When Henry Hudson stood on the deck of the “Half Moon” (Halve Moen in Dutch) as he sailed into the harbor more than 400 years ago, he saw Staten Island to his left, and on his right, on top of a ridge on the Brooklyn shore, land that appeared to be in the shape of an owl’s head.
Today, the spacious Owl’s Head Park occupies that land above Shore Road in the neighborhood called Bay Ridge in Brooklyn’s southwest. The bay, of course, is what they called the harbor in those early days. The ridge is from the elevation left by the remnants of the last ice age, millions of years ago.
The water across to Staten Island now has been spanned by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, named for the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano who sailed the route in 1524 on his voyage of discovery. The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1964.
Bay Ridge was originally part of the town of New Utrecht and was known as Yellow Hoek, named by its Dutch settlers for the yellowish clay soil they found there. The Dutch West India Company had bought the land from the local Nyack Indians. But after an outbreak of yellow fever in the mid-19th century, the name was changed to Bay Ridge for its proximity to New York Bay and its glacial ridge, now Ridge Boulevard.
Henry C. Murphy, a mayor of the City of Brooklyn, a New York State senator and founder and editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, built his estate along that ridge.
The area originally attracted the wealthier residents, but after the 4th Avenue subway line (the R-train) was extended in 1915, it lured many Manhattan workers and it became more of a middle-class neighborhood.
South of 86th St. is the section called Fort Hamilton, named for the military base that occupies the southernmost portion of Bay Ridge. The fort was originally called the Narrows, when it was completed in 1831, but later was renamed in honor of Alexander Hamilton. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Abner Doubleday were at some time stationed at Fort Hamilton.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook. He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.