Ditmas History: Fewer Horses, More Housing

Ditmas History: Fewer Horses, More Housing
caton avenue and ocean avenue 2014

In 2014, the intersection of Caton and Ocean Avenues is bustling with a combination of pedestrians, cars, bicycles, and delivery scooters, and is flanked at each corner by mid rise apartment buildings. In 1800, not so much.

horse drawn carriage on caton avenue and ocean avenue via brooklyn visual heritage

Back in the day, as you can see from this Brooklyn Visual Heritage photo, the crossing featured dirt roads, trees, and at least one really gorgeous house (here’s another view via MCNY). Passing through in the image above is a cart from Flatbush Parlor Bakery.

The photo is from Adrian Vanderveer Martense’s collection of lantern slides, which reveal aspects of his and the Martense family’s life in Flatbush, and which were taken on a camera that the experts at the Brooklyn Historical Society have had a difficult time identifying. For the photographers out there:

A few weeks back, while looking at an image of Martense holding a camera we debated what kind of camera it might be. A pinhole camera? A Brownie? A pinhole camera was probably too rudimentary for the photographs he was taking. Kodak did not introduce Brownies until 1900.
However, in one of the albums, there were multiple references to a “Single Waterbury Lens”. The Waterbury Lens was put out by Scovill Manufacturing Company, who also manufactured box cameras and view cameras. The camera that Mr. Sherrill holds in the photographs below looks similar to Scovill’s Waterbury Detective Camera, which was developed in the late 1880s, a few years after some of the images labeled “Single Waterbury Lens” were taken. So it seems that Martense was at least working with some sort of box camera and not a pinhole camera.

In addition to his Vanderveer and Martense (family patriarch Jan Martense Schenck came to the US in 1650 and settled in what’s now the oldest house in New York City) genes, Adrian was also closely related to the Ditmas and Lefferts families–as famous Brooklyn settlers went, he was awfully well connected. And so BHS continues:

[A collection of documents surrounding the Martense family affairs] also includes a number of scrapbooks that contain clippings of humor pieces (some accompanied by great illustrations), poems, society pieces, and a few relating to church, politics and Martense’s family.
One clipping in particular, gives a nice history of the Vanderveer family, describing how one among them had been taken prisoner by the British but at the point of meeting his sentence at the gallows a business relation interceded on his behalf.
Adrian Vanderveer Martense’s photographs reveal an enviable life: hanging out with gentlemen, taking photographs from the comfort of his horse-drawn carriage, playing tennis, or sailing. Apart from recreation, there is rich documentation of early architecture: from mansions, churches, and resorts to barns, toll booths, and windmills.

We have to say we don’t envy Adrian’s life all that much, but a horse drawn carriage selling pies door to door? Now that, we would love to have around.


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