A History of Greenpoint in Twenty-Five Buildings: The Old Meserole Mansion
Until the 1960s, New York had very little sense of the importance of historic preservation. It allowed the majestic Pennsylvania Station to be demolished in a tragic act of architectural homicide. The same was true in Greenpoint. In 1919, a similar local crime against posterity was committed with the demolition of the sprawling colonial Meserole family mansion.
The old wood-frame house covered a few lots at 1000 Lorimer Street between Norman and Meserole, but the structure actually pre-dated any streets in Greenpoint. It was an imposing edifice, set back off the street and surrounded in later years by wide lawns. The first part of the house was built in 1790, but as the family amassed considerable wealth over generations, the house grew to 13 rooms.
The original building was three stories high with a piazza. Later, a two-story extension was built on the west side of the house, and a single-floor extension was added to that western wing. A sitting room at the center of the house had all the original colonial hand-hewn boards, but other parts of the house were remodeled far more comfortably and elegantly.
The house was constructed at a time when Greenpoint was an isolated farming hamlet. Peter Meserole not only built the structure himself, but he even had to manufacture his own wooden “nails” to join the sections of wood together.
If the house was impressive, then the grounds were even more so. Once the house was surrounded by the famed Meserole orchard, which in its heyday produced hundreds of boxes of apples and cherries that were exported to Europe. The orchard was also famed for the many songbirds, which rid it of insects that ate the valuable fruit. The orchard extended east to Leonard Street, west to the river, south to Norman Avenue, and north to Calyer Street. Manhattan Avenue was once even called Orchard Avenue, so famous were the Meserole groves. There was a kind of clearing in the orchard with a fine view of 23rd Street in Manhattan in the far distance.
Adrian Meserole, Peter’s son, born in 1822, was the last occupant of the house. He was lonely as a young boy, because there were only five families in all of Greenpoint and only one boy his age. There was no local church or school, so he had to walk to Bushwick, unlocking the gates of the farms he passed on his way to school.
Adrian and his nine siblings were raised tending the orchard and harvesting its abundant fruit. The orchard was such a beautiful spot that it was compared to the Garden of Eden, which is perhaps the reason why the area came to be known as “ The Garden Spot” of Brooklyn. Meserole was old enough to recall his parents’ stories of slaves who cleared lumber in Greenpoint before the revolution.
Adrian loved the orchard, but he loved money even more, and he began to sell parts of the orchard off for real estate development. To facilitate his property’s development, he cut a lane through his groves later called “Meserole Avenue.” It became Greenpoint’s first street. Selling off the land made him a rich man, and he died a millionaire. He died 91 years after his birth—only a few feet away from the very spot in the house where he was born.