Memory Lane: Stewart McDougall’s First House in Boro Park
It is a well-known fact that Boro Park started out as farmland—and it wasn’t all that long ago. The bustling shtetl that we know as such a center of Jewish life—with possibly the greatest concentration of shuls per capita outside Yerushalayim, and which is so overdeveloped as a result of a housing crisis—was virtually uninhabited only a century and a half ago.
The development of Boro Park with such ferocious speed, and over such a short period of time, is an important story that has to do with various builders and developers who purchased parcels of land from the farmers for pittance, and proceeded to develop it in their varied architectural and structural styles.
Which brings us to the Steward McDougall House, which was located on 44th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, in Boro Park (today the site of a row of homes) which is said to be the very first home in Boro Park.
Stewart McDougall was a pioneer developer who began buying large swaths of property in Boro Park when it was only grazing land, and held on to it. A news article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 5th of 1918, announces the death of this pioneer: “Stewart McDougall, Land Owner, Dies; Foresaw City’s Development; Sold His Earnings When Subway Was Built, and Reaped a Huge Fortune.”
Stewart McDougall was one of those smart men who was there at the right time, with money in his pocket, and the ability to see what the future would hold. He had been born upstate, in Washington County, and came to Manhattan as a young man, and was a successful wholesale poultry merchant at the Washington Market, in Greenwich Village. In 1864, he bought his first farm in the southwestern corner of Kings County, in the town of New Utrecht. At the time, there was nothing but farmland in the area as far as the eye could see.
Over the period of the next twenty-five years, he bought more and more land around his original farmstead, eventually becoming the largest landowner of farmland and pasture in Brooklyn. There were certainly other huge landowners, the Bedford branch of the Lefferts family most immediately come to mind, but they sold most of their property back in the 1850s, as the city of Brooklyn grew. Stewart McDougall was just getting started.
McDougall’s friends encouraged him to start selling, but he stood firm, saying the time was not yet right. The center of his farmstead was a large wood framed farmhouse on a hill, built in the Italianate style. It could have easily been located in upstate NY, or in any farming community in the Northeast. When the street grid was laid out, his farmhouse was on 10th Avenue, between 44th and 45th Street. A good perch atop which he would sit and watch his fortune grow (that area is among the most elevated in all of Boro Park).
Indeed, an article in the aforementioned publication from two years prior—100 years ago, — predicts that with the recently completed railroad that connects the large business centers in Manhattan, and cut the commute time to those locales in half, Borough Park would see a real estate boom.
“Borough Park enjoys the distinction today one of being one of the most favored sections of the Greater City. The residential locality has waited long and patiently for the facility that shortened the distance in railroad lines to and from the business centers of Manhattan. Nothing stands in the way now to prevent Borough Park from building up solidly in the business sections and with proper limitstion in the residential neighborhoods. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit is providing satisfactory transfer arrangements to the section (Boro Park) and Manhattan.”
The development did not come at once. When homes started to be built, the infrastructure of Boro Park could not keep up; and with cars not being the primary mode of transportation, paved roads were not as important. Which led Boro Parkers of the ensuing decades to term Boro Park “blutte-ville” (mud in Yiddish) because, despite the many homes on many blocks, the streets were still not paved. Until possibly as recently as the early 1930’s, the section of 14th Avenue beyond the Sfardishe Shul (after 45th Street) was unpaved.
Boro Park of today is a far cry from blutte-ville, but a mere one hundred years ago, one needed to be a visionary to foresee that it would become inhabited. But surely the growth of Boro Park of 2016 is far beyond what could ever have been envisioned by those quintessential pioneers of Boro Park.
Photo Credit: Oldnycimages.com