This neighborhood near Brooklyn’s eastern edge was, like most of the borough, first settled and farmed by the Dutch and part of the area called New Lots. It was a marshy land, a source of stone and other building materials –and a place for waste disposal.
William Suydam, who owned a large farm in the northeast part of New Lots, tried parcelling the land in 1860, laying out 262 lots, but he defaulted on his mortgages. It was sold in foreclosure in 1862 to Charles S. Brown of Esopus, N.Y., near Poughkeepsie, and it became known as Brown’s Village. Brown, a self-described “land speculator,” subdivided the land in 1865 and built 250 houses there by 1883. Initially, it wasn’t much more than a small cluster of shops and cottages surrounded by meadowland.
Brown and another real estate developer, Aaron Kaplan, marketed the area already known as Brownsville to the working class as a cheaper place to live. The opening of the Fulton Street elevated subway, later extensions of the IRT subway from Manhattan and the 1903 completion of the Williamsburg Bridge greatly helped in the area’s growth. Workers, especially garment workers living on the Lower East Side, moved in. By 1910, half of the population of what was now called Brownsville were Russian-Jewish immigrants.
That has changed significantly over the decades.
The neighborhood is bordered by Ralph Ave., Eastern Parkway and Rockaway Parkway on the west, Van Sinderen Ave. on the east, Fulton St. on the north and Avenue D on the south.
At Brownsville’s northwestern edge is a smaller neighborhood popularly known as Ocean Hill. Historically, it was a part of Brownsville, although today it is within Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. Ocean Hill received its name in 1890 for being slightly hilly. Hence it was subdivided from the larger community of Stuyvesant Heights.
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.