Join our email newsletter to get Local Brooklyn News, Events & Offers in your inbox:

Subscribe

   •   Read our

Newsletter Archive

Smith Street (seen above) is where businesses and restaurants frolic in Boerum Hill. With a variety of storefronts, the street attracts residents young and old.

  • Boerum Hill is filled with tree-lined blocks of row houses, each giving off its own unique flare while standing in line with the rest.
  • Maintaining a small-town feel in a big city, a slab of wood serves as a public news forum on a residential street.
  • The Transit Museum, located in a decommissioned subway station on Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street gives visitors a look back into the city’s extensive and now crumbling transit system.
  • Next to Wyckoff Gardens is the Gowanus Houses. Together they house more than 1,600 apartments for residents that can often be seen socializing on benches in the courtyards and waving to neighbors.
  • The former Ex-Lax factory on Atlantic Avenue has since been converted into coop apartments.
  • An old water tank on top of the Gowanus Houses seen from the community basketball court.
  • The neighborhood’s dedication to gardening is evident, showcased by the many collections of greenery around the blocks. Here a garden gnome seems to guard over a secluded garden.
  • Wyckoff Street resident and artist Susan Gardner’s new piece is a rendition of “Mother Earth” to bring awareness to climate change and the federal government’s lack of action toward delaying it further. Gardner creates exhibits like this one on the front of her Boerum Hill building.
  • At the southern end of the neighborhood, the Wyckoff Gardens public housing development stands in a tree-filled pocket off from the nearby highway.
  • A man contemplates his next move in a game of sidewalk dominoes at the corner of Smith Street.
  • A resident’s sign warns customers of the next-door cafe not to litter their coffee cups on the lawn.
  • The mural called “"Sign Language," shows a boy climbing a street sign at Pacific and Smith streets with the Brooklyn House of Detention looming in the background. The mural was designed by 12 young artists with the help of street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode.
  • Now the Brooklyn Inn on the corner of Bergen and Hoyt streets, it once operated as the Boerum Hill Café with a prohibition era speakeasy. The neighborhood’s low profile at the time attracted the kind of underground behavior.
  • Near Fourth and Atlantic avenues, businesses catering to African and Islamic cultures opened to appeal to the neighborhood’s demographics.
  • Wide ethnic diversity can be seen in Boerum Hill’s section of Atlantic Avenue.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Boerum Hill Got Its Name

Simon Boerum was born in 1724 on his family’s farm in what was then the Dutch town of New Lots. He attended a Dutch school and later operated a mill in Flatbush. He was active in politics, serving as a representative of New York in the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. 

Boerum bought a home and garden at what is now the corner of Fulton and Hoyt streets and moved there when he married Maria Schenck in 1748.

It was Simon Boerum who the residents of the enclave next to Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill had in mind when they renamed it Boerum Hill — even though the neighborhood is flat. Parts of it sit atop former marshes that bordered Gowanus Creek. Indeed,  for a time, when all the neighborhoods south of Atlantic Ave. and west of Prospect Park were known collectively as South Brooklyn, Boerum Hill was sometimes called North Gowanus.

For more than three decades, starting in the 1920s, the Mohawks from the Kahnawake reservation in Canada made  Boerum Hill their home away from home. Most of them were riveters and ironworkers who came to build New York’s skyscrapers. They called their Boerum Hill enclave “Little Caughnawaga.” 

In the late 1960s, when many of the buildings in Boerum Hill were slated for demolition, the residents got together to resurrect the area. When new homebuyers were attracted and the neighborhood’s gentrification began, the name Boerum Hill was coined, after the Boerum family.

It is bordered by Schermerhorn Street to the north and Fourth Ave. to the east. The western border is variously given as either Smith or Court streets, and Warren or Wyckoff streets as the southern edge.

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.