Looking for a great local trivia question? Which two men associated with Greenpoint ran for president of the United States? The answer: Samuel Tilden who was cheated in the election of 1876 and Charles Evans Hughes, who lived on Milton Street, who lost in 1916.
If you are a Brooklynite you might have heard of Tilden High School, but few people know anything about this important figure in local and state history. Although he is a forgotten figure today, few men did more to help New York State. Tilden was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1846, and few legislators in state history did more good. He used his position to expose corruption in state government, most notably through the impeachment of New York State Supreme Court Justices George G. Barnard, Albert Cardozo, and John H. McCunn.
His exposure of corruption within the U.S. Customs House was soon overshadowed by his most famous political achievement: the exposure and prosecution of the Tweed Ring, led by William M. “Boss” Tweed whose name lives down through the ages as a symbol of Tammany Hall Corruption. Tweed introduced a new city charter, which would further consolidate his corrupt hold on power, but Tilden, as chairman of the Democratic State Committee, denounced him and began a pitched battle to disable the Ring and end Tweed’s corrupt practices. Tilden’s successful prosecution of the Tweed Ring paved the way for his election as Governor in 1874. Two years later, Tilden became the Democratic nominee for president and probably won the election, but his own party sold him out in the corrupt bargain of 1876 that ended Reconstruction.
In the 1850s Tilden became one of the most successful corporate lawyers in America and a rich man. He also invested in Greenpoint real estate. The piece of land Tilden bought covered an area from Oak Street to Noble Street and ran from the river to Leonard Street. Tilden helped Greenpoint and increased the value of his real estate through his efforts in Albany supporting the bill allowing Neziah Bliss to open a ferry to Manhattan. Tilden sold off his holdings piece by piece in the 1870s and he must have profited massively from these sales. He sold a piece at the top of Milton Street to Thomas Smith, the millionaire ceramicist whose home became the Greenpoint Reformed Church.
However, today we remember Tilden more for his charity than for his wealth. He was one of the founders of the New York Public Library System, but his charity had many positive local effects too. He believed that Greenpoint should have churches. He gave a cut-rate price to the congregation of the Noble Street Baptist Church (known as Union Baptist Church), allowing them in 1860 to build their landmarked red brick home. He also owned the land on which St. Anthony of Padua sits. Although not a Catholic himself, he gave Bishop Loughlin a sweetheart deal, charging the church for only one of five lots they purchased on Manhattan Avenue and Leonard Street. The stately church was built in 1874.
The Former St. Elias Church, the iconic 1870 landmark brick building at 145 Kent Street, is going to be a monster single-family home if developers have their way. The church has been sitting vacant for more than a decade. In 2007, Hirsch Enterprises, a company specializing in church conversions, purchased the property for $3.5 million, hoping to cash in on the red-hot local property market, but it has yet to see a return on its investment.
The former Russian-Catholic Rite church offers a huge interior covering 13, 800 square feet, but the property has proven difficult to develop and sell for a number of reasons. The church is landmarked and any development that alters the gorgeous façade must be approved by the landmarks commission. Did we also mention the $7.1 million price tag, which might inhibit all but wealthy buyers? Continue reading →
Do you want to know about the extraordinary history all around you? (Yes!!) Well you’re in luck. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has just released a revamped version of its interactive landmarks map!!!
If you’re ready for a deep dive, this might be the best city for it, since the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation. The LPC recognizes individual landmarks, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts, designating sites based on historic, architectural and cultural significance. The map includes information, photographs, and historic designation reports for all 36,000 buildings and sites which the organization has landmarked since its inception in 1965.
You can search for landmarks by category, address or area; by style, architect, building type or era of construction. I popped in Greenpoint, and discovered we have 10 designations, including individual landmarks and historic districts. So without further ado, I give you, The Hist List: Every Historic Landmark in Greenpoint! Continue reading →
Greenpoint honors its heroes in different ways. John Ericsson, the inventor of the monitor warship is honored with a school and a statue. Pete McGuinness, the lovable “first Citizen of Greenpoint” was honored with a boulevard. However, there is nothing to commemorate Neziah Bliss, the man who founded Greenpoint—not even a plaque outside the home where he lived, 130 Kent Street. Continue reading →
Over-zealous waterfront development in Greenpoint is actually pretty old news. Scroll back the hands of time to the mid 1800’s and we’d find a very familiar scenario taking place on our shores. Before there were real estate moguls like George Klein and David Bistricer, there was Neziah Bliss–an entrepreneur that radically transformed the Greenpoint landscape forever.
Bliss, like his modern day compatriots, was a man of big ideas. He saw our expansive waterfront and could instantly hear the coins ringing. Continue reading →