An American Life
Chapter 3. Service, 1905 to 1927
SERVICE, 1905 TO 1927
In 1905 Brooklyn was already experiencing what America was yet to become: a site of breathless expansion and attendant complexity. In the 295 years since Henry Hudson’s Half Moon had engaged the Algonquians in lands “pleasant with Grasse and Flowers, and goodly Trees,” as the crew of the ship described Upper New York Bay, the fresh, green breast of the New World had all but vanished.1 Nature, F. Scott Fitzgerald had imaginatively written, that had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams, receded. For a transitory enchanted moment, those sailors held their breath in the presence of the continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation they neither understood nor desired—face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to their capacity for wonder.2 All that was now gone, and another world had taken its place.
By the time Merchant Chauncey had turned fifteen years old in Middletown, Brooklyn was on its way to becoming an urban community. New York City had surpassed Philadelphia as the nation’s metropolis in 1810, and the suburb expanded in similar fashion. By the mid-1820s, nearly nine hundred homes were constructed in Brooklyn; to serve the influx of diverse families, churches and schools sprung up to accommodate the immigrant population. Managed by a superintendent, a system of public school districts formed. By ← 87 | 88 → 1860, Brooklyn had become the third largest city in the nation. By...
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