The Old Brook School located in Maspeth saw the development
of one of the most eminent and respected men of business in old New York.
James Harper, founder of the great Harper Brothers publishing house was a Middle Village resident who began his education in Maspeth’s Old Brook School.
When James Harper left his home in 1810, his mother, a devout Methodist, reminded him that although he was entering an apprenticeship as a printer’s “devil,” he was still a child of God and should not forget his moral obligations.
This, he never did. The fame of the House of Harper had spread around the world and eminent writers from all parts of the globe pressed him to publish their works and assure their success. He was always an honest dealer and a loyal and generous friend. The brothers Harper – John, Joseph, Fletcher and James, who later became Mayor of New York City and organized the city’s first uniformed police force – launched the magazine in 1850, named it for themselves and promised its readers “as immense amount of useful and entertaining reading matter.”
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, as it was called, was an immediate success and its owners kept their promise. It was the first U.S. magazine with national circulation and its earliest contributors included Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray and other giants of English literature. It also published portions of “Moby Dick” and the writings of Alfred Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane. It interviewed Wild Bill Hickok and sent reporters to the battlefields of the Civil War. It pricked the nation’s conscience with its reports of child labor and chronicled, with some misgivings, the amazing changes that technology created. Later, it questioned the policies and philosophies of America’s imperialists, and later still, the wisdom and rightness of the United States involvement in Vietnam.
In Harper’s Bazaar and Harper’s Weekly, current events were editorialized, the latest drawing room anecdotes were related and news of the cultural world was discussed. Also presented were views of the latest fashions from Paris along with hints on how to achieve the most elegant style in all situations. The illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girl,” often adorned the central page of the Bazaar, while every issue of the periodical advised the reader that a complete list of books published by Harper and Brothers, along with portraits of the authors could be obtained for 10 cents.
Surely, the Old Brook School of Maspeth, attended by the Harper Brothers and by many of our great grandparents, must have offered an education we would be fortunate to attain today.