What's Up With Parkville?

Brendan

I have a confession to make. Up until this past November I wasn't a Brooklynite. I've been teaching students to love Brooklyn but, for the past six years, I've been living in Astoria, Queens. Now, don't go thinking I'm ashamed - I have tons of Queens pride. But, in the spirit of having a shorter commute and fewer (read: zero) roommates, I've moved to South Brooklyn. 

I mentioned to a friend that I'd moved to Kensington and, upon telling him what my cross streets were, he retorted, "No, you live in Parkville." Naturally, I was offended. First of all, I teach kids about Brooklyn's history so you'd think I'd have my neighborhoods down by now. What's more, you would think I would know my own neighborhood, right? 

Apparently not.

Parkville is one of those wonky neighborhoods that isn't often referenced because a) it is tiny and b) it is old and has since been swallowed up by other neighborhoods. So, I embarked on a tiny quest to learn a few things about my tiny new neighborhood. Want to know what's up with Parkville? Here, here's what's up. 

The neighborhood of Parkville sits just below Kensington and is often lumped in with it. The border streets are 18th Avenue to Avenue H and from Coney Island Avenue to McDonald Avenue. You can see an odd little diagonal street grid that goes against the more dominant perpendicular grid. Notice the red circle in the below image. 

"Brooklyn." Google. 12 Jan. 2015. 

And a close up.

"Parkville." Google. 12 Jan. 2015.

Parkville's history begins with the construction of the Coney Island Plank Road (now Coney Island Avenue). Though a path had existed for many years, an official road opened in 1850 to improve access to Coney Island, which, with the 1824 creation of the Coney Island Hotel, had become a popular tourist destination for the rich. Originally a wooden plank road, it was graded and turnpiked by 1860. The communities of Windsor Terrace and Parkville popped up along this scenic route as havens from the bustle of Brooklyn and pit stops on the way south. 

Toll gate on Coney Island Plank Road. 1857. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Called Greenville until the 1870s, the land that would become Parkville was purchased by the Freeman's Association in 1852. They then bought the Ditmas farm to the north giving them about 114 acres of land to parcel and resell. 1853 brought graded tree-lined streets, wells, and a growing population. By 1860, Greenville boasted a population of 200.  

F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island, N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

During the 1870s Parkville gained more folks and thus needed more services. PS 92 was constructed to serve the neighborhood's youth. The school was later renamed PS 134 and was replaced by this hulking beauty in 1906.

PS 134. 1906. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Around the turn of the century nearly 400 public schools were either designed or supervised by C.B.J Snyder. Snyder was the Superintendent of School Buildings from 1891-1923 and he introduced the very popular H-shape and designed some of NYC's most beautiful public school buildings. The inscription on the bottom right of the above photo reads "CBJ Snyder archt." 

St. Rose of Lima, one of the few Catholic Churches outside the then Town of Brooklyn, was also built in 1870. No longer did Parkville's Catholics need to travel into Brooklyn for mass. The current structure was finished in 1925 and today has services in both English and Spanish as well as both a Pakistani and Filipino apostolate.

St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church. 1932. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Oh, and Mary Tyler Moore went to Sunday school here. So, there's that. 

The late 1870s brought the picturesque Ocean Parkway through the neighborhood. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Fredric Law Olmsted (of Central and Prospect Parks as well as Eastern Parkway fame), Ocean Parkway is known for having the first municipal bike lane in the United States (1894). Brooklynites have always been really into bikes

Parkville was part of Flatbush until 1894, when the then City of Brooklyn annexed the area. (Maybe Brooklyn was jealous of Flatbush's new bike path?!) Consolidation in 1898 would make Brooklyn into one of New York City's five boroughs and continue to swell its population with large apartment buildings popping up on Ocean Parkway in the early twentieth century.

Desk Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Beecher Hyde, Inc., 1921. Print. 

Out of curiosity I wanted to see when my building was built so went hunting for its Certificate of Occupancy. If you've never looked up your building you 100% should. Sometimes the NYC Department of Buildings shares amazing tidbits with you like this one:

Certificate of Occupancy. New York: New York City Department of Buildings, 1964. Print.

