Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Angle Revisited (on Franklin and beyond)

After Monday's post, I'm seeing angles everywhere, specifically, the angle--the angle at which several buildings and lots throughout Prospect Heights and Crown Heights sit askew from the grid. On Franklin Avenue, the angle makes an appearance between St. Marks and Bergen, as seen in the photos above and the property map on Pshark.

A bit of birds-eye browsing reveals that the angle persists well into Crown Heights, even after the existing grid jogs slightly between Bedford and Rogers. You can see it here on the block between Sterling, St. John's, Nostrand, and Rogers, here between Lincoln and St. John's on either side of Albany Ave, here between Park and Sterling on either side of Schenectady, and here slicing through two blocks between Park, Prospect, and St. Marks on either side of Buffalo. Examples abound, and while I'm not taking out my protractor and sitting it against my laptop's screen, it's fairly clear that these are all examples of the same angle.

Whence does this uniform misalingment originate? I did my best to figure it all out on google, proposing three theories, one of which--the farm lots theory, that this grid conformed to a previous gridding of farm lots--was validated by this post of Josh Jackson's in LOST Magazine. It's worth a read, but the key map is at the very bottom, a rendering of Prospect Heights from the late 1880s with the old route of the Flatbush turnpike and the radiating farm-lot boundaries. As shown very clearly, the angle of the stray buildings originates from the line of the old lots, which Jackson postulates were drawn to face the Flatbush Turnpike.

On Monday, I called this "the answer," but now I'm not so sure. I think it's half-right: the angle originates from the gridding of farm lots. However, I'm not convinced that these lines were drawn to face the Flatbush Turnpike. After all, the angle persists miles east of the old route of the turnpike, and as these maps from the NYPL show, it continues to be the product (presumably) of farm-lot boundary gridding. Moreover, the Flatbush Turnpike wasn't a very straight road, as evidenced by the map Jackson uses. Gridding to face a portion of it would make sense, but this grid was apparently so widespread that it would also have been at odds with the angle of the road in other places. Another old thoroughfare, the Hunterfly Road (which got its start as an American Indian trail), can be seen jogging through both grids in this map.

What seems to emerge from these maps, and the persistence of the angle, is that a whole swath of central Brooklyn was gridded for farming in a certain fashion well after both roads were laid. Perhaps this was based on the angle that Jackson found in Prospect Heights, where the lots face that particular piece of the Turnpike, but it seems just as likely that this effort at imposing order ignored the route of both of the old paths in its midst. The question becomes: when were all of these lots gridded, by whom, why, and with what organizing principle?

At any rate, I'm going to keep looking for angles. It's served me well so far, and it occasionally turns up great pieces of history, as in the case of the discovery of the Hunterfly Road Houses in historic Weeksville. Besides, every writer needs an angle.

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful piece. I use to live off of Franklin Ave and I think the only other place I've read this before was in The Real Deal magazine.