top of page

Walking in Brooklyn: The Oldest Public High School Building in New York City

A testament to the ambition and rivalry of the late 1800s, this grand architectural masterpiece, nestled in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, paints a vivid picture of a Brooklyn in its ascendancy.

black and white exterior building

You can hear more Brooklyn stories with Gesso’s self-guided New York audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

In the years before the five boroughs were officially unified in 1898, Manhattan and Brooklyn were independent cities vying for supremacy. Each city, a titan in its own right, was racing towards a prosperous future, the echoes of which still reverberate through the streets today. Brooklynites, fiercely proud of their rapidly growing city, viewed it as a beacon of education and progress, and this high school building, completed in 1885, was a clear declaration of their lofty aspirations.

Brimming with the grandeur of Victorian, Gothic, and French Second Empire styles, this majestic edifice was the brainchild of James W. Naughton. An immigrant from Ireland, Naughton poured his dreams and ambitions into the city that had become his home.

Though the high school was originally intended to be co-educational, the space proved too constrained for the swelling numbers of boys and girls seeking education. A decision was made to dedicate this edifice to girls, while a separate, even more extravagant boys' school was constructed nearby seven years later.

In 1895, The New York Times dubbed this monument of education Brooklyn’s “most creditable achievement.” It's not hard to see why; its proud alumnae include the pioneering congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Betty Smith, the author of 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'. Smith, despite not graduating from high school, found inspiration and resilience in the very heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Today, the high school building houses the Brooklyn Adult Learning Center, continuing its tradition of nurturing minds and fostering aspirations.

Many more Brooklyn stories and New York City tours await. Discover more local history with our New York audio walking tours, and see which nearby New York City neighborhoods you want to explore next!


Gesso was created for urban explorers who find joy in life's hidden gems. Find audio tours on the Gesso app, available via the App Store or Google Play, and share your New York City adventures with us on Instagram.


bottom of page