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For at least a generation before residents chose the name “Carroll Gardens,” the area existed as an independent but unnamed neighborhood.

What is now Carroll Gardens was settled by Irish-Americans in the early 19th century and until the middle of the century, it was considered part of South Brooklyn, an area made up of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Gowanus and Red Hook.

It may have been the Irish who settled there first, but from the late 19th century to the 1950s, Italian immigrants sought out the area’s quiet streets, causing the Irish residents to move to other communities. 

Completion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 1957 then cut off the area from Red Hook, where many residents worked on docks, and what is now the Columbia Street Waterfront District. The division drove residents away and during the 1960s, some young middle-class professionals moved in because of the neighborhood’s safety and proximity to Manhattan. 

For loyal area residents however, a restoration seemed to be a way to keep longtime residents on the neighborhood’s narrow streets and a new name was one of the first steps.

  • Many homes in Carroll Gardens boast large lawn space facing the street with lavish gardens.
  • In the center of Carroll Park is the War Memorial that honors men who lost their lives in military service during World War I. It was dedicated in 1921.
  • The sun breaks through tree leaves to paint the façade of an apartment building.
  • Smith Street is Carroll Gardens' busy commercial street that’s filled with shops and restaurants.
  • Children run down the sidewalk on a fall day.
  • An antique shop is set up on the sidewalk of Court Street.
  • Carroll Gardens is filled with middle and upper-class families.
  • As the neighborhood changes, modern restaurants pop up on Court Street.
  • The Gowanus Expressway seen in the distance from Court Street.
  • The elevated F and G trains head underground in Carroll Gardens.
  • St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church on Court Street was where Al Capone was married in 1918.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Carroll Gardens Got Its Name

Who was this Carroll who gave his name to this neighborhood that sits today between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Gowanus Canal?

Oddly, it was someone who never set foot in Brooklyn.

Charles Carroll, a statesman who was also known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton or Charles Carroll III, to differentiate himself from similarly named relatives, was born in Annapolis, Md., in 1737. He was a Maryland planter, a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress, and the first U.S. senator from Maryland. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was a leading opponent of British rule in the Colonies.

It was he who sent a Maryland contingent of soldiers to help the Continental Army in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. In defending the Old Stone House in Gowanus from invading British forces, 256 Maryland soldiers were killed. It was their sacrifice that was commemorated by naming the community after Carroll.

Surveyor Richard Butts planned the neighborhood in 1864, after the opening of the ferry from Manhattan’s Whitehall St. to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Ave., and created the concept of the gardens for which the neighborhood is known, its row houses recessed from the street, with unusually deep front yards.

Carroll Gardens had originally been part of what was then Red Hook in South Brooklyn and didn’t come into being as an entity until the 1960s, when it was one of several neighborhoods cut off from Red Hook by the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 1957. At the time, it was unnamed. 

With the arrival of young middle-class professionals in the Sixties came a restoration of the area — and the push by real estate agents to name the neighborhood Carroll Gardens. (There already was a Carroll Street and a Carroll Park. And a Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal, believed to be the oldest retractile bridge in the country.)

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.