My building was built in the early 1960s and used to have an outdoor pool! It is most certainly gone now. Either that or I am completely oblivious to my surroundings at all times. 

While researching for this entry I stumbled across a few great stories about Parkville's residents. One stands out and that is the one I shall tell you now. Be forewarned, if you're squeamish perhaps you should just stop reading now. It's about to get a little sad and a lot bloody. 

One of Parkville's early prominent residents was named Mortimer Tunison. Mort for short. Mort became a fixture of the neighborhood when he opened a hotel on the corner of what is now Foster Avenue and Coney Island Avenue in 1860. You can see his establishment in bottom right of the below map: M.C. Tunison Hotel.

 

F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

Mort's name pops up in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle a few times in the 1860s: he was an inspector for the Democratic Committee (though I don't know what that means), a witness to a shooting, hosted political meetings at his hotel, and was an all around standup guy. In 1866 a law was passed in New York State closing saloons on Sundays. The Excise law, as it was called, impacted many hotels and saloons on the Coney Island Road as Sunday was the most popular day for tourists to take the road and, because of that, the most lucrative day for saloon owners. Mort's hotel was clearly not just a bar; it served as a community center and thus it survived the law's passage. The Eagle commented that "There are still, however, a few good hotels on the road that can stand the pressure, and first of all comes the well-known establishment kept by Mortimer Tunison, familiarly known as 'Mort.' This is the headquarters not only of the roadman, but of all classes that patronize the road, and has all the requisite accommodations, drawing rooms, handsome gardens and shrubbery on the one side, for the accommodation of ladies and children, and on the other, the extensive piazza and bar room, where Michael Rickards presides."

Michael Rickards was such a well-known bartender that he actually had his photo published in the Eagle.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

He appears in the New York State census record from 1865 along with all the other residents of Tunisons:

Mort (50), Mort's (much younger) Irish wife Mary Ann (30), his daughters Harriet (16), Mary (9), and Rachel (3), his brother Samuel, Michael the bartender, as well as four domestics (three of whom were also Irish). 

New York State Census Bureau. Flatbush, N.Y. 1865. Print. 

Mort was described by friends as a man with a "singularly joyous temperament" who was "an inveterate practical joker. Nothing pleased him better than to get his friends into jocular entanglements." He was also quite the pillar of morality and was "intolerant of anything unseemly, and nothing of the kind was ever attempted at his place." It was said that men's wives and daughters were just as safe at Tunison's as they were in their own parlors. Alas, not even Mort's impenetrable parlor could save Mort from himself.

As Ocean Parkway developed, the Coney Island Road felt the effect. Many hotels and stores picked up and moved their business to take advantage of the well-traveled Parkway. Mort refused, and tried to keep his place of business exactly as it had been for the previous twenty years. Sadly, his finances took a hit as his rooms and bar sat empty. There is a good chance that Mort's attention lay not on his finances (or lack thereof) in the late 1870s, rather on his ailing daughter, Mamie. In 1876 she took ill with consumption, dying in the Spring of 1878. Mamie "was a beautiful and accomplished young lady, the light and life of the family circle." After her death, Mort's health began to deteriorate. He "became affected with a crossing in his eyes which entirely altered his natural cast of countenance and his family and friend were reluctantly forced to realize the fact that his once vigorous mind was disturbed." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Oct. 1879.

On the morning of October 30th, 1879, Mort's brother went to wake him. Upon entering his room "a shocking spectacle met his gaze. Reclining on the bed was the dead body of his brother, with a ghastly wound in the neck, from which the blood had poured in a thick stream over the bed and on the floor. An open razor, with which he had evidently cut his throat, was lying on the floor close to the side of the bed."

Yikes.

It is clear by the outpouring of kind words that Mort was to be missed. Sadly, his memory would become ever so slightly tarnished by an event that would happen a few years later in his old hotel. 

