Brooklyn Structure: The Queen Anne Home That Was Constructed
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated. You can read the original article here.
In 1886 the newspapers announced that the three-story Greek Revival house at 87 Remsen Strasse had been sold for $ 17,000. It had stood since at least the early 1840s. It was soon demolished and in its place was a 19th century-style mega Queen Anne townhouse that towered a story for its neighbors.
The house’s architect was William H. Beers, a relatively unknown but hard-working architect from Brooklyn, whose most famous building is probably the turreted storefront building called the Liebmann Building on the corner of Fulton and Hoyt Streets. Like the building that was built a year before this house, 87 Remsen has fine masonry, decorative terracotta, and strong lines. This house was the home of the wealthy and influential Knowlton family, a household name on the Brooklyn social register.
In 1889, the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide estimated the cost of construction at $ 50,000 and determined that this home was a top notch apartment, furnished with fine hardwoods throughout. It had gas and electric lighting, quite an innovation, as well as all other new improvements for the modern home of the time. It also had an elevator, but there is no easy-to-get record of when it was installed. The Knowltons moved into the house in 1889 and immediately became regulars on the Brooklyn social pages.
Joseph Knowlton was the son of William Knowlton, founder of one of the largest straw producers in the country. William began his business in 1833 in West Upton, Massachusetts, where the company was located. In the 1890s, Wm. Knowlton & Sons was run by the three Knowlton brothers Eben, the elder and president, and brothers Edward and George. They had sales offices on Broadway 564 in Manhattan and shipped their straw hats across the country and beyond. The company was known for the way its workers were treated, with company housing, charitable donations, and the like. All three brothers were popular and respected.
Eben and Mary Knowlton lived in Remsen 87 with their three children, son Eben B. and daughters Ella and Grace. The entire family was quite prominent in society, and their various social and charitable activities were often featured in the newspapers. The girls were “presented” to society at separate events, and the weddings of all three children made multiple papers. Grace, the youngest child, was married here in this house. You were one of the founding families of Brooklyn Heights Casino.
In 1909, Knowlton hit the headlines when the enormous hats in fashion that year turned out to be too big to be transported by rail in the usual way. The boxes were too big and couldn’t come through the freight car doors, and the first shipment had to be tied to the railroad’s snow plow car until a special freight car could be ordered. “The hats are like airships,” said a man, “I need a separate house for my wife’s hats, they are so big.”
In 1915, Mrs. Mary Knowlton died in her summer home. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. Ella Knowlton must have died too, as Mary’s husband, son, and daughter Grace were listed as survivors, but Ella was not. Patriarch Eben Knowlton died in 1938 at the old age of 93 at home in Remsen 87. He had only retired 12 years earlier.
Today Remsenstrasse 87 is a cooperative with eight units. Photographs of various units that were offered for sale reveal rich details from the period. It is a beautiful house with an eventful past. It’s a shame that someone made the entrance area dirty by eliminating the stairs, because otherwise it is in perfect condition from the outside. Hopefully Eben didn’t do that.
After his death, the house was sold to the Danish freight forwarder Hans Isbrandtsen. But this is another story….
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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