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Belcher Hyde 1929

Dec 19, 2008 10:10 AM | 14 comments

I am searching for an analogy that would best describe my relationship to the Belcher Hyde Desk Atlas of Brooklyn, of 1929. It is intense and ongoing, much like the relationship a serious language student has with a good dictionary.  It is less messy than human relationships, because the atlas never answers back, never betrays, always gives me something when I turn to it, even if it is not exactly what I am looking for. Unlike my dogs, it never disobeys or embarrasses me, and while it lacks warmth it is constant and true.  You would not call it beautiful, but you might call it fascinating, like an older actress with slightly asymmetrical features.  And just as readers of Proust return to his volumes again and again  finding something new every time, the atlas constantly surprises me with previously unnoticed details.

Well, enough of this. An atlas is only an atlas.  It is a tool of the trade, and as such I imagine it invokes some of the same feelings a carpenter might harbor for his favorite plane.  I could wish its publisher had a more mellifluous name--the Florian Devilliers Atlas, perhaps--but you have to accept people, and atlases, just the way they are.

Which is not to say that you can't help them along in life. We have had a preservation photocopy made of our Belcher Hyde, so that we can slap it onto a copy machine with impunity and share it with any visitor who needs it. When this one wears out, which it soon will, we will order another from our bindery, and so its future is assured.

Our original copy belonged to a Carl Kirsch, Real Estate and Insurance, 141 Broadway NY 6 Phone WOrth 2-2776.  In four volumes of about 200 pages each, it covers the whole borough in extraordinary detail. It is big enough that one can read it without a magnifying glass, but not so big that one needs bulging biceps to carry it around the room. Goldilocks might say that the atlas of 1886 is too big, of 1912 is too small, but the atlas of 1929 is just right.

For the pleasure of it, I have just opened the atlas at the atypical page that shows the spot where I am right now, on the second floor of Brooklyn's Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Most atlas pages are dense with colored buildings, but the unpopulated park and the Botanic Gardens are shown in black and white. Back in 1929 I would have been floating somewhere above a big hole in the ground. To my left would have been the half-built Flatbush wing of the building with an elaborate beaux-arts facade. Flying around my head would be the pigeons that inhabited what was known as the city's largest pigeon coop. And to my right would have been Eastern Parkway and the Union Temple House with a still-empty lot giving onto Plaza Street. The atlas shows this wing as a pink lozenge on Flatbush Avenue, with the Mount Prospect Reservoir (now filled in and called Mount Prospect Park) directly behind it.  I must have looked at this page a hundred times before, but only today did I notice that right next to the Lefferts homestead was the "Deer Paddock," and at the other end of the park, between Prospect Park West and the West Drive, between 9th and 11th Streets, were the "Archery Grounds."  That tricky old Belcher Hyde, always pulling some rabbit or other out of its hat.

Pictures: Top, Desk Atlas of Brooklyn. New York: Belcher Hyde Co, 1929 Vol 1, p.107

Bottom: Central Library, Flatbush wing designed by Raymond Almirall. Photograph by Roy Pinney, c 1938. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection


12/21/2008 1:13:42 PM #

Hello - my name is Benjamin Feldman. I am an historian and essayist who, among other pursuits, writes a blog entitled The New York Wanderer at

I recently ran across Brooklynology and am entranced by it.  Would you agree to cross-link our two blogs on the "lists" of same?  Please take a look at mine and get back to me if you wish.

Best regards,

Ben Feldman

Benjamin Feldman

12/22/2008 9:33:05 AM #

Thanks Ben,
We put you on our blog roll


12/22/2008 4:06:30 PM #

My name is Phoebe Neidl. I write about history and culture for the Brooklyn Eagle and I recently started a blog about Brooklyn History called Brooklyn Before Now. I love Brooklynology and frequently link to it.

Here's the link to my blog, which I think you guys would enjoy.

Ben, I think we have published a few stories about your book in the Eagle...