Nothing immoral ever happened in Tunison's Hotel, but the same cannot be said for the National Hotel, the name by which Tunison's would go when it was sold to one Christopher A. Plath in 1883. Plath also owned the Palace House at 283 Bowery in Manhattan. Just so we're all on the same page, the Bowery was known for its dance halls, drinking establishments, and brothels in the 1880s. The National Hotel was managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Cole, both of whom had records for violating the Sunday drinking law. 

On March 15th, 1884, a Mrs. Mabel Robinson met her tragic end in the parlor of the hotel. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 Mar. 1884.

Slumped in a chair. Naked. Burned. 

Double yikes. 

The Eagle followed the story. Mrs. Robinson was separated from her husband (not the first time) and had fled to a friend's in Brooklyn. The reason for the separation was said to be Mrs. Robinson's love of the drink, though later reports claim it was actually her husband's drinking that caused the drama. Regardless, an unnamed informant reported that Mrs. Robinson had been at the hotel visiting her close friend Mrs. Cole for about a week before her demise and, during that time, she had allegedly 'entertained' a few gentlemen. That fact was never substantiated. It was also said that Mrs. Robinson had been seen wandering the neighborhood intoxicated and with a strange man the evening before her death. 

Mrs. Cole was the last person to see Mabel alive. And the first to see her dead! (It's like an Agatha Christie novel!)

Mrs. Cole's testimony appeared in the Eagle on March 17th, 1884:

I reside at present at Parkerville* L.I., at a place commonly called Tunison: had been acquainted with deceased about one year... I had just got into bed when I heard a scream; I ran downstairs at once and saw deceased running through the "green room" enveloped in flames; I ran to the kitchen and, procuring a pail of water, threw it upon her; after throwing the water upon her she arose and ran into the parlor, where I tried to pull off her burning clothing, but it was unsuccessful; I then ran upstairs and told Mrs. Hogan** who came downstairs with me to the parlor, and we there found deceased sitting in a chair dead; her clothing which consisted of a flannel petticoat, chemise stockings and knit undershirt, were still burning.

* Parkerville? I don't know what that's about.

**A friend staying in the hotel 

Mrs. Cole goes on to say that she discovered a shattered lamp in the kitchen and that she had locked the doors with Mrs. Robinson inside before retiring. With the facts as presented, three theories arose: Mabel let a jealous lover in who struck her with a lit oil lamp, a forlorn Mabel struck herself with a lit oil lamp, or Mabel knocked into a lit oil lamp on accident and lit herself on fire. All three theories involved an intoxicated Mabel.

The most accepted theory seemed to be the latter: a terrible terrible terrible terrible accident. Terrible.

So, that's Parkville. I know, right?

It is amazing to stand on the corner of Foster and Coney Island Avenue today and know that Tunison's Hotel once stood there. And as a final hurrah here is an actual picture of Tunison's! The image accompanied a nostalgic article about old Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

Needless to say, I am now super stoked to know that I live in Parkville and have been telling all of my friends about the history of my tiny neighborhood ad nauseam. 

Parkville Pride! I'm making t-shirts. 



Vicki Jenssen

Hi...my father's Norwegian parents built a new house (1/2 of a duplex) in 1919 on the corner of Walsh Court and Ave I. 306 Walsh Court. Oscar Jensen was an electrical engineer trained in Arendal, Olga carstensen was also from Arendal but they met in Bklyn n a singing society and married 12-12-1912. My father was born in the house in January 1920 before the electricity was turned on, they borrowed a Ford Model-T lamp from a neighbor. That street was new so that when it was paved in the late 1920's, it was flat (not over cobbles) so that every kid in that area rollerskated on Walsh court. My father Carrsten and his brother De got to be excellent skaters and street hockey players so that it was not difficult for them to become excelent ice hockey payers. this was a fact that was difficult to explain to my canadian friends...lots more to tell. Go Parkville!
Tue, Mar 10 2015 12:00 pm Permalink
Harry

Very cool, map links not working at the moment alas. What about riding academies on Ocean Parkway or in Parkville, leads? And what street would Lima Church have been on officially when built?
Fri, Nov 9 2018 5:40 pm Permalink
Elizabeth Weinstein

