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Straddled by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and boosted over New York harbor, Bay Ridge’s history highlights how developments in transportation have reshaped Brooklyn as a whole.

The Dutch West Indian Company bought the land that is now Bay Ridge from the Nyack Indians in 1652. Named Yellow Hook or Yellow Ridge for the color of the clay found there, the community pushed to rename it Bay Ridge after the yellow-fever epidemic of 1848 and1849 tainted its original name.

Wealthy businessmen and industrialists visited the area as a summer retreat, building mansions on the Bay Ridge bluffs that can still be seen today. 

The neighborhood was transformed after power broker Robert Moses pushed construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in opposition to ridge residents, 8,000 of whom were displaced for construction. 

The bridge has since become a neighborhood icon for the widely diverse population.

  • The 400 block of Bay Ridge Parkway deemed "Doctor’s Row," is filled with doctors’ offices of all kinds of specialties.
  • Alpine Cinema on Fifth Avenue, a neighborhood staple, has been in operation since 1921.
  • The Belt Parkway, opened in 1940, wraps around Bay Ridge and acts as a set of neighborhood borders while offering picturesque drives around the bottom of Brooklyn.
  • Two fishermen sit with their lines in the water off American Veterans Memorial Pier in the northern section of Bay Ridge.
  • The Islamic Society of Bay Ridge on Fifth Avenue is well-placed for the neighborhood’s large Muslim population.
  • Owl’s Head Park in the northwestern corner of Bay Ridge boasts a large hill with wide views of the neighborhood. Summer camps from Borough Park frequent the green space.
  • Fifth Avenue is filled with stores and restaurants that cater to Islamic culture.
  • The western edge of Bay Ridge is filled with large mansions, family homes and open space, giving it a suburban feeling.
  • The Roman Catholic Church of St. Patrick in the southern section of the neighborhood has been a presence of faith since 1849.
  • This fairy tale looking home on Narrows Avenue was designed by James Sarsfield Kennedy and is known around the world as the "Gingerbread House."
  • The southern section of Bay Ridge is often referred to as Fort Hamilton for the military base completed in 1831. The National Register of Historic Places lists Fort Hamilton as the second oldest continuously garrisoned federal post in the United States.
  • An example of the extravagant homes in the western end of the neighborhood.
  • John Paul Jones Park at the southern tip of Bay Ridge is named for American Patriot and Naval hero John Paul Jones. The cannon, founded in 1864, originally stood in Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania.
  • The Senator Street Historic District holds the only block in Bay Ridge with brownstones on both sides of the block. The street was named after Henry C. Murphy who played the roles of state senator, congressman and mayor of Brooklyn before the city was incorporated into New York City.
  • The brownstones were built during a time that Bay Ridge was attracting middle-class families to its streets for the first time.
  • "Doctors' Row," on Bay Ridge Parkway features row houses constructed between 1899 and 1910 by a single company, a contrast to Bay Ridge’s variety in architectural style.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Bay Ridge Got Its Name

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.

Norm Goldstein

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.