Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Behind the brownstone veneer

This partially demolished wall at the General Theological Seminary in Chelsea is an excellent illustration of how brownstone structures were made. 

Brownstone is essentially sandstone, a form of sedimentary rock composed of layers of sand. The rich brown color of much of the material seen in buildings around town comes from the presence of iron ore. Widely used in 19th century New York (it was cheaper than other stones and readily available in New Jersey and Connecticut) brownstone was primarily used as a veneer over brick walls. My first photo illustrates this, with a layer of brownstone blocks about 4 inches thick cemented to brick. The close-up shot of a broken brownstone block shows how the sandstone is composed of layers.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Mighty New York Sparrow

The ubiquitous House Sparrow (passer domesticus) does not share in the contempt which New Yorkers have towards city birds, especially starlings and pigeons. Maybe it’s because they’re small and attractive, but we tend to look fondly upon these tiny creatures. They seem so frail and vulnerable. Ecology and history tell us otherwise. 

Like the much-despised pigeon and starling, the urban sparrow is a European transplant, brought to the New World in the 19th century as a means of controlling insects. And since sparrow chicks consume an enormous amount of insect larvae, they did help. But the Big Apple was such a hospitable environment that their number exploded. Passer domesticus, it appears, is ideally suited to urban life. Besides insects it also consumes seeds, both of which are in abundant supply, and it will build its nests just about anywhere. As for its small size and tendency to shy away from humans, don’t let that fool you; the house sparrow is aggressive and will often take on other birds when competing for nesting space.