John Roebling the engineer and architect of the Brooklyn Bridge had already been a prominent designer of suspension bridges before his great bridge connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn. He was also a manufacturer of twisted wire rope used for suspension bridges. His factory was based in Trenton, New Jersey. He designed the Niagra River Gorge Bridge in 1885, the Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859, and the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge now known as the John A. Roebling Bridge Suspension Bridge in 1867, just two years before the Brooklyn Bridge started construction. That last bridge had been the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1057 feet for the main span before the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 with its main span at 1595.5 feet.
Not long after the Civil War, the brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, revolutionized and started a new industry in today’s DUMBO, Brooklyn, by offering roasted coffee to consumers in single pound packages. Before that, coffee beans were purchased green and roasted at home over a fire or in a wood stove; getting a consistent and palatable end product was challenging. The Arbuckle Brothers had such a popular product that they shipped their coffee throughout the country. Marketing their product under the Ariosa and Yuban brands, they were still going through the 20th Century…and the Yuban brand is still around even today. On the Brooklyn Revolution tour, we visit the amazingly renovated Empire Stores, the site and facility used by the Arbuckle Brothers to process their coffee until they sold it in the 1940s.
In 1862, Walt Whitman, resident of Brooklyn Heights wrote the following:
“Why then should not Brooklyn, in the experience of persons now living, become a city of a great million inhabitants? We have no doubt it will. We can not go over the list and description of our public institutions in this paper, although we intend to do so one of these days. We have not, in a modern city like Brooklyn, such marked specimens of magnificent architecture as the ancient or mediaeval cities presented, and many of whose ruins yet remain. For our architectural greatness consists in the hundreds and thousands of superb private dwellings, for the comfort and luxury of the great body of middle class people–a kind of architecture unknown until comparatively late times, and no where known to such an extent as in Brooklyn, and the other first class cities of the New World.”
Whitman was correct about the “great million inhabitants” that Brooklyn would achieve and the “greatness” of the architecture. See the houses he is referring to on the Brooklyn Revolution (aka Best of Brooklyn Tour)
On the Brooklyn Revolution walking tour, highlighting some of the best that Brooklyn has to offer, one of the most popular sites is the former home of Truman Capote, where he worked on two of his greatest works: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.” The house is on 70 Willow Street. From 1955-1965, Capote rented space on the basement level from Oliver Smith, the famed Tony Award-winning Broadway scenic designer. George Plimpton, who was a visitor, wrote that “when friends came to call, [Capote] often took them on a tour of the entire house (when Smith was not at home) and said it was his house, all his, and that he had restored and decorated every room.” In February 1959, Capote penned “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” for “Holiday” travel magazine in which he begins:
“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.”
The entire article and photos taken at the time by David Attie of Capote, the house and the neighborhood are available in the book: “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, with the Lost Photographs of David Attie.”
Truly, much of the credit for the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge under the stewardship of Washington Roebling, goes to his wife Emily Roebling. After his illness caused by “caisson disease” or what we now know as the bends or decompression sickness and his inability to visit the bridge, Emily learned all that she needed about bridge construction and engineering to serve as Washington’s liaison with the assistant engineers on-site. She explained Washington’s often complex directives and answered questions that they had. In 1882, the year before the bridge was completed, Emily successfully defended her husband to the board of directors and politicians who wanted to strip him of his title as Chief Engineer.
There is a plaque on the Brooklyn tower of the Brooklyn Bridge dedicated to the memory of Emily Roebling “whose faith and courage helped her stricken husband…complete the construction of this bridge…Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman”
Washington Roebling wrote: I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel.