyn, which had been invited to join New York’s sanitary fair, but in going it alone, outshined the metropolis across the river.
The Sanitary Fair commissioned photographer W.E. James to take stereotypes of the fair’s participants, who dressed in period costume. In addition to raising money for Union soldiers, the fair was an exhibition of great patriotism, celebrating the life of George Washington and earlier periods of American history. For example, the fair’s New England Kitchen was an ‘authentic reproduction,’ of a colonial era-homestead.
Below are some of the images that James took at the fair. They are now part of the Brooklyn Historical Society Photography Collection.
See the Eagle for some more detail on what went on at the fair and for an excerpt from the fair's newsletter, The Drumbeat.
The Brooklyn Public Library also has info on the fair with links to some of the original Eagle articles on opening and closing night.