28 March 2009

Walls Can Be Old, Too

There's a wonderful old stone wall lining the southeast corner of Kane and Henry Streets in Cobble Hill. It's rare that a wall should have a date inscribed in it, but this one does. Just above the eternally locked metal doorway placed halfway down the wall is the barely discernible year "1913." Which means the wall is a good decade older than P.S. 29, the public school that stands just across the street.

It's actually a wall within a wall, since a cast-iron fence stands between it and the sidewalk. And there a curious shape of a cross on the metal door, which makes me wonder if the property was ever owned by Christ Church down the street.

The wall has long been choked with dead vines, every inch of it. Some of them are quick thick and gnarled, others are thin and tendril-like I look looking at the wall. I imagine some terrible and terribly rich old miser lives within, or perhaps some hermetic widow like Miss Havisham.


Prowler said...

There used to be a convent there on Henry: Little Sisters of the Infant Jesus, but changed to Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor - or something like that.
So I'd guess that it's their garden wall.

Also ... the cross design isn't among those that generally are used by Episcopal churches (for reasons of tradition or esthetics).

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Good one, Prowler! I never knew.

Prowler said...

I checked more carefully, and confirmed that 439 Henry was the convent of what became the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor/Congregation of the Infant Jesus, which began in France. They're still around, but are in Rockville Centre - see www.cijnssp.org

Don't know when they left ... but briefly, in late '60s-early '70s, the building was used by the Int'l Society for Krishna Consciousness (the Hare Krishna people).

Also - in its original report designating the Cobble Hill landmark district, the NYC Landmarks Preserv. Commission mentioned that there was a convent garden wall on that block, but didn't give more info.

Of course, most of "Upper Brooklyn" and big swaths of Manhattan were built atop former churches, chapels, shuls, rectories/parsonages, convents, cemeteries ... It's as if - through the '30s - there was one church, synagogue, or religious order for every five people.
But then things shook down, and many places folded, merged, morphed, or moved on. (Never. ever expect a "religious" site to be permanent!)

One more obvious 'morphing' example:
Hanson Place Seventh-Day Adventist Church used to be Hanson Place Baptist Church. Robert Lowry was HP Baptist's minister in 1861-69 - and while there, he wrote the well-known hymn "Shall We Gather at the River?"

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks, Prowler. I'm so happy to know this additional bit of information about the area. A convent wall. Who'd have thought it?

Ken Mac said...

i once passed this wall on the way to an interview with drummer Clarence Penn. Just love it! Made me feel as if I was rounding some Scottish castle.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

It is fun to walk by, doubtless.

Therese Cox said...

And now it hides a car park. Sigh.

Thanks for the post. I walk past this wall nearly every day and never noticed the tiny inscription. Agreed - it has a lovely spooky aura. That cross! Those vines!

a student said...

Thse buildings we owned by an architect Mr. H F Zumbo who took great pride in their architectural character,always trying to preserve their history. When the buildings under went a renovation in the 70's preservation of the stain glass in the chapel and the ornate moldings throught the buildings were a primary concern.