My great grandmother emigrated to Parkville in 1866 with her three sisters, from the island of St. Thomas. They were sent as children to live with relatives. In the letters their father wrote to them it was always referred to as Greenfield, not Greenville. I'd love to know more about the neighborhood, but can't find much.
Mon, Apr 1 2019 12:13 am Permalink
Richard Steinfeld

I read your article, and thank you so much, Brendan--it's five years after you posted this. and here I am in Tennessee having just discovered your witty piece. First, please allow me: I could contribute an entire tome in response, but since this is a blog, I'll limit myself to a few significant points. So, listen up, everyone. There's virtually no mention on the Web about Parkville, and in the few utterances that exist, the posters have gotten the southern boundary wrong, too far to the north. Trust me: I grew up there during the 1940s and 50s. And I must confess that I was never clear, myself about the Parkville vs. Kensington question. I mean, it could have even been Flatbush, but never Bensonhurst, for Bensonhurst was some other amorphous (but larger) place across Dahill Road, and definitely beyond McDonald Avenue. Being sun-phobic, I didn't like Bensonhurst because it had almost no trees, unlike the numerous large, heavy Oaks in my own neighborhood and beyond to the east. I guarantee you that Parkville is a real place despite its amorphousness. In the mists of my own mind, Parkville has solidified as a village within Kensington (or not), at Kensington's southern edge. Likewise. it's also a village (except that it isn't) at the western edge of Midwood/Flatbush. I place Parkville's southern border firmly at its logical, practical position: the northern edge of Washington Cemetery, the cemetery cutting off the streets east to Ocean Parkway. To the east of there, I'll have to concede to someone else as to whether that's Parkville or not because I'm too vague, myself. I mean, to me, Parkville is so tiny that it just peters out at Ocean Parkway. With my neighborhood's focal point being the Culver Line's Avenue I subway station, the lands south of Washington Cemetery were as foreign as Ceylon, New Jersey, or Poughkeepsie. But the cemetery's northern edge firmly defines Parkville's southern boundary along Bay Parkway, so who am I to object if anyone wants to include the Bay Parkway station, too. But, wherever is the "park" in "Parkville?" I never knew of any parks within my Parkville. It couldn't be Prospect Park, because Kensington has a better claim to that, being obviously closer. Perhaps the answer to this question is shrouded in the mists of history. Regarding Parkville's legitimacy, two points: Located on McDonald Avenue, there was a station on the Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. You didn't know about the Long Island Rail Road in Parkville? That's because its passenger service was discontinued before you were born. This station was named "Parkville." I have the postcard photo in which this station building was signed "Long Island Railroad, Parkville Station." In this photo, a Culver el train (heading for the 5th Avenue El) shares the streetcar tracks in front of the station on McDonald Avenue between Foster Avenue and Elmwood. Later, around 1920, the el trains were moved from the street onto the new elevated structure along with trains of the new BMT 4th Avenue subway. The Long Island's railroad tracks were also placed into a cut below ground level, and the New Haven Railroad became a big-time tenant on the LIRR, upon which rolled most of the freight from the American South (and much from the west) destined to points in New England. All those freight cars crossed the water on barges every day, then were assembled into trains at Bay Ridge, to continue eastward. So, yes, indeed: our Parkville was a real place along America's interstate freight railroad network. On various official and railroad advertising maps, the tracks of both lines (the LIRR and the South Brooklyn Railway on McDonald Ave -- see below) were connected by two different curves, the place designated as "Parkville Interchange." And when I was young, there was a public LIRR freight yard at McDonald and Ave I, where Shoprite stands today. I'm fairly sure that this yard was named "Parkville." Via a pair of interchange tracks at the southeast side of the yard, freight cars, and subway cars fresh from the factory, were routed via the South Brooklyn Railway, a little freight railroad operated by the BMT and later by The New York City Transit Authority, that pulled this rolling stock mostly with little trolley pole-powered locomotives, along the tracks of the McDonald Ave streetcar line. Today, the New Haven's trains and the New Haven's electric wires are gone from the LIRR, as is the second track of this once-major long-distance freight railroad, and only trains of tenant New York and Atlantic Railway still roll along the LIRR. And Andrew Culver was once a real person in the railroad biz (but I'm already digressing enough). Please accept my apologies for not posting these pictures or links: I don't have clearance nor can I recall where they came from. They're findable, though, I think. I hope. If you want to search, the railroad is named "Bay Ridge Branch" or "Bay Ridge Line." The New Haven's full name was "The New York, New Haven and Hartford." The correct title of the LIRR is "Long Island Rail Road," although, on the historic station sign, it was "Railroad." The South Brooklyn Railway's official shorthand designation was "SBK." Rumps of it still exist to deliver subway cars to Coney Island Yard, but now routed over the West End subway line's el, and to dispose of the trash that's collected from the NY subway every night. Onward to point #2: There was a tiny "part-time" postal station within the drug store at the southeast corner of McDonald and Ave. I (diagonally across from the LIRR yard). These rare tiny post-places used to exist within retail shops; I sent mail from a different one in a drug store in Kensington, California, as late as the 1990s. I recall that the pharmacist had a round stamp that he used for cancellations, putting the seal of "Parkville" upon anything mailed there. I'll just conclude by mentioning that, when you consider that streetcar lines, els, and subways are, in fact, railroads, there was a great amount of railroad action at McDonald Avenue between Elmwood Avenue and Avenue I. On the el were BMT (later IND) subway trains, and sometimes even antique wooden el trains; on the street under the el ran the McDonald Ave trolley cars sharing the track with occasional short freight trains; and in the east-west railroad cut ran the frequent New Haven electric-powered long-distance freights as well as the Long Island's own occasional steam-hauled local freight trains. Add in the yard, and that's a lot of railroad action that used to take place every day in Parkville.
Fri, Jun 12 2020 7:28 pm Permalink
karen steinhaus

