Finding Aid File

Guide to the John Thatcher Collection, BCMS.0019

Summary Information


    Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn Collection


    Thatcher, John, 1853 – 1912


    John Thatcher Collection






    1.04 Linear feet , 1 flat box


    Brooklyn Collection Annex, Shelf 3.2




    Materials concerning John Thatcher, owner of building and plastering firm Thatcher & Son and Superintendent of the Bureau of Buildings for the city of Brooklyn.

    Preferred Citation

    This collection should be cited as the John Thatcher Collection, Brooklyn Public Library – Brooklyn Collection.

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Biographical Note

John Thatcher (1853 – 1912) was one of the foremost builders for the city of Brooklyn during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1899 until his death, Thatcher held the position of Superintendent of the Bureau of Buildings for the city of Brooklyn. Before this post he worked as the Superintendent of the Bureau of Sewers under the Swanstrom Administration.

Born near Hollowell, Wales in 1853, Thatcher moved to America in either 1863 (according to several sources) or 1870 (according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle) and settled first in Brooklyn. He worked for his uncle James Thatcher as a plasterer and then moved to Chicago in 1871, looking for work as a builder after that city was devastated by fire. When Thatcher returned to Brooklyn he began his own plastering and building firm, Thatcher & Son. Thatcher lived in Brooklyn until his death on June 18, 1912 at the age of 59. He died following a fall, due to faulty scaffolding, from the top story of a partially constructed tenement building at New Lots Road and Snediker Avenue, in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

Buildings erected by Thatcher include: the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Dime Savings Bank, a wing of Brooklyn Hospital, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the warehouse of the Brooklyn Storage and Warehouse Company, Erasmus Hall High School, the Polhemus Clinic of the Long Island College Hospital, areas of the Abraham and Strauss department store complex, the Carroll Gardens library branch, as well as hundreds of apartments, private homes and schools. Important to acknowledge is the ingenious plan Thatcher & Son devised (after John Thatcher’s death) to move the Lefferts homestead. The historic 18th century Dutch Colonial farmhouse was moved to Prospect Park in 1918 from its original location at 563 Flatbush Avenue.

Thatcher developed a reputation as a strong advocate of building reform. He recommended the wearing of uniforms by Buildings Bureau employees in an effort to exhibit authority and professionalism in the construction field. In order to ensure safe construction Thatcher made a convincing argument to have a bill passed which required builders to be licensed. In reference to this bill, Thatcher wrote, “There is a positive danger existing today in that a large number of buildings are put up by men who know absolutely nothing about construction. Their one aim is to make money and the cheapest labor in the market.”

His funeral was attended by many government and borough officials, including borough president Alfred Steers, Assistant of the Borough of Buildings William A. Coakley, and Congressman William C. Redfield. Also important to recognize was the praise Thatcher received from several politicians of his day. Mayor Gaynor declared, “I do not know when I was so much affected by the news of the death of any one as by the news of the death of John Thatcher … He was one of the best public officials that I have ever known in every sense.” Alfred Steers reiterated Gaynor’s thoughts, “He died a martyr to the service. He was one of the best officials that Brooklyn, and in fact the entire city, has ever had.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Thatcher as “one of the most honest and devoted public officials Brooklyn has ever had.”

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Scope and Contents

Series I consists of 14 letters sent to John Thatcher’s wife and son upon his death, in 1912. Many of these are from politicians and colleagues sending their condolences, although some deal with more practical concerns such as funeral arrangements and obituary notices. Series II consists of 31 binder pages of newspaper clippings reporting Thatcher’s death and the aftermath, mostly collected by the Henry Romeike newspaper cutting service of New York City. Clippings are from such papers as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the Standard Union, and the New York Times. Series III is an album of photographs of buildings constructed by John Thatcher & Son.

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Arranged in 3 series by type:

Series I: Incoming Correspondence and Ephemera are arranged alphabetically by sender

Series II: Newspaper Clippings are arranged alphabetically by newspaper title

Series III: Photographs are arranged by building.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn Collection

10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY, 11238


This collection is located in the Brooklyn Collection at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza. The collection may only be used in the library and is not available through interlibrary loan. Requests to view the collection must be made at least 48 hours in advance of visit.


While many items in the Brooklyn Collection are unrestricted, we do not own reproduction rights to all materials. Be aware of the several kinds of rights that might apply: copyright, licensing and trademarks. The researcher assumes all responsibility for copyright questions.


This collection was aquired by the Brooklyn Public Library in 1998.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

Bluestone, Daniel M. Buildings, landscapes, and memory : case studies in historic preservation. W.W. Norton & Co. 2011.

Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.). Common Council. History of th Municipal department building and other public buildings in the city of Brooklyn. 1878

Department of Parks. Monuments, memorials, historic buildings : Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Richmond : construction and restoration. 1941

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Brooklyn Academy of Music--Buildings--1860-1870.
  • Historic buildings.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Incoming Correspondence and Ephemera , 1912 

Page 1: Coakley, William A., Assistant Superintendent of Buildings 

Page 2: Cronin, Barth S., New York State Senator 

Page 3: Davidson, H. A. 

Page 4: Gaynor, William J., Mayor of New York City 

Page 4: John Thatcher & Son pin 

Page 5: Gaynor, William J., to Alfred Steers (Brooklyn Borough President) 

Page 6: Geis, John, secretary of the Brooklyn League 

Page 7: Geis, John 

Page 8: Gunnison, Herbert F, business manager of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle 

Page 9: Hoile, James T., secretary of Manufacturers’ Association of New York 

Page 10: Leeming, Woodruff, President of the American Institute of Architects, Brooklyn Chapter 

Page 11: Redfield, William C., U.S. House of Representatives 

Page 12: Redfield, William C. 

Page 13: Romeike, Albert, secretary of Henry Romeike, Inc. 

Page 14: Studebaker, Charles A., of Sayre & Fisher Co. 

Page 15: Stock Certificate, 1907 

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Series II: Newspaper Clippings , 1912 

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Series III: Photo Album 

Grace Church 

The Dime Savings Bank 

Williamsburgh Trust Company 

The Brooklyn Academy of Music 

Green-Wood Mortuary Chapel 

Elm Grove Chapel 

Residence of Jonathan Bulkley 

Lefferts House 

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