Brooklyn’s Fulton Ferry House and Brooklyn Bridge circa 1885
This picturesque scene showing street railways, horse carts, telegraph poles and light fixtures are all vestiges of the 19th century that vanished long ago. The photo was taken around 1885 from the corner of Everett Street (that is the original spelling) and Fulton Street (now called Old Fulton Street) looking north toward Water Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. Besides the Brooklyn Bridge, the small hotel on the corner of Water and Fulton Street on the extreme right with the striped awning, is the only structure in this photo that is still standing.
The service that became the Fulton Ferry began in 1642. The ferry service moved location several times and Robert Fulton inventor of the steamboat, in the 1810’s secured the lease on the land at the foot of Fulton Street for East River ferry service. William Cutting established a ferry line there starting in 1819.
The Brooklyn Fulton Ferry House building was constructed in 1871 by the Union Ferry Company. Called “The Great Gateway to Brooklyn,” the Ferry House was designed by architect William Belden Olmsted a distant relative of Central Park and Prospect Park landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted.
At a time when fire laws generally prevented construction of any wooden structures, the Ferry House was built of wood rather than iron because the company believed that vapors from the sewage deposited directly into the river and the salt water would cause iron to rust! It was probably more of an economic ploy to save on building costs as iron or brick was much more expensive than wood. The three story building measured 173 feet wide and 35 feet high, with the tower reaching a height of 86 feet and the main floor containing large waiting rooms featuring every modern convenience. Even opting for the cheaper wood construction, the final cost was a lofty $138,000.
As the new Fulton Ferry House building was opening its demise was literally right behind it. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge which began in 1869 led to an inevitable and slow decline of the viability of Fulton Ferry service.
With the 1883 completion of the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, a huge portion of the ferry’s passengers and revenue vanished. Through the end of the 19th century the ferry continually lost ridership to the bridge. With the advent of elevated trains and eventually subways connecting the two boroughs the ferry limped through the early 20th century.
In 1924, “the Union,” the final ferryboat in what had once been a fleet, made its last trip for the Fulton Ferry. Old-timers mourned the passing of an institution, but by this point the ferry was serving only a few steadfast local residents and some horse carts.
On October 8, 1925 a fire severely damaged the vacant building. In March 1926 the Fulton Ferry House was demolished.
In a niche above the center of the building which can be seen by enlarging the photo, stood a ten and a half foot zinc and copper statue of Robert Fulton. It was designed by sculptor Caspar Burberi and cast by M.J. Seelig and Company. However in a contemporary article the Brooklyn Daily Eagle notes that the sculptor and artist were Messrs. Loetig & Co. of neighboring Williamsburg.
Before the Fulton Ferry House’s demolition the statue was preserved and placed in Fulton Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The original statue now resides at the Brooklyn Museum, while a bronze replica sits in the park.