Photo archive reveals Brooklyn’s rural past

Eighty years ago, they appeared without documentation in theBrooklyn Museum archives: 3,500 glass negatives of photos taken ofthe borough over the last few decades of the 19th century.

The images tell the story of Brooklyn’s rural past, as seenthrough the eyes of amateur photographers from the long defunctBrooklyn Academy of Arts and Sciences, and other than for a briefstay in the Brooklyn Public Library they have sat mostlyundisturbed in museum storage, until now.

For the last several months, Brooklyn Museum Chief of TechnologyShelley Bernstein and Head of Digital Collections and ServicesDeborah Wythe have been digitizing the images, posting them onlineon the website Flickr and asking local residents to help identifythe photos’ locations through The latter site,which launched July 11, is attempting to map old photographs tospecific sites, to provide a link to an area’s history.

Currently 380 of the Brooklyn Museum photos have been postedonline, according to Wythe, with roughly 125 having been identifiedso far. And she claims this is only the beginning.

Our regular staff in the scan lab is working as we speak –gradually getting more scanned into the system, Wythe said.

The photos tell the tale of a simpler time, says formerpresident of the Bay Ridge Historical Society, Peter Scarpa.

Bay Ridge was kind of rural, Scarpa explained. A lot of thestreets weren’t even paved. A lot of them didn’t even havestreets.

This is precisely why Wythe feels it’s a great opportunity forBrooklynites to connect with their borough’s history.

I think it’s a really nice perspective on our neighborhood – acomparison of how things used to be, she said. It gives people asense of how Brooklyn used to be, before it was a city.

Those residents who want to look through the pictures andattempt to identify some, are urged to log onto the BrooklynMuseum’s Flickr page at

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