Come see Vinegar Hill, DUMBO’s quaint, quirky cousin
Eye On Real Estate
Commandants. Cobblestones. A Con Ed substation.
What a combo.
No other Brooklyn neighborhood is quite like Vinegar Hill.
Some of our borough’s oldest homes, aside from a handful of Colonial-era farmhouses, stand in this quaint, quirky neighborhood nestled against the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The most venerable of them is the Commandant’s House, whose design is attributed to the famed architect of America’s early years, Charles Bulfinch. As in the Charles Bulfinch who designed part of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
The Commandant’s House is a Federal-style wood-frame mansion. Reportedly its dining room has the same proportions as the Oval Office at the White House.
In addition to the landmarked Commandant’s House, there are pre-Civil War rowhouses and cobblestone streets in various spots in Vinegar Hill.
The quirkiest aspect of the neighborhood is the electric company’s substation. The fenced-in facility extends along the East River’s edge for the full length of this small neighborhood.
Its presence makes Vinegar Hill a waterfront neighborhood without any waterfront access for residents or visitors. Only Con Ed employees get to see the shoreline.
The Con Ed substation is picturesque in an urban-industrial way. It has an eye-catching signature smokestack. On some blocks, high-voltage equipment stands outdoors. It hums audibly, which is eerie and a little bit ominous.
Take a break from DUMBO’s selfie-snapping crowds
The fact that you can actually hear the humming electrical equipment should clue you in to how peaceful Vinegar Hill is — despite its being named after a bloody 1798 battle in Ireland between the Irish and their English overlords.
On Vinegar Hill blocks with no Con Ed equipment, the loudest sound is often birdsong. The neighborhood is an excellent place for a spring walk when you’re visiting DUMBO and want an escape from the crowds.
Don’t misunderstand. DUMBO is one of our favorite neighborhoods — in Brooklyn, in America, in the world.
And we love the vibrancy and energy of crowded places. This isn’t a cornfield in Iowa. It’s a city of 8.55 million people. It’s supposed to be crowded.
More to the point, 330,000-plus people per year visit Brooklyn Bridge Park. Many of them flood the streets of DUMBO as well.
So when, inevitably, you need a break from DUMBO’s selfie-snapping crowds, walk east on Front, Water or Plymouth streets. When you cross Bridge Street, you’re in Vinegar Hill.
You can’t get there by walking on John Street because part of it is closed off by Con Ed substation fences.
‘We have met the enemy and they are ours’
Once you’re in Vinegar Hill, turn onto Hudson Avenue and find tiny Evans Street, which dead-ends at Little Street.
On a high and windy hill, behind a forbidding fence, you will find the Commandant’s House, which was constructed in 1805-1806. Its address is 24 Evans St.
Yes, we borrowed that phrase “on a high and windy hill” from the song “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.”
Whenever we visit the historic mansion, we think about Oliver Hazard Perry. The hero of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie is remembered for his famous victory message: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
Oliver Hazard Perry’s brother, Commodore Matthew Perry, was the Navy Yard Commandant in the 1840s and therefore lived in the Commandant’s House.
In 1979 the U.S. Government sold the Commandant’s House to Robert I. Carter for $120,000, city Finance Department records indicate. The current owners bought it in 1997.
Greek Revival rowhouses galore
Down the hill from the landmarked mansion, you will find the Vinegar Hill Historic District by walking along three different streets.
The most photogenic historic-district rowhouses are Greek Revival-style 59 to 49 Hudson Ave. between Evans and Plymouth streets. We wrote the addresses in this order because if you stand across from 59 Hudson Ave. and point your camera toward 49 Hudson Ave., the iconic Con Ed smokestack will be in your photos.
Greek Revival houses at 67 to 71 Hudson Ave. are noteworthy because they’re two centuries old. A shipyard owner named John Jackson built them in 1817.
Eye-catching rows of historic-district homes also stand on the corner of Gold and Water streets and on part of Front Street between Gold and Bridge streets.
On other Vinegar Hill blocks, factories and parking lots lend urban grittiness to the visual mix. On yet other blocks, developers have converted handsome old industrial buildings into residential properties.