This past Saturday, my friend Patty organized a walking tour meet-up in Brooklyn Heights. The itinerary was based on a travel guide she’d found from 1935. In fact she was so well-organized, that she created a Google Map of our route, which you can use for your own explorations, if you happen to be in the borough. Each person on the tour picked a location to research and present.
I had the brilliant idea to walk from my neighborhood, Greenwood Heights, through Park Slope and Boerum Hill to Brooklyn Heights. My feet are still hating me for it today. Anyway, we all convened in front of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, the long history of which was professionally described by Alison (the one who is not me). In the mid-19th century, its minister was Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe), and the church was an anti-slavery center and stop on the Underground Railroad.
From the church, we walked down Hicks Street to Middagh Street. I love that all the streets in Brooklyn Heights are covered by the shade of trees. That is not how it is in my neighborhood, nor on the East Village street I’m now looking at from the coffee shop window. There was, however, a lot of gusting wind on Saturday, reaching up to 40 mph that brought some of these branches down. Although considering I’ve lived in Oklahoma City, where the wind has an average of over 12 mph and has even sped over the state at 316 mph, I didn’t think it was that bad.
At 24 Middagh Street, we stopped to look at what is the oldest home in Brooklyn. It was built in 1824 and has a carriage house around the other side. It seemed to be in good shape, aside from the stairs and front door that looked a little warped. But I guess that’s why they don’t build too many wood frame houses anymore.
We passed by Henry Ward Beecher’s home at 22 Willow Street, where he lived while his infamous adultery trial was playing out, then went on to 19 Cranberry Street. It is known as the “Moonstruck House,” thanks to its role in the film Moonstruck. I have not seen this film, so I’m assuming that it is significant in the movie. I guess I’ll look for it next time I’m at the library.
We then came to 70 Willow Street, which was the location I picked to research. Its basement apartment was the home of Truman Capote when he wrote both Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. I wrote more about it in detail for Atlas Obscura. It is a beautiful Greek revival house, and I was shocked this week to suddenly see it everywhere thanks to it being put for sale for $18 million dollars. If it sells at that price (or even $6 million below), it will be the most expensive brownstone in Brooklyn. For my presentation, I read the first paragraph from Capote’s House on the Heights, where he starts with the wonderful line: “I live in Brooklyn. By Choice.”
We made a slight detour to the Promenade for its amazing view of Manhattan over the East River. We could also see construction on the new and developing Brooklyn Bridge Park. Apparently, the area around Willow Street is called Willowtown by locals, as if Brooklyn Heights didn’t sound elegant enough.
Wandering back into the heights took us to 155 Willow Street, presented by Elizabeth and Anne. Arthur Miller lived there during the time he wrote The Crucible (I might have to do a whole separate walking tour of Brooklyn Heights with just literary sites, there are so many). They showed us this window over the tunnel that runs from the basement of the house to the neighboring stables. I wonder if it is still used? I don’t think the same person owns both places now. Maybe the tunnel is up for rent?
Next we walked to 2 and 3 Pierrepont Place, a pair of Italianate mansions built in 1857. Old and elegant, they are now right next to a park and playground.
At One Montague Terrace, we saw where W.H. Auden and Thomas Wolfe used to live. Like I said, I really need to come back with a more thorough literary plan, because I had no clue that Thomas Wolfe ever lived in Brooklyn Heights. I got the impression from You Can’t Go Home Again that he would have lived somewhere a lot more gritty.
We ended our tour at Packer Collegiate Institute, which used to be the Brooklyn Female Academy, and has a very Gothic brick facade. We then got drink at Floyd, a bar that was dimly lit and crowded with old furniture and a bocce ball court. There, Leela told us about the exploits of 7 Middagh Street, which is now torn down, but at its high (or maybe low) point was the wild party house of artists and writers like Carson McCullers, Gypsy Rose Lee, Salvador Dali, and W.H. Auden.
For more on the Brooklyn Heights adventure, you can check out Patty’s post on her blog.