Vinegar Hill

10 things to know about Vinegar Hill

July 8, 2019 Lore Croghan
Welcome to picturesque Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Oh DUMBO, we love you.

But sometimes we need a brief break — from the exuberant tourists, the long lines waiting to buy lunch from the food trucks, the relentlessly pounding jackhammers outside our office windows.

Don’t get me wrong. DUMBO is magnificent.

The Brooklyn Eagle‘s digital offices operate out of a repurposed industrial building with an impeccable landmarked pedigree. We’re just steps away from Brooklyn Bridge Park and the banks of the mighty East River.

People come from all over the world to see the neighborhood that is now our home base. We would never complain.

A Con Ed substation occupies blocks and blocks of Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
A Con Ed substation occupies blocks and blocks of Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

It’s just that Vinegar Hill is out there, a few blocks away, waiting to be visited.

It is DUMBO’s escape hatch — quiet, uncrowded and endowed with some of the oldest rowhouses in the borough of Brooklyn.

Vinegar Hill’s exact boundaries are a subject of disagreement, as is the case with many New York City neighborhoods.

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A 2014 New York Times story about Vinegar Hill has a map showing the East River, Bridge Street, York Street and a zigzagging set of streets near the Brooklyn Navy Yard as its boundaries. Makes sense to me.

Thistles grow in country fields — and also on the sidewalk outside the Con Ed substation. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Thistles grow in country fields — and also on the sidewalk outside the Con Ed substation. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A reassuring word to readers who haven’t spent time in the neighborhood: Don’t be alarmed by block after block of high-voltage electrical equipment you see as you walk along Plymouth Street from DUMBO to Vinegar Hill. It’s part of a Con Edison substation.

Along with numerous grimy industrial buildings, it adds urban grit to the area and makes Vinegar Hill’s historic homes look even more beautiful by contrast.

Here are 10 fast facts about Vinegar Hill, so you’ll be in the know when you get there.

1. Its name comes from Irish rebels

Vinegar Hill is named after a battle that took place during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Vinegar Hill is named after a battle that took place during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The neighborhood’s name refers to the Battle of Vinegar Hill.

It took place during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in which Catholics and Protestants in Ireland united in an unsuccessful fight to end British rule in their country.

John Jackson, a shipbuilder and real estate developer, chose the neighborhood’s name. He owned a significant chunk of the land on which Vinegar Hill stands, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 1997 designation report about the Vinegar Hill Historic District says.

Jackson and his heirs constructed numerous houses in the neighborhood in the first four decades of the 19th century, the designation report notes.

2. The ‘hill’ used to be a job perk

Here’s a glimpse through a fence of the Commandant’s House. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s a glimpse through a fence of the Commandant’s House. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

There is indeed a hill in Vinegar Hill. And there’s something surprising on top of it — a gated mansion that’s more than 200 years old.

It’s called the Commandant’s House, or Quarters A.

The Federal-style frame house was constructed in 1805 and 1806, back when America was young and the Brooklyn Navy Yard was run by a Naval officer. The perks of the high-ranking job included this house perched high above the boat-building facility.

Charles Bulfinch, the architect of part of the U.S. Capitol, designed the Commandant’s House, a 1965 Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report about it says.

The iron gates of the magnificent mansion can be found where Little Street and Evans Street both dead-end. The address of the Commandant’s House is 24 Evans St., if you’d like to find directions.

It’s said to have a dining room with the same dimensions as the Oval Office at the White House.

By the way, the Commandant’s House is now privately owned. The United States of America — that’s the name on the deed — sold the property for $120,000 in 1979, city Finance Department records show.

3. The waterfront is waterless

This eye-catching house on Water Street is surrounded by vacant land. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This eye-catching house on Water Street is surrounded by vacant land. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Vinegar Hill is a waterfront neighborhood — but there’s no public access to the water.

That’s because the Con Ed substation occupies the East River shoreline blocks throughout the entire neighborhood.

4. There’s a secret garden 

Vinegar Hill House has a secret garden. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Vinegar Hill House has a secret garden. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The garden is the back yard of Vinegar Hill House, a popular restaurant that has been in business for more than a decade.

There are fairy lights strung up outside and a grapevine growing on one of the walls — and tranquility.
The food’s really, really good, by the way.

Vinegar Hill House is at 72 Hudson Ave.

5. The rowhouses are old, old, old

These Hudson Avenue rowhouses were built in 1817. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
These Hudson Avenue rowhouses were built in 1817. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Vinegar Hill has rowhouses that were built in 1817. Back then, America was a nation of just 20 states, all of them east of the Mississippi River.

The Greek Revival-style brick houses are 67, 69 and 71 Hudson Ave. They were constructed by none other than Jackson, the shipbuilder who named the neighborhood, the designation report about the Vinegar Hill Historic District says.

They’re across the street from Vinegar Hill House.

6. Yes, there is food

Cafe Gitane is located in the house on the corner. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Cafe Gitane is located in the house on the corner. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

DUMBO workers who want to take a lunch break in another neighborhood can walk to Cafe Gitane in seven minutes. I timed this stroll from our office on Jay Street.

The charming eatery is located at 70 Hudson St., which is next door to Vinegar Hill House.

7. Smokestacks and rowhouses coexist  

These Hudson Avenue rowhouses are located so close to Con Ed’s smokestack. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
These Hudson Avenue rowhouses are located so close to Con Ed’s smokestack. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

One of Brooklyn’s most scenic rowhouse blocks has a smokestack as a neighbor.

The smokestack is on a Con Ed substation building. The Greek Revival-style homes are on the corner of Plymouth Street and Hudson Avenue. Their addresses are 49 to 59 Hudson Ave.

8. Eye-candy landmarks abound

Landmarked rowhouses stand on the corner of Gold and Water streets. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Landmarked rowhouses stand on the corner of Gold and Water streets. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Landmarked rowhouses in other parts of the neighborhood are pretty great, too.

One row is located on the corner of Gold and Water streets.

The other is on Front Street in the middle of the block between Gold and Bridge streets.

Further down this block, there’s a landmarked former firehouse.

9. It has its very own Buddhist temple

Here’s Dorje Ling Buddhist Center. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s Dorje Ling Buddhist Center. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Dorje Ling Buddhist Center is located at 98 Gold St., on a corner property surrounded by a gold-painted fence. Instruction about Tibetan Buddhism is offered in Chinese and English.

There used to be a church right nearby — a historically important one designed by the Prince of American Catholic Architects, Patrick Charles Keely. He was a resident of Vinegar Hill, the LPC’s designation report about the neighborhood says.

The Roman Catholic Church of St. Ann, a Gothic-style brick edifice with a 130-foot tower, was built in 1860.

The church was sold for $535,000 in 1992, Finance Department records indicate, and was soon demolished.

10. The neighborhood did not escape the ‘escape room’ trend

Right this way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Right this way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Vinegar Hill has its very own escape room.

It’s called Beat the Bomb, and it’s located at 247 Water St. It’s supposed to be a team-building experience. Should the Eagle’s staff give it a try?

Speaking of escapes, if you want to let your feet take you further away from DUMBO, Hudson Avenue runs into Navy Street at the edge of Vinegar Hill.

If you walk down Navy Street and turn onto Flushing Avenue, you’ll reach parts of the Brooklyn Navy Yard that are open to the public, such as a museum in Building 92. And a new NYC Ferry dock is accessible through Building 77.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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