85 calyer street

A Greenpoint Landmark Now Seems Doomed

Thomas Rowland Local Millionaire
Thomas Rowland, local millionaire and builder of the USS Monitor

In a previous post I reported that there was an application to demolish 85 Calyer Street, the historic home of the builder of the first ironclad battleship in the United States Navy, the USS Monitor. The situation looks bleak and the historic house seems doomed. The new owner of the property, Daniel Kaykov, has received an approval to have the historic building demolished. Although the building is rich with local history, the building is not protected by landmark status, so little can be done to save the historic structure.

Sadly, the previous owner of 85 Calyer Street, a man named Tommy, not only knew the history of the house, but even expressed pride in owning this piece of local history. Once, when I was giving a historic walking tour he approached the group and showed us some of his historic photos of the house when Rowland owned it. The house once had a grand entrance for carriages and an elegant facade that has since been covered over with drab vinyl. The owner also told me of a kind of bunker in the back garden that might have been used to help smuggle booze into the area from the nearby Noble Street pier during the prohibition era. Continue reading

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A Piece of Greenpoint History Faces Demolition

85 Calyer Street
85 Calyer Street

Recently, I did a series of stories for Greenpointers about the twenty-five most historic local buildings. One of the posts I wrote was about 85 Calyer Street, the residence of Thomas Fitch Rowland, whose company, the Continental Iron Works, located around the corner on Quay Street built the famous ship. In 1859, Rowland founded the innovative factory. Two years later, he would help make history when visionary Swedish naval engineer John Ericsson approached him about building a revolutionary ship in Greenpoint, the ironclad Monitor, which would revolutionize warfare and make wooden ships obsolete. Ericsson was a frequent visitor to the house and the many conversations in Rowland’s house led to the realization of Ericsson’s plan for the United States Navy’s first Ironclad battleship, which fought the legendary battle against the Rebel ironclad, the Virginia, in 1862. Thanks to the Monitor’s victory, the North won the Civil War and slavery ended. Rowland produced a number of ironclad ships locally, employing 1,500 workers at his works during the Civil War. Rowland also received the first patent for an underwater oil drilling well, an invention that had dramatic effects on the oil industry. He died a millionaire and the house changed hands a number of times.

Thomas Fitch Rowland
Thomas Fitch Rowland

The house has been sold and is evidently set for demolition. The new owner of the property, Daniel Kaykov of the Renovation Group, a Forest Hills-based construction firm filed demolition paperwork with the city on August 31st and additional paperwork for a demolition has also been filed. The frame house, which has had its facade remodeled, is an important part of local history and allowing its demolition would rob the community of an important landmark. Currently, the house has no landmark status from the city so its destruction could occur quickly. I described the awesome achievement that Ericsson and Rowland accomplished in my book Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past when they built the Monitor in just a hundred and one days, so I would feel great loss seeing the building be demolished. The Continental Iron Works was also demolished, so 85 Calyer Street is the last building that is a direct link to the building of the Monitor. I hope that the community can rally to save this authentic Greenpoint Civil War landmark.

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A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: 85 Calyer Street

Thomas Fitch Rowland, illustration by Aubrey Nolan
Thomas Fitch Rowland, illustration by Aubrey Nolan

85 Calyer Street looks like many other frame houses in Greenpoint, but it was the home of the greatest mechanical genius to ever live in Greenpoint, Thomas Fitch Rowland, and one of the most important short conversations in American history took place in the parlor there. First, though, lets get a little background on the owner of the house, Thomas Fitch Rowland.

Rowland was born in Connecticut in 1831 and became a railroad engineer, quickly becoming one of the leading experts in the design and construction of steam engines. However, he decided to leave railroad engineering, switching to the construction of steam engines for sailing ships and also developing an expertise in metallurgy. He was soon invited to come to Greenpoint to build ships because of his twin areas of expertise. By 1859 he founded his own company, the legendary Continental Iron Works on Quay Street. Two years later, he would help make history when visionary Swedish naval engineer John Ericsson approached him about building a revolutionary ship in Greenpoint, the ironclad Monitor, which would revolutionize warfare making wooden ships obsolete. Continue reading

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