DeWitt Clinton, New York City mayor, governor and senator of New York State, candidate for president (he lost to James Madison) is a name most often associated with the Erie Canal — as well it should be.
President Thomas Jefferson had earlier considered the canal idea “a little short of madness,” and many termed it “Clinton‘s Ditch.” But, as governor of New York, Clinton persisted, sponsored it and saw it through; it opened in 1825.
But for New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, his legacy goes beyond that.
The area now called Clinton Hill in his name was originally settled by the Dutch in the 1640s, when they cultivated tobacco plantations near Wallabout Bay. Bedford Corners, just southeast of that area, was incorporated in 1663, as the settlers continued to buy surrounding lands from the native Indians.
Situated between Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill is bordered by Vanderbilt Ave. on the west, Classon Ave. on the east, Park Ave. or Flushing Ave. on the north and Fulton St. or Atlantic Ave. on the south, it was the highest ground in the area. It offered great views of the East River and Manhattan and became a fashionable neighborhood for the wealthy after the opening of the Fulton Ferry, which began service in 1814.
In 1832, a tree-lined boulevard was laid out along the crest of a hill and named for DeWitt Clinton, which in turn became the name of the neighborhood.
In the 1840s, grand homes with lawns and stables were built and the area was still considered a rural retreat until the 1860s when developers began building row houses.
One of its most famous residents was oil executive and philanthropist Charles Pratt who in 1875 chose Clinton Ave. as the site for his mansion — then built four more houses for his sons. Many other wealthy industrialists followed his example.
He gave his name to the Pratt Institute, which today occupies 25 acres of Clinton Hill.
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.