12/30/2008 5:13:16 PM #

Thanks, Joy, and thank you Phoebe.  I am adding Brooklyn Before Now (Wonderful Stuff !) to my links on my New York Wanderer blog and would appreciate the return favor

The Eagle indeed gave my first book Butchery on Bond Street extensive, thoughtful and intelligent coverage in several articles this past year, for which I am quite grateful.  My new book, "Call me Daddy - The Life and Loves of Edward West Browning, New York's Jazz Age Lecher King" will be out late this coming spring and my PR agents will undoubtedly be in touch with the Eagle, in which I hope to earn coverage.  The protagonist is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery (mirabile dictuSmile, where I work as a volunteer archivist with the  incomparable Jeff Richman.

Benjamin Feldman

1/1/2009 12:55:00 PM #

Joy, I think I want to marry your atlas, or perhaps just adopt it as a pet. The idea that it would never embarrass or disobey me is very tempting. It also probably wouldn't order me about the way my dogs do or fall prey to the grumbling silent moods that my husband sometimes does.  Could you provide me with its phone number or email address?

As someone who lives in Virginia and has never been to Brooklyn, I nevertheless enjoy the blog thoroughly. I would never have thought to write about buildings that never were, and researching what happened (or didn't) to them must be fascinating. Gosh, I love libraries!


Sharyn Hutchens

1/7/2009 11:23:46 AM #

Hello Joy,

According to Clay Lancaster, the Deer Paddock is part of the original park design, but the Archery Range was something of a late nineteenth century installation. Interesting that Belcher still listed it. The Deer Paddock was retired and the deer moved into the Menagerie somewhere in the 1890's: one can't find the Deer Paddock on the 'official' 1901 park map:

of which, you may recall, you gave me a nice clean scan (Thank you again). The Archery grounds are there, though, and
both furnished nice open spaces for Robert Moses to plant projects (the Zoo and Bandshell, respectively) in 1935-40.

Here's another lovingly executed, if somewhat fictional, map of Prospect Park furnished in 1874 by J.B. Beers & Co. New York --

It's fictional in that it shows Olmsted's beloved Refectory and Terraces as if they existed; add that to your 'Brooklyn that Never Was' file, if you have not done so already. I also enjoy David Rumsey's presentation of this map, though it takes some time to get used to the tools and gadgets.  Here, the legend 'Harts Range' is written where the 'Deer Paddock' would be, a label I've seen used in other places in mid-nineteenth century Brooklyn, but it seems to disappear in the twentieth.

I do like your blog. Your writing is your speaking voice. Except when you yell at the whippets. Fortunately, the comparison does not go that far. Take care. Will comment again soon.  Garry.

Garry R. Osgood

1/9/2009 10:27:18 PM #

Your comments are always most illuminating, Garry. Thank you.


9/25/2009 6:07:54 AM #

Where do these maps belong to. I like reading old maps and have a good collection.


9/25/2009 9:55:10 AM #

Hi Tim:
These can be found in the Brooklyn Collection on the second floor of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn NY 11238


6/15/2010 2:46:41 PM #

One of my favorite books, I first discovered it back in 1970 when it was in the Business and Social Science room (I believe that was the combination). While it wasn't quite as seasoned then a 40 year old book of detailed maps was a great wonder to a 14 year old. Vestigial streets and legacy roads were shown with names that I've never seen anywhere else. I copied many pages and even today they are a source of pleasure.

I'm so happy that someone else shares my love of this book. Though maybe I should be jealous<g>.


8/12/2010 10:22:22 AM #

Hi Joy,
I have been searching for years for  information on my 1929 complete set of Belcher & Hyde block and lot books fo Brooklyn. They are in great condition, except for bindings which should be redone as they are getting dried. The pages are fine. I was in Real Estate until I retired in 2000. My set also has a hand made little wooden bookcase. I would be interested in selling all of this. Do you have any idea who I could contact re this?


8/12/2010 11:19:31 AM #

Hi Phoebe:
You have a couple of options: you can try to sell it yourself, on Ebay or wherever; or you can contact a reputable bookseller who knows the value of the set and will give you a fair price. Here is the AABA web site:
It's quite scarce so I imagine someone will be happy to have it.
Good luck


1/16/2012 3:24:20 PM #

Hi Phoebe:
I'd be very interested in the complete set. I realize this post is quite old but you never know? thanks


4/28/2012 1:27:56 PM #

Thanks for the Belcher Hyde post, and taking us to back to the time when the partially-built Flatbush Wing of the Central Library was "the city's biggest pigeon coop."