What brought me to this blog: While reviewing the list of the NYC Archives Record of Deaths for my gg uncle, I noticed just above his name Arthur Post, d. Jan 5, 1894 at the age of 6mos. Born on Washington Ave-Parkville, Long Island died at the same address. Buried at Greenwood. Poor little baby, I am saying a prayer for him.
Sun, Feb 21 2021 11:48 pm Permalink
JJ

This is cute and everything but I live in this mythical land that isn't even labeled on the map that appears in this blog post. I live in that tiny patch of Brooklyn. All of the legal documents associated with my co-op have Kensington listed not Parkville. I have a hard enough time with Kensington as the borders of the neighborhood are debated. Never once in 20 years of living in Brooklyn has anyone called it Parkville, my neighborhood is sometimes listed as Midwood, but on most maps it's Kensington. Call me crazy but I'm going to go with legal documents associated with my property over a blog on the library website. I don't really care what this patch used to be called. Labels affect property values. I live in Kensington and have the documentation to prove it.
Thu, Jun 3 2021 3:58 pm Permalink
HEC

I am two relevant things to this blog: 1) A native Brooklynite and 2) an avid collector of vintage girls chapter books. How is the second relevant? I'll get to that in a minute. I grew up in the little patch of Brooklyn that became known as Ditmas Park - not the Ditmas Park you may think of now - but rather the part that was named a historic neighborhood in the 1980s. At that time nobody really knew Ditmas Park outside of Ditmas Park and when people asked me where I was from I answered "Flatbush." So I relate hard to this story of Parkville. Of course, nowadays realtors want you to think everything is Ditmas Park because it's considered a very desirable place to live, so people refer to parts of Brooklyn that have nothing to do with those historic blocks as Ditmas Park. I have often had a love of the books of my youth, particularly Nancy Drew. My love of Nancy Drew turned into a collection which turned in to a passion for learning about, collecting, and reading many series books of the times before my own youth. And because I'm the kind of person who is interested in the past I have continued, as I age, to seek out and read these charming tales, even when it is obvious how they will end before you get to the third chapter. Series like Betty Gordon, Ruth Fielding, Peggy Lane, The Khaki Girls, Cherry Ames, and others. Right now I am reading a recent acquisition from the Judy Bolton series, The Yellow Phantom (by Margaret Sutton). This charming copy has most of its original dust jacket and I grabbed it up like I was starving and it was the last morsel of bread! On the title page there is a publishers mark which reads "This book, while produced under wartime conditions, in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED," placing the printing of the book at approximately 1943, although the copyright date is 1933. As anyone who collects these books knows, the copyright date is not a guarantee of when the book was published, only when the story was originally copyrighted. Bear with me, we're getting closer to my purpose! I'm delighting in this story for many reasons, but one is that it takes place in New York City. Not the one I grew up in, but one many years before my birth. One where you might still go dancing with a gentleman on a rooftop or live in a garden apartment at 18 