So I got an education in my ancestry and a little of Brooklyn history this weekend.
Regular blog readers might recall the post I did of a bike ride I did about a month ago where I visited and photographed a couple of townhouses in Park Slope.
One of them, at the intersection of 7th Avenue and St. John’s Place, was built and lived in by William Engeman, my mom’s great uncle.
Here’s the picture I posted of that house.
After showing these photos to my mom, she and I decided we should to a trip (by car this time) to visit the houses during our Christmas weekend (this past weekend).
We did that yesterday.
It was a real education for me. It turns out this guy William Engeman (my mom’s Great Uncle) was a serious entrepreneur and businessman. He came over from Germany in the mid 1800s and settled originally in Minnesota and eventually made his way to Brooklyn.
In 1868, William Engeman bought some land in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn and named it Brighton Beach after the famous british resort.
Around the mid 1870s, he decided to open a luxury hotel on Coney Island. It was opened in 1878. Here’s some text from a guy named Jeffrey Stanton who has a whole site on the history of Coney Island.
"Engeman constructed his Brighton Beach Hotel in time for the 1878 season. This vast wooden hotel, 460 x 210 feet and several stories high, with accommodations for nearly 5000, could also feed 20,000 people per day. He also constructed an Iron Pier nearby and the 400 foot wide, two story Brighton Beach Pavilion. His resort was connected to New York by railroad and was frequented by the upper middle class rather than the wealthy because its location in Brighton was too close to Coney Island’s seedier section immediately west of it. "
Here is a picture of the Brighton Beach Hotel, also taken from Stanton’s site.
In 1888, this hotel was moved inland to protect it from the eroding beach. It was a feat of engineering using six locomotives and over 120 railroad cars.
In 1879, Engeman opened a one mile rack track, the first of its kind in Brooklyn, called Brighton Beach Race Track. It was used for horse racing and dog racing off season.
The track was constructed in an area now occupied by Brighton 10th Street, adjoining streets and elevated train line. The race track was converted for auto racing in 1911, but due to numerous racing deaths and laws against gambling, the track was sold, razed and is now mostly private homes.
Sometime in the late 1880s, William asked his two brothers, George and John, to come help him run the business. John, who was a carpenter, relocated from Minnesota to do this. He raised his family in Flatbush, on the other side of Prospect Park from his two brothers. We visited his house yesterday, but it has been torn down.
Our final stop on our tour of brooklyn and family history yesterday was Greenwood Cemetary, a massive plot of land started in the 1860s to house Brooklyn’s dead. We wanted to visit the graves of William, George, and John, who are all buried there.
Time was running out so we only visited our nearest relative, my mom’s great grandfather, William’s brother, John Engeman. It’s clear that these guys had money by their burial sites.
John Engeman, my great, great grandfather and William Engeman’s brother and business partner, was born in Germany in 1833, and died in Brooklyn in 1908. He must have lived an interesting life. And it’s really cool to discover it.
CORRECTIONS: Courtesy of my mom, here are the things I got wrong in this post. John, George and William (their order of birth) were born on the lower east side of New York. Their father Anthony Engeman ( born abt 1800) was the immigrant he came to NYC on a ship and arrived June 1, 1826. He died a very poor man but his children went on to do well. John being my great-grandfather that would make George and William my great-great uncles.