Architect Susanna Russell, a post-Civil War Bed-Stuy trailblazer

Eye On Real Estate

January 4, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Late 19th-century Brooklyn architect and builder Susanna Russell designed, constructed and owned this row of brownstones from 70 Hancock St. (at right) to 84 Hancock St. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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This is a paean of praise for a trailblazer in post-Civil War Brooklyn.

We salute you, Susanna.

Susanna Edith Cosey Russell — also known as S.E.C. Russell — was an architect, builder and property owner in the section of Bedford-Stuyvesant that is now the Bedford Historic District.

Although married women had the right to own property independently of their husbands in New York in the late 19th century, “it was unusual for women to play an active role in building design and construction,” says a designation report written by city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) researchers about the Bedford Historic District.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Russell’s stately rowhouses stand tall today. We walked around the landmarked neighborhood recently and tracked some of them down. The hunt was worthwhile, even in wintry weather.

Numerous distinguished architects worked in the area, including one of Brooklyn’s big names, Montrose Morris.

The area was designated as a landmarked district in December 2015. That means the buildings in it cannot be demolished, nor can their exteriors be altered, without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval.

The district’s boundaries are Monroe Street to the north and Macon Street or Verona Place to the south, Bedford Avenue or Nostrand Avenue to the west and Marcy Avenue or Tompkins Avenue to the east.

According to the designation report, Russell was born in England in the 1840s. She was married to Walter Russell, who was also a British-born architect, builder and developer.
They lived in Manhattan before moving to Brooklyn.

In Susanna Russell’s day, most of Brooklyn’s architects and builders were not academically trained, and apparently that was true of her as well, the report says. She probably learned her craft from her husband and two of his relatives, brick masons Frederick Matthews and Josiah Matthews, who lived with the couple and their three children.

So about those houses Susanna Russell designed, built and owned.

They include five clusters of terrific-looking brownstones that she constructed on Hancock Street on the block between Bedford and Nostrand avenues.

She built Neo-Grec style 60 and 62 Hancock St. around 1882. They are steps away from 70 to 84 Hancock St., a row of Neo-Grec homes with Egyptian Revival elements that she had constructed in 1880.

She was the architect, builder and owner of Neo-Grec style 92 to 96 Hancock St., which she constructed in 1881 — and of two rows of Neo-Grec style homes, 101 to 105 Hancock St. and 107 to 111 Hancock St., both built in 1882.

She was also the sole architect, builder and owner of rowhouses outside the Bedford Historic District.

Within the district, she and her husband worked together on the development of dozens of homes between 1871 and 1892.

Either Susanna Russell or Walter Russell was the original owner of five wood-frame rowhouses at 276 to 284 Monroe St. The Italianate-style homes between Nostrand and Marcy avenues were constructed in 1871.

They are among the oldest buildings in the Bedford Historic District — and are unusual because even in the 1870s, most properties in the area were made of brick or stone.     


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