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Clubbed to death

Oct 17, 2012 10:00 AM | 0 comments


Club officers and rules, 1900-1901

As I leaf through the gilt-edged pages of the the twenty-pound tome, The Eagle and Brooklyn edited by Henry W.B. Howard in the 1890s, I am struck first by an almost total absence of images of women (whereas portraits of men--all white of course--abound.) And secondly, by the prominent role played by clubs in the social life of the community. The Hamilton, the Germania, the Brooklyn, the Union League, the Lincoln, the Oxford, the Montauk, the Carleton, the Eckford, the Midwood, the Laurence, the Constitution--for years these clubs were a home from home  for thousands of men and a few women.  They could eat, drink, socialize, play games, discuss politics, attend entertainments, network and bond amidst pleasant surroundings and free of domestic cares. Clubs were organized around interests (The Crescent Athletic Club, The Riding and Driving Club), around ethnic identity (the Germania), some catered to young bachelors, others to the establishment figures of a given neighborhood. When I happened upon the single volume in our collection published by the Hanover Club--a list of its members for the year 1900-1901--I was curious to know what club members actually did together.

Hanover Club, Bedford Ave, co. Rodney St

The club was orgnized on March 7, 1890.  P. J. Lauritzen, architect, was engaged to remodel and enlarge the "Hawley house," a  brick mansion that had been the residence of Oscar Hawley, a box manufacturer,  and had cost $70,000 to build. The club house formally opened on Jan 19, 1891 with over 400 members.  During the club's halcyon years around the turn of the 20th century, aces of the billiard table such as  George F. Townsend and J. Byron Stark put their misspent youths to good account in closely watched tournaments. The club's bowling alley was generously made available to the ladies during the afternoon hours, and the ladies were also allowed their own cafe, in which no man was allowed unless accompanied by a lady. No opportunity for a good dinner was missed.  "Thumbbit dinners" given around 1901, which required members to wear butcher's aprons and hats and to eat slabs of steak laid on slices of bread, seem to have delighted the Hanover carnivores. The association's name must surely have morphed into "Hangover Club" more than once among the wags of the Eastern District.

William Cullen Bryant was an early President of the club. Other Presidents included Col. Andrew Baird who served in the 79th Regt. in the Civil War; and Frederick K. Wurster, the last mayor of Brooklyn. Afficionados of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle will recognize the name of Herbert F. Gunnison, first club secretary.

But the tide of change was beinning to flow toward the Bedford Avenue mansion. With the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, immigrants wishing to escape the overcrowded tenements of the Lower East Side had an easy trip between home and work. The Eagle remarked in 1922, "Opening the Williamsburg Bridge brought with it a tide of immigration from Manhattan which soon swamped the Eastern District and caused a general exodus, which...has greatly changed the entire character of the neighborhood. The Williamsburg of today is rather a manufacturing city than a community."  Club members moved to the leafy streets of Prospect Park South and other areas of the city.

By June 25, 1919 there was discussion of whether to accept an offer of $36,000 for the club building. Some members wanted to move to smaller quarters, while others wanted to wind up the affairs of club and divide the proceeds.

The Club finally disbanded in 1922, title being taken over by the Young Israel District Association, which paid $50,000 for the property. Net proceeds were divided among 79 living members.

New York Public Library, Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, 1851-1930

The club's paintings went under the hammer in March 1925, for $612. Attendees of "funeral" of club lamented the  changes in that "forced" them out of the neighborhood, but the Eagle of August 27, 1922 took the more positive view that: "...the growth of every big city involves just such changes, and on the whole they are broadening rather than narrowing to its development." 

Photo courtesy of