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Freed slaves once gained a step up in Brooklyn society by working as skilled shipbuilders and seamstresses in Fort Greene.

Peter Caesar Alberti, the first Italian to arrive in Brooklyn, established a tobacco plantation in 1639 in what is today Fort Greene. In 1781, the plantation became a shipyard and started a legacy of shipbuilding in the area. Construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard soon followed and by the 1840s, it provided work to many African-Americans and other residents.

By 1870, more than half the African-American population of Brooklyn lived in the area.

The neighborhood’s revolutionary history is remembered with Fort Greene Park and the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument at its peak.

The monument stands as a grave to over 11,000 prisoners who died in British prison ships in nearby Wallabout Bay. The park itself, once called Washington Park, was established in 1848 and adopted its neighborhood nickname after colonial general Nathanael Greene in 1897. Greene supervised the construction of Fort Putnam, which survived the Battle of Brooklyn but was abandoned during General George Washington’s retreat across the East River.

During World War II, more than 71,000 navy personnel and civilians worked at the navy yard and in 1944, the New York City Housing Authority built the Walt Whitman and Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses to house the wartime workforce. 

For a brief time in the 1970s, Fort Greene seemed to be losing residents and businesses but the community worked to make public housing a success and brownstone enthusiasts moved in to renovate and resettle.

  • Home to many artists, Fort Greene hosts several public artworks like this mural across from the BAM cinemas.
  • A Moshood apparel outlet on Fulton Street showcases the neighborhood’s deep ties to African-American culture with representations of famous figures in the black community, including the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
  • A mural of the late rapper and Brooklyn icon, Notorious B.I.G. is presented large on one of the neighborhood's popular eateries.
  • Brooklyn Technical High School, founded in 1922, still offers classes to the area's technologically-inclined students.
  • A new café slated to open soon. As with much of Brooklyn, Fort Greene has attracted waves of trendy businesses.
  • The Atlantic Terminal serves as a crossroads for many commuters, offering several train lines and access to the Long Island Rail Road.
  • Connected to the train terminal, the Atlantic Center opened in 1997 as a 70,000-square-foot shopping mall, one of the largest in Brooklyn.
  • In the middle of the terminal, old Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower and Brooklyn Academy of Music, an Apple store opened in December 2017.
  • Independent vendors set up shop outside the store's doors to offer their technology-related services to potential customers.
  • The old Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower is now referred to by developers as One Hanson Place and is leasing retail space. The buildings once stood as the borough's tallest building at 512 feet. It has since been surpassed by multiple Downtown Brooklyn skyscrapers.
  • Towering over the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Ashland building has offered luxury housing since it opened in 2016.
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) was rebuilt at its current Lafayette Avenue location in 1908 after its first location was destroyed by a fire. The oldest performing arts center in the United States, BAM opened in 1859, founded by the Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn.
  • BAM's Peter Jay Sharp Building houses the BAM Rose Cinemas.
  • A sunbather lies at the base of the monument. With benches and shade from nearby trees, the area around the monument is inviting for park goers.
  • The Fort Greene Park visitors' center built in 1905 is located to the side of the monument.
  • Built between 1885 and 1886, the Institutional Church of God in Christ on Adelphi Street still opens its doors for service. Originally the Centennial Baptist Church, it took its name from the celebration of the country’s hundredth birthday.
  • The Church of St. Michael and St. Edward in the Ingersoll Houses is in decay after it closed in 2010. It was built between 1891 and 1906.
  • The Walt Whitman Houses public housing development is located across from Fort Greene Park. Alongside the Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses, the complexes were built in 1944 by the New York City Housing Authority to accommodate the area’s wartime workforce.
  • P.S. 67 stands between the Walk Whitman Houses and the Ingersoll Houses. The school was originally called Colored School No. 1 in response to the area’s increasing African-American community.
  • Well-preserved brownstones line Washington Park, a street adjacent to Fort Greene Park.
  • The Brooklyn Masonic Temple on Clermont and Vanderbilt avenues dates back to 1906.
  • Federal-style homes at Adelphi Street and Lafayette Avenue.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Fort Greene Got Its Name

The military connection implied by the name Fort Greene is accurate for this northwestern Brooklyn neighborhood delimited by Flushing Avenue to the north, Flatbush Avenue to the west, Vanderbilt Avenue to the east and Atlantic Avenue to the south.

When Gen. George Washington prepared for the British attack in 1776, Gen. Nathanael Greene, “The Fighting Quaker” from Rhode Island, was put in command of the troops on Long Island. He supervised the building of Fort Putnam, named for Col. Rufus, on the hills overlooking Wallabout Bay. Illness prevented Greene from taking part in the Battle of Brooklyn, but he would go on to distinguish himself in the war’s Southern campaign in the Carolinas.

Fort Putnam, abandoned during the retreat of Washington’s army from Brooklyn, was repaired in advance of an expected British attack in 1812 and a garrison was stationed there until 1815. The fort was then renamed for Gen. Greene.

In 1801 the U.S. government purchased land on Wallabout Bay for construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the northern border of the neighborhood, which was then known as The Hill, and was home to several large farms, including that of shipbuilder John Jackson, who had also created a burial ground on his property for the remains of those who died on British prison ships in the Revolutionary War. 

Brooklyn’s first park, then called Washington Park, was established in 1848 around the site of the old fort. It became Fort Greene Park in 1897, after it was redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux of Central Park fame.

At the highest point of the park, the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument and crypt was erected to hold the reinterred bones of some of the more than 11,000 Revolutionary War prisoners who died on British ships in Wallabout Bay and whose bodies were thrown off the ships and later washed ashore. A new monument was dedicated in 1908.

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.