The Brooklyn Home For Aged Men has served the community for more than 140 years. Although originally set up as a residence for men, it later accepted women and couples as well. The idea of such a home grew out of a chance discovery, and the story of its beginnings is told in the first annual report. Couched in what now seems “quaint” language, the history relates:
H O M E
“During the early Spring of 1877, and while in the act of bestowing a most distinguished charity, one of Brooklyn’s very benevolent ladies discovered six aged and infirm men in a somewhat dilapidated building up town, without fire, food or furniture; A little company of pilgrims with no other asylum than the almshouse open to them. There being but one alternative to neglect and probable starvation, this lady at once proceeded to interest some personal friends in her behalf, who, jointly with her, supplied immediate wants, and rendered them as comfortable as circumstances would permit; agreeing upon a plan to sustain them temporarily, and while their thoughts should be directed toward possible future or final disposition to be made of these wayfaring men. Through the personal efforts of these ladies alone, the first measures were adopted toward the establishment of an entirely unsectarian home, wherein aged worthy men…who have been reduced to want by a series of misfortunes, might pass their declining years in comparative comfort and ease. The ladies who devised this charity, and who were solely instrumental in pressing the cause with its demands and merits, upon the public mind were: Mrs. M.G. Brinkerhoff, Mrs. Amelia Mason, Mrs. M.E. Whiton, Mrs. A.G.Jennings, Mrs. J.G. Wilbur, Mrs. M.B. Keen, Mrs. G.G. Hopkins and Mrs. S.D. Scudder. The rented a small house on Grand Avenue as a temporary home, which they maintained with seven inmates for a period or eight months, by their own personal efforts, and much patient sacrifice, carefully guarding its internal arrangements, while they strove assiduously to present this most deserving charity to the benevolent at large.”
This nucleus of eight women grew to a large group which represented the community, and when a Board of Managers, Advisors and Committees was complete, this undertaking was incorporated on February 27, 1878, as The Brooklyn Home for Aged Men.
The newly formed Board immediately looked for a permanent residence. They bought a house at 84 State Street from Frederick Marquand, who made them a special price of $10,000, contributing $5,000 himself, and taking back a mortgage of $5,000. Thus the purchase was consummated without making any cash payment, and Mr. Marquand thereby became the first Patron. This house was occupied in April, 1878, only two months after incorporation, but by 1880 it was already filled to its capacity of 21 persons and the Board began to discuss plans for a new building large enough to house more men, and to have an infirmary. It took several years to develop the idea and to find ways and means. In business matters the Board of Managers had always been guided by a committee of generous men, leaders in their professions, the value of whose advice and assistance can never be measured. They now advised the purchase of land on Classon Avenue, three of them becoming the Building Committee. Architects were engaged and plans decided on.
The cornerstone of the Main Building was laid on September 30, 1886, but even before the building was started, plans were revised to increase the size. The Home moved from State Street to this building in May, 1887. The early records reflect the tireless devotion of the first Board of Managers to the venture to which they had committed themselves. They collected money dollar by dollar; they sought gifts of food, clothing and furnishings; they attended to the necessary buying. It was not easy, but by their labor they aroused wide interest and made many friends for the Home, who through the years loyally supported it. The Home depended on donations for a large part of its supplies. An early list of donors includes such names as Journay & Burnham, Robert Carson, Frederick Loeser, Weir & Son, Reed & Barton and other of the old Brooklyn firms. A great many of the churches helped also. Gifts of coal, groceries, underwear, clothing, tubs of butter, silk hats, etc. were some of the articles spoken of in the early days, indicating the sharp contrast between the past and the present.
With the Home well launched, land was bought as it became available to protect the property and allow for future growth. A house on Park Placewas acquired in 1893 and joined to the main building as an annex. With this extra space, the Board determined to add a new service, the admission of couples. They voted in 1894 to try this, and the first couple was admitted in 1895; an experiment at first, but thereafter the regular policy. This annex was called the Joseph T. Perkins Memorial, because a bequest from him was used to pay indebtedness on it. The admission of couples was dear to the heart of Mrs. Thomas E. Stillman and as it was largely through her efforts that the change in policy was made, it was fitting that after here death Mr. Stillman built the gracious wing in her memory to be used exclusively for couples. This was completed in 1903, the 25th year. In 1907 Mrs. Stillman’s daughter, Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, endowed this building in memory of her father.
Once more the Home was too small. Through a gift of land by Mrs. Crossman-Riley, followed at her death by a large bequest, the Henry Crossman Memorial Building was erected in 1912. The building housed the Crossman Museum, with a collection of fine Tiffany windows and art treasures collected by Mrs. Crossman-Riley. On the top floor was a well-equipped infirmary. The main floor contained a doctor’s office.
Also in 1912, Mrs. Charles Merrill built a beautiful chapel as a memorial to her husband. The windows and pipe organ were presented by her daughters, Miss Edith J. Merrill and Mrs. Antonio Fanoni, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Merrill. The unique window, bits of colored glass shells and stones, were designed by the artist Cole Bryham. The chapel provided a dignified place to hold religious services and other formal meetings.
Throughout the years many things had been done to increase the efficiency of the Home and add to the happiness of the residents, called the “Family.” The amusement area was enlarged and was equipped with smoking rooms, a pool room and game rooms. The large and well-kept gardens afforded a quiet and shady spot for outdoor recreation; and sunny walks, numerous benches, chairs and swings added to the summer pleasure of the “Family.” Many a picnic supper and garden party was enjoyed there.
After opening its doors to couples, the Home undertook still another service: the admission of single women. The “Family” grew from the original seven men to over a hundred men and women at one time.
Ninety one years after its founding, the Home ceased active operation. As beautiful and comfortable as the surroundings were, they did not conform to new government elder care specifications. Diligent efforts were taken to relocate each resident to a new home. Those homes for the aged received generous support from the Home. The buildings and grounds were sold to what is now the Interfaith Medical Center. At least one of the stained glass windows found its way to the Brooklyn Museum. Artifacts and museum pieces were also sold. Even after considerable sums were donated to ensure the comfort of our former “Family,” there was a small amount remaining.
Today, the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men Board of Trustees works to fulfill the mission and spirit, providing support to programs and services for geriatric care and people in need.