The Hanlons

     Sometime around 1864-1865 William Hanlon and his family arrived in Brooklyn from Ireland. They came from the Parish of Templemore in County Tipperary. William and his wife Margaret (nee Ryan) had their four children with them. William (Jr.) was about 15 years old  (b. 1849), Mary about 10 (b. 1854), Bridget (Josephine) around 8 (b. 1856) and the youngest, Margaret, a child of only 4 years (b. 1860). In Ireland the family name was originally Hanlon but sometimes an “O” was added after they emigrated. It was used somewhat sporadically in Brooklyn, and then dropped.

Mary Street, Templemore


There are parish sacramental records that have been preserved from Templemore, Tipperary. In them we find the baptism of William Hanlon on August 13 of 1815 – the son of Patrick Hanlon and Margaret Downey, who were living on Mary Street in Templemore.


The Hanlons soon left Templemore however  and moved to Gortnahaha (Gort na hÁithe), a rural area about 3 miles southeast of Templemore, in Loughmore Parish. William’s sister  Elizabeth was born there in April of 1820. What catches the eye is that the listed sponsors at  Elizabeth’s baptism were a Thomas and Bridget Ryan. Thomas lived in the adjoining Parish of Templetuohy, just a few miles away, and had married Bridget Delaney. Although we don’t have any baptismal record for Margaret Ryan (William Hanlon’s wife) we do have the records for her sister Mary  and her brother Michael. And so it appears that William Hanlon and Margaret Ryan grew up knowing each other through the friendship of their parents. 

The Hanlons

     We don’t know when their childhood friendship blossomed into romance, and we have found no record of their marriage, but their first child, a girl they named Margaret, was born on March 8, 1846 in Templetuohy. Their first son, William, was also born in Templetuohy on Nov. 25, 1849. His baptismal sponsor was his mother’s  sister, Mary Ryan.

      Griffith’s Valuation, a survey of all land holdings in Ireland that was conducted in 1850 in Tipperary County, showed a William Hanlon in Tipperary City, on Spital St., and living next to a John Ryan (perhaps Margaret’s cousin?). We can’t be sure if this is the same William Hanlon. Tipperary City is about 56 miles away. Keep in mind, however, that  this was on the tail end of the Great Famine in Ireland , when all normal patterns of life had been severely disrupted.

     It  seems highly likely that William and his family were moving around at this time. We find the baptism of their next child, Mary, on  July 30, 1854 ( parents William Hanlon and Margaret Ryan) but she was born in Cavan County, over a hundred miles to the north. We also find a death record there in 1855 for Margaret Hanlon, probably their first daughter. However we can find no trace of Josephine’s (Bridget’s) baptism in 1856. Perhaps like many Irish agricultural workers, the Hanlons had to travel the countryside to find work. By 1860, however, they had returned to Templemore. Their last child, Margaret , was baptized there on May 20th.

     The Hanlons  were not to remain there long, however. Like thousands of their fellow countrymen they decided to seek a life with better prospects across the ocean. 

The Hanlons in Brooklyn   

     In the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War the Hanlon family was overlooked in the 1865 Census, but in the 1870 Census we find them living in the 9th Ward, Brooklyn. And in the 1871 Street Directory, the first in which they appear, their address is specified – Classon Ave. at the corner of Butler Street. William senior was listed as a Laborer in 1870, but his son, who would have turned 21 years old, it seems was no longer  living with the family.      In the June 1875 Census, still living on Classon Ave., William Sr. was  shown to be working as a laborer in Prospect Park, William Jr., now 26 years old,  was listed as a saloon keeper, and Josephine (Bridget)  a dressmaker. Paradoxically the 1874-75 and the 1875-76 Directories show William Hanlon, laborer, living on Crown St. at the corner of Washington Ave. This would have been directly across from the present Botanical Gardens in the Park. Apparently at some point William and his wife moved to Crown St. and the children, at least the older ones,  stayed on at Classon Ave.

    Here is an excerpt from an article about the constuction of Prospect Park  found at

      In the late 1850’s, Manhattan was linked to Long Island only by ferries, and the independent City of Brooklyn had the third largest population in the United States. A movement was afoot in Brooklyn to make a sizable public park, similar to that in its sister city, and also a number of satellite parks. At the solicitation of the citizens, the Legislature of the State of New York passed an act on 18 April 1859: “To Authorize, the Selection and Location of Certain Grounds for Public Parks, and also for a Parade Ground for the City of Brooklyn.” Fifteen commissioners were appointed to choose suitable sites, and on 3 February 1860 they submitted their recommendations. These included four major reserves: one was in Brooklyn proper, the second at Ridgewood, the third at Bay Ridge, and the fourth at New Lots.

    The largest and by far the most important of the seven proposals was referred to as Mount Prospect Park. Its name came from the hill on which the reservoir was located, near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and present Eastern Parkway. The commissioners stressed that it was expedient for the purity of the water to retain undeveloped ground around the reservoir; 

    The committee justified the economics of the park venture with the argument that the increased value of real estate in the vicinity would bring in greater tax returns to counterbalance the expenditure. They buttressed it with the humanitarian appeal that: “The intense activity and the destructive excitement of business life as here conducted, imperatively demands these public places for exercise and recreation”; and they noted that, although not centrally located in Brooklyn, Mount Prospect Park would be easily accessible “to the masses of our people,” either “on foot or the cheap railroad lines.”

