Located in Brooklyn Heights, New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society is dedicated to preserving Brooklyn's 400-year history. Visitors are encouraged to experience, study, and engage in thoughtful dialogue about the extraordinary history of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn used to be a rural farming town, but in only a few short decades in became the 3rd largest city in the country. During a time of great change and civic pride, the citizens of Brooklyn wanted to honor and commemorate Brooklyn’s great history before it faded away.
The Brooklyn Historic Society was founded in 1863 but was known then as the Long Island Historical Society. This society was run by the city’s most prominent citizens who could trace their residency in Brooklyn all the way back to the 17th century. The society was focused on building a library centered around preserving the history of New York and creating an open and educational dialogue about its history.
Originally, the Long Island Historical Society was housed in a few rooms on Court Street. It began to grow very quickly and was eventually moved into its own building in 1881. The now landmark building was designed by renowned architect, George Post. It is a Queen Anne-style building with a bright terracotta façade, intricate brickwork, and many breathtaking decorative details.
During the following century, Brooklyn began to grow rapidly and establish itself as an integral part of not only New York, but America. The Society had officially changed its name to the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1985 and reestablished itself as more than a library but a museum and educational center.
The Society also made great strides in featuring the history and artwork of struggling classes – African Americans and Women as well as controversial topics. It began featuring exhibits on black churches, AIDS, Abolitionists, and Suffragettes. The Society was ahead of its time and is still a huge supporter of its diverse population.
Today, thousands of students, scholars, and researchers visit the Society to examine the vast collection of manuscripts, maps, and photographs. These collections have supported scholarship is urban history, the environment, and social history. In its dedication to education, the Society serves 10,000 students and teachers every year in the Brooklyn Heights area.
The landmark building has recently undergone a full-scale restoration in order to create more welcoming public space and house its growing collection.
Current & Upcoming Exhibitions:
Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy: The exhibit is on display from April 6, 2017 to June 2018 and features a wonderful array of photography, programs, and other memorabilia that tells the profound story of Jackie Robinson.
Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie: This exhibit is on display from July 20, 2016 through July 2017 and features the largely unseen photographs of Brooklyn in the 1950s taken by Truman Capote. Some of these photographs have never been seen until now.
Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom: This exhibit is on display until Winter 2018 and explores the history of many unsung heroes of the anti-slavery movement in Brooklyn. This exhibit in a partner of the public history project In Pursuit of Freedom.
The Emancipation Proclamation: This exhibit is on display until Winter 2018 and features a replica of a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit suggests ways that the document’s social and political meanings have been interpreted in the 150 years since its signing.
The Othmer Library: This world-renowned library was founded in 1863 and aims to preserve and makes available one of the most comprehensive collections of historical and cultural materials. It houses more than 33,000 books, 1,600 archival collections, 50,000 photographs, 2,000 maps, 8,000 artifacts, and 300 paintings all related to Brooklyn’s culture and history. The library is open to the public and aims to foster new scholarship, public education and research, and enrich the public’s cultural and educational activities. It also houses many of Brooklyn’s public records dating back to the borough’s founding.
Chronicling Brooklyn’s Landscapes: Located on the second floor, this exhibit features paintings of Brooklyn throughout its history. It also contains a copy of a Brooklyn Historical Society’s rare Ratzer Plan of New York.
Portraits of Prominent New Yorkers: Located on both the second and third floors, this exhibit features paintings from the Brooklyn Historic Society’s historic collection and a piece from artist Meredith Bergman – Historic Testis Temporis: Pinky.
Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn, NY 11201, Phone: 718-222-4111
Back to: Best Things to Do in Brooklyn, NY