March 7, 2005
One of the first homes that jumped out at me when I moved to Brooklyn Heights was 135 Joralemon. In an orderly neighborhood it is neglected. Then in January it was boarded up and now it is abandoned. I pass the house every day and virtually every day it makes me stop in my tracks. It evokes The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. I've been a fan of Burton's work as long as I can remember. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was an early favorite, as was Choo choo: the Runaway Engine, but the story that most fascinated was The Little House which I knew as La Casita (one of the few children's books in my grandparent's house in Mexico). It's the story of a house built in a the country that gets swallowed up by the big city. I was compelled by that idea and still am.
A bit of research shows a house at 135 Joralemon was listed as "longstanding" in a survey done in 1830. Most of Brooklyn was rural back then with large wooded tracts, creeks, and farms. In the 1820's developers started building heavily in Brooklyn Heights with Federalist style rowhouses on 25 foot plots. It's possible 135 Jorolemon predates that first burst of development but a more likely scenario is that a house existed on the land and was torn down to build a the current rowhouse during this era. Stone and brick homes didn't appear in the neighborhood until the 1830's and 40's and it was in that era that most Federalist homes like #135 were torn town and replaced with brownstone. While this house had probably been swallowed up by it's neighbors by the mid 1800's, it's clear the owners tried to keep it up to date. The metalwork and porch date from the Civil War when these 'southern style' details were in vogue. The earliest photo I could find was labeled 1870 (although there is some doubt as to the date) showing the house much as it is today, although obviously in much better shape. By the 1930's it was already looking run down and slightly haunted (the picture from that era shows a "for sale" sign outside). Today the house seems abandoned. I know it won't happen, but part of me wishes it could be put on a truck and sent out to the countryside where it could breath again.