     The State Legislature confirmed the recommendation by an act passed on 17 April of 1860, and through this document the right to acquire the designated land became law. Also, the officials of Brooklyn were empowered to issue bonds to cover the costs of the endeavor.

    The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 paralyzed the Prospect Park project, just as it did many other contemporary endeavors in America. At least in this instance the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise, allowing time for reflection and determination.

    The survey had been put into the capable hands of Calvert Vaux (1824-95), the British architect who joined forces with Andrew Jackson Downing in 1850 and worked on the landscaping of the Smithsonian Institution and part of the Capitol grounds in Washington 

    The preliminary report on boundaries led, later in 1865, to the reengagement of Vaux, together with his partner Frederick Olmsted, to create a whole new plan. Of the two men, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) was the better informed on growing plants and landscaping in general. The presentation of the Report of Olmsted, Vaux and Company in January 1866 was the official birth certificate of Prospect Park. 

  The first task preparatory to building Prospect Park was draining the land wherever necessary. Then construction began at the upper terminus. The processes involved were tearing down unwanted structures and removing the debris from the site, putting in drain and sewer lines, grading, building roads, bridle paths and walks, taking up trees and putting them elsewhere, and setting out new plants. These activities gradually proceeded southward along the east side of the park. The manual labor started in June 1866 with a crew of 300 men. Although declining during the winter months, the number of employees increased to a peak in October 1867, when 1,825 were on the payroll. After this, there was a leveling off, with an average of about 1,100 in the warm months of 1868, close to 1,000 in 1869, 750 in 1870, back up to 1,100 in 1871, and than a gradual reduction to about half this number in the depression year of 1873.  

    Visitors to the park were a nuisance to the work crews during the construction period. Especially after the upper reaches of Long Meadow and the Woods were done and the scene of activities was the southern half of the reserve, people came in droves and destroyed much of the early planting through tramping on it. An average of 100,000 persons visited the park monthly during the summer of 1868, and by 1871 the count had increased to 250,000. But it was understood that the park is for people; and, for their use and enjoyment, benches of wood slats on iron framework were provided as soon as possible. Over 200 were installed in 1868, half of them 7 feet in length and the others 5 or 4 feet long.

    During the depression year of 1873, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux dissolved their partnership.The cost of the park during the seven-year administration of Olmsted and Vaux was tremendous. The land alone had cost more than $4,000,000. Improvements amounted to upwards of $5,000,000, the equivalent of almost $25,000,000 in terms of the market value of the dollar today. Prospect Park was the largest single investment made by the City of Brooklyn up to that time, and it is unlikely that any, before or since, has reaped such high dividends in profits of intrinsic value.

          We are not sure if William Hanlon was employed in the building of Prospect Park from its commencement in 1866, but his move from nearby Classon Ave. to the edge of the Park on Washington  St. in 1874, and his 1875 Census listing as a Prospect Park laborer suggests that he might have been.  

     In November of 1875  William Hanlon leased the building at 740 Classon Ave. from its owner James Moffet. It is unclear whether this was the father or the son who signed the lease, but I suspect it was the father (William (Jr.) however was listed as a saloon keeper in the 1875 Census) The lease was for two years and five months (ending in May – the traditional Moving Day) at the rate of $25/ month, followed by a two year extension at the rate of $30/month.  The Hanlons had been renting in the building since at least 1870, but this lease was for the whole building, which included a store front on the street level. Part of the lease stipulated that the tenants would “put in good bow windows in the store”. The 1875-76 Directory (which listings were probably gathered before this lease in November) showed a William O. Hanlon, liquors, at 792 Classon Ave. Thereafter the Liquor store listings were for 740 Classon.  The 1878-79 Directory revealed : William O’Hanlon, liquors, 740 Classon Ave, h. Washington Ave. c. Crown.

    Then in October of 1878 William Hanlon purchased the building at 740 Classon from James Moffett  for the sum of one dollar,  but he assumed two unpaid mortgages on the property that amounted to $3500, quite a substantial debt. It appears that the saloon enterprise had all the prospects for success, but unfortunately fate was to change all that.

     On February 28 , 1879 William Sr. passed away.


The following year, in the 1880 Census, we find all of the Hanlon children living together at 740 Classon Ave. William (Jr.) was  running the liquor store. Mary and Bridget were making dresses, and Margaret had obtained a job as a telegraph operator. It is presumed that their mother was still living at the Washington Ave. address.  However the following  year the Directory showed that she joined her children on Classon Ave.


   740 Classon Ave   (circa 1940)

     We don’t know exactly when John F. Keenan met and courted Bridget Hanlon but they were married around 1883. It is quite possible that they had known each other since childhood. You will recall that Annie Keenan lived with her children on the corner of Classon Ave and Butler St. from 1866 through 1873. The Hanlons lived on the opposite side of the same block from at least 1870 on. So it is not too much to speculate that the families had become acquainted and the kids had played together. John had been born in 1857, and  Bridget  around 1856 so they might have even been in the same class at school. (It seems that history has a way of repeating itself.)

     And as they say in the real estate business, the most important factor is : “Location, location, location” .

   Bridget Hanlon and John F. Keenan