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Sometimes considered a part of East New York, Cypress Hills has become a fully-developed suburban neighborhood filled mostly with single-and-multi-family town houses.

It was settled in the early 1700s as part of New Lots of the town of Flatbush. African-American slaves farmed the area for Dutch, French, Huguenot and English land owners and it remained mostly rural until the early 1800s. 

The area’s first signs of development came with the construction of Jamaica Plank Road in 1807, a structure along what is now Jamaica Avenue. By 1835, the first building lots were sold.

Residents began to become attracted to the area more after the Long Island Rail Road’s Great Eastern Railroad line was completed. Detached houses were then built and commercial development spurred on Atlantic Avenue.

By the early 1920s, almost every block of the neighborhood was filled with houses and as the population doubled in the 1930s, construction continued.

Cypress Hills now looks similar to how it did then, filled with stable working-class residents.

How Cypress Hills Got Its Name

When the early Dutch Town of Flatbush was chartered in 1652, it encompassed the area in northeastern corner of Brooklyn known as New Lots as well. And within New Lots were the villages of East New York , an area that later became known as Brownsville — and Cypress Hills.

It was basically a farming area when Dutch, French, Huguenot and English farmers settled it and cultivated it with the help of African-American slaves.

In 1886, the City of Brooklyn annexed the town of New Lots, including Cypress Hills.

The first building lots had been sold in 1835 and the federal Cypress Hills Cemetery was built in 1848. Some say the neighborhood takes its name from the cemetery, but it is more likely that both were named for the trees that grew on local hills.

One of the major catalysts in the development of Cypress Hills was the Union Course, one of the earliest thoroughbred racetracks, built in 1821. (Actually, it was just over the county line in Queens.) A community called Union Place (later Unionville, then Union Course) sprouted around it  and remained there until after the Civil War. When the City of Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City in 1898, parts of Queens County became parts of Brooklyn.

City Line, a sub-section of Cypress Hills near the Queens County line, reflects that rezoning. 

Another sub-section is Highland Park, which developed around the Ridgewood Reservoir and opened in 1903.

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.