Greenpoint’s Haunted House On Oak Street

Oak Street and Guernsey - Greenpoint's Haunted House - Photo by Megan Penmann
Greenpoint’s “haunted house” at Oak Street and Guernsey (137 Oak St). Photo: Megan Penmann

If I had to pick one house in Greenpoint to set a horror movie in it would be the big old house set back off the street at the corner of Oak and Guernsey. The red brick facade, spooky wooden double doors, cast iron railings at the building’s entrance, as well as the iron fence and gate at lawn’s edge all are original, dating to the house’s construction in 1887.

The house has a fascinating history and it is connected to an equally fascinating man who had the presidency of the United States stolen from him in 1876: Samuel Tilden. Tilden is probably one of the people who gets the least credit for making Greenpoint great. Tilden was an absolutely brilliant corporate lawyer who knew a good investment when he saw one. He bought a huge piece of land before the Civil War in Greenpoint that covered an area from Calyer Street to Milton and east to Leonard Street including the land that St. Anthony’s church now sits on. Tilden did a lot for our state. He broke the corrupt Boss Tweed ring and helped write our state Constitution. In 1876 he really should have been elected president, but lost when his party, the Democrats, cut a dirty back room deal that ended reconstruction and sold him out.

Greenpoint's most haunted doorway? Photo by Megan Penmann
Greenpoint’s most haunted doorway? Photo by Megan Penmann

Tilden was an extremely charitable man. He made millions and donated a lot of the money he made. He gave a huge gift that helped start our library system. His elegant home on Gramercy Park became the National Arts Club and he sold land at under market value to allow St. Anthony of Padua to build its church on Manhattan Avenue.

He made a lot of money selling off his land in Greenpoint and felt that he had to give back to the community. In the late eighteen eighties he hired the great German-American architect Theobald Engelhart to build a home for local indigent women at 137 Oak Street. I am a huge Engelhart fan because he built a lot of great other local buildings including the beautiful beaux arts bank on the corner of Franklin and Greenpoint and the beautiful Lutheran Church on Milton.

In the nineteenth century many older women ended up in poverty if their husbands died or if they did not have children. Realizing that older women were often poor, Tilden donated the building to Greenpoint in 1887. My friend, Gina Sheehan, remembers as a girl when the house still functioned for indigent women. She recalls that there was a real sense of sisterhood amongst the old ladies and described to me the communal effort of the ladies cooking together.

Today it’s a single occupancy residence building and the old women are long gone, but the house has changed little from the days when it was a haven for poor elderly women.

*This post was originally published on May 17, 2016.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.

10 Comments

  1. Joanna says:

    Thanks Geoff for writing this! I always wondered about that house.

    Reply
  2. William C Keenan says:

    Wow im i greenpoint native and i was not aware of this . Thanks for sharing this peice of history .

    Reply
  3. Peter says:

    Geoffrey,
    When I worked for ” Red’s Moving and Trucking ” in 1974, we delivered mattresses to them. I remember it being quite dark inside.
    Peter J. Choray
    11/1/17

    Reply
  4. Denise Stevens says:

    That’s a good one but I know of one better on McGuiness Blvd between Norman and meserole there was a house that we called the witches house..it was extremely scary in the night and you had a hard time seeing past all the trees and stuff..my mom had me take my communion photo in front of that scary house

    Reply
  5. Joe Makowski says:

    When my mom drove up to “ the Avenue” from Sutton St. to go to the Bank and do our other errands quite often we would park facing the house. It was spooky and mysterious to a 10 year old way back even on a bright sunny summer day in 1968!

    Reply
  6. Margaret fahey says:

    Is that house still there and is it for sale

    Reply

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