I’m sure most of us have never stopped to think about where the neighborhood’s we live in got their name, or even the history behind it. While some of the older areas are named after Dutch settlers, the newer, more industrialized locations that have turned residential over the past couple of years received their moniker based on geographical location. Take the area of DUMBO, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. When we set out with our real estate agent, we might have chosen the location based on a number of factors, but chances are it’s not because of a name.
If we stop and think about it for a moment, there is a lot of history that helped shape not only the borough of Brooklyn, but each of the 77 neighborhoods that comprise Kings County. It’s extremely fascinating, especially if you’re a history buff. The Brooklyn Historical Society is a great place for more in-depth knowledge on such a fascinating topic.
The borough itself has the Dutch colonists to thank for their name. In the mid 1600’s Brooklyn consisted of six separate towns. One of these towns, settled in 1646, was named “Breuckelen,” named after a village in the Netherlands. In 1664, the English gained control of the area and the name was eventually anglicized to “Brooklyn” the name residents have come to know and love.
As for the areas that comprise the borough, let’s take a look at where a few originated.
Located just 13 miles from New York City on Brooklyn’s southern shore, this quaint and close knit community was named for the Dutch settler, Wolphert Gerretse, who built his home and mill alongside Gerritsen Creek in the early 17th century. The area was mainly rural territory until the 1920’s when developers began building a resort community.
The allure of Gerritsen Beach for many multi-generational families is living amongst friends and the security of knowing your neighbors. While close to Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay, the neighborhood has a private beach which offers easy access to boating and parkland.
Neighborhood stores and commercial activity can be found along Gerritsen Avenue. Another interesting fact, the neighborhood is home to the only remaining volunteer fire department in Brooklyn and is one of nine that exist in NYC.
Tucked between a multitude of neighborhoods on the southwestern side of Brooklyn, Bensonhurst was an area comprised of farmland back in the 1800’s. Originally owned by the Polhemus family, a landowning clan, they sold their acreage to the Benson family, descendants from some of America’s earliest Dutch settlers.
In 1889, a developer by the name of James Lynch bought the Benson family’s land; his plan was to turn the area into an exclusive resort, complete with a steam rail and trolley access. The Benson family agreed to the sale under one condition; that it would be known by their surname. For a brief time the neighborhood was referred to as Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea but over time it was eventually shortened.
Today, two main thoroughfares run through this popular neighborhood. Whether walking or driving along 18th Avenue you’ll find the streets lined with predominantly small, family-owned businesses; plus it is home to the popular 18th Avenue Feast which takes place yearly in late August/early September. There is also the ever popular 86th Street, filled with a slew of stores and restaurants. On the second Sunday after Memorial the annual 86th Street Festival is held and there you’ll find the streets lined with live music, food, carnival rides.
The residential area known as Carroll Gardens offers its residents a serene neighborhood filled with brownstone row houses, accompanied by beautiful front gardens. The area takes it name from Carroll Park which is a vital center of the community. The park, built in the late 1840’s, is comprised of playgrounds, walkways, and sitting areas that run between Court, Smith, Carroll, and President Streets.
Originally a private garden purchased by the city in 1853, it was named after Charles Carroll, a wealthy Maryland planter, who was also the first United States Senator for Maryland, and one of the signors of the Declaration of Independence.
You might be wondering why a man from Maryland had the honor of a NY neighborhood being named after him; Carroll led the 1st Maryland Regiment, a group of soldiers who were integral to the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. These brave men charged the enemy holed up at the Old Stone House at the Gowanus so Washington’s army would have time to escape. Their bravery changed the course of the Revolutionary War.
The gardens refer to the big gardens in the front yards of these beautiful homes. In 1846, a surveyor named Richard Butt planned gardens in front of the brownstone homes in the oldest section of the neighborhood when he developed it.
Originally considered to be a part of the Red Hook neighborhood, Carroll Gardens began to have its own identity in the 1960s.
A favorite area amongst many, the neighborhood is filled with local retailers, cafes, restaurants, and trendy bars, giving it a distinct and unique charm.
With views of the Manhattan skyline, Greenpoint is one of the more cozier and intimate areas of the borough even as they continue to grow in popularity amongst home buyers.
Originally an area of vast farmland, it was surrounded by blooming trees, beautiful meadows, fresh water creeks and briny marshes. European settlers originally referred to a small bluff of land jutting into the East River at what is now the westernmost end of Freeman Street as “Greenpoint” but eventually the name came to encompass the whole area.
Because it was once predominantly farmland, many of the farm owners family names, like Meserole and Calyer, are still the street names of today. It’s also been said that Brooklyn’s distinctive accent originates from Greenpoint.
The neighborhood is also home to McCarren Park which first opened in 1906 under the name Greenpoint Park and renamed two years later after State Senator Patrick H. McCarren. The park contains an outdoor pool, a recreational center, film and concerts in the summer months, and a greenmarket which is open for business on Saturdays. The neighborhood is also a popular filming location for TV and film.
Over the years the demand for housing has skyrocketed and many new developments have begun [although completion is a few years away], especially along the area’s waterfront, which along with the waterfront in Williamsburg, was rezoned in 2005 for increased residential projects.
In 2015, construction began on Greenpoint Landing, a project which includes ten residential towers, a public elementary and middle school, and 4 acres of parkland. While as of this past spring one building has opened, completion is expected to be before 2027.