Brooklyn Structure: A Survivor of the Greek Revival in Bay Ridge
Editor’s note: This post was originally published and updated in 2011. You can read the previous post here.
Bay Ridge is an old town that was settled by the Dutch in the mid 17th century as part of the larger city of New Utrecht. The area was previously called Yellow Hook because of the color of the clay, but in 1853, after a series of terrible yellow fever epidemics, the town changed its name to Bay Ridge. The new moniker celebrates the pride and joy of the neighborhood – those incredible views of the Narrows and New York Bay.
Nearby, the town of Fort Hamilton grew up around the fort, an important defense structure built on the Narrows headlands between 1815 and 1831. In the mid-19th century, Fort Hamilton was a wealthy summer suburb with large mansions built along the meander and landscape of Shore Road that linked the two cities. In 1847, Joseph Bennett built this Greek Revival style mansion on a beautiful piece of land inherited from his grandparents on beautiful Shore Road.
Bennett’s grandfather was the first European to settle in the Gowanus area, and his grandmother was the daughter of New Utrecht’s largest landowner. The family was quite wealthy, and the Bennett house was one of the finest mansions on Shore Road.
It was set back from the road, surrounded by trees and a large lawn. Joseph Bennett lived there with his wife and four children and three or four Irish servants. Around him were several other members of the extended Bennett family, all on their extensive family land.
The yellow fever epidemics that struck the area took a heavy toll in the late 1850s, leaving many of the mansions on Shore Road empty. Joseph Bennett and his family moved to Staten Island and eventually sold the house.
A number of people lived in the house, including James Farrell. Farrell was born a poor dirt boy in Ireland and did well as a merchant and Tammany Hall agent. He was a colorful family and included a son, Jack, who acted as the promoter for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
The Farrells lived in the house from 1890 to 1912. Farrell died in 1910 and the sons shared what is now a very valuable property on Shore Road.
Clara and Herman Feldmann and their adult daughter Mina bought the house. They moved the house to the current location at 119 95th Street, which they had just bought, in 1913.
The property of a member of the extended Feldmann family still owned the house when it was listed as a historical monument in 1999. The house was empty at the time of deportation and threatened to be destroyed for development.
Greek Revival style mansions and farmhouses were once a staple of American architecture and the predominant style of detached houses built between 1820 and the late 1840s. Here in Brooklyn, older neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene and Cobble Hill still have row houses of the Greek Revival and a detached villa here and there.
Further out, you’ll also find mansions scattered from Clinton Hill to Crown and Stuyvesant Heights and beyond. They are rare and luckily many are landmarks today. Southern Brooklyn has very few.
In 2000, the new owners of the house hired the architecture firm Anita Bartholin Brandt Architects and PRESERV Building Restoration Management Inc. as contractors. With a grant from the Landmarks Conservancy’s Historic Properties Fund, they began a major restoration of the once-grand villa, repairing and replacing the clapboards, shutters, windows, foundations, porches and roofs – a total transformation. Today this important home is once again one of the most beautiful homes in Bay Ridge.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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