years of age (without a trust fund). But I digress... Our heroine's friend has gone missing. She believes she has tracked down a clue... in Brooklyn. In Chapter XX "The Scent of Roses" she and her friends have packed into a taxi and gone speeding across Manhattan Bridge and she is searching for familiar landmarks. "Ocean Parkway, lined with its modern dwelling houses and new apartment buildings was as unlike Gravesend Avenue as anything could be. Still, the two were only a few blocks apart. The driver turned his cab down a side street, sure of his bearings; and Judy, watching, saw the sudden change. The boulevard with its lights and stream of traffic, then queer old Parkville, a village forgotten while Brooklyn grew up around it." Imagine my surprise! Where is Parkville? I had to google it to find out and ended up here. And it's only a short walk from that other tiny patch of Brooklyn that I grew up in - Ditmas Park.
Fri, Sep 17 2021 7:54 pm Permalink
linda jacobs

Crystal Wave Masonic Lodge had its "rooms" at 317 Washington Street (now Parkville Ave.) in the 1880s and 1890s. That's how I came to this blog. Since there are no street numbers on any of the atlases from that time, i can only guess that the meetings were held in the building marked "private" on the s.e. corner of Washington and Ocean in 1893 map. Anyone know anything?
Sat, Oct 9 2021 8:27 am Permalink
Mary McCue

I loved reading this!! I have so many beautiful memories of Parkville Avenue! My mother grew up on Parkville and went to school at St. Rose of Lima Elementary School. We would go to Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church on 269 Parkville Ave and my mother and father were married in this church in 1947. I used to love to visit my grandparents and great aunts who lived here. I have so many beautiful memories of my visits here. My brothers and I used to walk from my grandparents house on Parkville Ave to Coney Island Ave. to a bodega there sold penny candy! I used to love spring time there when all of the trees would come into bloom and look so pretty lining the street! It was a great time in my life!
Tue, Dec 13 2022 1:47 am Permalink
BILL KANE

In reply to by Mary McCue

My parents were married in St. Rose of Lima church in 1941. My father grew up at 743 East 10th St. and he and siblings attended St. Rose school. My Aunt, Marion Broderick, taught at St. Rose school for many years, 1950's to 1970s or 80s.
Tue, Sep 26 2023 2:04 am Permalink
Richard Steinfeld

I apologize for the huge run-on paragraph in my post above. I work in Linux, and my paragraphing was stripped out when what I wrote arrived in the Library's system. This post may suffer the same way. If so, I'm sorry. Three points of note today about the actual area of "Parkville." 1. The drugstore on the southeast corner of McDonald Avenue and Avenue I contained a micro post office. The rubber cancellation stamp put the word "Parkville" onto all mail sent from that place. Therefore, as far as the Postal Service was concerned, "Parkville" included this location. 2. The southern border of the "Parkville In My Mind" is Bay Parkway, then Avenue J going eastward. And its eastern border would be Ocean Parkway. 3. The actual Parkville Post Office is outside of the "Parkville In My Mind." It's in "Bensonhurst." Does this make sense? No. "Parkville" continues to be an amorphous fantasy-land. Except that it isn't.
Thu, Jan 12 2023 11:07 pm Permalink

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