1873 Weeksville and Pool’s infamous Picnic

weeksville heritage center photograph


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 27, 1873, page 4



When “Big Six” thundered along the pavements of New York, George Pool was her keeper; now he is, if not the “Boss,” a very popular man among the colored people of Weeksville. During the last eleven years, Pool’s picnics have been the great annual event looked forward to with the utmost anxiety by not only the colored residents of Thompson Street, New York, but also by the Weeksvillians of Brooklyn.


It came off last night in Atlantic Park, an oblong square of about six acres on the south side of Atlantic, east of Rochester Avenue. It was attended by a very large number of colored people, residents of New York and Brooklyn, and also by the colored Orphan Asylum and other schools. For their entertainment and refreshment, had been provided a number of swings, a cart load of clams and oysters, and a few kegs of lager.


Overshadowed by the oak, spruce, pine and other trees growing along Atlantic Park, is a spacious dancing floor, and it was kept constantly occupied in consequence of the strenuous exertions of two violinists, a harpist and a flutist. Dancing was indulged in, regardless of consequences, from noon until midnight. The beauty and fashion of the colored people of the Ninth Ward send forth their choicest representatives to do honor to the occasion, and a large force of policemen from the Tenth sub-Precinct was in attendance, under the command of Sergeants Weeks and O’Brien, but not the slightest disturbance took place to mar the harmony of the proceedings.




1880 Detailed estate and old farm line atlas of the city of Brooklyn (NYPL)

1880 Detailed estate and old farm line atlas of the city of Brooklyn (NYPL)




Brooklyn Eagle, July 30, 1873, page 2



Animate and Inanimate Characteristics




South of Atlantic Avenue, in that part of the city intersected by Troy, Schenectady, Utica and Rochester Avenues, is a sort of terra incognita. The inhabitants are principally colored people, and its chief products are low groggeries, goats and mangy, half fed and wholly savage curs. As a place of resort for picnic parties it is not and probably never will be at all popular, but on the contrary it is quite a “jack in the box” sort of locality for the police of the Tenth sub-Precinct. Sergeant Meeks is always in a state of curiosity as to “what will turn up in Weeksville to-night?” Sometimes it is a disorderly house, a regular witches’ mixture sort of place, where whites and blacks and all the intermediate shades mingle, mingle, mingle so freely and get so tight that the evening’s entertainment invariably winds up with a brutal knockdown and dragout fight. Then the police have their work cut out for them and Sergeant Meeks is easy in his mind. He knows “what’s up to-night.” A hunt after a suspected purloiner of chickens forms another pleasantly exciting episode in the experience of the policemen of that precinct, but wandering around from house to house asking questions about stray goats with a relish for the bark of the trees on the avenue, or making inquiries respecting wolfish dogs who have partially lunched off the chubby legs of some mother’s darling are aggravating expeditions. The inhabitants are never able to answer such conundrums, and the policeman returns a sadder but not a wiser man.



What Nature has Done and What the Contractors Think


Nature has kindly done her best to make the place picturesque. It is all hills and hollows. The hills are the highest, and the hollows the deepest of any in the city. Contractors fail to see anything to admire in the picturesque beauty of those sand hills, studded with boulders and carpeted with the scrubbiest kind of grass, or those hollows filled with stagnant water, in which float the rotting carcasses of decayed dogs and cats. They simply see so many lots waiting to be dug down or filled in; that is the impression it makes upon their materialistic minds. The streets are in a state of chaos and general uncertainty. Ruts, stones, garbage, ashes, dust, and all other disagreeable and disgusting things are there in abundance, while the houses on either side appear to be debating the question whether they should move off to some safer place, or remain just where they are for fear of a worse fate befalling them. Some of the frame and frail tenements are perched on the top of a sand bank, like sparrow houses on a pole, others have their foundations in a sunken lot, and the roofs are on a level with the street. That is what gives the place its air of uncertaintity, and the casual visitor would not be at all surprised to see the houses either tumble down or disappear altogether. Those not built high up or low down are stuck on the side of a hill, where they hang like a fly on a wall.



An Ice House in the Cellar and a Fish Pond in the Parlor


Most of the houses have little patches of garden surrounding them, and although untidy and shiftless hands attend to them their products in the shape of corn, tomatoes, beans, peas, and what is called “truck,” are plentiful and well grown. The live stock consists of chickens, geese and goats. They are looked after semi-occasionally, counted in the evening, and the chicken and geese receive a daily allowance of food in addition to what they pick up while foraging in the streets or scratching in a neighboring garden. The goats are always in good condition, on a mixed diet of old boots, rags, paper, condemned mattresses, chips, corks, cabbage stalks, and other provender picked up during their day’s ramble. It would be unfair to omit all mention of the dogs, for they are not only always heard, but they occasionally make their presence felt. They prowl around every corner, scrape luxurious couches in the dusty streets, or lie panting on the shady side of a fence, and snap and snarl, and bark and bite in a manner to remind a Turk of the city which the descendents of Peter the Great so much desire to annex.



Modern Improvements in the Shape of Sewers and a New Railroad


The progress of improvements is slow in that section, for the work to be done is expensive, and the majority of the owners of property are not wealthy. If pushed forward rapidly the assessments, instead of being below one half the assessed value of the property, would eat it all up, and then there would be a large bill for the Auditor to audit and the Controller to pay on behalf of the city.


Last Winter many of the property owners experienced considerable inconvenience and sustained heavy losses on account of the freshets, and in some instances they had from three to four feet of solid ice in their cellars for more than two months. When the thaw came the result was even worse, as the large pond lying between Utica Avenue and the old Hunterfly road rose to an unprecedented height. The water made itself at home in several parlors and refused to leave until the Spring months had almost passed away. Complaints were loud and numerous but nothing could be done until the sewer in course of construction along Rochester Avenue was finished, and then the Alderman McGroarty offered a resolution that a temporary sewer be built to connect with the pond for the purpose of drawing it. The resolution was adopted and then the matter was turned over to the Board of City Works. The colored people are anxious to know what Messrs. Palmer and Whiting are going to do about it. The work of filling the pond is in the hands of Mr. Peter Riley and progresses slowly, for the reason that the average depth of the ten acres to be filled in is about twenty-five feet. Two or three hundred cartloads of dirt dumped into such a hole as that make hardly any perceptible difference in its appearance.


Last Winter the Legislature passed a bill authorizing the construction of a railroad along Rochester Avenue to connect with the Broadway line of cars, and on Tuesday morning the first load of timber to be used on the new line was dumped on Atlantic Avenue. Work will be commenced immediately, and it is expected that the road will be in running order some time during the Fall. For those doing business in the E.D., or in the upper part of New York it will be a great convenience, as at present they are obliged to walk a long distance before they can get aboard the cars on Broadway.



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